Popular Posts

Statcounter

Thursday, February 4, 2021

It's Still In The Mail

 


Rural Free Delivery helped to eliminate isolation felt by many rural families. It replaced "star routes." It open rural areas to being able to buy from catalog and to sell local products. (Courtesy-Arthur Pease) 

”The postal service is for a variety of good reasons made a public function; but that it results in more economical or efficient management, there is not only no evidence to show but all evidence available contradicts.”  Windham County Reformer, Dec. 27, 1901.

     The first part of this postal history analysis was published in December and was posted on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.  It dealt with topics including early postal delivery, rates, and offices. The appointment of postmasters, both men and women, was included as was the issue of Sunday mail delivery.

      This column continues to explore the history of the postal service and what it offered, especially in the period before 1950. The interactions between offered postal services and private enterprise, especially as it impacted the development of the government agency, are important areas surveyed here. 

     Before the last decade of the 19th century, a large percentage of the nation’s rural population received their mail by going into town or paying a private carrier to deliver it. In the 1870s, farm organizations such as the Grange began to lobby for free delivery to rural areas.

     As with other postal services improvements, considerable opposition arose from private enterprise, in this case, local storekeepers, express companies, and private carriers. 

     Nevertheless, Congress established Rural Free Delivery (RFD) in 1896, 33 years after that service was available in cities. The first rural route was established in Vermont in 1896 and in New Hampshire in 1898.  Local newspapers in 1901 reported that the program “is popular wherever introduced…meeting with unqualified success.”    

     By 1906 there were 292 routes in Vermont. In New Hampshire there were 202 routes, “and new routes are being laid out as fast as the post office department can arrange for them.”  Locally, rural routes were establish including in Thetford in 1896, Woodsville 1901, Bradford 1903, and Corinth 1905.

     The new service brought an end to many private carrier’s star routes and many smaller post offices. Those private carriers had been awarded routes as lowest bidders. They agreed to provide “due celerity, certainty and security of transportation.” As stars identified each of these three conditions, the privately operated routes had been designated “star routes.”

The introduction of RFD helped to eliminate the isolation felt by many rural families as they could depend on free daily mail delivery. One elder recalled that her family received mail in rural Lyme several times a day,

      Mail order catalogs from companies such as Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck created opportunities to purchase consumer products. Farm magazines offered advice and reported changing techniques. 

     Often, a strong bond developed between the RFD delivery person and the families on the route. In 1965, the United Opinion reported on the retirement party for Corinth’s rural carrier Ernest Flanders.

     In the article, Flanders commented on his 34 years serving the rural patrons on the 28-mile route. He recalled the early winters when the roads were rolled, and horse and sleigh were used.  On Turkey Hill, the snow often drifted, covering the boxes. He remembered carrying a screwdriver to pry open frozen boxes or remove frozen pennies left for stamps.  

     For years, private express companies and rural merchants had also opposed package delivery.  As a concession, limits were placed on the weight of packages delivered by the postal carriers. Wells Fargo, established in 1852 by Thetford native Henry Wells, was one of the most power opponents.

     In 1913, the Parcel Post package delivery system was established. The United Opinion reported, “the parcel post will be the general public’s express.”

      For rural dwellers, this meant receiving free delivery of products and opportunities to mail local products at a lower rate to a nation-wide market.  Eggs, butter, and maple products were among the first items shipped from the area. 

     In 1901, the post system reached a national milestone with 76,945 post offices. The new delivery services, however, caused many smaller post offices to close. New Hampshire had reached its highest point in 1894 with 593 post offices. Closures soon following, although none locally. What at first appeared to me to be a closure was actually a 1912 name change when Warren Summit became Glencliff. 

     In Vermont, several small post offices closed over the years, including Copperfield in Vershire (1892-1906), West Bradford (1831-1837), Bradford Center (1847-1903) Heath in Corinth (1896-1905), Middlebrook in West Fairlee (1852-1855).

      By 1850, the Connecticut and Passumpsic River Railroad was delivering mail to area towns. In 1873, the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad delivered mail along its line as did the railroad company from Boston to Woodsville. By 1887, several daily mail trains were going north and south through the Connecticut River valley. Mail was picked up and sorted enroute. Station masters placed sacks of outgoing mail on a crane so that it could be picked up without stopping. By 1910, railway mail service handled 98% of America’s intercity mail.

     After World War II, Highway Post Offices replaced railroad mail cars with employees sorting mail as these large vehicles moved along.  Nationally, the last railroad postmark was in 1966.

          For many years, mail to Corinth and Topsham arrived on the Bradford stage. Prior to 1908, mail that arrived on the afternoon train was taken by stage to East Corinth where the mail was sorted. It was then taken by star routes to West Topsham and Waits River. That meant that locals could get both long distance and local mail by late afternoon.

     In 1908, there was a dramatic change with mail coming from East Barre. Timely mail such as Bradford’s United Opinion published on Friday would not arrive until Monday. Every time there was a change in delivery routines there were stern editorials and letters to the editor appeared in local papers. 

     In 1925, Congress passed the Airmail Act, a legislative act that allowed contracts with and support for the new commercial airline industry.  Progressive Congressman Clyde Kelly of Pennsylvania was the primary sponsor, an effort that gained him the title “father of the air mail.” Air mail became standard in 1975. 

     The postal system offered postal money orders in 1864. Union soldiers were able to send money home using these pre-paid checks or “money-letters.”  The fees varied with check’s amount, with early rates at 10 cents for amounts up to $10. Not all post offices offered this service at first. In 1867 an announcement appeared indicating that the Bradford office had been added.

     I have noticed patrons continue to use this service out of the local office in Bradford, as the checks are guaranteed. They include local migrant workers sending money home or individuals sending payments.      

     In 1873, the postal service began to issue postal cards imprinted with a one-cent postage stamp. The idea had first been introduced several years earlier, following the example of several European nations. Privacy concerns delayed their authorization. In 1872, the Burlington Weekly Free Press included the following explanation for the delay, “visions of libelous and insulting messages, as well as over curious letter carriers, and post office clerks…seem to haunt the legislative brain.”   

     As the price was half that of a first-class letter, these postal cards were met with an enthusiastic response. In the first six months, the Post Office sold 64 million, with businesses using them as an inexpensive way to advertise.

     Their use peaked in 1950 with 3.4 billion cards mailed. The number has fallen dramatically since. They were referred to as “penny postcards” until the postage was increased to two cents in 1952.  In 1999, the title was changed to “stamped cards.”

     These cards are not to be confused with commercially produced postcards. First produced around 1861, they were allowed to be sent as mail with a two-cent stamp. In the late 1800s, their popularity grew as a quick way to send a message and share a photograph. This popularity was enhanced by the government’s lowering of the postage to one-cent, and because collecting picture postcards became more popular.

     In 1907, the post office allowed a “divided back” card with space on the reverse for both a short message and address.  In 1908, 667 million postcards were mailed. The highpoint was about 1990 with 2.8 billion cards mailed.    

     Another service began in 1911 with the establishment of the Postal Savings System. This was aimed who distrusted the soundness of their local bank or otherwise were unable to avail themselves of the banking system. The postal savings was deposited in designated banks. The program later sold bonds and operated a saving card program. This system was especially successful until the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1933.

     It was terminated in 1967 as the number of customers declined. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has recently reintroduced this system as a service to Americans who are underbanked.

