The History of the Glebe Lands in Vermont
In Stewart H.
Holbrook’s book on "Ethan Allen" there is a valuable chapter on
"the Gods of the Hills" which gives a vivid picture of what the
country known as the New Hampshire Grants was like. ("Ethan
Allen," by Stewart H. Holbrook. Published by the Macmillan Co.)
The country between
Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River had long been disputed
hunting ground and was the highway for battles.
First the territory was fought for by the Iroquois and the
various Algonquin tribes.
Then the French
claimed it, when in 1609 the French explorer Samuel de Champlain
discovered it and gained possession of it after a battle with
Like Palestine the
country was the highway over which enemies traveled and fought.
The French and
English fought in this land then a wilderness, but now often
called "the Switzerland of America," but finally after reverses
on each side the New Hampshire Grants were the outcome of the
victory of the English who claimed the territory in the name of
the King, and as the pioneers sought to settle here lands were
granted to them by the Governor of New Hampshire in the King’s
Holbrook points out
that the source of the bitterness and strife and the cruel
atrocities, which occurred after the country became British
territory, was the fact that after being the center of dispute
by two nations it became a matter of dispute between two English
The Grants began, as
generally accepted, on the east at the line of the Connecticut
River, but the boundary line on the west was vague. Even the
English King himself did not know the exact boundaries of the
It was like the owner
of Red Mountain selling portions of land on this side of the
mountain to various persons, making the deal in Boston, and
having no knowledge of the location and extent of the lands.
In the dividing of
the property there would inevitably be an encroachment of the
one upon the other.
This dispute arose
because the western boundary had not been definitely described.
Wentworth, appointed Governor of New Hampshire in 1741 by the
King, was given the right to grant unsettled lands within his
jurisdiction he was guided in his distribution by the
Massachusetts line which extended west to an imaginary line
twenty miles east of the Hudson River.
New Hampshire, the
Governor claimed, should have the same boundaries. But New York
objected, claiming its eastern boundary as the Connecticut
This conflict of
jurisdiction, occasioned by the overlapping of New Hampshire and
New York titles, as Mr. Horace Abrams points out, in a recent
article in the Bennington Evening Banner, "was not auspicious
for the growth of new settlements, which had plenty of natural
difficulties with which to contend."
The matter was
referred to London and in 1764 the King acknowledged New York’s
claims, thus placing Wentworth’s grant of Bennington in New
York. It is very likely that there was a personal, selfish
interest in the debate on the land question on the part of the
governors of New Hampshire and New York for they were
punctilious in the matter of their fees. *
Soon after the King’s
order the Governor of New York, assuming that Governor Wentworth
had never possessed any rights to grant lands in the disputed
territory, proceeded to re-grant certain lands on which settlers
with New Hampshire titles were already living. (Note - Governor
Cadwallader Golden, of New York, on May twenty-first, 1765 made
his first grant of lands within the present limits of Vermont,
and this grant included a large number of farms already settled
under the Wentworth Grants. This tract was patented as
Princetown and covered most of the settlements in Arlington, all
those in Manchester, and probably some in Sunderland.
Approximately fifty farms and the land, on which Remember Baker
was building a sawmill and gristmill, were taken summarily from
the actual settlers. – Crockett’s History of Vermont, pages 288
The people in
Arlington and Bennington, much stirred up by this arbitrary
action chose two men, Samuel Robinson, of Bennington, who had
been active in the early settlements in the New Hampshire
Grants, and Jehiel Hawley, of Arlington, one of the leading
settlers there, the founder of the town and the Episcopal
Church, to make a trip to England and to present the grievances
of the settlers to the King.
The result of this mission was that on July twenty-fourth, 1767,
an order of The King in Council was issued forbidding the
Governor of New York to make grants of any lands already
patented by New Hampshire.
This order issued by
the King was ignored by his duly appointed representatives in
the New York Colony. Had the order been recognized and obeyed
the civil strife and uprisings of that period of the settlers
against their invaders might have been avoided.
It is not within the
scope of this chapter to enter into the details of this
controversy, which is familiar to students of Vermont history.
