Benson Whipping-Post

The eighteenth spindle incorporated into Henry Sheldon’s relic chair is a red cedar part originating from a public whipping-post in Benson, Vermont.(1) Donated by Hon. E. L. Barbour, this piece of the Benson Whipping-Post was accepted and later incorporated by Sheldon because of the historical prominence of both the post and Egbert Benson himself.(2)

Prior to the mid-20th century, public whipping-posts were considered to be an essential adjunct of the criminal justice system with the purpose of executing judicial punishment.(3) By contemporary standards, corporal punishments of this kind are deemed to be rather severe. Particularly harsh sentencing was habitually carried out in Rutland County, Vermont, where the town of Benson is located. In 1808, a man was convicted in Rutland of distributing counterfeit money.(4) A severe white-collar crime that targeted the sanctity of working local capitalism, this crime, however, was nonaggressive. The nonviolent crime received a sentencing of an hour in the pillory, thirty-nine lashes at the whipping-post by a cat-o-nine-tails whip, $500 fine in addition to the prosecution fees, and seven years of hard labor in state prison.(5) The whipping was seen by then Rutland resident Amasa Pooler, who described there to be over a hundred carriages in attendance. Local residents flocked to observe the convicted criminal be stripped, lathered in rum and beaten despite the bitter cold and deep snow.(6) The event went further than a public display of justice. It was entertainment.

Whipping-posts were an essential part of public life in the 19th century. They were not merely a place of restitution, but also a landmark for governmental addresses, administration of warrants and local news.(7) While the Benson Whipping-Post did indeed serve the same purpose as neighboring whipping-posts in fulfilling these societal roles, it was incorporated into Sheldon’s relic chair specifically because of its historical connection to founding father Egbert Benson.

Born in New York City on June 21, 1746, renowned patriot Egbert Benson was a decorated Revolutionary War officer and law practitioner who played an instrumental role in the formation of the United States of America.(8) Benson, the third of four sons, grew up in a respected Dutch family.(9) His father, a brewer, and mother, a homemaker, lived respected middle-class lives and provided Benson a foundation for both academic and societal success.(10) Egbert Benson graduated fromKings College, New York, from now known as Columbia University, in 1765 with a law degree.(11) In 1769, he proceeded to pass the bar with relative ease and moved roughly one hundred miles north to find work in Red Hook, New York.(12)

 

Not long after Benson left New York City, the Revolutionary War broke out and Benson’s focus shifted from his progression as a lawyer to his advancement as an abolitionist.(13) He led the earliest meetings of organized resistance in Dutchess County and became a figurehead of progressive enlightenment as he rallied citizens to join in the revolutionary movement.(14) As his public notoriety expanded, he cemented his influential role in public office. He was appointed first attorney-general of New York by ordinance of the May 8, 1777 convention and held this position until his resignation in 1787.(15) He drafted the vast majority of bills passed by the assembly during the war and he quickly became considered a man of insurmountable aptitude.(16) Later, he played a vital role in the adoption of the constitution, and in 1789 he was elected as one of the six representatives from New York to the first congress.(17) In 1794, he was appointed as a New York supreme court judge where he excelled until his resignation in 1801.(18) At this time he was appointed to chief judge in the second circuit, but never ended up taking office and subsequently retired. Following his departure from political office, he moved to Jamaica, Queens and resided there until his death on August 24, 1833.(19)

The Benson Whipping-Post, in itself, is of minimal historical significance. It is not a site of a specific historical sentencing. It is not a historical landmark. And it is not a distinctive characteristic of Benson, Vermont. It is, however, a historical representation. The Benson Whipping-Post is a physical manifestation of how the material world reflects the historical past.(20)Therefore, through a piece of red cedar from a seemingly conventional whipping-post, Henry Sheldon accurately conveyed the complicated histories of corporal punishment and law and order, while concurrently illustrating the impact of those associated with the post itself.

Footnotes:

The Charter Oak

John Rosch, The Charter Oak. White Plains Public Library.

This spindle comes from the Charter Oak, which grew in Hartford, Connecticut and was a long-standing symbol American independence and resistance towards the British crown. It was estimated that the tree was over one thousand years old when it fell during a lightning storm in 1856 (1). Since its falling, wood form the Charter Oak has been highly sought-after, and much of it has been crafted into works of art, furniture, jewelry, and more (2). Henry Sheldon managed to obtain this piece of the Charter Oak from a Hartford resident by the name of F.L. Avery, who visited Henry Sheldon’s home on September 1, 1883 (3). However, as Sheldon notes in his journal and the museum acquistion ledger, he did not receive the piece of wood until September the 27th(4).

Entry from Sheldon Museum acquisitions ledger, September 1883.
Illustration of the Charter Oak, circa 1880. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library.