    There have been other innovations over the history of the post office system. In 1810 the law required local post offices to be open at least one hour on Sundays.  Sabbatarian opposition to this practice as well as low mail volume have led to changes in this policy. Stamps were accepted in 1852 and in 1863 mail was categorized by class. In 1963 a system of zip codes were adopted.

     As with earlier advancements, the national post office has always had to deal with competition from those who value private enterprise over public services. Another example was the call in the 1870s for the Post Office to offer postal telegraph in opposition to the monopoly held by Western Union.

      Calling a government telegraph system “vastly cheaper,” a Postal Telegraph Bill was introduced. In 1888, a supporting petition bearing the names of 2,332 Vermonters was sent to Congress. As a result of significant lobbying by private enterprise, the bill never passed. For one year during World War I, the telegraph/telephone industry was placed under the control of the Postmaster General.  

     The struggle between private enterprise and public control of the postal system continued. In 1907, one Vermont newspaper raised concerns over transferring some postal services to private companies by writing, “Do we want the postal services placed in the hands of such private greed?”  In 1913, another Vermont newspaper referred to the postal system as “an immensely expensive luxury.”

     But support for the public service was expressed by Congressman Clyde Kelly who called the postal system “the people’s thoroughfare…its record in the past is the inspired promise of its betterment in the future.”

     That struggle between private and public continued unabated. The 1970 Postal Reorganization Act created the U.S. Postal Service, a government-owned corporation with what was purported to be a more business-like model. At the same time its statement of purpose recognized the role of the service in binding the nation together with service to all areas and communities.

      “Small rural communities frequently center around their post office.” This comment appeared in this newspaper at the time of Piermont’s postmaster Gloria Randall’s retirement in 2004. The internet, private delivery systems and changes in our rural personal interactions, have dated this statement. Delivery to rural patrons cost more than to urban homes. As questions about the future of the U.S. Postal Service are raised, is universal six-day rural postal service a thing endangered? The answers to that question will have a profound impact on the postal service in our area. .   

Monday, December 28, 2020

It's In The Mail (I)

 

SOUND THE APPROACH--In the late 18th century, post-riders made weekly trips to deliver mail to outlying communities.  They often carried a tin horn which would be sounded, loud and sharp, as they approached any village or home for which they had mail.  In those days, the recipient rather than the sender paid the postage. 
                                                                        
WHAT'S DELIVERED? Mail was delivered from the old Bradford Post Office, located on Main Street, from about 1884 until 1949. The office was then relocated to the current location on Barton St. The building now houses the Colatina Exit and there are entirely different kinds of deliveries made from that historic building. (Courtesy Bradford Historical Society)  


“Whether great or small, a post office was the visible form of the Federal Government in every community and to every citizen. Its hand is the only one that touches the local life, the social interests, and business concerns of every neighborhood.” John Wanamaker, Postmaster General, 1889-1893.

     In 2019, the United States Postal Service reported that it delivered 143 billion pieces of mail to 160 million addresses, of which about 46 million were rural.  Additionally, it operated 31,000 local post offices.

     That year at least 1.3 billion of those pieces of mail were Christmas cards, and many of the packages held Christmas gifts. In 2020, about 64 million were ballots, representing a pivotal role in the recent General Election.

     This column, the first of two, explores the development of the postal system, including its impact on local communities. The information comes from newspapers, books and online sources on the history of both the national postal system and those of our two states.

     Mostly, private carriers were responsible for mail service before the American Revolution. If someone was going to a distant community, they might notify neighbors of a willingness to carry letters. Delivery was slow and often not reliable. 

     In 1776, John Balch was appointed post-rider to deliver mail from Portsmouth to Haverhill, once every two weeks. At this time, riders announced their arrival with the blowing of a horn.

     The first postal route in Vermont was established in 1783 and included mail delivery from Brattleboro to Newbury. Early mail routes changed over time, sometimes replaced by different ones.

     For a time, the independent republic of Vermont maintained its own postal system. But in 1795, the federal government took possession and postal routes to Newbury and Haverhill were established. Mail was distributed to area towns from those two locations until more post offices were established.

     At the beginning of the 19th century, express wagons or coaches replaced individual riders. Stagecoach lines were encouraged by the federal postal subsidy.  Prior to 1845 inland mail was given to the lowest bidder who agreed to provide “due celerity, certainty and security of transportation.” As stars identified these three conditions, these privately-operated routes were designated “star routes.”

     Post offices were located in taverns, stores, or private homes. Some postmasters profited by taking subscriptions, selling books, or from the increased traffic in their place of business. The income from the sale of stamps or collecting postage was small. In 1801, the postmaster in Newbury received a quarterly salary of just $5.64.  But in return, postmasters were allowed to send their own mail free-of-charge.

     While early offices might be a table or, in the case of East Thetford, the slots on a tavern’s stair banisters, larger offices evolved with oak window units with numbered locked post boxes.

     The number of post offices locally increased dramatically with openings in Orford (1794), Haverhill (1794), Bradford (1804), Thetford (1807), Lyme (1812) and Piermont (1814). At one time both Thetford and Newbury had six each, somewhat unique in the state. Haverhill also had six. The ones in Newbury included Newbury Village, South Newbury, West Newbury, Wells River, Boltonville, and Newbury Center.  Later openings included Warren (1820), East Topsham (1823) and Woodsville (1853-55, 1860).

     Postal rates were very high and based on the number of sheets in the letter. Newspapers were much cheaper at 1cent each for delivery under 100 miles. To avoid the higher costs, letter writers put as much as possible on one sheet or wrote in the newspaper margins. “Ingenious people contrived to evade postage by means of dotted words or letters in newspapers,” a practice that was made illegal in 1847.

      Two years earlier, there had been a significant change in postal rates. Articles in Vermont newspapers extolled the system of uniform rates used by Great Britain. The adoption of a uniform rate regardless of distance allowed the profits from urban post offices to offset the higher cost of mail distribution in rural areas. One newspaper went so far as to say “No greater revolution ever accomplished the good for humanity” as that which resulted from this common postage.

     Congress authorized the first US postal stamp in 1847. Stampless letters, with the postal cost paid by the receiver, were phased out.  The use of stamps was made mandatory in 1855.  These adhesive stamps bore the likeness of an American president or statesman. In the 1890s, realizing the possibility of increased revenue, commemorative stamps began to be issued.

     For a time there were incorrect suggestions that a private stamp introduced by Brattleboro postmaster Dr. Frederick Palmer in 1846 was the first American stamp. Palmer introduced this stamp for use from the Brattleboro office only to “overcome the annoyance of the system, or lack of system, in regard to the payment of letter postage.”

       They were used until July 1, 1847 at which time the Post Office Department ordered all unused Brattleboro stamps to be destroyed.  In 2000, an 1847 letter with two Brattleboro stamps sold for $100,000 at a New York auction.. It was described as being among the most outstanding examples of rare stamps.

     During the administration of President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), the practice of presidential appointment of postmasters became common. That meant that a change in the political party in the White House brought about a flurry of dismissals and new appointments of party supporters, sometimes causing local resentment. The Bellows Falls Times reported in 1866, “the Union Postmaster at Bradford has been removed and a bitter copperhead appointed in his place.”

     The impact of this immense patronage was evident in 1885 when Democrat Grover Cleveland assumed office. Republicans had enjoyed the privilege of appointments since Abraham Lincoln was president. Newspapers reported, “there’s a great rush for Federal offices in Vermont…as many as 25 sound democrats were given postmasterships in the Green Mountains.”

