Squire Stephen Greenleaf and His 800 Acres.
Where the Village of Brattleboro Now Stands--
His Land Sales and Business Ventures--
Facts in His Career Which Correct Statements in a Well Known Novel.
The writer of "The Rangers, or the Tory's Daughter," describes a party of tories traveling on March 12, 1775, from Bennington through West Brattleboro village to Greenleaf's store in Brattleboro village, and then turning north to Westminster. There was no village of West Brattleboro or of Brattleboro then, and no road from where West Brattleboro village now is to where Brattleboro village is, and a traveler from Bennington through Brattleboro to Westminster would have to go north of West Brattleboro, over meeting-house hill, past the meeting-house there, and down past Judge Wells's, where the women's summer retreat is, and across the river and meadows there to the Putney road, over where there is no road now except a little part of the way down the hill below the cemetery.
Stephen Greenleaf had been an extensive merchant in Boston, and through losses or other misfortunes had got into debt; he came to Brattleboro in the spring of 1771 and probably lived at first where the buildings at Mr. Richardson's ice pond are, just south of the fair ground, and owned a part of what is now the Richardson farm. The road from Guilford turned there and led down Venter's brook, the little brook which makes the cascade, and across the Great river road to Fort Dummer. In August of that year Mr. Greenleaf bought of Judge Wells the governor's right of 800 acres reserved in the New Hampshire charter of the township of Brattleboro, which extended on the river from the rocks at the lower end of the depot yard nearly to the foot of Walnut street, and that breadth westward to about at the watering trough beyond Centreville, and upon which were a saw-mill and grist-mill west of the lower bridge over Whetstone brook. He paid £100 down and was to pay £200 lawful money of New York on the first days of May in 1772-3-4, and £100 lawful money of Massachusetts Bay, "in good mechantable White pine boards at the cash price," on the 12th days of August in 1773-4-5-6-7, £1200 in all. He sold 26 acres and three rods in the northeast corner to Samuel Knight, who, probably in 1773, built a house upon it where Mrs. Cune lives next north of the library. This was the first sizable house, and perhaps the very first house ever built in what is now Brattleboro village. This is all that the records show that Mr. Greenleaf ever sold from this tract.
In 1772 he built a new saw-mill, which has been stated in The Phoenix to have been situated where the Estey mill is; but the records show this to have been a mistake; it stood about where the factory is at Centreville. The town was divided into highway districts soon after this, and the line between districts No. 2 and 3 ran from the northeast corner of Guilford to Esquire Greenleaf's new saw-mill, and thence to the centre line by Ebenezer Fisher's, which was where Mr. Brown lives. This line must have run to Centreville to include in No. 2 those who lived in that district, and a later deed shows the saw-mill to have been at that place. He was made a justice of the peace by the governor of the province of New York, April 14, 1772, and soon afterwards became known as Esquire Greenleaf. On the 7th of August, 1773, he mortgaged the west 600 acres, on which the new saw-mill stood, to Judge Wells to secure the balance of the purchase money for the whole; and on the 28th of that September, the east 200 acres, except what had been sold to Mr. Knight, to include "one Grist Mill and one Saw Mill standing on the premises on Whetstone Brook with sundry small dwelling houses," etc., "to Peter Johonnot, Distiller, to secure £176 12s, and to Joseph Green, Merchant, to secure £173 8s, lawful money of Massachusetts Bay, both of Boton, and payable one-fifth part in each year for five years." This description does not indicate that he then had any store or lived on these premises.
The land probably went on the mortgages, for Judge Wells was soon selling that in the west part and others that in the east part, and he not any of it. Matthew Martin soon had the mills on the east part. He owned the 50-acre lot of Mr. Herrick's farm south of O. L. Miner's and went there to live at about that time, and perhaps before he built the saw-mill, to be near it, and sold the place toward Guilford April 3, 1776. He probably built the house now on the Herrick place which is just above the junction of the roads, now marked Elm Corners; and in 1783 he bought 20 acres more of Benjamin Baker off the north side of the lot next south. There was his home afterwards. He has been stated in The Phoenix to have lived at the Greenleaf place of his son and namesake, Major Stephen Greenleaf, beyond West Brattleboro, but that, too, was an error. In 1784 he mortgaged his farm to Stephen Cleverly of Boston to secure Joseph Webb, Thomas Lee, John Perkins, John Scolley, Esq., Micael Jackson, James Wesson, Joseph Bradford, John Green, Joseph Torrey, mostly or all of Boston, and Samuel Wells, Esq., and Matthew Martin of Brattleboro, for what he stood justly indebted to them. The title to this farm probably soon went on the mortgage, for it soon began to be described in deeds of adjoining lands as the farm upon which Esquire Greenleaf lives.
