By Barbara Emery Moseley
NOTE: This series chronicles the generations of Vernon’s Hunt family, all related to Jonathan Hunt of “Governor Hunt Road” fame. If you’ve missed any installments in this series, you can catch up here!
The recapture of a Yorker’s cow in Guilford, coupled with another power play by New York sympathizers in Vernon, likely precipitated Jonathan Hunt’s resignation as Sheriff. Still, he would have been watchful of the following incident.
On May 3, 1778, a mysterious event occurred in Vernon. (Its site roughly encompassed the area between today’s Post Office and the east end of Newton Road.)
On that date, the granary of Ensign Stratton was broken open during the night and a quantity of gunpowder and lead stored there, belonging to Vernon, was stolen. The patriots in the area were alarmed by what appeared to be a threat of British infiltration in the locality.
Guards were placed and an investigation was undertaken. A scouting party that had passed by two nights earlier later found a man asleep against a haystack. He proved to be a Tory, Jonathan Wright, “one inimical to the American cause.” Elijah Elmer, an accomplice, was taken at the same time, but escaped. (Both were descendants of some of Vernon’s earliest settlers.)
The town’s Committee of Safety was immediately assembled. Its members were Capt. Joseph Stebbins, Col. Eleazar Patterson, Capt. Orlando Bridgman (who was also Town Clerk), Moses Howe, and Grad Wait. All were supporters of the government of the New York Colony. Meeting in Vernon, they were joined by three members of the Guilford Committee of Safety, also “Yorkers.”
Jonathan Wright refused to be interrogated. Ruth, daughter of Ensign Stratton, owner of the granary, testified that prisoner Wright had been lurking about the farm. The Committees’ attempt to implicate Ensign Stratton failed and they recessed until the morrow.
The next day, young Jonathan Wright asked to “turn State’s evidence,” meaning his disclosures would give him immunity from punishment. It was granted and he then “spilled the beans.”
He confessed that John Stratton, along with escapee Elijah Elmer, had so arranged the granary that its contents of powder and lead could be easily reached and removed. Then Wright admitted that he and Elmer had broken open the granary, taken the powder and lead, carried them across the river, and hidden them in the bushes.
John Stratton was then recalled, admitted the truth of Wright’s statement, and begged the “mercy of God,” as well as that of the Committee.
The Committee, having spent much time unraveling the mystery, was exasperated and “threw the book” at culprit Stratton. He was to pay fourfold any expenses incurred by Vernon, plus a fine of 100 pounds to New York. He was to be disarmed and confined to his father’s farm for one year. His father was to provide a bond of 1,000 pounds, in case John was ever found beyond the prescribed limits.
He had permission to attend public worship on Sundays and to attend funerals. Also, he could apply to Vernon’s Committee of Safety for a special pass to leave the farm.
Still, many citizens of both towns felt the sentence was too lenient. Threats were made to send the Committees of Safety to Albany, to be tried by the Supreme Court there and urged that Stratton be tried by a Court Martial. (Readers may remember that the July 2015 issue of the Vernon Community News carried the story of John Stratton’s death by drowning, while spearing salmon at Walpole, NH, he was then 29 years old.)
Now was the time for Jonathan Hunt to turn his attention toward overseeing the construction of his Vernon “mansion.”