     Cleveland lost re-election to Republican Benjamin Harrison, but successfully ran for re-election in 1893. These changes were reflected in Bradford postmasters. Democrat Asa Dickey (1886) served during Cleveland’s first term but was succeeded by Republican Harry Parker (1890).

     Cleveland’s second term resulted in Democrat George Dickey assuming the postmaster’s role but in 1897 Republican Trescott Chase took over.  He remained in office for 16 years until Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1912. Similar shuffling was experienced in other area towns.

      For many years the Democratic Party’s primary function in Vermont was to provide appointees when there was a Democratic administration. The practice of postal patronage came to an end in 1971. 

     Postmasters were generally men. In 1862 one national magazine suggested “female postmaster is a monstrous combination in our taste.” Nevertheless, by 1878, there were 72 female postmasters in the nation, and in 1881 there were 14 in Windham County, Vermont.  The number continued to grow and, by 1893, there were 6,335 women postmasters with other women serving as clerks and carriers.

     There were concerns about women carriers being married and also whether they should be asked to deliver mail to saloons or other unseemly places. While they were sometimes referred to as postmistresses, that was never their official title. One early female postmaster firmly states that she was not to be known as “any man’s mistress.” Retired Piermont postmaster Gloria Randall says she and her predecessor Marjorie Wardrop used that retort, offering in a friendly fashion, to those who considered calling them “postmistress.”

     In 1810, federal law required local post offices to be open on Sunday for at least one hour.  This hour usually coincided with the end of church services. Exceptions were made if there was no new mail. Post offices located in taverns gave men a convenient opportunity to check to see if there was mail on Sunday.

     Sabbatarians opposed commercial activities on the Sabbath and, by the 1840s, were lobbying for Sunday closures. The belief was “the practice was contrary to the laws of God.” In 1845, Montpelier’s Vermont Watchman included editorials in favor of suspending Sabbath mail, but a proposal before the US Senate was rejected. 

     By 1848, Sabbath mail had been mainly been discontinued in New England. But by the 1880s, the St. Johnsbury newspaper reported that when mail was delivered on Sunday, the number of towns where the post office is open “is much greater each year.” By that time, Bradford’s office was open for at least a half-hour each Sunday, beginning at noon.

     In 1912, Sabbatharians were joined by labor groups to advocate for a six-day workweek. The Postmaster General ruled that local post offices “shall not be open on Sunday for the purpose of delivering mail.”

     To the best of my knowledge, this rule continued until 2013 when Sunday delivery of packages to large metro areas commenced. Currently, regional distribution centers operate, the Postal Service conducts online options and local offices may allow access to lobby boxes on Sundays, but there are no retail operations.

     When I went to mail several Christmas packages at the Bradford Post Office on Dec 9, there was a notice that the dramatic increase in mail volume was a challenge to the Postal System. I hope that your holiday packages and cards were sent in a timely fashion and have arrived safety to brighten the darkness of the season and help to meet the challenges of this extraordinary year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Thursday, December 3, 2020

Epidemics in Our Past

 

The following is an article I wrote in 2008.  With the current pandemic in mind, I am reposting this article. If we think this is unsettling, imagine how locals felt in during even more disastrously  epidemics in the 19th century and early 20th century when thousands died in Vermont and New Hampshire.    

Originally published on November 26, 2008

Journal Opinion.

November, 90 years ago, was a month of mixed blessings. That Thanksgiving month, 1918, brought peace to a world racked by the Great War. The war had touched every home in the area with shortages of goods and the absence of family members. But several months earlier another unwelcome visitor had entered many homes. It was influenza, the Spanish Lady. By November, the number of ill was in decline. By the time the epidemic had run its course, it killed over 5000 residents of Vermont and New Hampshire.

Illnesses caused many deaths in every decade of our area’s history. Until the middle of the 19th century, there was relatively little knowledge of their causes. Existing medical practices and folk remedies, while used with some success on minor illnesses and injuries, were ineffective against serious illness. Local cemeteries are filled with the victims of both epidemics (rapid outbreaks of contagious diseases) and endemic diseases (diseases normal to an area). Many common diseases of the past are largely unknown today. Many current diseases were called by different names.

The most devastating epidemics occurred among the Native Americans upon contact with Europeans. Lack of acquired immunity to infectious diseases such as scarlet fever, smallpox, influenza, measles and diphtheria led to death rates of up to 75%. Some indigenous groups experienced death rates from illness and war of more than 90%, leading to their virtual destruction as a cultural entity.

Zadock Thompson, in his 1842 history of Vermont, suggests that many earlier outbreaks of disease were caused, “by the sudden changes of temperature to which our climate is subject.” He lists outbreaks of smallpox, scarlet fever, influenza, dysentery, and typhus as regular deadly visitors to early Vermont homes. “In 1804, an influenza or catarrhal fever and canker rash produced considerable mortality along the western part of the state.” The latter disease scourged Corinth in 1804 causing 30 deaths.

Between 1805 and 1812, there were periodic outbreaks of spotted fever. In some eastern Vermont towns, 20 to 30 deaths per town from a single outbreak were not uncommon, “calculated to produce the utmost alarm.” In 1810, 57 deaths from this disease were reported in Peacham. Wells’ History of Newbury mentions that during an 1815 outbreak of spotted fever in Warren “whole families were swept away, and entire neighborhoods were depopulated.”

The largest number of deaths from a single epidemic in Vermont history occurred in 1812-1813. Lung fever, a form of pneumonia, broke out among soldiers stationed in Burlington and then spread rapidly. Death frequently followed within hours of the onset of the disease. Thompson wrote that the death toll from the disease “was estimated more than 6000 deaths, or one death to every 40 inhabitants.”


No less disastrous was the “Vermont epidemic” of 1842-1843, when a disease similar to St. Anthony’s fire (erysipelas) caused thousands of deaths. This disease was a skin infection marked by swellings and fever and was often fatal for young people and pregnant women. Nineteenth century Vermonter Abby Hemenway wrote, “A large portion of the population was clothed in mourning.” (One reader of the original article told me that her grandmother died of erysipelas.

Because the name of the disease sounds so much like syphilis, the cause of her death was rarely mentioned by the family.

An examination of the death records of 1857-1866 for Newbury and Bradford gives insight into fatal diseases common to the area. Of the 700 deaths recorded, 20 percent were from consumption (tuberculosis). An additional 9 percent was from typhoid, that disease being especially devastating to the Newbury family of John and Esther Douse. Other causes of death included various fevers, congestion of the brain, suicide, war and accidents. Infant mortality was evident at a time when one observer wrote “that a newborn infant in the United States had less chance of surviving a week than did a man of 90.” The area seems to have escaped the diphtheria epidemics that caused hundreds of deaths in Caledonia and Washington counties during this period.

During the Civil War, deaths from disease outnumbered battle deaths. This was the result of large numbers of men gathered together in unhealthy conditions and without acquired immunities. The first Vermont soldier to lose his life in that war was Bradford’s Benjamin Underwood who died at Fortress Monroe, VA, a victim of the measles. At the same time, George Lougee of Fairlee died of “quick consumption”, the first of five Fairlee men to die of disease during service.

Diseases led Hartford historian William Howard Tucker to note the high mortality rate in counties along the Connecticut River during the second half of the nineteenth century. He listed consumption, pneumonia, typhoid and heart disease. The Sanitary Visitor, published in 1889 by the Vermont State Board of Health, condemned the New England farm practice of locating wells too close to barns, cesspools and other sources of contamination. To avoid the resulting diphtheria, typhoid and lung diseases, Vermont began an active campaign to deal with contamination.

