Were Early Record Books Burned?
The legal voters of Brattleboro at their annual town-meeting on March 5, 1832, passed a resolution on motion of Samuel Clark, instructing the selectmen to procure a book and cause the early records of the town, which were in manuscript, to be transcribed therein with due care and attention, also sundry unrecorded deeds found among the old papers. The first page of the book reads as follows: "A transcript of the old records in the town clerk's office, Brattleboro, which (for the want of proper books for recording) were made at the time in manuscript on such papers as could then be procured, and according have since suffered much from wear, are becoming daily more illegible and liable to disorder and loss; they have therefore been collected and arranged in the best possible order." Pages 1 to 67 of this book contain the records of Brattleboro from March 15, 1781, to July 13, 1792, which were recorded by Stephen Greenleaf, town clerk of Brattleboro in 1832. In this same book from page 67 to 114 is contained accounts transcribed February, 1856, by Lafayette Clark, town clerk of Brattleboro, which are records of events which took place from 1768 to 1781. The following introduction was made by Mr. Clark when he transcribed them: "The following are copies of old records, much worn and torn, recently found among the loose papers of the late town clerk, Stephen Greenleaf, Esq., and are hereby carefully copied for preservation." The first thing recorded is a marriage intention, which reads as follows: "These are to certify that y intention marriage between David Church of Brattleborough and Damaris Church of Sunderland hath been made publick according to custom. Henry Wells, town clerk, Brattleborough, Dec. 27th, 1768." On the back of this certificate is written: "These are to certify yt persons within named were joined in Marriage by me. Bunker Gay Hinsdale, Dec 29th, 1768."
A perusal of the transcribed record of these early days reveals many interesting things. The annual meeting was then held on the first Tuesday in March, as at present. Among the officers elected at the town-meeting in 1768 there were three commissioners for laying out and regulating highways. These officials probably correspond to the selectmen of the present time. In 1770 three trustees were elected whose duties might have been of a similar nature. The first record found of three selectmen being elected was on March 27, 1781. Another interesting thing concerning the officers elected at this town-meeting is the fact that four constables were elected, while only two are elected now with several times greater population. There were also two overseers of the poor. At this town-meeting the highways of the towns were divided up into six districts and the freeholders of the town were divided among the six overseers of the highways elected at his town-meeting, and in this way the roads of the town were cared for. This system, which began then, was used in this state for 124 years until it changed to the present town system.
Even at the early date four fence viewers were elected and four other freeholders were chosen, whose duties, as the records state, were "to take care that no unruly cattle or horses or any that belong to other towns, or any swine unyoked or unringed run at large on the highways or unfenced, unimproved lands in this town the year ensuing." Two freeholders were chosen in demand, sue for and receive all penalties and forfeitures incurred by the breach of the orders at this meeting. These officials correspond to some extent with the present town agent. It was voted at this town-meeting to raise £12 (York currency) on the poll and estates for defraying the necessary and contingent charges of the town. This is all the money that there seems to be any record of being raised at this meeting, but it is evident that money was obtained for other purposes, for the resolution raising this amount provides that the assessors are ordered to tax the inhabitants and freeholders in equal proportion as other taxes are raised. This money was disbursed by the town clerk giving orders on the treasurer. He was authorized to give orders for the whole or as much as was necessary of the £12. Brattleboro was granted a charter in 1753 by George II and Josiah Willard received an appointment at the first town-meeting, but there are no available records now concerning the meetings which might have been held from 1753 to 1768. At present it seems to be an unsettled question whether there were any regular town-meetings previous to the one recorded in 1768. There is a feeling about the town among the old residents that the records of the town were burned at an early date, though this book contains records continuously from 1768 to 1792 -- Brattleboro letter to Springfield Republican.
Brattleboro Reformer, May 27, 1910.
Letter reprinted from Springfield Republican. This letter was also printed in the corresponding Vermont Phoenix with the headline "Transcript of First Records."
The disappearance of the early town records remains a mystery. The removal or burning (arson or accidental) is not surprising, given the number of retreating Loyalists to the King during the Revolution; and after the Revolution, defeated supporters of the Province of New York land grants and avid, possibly vindictive proponents of the Republic of Vermont.