The history of the Glebe Lands, however, is one, which has an
intimate concern with the history of this parish and this
diocese. A Glebe in English ecclesiastical law is the land
devoted to the maintenance of the incumbent of a church. In
England every church of common right is entitled to a house and
glebe and the assigning of them at the first was of such
absolute necessity that without them no church could be
regularly consecrated. (Encyclopedia Britannica.) It as quite
likely that when the New Hampshire Grants were allotted by the
Crown to be distributed by Governor Wentworth in the King’s name
it was his intention that the same law as prevailed in England
with regard to the maintenance of the incumbent of a parish
should be observed.
The procedure on the
part of those who wished to obtain unsettled lands in this
territory in the possession of the King was for the petitioners
to go to Governor Wentworth of New Hampshire (the territory now
constituting the State of Vermont was originally a part of New
Hampshire), and make their requests for a grant of land in the
location which they wished to occupy, and these grants were made
by the governor in the King’s name for a specified fee.
After the conquest of
Canada applications for grants became frequent.
From January third,
1749, the date of the charter of Bennington, to November third,
1764, the date of the charter of Panton, Governor Wentworth
issued about 138 charters granting lands in this state. (Note -
Governor Wentworth, as a result of the granting of 138 charters
of land in Vermont became a very large landed proprietor. The
total amount of Governor Wentworth’s grants to himself was
65,000 acres. - Crockett’s History of Vermont, vol. 1, p. 182.)
It is significant of
the king’s intention to institute the glebe system in connection
with the Grants that after the captions of these several
charters, which are uniformly phrased, a description follows of
the various provisions of the Grant, among which in most
charters is found the following:
"To his Excellency
Benning Wentworth Esq., a certain tract of land to contain 500
acres as marked ‘B. W.’ in the plan, which is to be accounted
two of the within shares; one share for the Incorporated Society
for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts; one share
for a Glebe for the Church of England as by law established; one
share for the first settled minister of the Gospel, and one
share for the benefit of a school in said town."
It will be
interesting to understand why these provisions in regard to the
Glebe lands were made and to explain the purpose of such
There is on record in
the Diocesan Journal of the Convention of 1823, which was held
at Middlebury, the report of a Prudential Committee previously
appointed by the convention to care for the temporalities of the
Church. This report indicates that the subject of the
distribution of the Glebe lands had been carefully studied by
Governor Wentworth under whose administration it took place.
The following are some extracts from this report:
was an Episcopalian.
"But at that period
the number who thought like him was very small. They were
emphatically - a minor sect. Congregationalists made up a large
body of the colonists. Indeed that denomination was by the
Colonial government considered and treated as the established
"In pursuing the
reigning policy of the age to promote the settlement of new
plantations, the government foresaw that they would be chiefly
settled by the prevailing denomination.
encouragement, therefore, was necessary in those periods for the
introduction and support of religion was less necessary for the
reigning sect than for the minor ones.
constituted an obvious and sufficient resource. But it was
presumed that Episcopalians would not be easily induced to
remove back into the remote settlements without some reasonable
hope and strong encouragement that they would be able to
maintain the ministry and service to which they were so strongly
were wanting from their numbers, needed to be supplied in some
only one right of land was given to the first settled minister,
who it was foreseen would commonly be a Congregationalist, two
rights were granted to Episcopalians, one for a Glebe and the
other for the benefit of the Society for Propagating the Gospel
in Foreign Parts."
Vermont is one of the
few dioceses, which still enjoys in any considerable measure the
benefits of early Grants from the Crown to the Church in this
For this our diocese
is indebted to the zeal and perseverance on the part of loyal
Churchmen, and in particular to the Rev. Abraham Bronson, who
was almost alone in his struggle to retain for the use of this
Church the lands granted to the Society for the Propagation of
the Gospel in Foreign Parts.
lands which were granted for a Church Glebe and for the Society
for the Propagation of the Gospel came into the possession of
the Episcopal Church at a time when the state was thinly
populated, and there were only a few churches actively cared for
by regularly ordained ministers.
The school lands had
been generally well managed for the public good, and the share
for the settled minister was made available in most townships
though none but the one in Arlington had come into the
possession of an Episcopal clergyman.