In 1894, the nation’s first epidemic of infantile paralysis or polio occurred in the Otter River Valley of Vermont. There were 123 cases and 18 deaths. Thereafter, summer often became the “polio season.” An outbreak in 1914-1918 led to 583 cases with a 17 percent fatality rate, a tragedy that would be frequently repeated until the wide use of Salk vaccine after 1955.

During the 18th and 19th century, there were frequent outbreaks of influenza or la grippe. In the 1890s, there were widespread epidemics of influenza that, according to the reports of the Vermont State Board of Health, directly or indirectly caused “great mortality.” In January, 1891, the United Opinion reported, “Colds and the grippe have become epidemic in this vicinity.” The Orfordville reporter wrote, “Johnnie Cochran is sick with fever, making eleven of Mr. Cochran’s family who have been sick with the same disease.” In 1895, 7 of the 30 deaths recorded in Newbury were from influenza.

But it was in 1918-1919 that area residents really felt the impact of influenza. That outbreak was truly a pandemic with estimates of world-wide fatalities as high as 100 million. Over one-quarter of Americans had the illness and 675,000 died directly or indirectly from the disease. It may have first appeared among troops along the Eastern European Front, but for propaganda reasons was underreported. It was known as “Spanish flu” because Spanish newspapers were the first to openly report the epidemic. The most deadly wave of the flu came in the fall of 1918. There was a major early outbreak at Camp Devens in Massachusetts, where a number of local men were in training.

Vermont historian Michael Sherman of Montpelier has written and spoken widely on the impact of the disease on Vermont. He writes that “A public notice from Bradford, VT, in early October 1918 repeats widely circulated claims that ‘it probably originated in the ranks of the German Army and in prison camps.’” A report from Orford called it “a Kaiser’s contribution to this country.’ ”

The United Opinion of September 27, 1918 reported that local health officials were warned by the State Board of Health that “the apparent seriousness of the disease makes it necessary that some precautions be taken to limit its spread…patients should be isolated in the home.” Affected families were told to keep their children from school and family members from public gatherings.

As the “unwelcome visitor” spread, schools were closed in all the area towns. The October 4 edition of the United Opinion reported that several area businesses, including the bank, closed for lack of adequate staff. It listed 21 Bradford residents who were seriously ill. In Topsham, the post office was moved to the home of J. R. McLam, as the postmaster had the grippe. Sherman writes “On October 4, 1918, finally recognizing its inability to deal effectively with the raging epidemic, the State Board of Health issued an order closing all public meeting places and prohibiting public assemblies throughout the state.”

The next week’s edition of the Bradford newspaper included the following front-page announcement, “The Opinion force is decimated by sickness and otherwise, and the local happenings being confined almost entirely to sickness and death notices, unprecedented in our long years of experience in publishing this paper, is our excuse for lack of local items this week.” The “otherwise” to which Editor Harry Parker referred included the death of his 27-year old son Lee, who had died of influenza at the Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia. Owing to the epidemic conditions only close family members and friends attended his funeral service, held at his parent’s home on Wrights Avenue.

As with young Parker, the disease had an especially high toll among younger residents. Of the nine influenza deaths listed in the Newbury records, the ages of the deceased range from infants to age 41. The average age of death among the eleven Bradford victims was 33. Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists were overwhelmed by the case load, often falling ill themselves. The Opinion paid tribute to William Welch, a popular Bradford druggist, who died after spending long hours filling prescriptions even after he fell ill. Caskets were in such short supply that the Bradford undertaker reused one ornate casket for funerals until the handles of the casket finally fell off.


Marcia Casais, a descendant of Bradford's Low family responded to this column with the following story: Her uncle, Kenneth Low, was stationed at Camp Drum and became ill with the flu. He was placed in a ward in which a coffin was placed under each patient's bed in anticipation of death.

Because doctors were unable to cure the flu, many families tried other remedies including Vick’s VapoRub, new to the national market. One source reported that “some tried gargling with bicarbonate of soda, boric acid and chlorinated soda. A few took sugar laced with turpentine or kerosene.” Others tried aromatic remedies including garlic, onions or camphor balls. More effectively, gauze face masks were issued to those dealing with the public and frequent hand-washing was recommended.

In 2006, Mike Leavitt, U. S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, summed up the impact of the epidemic on the two states: “The pandemic’s arrival was sudden, its spread was rapid, and its toll was shocking. Those who were fortunate enough to escape the flu were struck with the tragic experience of watching friends suffer and loved ones die.” Sherman concludes that the number of ill in Vermont was greater than the 43,735 reported cases, “many not being reported on account of the overworked situation of the physicians.” New Hampshire, which suffered the least of the New England states, still recorded 3,000 deaths.

The epidemic gradually faded. In early November, the state-wide closing order was lifted.
By spring, 1919, the flu had simply run out of potential new victims. Influenza would come again in the ensuring years, but never with such an impact. But recently, health officials have raised the specter of another epidemic. The interdependent global network makes it both possible and likely to be widespread.

In October 2008, the Vermont Department of Health urged residents to prepare for a possible worldwide flu epidemic. Health Commissioner Wendy Davis added “And we think it’s not unlikely that it could occur fairly soon.” Public health officials say that during a flu pandemic, families won’t be able to go to work, school or the store. Families are urged to stock enough food for two weeks.

Laura Stephenson Carters prefaces her 2006 Dartmouth Medicine article on the subject with the comment, “If an influenza pandemic strikes again, it could be cold comfort to know that lessons learned from the 1918 flu epidemic may offer more help than modern medicine.”

“I had a little bird, Its name was Enza. I opened the window, and in-flew-enza.” This is a children’s rhyme from the pandemic of 1918. As Carter writes, “Enza was anything but a cute little bird. She was vicious. She was violent. She was a killer.” To which it can be added, she is incurable and she is still very much around.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Just Passing Through

 Journal Opinion  Nov. 25, 2020

YANKEE PEDDLER.  Well into the late 19th century, peddlers such as this one in Thomas Waterman Wood's 1872 painting carried everything from tools to domestic necessities to rural homes.  State laws tried to prevent unscrupulous transient swindlers from defrauding honest people on both farms and village streets. (Terra Foundation)


THE TRAMPS ARE COMING!.  In the 1870s, newspapers warned "the tramp evil" would terrorize rural homes.  In his 1879 political cartoon James Albert Wales depicted the panic and havoc wroth by one of the "hordes of vagabonds" on village dwellers. (NY Public Library)

“Question about so many tramps traveling in our streets, able bodied and some of them young men getting their board and lodging out of benevolent people…when they could be at work.”  Bradford Opinion, April 17, 1875.

     The above was a letter to the editor of the Bradford Opinion from a reader in Fairlee. It began a series of letters regarding the number of tramps in the area at that time. This column deals with several itinerate groups that made the local news in times past. These, often unwelcomed groups, include transient poor, gypsies, peddlers as well as tramps. 

     Every town is on a road to somewhere else.  There are always people just passing through. In previous columns I wrote about transients and short-term visitors. Readers can find my columns on short-term visitor such as summer campers, tourists and commune dwellers on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com. There is also an article on hotels and taverns that catered to wagon drivers, railroad workers and other commercial travelers.

     To these groups we could add families in wagons headed to or from northern parts of New England, runaway slaves seeking freedom in Canada and migrant workers seeking short term employment. Passengers on stagecoaches or railroad and passenger cars pass through give only a brief glance at our hometowns. Even stranded hitchhikers wish only to pass through.

