Poultney was chartered in 1761 when Royal Governor Benning Wentworth, in the name of King George the Third, granted 61 proprietors equal shares in a township six miles square “for the due encouragement of settling a new plantation within Our said Province (of New Hampshire).” Governor Wentworth had made 16 of these “New Hampshire Grants” in what is now Vermont before 1761, most of them east of the Green Mountains; in 1761, he made 60 grants, many of them west of the Greens, including Poultney.
Most of the Poultney grantees were at the time residents of Litchfield County, Connecticut, and Berkshire County, Massachusetts. In exchange for the land, the grantees were required to pay “the rent of one ear of Indian corn only, on the 25th day of December, annually,” for ten years, and one shilling per 100 acres held thereafter. In addition the proprietors were required to cultivate 5 acres for every 50 they owned and reserve white and other pines of a certain size for masts for the Royal Navy.
This was a period of great land speculation with rival claims of ownership by New York as well as New Hampshire. The famous Ethan Allen, of Green Mountain Boys fame, along with his brothers, was in the thick of the speculation as well as resistance to the “Yorkites.” At the end of the decade, fully one third of the land in Poultney belonged to an Allen. Only two of the grantees named in the original charter actually ever settled here.
At the last annual proprietors meeting in Connecticut, in February, 1772, Ethan Allen was elected Proprietors’ Clerk, and the meeting was adjourned until April to the Poultney home of Heber Allen, Ethan’s brother.
The first settlers, who had come in April, 1771, and built shanties near the present-day main intersection in Poultney, were Ebenezer Allen, a cousin of Ethan, and Thomas Ashley, an Allen in-law. At the first town meeting, on March 8, 1775, the First Town Clerk was elected – Heber Allen.
At the Centennial Celebration of Poultney’s Charter in 1861, Poultney resident Henry Clark commented on the severe privations and hardships these early settlers endured. “None but those who saw, suffered and endured can form an adequate idea of the same. They all, at first, built log houses. In some instances, families moved into these houses before the roof was on, even in winter. Many furnished themselves with bedsteads, tables and chairs made from poles and slabs, and put together with no other implements but the axe and auger. For a fireplace, a stone buck was built up, and a hearth laid at one end, or one side, of the house, with such stones as they could get from the lands.
“After the first year, with a little corn, they raised wheat, and some kept a cow, which ran in the woods. For the first few years they had to go to Manchester to mill* , some thirty miles distant. Soon a mill was built in Pawlet, by Mr. Fitch; this shortened the distance to mill about one half, which was considered a great convenience. Nehemiah Howe built the first grist-mill in Poultney, which was erected at the falls, where the east village now is, some little time before 1777.”
As Joslin & Frisbee wrote in the 1875 History of Poultney, “At this day we should irresistibly come to the conclusion that a settlement … [in Poultney] … would be a fool-hardy project. Extremely poor, … [the settlers] … came into a wilderness hitherto uninhabited by the white man, and undertook the clearing up of the forest, making for themselves homes, and establishing civilized society In addition to this Herculean task, they soon found themselves at war with the New York claimants, who persisted in their rights to the land; and soon, too, they were involved in the Revolutionary struggle.”
The Allens, the Ashleys and the Green Mountain Boys were successful in resisting the Yorkites and became famous for the taking of Fort Ticonderoga from the British early in the Revolutionary War. Poultney men accompanied Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold in taking the Fort. It is reported that as Allen entered the room of the commander, Poultney resident Thomas Ashley was the man next to him and stood watch at the head of the stairs.
After the Declaration of Independence, Poultney men participated in a series of state-wide conventions that culminated in January, 1777, with the adoption of the Vermont Declaration of Independence, which declared “that the district of territory known by the name and description of the New Hampshire Grants, is, and of right ought to be, considered as a free and independent jurisdiction or State, by the name, and forever hereafter to be called, known and distinguished by the name of New Connecticut, alias Vermont.”
Vermont remained independent until 1791, when it joined the Union as the 14th state.
*Joslin & Frisbee comment in the 1875 History of Poultney, ”It will now seem incredible when we say that many of the settlers went to Manchester and Pawlet mills on foot, and carried their grain, meal and flour to and from on their shoulders; but such were the facts, and we have one instance in which a man took a hundred pounds of iron upon his shoulders, carried the same to Manchester, and exchanged for its equivalent in meal, and brought that to his home in Poultney on his shoulders. The man’s name is forgotten, but there is no doubt of the fact.” Thanks to Professor Kari Winter’s republishing of his memoirs, we now know the man’s name was Jeffrey Brace.