Perhaps one of the most storied spindles, the importance of the Charter Oak goes back to the early days of the American colonies. The unusually-large oak tree played an important role in Connecticut’s rebellion against the British crown. In 1662, King Charles the Second of England began collecting the charters of the North Eastern colonies in an attempt to consolidate power and create the colony of New England. (5) This meant that Connecticut was at risk of losing their charter and therefore their right to self-govern.(6) The English Crown made Sir Edmond Andros responsible for this new colony. He proceeded to go on a tour around the northeast collecting all the colonial charters.(7) Although it was just a formality, this symbolized the end of their autonomy and their dissolution into the grater colony of New England.(8) However, during a heated debate between Edmond and the people of Hartford, over the colony’s future status, the charter was taken.(9) It is rumored that during this discussion the candles in the meeting hall were blown out and when relit, the charter was gone.(10)

Captain Joseph Wadsworth stole the charter in the darkness and hid it within a hollow cavern of what was to be known from then on out as the Charter Oak. Unfortunately, this did not prevent Edmonds from revoking the state’s charter and making them a part of the greater New England colony.(11) However, the colony of New England did not last long, and in 1689, after King Charles’s rule had ended, Connecticut was once again allowed to govern themselves.(12)

The Charter Oak stood in Hartford for nearly another two hundred years and became a point of pride for both the city and the state of Connecticut. Upon its death a funeral-like ceremony was held for the tree, where people spoke of its great importance in Connecticut’s history.(13) People began taking pieces of the tree for themselves, as mementoes to commemorate the tree and ensure its legacy would not be forgotten.(14) The Charter Oak has been further memorized through works of poetry and literature such as such the 1857 poem “The Fall of The Charter Oak,” in which the tree is described almost as a guiding hand which protects people from “threatened liberty.”(15) Over time the Charter Oak has become an icon of American history. The Charter Oak’s importance is of the highest caliber, as it inspired generations of Americans to fight and defend the morals which this nation was founded upon.

-Pate Campbell ’20

Footnotes

1. “The Legend of the Charter Oak,” Connecticut History/CtHumanities: connecticuthistory.org/the-legend-of-the-charter-oak/.

2. Leslie Landrigan, “The Legend of the Charter Oak,” New England Historical Society (23 Apr. 2014): www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/legend-charter-oak/.
3.Henry Sheldon’s diary. Henry Sheldon Museum. Middlebury, Vermont. 
4. Ibid.
5. Landrigan.
6. The Legend of the Charter Oak. Connecticut History. CtHumanities. connecticuthistory.org/the-legend-of-the-charter-oak/.
7. ibid
8. ibid
9. ibid
10. ibid
11. ibid
12. ibid
13. ibid
14. Landrigan.
15.L.H.S., “The Charter Oak: The Fall of the Charter Oak,” The Connecticut Common School Journal and Annals of Education 4, no. 1 (Jan. 1857): 7, 8.

See also: Robert F. Trent, “The Charter Oak Artifacts,” Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 49 (1984): 125-39.

 

USS Vermont

Detroit Publishing Company, USS Vermont, group of Chicago Naval Reserves, 1898. The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

On January 30, 1884, Lieutenant Aaron Ward of the U.S. Navy donated a piece of oak from the USS Vermont ship to Henry Sheldon(1). During the time of the donation, the ship was docked at the New York Navy Yard. The USS Vermont was authorized on April 29, 1816, and finished in 1825 at the Boston Navy Yard. The ship, commissioned by the United States Congress, was one of nine 74-gun warships. The USS Vermont was classified under the Delaware-class, being the number six-ship in the class.(2) Additionally, since the first commissioned ship of the Delaware-class became the USS North Carolina, the group also came to be known as the North Carolina-class.(3) Despite being finished in 1825, the ship stayed at the Boston Navy Yard until September 15, 1848, when it left the docks to make way for new boats (and due to the ship’s fire safety hazards).(4)

The USS Vermont was commissioned in accordance with the U.S. Navy’s effort to work overseas in an effort to secure American shipping. The USS Vermont was designed by famous naval engineer William Doughty, who was responsible for the Delaware class warships.(5) During the construction of the ship, progress was extremely slow due to funding issues. The ship lay unfinished for approximately thirty years due to the scarcity of Navy funds but was launched on September 15th, 1848 in an incomplete state. While the specificity of its incomplete status is unknown, photographs demonstrate that the ship turned out to appear very different than the typical sleek naval warship.

Detroit Publishing Company, USS Vermont, Brooklyn Navy Yard, ca. 1898. The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

While the ship was completed in 1825, the ship was not utilized until the 1861 Civil War, by which point it was already extremely outdated.(6) Nonetheless, the spacious hull of the vessel was used for transportation and storage, and it was docked in South Carolina. On December 9, 1861, the Trenton State Gazette reported the order for the outdated USS Vermont to aid in the coastal war, in an effort of a new phase of the naval war mustering all warships.(7) On December 13, 1861, The Burlington Free Press reported the USS Vermont had been sent to Charlestown Yard to rig the ship as a transport ship. Noting how the ship was previously dormant in the ship stocks for almost 30 years, the Navy planned to rig the ship with only twenty-four guns (originally, the Vermont was intended to have 84 guns)(8).