     Prior to the establishment of town poor farms in the 19th century, the transient poor were given the heave-ho by New England towns. Voters did not want the expense of supporting those who moved from another town, a situation that often caused hard feelings.  

     In New Hampshire, the practice of “warning out” newcomers who had no visible means of support began as early as 1641. This practice continued after New Hampshire became a state.

     In 1787, Vermont granted the right to towns to exclude strangers while supporting their own improverished residents and a number of local towns used that option. Between that year and 1816 when the law was repealed, Newbury warned 21 different families. Not everyone who was warned left town, but they were ineligible for town support. 

     Ever since the middle of the 19th century, every economic downturn has created homeless individuals. Generally men, these homeless vagrants have been called  bum, hobo or tramp. While the titles are often used interchangeable, some online sources make the following distinctions. A hobo is a migrant worker or homeless vagrant, a tramp is one who is homeless but will seek or do work if forced to and a bum is one who will not work at all. 

     In the decades following the Civil War and again after 20th century conflicts, legions of unemployed veterans tramped the roads or hitched rides on railroad freights cars. Many of these men could be described as walking wounded.

     During the economic depression that began in 1873, the term “tramp” became used for a vagrant with not visible means of support. Newspapers reports warned of “the tramp evil becoming a terror to rural homes.”

     In July 1875, the following appeared in the Bellows Falls Times: “Crimes by tramps have become so frequent…that soon people will have no other resource  left but to treat them as outlaws generally.“

     In May 1878, “a tramp enraged the wife of Roswell Cora while she was alone in her house at West Fairlee because she refused him some cider.” He was arrested and confined in the tramp house in Bradford.   

     The threat from “hordes of vagabonds,” caused both states to pass severe anti-trump laws with imprisonment threatened. Some of the leading proponents of these measures had local connections.

In New Hampshire, Gilman Marston of Exeter was the primary sponsor of the bill.  Marston was born in Orford in 1811. Ellis Bliss, Jr. of Bradford played a similar role in Vermont’s 1878 tramp law. Bliss had been Bradford’s overseer of the poor for 21 years and in 1878 had 518 tramps coming to him for food and lodging. 

     These stringent laws caused the number of tramps to decline briefly in both two states. The St. Johnsbury Caledonian printed a “letter” from one tramp to another that closed with the following. “U won’t ketch me in this stat again…ceep clere of Vermont for it iz not a good hum for a sensitive tramp.”

     However, the number of tramps subsequently increased with each economic downturn. In 1898, the United Opinion reported “Tramps are getting very thick.” In 1905, Piermont used its jail “to provide a suitable place for criminals and tramps.” Each year, local towns appropriated funds for the care of tramps. 

     In 1909, when Groton offered tramps “a loaf of bread and can of salmon or piece of cheese” and allowed them to stay in the jail, the editor of the Groton Times warned “if this continues, Groton will be the tramp’s headquarters and the village at their mercy.”

     During the Great Depression the number of unemployed vagrants again increased. In 1932, the town of Newbury fed and lodged 1,421 tramps. Fairlee’s overseer of the poor maintained the town’s tramp house at the north end of Main Street. It was recalled that “tramps jumped the train at the dump site to get food and other items offered by the town residents.” The town provided a meal of bread and beans and one-night shelter.

     Tramps were known to write messages on telephone poles advising others who traveled from town to town in search of odd jobs and meals. Some might warned of local police, whereas other messages told of places that offered assistance.

     One of those messages must have directed men to my parents’ house on Bridge Street in Orford.  They were never turned away. I recall one late afternoon that a disheveled looking man came to our back door asking for food. My Mom was preparing supper and offered him some stew. He politely replied that he hoped for raw ingredients that he could take back to what might be known as a “hobo kitchen.”

Martina Day Stever recalls that during the Great Depression, tramps often stopped by the family farmhouse in Piermont “to ask if there was any work they could do for a meal.”  There was always, she recalls, wood to chop or other work to do. Her grandmother always fed them and they were never afraid of the men who came to their door.  

     Another group of transients common to the area was the door-to-door peddler. In the early 1800s, both New Hampshire and Vermont gave local authorities the power to license hawkers and peddlers. Well into the early 20th century, local peddlers carried goods from local stores to rural locations. These along with honest peddlers of everything from tools to domestic necessities in established territories were a welcomed sight to isolated homes.

     But there was serious concern about unscrupulous transient swindlers, most of whom apparently ignored the law. In the 1850s, there were warnings about itinerant liquor peddlers “who retail their wares from the bottle.”   

     In the 1870s, local newspaper articles warned against the infestation of “innumerable swindlers…who are busily engaged in defrauding honest people, particularly farmers.” The Bradford Opinion carried the following warning against street venders in the village: “Things are not always what they seem.” 

     In the 1880s, both states attempted to only license peddlers who had lived in the state for at least a year. However, these laws were overturn by Federal courts as discriminatory against citizens of other states.

     While improved transportation to village stores and the rise of catalog sales put an end to many itinerate peddlers, some legitimate door-to- door sales were continued locally by Watkins, Grand Union and Sunbeam. Unfortunately, as late as this year, there were warnings in both states against swindlers who visited homes to sell everything from home security systems to property repairs.

     One group of scammers that have targeted the two states in recent years offering home repairs are generally considered to be gypsies. One large such families has visited the area, traveling with new pickups and travel trailers, and selling scam-related driveway and barn roof repairs.

     Most Roma or gypsies first came to the United States in the late 1800s. While newspaper accounts may have confused actual Roma with Native Americans, the following is a summary of reports about groups identified in town histories and vintage news reports as gypsies. The terms Roma or Rom did not appear in earlier Vermont newspapers. 

     While most reports are of travelers, one large extended family of gypsies were living more or less permanently near Barrington, NH as early as the 1840s. Known for their basket making, the so-called Leather Family was described by a reporter in 1871 as “a hard looking lot.”  The reporter was there to write a report on two murders suspected to be connected to the group. 

     In the 1890s, gypsy caravans in elaborately painted wagons and tents were seen in area towns. They were known to camp on the outskirts of villages. In Haverhill, a band of about 40 camped at the end of the Bedell Bridge for the summer buying and selling horses. In Bradford, south of the village. One farmer north of Bradford met a gypsy woman on his front steps where he traded chickens for homemade lace.

   Corinth’s history includes the following: For years each summer great bands of gypsies camped on Cilley Flats when the East Corinth Fair was held. “They were not allowed to swap horses on the fairground and would lure any perspective customers to their encampment for a drink of hard liquor which was banned in the town.”  It was “Yankee cunning against Gypsy slyness,” and, when the gypsies won, “they departed quietly in the night before violent physical action could be taken.”

     Newspaper reports referred to the gypsies in the most negative of term, creating a lasting stereotype. They were called “bloodsucker of organized society,” pickpockets or kidnappers of children and chickens. The threat that “strolling gypsies” would kidnap white children was mentioned in Boston as early as 1794. This continued to be an accusation, but no cases of child abduction were ever proven.

     Around 1917, a band of about 25 gypsies traveled through the area flash mobbing local businesses.  In May, six women from the band overpowered the owner of a local store in Barnet and seized his pocketbook. Three carloads of the band descended on Barre stores, grabbing items and money. When the band caused problems in Orange, someone telephone Wait River where “the storekeeper locked up his store and hid.”