The Church glebes,
however, in many townships had been for many years neglected for
want of churches to occupy them.
In view of this fact,
and it may be, as a boon to educational enterprises,
propositions were made to the Vermont legislature relative to
the sequestration for the use of Dartmouth College, and for the
maintenance of academies in this state, of the rights of land
reserved in the New Hampshire charters for the Propagation
Society and for the purpose of Glebes.
In 1785, apparently
about the time that this proposition was being considered by the
legislature, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in
Foreign Parts in England declared in writing to members of the
Church of England in each of the states of America in which the
Society had property, its intention to make over all the
property it held to the use of the Episcopal Church in this
country, recognizing the identity of the Episcopal Church with
the Church of England in the Colonies.
The Hon. Nathaniel
Chipman, the Chief Justice of the State, prompted by the action
of the Propagation Society, petitioned the legislature, making
the plea that a society be incorporated for the purpose of
receiving a conveyance from the English Propagation Society of
the lands donated by them as provided in the grants, and to hold
the same for the uses as specified.
This petition was
read but not acted upon.
On the contrary the
legislature at its session in October, 1786, reported that "in
the opinion of this committee the lands formerly claimed by the
Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, in
consequence of the Revolution, are now become the property of
the citizens of Vermont."
Another Act passed by
the legislature in 1794 granted the Glebes to the respective
towns in which they were situated for the support of religious
worship, to be distributed among all and any religious teachers
in proportion to the number of ratable polls belonging to the
This legislation was
opposed in Manchester where the Rev. Daniel Barber was
officiating, and a suit was carried into the Circuit Court of
the United States in October 1798, which handed down a decision
declaring the Act unconstitutional and void. It was then
repealed by the legislature.
At the same session
of the legislature in 1794 a bill was passed providing that the
lands of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in
Foreign Parts be granted to the respective towns in which they
were situated. The Selectmen being empowered to obtain
possession by action of ejectment and then leasing the lands "as
long as wood grows and water runs," the rents to be derived
there from to be paid into the respective town treasuries and to
be distributed pro rata to the several school districts for the
support of the schools. This Act was a logical result of the
sentiment expressed by the committee of the legislature several
years earlier, but it was a distinct setback to the progress of
the Episcopal Church in Vermont.
When the Rev. Abraham
Bronson came into Vermont in 1802 he began to investigate the
legality of this Act, and after consulting with Mr. Anson J.
Sperry, a law student in Manchester they were satisfied that the
Society’s title remained good.
The first step then
taken was to bring the subject before the Church State
Convention, which they did in 1805, and obtained the passage of
a resolution directing the Standing Committee to take measures
for procuring a Conveyance of the trust.
A resolution was also
passed requesting the Bishop of New York to take the Church in
Vermont under his jurisdiction.
Mr. Sperry also went
to New York to explain the views of the Convention to Bishop
In July 1806 the
petition for the conveyance of the trust from the Propagation
Society to the representatives of the Church in Vermont was
transmitted by Bishop Moore to London.
No response was
received to this petition from the authorities in the Church of
In 1808 Mr. Bronson
went to Canada and stated his case to the Rev. Dr. Charles
Stewart who was about to visit London.
Dr. Stewart was one of the Scottish Nobility who had taken
orders in the Church and had gone to the Province of Lower
Canada to promote the cause of religion there. He was also a
member of the Propagation Society.
Dr. Stewart became
interested and finally as will be noted a little later was
instrumental in the favorable decision of the Society in
In 1808 Bishop Moore again appealed to the Society in London,
and after a year received the answer that they could not
consistently make conveyance of the property until they had
further information about the success of a power of attorney
which they had given for the recovery of their lands in New
[Note. - The Church
in New Hampshire. after receiving its notice of the intention of
the Propagation Society to make over its lands to the use of the
Episcopal Church in America had taken measures immediately to
procure the lands belonging to the Society in that stare. Soon
after this they had procured from the Society in England a Power
of Attorney authorizing them to recover possession of the Lands
in the name of the Society and to appropriate the rental and
profits to the support of the Church in that state. This, the
Church in Vermont had failed to do].
