William Harris' Footpads 1817


Victim Was Man From Brattleboro.


"First Foot-Pad in Vermont" Tried to Steal $500 From One William Harris of this Town --Unsuccessful.


The first man that history records as having been assaulted by a footpad in Vermont was a resident of Brattleboro. On the evening of Monday Sept. 22, 1817, William Harris, a hustling young merchant of Brattleboro who was somewhat sportily inclined, started out from this village to see the sights in Dummerston and carried along $500 in bills. Young Harris saddled the best horse he had and started on horseback along the bank of the West river for Dummerston. He stopped at Goss' tavern on the road to Dummerston and indulged in a little toddy and inadvertently flashed his roll of money. Soon after, he left for Dummerston and one of the loungers in the barroom followed him. Between Goss's and Brigg's taverns on the road to Dummerston there were plenty of dark places beside the road and the young sport with $500 was suddenly sprung upon and an attempt made to make him give up his funds. Young Harris was game and informed the foot-pad that "the stoutest man shall have it" as the highwayman tried to secure the pocket-book with the $500. The assailant made a pass at Harris with a bludgeon and missed his man in the dark. The rider was unable to control his horse and the highwayman made his escape while Mr. Harris was attempting to calm his horse.


The newspapers exploited the story under the caption of the First Foot-Pad In Vermont. Mr. Harris was somewhat angered over the matter for the following week he inserted an advertisement in the local papers offering to pay $50 for the arrest and conviction of the party who held him up but there is no record that the man was ever apprehended. The story was published in all the state papers at the time it occurred and Brattleboro was made conspicuous as being the home of the first man to be assaulted by a foot-pad in Vermont.


This affair and the earthquake which visited Brattleboro a fortnight later gave this section of Vermont a large amount of publicity for those times. At 10 minutes of 12 on the morning of Oct. 5 following the foot-pad scare Brattleboro people were roused from worship (it being Sunday) by an earthquake. The thermometer stood at 72 and a few minutes later had dropped seven degrees. In less than an hour it had climbed to 74. The village meeting house was emptied of its worshippers and at the white meeting house in Guilford the congregation stampeded and in making their exit from the building trampled upon the widow Lydia Rice.


Brattleboro Reformer, August 27, 1909.


William Harris was born in Brattleboro on November 8, 1797. Zebulon Goss' inn stood "at the second West River bridge". Capt. Seth Briggs' tavern was in West Dummerston. William Harris moved to Windham, Vermont in 1823. He was a justice of the peace for forty years, town clerk and treasurer for twenty three years, town representative six years, assistant Judge of the County court five years, Vermont senator for two, and finally president of the West River National Bank in Jamaica Vermont.


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Earthquake.--The severe shock of earthquake with which we were visited on the 5th inst. was also felt at Concord, N.H. & at Springfield, Ms. Its direction appears to have been from N.E. by E. to S.W. by W. and if the time of its action in these several places is correctly noted, its progression was at the rate of about ten miles a minute.


Brattleboro Reporter, Tuesday, October 14, 1817.


Lydia Rice became a member of the Guilford Congregational Church on October 31, 1813. Her Christian forebearance is observed, but cannot be measured.


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