    In 1926, “several automobiles with Gypsy occupants, men, women and children, were detained in the street…pending the return of $65 taken by a Gypsy fortune teller” from a local man. In 1935, a Bradford man lost $22 when a gypsy woman who claimed to be a healer picked his pocket.

In 1927, the infamous Eugenics Survey referred to as many as 430 “Gypsy Families” in Vermont. But according to the study, these were Vermonters “with dark skin due to an admixture of negro and Indian blood.”

     In July 1930, Bradford merchants were alerted of a similar band and organized to repel them. Police escorted this band to the New Hampshire border where they were met by state police and “furnished a through escort to the opposite state border.”

     In the mid-1960s, the Vermont State Police placed merchants on Bradford’s main street on alert of a gypsy band and some closed prematurely. The general feeling was that local towns were inhospitable as “gypsies had outlived their welcome.” About that same time, the roof and drive scammers made another visit to the area, a visit that has been repeated several times since.   

       Within the past two years I have finished three projects focusing on the ancestors of my wife and myself.  Each one goes back at least 12 generations to those whom initially came to New England as part of the Great Migration.

      As I looked at the hundreds of our ancestors, I came to know about those who settled in a location and stayed and those that frequently moved on to new locations. There were even several who were “warned out” of town.  

     So while this column deals with groups of transients, individuals who just passed through our area, I am inclined to think from the perspective of generations and centuries, we are all fairly transient. While we may linger more or less than others, we are truly just passing through. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Women's Suffrage: A Victory Won

 

Larry Coffin & Abigail Robbins

Journal Opinion, Oct 28, 2020

The three documents pictured below are taken from the campaign for women suffrage in Vermont and New Hampshire.

  

In 1912, suffrage advocates used this flyer to lobby NH to become the seventh state to grant women the right to vote in state elections. The effort failed.  In 1919, the state became the 16th state to ratify the Constitutional amendment (Courtesy Ann Lewis Women's Suffrage Collection)

Call for a Special Session: In March 1920 the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association distributed this pamphlet calling for a special session of the Legislature to ratify the 19th Amendment in order to be the pivotal 36th state.  Governor Percival Clements vetoed the effort. (Vermont Historical Society)

     


Vermont v Solid South.  This flyer drew a hard distinction between Vermont and opposition among Southern states to the proposed Constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote. (Vermont Historical Society


     "The campaign for woman suffrage in America long since ended. Gone are the days of agitating, organizing, educating, pleading, and persuading. No more forever will women descend on State Legislatures and the national Congress in the effort to wrest the suffrage from state and national legislators. The gates to political enfranchisement have swung open. The women are inside."

     This statement was suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt's victory statement as she looked back over the battle. A century ago, women in Vermont and New Hampshire joined voters across the nation to cast their ballots. That right will be exercised by women across the region again on or before November 3. 

     The following column contains material from my granddaughter Abigail Robbins UVM senior essay, combined with a column I wrote a decade ago. This fine young woman, a political science major, is currently working in Washington D.C. and will vote for president for the first time this election.  

     In early America, a woman's legal identity was defined by relationships with the men in her life, and that identity granted her few legal rights. In her famous letter to her husband John Adams in March 1776, Abigail Adams admonished the delegates at Philadelphia to, "remember the ladies." She wrote, "Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation." 

     That revolution was a long time coming. By 1784, New Hampshire, along with other new states that had granted women limited voting rights, revoked those rights. To restore them was considered so radical that it was not until 1848 that an organized effort began to give equal suffrage to women. It began with a women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, where the woman's suffrage movement was born. 

     It took another 80 years to achieve full suffrage for women. A brochure from The Women’s Rights Center in Seneca Falls states that the effort gained success only after, “480 campaigns to lobby state legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to the electorate, 56 popular votes on state amendments, 277 campaigns to get state political parties to adopt women’s platforms, 19 campaigns with successive Congresses, and the campaign to ratify the federal amendment in 1919-20.”

     In New Hampshire and Vermont, suffrage activities took the more moderate stand of women's right to vote in school meetings. A bill was submitted to the Vermont General Assembly in 1852. That year, Clarina Howard Nichols of Townshend, editor of the Windham County Democrat and the first woman to address that body, spoke on behalf of the bill. She told the assembly that granting this right "would not compromise a woman's femininity. On the contrary, it would simply extend a mother's accepted sphere of influence in the field of childhood education." 

     In a 1973 article about Nichols, Madeline Kunin wrote, “The then-editor of the Rutland Herald threatened to present her publicly with a pair of trousers.” Nichols reminded the legislators that “they had legislated our skirts into their possession…Time enough for them to taunt us with being after their wardrobes, when they shall have restored to us the legal right to our own.” It would take decades before this modest request was granted.

 

     Before the Civil War, the campaign was coupled with the abolitionist movement, but during that war, suffrage activities were put aside as women took active roles on the home fronts. That more active presence and the Constitutional amendments that defined citizens as males and granted the right to vote to Black men that re-energized the women's suffrage movement. 

     In 1869, a Special Commission on Women Suffrage recommended that an amendment granting suffrage be considered at the Vermont constitutional convention. They stated, “We see no good reason why the most ignorant man should vote, and the intelligent woman be refused…” Activities by supporters of the amendment brought the charge that the state was being invaded by, “strong-minded women.” Of the 223 delegates at the convention, only one voted for the amendment.

     That same year, Armenia White and her husband Nathaniel founded the New Hampshire Woman Suffrage Association.  

     In July 1876, E. Anne Hinman made a speech entitled "A Plea for Equality" to a Bradford audience. She made not only "a demand for the suffrage, but also for higher education of women, and the breaking away of the rigid customs which have been established in society, and which prohibit her from sharing the benefits that accrue" from civilization. Her demand for a "wider sphere for women" included equal pay for equal work. 

     The Bradford Opinion reported that the lecture was "well written and forcibly delivered and contained much good sound common sense and considerable nonsense." It concluded, "that there are not ten men in the town of Bradford who are unwilling that women should have the privilege of voting if she wants it." The editor went on to predict that "women will be permitted to vote sooner or later," but doubted that the equality they expected to receive from the privilege would be realized. 

     This lecture, and its response, identifies some of the arguments raised against granting women a role in public affairs. Significant was the lack of wide-spread support from women. Additionally, the movement was coupled with other reforms, including the temperance movement. The South feared granting women the right to vote would weaken its newly enacting laws depriving black men of that right. These fears created powerful enemies. 

     Many opponents felt that granting suffrage was against the teachings of the Bible as well as unnatural, unfeminine, unhealthy, a danger to the home and family and upsetting to "the fragile composition of the fairer sex." One legislator from Rutland said that he was opposed to giving the ballot to "such a dangerous class as the women of Vermont."

     In 1872, two bills were introduced into the Vermont Legislature: allowing women who paid taxes to vote and holding office in school district meetings and the other granting full voting rights. Both were defeated, although the school district bill passed the House and lost by only one vote in the Senate. It was finally adopted in 1880.

      New Hampshire adopted a similar bill in 1878 but attempts to allow women to vote in municipal elections failed.  

     In 1883, national suffragist leaders Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe met with supporters in St. Johnsbury and helped organize the Vermont Woman Suffrage Association. One focus of the group was to expand the school suffrage to all municipal elections. A bill granting municipal suffrage was introduced every two years. “Rumors abounded that one house would consent to give women the right to vote as long as the other agreed not to.” The bill finally became law in 1917.

