Bernardston — Noteworthy Incidents
Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.
In 1771 certain persons residing in Bernardston petitioned the General Court to be set off to Coleraine, but Bernardston opposed the petition successfully at that time, although later, in 1779, the petition was renewed and granted in accordance with a vote of the town of Bernardston, by which 2576 acres of land belonging to that town, and lying west of Green River, were set off to Coleraine. Although efforts were frequently made during the earlier years of the settlement of Falltown for the erection of a grist-mill, the enterprise appears to have remained unrealized until 1770 or thereabouts. This mill was owned by Samuel Connable, and was located on the northwest branch of Fall River. The first tavern in the town was kept by Elijah (or Elisha) Sheldon as early as 1760, and perhaps previous to that date, near Huckle Hill.
Maj. John Burk, one of the first settlers in the Falls Fight township, and for many years an important man in the affairs of Bernardston, kept a tavern in 1763 in the centre of the town, just south of where Weatherhead's saw-mill now is. The sign which used to swing in front of Maj. Burk's tavern is still preserved among the curious relics owned by the Pocomptuck Valley Association at Deerfield, Mass.
The first mention of a physician dates from about 1777, when Dr. Polycarpus Cushman flourished in Bernardston. In 1779 it was voted to divide the land of the town, east of Green River, into two towns or districts, as follows, viz.:
"To set off at the south line of the town, one mile west of Zebulon Allen's house, and so to run a line northerly that will extend half a mile west of Joseph Edwards' house, and so to extend the same course to the north line of the town."
The first recorded birth in Falltown was that of Ebenezer, son to Moses and Miriam Scott, September, 1743; and the first death, that of Seth, son of Job Wright, in August, 1763. It is worthy of mention that when the first meeting-house was erected on Huckle Hill, in 1740, an approach to it was made, under town orders, by cutting and burning the brush which surrounded it upon every side. This meeting-house, it may be added, was the first frame building erected in the town. Apropos of the erection of the first dwellings in the town, elsewhere noted:
Lieut Ebenezer Sheldon located in the east part, Deacon Sheldon on Huckle Hill, Maj. John Burk in the centre, on the highway leading to Brattleboro', and Samuel Connable in the north. Near the house of each of these four settlers was subsequently built a town fort, to which the inhabitants in the vicinity repaired every night during the periods of Indian troubles. Maj. Burk's fort (so called because near his house), the largest of these forts, was located on the west bank of Fall River, on the site now occupied by L. M. Weatherhead's saw-mill. It was six rods square, and constructed of timber 12 feet in length. In 1746 an attack was made on this fort by a large force of Indians, and, although there were in the fort only two men besides Maj. Burk, the savages were beaten off with the loss of two of their number.
In 1747, Eliakim, son of Lieut. Ebenezer Sheldon, was shot by the Indians while he was walking near his father's house, and about the same time a band of savages attempted to destroy Deacon Elisha Sheldon's house on Huckle Hill, but were routed by Lieut. Ebenezer Sheldon, who appeared on the scene with aid just in the nick of time. Lieut. Sheldon was famous as an Indian-fighter, and was known far and near as the Old Indian-Hunter. Maj. Burk was widely noted for skill and daring in Indian warfare, and frequently served in campaigns against the Indians.
Among the inhabitants of Bernardston who went into the service against the Indians were Caleb Chapin and his two sons, Joel and Hezekiah. They were with Col. Ephraim Williams at Lake George in 1755, where Caleb Chapin was killed. He was wounded in the thick of battle while fighting by the side of his sons, and when he fell they sought to bear him away, but he sternly commanded them to save themselves and leave him to his fate. They left him accordingly where he fell, and when, after the fight, they returned in search of him, they found him dead, with a tomahawk buried in his brain. This tomahawk is still preserved in the cabinet of the New England Antiquarian Society at Worcester.
Bernardston lent a helping hand to the insurgents during the Shays rebellion, and Capt. Jason Parmenter, a citizen of Bernardston, was conspicuous as one of Shays' chief supports. Toward the close of the rebellion, in 1787, a party of government authorities visited Bernardston for the purpose of apprehending Parmenter. The latter, being overtaken while attempting to escape, fired upon his pursuers and killed one, Jacob Walker, of Whately. He then fled for safety to Vermont, but was captured the next day and conveyed to jail at Northampton. He was subsequently condemned to death, but eventually pardoned.
The first census of Bernardston was taken in 1765, when the population was shown to be 230, and of these a majority were settled in the eastern part of the town, probably near Huckle Hill. Bernardston celebrated, Aug. 20, 1862, the centennial of its civil organization, on which occasion there was a large gathering of people in Bernardston village, Leyden taking also a conspicuous part. The features of the celebration were a procession, picnic, addresses, and a collation.
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