October 22nd, 2016

Senate Report: The Founding of Middlesex

By Sen. Bill Doyle
Middlesex was granted on June 8, 1763 to Jacob Rescaw and 64 others by Benning Wentworth, the royal governor of New Hampshire. As was true for most of the Wentworth grants, one right was reserved for the first settled minister, one for schools, one for the propagation of the gospel and one right to Governor Wentworth.

Some scholars feel that Middlesex was named because it was the middle town between Waterbury and Worcester. One day earlier, Waterbury had been granted, and Worcester was granted on the same day as Middlesex.

Other historians claim that Middlesex was named for Charles Sackville, who was known as the Lord of Middlesex of England. Governor Wentworth had a history of naming towns for various leaders in order to increase his political clout. One prominent name that runs through his grants is that of Thomas Chittenden, the first governor of Vermont.

Between 1749 and 1764, Governor Wentworth wrote a total of 135 grants, which covered over 3 million acres, which is about half the area of the state of Vermont. During that period, Wentworth granted 31,000 acres to himself. The Wentworth grant in Middlesex is located in the southwestern part of the town on the Winooski River. Since New York also claimed the land that was to become Vermont, that colony issued 107 patents or grants in the land that is now Vermont. The New York grant that was called Middlesex was in the Randolph area, not the present town of Middlesex. The New York grant that covered the Middlesex area was called Kilby. The derivation of Kilby comes from Old English, which means “child or princeling town.” One of the features of the Kilby grant was the proprietors could not mine gold or silver. The New York grants were paper grants only.

The first meeting of the proprietors was held at the home of Samuel Canfield in 1770 in New Milford, Connecticut. The first settler came in 1783 and settled on the Winooski River. The first child was Asa Harrington, born in 1785 of Jonah and Damaris Harrington. In 1790, Middlesex’s first town meeting was at the home of Seth Putnam.

In 1800, the first grist mill was built by Henry Perkins, and soon after that, an oil mill and clothing mill were built. The year 1816 was known in Vermont as the nearly froze to death year, and a foot of snow fell in the months of June, July and August. It has been said that only one pumpkin was able to survive in these conditions. In Middlesex, on June 10th, water froze one inch thick.

In 1812, Captain Holden Putnam, with 20 volunteers, participated in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Before the Battle of Plattsburgh took place, Governor Martin Chittenden, who was opposed to the war, ordered the officers to come back home. The officers of the Vermont Militia refused, and the Battle of Plattsburgh was won.

In 1849, the Vermont Central Railroad was completed from Middlesex to Waterbury. During the Civil War, 150 men volunteered from Middlesex.

Middlesex Village is the town’s main community. The first post office was built there in 1821 and closed in 1966. On the east side of Middlesex is located the village of Putnamville where the prevalence of waterpower attracted the Putnam family, which established grist and saw mills. In 1882, this village had a post office, which was closed in 1935.

In the 1870s Middlesex had 13 school districts: District 1 in the Three Mile Bridge area; District 2, Middlesex Village; District 3, Middlesex Notch; District 4, near the cemetery; District 5, McCullough Hill; District 6, East Hill; District 7, Middlesex Center; District 8, Bear Swamp; District 9, Story Road; District 10, Wrightsville; District 11, Putnamville; District 12, Shady Rill; District 13, Culver Hill. Patty Wiley was helpful in locating these districts.

Middlesex had a large bear population in the 1800s. There was a story of a farmer and wife who investigated who had killed one of their sheep. According to Esther Swift, in “Vermont Placenames,” “The farmer spotted a bear and killed it; then his wife called out that she could see another. The farmer killed that bear, too, and they started back home – only to find the one they had been looking for, a third bear eating another sheep. If that was a sample of the bear population in Middlesex, it is easy to see why one section of the town was for years known as Bear Town.”

Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail wdoyle@leg.state.vt.us; or call 223-2851.

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