During February of 1862, the USS Vermont encountered a severe storm. The ship was heavily damaged and was reassigned to New York waters. In 1864, the USS Vermont was stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and utilized for public service, continuing to serve for storage and receiving ships, mostly being used for war supplies and medical service during peacetime. On July 1st, 1884, after being relatively inactive, the ship was reauthorized for active duty and re-commissioned in the Brooklyn Navy Yard again. The U.S. Navy condemned the USS Vermont in 1901, and it was sold in 1902.(9) The USS Vermont and crews received two major awards from the United States government for services rendered – the Civil War Campaign Medal and the Spanish Campaign Medal.(10)

While the USS Vermont didn’t have the illustrious history or participate in any infamous battles like some of the other naval ships included in the chair, one can assume it was included in the Sheldon chair due to the ship being named after the state which the chair was constructed in.

– Ryan Rudolph ’18

Works Cited:

1 Acquisition Ledger-Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History.

2,4,6,7 Staff Writer. “USS Vermont (1848).” Military Weapons, 15 Apr. 2016, www.militaryfactory.com/ships/detail.asp?ship_id=uss-vermont-1848

3,5,8,9,10 Michelle Young, “Vintage Photos: The Transformation of the USS Vermont at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.” Untapped Cities, 1 June 2016, untappedcities.com/2016/06/01/vintage-photos-the-transformation-of-the-uss-vermont-at-the-brooklyn-navy-yard/.

See also https://vermontcivilwar.org/units/navy/v-ussvt.php.

For more images of the USS Vermont (exterior and interior), see the collection at the Library of Congress.

Samuel Sheldon’s Barn

 

Henry Sheldon, Son of Samuel Sheldon- collections of the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History.

Samuel Sheldon was born in 1786 in Salisbury, Connecticut. In 1810, he moved from Salisbury, Connecticut to Salisbury, Vermont. According to his descendants, once in Salisbury, Vermont, Sheldon “acquired 100 acres and spent the rest of his life carrying on the farm by manual labor, without a single labor-saving machine or implement.”(1) Farming was a typical lifestyle of many Vermonters during that time. Samuel Sheldon married Sarah Weeks (1785-1870) shortly after moving to Vermont, in 1813. Ultimately, Samuel Sheldon died in 1866.

While Samuel Sheldon did not partake in public or political affairs, he was informed on the important issues and affairs of the time.(2) Samuel was a “hard-working industrious man, and but for a severe loss by fire” would have been rewarded financially from the success of his farming.(3)

Excerpt from Henry Sheldon’s account of woods used in the Memorial Chair (vol. 19 of HL Sheldon papers).

Henry Sheldon removed a piece of wood from his father’s barn for this spindle. The family’s house, located in Salisbury, Vermont, was built in 1811. In 1836, the house burned down, but the barn was not affected. As of 1884, the barn was still standing.

While the barn might not hold as much national significance as Old Ironsides or link to America’s past, Henry Sheldon used this spindle for another purpose. This piece of wood gives meaning and legacy to the greater Salisbury, Vermont area. More importantly, it provides a medium to establish his family as important and relevant, cementing the Sheldon family’s value to the community.

-Ryan Rudolph ’18

Footnotes

1. Henry Luther Sheldon, Family Record Book (volume 2, Sheldon personal papers), quoted in “Background: Manuscript Collection Inventory of the Papers of Henry L. Sheldon (1821-1907),” Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

1. ,3“Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History -Middlebury, Vermont.” Manuscript Collection Inventory Inventory of the Papers of Henry L. Sheldon (1821-1907), Range 2B-D 70 linear feet (188 volumes, 37 boxes).

1Staff. “Henry Sheldon and His Museum.” Henry Sheldon Museum · Middlebury, Addison County, Vermont, 1 May 2013, henrysheldonmuseum.org/about/henry-sheldon/.

Neshobe Island

Lake Bomoseen with Neshobe Island, circa 1905. Detroit Publishing Company photography collection, The Library of Congress.

The 19th spindle on Henry Sheldon’s relic chair, a sample of white birch taken from Neshobe Island (Lake Bomoseen, Castleton, Vermont), was sent to Sheldon by John M. Currier of Castleton on July 2nd, 1884.(1) With the birch sample, Currier included a letter, in which he notes himself as the “originator” of the wood, but not the “author” and states that he prefers to keep that author’s identity a secret. This elusiveness is not unusual given Neshobe Island’s almost mythical propensity to be the site of secret societies and other organizations, to be discussed below. Furthermore, in this letter, Currier noted that his intention, in donating this relic, was to “establish the name of Neshobe on the island.” Neshobe was known by many different names until July 4th 1881, when the Rutland Historical Society staged a celebration on Lake Bomoseen’s banks attended by over ten thousand people. The island was named after a Native American man who, during the Civil War, informed Union soldiers of enemy movements.(2) The island was christened “Neshobe Island” by breaking a bottle of milk on a rock.(3) This practice may have been intended to imitate the breaking of champagne to christen a new ship, but with a twist to honor Vermont’s dairy farms.

Prospect Point and Bay of Lake Bomoseen, with Neshobe Island. Special Collections, Bailey/Howe Library, University of Vermont.

