Elliot Street Chapel Riot 1837

Elliot Street


Elliot Street Chapel After October 1869 Arson Fire

Rev. Edward Royall Tyler

Born in Guilford in 1800, Edward Tyler had graduated from Yale College in Hartford, Connecticut, had studied theology at Andover to become a Congregational minister in Middletown and Colebrook, Connecticut. For years he was editor of The Congregational Observer, published in Hartford. Brattleboro knew Tyler as a native son---


Rev. Edward Royall Tyler

The Church on the Common minister---the Reverend Charles Walker---sided with public opinion in flatly refusing to make any announcement of the forthcoming lectures himself. In recommending that any members of his church attending the lectures be expelled from the congregation, Walker was obeying the official Congregational party line:

"A further persecution was the attempt of the Connecticut General Association of Congregational Ministers, embodied in a resolution of 1836, to bar from their pulpits any itinerant lecturers not bearing the proper ecclesiastical credentials. Many strolling antislavery orators went about testing the right of free speech against this 'Connecticut gag law,' as it was called. . ."

The Elliot Street chapel was built by the Church on the Common. In 1833 the ground floor was serving as a Sunday school and as a district school as well. A flight of steep steps went up to it from Flat Street. The chapel was completed in 1835.

In March 1836 Timothy Goodale, a Jamaica village resident, called for "those freemen" who were "favorably inclined" to the formation of an Anti-Slavery Society to meet at Fayetteville in two weeks for a "free discussion of the abolition doctrines." Nearly all public opinion at this time opposed him.

The prayer meetings that July 4 were successful---David Wood was elected president of the Anti-Slavery Society of Brattleborough, East Village, Vermont. Willard Frost and Cyrus Davis became vice-presidents, while Caleb Lysander Howe, George Sargeant, and Richard Gill served on the executive committee. Charles C. Frost presented the constitution, which forty-five members signed.

One year later Deacon Wood rose in the Church on the Common and announced calmly that "There will be a meeting of prayer for the oppressed, at Elliot Street chapel." Deacon Wood pointedly did not read the notification until after the pastor had finished his benediction. The Reverend Edward Royall Tyler was to give two lectures in the chapel the following July 4, 1837 for the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Edward Tyler's mother, the widow Mary Palmer Tyler, the former wife of Royall Tyler, the Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, lived then on Putney Road next to the Common. In her journal for July 4, 1837 she wrote:

"Great doings: Edward delivered a lecture on Abolition at the Chapel,---Cannon fired, and all manner of noises made to interrupt the services, no violence, however, offered. At five o'clock, another lecture, and increased noise of Cannon, etc., so much so as to frighten some ladies away from the house, nevertheless Edward proceeded undaunted. . ."


"The Irrepressible Conflict"

The Abolitionist hatred had stung the South into its first completely articulated and sophisticated defenses of slavery. An entire "sociology"---this word first used in the United States by pro-slavery ideologues---became almost official.

In recognition of Southern commerce, and with a will to preserve the Union at all cost---in order to oppose the hostile Bank of England---many Northerners censored and discouraged inflammatory and traitorous speech by Abolitionists.

Prominent merchants in Brattleboro like Col. Paul S. Chase and Capt. Henry Smith were acting patriotically according to their lights in these difficult times. Colonel Paul Chase and Major Henry Smith were successive owners of Chase's Stage House and Smith's Inn, later the Brattleboro House on Main Street.

When men of common sense were forced into voting for slavery, and into committing acts of intolerant censorship, all in the name of preserving the Union---bitterness and betrayal turned to hate.

When men of common sense patiently tolerated the destructive rampages of radical Abolitionists---agents in the pay of the Bank of England---bitterness and betrayal turned to hate.


Congregationalist Church Chapel.

Editor of The Vermont Phoenix:

At some period in the early history of New England, a certain house was besieged by Indians. Some inmates of the house crawled under a bed, while others fought so successfully that several Indians were slain, and the remainder, who were able to get away, retired. After this brilliant action, and it had been ascertained it was safe to leave the house to look over the field their valor had won, the sneaks came out from under the bed, and while gazing on the dead bodies of the enemy, exclaimed: "What a glorious victory! We have killed all the Indians!"