At the General
Convention in 1811 through the assistance of Hon. Rufus King, of
New York, a resolution passed the House of Deputies requesting
the Presiding Bishop to address a letter to the Society in
London on behalf of the Church in Vermont.
Much of the delay in these proceedings was caused undoubtedly by
the strained relations between the two countries at the close of
In 1815 a friendlier
attitude began and Dr. Stewart who had been waiting for the
favorable moment came to Vermont and offered to take charge of
At a convention in
Arlington these papers were prepared and afterwards sent to Dr.
Stewart in Canada, who that same year went to England and
presented the petition to the Society for the Propagation of the
Gospel. The Society passed a resolution to grant the request.
There was a delay of
a year owing to some legal matters that had to be settled and
then in April. 1817 the Power of Attorney with affidavits was
The agents appointed
to serve the Church in Vermont were Bishop Griswold, Abraham
Bronson, Silas Spafford, Daniel Chipman and Anson J. Sperry.
They were authorized
to recover the lands and give durable leases, and appropriate
such share of rents as they should think proper to the support
of the Bishop and the remainder, after paying expenses, to the
use of the Church.
It had been a long
and tedious effort, and it was made unselfishly and with none
other than the spirit of fair play in the interests of the
future welfare of the Church in Vermont.
A short time after
the decision, the agents met at Middlebury and organized
themselves as a corporation and appointed agents in different
counties to look tip and lease the lands.
More than half of the
lands were recovered during the first year. The next year,
however, some resistance was encountered which led again to much
Finally a suit was
brought in 1818 by Land Agents of the Society for the
Propagation of the Gospel against the Town of New Haven and
William Wheeler, defendants, for the recovery of the lands
granted to the Society in the charter of the Town issued by
Governor Wentworth November 2, 1761.
The purpose of the
Agents in bringing suit against the Town of New Haven in
preference to any other town was that they had reason to believe
that the suit would be strongly defended and carried to the
Supreme Court for a final decision, and thus further litigation
The suit was brought
in the Circuit Court of the United States. The judges were
divided in opinion upon the question as to whether judgment
should be rendered for the plaintiffs or the defendants.
The Town then made
application to the legislature, which appointed an Agent to
defend the suit, making a liberal appropriation for the expense.
The appeal was then
made to the Supreme Court at the February term, 1823.
There were three
contentions by the counsel for the defendants:
1. That the capacity
of the plaintiffs to hold lands in Vermont ceased as a
consequence of the Revolution.
2. That the Society
being a foreign corporation is incapable of holding lands in
Vermont and that its rights are not pro-tected by the Treaty of
3. That if it was so
protected, still the effect of the war was to put an end to that
The contentions of
the defendants were held to be not well founded and judgment was
rendered for the plaintiffs by six Judges, one Judge dissenting.
At the same time the
Court rendered a decision in regard to the Glebe lands, which
resulted in the loss of most of these lands to the Church. This
decision was based on the technical ground that where parishes
were not actually and legally organized and in possession of the
glebes, the title remained vested in the Crown as an unfulfilled
bequest, and this title was transferred by the Revolution to the
These were test cases and subject to no appeal.
Mr. Kitrridge Haskins
in his address to the diocesan convention in Arlington in 1890
results growing out of the suit brought in the name of the
Propagation Society have been the securing to the use of the
Church in Vermont the lands so granted, which yield an annual
income of over $3,000.
"Had the Church
succeeded in the other suit the income added to that we now have
would extend the influence of the Church into many towns and
places now without it."
As to the propriety
of the litigation so aggressively carried on by the Church Mr.
Bronson says in his Historical Letters:
"It has been
sometimes questioned whether the recovery of the Society’s lands
has not raised a prejudice against the Church such as will
overbalance the benefits that may be derived from them. The
prejudice in some quarters is indeed considerable; but in no
instance as I am aware is it so extensive or so great as to
operate materially against the interests of religion or the
progress of the Church.
"Whereas by a little
aid from that fund, some parishes have been sustained and built
up, which apparently must have been dissolved, and some new
parishes have been formed where the friends of the Church would
not otherwise have had resolution to make any effort. And
besides, it must have been difficult to raise a suitable support
for the Episcopate without some assistance from this fund."