From John Currier’s earlier correspondences with Henry Sheldon, we can uncover a detailed history of the wood itself. According to Currier, on July 20th 1882, about a year after the naming of Neshobe, the Rutland County Historical Society had a picnic on the shores of Lake Bomoseen for which they formed a committee tasked with building a tripod, the purpose of which was to hold a kettle of coffee, from three Castleton sites. One leg of the tripod was from Mason’s Point (where the picnic was held), another from Neshobe Island, and a third from the site of the old Castleton military fort.(4) After this picnic, the tripod was broken apart, and Currier saved the white birch from Neshobe as well as maple wood from the Fort, presumably in the tradition of relic keeping, as he found both Neshobe and the Fort to be of historical significance.(4) It is worth mentioning that, while Neshobe Island is referenced before the historic ten-thousand-person gathering and christening in 1881, it does not seem to have been a significant landmark. There was a steamboat, the Naomi, that ferried passengers to and from the island from 1877 to 1889, but it is safe to assume that it was the 1881 gathering in-itself that brought Neshobe its historical significance.*

In order to better understand John Currier’s assignment of historical values to the white birch from Neshobe Island, it is important to understand the man himself. In a publication from 1903 that compiled the biographies of hundreds of Vermonters, Currier, who was born in 1836 in North Troy, Vermont, is described as the “embodiment of a sturdy New England race, bred and matured in the healthful wholesome, bracing atmosphere of the same state in which he was born”.(5) While most of this biography details his military career and political accomplishments, it also makes note of his “engrainment” in the lumber business, which had reached great proportions since he had entered it in 1871. It is likely that Currier’s involvement in the lumber business, managing a mill with the capacity to produce over 100 barrels a day led to an appreciation of wood associated with historical events and places, which explains his decision to hold onto the white birch from Neshobe and maple from the old Castleton Fort.(5)

Alexander Woolcott

While Neshobe Island may not have been historically significant before the ten-thousand-person gathering on the day it was officially named in July of 1881, it did gain national notoriety over forty years later as the summer home of Alexander Woollcott, a member of the mysterious Algonquin Round Table’s. Woollcott purchased the seven-acre island in 1924 and erected a small house on the land.(6) The island became well known over the following decades for its exclusive parties and eccentric guests, including Vivien Leigh, Harpo Marx, and Ben Hecht, who often walked around the grounds naked. Woollcott would yell “new man on island” when outsiders were in view of the beach, to alert his guests to be clothed, while other times he would strip naked, cake his body in mud, and place a red wig on his head as he ran out of the woods screaming and chanting.(7)

Woollcott remained the owner of Neshobe Island until his death in 1943, and the island remained uninhabited until 1999 at which point it was sold to Jerry Brown of Argyle, New York. Since then, the Brown family has completed restorations on Woollcott’s house, and the island remained in their ownership as of 2009.(8)

-Noah Fine ’20

*An account of the gathering on Mason’s Point compiled by John Currier himself is available online:  https://archive.org/details/accountofcelebra1881curr

Footnotes:

1.   Letter from John M. Currier to Henry Sheldon with wood from Neshobe Island, 2 July 1884. Collections of Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, Vermont.
2.   John Currier, An Account of the Celebration of the Fourth of July, 1881, at Mason’s Point, Lake Bomoseen (Rutland County Historical Society, 1881), 42. Also available online: https://archive.org/details/accountofcelebra1881curr
3.   Esther M. Swift, Vermont Place-Names: Footprints of History, 1977 (Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1996), 385. For more on this tradition, see “Who, what, why: Why is champagne traditional for smashing on ships?” BBC News. July 04, 2014. Accessed February 02, 2018. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28158790.
4.   Letter sent from John M. Currier to Henry Sheldon, 31 March 1884. Collections of Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, Vermont. See also Proceedings of the Rutland County Historical Society, vol. 2 (1882-1887); this “tripod” is discussed on pages 33 and 38: https://archive.org/stream/proceedingsofrutv2rutl#page/n61/

5.   Hiram Carleton, Genealogical and Family History of the State of Vermont (New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903), vol. 2, 514.
6.   Leslie Landrigan, “Neshobe Island, The Algonquin Round Table Summer Home in Vermont,” New England Historical Society, 29 Sept. 2017: http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/neshobe-island-algonquin-round-table-summer-home/. See also Brett C. Millier, “New York Summers in Vermont: The Round Table at Neshobe Island,” Historic Roots: A Magazine of Vermont History 3, no. 2 (Aug. 1998): 18-24.
7.   Donald H. Thompson, Castleton Vermont: Its Industries, Enterprises, and Eateries (The History Press, 2010), 131-134.
8.   Steve McNulty, “The curious history of Lake Bomoseen’s hidden heart,” Castleton Spartan, 25March 2009: http://www.castletonspartan.com/news/view.php/32987/The-curious-history-of-Lake-Bomoseens-hi.