Now, sir, I have been a looker-on in Brattleboro for quite a number of years---am something of an observer of men and things,---having lived till my age is no small fraction of a century and the frost of life's autumn is manifest on my person as---

"I sit beside the silent sea,
To wait the muffled oar

I ask your indulgence in making an application of the foregoing narrative to past or passing events:

In the summer of 1837, Rev. E. R. Tyler from Connecticut delivered lectures against slavery in Elliot Street Chapel. He had a very small audience, rarely over 30 or 40 of both sexes. He gave several lectures, but not without more or less riotous demonstrations from outsiders. I attended the second lecture, when two cannon in the road near the house were kept in constant operation by "Jason and certain lewd fellows of the baser sort." The female part of the congretation took seats at the south side of the chapel, the men at the north side, near the road, where powder smoke with noise and shouts came through the closed window-blinds into the house. The lecturer seemed to be entirely unconscious or indifferent to all this disturbance, and talked on like a man who had a high mission to perform, and meant to do his duty let happen what would. He said: "The time is coming when the names of the present rival political parties will fade away. There will then be a Liberty party and a Slavery party. You will then be compelled to take one side or the other, for this is not simply a question of negro-slavery, it is the cause of human rights. The institutions of freedom are in imminent danger from the rapid strides and encroachments of the most vile and wicked despotism this world ever saw. I may not live to see the day, my friends, when the North and West will be forced to unite as one man to stem this mighty torrent of iniquity, but I can see indications which warrant me in believing the time is not so distant but some now in this room will see it.

He gave his reasons for making the foregoing assertions, which I could repeat, with many other interesting statements made by that keen-sighted Prophet, almost thirty years ago.

I had but little charity for the prominent men of Brattleboro, when, not satisfied with showing their contempt for the speaker, and the cause he came to advocate, by their absence from his lectures, they encouraged a mob to disturb him. One justice of the peace said he would find powder if they would blow the d---d abolitionist down the bank. Another said:---"We would ride him out of town on a rail, if he had no relatives or friends here whose feelings we respect."

This lecturer was an Orthodox Congregational minister,---a superior scholar and author. As an orator and public speaker he had but few equals. I felt ashamed and unhappy that he should meet with so ungracious a reception in this place. Time has somewhat abated these feelings, since recent events have proved he did not give the trumpet an uncertain sound. Now that the monster slavery lies on the ground an unburied corpse, we hear congratulatory remarks from people we saw under the bed during the contest, who have now crawled out to tell us in their own words, "We have done a good thing; we were always opposed to slavery."

Now these under-the-bed characters tell us they are glad slavery is dead, but somehow they don't seem to want the corpse buried out of sight. We have noticed they are the very men who are dealing out justice to the freedmen in homeopathic doses. Now there can be no half-way about this business, and I warn such folks it won't be a long time before they will be crawling from under the bed again to see the manhood and citizenship of the freedman fully acknowledged, and again tell us they always favored that idea.


Vermont Phoenix, March 2, 1866.

This "Reminiscences" is one of a series of thirteen historical articles by the Brattleboro historian Henry Burnham. The "Observer" quotes from John Greenleaf Whittier---

"And so beside the silent sea
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore."


Anti-Slavery In 1837.

From 1832 to 1840, lectures against slavery met with an unwelcome reception in many towns in New England. Public sentiment as manifested on this subject by the people of Brattleboro, in the summer of 1837, was more suited to the atmosphere of Hartford, Ct., or Charleston, S. C., than to the free air of Vermont. Looking back 40 years, in our history and realizing the comparatively isolated condition and quiet avocations of the people, it is hard to account for the diseased state of the public mind as then exhibited on this subject. This disease by its malignancy or intensity soon worked its own cure. The conduct of the opponents to these lectures answered their oft repeated question, "Why do you come here to lecture upon slavery, where we have no slaves?" When ministers of the gospel refused to read notifications of anti-slavery meetings, when one justice of the peace in Brattleboro advocated the application of tar and feathers to the person of Rev. E. R. Tyler, because he gave lectures upon this subject at the Congregational chapel in Elliot street, and another justice of the peace said he would "find powder for the mob if they would blow the damned abolitionist down the bank"---we involuntarily became abolitionists. This crusade against free speech, this violation of the right of discussion, as manifested by firing cannons near the windows of the lecture room and loud disturbing, threatening shouts of a mob, sustained in this rascality, as we knew, by officers of the law and our nearest, and on other subjects, most rational neighbors---convinced thoughtful people that they had a work to do to emancipate themselves.

Such exhibitions of injustice or illiberality, in a community like this, are not without their uses, in the instruction they convey to perpetrators as well as the victims of it. Probably this place is now as free from public intolerance as any community in the world. There is ample proof that persecution, whether from combinations of men or individuals, is beneficial to the persecuted. In the autumn of 1842 a stone was thrown against the door of the Methodist chapel, in Canal street, while a Second Advent preacher was on his knees at prayer, he exclaimed instantly, "God bless that stone."

