New Hampshire Grants
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The New Hampshire Grants or Benning Wentworth Grants were land grants made between 1749 and 1764 by the provincial governor of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth. The land grants, totaling about 135 (including 131 towns), were made on land claimed by New Hampshire west of the Connecticut River, territory that was also claimed by the Province of New York. The resulting dispute led to the eventual establishment of the Vermont Republic, which later became the U.S. state of Vermont.
The territory of what is now Vermont was first permanently settled by European settlers when William Dummer, acting governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, ordered the construction of a fort roughly where Brattleboro is located. Massachusetts laid claim to the territory west of the Merrimack River at the time, and it had settlers on the Connecticut River who were prepared to move further north. The border between Massachusetts and the neighboring Province of New Hampshire was fixed by royal decree in 1741 at a line 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Pawtucket Falls, where the Merrimack River turns north. This decision eliminated claims by Massachusetts to the north of that line. The territory between the Connecticut River and Lake Champlain, however, was also claimed by the Province of New York, whose claims extended eastward to the Connecticut.
Also in 1741, New Hampshire native Benning Wentworth was appointed the first governor of New Hampshire of the 18th century who was not also a governor of Massachusetts. Wentworth chose to read New Hampshire's territorial claims broadly. He construed the decree setting the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border to mean that New Hampshire's jurisdiction extended as far west as the jurisdiction of Massachusetts extended. Since the Massachusetts boundary extended to a point 20 miles (32 km) east of the Hudson River, Wentworth assumed the area west of the Connecticut belonged to New Hampshire. New York based its claim on the letters Patent, which granted Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany all of the lands west of the Connecticut River to Delaware Bay.
Wentworth made the first grant, Bennington, a township west of the Connecticut River, on January 3, 1749. Cautioned by New York to cease and desist, Wentworth promised to await the judgment of the king, and refrain from making more grants in the claimed territory until it was rendered, but in November 1753, New York reported that he continued to grant land in the disputed area. Grants briefly ceased in 1754, because of the French and Indian War, but in 1755 and 1757, Wentworth had a survey made 60 miles (97 km) up the Connecticut River, and 108 grants were made, extending to the line 20 miles (32 km) east of the Hudson, and north to the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.
The grants were usually six miles (9.6 km) square (the standard size of a U.S. survey township, although the Public Land Survey System is not used in Vermont) and cost the grantee(s) £20. The grants were then subdivided amongst the proprietors, and six of the lots were set aside—one for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (a missionary organization of the Church of England), one for the Church of England, one for the first clergyman to settle in the township, one for a school, and two for Wentworth himself. The permanent annual tax on each grant, called a quitrent, was one shilling, paid directly to the king or his representative.
While Wentworth's land sales were underway, New York also issued land patents in the same area. However, in contrast to the New Hampshire grants, the New York patents were generally irregularly shaped and issued to wealthy landowners. The New Hampshire grants were "town-sized," and generally settled by middle-class farmers. Most of the New York boundaries were ignored in favor of the New Hampshire boundaries and designations once Vermont achieved statehood, and some of these New York patents are now referred to as paper towns because they existed only on paper.
In September 1762, New York caught New Hampshire surveyors working on the east side of Champlain, provoking the former colony's government to reiterate its claim to the area, citing both its own patent and the New Hampshire letters patent of 1741. In March 1764, Wentworth released a statement to the effect that the resolution of jurisdictional dispute required a royal verdict, which he was certain would be made in his favor. Meanwhile, he encouraged his grantees to settle in the land and to cultivate and develop it.
New York appealed to the Board of Trade, requesting a confirmation of their original grant, which finally resolved the border dispute between New York and New Hampshire in favor of New York. The royal order of July 26, 1764 affirmed that "the Western bank of the Connecticut, from where it enters the province of Massachusetts Bay as far north as the 45th degree of northern latitude, to be the boundary line between the said two provinces of New Hampshire and New York." Wentworth issued his final two grants on October 17 of that year: Walker and Waltham.
New York interpreted the decision as invalidating Wentworth's grants entirely—to the great dismay of area residents—and subsequently divided the territory into four counties, Albany, Charlotte, Cumberland and Gloucester. New York required that grantees surrender their charters, and in many cases buy their lands back from New York at greatly increased prices. Those who would not pay lost legal title to their lands, which New York then reassigned to others. The people, who would later become Vermonters, petitioned the governor of New York to confirm the New Hampshire Grants; he complied, in part, by declaring that no other grants should be made until the King's wishes were known. Land not previously granted by New Hampshire was considered open for distribution by New York's government.
In 1770, the New York Supreme Court (which included members holding competing titles to some of the Wentworth grants) advanced New York's case by declaring all of Wentworth's grants invalid. This infuriated residents of the area, including Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, ultimately leading to the establishment of the self-declared Vermont Republic and general rebellion against the New York government.
Drive for statehood
In January 1775 Committees of Safety from over twenty towns in the New Hampshire Grants area met in Manchester to discuss the need for independence from New York. The Manchester meeting created a "civil and political Body" to regulate their community. Two months later, another convention meeting at Westminster renounced the authority of New York's government. On March 13, 1775, two men were killed in Westminster by officers from New York. News of the first clash between American militia and British troops at Lexington and Concord interrupted the Westminster convention, but settlers gathered at yet another convention at Dorset in 1776 and petitioned Congress to recognize Vermont as a state independent of New York. It would be another sixteen years before Congress responded favorably on Vermont's petition.
In 1777 the citizens of the territory established a constitution and declared independence from New York. What is now known as the Vermont Republic was not granted any formal recognition, but the territory had all of the trappings of government, including courts, an assembly, and even its own currency. During the later stages of the Revolutionary War Vermont's leaders engaged in controversial negotiations with British authorities in Quebec over the possibility of reintroducing British control over the area.
Following the American Revolutionary War, it became clear to the Congress and New York that the region of the New Hampshire Grants should become a state. The idea was pursued at several stages, ending in failure for one reason or another until 1790, when New York consented to the admission of Vermont into the Union, ceded control of the New Hampshire Grants to Vermont and stated the New York-Vermont boundary should be the western edge of the New Hampshire Grants and the mid-channel of Lake Champlain. Vermont's border with New Hampshire is still the western bank of the Connecticut River (unlike other riverine political boundaries, which usually follow the river's main channel). The government of Vermont paid New York $30,000 (New York had sought $600,000) in compensation for that state's diminished territorial reach.
Vermont voters ratified the United States Constitution on January 6, 1791 and the U.S. Congress passed the resolution admitting Vermont into the Union on February 18. On March 4 of the same year, the New Hampshire Grants, as Vermont, became the 14th state, the first state admitted to the Union after the original 13 colonies.
- Christian G. Fritz, American Sovereigns: The People and America's Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008), 60-67 (describing Vermont's struggle for independence from New York during the American Revolution)
- Robinson, Rowland (1892). Vermont: A Study of Independence. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company (American Commonwealths Series).
- Thompson, Charles Miner (1942). Independent Vermont. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Van de Water, Frederic (1941). The Reluctant Republic: Vermont 1724-1791. New York: The John Day Company.
- The Problem of the New Hampshire Grants
- Virtual Vermont: Benning Wentworth
- Vermont Genealogy Resources
- FindLaw: Vermont vs. New Hampshire 289 U.S. 593 (1933)