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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.