Henry Burnham, Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont. Early History, with Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Citizens. (Brattleboro: Published By D. Leonard. 1880).



Senator, Mobs, &c.

Mr. Editor:---It is stated in your paper of the 4th, that one of the Van Buren candidates for Senator "has himself more than once threatened to unite with a mob to put down an abolition meeting." Can this be so? If this be a fact, it is due to the freemen of the County that his name should be known, and that the time and circumstances of the threat should be published.

All the Van Buren candidates for Senators are Justices of the Peace; and the laws of the State, which their oath of office requires the strictest observance of, on their part, clothe each of them with full power to suppress all riots and mobs for whatever mischief set on foot. They are peace officers, under the highest obligation to the public that the laws and their oath of office can impose, to keep the peace themselves and suppress all breaches of the peace in others. It is to them that the people look, in all times of great excitement and tumult, for protection against lawless violence.

The Constitution and laws secure to the people the right peaceably to assemble together and discuss all subjects of interest, and even should their views be entirely erroneous on the subject of Slavery or on any other subject, still they have the most full and perfect right to discuss and publish their sentiments on it, and all Justices of the Peace are bound to exercise the fullest powers vested in them by the laws, to protect all citizens in the exercise of this right. If therefore there is a man holding the office of Justice of the Peace in this County whose conduct has been so infamous in violation of his duties as a citizen, and as a magistrate of his oath of office, as to instigate or encourage a mob to put down discussion and break up a lawful meeting by threatening to join such a mob, let this man be published in large capitals that the people may take measurements to remove him from the office he so much disgraces. And if he is a candidate for Senator that they may take care that neither this County nor the Senate shall be disgraced by his election to or membership in that body.

No Party Man

Jamaica, Aug. 10.

Vermont Phoenix, August 25, 1837.




John C. Holbrook's Letter


John C. Holbrook

Lithograph By Leopold Grozelier

From Daguerreotype By Frank M. Pickerill

The last number of the Democrat in a most contemptible and unfounded attack upon four gentlemen by name, among other falsities, asserts that I "procured a falsehood to be inserted in the Phoenix, virtually charging Col. Chase and Henry Smith with the crime of bribery." The article referred to was that which appeared in the Phoenix of the 11th inst. signed "Bigelow." This charge I should deem beneath my notice if it rested solely upon the responsibility of the veracious political lawyers who edit the Democrat; but being promulgated in a paper published under the sanction of so respectable a name, as I cannot but still consider Mr Steen's, notwithstanding the company with which it is associated, I think it proper to give the facts about the article in question, leaving the public to decide which party is guilty of falsehood, myself, or those who have undertaken to impeach my veracity.

The article which has created so much uneasiness, and which I am charged with having procured to be inserted in the Phoenix, was wholly written by a very respectable gentleman in a neighboring town. I was out of town at the time the communication was received, and did not return till some days after the communication was received at the office, and after it was partly in type. I had no part in suggesting the article, nor did I know that such a one was in contemplation, till I saw the manuscript and when it was partly in type. And I unequivocally deny having had any agency in its preparation, or in procuring its publication. I do not recollect having changed a word with the publisher of the Phoenix or any of his men on the subject, before the article appeared in print. I have no control whatever over the columns of the Phoenix, Mr Ryther in this case, as in all others, exercising his own judgment as to what shall appear. The article would so far as I know have been published had I not been in existence.

From this statement then it will appear that there was not the least foundation for the charge against me. The only shadow of appearance of any agency in the affair on my part, was the fact, that the manuscript, when partly in type, was put into my hands, read by me, and returned without remark just as I received it, except that I corrected one or two grammatical errors which I noticed in reading it.

Now I will not turn about and charge the lawyer editors, my accusers, with falsehood in their article, though every one can see with how much reason I could do it if I would descend so low as to repeat their language; but I can say no less than that they were very much mistaken. I do not wonder that the article should have created some uneasiness; but the least my accusers could have done was to have ascertained some facts implicating me before dragging my name before the public coupled with such a charge, and when they knew I was not the author of the article.--Even had I done all that I am charged with, namely, procuring the article to be published, but which charge is false, it was the author and not me, who should have been called to account, who is a responsible man and fully capable to answer for himself.

