Chapter Fourteen

St. James’ Churchyard By Horace Mills Abrams

 

Of those who travel Route 7, many note the picturesque beauty of the little, Old Churchyard of St. James’, Arlington, and some of the more discerning stop to gain better acquaintance. Older by many years than the church building itself, the churchyard with its vine-covered stone wall and fine trees at its gate, yet nestles in the protecting shadow of the church. This cemetery has an interesting history coupled with its beauty, and as this history leads to a better understanding of Arlington, some of the story will be briefly given.


Those who settled Arlington were many of them Episcopalians. One primary cause of their migration was rebellion against the services, which they were compelled to attend in Connecticut. It was therefore natural that the town charter made provision for the support of a church and minister agreeable to the settlers. Rev. Frederick A. Wadleigh, one time Rector of St. James’ and probably Arlington’s best historian says - "The public rights, set apart by the town charter, were believed to be sufficient to constitute ample endowment - provided anything like fairness were used in selecting the lots. To Captain Jehiel Hawley, leader of the emigration, therefore, the care and protecting of these rights was entrusted" by vote of the proprietors in the spring of 1764 at the same meeting in which Hawley was elected the town’s first moderator. "In 1765, by vote, the proprietors set apart a plot of about 14 acres, 3 of which should be a churchyard and public green, the remainder as part of the glebe evidently intended as a place for the church and ministerial residence."

 

The selection of this plot in the center of the village in such an attractive site is another debt - one probably not appreciated by modern men of business - which those who love Arlington owe to Jehiel Hawley and his far-sighted interest.
 

In some manner, not now known, much of this plot was confiscated and sold, with the exception of the north-east acre reserved for burial of the dead." What attractiveness was lost to Arlington when Hawley's original plan of making these 14 central acres a "common was swept aside!
 

Most people assume that because of the logical location of the church next to the burying ground, they were always intended to be that way. That is only partially true. They have grown up together for over a century, but when in 1784, after many delays occasioned by the events of history preceding, the question of location of the church building came up and another location was selected. Wadleigh says - "Having been excluded from the public ground set apart for the purpose, timber cut on a glebe lot was drawn to a place about half way between East Arlington and West Arlington. A conference with Gov. Chittenden, and with the counsel of Lemuel Buck, Esq. who lived as far distant as any person, led to reconsideration, and it was voted to build the church by a stake to be set by the Governor south of the church yard." So the church came back to the approximate site that wise old Jehiel Hawley intended it to occupy. How many churches can point to having their locations selected by the founder of both the town and church and by the highest officer in their civil government?
 

Not only has the originally planned location of the church been moved, but also that of the burying ground itself. It originally extended somewhat farther east toward the state road than at present. Just when the east boundary was moved back is uncertain now and no record exists as to those who were laid in the ground now a part of the road to the church. Our Vermont ancestors of those colonial times had neither the affluence nor time to mark the resting-places of their dead with inscribed stones. Rough fieldstones upended at head and foot marked many graves, while others lacked even this identification. Probably many of the early settlers whose graves are now unknown were among those who could not be identified when others were removed inside the existing boundaries. A number of interesting stories, too long to relate here, are told about this readjustment by older Arlingtonians.
 

In any case Arlington is somewhat unique among New England towns in that so many who did so much for her in her early days, passed on to find their last abode in even newer settlements further North. Some like Jehiel Hawley were Tories and though invited to return after Saratoga did not do so. In others the migratory instinct, which brought them to Arlington, originally proved too strong and they moved to newer settlements. Of these may be mentioned Daniel Castle, who was one of the early settlers in four different Vermont towns, Ethan Allen, Mathew Lyons, Governor Chittenden and many other notable Vermonters. Some, like Remember Baker, to whom a memorial has been erected (1941) met untimely deaths in line of duty to the new Republic elsewhere and never, returned to their home. However, many of Arlington’s early notables still watch its progress from St. James’ Churchyard. The earliest remaining stone is that of Amos Leonard who died December eighth, 1777. Many of Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys, both officers and enlisted men lie beneath the little waving flags, which spot the green lawn. Just within and to the right of the evergreen shaded gate is the mossy stone of Mary Lyons, wife of Mathew Lyons the bull-necked Irish contemporary and neighbor of Ethan Allen and Thomas Chittenden. Not much is known of Mary but not the least of her husband’s achievements was that of being the only man to ever represent successively - and successfully - in Washington, the people of three different states.
 

A recent publication states that Mary Brownson, Ethan Allen’s first wife was buried in Sunderland. In fact, both she and two of the lusty Ethan’s children, Joseph and Mary are buried in St. James’. The exact location of their graves was lost in the moving mentioned above. However, a stone to their memory was erected by Mr. Jesse Burdett on the Burdett lot near the center of the yard. A young college graduate-progenitor of Miss Hermione and Mr. Nathaniel Canfield of Manchester, was Ethan Allen’s secretary while the latter was producing his "Oracle of Reason" in Sunderland. Mary Brownson was not noted for tenderness of tongue nor was young Hitchcock over assiduous in the matter of work. Hitchcock’s friends were wont to remark after Mary’s death that they never saw him work so hard or so willingly as when helping to carry Mary’s body from Sunderland to St. James’ Churchyard in February, 1785.
 

Mr. Jesse Burdett, for many years Vice-President of the N. Y. C. & H. R. railroad, had his summer home in the present Rectory. Both he and Mrs. Burdett and their son John Lathrop Burdett, at one time Paymaster of the N. Y. C. & H. R. railroad, were among Arlington’s valued people.
 