On October 10, 1776, Judge Wells sold the saw-mill and 100 acres of land extending north and eastward, including what is now Mr. Carroll's farm, to John Houghton, whose house stood in what is now the south side of the road opposite Mr. Carroll's barn. Seth Smith lived where Mr. Crouch does in the first house beyond the watering trough, and had a grist-mill on the south side of the brook near the end of the bridge by the cheese factory. The wharfing of the road in front of Mrs. Benson's is in what was the mill pond; and the bridge across the brook was a little farther east than it now is. Lieut. Samuel Root lived near where Mr. Thurber now does east of the lower bridge at West Brattleboro, and Lemuel Kendrick lived on the hill north of him. In 1777 John Dickerman came from New Haven, Conn., and settled where O. L. Miner lives south of the brook; he sold out in 1795 to John Field from Amherst, Mass., grandfather of Mrs. Hannibal Hadley. Benjamin Baker lived south of Esquire Greenleaf, probably where Mr. Stafford lives on the top of the hill; William Bullock lived on the meadow south of Mr. Bishop's east of the road and just north of Guilford line; and William King lived east of Esquire Greenleaf on the farm now Mr. Thayer's, but on the hill south of the cider mill. A road ran by Lieut. Root's and Lemuel Kendrick's to the meeting-house, which is marked on the plan of meeting-house hill in 1774, accompanying Mr. Grout's very valuable and instructive historical sermon lately published, as the road to Whetstone brook by Lieut. Root's. This was the road from all this neighborhood to the meeting-house.
Esquire Greenleaf was a member and clerk of the church. He does not appear to have taken any active part in the controversy about adhering to New York or forming a new state. The organization of this town under New York was maintained till 1781, and he was the last town clerk of that; an organization as a Vermont town was then effected, and he was the first clerk of that. Judge Wells's title, under which he sold the governor's right to Esquire Greenleaf, rested upon the New York title which failed with the establishment of the state of Vermont whose constitution recognized the New Hampshire and repudiated the New York titles. This left the title of Governor Wentworth to his right reserved in force. He had married handsome Martha Hilton, one of his servants, willed her all of his property and died; and she had been married to Col. Micael Wentworth at Portsmouth and had Governor Wentworth's title. Joseph Clark bought her title and afterwards conveyed it to John Houghton, who conveyed the new saw mill, house near the lands to Josiah Arms who had a "shop" about where the house east of the road now leading north from Centreville is. Mr. Arms afterwards sold to Judge Samuel Knight, who built the house and lived where Stewart Pratt now does on Western Avenue. Esquire Greenleaf bought of Joseph Clark six acres and 10 rods of land adjoining the north side of the farm on which he lived; it included the flat on the east side of the road and part of the pasture on the west side. He died in 1803, aged 67, leaving this land which was appraised by Joseph Clark and John Steward at £90, one acre, two roods and 20 rods of which, in the flat where the new house stands, was assigned to his widow Eunice as her dower. The personal estate, excepting a cart, a cow, a man's saddle, some lumber and a few farming tools, was all assigned to her.
Mr. Greenleaf was in occupation a merchant when he came here; and he took a license as a tavern-keeper at the May term of court in 1772 at Westminster, as did Christopher Osgood of Newfane, Samuel Whitney of Marlborough, Nathan Willard and Benjamin Butterfield, jr., of Brattleborough, and he probably kept some goods for sale here for a short time, but not many. After the news of the battles at Lexington and Concord reached here Solomon Phelps wrote a letter to his brother Charles at Hadley, dated "New Marlborough, May 1, 1775," in which he wrote: "We have all been alarmed at the bloody news from Concord." "Our people universally stand ready to assist you. Major Hunt, Esq. Bridgmen and Mr. Tute, give each a barrel of pork, besides considerable wheat. Mr. Greenleaf told me he was then instantly going to send 20 bushels of wheat flour for the use of the men at Roxbury or therabouts." Some notes were made in 1778 payable in salt "at Esq. Greenleaf's," and some in wheat "at Esq. Greenleaf's house or the Grist Mill there in Brattleborough," which indicates that he then had no store at which to make them payable. The house referred to was probably that at the Herrick place, and the mill, Mr. Seth Smith's mill, which were both in quite as lively a place as Main street was then. Thus the history of these parts woven into this novel seems to be somewhat misleading.
Vermont Phoenix, July 6, 1894.
Article by Hon. Hoyt Henry Wheeler.