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Monday, August 5, 2013

Bayley-Hazen Road: Path to the Wilderness

Journal-Opinion July 31, 2013 On July 6, as part of the 250th celebration in Wells River, a ceremony was held at the Welcome Center rededicating a monument to the Bayley-Hazen Military Road. The monument had been placed north of the village in 1912 during the 150th anniversary of the chartering of Newbury. It marked the assumed spot where northern Vermont’s premier wilderness road began. Changes in the highway at that location had made the monument less obvious and the decision was reached to move it to a more central spot at the Welcome Center.

When the monument was erected in 1912, the town of Newbury decided to honor Jacob Bayley as well. Both Bayley and Moses Hazen were involved in the road’s construction. The following article is adapted from remarks that I made at the rededication ceremony.

My sources include the writings of Frederick W. Baldwin and Marcus McCorison as well as local history books.

 Around 1770, Col. Jacob Bayley of Newbury wrote “The whole country is rapidly filling up with a very desirable class of settlers and what was ten years since, a howling wilderness is now fast becoming fruitful farms.” Despite this description, this area, known as the Coos, was still on the edge of the frontier. The early military conflicts of the American Revolution were centered in southern New England. Therefore some believed that the Connecticut River Valley was a likely invasion route for British forces and their allies from Canada.

What loaded weapons the residents possessed were never far away. Stockades were built and area men patrolled to the north watching for attackers. With many men leaving to join the revolutionary army, the area felt increasingly vulnerable. The fall of Fort Ticonderoga to the British in 1777, “caused great consternation” in surrounding communities.

 Col. Israel Morey of Orford summed up that fear in a July, 1777 letter: “Our Frontier Towns are really in a dangerous and critical situation. We are entirely laid open to the sudden attack…” At that time, the Americans were involved in an ill-fated campaign to capture Canada. Additional supplies and reinforcements were needed to assist in their siege of Quebec. Bayley repeatedly wrote to Gen. George Washington promoting the idea of a road from Newbury to Fort St. John’s on the Richelieu. Bayley believed the safety of New England lay in the conquest of Canada and, until that was done, the Coos was not safe.

 He sent Washington a report of a possible 92-mile route blazed by a party led by Col. Thomas Johnson in March 1776. That party included Joseph Susap, known locally as Indian Joe, as well as other Abenaki familiar with the region. The route was about 73 miles and 10 marching days shorter than the established Crown Point Military Road from Fort Number 4 in Charlestown, NH to St. John’s via Lake Champlain.

Washington wrote to Bayley in late April instructing him to “set about the Road you propose as soon as possible.” He gave Bayley assurances that he would be reimbursed for the expenses. Bayley immediately began construction at Wells River following a route laid out by James Whitelaw of Ryegate He employed between 60 and 110 men, paying them the equivalent of $10 per month along with board and a half pint of rum every day for 45 days.

The road was constructed to allow for the passage of wagons and its course kept to the highlands as much a possible. The men cut trees, created corduroy roads through swamps and bridges across streams. Other trees along the roadside were girdled, and left to die so as to let in the sun and dry the ground. By mid-June the road was constructed to a point six miles above Peacham. Washington then wrote to Bayley saying that as American troops were retreating from Quebec continued work on the road would be “inexpedient” as it would “provide an easy pass for the enemy to invade.” Bayley stopped work on the road immediately.

 Other than the 250 pounds sent to him to start the work, the Continental Congress never repaid Bayley for his additional expenses of over 700 pounds for the summer’s work. In the summer of 1778 another Canadian campaign was proposed and the route was again surveyed. In April 1779 Col. Moses Hazen, brother of Haverhill’s John Hazen, received orders to complete the road to St. John’s. Starting at the road head in Peacham in June, Hazen’s Continental regiment continued the road in a northwesterly direction, ever concerned about possible ambush.

 To aid in their defense, they constructed blockhouses on Cabot Plain, Walden and near Caspian Lake in Greensboro. These were 20 foot by 40 foot log structures with port holes. A stockade of upright logs and a cleared space beyond added to the defense. In Albany and Lowell, the 90 or so men built up the steeper slopes by laying logs against trees and filled them with dirt and timber. In late summer Hazen called a halt to the work at what became known as Hazen’s Notch northwest of Lowell, 40 miles short of St. Johns.

While waiting in what he called his “Camp at the end of the Road” he asked for a resupply of provision to include 2600 pounds of “flower” and about 3000 pounds of fresh beef, adding he wanted no more “stinking beef.” He then abandoned the road, except for the blockhouse 12 miles above Peacham.

Why did he stop? On August 24, Hazen wrote to Col Timothy Bedel of Haverhill about the fear of attack. He had received word of a force dispatched from St. Johns to capture his workers. It has also been suggested that there was never an actual second invasion of Canada planned. Perhaps the proposed continuation of the road was part of a ruse to discourage a British attack from Canada against New York. Perhaps the residents of the Coos felt extra vulnerability to attack along a completed road as Continental troops were withdrawn from the area.

