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October 22nd, 2014

Three Vermont Governors from Waterbury

by Senator Bill Doyle

Waterbury was granted by Governor Benning Wentworth, the royal Governor of New Hampshire, to Joseph Abbott and 63 grantees in June 1763. Waterbury was originally six miles square, but in time, its land area was increased by accessions from Middlesex and Bolton. In 1763, many of the proprietors lived in Waterbury, Connecticut and New Jersey, which is how the town name came about. The first meeting of the proprietors took place in Connecticut. The next meetings took place in Newark, New Jersey, but in the 1780s, the meetings were held in Vermont.

The first representative to the legislature was Dr. Daniel Bliss in 1792, and the first merchant was Amasa Pride in 1802.

In 1880, Waterbury had a population of 2,300 and in 1888, the town had 16 school districts. The schools were maintained and taught by 24 female teachers and one male teacher. The total budget at that time was $4,600. The high school had 36 students, nine of whom studied French or German.

During its history, Washington County has supplied five Vermont governors, Charles Paine from Northfield, Deane C. Davis from Barre, and three governors from Waterbury.

The first governor from Waterbury was elected in 1826, and had served a term in Congress. In his inaugural address, Governor Ezra Butler argued that the law relating to imprisonment for debt be amended so that commitments would be less. Butler opposed raising money by lotteries.

Governor Paul Dillingham of Waterbury was elected in 1865. He successfully fought for the establishment of an institution calling for the training of juvenile offenders. As a Civil War governor, he was proud of Vermont’s contributions to the Union cause and said, “This is a bright and glorious record for Vermont. And such soldiers, too! Bravest among the brave; none better ever adorned the history of any state or nation. We owe to those noble men, living or dead, an imperishable debt of gratitude, love and honor.” Before becoming governor, Dillingham had been the town clerk of Waterbury for 15 years, and was five times elected to the Vermont Legislature. He was also the state’s attorney for Washington County, and three times was elected a state senator from Washington County. He also served two terms in the United States Congress.

The third governor from Waterbury was William Dillingham. He was twice elected state’s attorney for Washington County, and was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives and later Washington County State Senator. He was also Commissioner of State Taxes for six years, and later served in the U.S. Senate.

In his inaugural address, he expressed concern about violations of the prohibition law, and suggested the time had come that imprisonment should be the penalty for the first offense. During his governorship, Dillingham supported the election of a state superintendent of education by the Vermont General Assembly at a salary of $2,000 a year. One of his greatest concerns was state prisons and the house of corrections:

“The house of corrections has at times been overcrowded with inmates, while the state prison has not been full. This had been caused by sending those convicted of high crimes and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment to the house of corrections, rather than to the prison, where they more properly belong. Two years ago, the directors called attention to the matter, and urged legislation that would prevent such commitments; this year, they again speak of it, and urged that provision be made that will send this class of prisoners to the state prison, where they can be more safely guarded, more profitably employed and where they will be in all respects well treated.”

Waterbury can be very proud of its long and productive history, but should be especially proud that three of Vermont’s governors came from the town.

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 wdoyle@leg.state.vt.us; or call 223-2851.

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