Middlebury Congregational Church

 

“Congregational Church, Middlebury, Vt.” Averill Collection, Stewart-Swift Research Center at the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History

The Middlebury Congregational Church is a valued landmark of Middlebury, VT and has been around for over 200 years.(1) However, the people of Middlebury didn’t always have a permanent place of worship. On September 5, 1790, the Church of Christ in Middlebury was created by a solemn covenant signed by five women and seven men. The church adopted the Covenant, the Confession of Faith, and the Articles of Discipline common to other Congregational churches in the New England area.(2) As an organization, the church needed deacons or ordained ministers of the church. Although Mr. Hale and Mr. Sumner acted as deacons up until 1798, the official deacons that held office after the completion of the church in 1809 were Deacon Seth Storrs and Deacon Ebenezer Sumner. They served until their deaths in 1837 and 1844 respectively. A third deacon, Joseph Kirby, was also elected in 1809 and held office until his death in 1831.(3)

Drawing of Middlebury’s Congregational Church, circa 1860. Collection of Henry Sheldon Museum, via UVM Landscape Change Program.

From 1790, up until the construction of the Congregational Church structure, the people of Middlebury acted only as a congregation and had worshipped in barns and taverns. A permanent location was desperately needed. In 1794, Gamaliel Painter, agent of the project, selected a site at the head of main street. Construction of the church began in 1806 and was entirely financed by local volunteer donors rather than through taxation.(4) The church spanned a height of 135 feet and included a five-tiered spire, a flexible frame that could withstand strong winds (such as the 1938 and 1950 hurricanes), and ionic column supports. There was also a bell installed in 1821 and then replaced in 1841, as well as a clock which was installed in 1853. The most recent interior renovation occurred in 2001.(5) The building, designed by Lavius Fillmore, was completed in 1809 and ended up costing only $9,000.(6)

Stereoview “Congregational Church, Middlebury, Vt,” 19th century. New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection.

Lavius Fillmore was an early nineteenth century architect in Vermont, also known for designing the first church in Bennington in 1806 and the Monroe House at South Shaftsbury. Fillmore took a unique approach to the Middlebury church design, modeling the tower for the edifice after Joseph Brown’s First Baptist Church in Providence, which was itself inspired by a design completed by architect James Gibbs.(7) Within a couple years of the church’s completion, these “Gibbsian” towers became high fashion in New England. Fillmore’s architectural style led to local businesses advertising larger scale windows, fine hardware, and a variety of paints. Average houses even began displaying elegant doorways, fan windows, and luxurious fireplaces.(8) Fillmore passed away in 1850, having lived in Vermont since 1805. Over the course of his life he took interest in real estate, milling, and bookselling, and he maintained a respected reputation throughout his career.(9)

Since 1809, the church has been very active, reaching its highest membership of 781 people in 1836. Although more members allowed for better representation of the church, more voices also led to different views on how the church should be run. The Manual, published in 1853 and republished multiple times since then, gave a text of 25 standing rules and articles related to religious discipline contributing to the resolution of this issue.(10)

“Aerial View of Middlebury,” seen from the steeple of the Congregational Church, 1988. Henry Sheldon Museum Collections via UVM’s Landscape Change Program

Fortunately, the Middlebury Congregational Church is still standing and operational. The church has nearly 300 members and remains socially active in worship and community service. Aside from being a valued structure in the Middlebury community, the church is also a part of the United Church of Christ (UCC).(11The UCC is only present in the United States with almost one million total members and over 5,000 churches. In the United States, most of the Congregational Christian Churches joined with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches to form the UCC in 1957.(12) Since the early 21st century, the UCC has supported civil rights, abortion rights, sex education and same-sex marriage. This is not at all surprising as the UCC has supported anti-slavery, missionary movements, and progressive social action since its creation.(13) A prime example of the UCC’s involvement in education occurred on December 31, 1824, when the Middlebury Congregational Church established “Bible Classes” for the children of the church between the ages of 12 and 18 once every month.(14)

Circling back to Henry Sheldon’s chair, the spindle was made using timber cut from the flat east of Court Street by Mr. Abril Chalen. The wood specimen was taken from the section of the main spine after being removed to make room for the Town Clock.(15) The first town clock was placed on trial in 1852 at the annual village meeting, where the people voted a tax of eight cents to pay for its addition. The total cost of the clock came out to be $281.40 including cost of labor, fixtures, and the cast iron material. It remained in use for 39 years and was replaced in 1891.(16)

– Lubomir Cuba ’19

Footnotes:
1 Stephen A. Freeman and Glenn Andres, “Church History – The Congregational Church, UCC, Middlebury, Vermont,” midducc.org/history/
2 Stephen A. Freeman, The Congregational Church of Middlebury, VT 1790-1990. Middlebury Congregational Church, 1990.
3 Ibid.
4 Glenn M. Andres, “Architectural elegance: Lavius Fillmore’s Refinement of the New England Meeting House,” The Walloomsack Review 2 (October 2009).
5 Freeman and Glenn, “Church History – The Congregational Church, UCC, Middlebury, Vermont,” midducc.org/history/
6 Ibid.
7 Glenn M. Andres, “Architectural elegance: Lavius Fillmore’s Refinement of the New England Meeting House,” The Walloomsack Review 2 (October 2009).
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Stephen A. Freeman, The Congregational Church of Middlebury, VT 1790-1990. Middlebury Congregational Church, 1990.
11 “Who We Are: Open and Affirming Congregation | The Congregational Church, UCC, Middlebury, Vermont,” midducc.org/who-we-are/
12 Donald K. McKim, “Christianity: United Church of Christ.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, edited by Thomas Riggs, 2nd ed., vol. 1: Religions and Denominations, Gale, 2015, 355-363.
13 McKim, “Christianity: United Church of Christ,” 355-363.
14 Stephen A. Freeman, The Congregational Church of Middlebury, VT 1790-1990. Middlebury CongregationalChurch, 1990.
15 HL Sheldon Papers, Vol 19, Collection of the Henry Sheldom Museum, Middlebury, Vermont
16 Ibid.