I am aware that one of the aggrieved gentlemen may say,that when he first called on Mr Ryther, he was referred to me, Mr R., who was absent when the communication was first received, then supposing it came through my hands. But both he and the lawyer editors and all their coadjuters here, were very soon fully informed of the truth as to the authorship of the piece, and were bound therefore to look to the writer of it for redress, and not to me.--But from that day to this neither the gentleman alluded to, nor any other aggrieved person has ever asked of me personally an explanation, altho' I should at any time have been happy to have given them correct information on their subject, had they applied to me as they ought to have done and as they have had opportunity to do. By this course, which was obviously the proper one, they might have saved themselves the mortification of having a false charge thrown back in their teeth, and the lawyer editors would have been spared the necessity of a resort to one of the most revolting peculiarities of their profession, to parry a well aimed thrust from a political opponent.

The private attacks upon me from certain quarters I heartily despise, and shall not of course notice so much as to refute them. If all the articles in the Democrat are as devoid of a semblance of truth as the one which alludes to me, they cannot even challenge the merit which is customarily claimed in the title pages of works of fiction, of being "founded on facts."

Jno. C. Holbrook

Vermont Phoenix, August 25, 1837.

John Calvin Holbrook's justifiably incensed letter reflects both the bitterness of anti-slavery issues and his Christian forebearance.


"The Democrat" Newspaper

"The Tin Trumpet"

The Green Mountain Democrat, later the Mountain Democrat, and finally the Brattleboro newspaper called "the Democrat"---was popularly called "the Tin Trumpet"---a derisive epithet.

The Democrat was edited by the abrasive and arrogant Newfane lawyer Roswell Martin Field, Esq, who finally departed from Windham County in 1839, following a bitter romantic scandal, which he insisted upon cruelly complicating with his legal skills.

Roswell Martin Field was central in a legal clique which was seen as a prominent group of "Tory lawyers" in Brattleboro. This "Tory lawyer" clique included the Editor of the Democrat, George Washington Nichols.

The aging George W. Nichols took a younger, but equally scornful and sarcastic colleague, the radical feminist firebrand Clarina Irene Howard Nichols, for his wife. Brattleboro people soon learned to recognize the characteristic and remarkable sneer that lifted the left corner of her mouth.

Editor George W. Nichols.jpg

Editor George Washington Nichols

A surprising number of moderate Brattleboro residents described the "Democrat" newspaper as "filthy and scurrilous"---this also being a relatively mild description for that time. The golden age of United States political invective fell around this time.

Clarina Howard Nichols.jpg

Clarina Howard Nichols


Elliot Street Chapel Location Today


Elliot Street After October 1869 Main Street Arson Fire

Two photographs of the Elliot Street Chapel presented here were taken in October 1869. Built in 1835, and sold in 1854 for a carriage works, the chapel always showed the Palladian motifs and St. Catherine's wheel window architectural details of its church origin. The ground floor evidently always served as the horse shed for the assembling Congregationalists and others. The chapel site is now taken by the brick Methodist Church, which was built in 1878.


Chapel As Henry C. Nash Livery Stable

Horse Weathervane Indicates An East Wind

Clock At Apex Reads 3:10 P.M.

Chimney With A Slab Cover

A Lightning Rod Appears Behind The Chimney

A Second Lightning Rod Over The Chapel Apex

Sign Below Clock Reads "Livery."

Smaller Sign Below Reads "H. C. Nash"

Groom Tending A Horse Inside The Stable

Tack (Saddles, Harness, Bridles) Hanging On The West Wall

Detail From An Atlas Map Engraved By J. B. Beers & Company
Illustrated Topographical And Historical Atlas Of The State Of Vermont
Published By H. W. Burgett & Co.


Following the Revere House fire in 1877, the old Elliot Street chapel was removed farther west along Elliot Street; to where Emerson's Furniture now stands. The building served as a tenement, with the ground floor accommodating barbers, cobblers, and, in 1908---

William H. St. Germaine Domestic Bakery, domiciled at 38 Elliot Street with "Everything Home Made. Chicken Pies, Escollopped Oysters and Creamed Fish to order in any quantity quality guaranteed. Telephone 276-L"

The former chapel was again removed to the east side of the elbow in Spring Street in 1913. Here the chapel served as a two and a half story tenement building. This site is now a parking lot. The last removal of the old chapel was to the western extremity of Spring Street.

The present owner says that the building was formerly a carriage works.
Char and burn marks from a fire are still seen in its attic.


Elliot Street Chapel On Spring Street
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