     At the national level, the focus was to gain full participation in state and national elections. In 1871, prominent suffrage leaders submitted a petition to Congress asking for the right to vote. Over the next 48 years, they were rejected and vilified for their efforts. They organized, petitioned, demonstrated and cajoled, gaining victories and suffering defeats state by state. One of those defeats was in New Hampshire when the male voters defeated a 1902 referendum granting woman suffrage.

     During World War I, the service of women helped tip the balance for a constitutional amendment granting full voting rights to women. By 1917, twelve states had granted equal suffrage to women and the following year Jeanette Rankin (R-Montana), the first woman elected to Congress introduced a suffrage amendment. Called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, it stated, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

     President Wilson opposed the idea when first elected in 1912, but in January, 1918, faced with a re-election campaign, he came out in support of the amendment. The millions of women who could already vote in state elections was a major factor in changing minds. Both supporters and opponents knew that women's right to vote would come eventually and those who opposed it would be the first victims of the new electorate. The proposed amendment passed both houses by the necessary two-thirds vote on June 4, 1919. 

      The battle for ratification in the required 36 states was the last battle in the long and continuous struggle. In both states, suffrage groups used many techniques to increase public pressure on elected officials to gain ratification of the amendment.  

    Some members delivered speeches while others networked with newspaper editors to gain their support. To this was added newspaper letters and editorials, pamphlets, flyers, and postcards.

     Using the motto "A Square Deal for Vermont Women," suffrage advocates increased the campaign. One pamphlet entitled "Seventeen Reasons" laid out the campaign's significant arguments. Another technique was to compare Vermont to the actions of other states. One flyer, listing states where women had achieved the vote, asked the question, "Why Not Vermont?" Appealing to Vermont's historic identity, other publications drew a hard distinction to Southern states' negative and blocking action.

     On September 10, 1919, New Hampshire became the 16th state to ratify it. By March 1920, 35 states had approved, eight had voted against or refused to vote. Gaining the 36th for the required three-quarters was unsure. Some wanted Vermont to have the honor of confirming the right to vote for the women of the nation. 

     Fearing that giving women the right to vote might re-impose prohibition, Vermont governor Percival Clements opposed the ratification. When the presidential suffrage bill passed the Legislature, he vetoed it.

     By July 1920, the focus of the ratification movement was on Tennessee, one state in which there was a chance of success. The Legislature was equally divided. There Harry Burn, the youngest member of the body, was urged to drop his opposition on his mother's urging. That single vote in favor allowed the amendment to be ratified, giving women across the nation the right to vote in all elections.

     Women voted for the first time in a Presidential election in November 1920. It was not newsworthy to the editor of The United Opinion as there was no major article at the time. Neighborhood reports included some notice of the event. In September 1920, the reporter for West Fairlee Center noted eight local women voted in the primary. The West Newbury columnist wrote: "Not many women from this side of the town attended the primary. We hope to see more of them next November. It is now up to the men and women of the country to say what they will have." 

     On November 5, the Thetford column included the following: "Town Meeting drew a good number of voters, both men, and women. One hundred and sixty-six had registered to vote and probably most of them cast their vote. The young misses of twenty-one were there; also one lady of one hundred one and one-half years cast her vote for the first time. Mrs. Elizabeth C. Newcomb is the oldest person in town, if not the county. Chas. Douglas, the Republican candidate for town representative was elected. He made an informal speech in well-chosen words, thanking the people for the honor given him. He treated the ladies to chocolates and men to cigars."

     In 1920, Haverhill's Frances Parkinson Keyes, author, and wife of U. S. Senator Henry Keyes, wrote an article entitled "On the Fence" published in The Atlantic Monthly. She stated that while she had been an "anti-suffragette all my life," she had done nothing of consequence to prevent women suffrage. In fact, it was with her "entire approval" that Senator Keyes voted for the amendment. But, Keyes wrote: "I dread the very thought of voting." She felt that women had enough in their lives without the extra burden of an expanded role in society. With a combination of hope and concern, she challenged women to accept this newly granted right in such a manner as to prove the opponents wrong. 

     There is no doubt that the right to vote was the key for women to equality and influence in our society. A primary focus of my professional teaching career has been to inform both young men and women of their right to vote and the responsibilities that go with that right. I registered hundreds of young area residents. What once was a radical notion has now become the norm. Hurrah and hurrah.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Communal Living: A Different Way



 

COUNTERCULTURE INVASION: In the late 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of young people dropped out of mainstream society and migrated to Northern New England. Those who settled in Vermont had a profound impact on that state's culture. (Courtesy Goddard College Archives)





ONE BIG FAMILY: The Oneida community in up-state New York had its beginning in Putney, VT. Its founder, John Humphrey Noyes believed in complex marriage, a form of polygamy.  This one large family is pictured at its utopian community in Oneida, NY.  

SIMPLE LIVING: The Shakers established communities in Enfield and Canterbury, NH in the 1790s. Named for their use of ecstatic dancing in worship they believed in communal ownership and simple living.  Their belief in celibacy was a major factor in their decline.

Journal Opinion, Sept. 9, 2020 

A Different Way

Weaved into the fabric of American life, there runs a thread of voluntary co-operation to achieve common goals. It helped early settlers establish both individual and shared purposes. That duality is represented by Vermont's motto, “Freedom and Unity.”

From1760 to 1880, there were a number of communal experiments that, for some, went beyond the prevailing spirit of the times. Whether religious-based or secular, these communities experimented with alternative economics and different ways of living.  

They were mostly socialist in nature and utopian in their goals, departing from the traditional methods for improving society. They rejected the world as it was for a world they hoped it would become. 

Most of the early experiments in New Hampshire and Vermont were founded on religious belief. They were an outgrowth of the Greet Awakening that swept New England in the first half of the 19th century.

The first of these Vermont experiments was the Dorrillites, established in Guilford in 1798 by one-time British officer William Dorrill.  Claiming to be the "mouthpiece of God," he established iron rule over his followers, "with community of property and reputedly of women." They were vegetarians and used neither meat nor leather. He drew to his group some members of respectable local families.

When his claim that no one could harm him was challenged at one of his meetings by a man who knocked him down repeatedly, the group disappeared. 

In 1817, a group called the Pilgrims migrated from Lower Canada to South Woodstock under the leadership of Isaac Bullard. Their lifestyle, based on their fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible, was characterized by wearing only skins and leather and full beards. Since the Bible did not command them to wash their bodies or bury their dead, they did neither.  When with the encouragement of area residents, they moved southward to seek their New Jerusalem, 100 local residents joined them.

Several other Vermont sects shared the extreme conviction that the world's end was near.  One such group was founded by Nathaniel Wood of Middletown, VT, who proclaimed that through divine inspiration, he had found that on January 14, 1801 the world would come to an end. It did not.

Vermonters play a vital role in establishing several of the most successful experiments that later flourished in other areas of the country.

A significant example of Vermont's contribution to the utopian movement was that of the Perfectionists.  This settlement was established in Putney in 1838 by John Humphrey Noyes. Noyes, a member of a prominent Brattleboro, VT family. Noyes believed that Christ had already come a second time making perfection possible.

Noyes’ ideas came under attack in 1846 when he announced his thoughts on multi-lateral or complex marriage.  Rejecting monogamy, the Perfectionists were polygamists.   Locals reacted strongly to this licentiousness.

 In the face of that opposition, Noyes led his group to up-state New York where they established the Oneida community. There the colony's property was commonly owned, and products were distributed equally. Women were given a full role in the community. The members lived together as one family in a large house known as the Mansion House.