Near the northeast corner stands a pure white marble cross of beautifully modest simplicity and proportions marking the graves of Schureman Halsted Watkins and his wife Helen. The work of Rev. Dr. Watkins and his wife are better told elsewhere in this volume.
Not far away is also the resting-place of the devoted wife and helpmate of the Rev. George R. Brush, a former Rector of St. James’.
At about this same point the youth of Arlington for many years received their education in the school of District No. 2. The building itself - after three moves has apparently come to rest behind the church on School St. where it now serves as home and summer studio of Miss Ethel S. Drummond, a noted music teacher of Philadelphia. At one period a Baptist Church stood on the cemetery lot near the school - so near in fact that Mr. Will Hard, now 87 years young and of remarkably keen memory, relates that the older boys could jump from the school to the church steps. He has good reason to remember. Not as old as the hoys of whom he speaks - young Hard tried the jump - and cut his forehead on the church steps in his unsuccessful attempt.
 

Space does not allow mention of many others resting here. It is hoped that a directory of the cemetery may soon be erected near the entrance for the assistance of the increasing number who visit this beautiful spot each summer. The names of many representatives of colonial Arlington families are here, Hawleys, Hurds, Hards, Canfields, Lathrops, Demings, Holdens, Benedicts, Gallushas and Andrews, to mention just a few.
 

St. James’ is a happy hunting ground for those interested in quaint head stones. Many have exceptional Masonic symbols. Dr. Kelly, Baltimore’s noted surgeon, has found here "cherubs" of unusual design and beauty. The names on the stones give a good picture of the period, in which they lived and worked, good Yankee names, all of them. There are Zadock Hard, Chloe Deming, Benijah Leonard, Eliakim Williams, Thankful Briggs, Abner Everts, Tabitha, Zilphia and Seth Pollard, Polly MeAuley, Biron Barless, Simeon Jones, Galen, Adoniram and Israel Canfield, Jerusha Clark.
 

Another, Elnathan Merwin, kept one of the numerous taverns, which abounded in colonial days. Perhaps Elnathan’s was larger - or more conveniently located - than some of the others. Certain it is that in the southeast corner room of his tavern was held the first recorded meeting of a Masonic Lodge in Arlington in March 1797. Elnathan’s tavern achieved fame even before that, when most of the meetings of the Governor and Council were held there - perhaps in the same room - when Vermont was an independent Republic of which Arlington was the capital. Elnathan still watches over many that do not know of his claim to fame.
 

Sr. James’ is not Arlington’s only colonial churchyard. Natural advantages led many of the settlers to make their "pitches" near what is known as "The Green" in West Arlington. In 1802, these families associated themselves together for the purpose of building a church of their own. The East Church (now St. James’) was a free church called Bethel, while the one at West Arlington in which the pews were sold at auction was called Bethesda. The churches got on well together having the same minister and one-half the officers of the association coming from "down river." The Bethesda church had their own churchyard on a knoll above the Battenkill and on the road about one-half mile west of the church. Here rest most of the Bucks, the Hurds, some of the Hawleys and other representatives of the original families. Mark Whalon, in an historical article has described in some detail the Bennington County custom in which farmers quarried marble on their farms for tombstones long before they were needed. On summer Sundays after service they were wont to gaze on these memorials - sometimes comparing their own with those of their neighbors. The West Arlington yard contains two stones whose inscriptions prove the facts of Mr. Whalon’s narrative.
 

When Captain Jehiel Hawley led the little band of youthful emigrants from New Milford, Connecticut, to their new homes in Arlington, he was accompanied, among others by his brothers - Abel, Gideon and Josiah, and their father Ephraim. Ephraim Hawley lies near the center of the churchyard. His simple stone bears, in addition to his own name, this inscription - "Jehiel, his son, The Founder of the Episcopal Church in Vermont." Nearby, its molded top decorated with the carved cherub and weeping willow of the colonial period, Stands another plain stone. Appropriately to him whom it so well and simply commemorates, Nature has given it a delicate pattern of lichens. When and by whom it was erected perhaps some reader can advise. It bears this inscription -
 

In memory of
Captain Jehiel Hawkins, of
Arlington, in Shelburne, County of
Chittenden, this man died November
2nd A. Domini 1777 aged 66 years.
Death Reigns Triumphant
This man has ceased, he speaks no more.
His Troubles are past, his fears are o'er.
Then speak no ill ye men of spite
For God’s a God that Juggeth right.
Let him that standeth
Take heed lest he fall.

 

In such simple words is written the memorial of the man who founded the beautiful, historic little town of Arlington: who founded the splendid Episcopal Church of Vermont. A man of whom it has been said that his enemies could find no fault save that while he "feared" and served "God," he also "honored the King" and who because of his wise judgment, ability and kindness should be better known and honored as one of Vermont’s great citizens.
 

Arlington has her historic place in the story of Vermont and of the nation. More fortunate than many larger places, and ones better known today, she has had an unusually large proportion of historic residents. Other towns may claim Ethan Allen - Ethan was certainly large enough to share - he made his home in Arlington during the period of his greatest activity. Governor Thomas Chittenden was of sufficient stature to share and he achieved his best work while living in Arlington. There are others - Remember Baker, Judge Harmon Canfield, Schureman Halsted Watkins, Jesse Burdett, George H. Wadleigh and many others, several of whom are not to be found in St. James’ and whom Arlington is glad to share with other towns.

 

 

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