The Board of Land
Agents after their appointment in 1823 made an allowance of
$1,000 to Mr. Anson Sperry for services and expenditures, and
with the approval of the convention $1,200 was granted to the
Rev. Abraham Bronson.
Mr. Bronson explained
in regard to this grant of money that the Land business had been
a subject of constant labor and expense to him for more than
thirteen years, and had prevented his acceptance of a field
where his salary, instead of affording him a bare subsistence,
might have made his family more comfortable. (Historical Letters
of Abraham Bronson).
From 1839 the Bishop
of the Diocese has been a member of the Board of Land Agents
ex-officio and its president. (Bishop Hall on the Glebe Lands,
Mountain Echo, June 1914).
The other members are
nominated to the Society by the diocesan convention. Sub-agents
are appointed for the several counties of the state who collect
the rentals and forward them to the treasurer.
At first perpetual
leases were commonly granted, "as long as wood grows and water
runs," but from 1859 no leases for more than twenty years are
permitted without confirmation by the Society.
The disadvantage of
perpetual leases was that many lands got out of control of the
Church unless surrendered or forfeited for non-payment of rent.
The income from the
lands and from a general fund into which some savings have been
placed amounts to about $3,000 a year.
The purposes of the
Grants were declared to be in the first Power of Attorney:
1. The use and
benefit of the Bishop, and
2. The remaining income for the use and support of clergymen in
the several towns where the lands were situated.
The restriction to
the particular towns was after a while removed in the interest
of greater usefulness, and the income became a fund from which
grants were made at the discretion of the agents.
Soon after Bishop
Hall came into the diocese he persuaded the agents to make over
whatever they assigned to that purpose in a lump sum to the
Missionary Committee of the diocese so as to make one
responsible distributing board.
In 1914 the
disbursements were made as follows:
One thousand four
hundred dollars to the Episcopal Fund and $1,800 for Diocesan
About this time in
view of the election of a Bishop Coadjutor these amounts were
reversed and only $1,400 given to the Missionary Committee.
(Bishop Hall on the Glebe Lands, Mountain Echo, June 1914).
In the June, 1936
number of the Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal
Church, Mr. Walter Herbert Stowe has an article "Documentary
History of the American Church" in which there is a summary
given of the Glebe Lands in Vermont by Hon. John Spargo,
Registrar of the Diocese of Vermont which may appropriately
close this article:
"The Diocese of
Vermont still derives a not inconsiderable sum annually from
these lands. From the beginning the Protestant Episcopal Church
was unpopular in the New Hampshire Grants, later the State of
"In some cases the
500 acres of land granted to the S. P. G. in the charters were
diverted to the other churches, principally Congregationalist.
There were no - or too few - local Episcopalians to protest.
"There were other
alienation’s also, the Legislature passing various acts directed
to the end of eliminating the S. P. C. titles or rights.
"In part by
litigation and in part by the local insistence of small local
groups and interested individuals, the S. P. G. rights were
conserved and maintained n quite a number of instances.
"In 1823 the Supreme
Court of the United States ruled that the holding of the lands
by the S. P. G. was not invalidated by political changes in the
country, but the revenues must be devoted to Vermont purposes.
Having established its rights to the lands in a number of
places, the S. P. G. held these lands for many years in trust
for the Diocese of Vermont through a Board of Land Grants in
went on for a good many years, Bishop Hall devoting a great deal
of time and energy to the development of it and to the recovery
of as much as possible of the old ‘Gospel Lands.’
"In 1928, the S. P.
G. finally and formally transferred them to the Diocese of
Vermont, title being vested in the Trustees of the Diocese of
"Some $3,000 per year
in rentals come from these lands, and in addition there is what
is called the ‘Permanent Fund’ of $11,392 which has accumulated
from the sale of timber as distinct from the rents of the lots."
The parish Glebe
Lands are four in number, as follows:
1. R. K. Miles’ one
hundred acres on Red Mountain.
2. Two one hundred-acre Guber lots in South Arlington.
3. Black Hole Hollow, eight miles from Cambridge.
4. Shakshober rent-lands south of Nichols’ farm.
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