USS Congress

The third spindle from the left on the bottom row of Henry Sheldon’s Relic Chair is made from wood taken from the USS Congress. There have been six US ships bearing the Congress name, but this wood is from the first.

In 1776, American forces suspected an “imminent evacuation” of Canada by American troops following unsuccessful operations in Quebec City, and Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, from his post in Canada, became aware that the British were preparing ships for an invasion on Lake Champlain.1 These factors led to the dispatch of thirty carpenters to Skenesborough, New York (today known as Whitehall), to build a fleet of ships under the command of General Philip Schuyler. This site provided access to much timber and had two sawmills and an iron forge to allow rapid construction. Schuyler delegated command of the project to Hermanus Schuyler (no relation). When the bases of the ships were finished, they were sent to Fort Ticonderoga for “masting and rigging.”2

(Image from The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Volume II, pg. 164)

The first ship from this run of production was launched on June 26, 1776. Philip Schuyler reported to George Washington that one ship could be produced every six days, his confidence boosted by an order for one hundred carpenters from Connecticut and Massachusetts. These carpenters were able to negotiate a very high salary and extensive rations in exchange for work from sunrise to sunset, apart from brief breaks for breakfast and dinner. Schuyler continued to optimize construction and request more men when needed, but in August of 1776 the process severely slowed, due to smallpox and malaria affecting many blacksmiths and carpenters.3 In addition, there were disciplinary issues among some of the carpenters, severely affecting morale.4 Despite these obstacles, the USS Congress was launched on September 1st, 1776. It was armed with six carriage guns and sixteen swivel guns, and manned by eighty sailors.


(Charles Randle, New England Armed Vessels in Valcure [sic] Bay, Lake Champlain [including Royal Savage, Revenge, Lee, Trumbull, Washington, Congress, Philadelphia, New York, Jersey, Connecticut, Providence, New Haven, Spitfire, Boston, and the Liberty] commanded by Benedict Arnold, 1776. Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1996-82-2

On October 6th, the USS Congress joined Benedict Arnold’s fleet, and on October 11th, Arnold made the Congress his flagship.5 On that same day, fighting began with the approaching British fleet. By the end of the day, the Congress had been hit twelve times, seven of them “below the waterline”.6 The Americans suffered severe casualties and had to burn one of their ships, the Royal Savage, to avoid it being taken by the British.7 Arnold held a meeting aboard his flagship that evening, where he told his officers “there would be no surrender; they would make their escape during the night.”8 The American forces, led by the Trumbull, slipped between the British forces and the New York shoreline, making their way south. They were undetected, likely aided by distraction of the burning Royal Savage.9 By daybreak, the Americans were still in sight of the British fleet, but the winds prevented the British from catching up and allowed the Americans a quick stop for repairs.10 However, the next morning the winds changed, and the British were able to fire upon the Congress and the Washington, which was forced to surrender. The British turned their focus to the Congress alone, which sustained even more damage until the battle morphed into a “running chase.”11

To prevent British capture of his vessel, Arnold headed to Ferris Bay, an area he was familiar with. He ran his ship aground and burned it into the water.12 Dr. Robert Knox, who was present, claimed in a letter that Arnold burned “the wounded and sick” inside the vessels, though it could be that Arnold, in the interest of time, did not remove the dead bodies from the ship, which Knox mistakenly believed to be wounded.

The Naval History and Heritage Command states that though the Congress was destroyed and much of her crew killed, it played a role in delaying the British enough to make successful next year’s defense of Saratoga, New York, a “major victory” and “most powerful factor, in influencing France to throw her might, including the large French Navy, on the side of the struggling young republic.”13

According to his acquisition ledger, this spindle was given to Henry Sheldon by a “W. W. Swiney” in January of 1884 (likely William Wallace Swiney of Vergennes). The only known correspondence between these two is a short note written by Sheldon, regarding lending Swiney a series of books. However, Sheldon does address Swiney as “friend.” This suggests a continued amicable relationship between the two.

-Colin Flaherty ’20

Footnotes

1. John R. Bratten, The Gondola Philadelphia and the Battle of Lake Champlain (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 18.
2. Ibid., 20.
3. Ibid., 34.
4. Ibid., 35.
5. Naval History and Heritage Command, “Congress I (Galley),” published June 30, 2015: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/c/congress-i.html; Bratten, 57.
6. Bratten, 64.
7. Ibid., 65.
8. Ibid., 66.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid., 67.
11. Ibid., 69.
12. Ibid.
13. Naval History and Heritage Command, “Congress I (Galley).”

