First Ballot Box 1769


Brattleboro's First Ballot Box.


A Bit of History of the Time When It Was Probably First Used.


A square ballot box, neatly made of cherry, said to have been the first one ever used in this town, has been very kindly and thoughtfully presented by Mr. A. B. Butterfield of Boston to Col. Francis Goodhue for the Brooks library, and is to be placed in the museum. It has been handed down from Capt. Benjamin Butterfield, one of the early settlers, to this great grandson; and the tradition that it was the first one used here seems well founded and is doubtless correct.


A somewhat ancient slip of paper with it gives May 1, 1759, as the date of its first use. The town was organized under a charter from Gov. Tryon of the Province of New York, which was not granted till 1766; Benjamin Butterfield came here in that year and settled where Dr. Bemis now lives.


His deed was dated February 5, 1767, and was for a tract 100 rods wide and extending from Connecticut river west 35 deg; north far enough to include 100 acres adjoining lands of John and Thomas Sargent on the north. The consideration was L120.


In 1759 no settlers lived in town away from Fort Dummer. On the 6th of March, 1758, Capt. Fairbank Moore and his son Benjamin, who had attempted the year before to settle where the asylum farm is, were killed by Indians; and the settlement was not resumed till 1762, when John Arms and Samuel Wells came.


In 1766, when Capt. Butterfield came, Capt. Nathan Willard lived at Fort Dummer and Lieut. Wilder Willard near there; a rude grist mill belonging to Gov. Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire, probably in charge of Lieut. Willard, stood on Whetstone brook just west of where Main street bridge is; John Arms, afterward Major Arms, lived where the asylum farm is; Samuel Wells, afterward Judge Wells, lived where the asylum summer is;


Samuel Knight, afterward Chief Justice Knight, lived up the hill west of the Wells place; John Sargent, afterward Colonel Sargent, lived south of where the new road turns off to the Chesterfield bridge and where his descendant, George Sargent, now lives; Thomas Sargent lived at the foot of the hill beyond, below Chamberlain's horse mart, where his descendants now live; and perhaps Oliver Harris lived on top of the hill southeast of where Mr. Thurber now lives and Dea. Gilbert Smith formerly lived north of Centreville.


Fort Dummer meadow had been cleared; the rest of the town was covered by forest, except where these settlers had cleared about their houses. Other settlers came and the town was organized on the first Tuesday in March, 1768, "the time prefixed by the Patent," probably at the house of Dr. Wells, who settled the year before north of Oliver Harris's, where Mr. James H. Capen now lives.


Naturally no ballot box would be provided for this meeting. The next meeting was holden on the first Tuesday in March, 1769, probably in the meeting-house, which had been built the year before just south of the southwest corner of the old cemetery on the top of the hill north of Centreville, and which was used for town meetings. This ballot box was, very likely, used at this meeting. A mistake as to time must have crept into the tradition; probably by some misunderstanding, one of 10 years changing since 1759 for 1769, and May for March.


Capt. Butterfield was a prominent man of the town and of the times, a captain of New York militia, a justice of the peace of that province, and a firm supporter of that government, as most officials and foremost men were.


He was in attendance as a justice of the General Sessions of the Peace at Westminster when the New York court was overthrown, and was with the court party in the affray when William French was killed and Daniel Houghton wounded. When those opposed to the court returned the fire, "one of their Balls entered the Cuff of the Coat of Benjamin Butterfield, Esquire, one of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace, for said County of Cumberland which went out at the elbow without hurting him and another went through his Coat Sleeve and just grazed the Skin."


A pistol was discharged "at Benjamin Butterfield, the Son of the above named Justice Butterfield so that the Powder burnt a large hole in the breast of his Coat." This son was the grandfather of the giver. The great grandfather was often moderator of the town meetings under New York, and presided over this box.


After the authority of the government of New York here was overthrown, and that of the government of Vermont established, he doubtless kept possession of it and handed it down in remembrance of the rule which he had so much respected and tried so hard to maintain.


Vermont Phoenix, January 8, 1892.


[The research for this article was the work of the Hon. Hoyt Henry Wheeler.]


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