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by Sen. Bill Doyle
Calais was chartered by the state of Vermont on August 15, 1781. There were 64 grantees and the town has six miles on each side, or 36 square miles.
In addition to the grantees, there were several other uses of the land. Lots were reserved for a seminary or college, a county grammar school, for the home of a minister of the gospel, for the worship of god, and a tract of land for an English school or schools.
Under the charter, each grantee was required to build a house at least 18 feet square and plan to cultivate five acres of land. If the grantee wasn’t able to do this, he lost the right to the land and it reverted back to the state of Vermont. In addition, all pine timber “suitable for a navy” was reserved for the state. The charter was signed by Governor Thomas Chittenden.
One of the key proprietors was Colonel Jacob Davis, who felt that the new republic should have interesting place names. In the 1780s, there was a great enthusiasm for France because that country was our ally during the Revolutionary Wary and played a key role in American independence. Calais itself was a well-known French port in northern France. One day earlier, Vermont chartered the town of Montpelier to Davis and others. Davis named Montpelier for the French city Montpellier in southern France.
The only other Calais in the United States is in Maine. Oddly enough, Calais in Maine is also in Washington County of that state.
Calais wasn’t settled until early in 1787, the same year that the founders of our country met in Philadelphia to write a new Constitution. In that year for the key founders, Peter Wheelock came to build a mill. Wheelock and other family members set out for Calais “with a wagon, two yoke of oxen, provisions and tools.” The Wheelocks found the roads almost impassable and had to leave their wagon in Williamstown. They took the necessary provisions on sled, cutting their way through the country. After two days and two nights in the woods, “they arrived at Colonel Jacob Davison’s log hut in Montpelier, where they left their oxen to graze upon the wild grass, leaks and shrubbery with which the land abounded, and proceeded to Calais.”
The first grist mill and saw mill were built in Calais in 1793, and shortly thereafter, wool was carded. In addition, clocks and bells were manufactured, and shortly thereafter, axles and scythes. In 1812, Calais had its first distillery. At one time, there were seven distillers doing a good business. Peter Wheelock was the first person who represented Calais in the legislature. The first physician for the town came in 1800.
The first post office was opened in 1816 in Maple Corners. The second office was located at East Calais in 1830. The third post office was opened in 1870, and was known as Number 10, the number given a school district. This post office closed in 1954. The fourth post office is in the village of Adamant.
A church was completed in 1825 and was owned by six religious societies. The use of the building was apportioned on the basis of financial interest. According to Calais historian Dorman Kent, the first apportionment was in 1828 when the “Baptists had use of the church for 10 Sundays, the Universalists for 20, Congregationalists for 9, the Christians for 6, the Free Will Baptists for 4, and the Methodists for 3.”
Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee, and is the Senate Minority Leader. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail email@example.com; or call 223-2851.
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