Chapter Twelve

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 the Iroquois.

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 name.

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 Governors.

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 Grants.

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.

When Benning 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 River.

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 – 289).

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 extensive Grants.

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:

"Governor Wentworth 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 religion.

"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.

"Whatever 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.

"Their members 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 attached.

"What expectations were wanting from their numbers, needed to be supplied in some other way.

"Accordingly, whilst 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 country.

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.

Unfortunately, the 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 respective congregations.

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 Moore.

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 England.

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 England.
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 Hampshire.

[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 the war.

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 the petition.

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 received.

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 litigation.

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 would cease.

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 Peace.

3. That if it was so protected, still the effect of the war was to put an end to that treaty.


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 State.
These were test cases and subject to no appeal.

Mr. Kitrridge Haskins in his address to the diocesan convention in Arlington in 1890 said:

"The beneficial 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 Missions.

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 Vermont.

"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 Vermont.

"This arrangement 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 Vermont.

"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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