 Their uncertainty was enhanced as the future of the Republic of Vermont was being debated in Congress, with New York and New Hampshire both pressing their claims to the territory. For whatever reason, Bayley’s and Hazen’s work appeared to be a wasted effort, for other than patrols, there was no military use to it. Also, it was a continual aggravation to the residents of the area as it opened them to frequent alarms. It appears that the British and their allies used it more than the Americans.

While a major invasion never took place, the fears never really went away. In October 1780 there was a “Great Alarm” as 300 natives and Tories made plans to attack Newbury in retaliation for the death of a British general. Wells’s Newbury history states “Terror magnified the invading force into an army.” Being warned that Newbury was anticipating an attack, the force veered west and attacked Royalton and Tunbridge instead.

While the war subsided elsewhere after 1781, this area was a tempting target and experienced a succession of alarms over the final two years of the war. Enemy actions kept the nerves of the residents on edge. Between 1780 and 1782, raiding parties came to the area to destroy property and harass, capture or kill local residents, especially local leaders like Bayley and Col. Thomas Johnson.

Although less than an advantage during the war, this road through the northern wilderness proved useful afterwards for it permitted increased access to the interior of northern Vermont and helped to speed its settlement. Its route was through the present towns of Ryegate, Barnet, Peacham, Danville, Cabot, Walden, Hardwick, Greensboro, Craftsbury, Albany and Lowell to the notch in Westfield. Of course those are current names that replaced place names such as Lutterlock (Albany), Deweysburg (Danville/Peacham), Kelleyvale (Lowell), Mindon (Craftsbury) and Steven’s Village (East Hardwick).

Often the first settlements north of Peacham were made on what became known as the Hazen Road with even the blockhouses used. The first settler of Walden lived in that blockhouse, the first child was born there and it served as the first school and first place of worship. In Greensboro, the first settlers made the blockhouse their home in 1789.

The experience of the first family in Cabot, as related by the local historical society, tells us of the migrants’ determination to settle this newly accessible territory. In 1782, Benjamin Webster of Salisbury, NH, made his pitch on the Cabot Plain on the Hazen Road, cleared the forest and built a log cabin. The following spring he moved his family. He drove a cow through up to 4 feet of snow. His wife, Judith Webster, on snowshoes and with the help of a hired man, drew their goods in a hand-sled on which was a washtub containing their 2-year old daughter Hannah. Once his family was settled, Benjamin walked the 24 miles back to Newbury for provisions.

While he was away Judith tapped trees and made 40 pounds of sugar. It was said that “she could chop as well as a man” and helped to clear their farm. Family after family moved to the area, funneled by the Hazen Road. Taverns, stores, homes, farms and villages grew up along the road. At one time, Ryegate had seven inns along it. Roads were constructed from it to other parts of towns and between towns.

The Hinman Settler Road was built in the early 1790s, linking the road in Greensboro with Canada. By the early 1800s,the Hazen Road was a main stagecoach road. In 1805, the Vermont Legislature included the road in an incorporated company entitled the “The Boston & Montreal Turnpike Company. Towns were expected to keep up the road. In 1821, the section from Wells River to Ryegate was declared to be part of a market road to Canada, thereby making it eligible to receive state funds for half the cost of alterations and improvements. Between 1824 and 1841 the route of the highway was altered, with portions abandoned.

 Today, significant portions of this historic road go through meadows and forest land. The remaining portions still can be travelled on town roads and state highways. Over the years, monuments have been placed along it to remind passersby of its route and significance. In 1976 a group hiked the original route of the Bayley-Hazen Road. People could join or leave this trip at any point, with only five individuals completing the entire route.

 Among those five were Gilbert McClintock and Edward and Helen Vervoort, all residents of Newbury. I walked with the group during the first day, starting from the monument in Wells River. We went up over the hill, along roadways and through the woods. What I remember most vividly about that day’s hike was an ancient maple tree located on an abandoned section of the road near the Newbury-Ryegate line. Its gigantic size suggested that it was a survivor of the virgin forests through which the road had been constructed.

The hikers joined hands around its ancient and gnarled trunk and speculated on what it might had “seen” over its long life on the shoulder of the now abandoned road. Passing it had been surveyors, road builders, attackers and defenders, settlers with hand sleds, wagon pull by teams of oxen and horse-drawn stagecoaches. It was as majestic a monument to the history of that road as any erected by man.

The local historian Frederick Wells wrote an address for the dedication of the marker in 1912. He called the old military road “an historic treasure.” He closed his address with the following: “Therefore, the citizens of Newbury do well to mark the spot where this ancient road begins. They also do well in asking that its name henceforth include that of it projector, the founder of the town. Let this memorial of bronze and granite remain here to speak to coming generations and tell the story of the Bayley-Hazen Road.”

 In its new location that monument will continue to speak, but more prominently and to a larger audience. On July 8, Carolyn and I drove the roads that still follow the route of the Bayley-Hazen Road. We stopped to see monuments along the way, including the one on Hardwick Street. All along the route were buildings that must have been constructed during the road’s heyday. We marveled at how straight some of the sections were and what a challenge the slopes must have presented. We made it to Hazen’s Notch and found the stone marking it terminus.

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