Additional Readings
Art Cohn, “An Incident Not Known to History: Squire Ferris and Benedict Arnold at Ferris Bay, October 13, 1776,” Vermont History 55, no. 2 (Spring 1987): https://vermonthistory.org/journal/misc/FerrisBay.pdf

Middlebury Old College

The third from the left spindle on the top row of Henry Sheldon’s Relic Chair is made from wood taken from the first Middlebury College building, originally constructed as the Addison County Grammar School. Today, this building is often referred to as the Academy, or the East College. By the 1796 Vermont legislative session, residents of Addison County were “anxious to build” their own Grammar School, seeing clearly the utility of others constructed throughout the state.1 Amos Marsh’s petition to build the Grammar School in Vergennes was deferred to the 1797 session, in which three lawyers residing in Middlebury, Samuel Miller, Daniel Chipman, and Seth Storrs, argued Middlebury was a more “centrally located and healthful” choice. Miller was the first lawyer to settle in Middlebury, and Storrs served as the county attorney. These men, along with Gamaliel Painter, a businessman involved in a variety of industries and “archetypal town founder,” all “epitomized the town booster so characteristic of the American frontier.”2 Miller, Chipman, and Storrs’ petition was accepted during the 1797 legislative session, providing the burgeoning town of Middlebury with the opportunity to house the Addison County Grammar School.

Collection of Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, Vermont

The building that would become Middlebury College was instilled with ambition from its construction. In light of Middlebury’s rapid population growth (a tripling between 1791 and 1800) and selection as the host of the 1800 legislative session, the Addison County Grammar School was constructed to be elegant and impressive. It was a three-story white frame building, 80 feet long and 40 feet wide, with an impressive number of windows. Before the construction had finished, Storrs, Miller, Chipman, and Painter, along with Darius Matthews, a medical doctor and resident of the town, had discussed developing the Grammar School into a college. Due to their ambition, combined with a pessimistic outlook on the future of the University of Vermont, they petitioned the 1798 General Assembly to “establish a college or university at … Middlebury.”3 This assembly was “absorbed in national political disputes,” and high tempers along with opposition from supporters of UVM led to the petition being referred to the Assembly’s 1799 meeting, where the petition was again deferred to the 1800 meeting.4

In the 1800 legislative session, legislators were impressed by development in the town of Middlebury, and granted a charter to Middlebury College. After only five days, Middlebury examined seven students for consideration, admitting them all and obtaining its first students. This building remained the only College building, containing dorms, offices, and classrooms for students and faculty until 1815, when Painter Hall was completed, to be followed by Old Chapel and Starr Hall. Together, these three buildings constitute Old Stone Row, and Painter Hall is the oldest surviving college building in Vermont.

Following the construction of Starr Hall, in 1861, the space provided by the original building was no longer needed. Described by an alumnus as “an unsightly ruin in those days, but glorious with memories” the former Addison County Grammar School was torn down in 1867, making space for the construction of a new building for the local grade school.5 Henry Sheldon himself preserved this fragment of wood from an old timber of the building.

– Colin Flaherty ’20

Footnotes

1. David Mitchell Stameshkin, The Town’s college: Middlebury College, 1800-1915 (Middlebury College Press, 1985): 18.
2. Ibid., 15, 17.
3. Ibid., 24.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 150.

Additional Readings
Swift, Samuel.  History of the Town of Middlebury in the County of Addison, Vermont. Middlebury: A.H. Copeland, 1859:  Chapter XXII- “Addison County Grammar School” and chapter XXIII- “Middlebury College”

Moses Sheldon’s House

Photograph of the Sheldon Family Tree, Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT.

After arriving in 1810 in Salisbury, Vermont, a picturesque small town located just under ten miles south of Middlebury, from Salisbury, Connecticut, Moses Sheldon immediately moved his large family into a modest, simple, and quaint abode that, while free of opulence and magnitude, provided more than sufficient shelter for his unit of the Sheldon clan. The house, located at the time directly adjacent to that of Louise Nelson on the road that is today Route 7 remained in the possession of the Sheldon family until 1883, as Moses, the grandfather of Henry Sheldon, passed the house down to his namesake Moses, one of Henry’s numerous uncles, who then ultimately sold the house to Frank B. Nelson, a relative of the home’s longtime neighbor Louise, in that year. 1 The new buyer chose to dismantle the humble edifice and construct a new home on the site later on in 1889.2  Henry’s uncle Moses bestowed several family artifacts upon Henry on March 5, 1883, including a piece of wood from the frame of the longtime Sheldon family residence, as indicated in the Museum acquisition ledger and in Henry’s own diary.3

Acquisitions ledger of the Sheldon Museum, indicating donations from Moses Sheldon: chairs, snuff box, books and pamphlets, and “Piece of wood from his house which is the same into which Grandfather Moses Sheldon and family moved when they came from Conn. in 1810.”
Henry Sheldon, diary entry of March 5th, 1883. “Henry Sheldon Personal Diary,” Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT.