They failed in their attempts to survive exclusively from agriculture. So Noyes took advantage of the artisans in the colony and turned to manufacturing.  At first, they manufactured animal traps with numerous other products, including silverware that made the community so famous.

By 1875, one observer commented that Oneida was more like a "large and prosperous manufacturing corporation with a large number of partners all actively engaged in the works, than a commune." Their works were characterized by "industry, thrift and mutual helpfulness."

Had it not been for the complex marriage practices, there would have been less to condemn. As New York made polygamy illegal, the colony disbanded in 1880. The Oneida Corporation continues today.

Another community in which Northern New Englanders played a vital role was the Mormon's State of Deseret, considered to be the most successful of all communes.  Prophet Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were both born in Vermont.

Though "castigated by the orthodox of Vermont on all occasions," the new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints drew both new members and additional leaders from both states.  Among the first converts were 27 men and women from Benson, VT. That Yankee influence is reflected in the Mormon symbol of a great beehive, above which is displayed a favorite Yankee word, Industry.

Under Young’s leadership, the Mormons sought refuge in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. A significant feature of the settlement was that the land and major water sources were held in common under the Council of Elders' control. This gave the leaders of the theocracy control over the economy while making provision for the distribution of goods from a common storehouse.

One of the most influential and successful communal experiments established two communities in New Hampshire in the late 18th century.  The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing was founded in England in 1747 and brought to America in 1774 by Mother Ann Lee.  Known as the Shakers because of their use of ecstatic dance in their worship, they established 21 self-contained farming communities from Kentucky to Maine.

The first New Hampshire community was established at Canterbury in 1792. At its height in the 1850s, 300 people lived and worked on the 3,000-acre property.  The last sister living there died in 1992 and the community is now operated as a museum.

The second community was established at Enfield in 1793.  The South Family that lived there build more than 100 buildings on their farm. Their main building, known as the Great Stone Dwelling, was the largest Shaker building ever built.  The community closed in 1923 but parts of the property are now operated as a museum.

Believing that they needed to withdraw from the world and its sinful ways, the Shakers "challenged almost every mainstream idea of the times." They believed in communal ownership, pacifism, celibacy equality of the sexes and simple living. The practice of celibacy meant that the communities grew from converting new members and adopting orphans.

The communities produced not only their own necessities but also a surplus for sale.  Mother Ann urged her followers to “do all your work as thought you have 1,000 years to live and  as  you would if you knew you must die  tomorrow.”  The Shakers produced craftsmen of the highest skill.

This ingenuity led to the first sale of package seeds and the development of the round barn and circular saw. They invented new farm tools, patent medicines, milk paints and distinct furniture as well as the machines needed to produce these in large quantities.

 The Shaker brand was well established by the 1830s. By 1860 there were at least 6,000 Believers living in their communes.

Their lifestyle was not without controversy. There were rumors that orphans and other children were kept against their will. In 1815, Mary Dyer left her husband and children at the Canterbury farm where they had lived for several years. When she was unsuccessful in reclaiming her children, she began a decades-long unsuccessful attempt to besmirch the Shakers with a number of publications.

Shakers were also criticized for their refusal to participate in public life by voting or serving in the military.  Some individuals took advantage of the Shakers' charity and arrived in the fall, stayed for the winter and then left. They became known as "winter shakers."

 With few recruits, Shaker numbers dwindled in the 20th century until only several elders remain, living at their last community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

By 1880, there were no longer attempts to create utopian societies as a way to solve the problems of the nation's working classes. Instead, workers turned to labor unions and co-operatives for solutions to economic issues.

The earliest co-operatives in Vermont were established to assist dairy and apple farmers in purchasing supplies and the process and market their products. Early labor unions were limited in their appeal in both states, but found some success in the textile and stone industries.

In Vermont after 1930, there two early attempts to create experimental living situations.  In 1932, Scott and Helen Nearing purchased a run-down farm near Winhall. For two decades they operated the self-sufficient farm and welcomed an increasing number of guests. 

In 1946, Irving Fisk and his daughter Isabelle created an "intentional community" in Rochester, one owned and operated by all who lived there.  Offering an alternative lifestyle dedicated to the arts and writing, it became "Vermont oldest and, at times, largest," commune.  It recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

In the mid-1960s, thousands of young urban refugees invaded Vermont and New Hampshire.  Disenchanted with their possession-centered upbringing and opposed to government policies such as the Vietnam War, civil rights, and nuclear proliferation, many of them created scores of experimental communes in both states.

It is estimated there were at least 75 communes and other experiments in Vermont, many in rural areas as part of a back-to-the-land movement. They varied in their size, organizing purposes and goals, structure, attitudes toward private ownership and prevailing lifestyles Some had a strong leader; others had none. How long they lasted varied, with disillusionment causing failure in the experiments.  No commune was typical.

Accused of nudity, lack of cleanliness, their drain on social services, and being advocates of free love and drugs, these "hippies" shocked many locals. There was concern that they would overrun the state, a situation only heightened by a 1972 Playboy article about the counterculture taking over conservative Vermont.

The following are some of the communities chosen to show the variations among them.  They are randomly chosen from communes found in every corner of the two states.

The Wooden Shoe in Canaan NH, founded as part of the peace movement, was "a place for experiment and rewriting the rules." The High View Church Farm Community in Lemster, NH was a conservative Christian community.  The Total Loss Farm in Guilford, VT was established and still exists as a cultural community. The Earth People's Park in Norton, VT had a notorious reputation for its resident's behaviors. Huntington Open Women's Land in Huntington, VT continues as a commune for women.

Jimmy’s House, located in South Newbury from 1969 to 1974 came close to being a commune. According to a 1997 article by the late Isabel Whitney, it was created as a safe house for disaffected young men and women from down country, many of whom rejected authority in their lives. There was some negative reactions when the young people used the nearby brook for nude bathing.    

In August 1968, the United Opinion Newbury column mentioned that a group of 8 adults with children from Long Island had purchased land “over the Bradford line near Roger’s Hill.” If this was a commune, I could find no other mention of them.   

UVM Professor Peter Woolfson concluded that Vermonters were generally accepting of those who seriously tried to survive the challenges of living in the state.  “Vermonters, he wrote, “were more concerned about drugs and crime than about people being or thinking differently than they.”

Montpelier attorney Charles Martin, who was part of a commune in the 1960s, wrote, "Some of the locals looked askance at the skinny-dipping and other things we did, but they were basically OK with us because we did not frighten the horses."

Some communes disappeared in the mid-1970s whereas others survived and new ones have been established since. More importantly, many former members moved into the mainstream and became significant contributors to local and state cultures. Their dedication to "alternative energy, alternative schools, art collectives, community gardens, farmers markets, food co-operatives, daycare centers, and women's rights" has significantly transformed northern New England.

They can be found in every profession and liberal movement today. One only has to look at the candidates and issues in the current election to find their lasting impact.  From that same examination, one can find the lasting opposition to what Vermont has become due to the counterculture influx.  For some, the "Take Back Vermont" attitude is still very much alive.

There have been many retrospective books and newspaper articles on the counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s. The Vermont Historical Society has been especially prolific in documenting it with programs, interviews, and displays.

For those interested in a more in-depth review of specific communes or the movement in general, there are many online sources.  In the interest of full disclosure, my social studies students at that time would not have described me as a member of the counterculture. I never lived in a commune.

For 200 years, some experiments have sought a different way.  In doing so, especially during the past 50 years, they have caused our states' culture to bend significantly along a somewhat similar path. Perhaps Vermont more so than New Hampshire.