Though it is unclear why exactly Moses Sheldon, born in 1752, chose to migrate from Connecticut to Vermont in 1810, it is possible he was encouraged by his father-in-law, Samuel Keep, who was an original proprietor of several towns in the area. Moses remained married to Samuel’s daughter Hannah until his death in 1828 at 76 years of age, and his widow remained in the Salisbury, Vermont home until her own death in 1841 at age 82. The two were fortunate to have a wealth of children before their respective passages, thereby ensuring that the home remained occupied for a substantial period of time by numerous members of the family, the last of which, Moses, as discussed earlier, elected to sell the home to Frank B. Nelson. This new owner, the first non-Sheldon man to own the home in almost a century, elected to remove and dismantle the old homestead in order to construct a more modern edifice on the property, “much to the regret of former occupants and friends” who found substantial sentimental value in the historic home.4

While the house from which this spindle is drawn is fairly innocuous on a larger level, as neither the home nor its residents maintained major significance during the time or today, its inclusion in the relic chair serves to illustrate a critical aspect of relics themselves. Relics are, oftentimes, undoubtedly drawn from famous, transformative, and iconic sources endowed with significance for nearly everyone who hears of them; however, such importance is not essential to the creation of a relic. Instead, as is the case in this instance, the source of a relic can be of entirely personal significance, of perhaps a more subjective, familial, and intimate kind. Therefore, while we today may not revere Moses Sheldon’s home as one of history’s finest, its inclusion indicates that to the Sheldon family, a people iconic to Middlebury and the state of Vermont in their own right, this home was a critical piece of their hereditary tapestry.

-Trevor Schmitt ’18

Footnotes

[1] Max P. Petersen, Salisbury–From Birth to Bicentennial. Salisbury, VT: Dunmore House, 1991.

[2] Henry Sheldon. “Sketch of East Street Salisbury Vt, 1903,” Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT.

[3] Henry Sheldon. “Henry Sheldon Personal Diary,” Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT.

[4] Henry Sheldon. “Sketch of East Street Salisbury Vt, 1903,” Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT.

Holland Weeks’s House

This piece of wood was procured from Holland Weeks’s House, also known as the “Weeks Homested,” according to Henry Sheldon. Sheldon might have obtained the specimen himself in 1884 from the attic in Weeks’s house. According to the Weeks Family Papers, there is a record of Hannah Lucy (Weeks) Clarke, daughter of Holland Weeks, giving a “gift” to Henry Sheldon.[1] Sheldon describes the spindle in his log book: “Weeks Homested [sic]. Holland Weeks moved to Salisbury, VT in 1788 and built the house about 18– in which his large family were brought up and lived until all died or removed.”[2]

The acquisitions ledger for the museum indicates that Sheldon received a specimen from the Holland Weeks homestead from a Mr. Hulett on September 13, 1884:

Sheldon’s diary entry from this day reads, “September, 13, 1884. Windy. Cloudy and very cold day. I went to Salisbury and got some old books and relics.”[3] Presumably, one of the “relics” he is referring to is the piece of wood from Weeks’s house.

While Sheldon’s brief description of Holland Weeks is accurate, the Weeks Family Papers provide further insight into Weeks’s life. The Weeks Family lineage traces back to the Mayflower. Holland Weeks was born in 1743 in Pomfret, Connecticut to Ebenezer and Anna Holland Weeks. He then moved to Litchfield in his youth before receiving a land title in Vermont in 1785. Weeks married Hannah Moseley Weeks and had eleven children: Holland, Eunice, Eliakim, Elizabeth, Hannah, Esther, Sophia, Ebenezer, Sarah, and John Moseley. In 1788, Holland Weeks began the process of building his house in Salisbury. He surveyed the land, cleared it, and built a log house. Then, in 1789, he officially moved his family from Connecticut to their new home. Weeks ran a successful farm on this land for several years, and was an active member in the community. He also is credited as building the town’s first cider mill in 1810, two years before his death in 1812.[4]

Photograph of the Weeks Family Tree, “Weeks Family Papers,” Box 1, Folder 4, Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT

According to the Daughters of the American Revolution genealogy, Weeks was a “patriot who supplied saltpeter to the Continental Army.”[5] The Continental Army, of course, was established in 1775 in the midst of the American Revolution.[6] Saltpeter was a major component in the production of gunpowder at that time.[7] Though it is unclear how Weeks acquired the saltpeter, or the extent of his relationship with the army, it nonetheless adds an interesting dimension to Weeks’s backstory.

-David McDaniel ’19

 

Footnotes

[1] Weeks Family. “Weeks Family Papers,” 1764-1900, Box 1, Folder 4, Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT.

[2] Henry Sheldon, “Log Book” of woods used in the Memorial Chair (H.L. Sheldon papers, vol. 19), Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT.

[3] Henry Sheldon, “Henry Sheldon Personal Diary,” Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT

[4] Weeks Family Papers.

[5] Weeks Family Papers.

[6] William P. Kladky, “Continental Army,” George Washington Digital Encyclopedia, edited by Joseph F. Stoltz III. Mount Vernon Estate, 2012–-: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/continental-army/. Accessed 23 January 2018.

[7] Jimmy Dick, “The Gunpowder Shortage,” Journal of the American Revolution (9 September 2013), accessed 1 February 2018: https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/09/the-gunpowder-shortage/

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