Attending the Duttonsville School, where he excelled, Henry Bridge Atherton was more interested in poetry than farming. During his time at Dartmouth College, he taught the winter school in Duttonsville twice and one winter in Proctorsville. From there he went to the Albany Law School where her received the degree of L.L.B. in 1860.
With an office in Proctorsville, John Brown, the famous abolitionist, and his son Owen came to visit Atherton in late 1856 or early 1857. The purpose of that visit, Atherton describes in a letter to the biographer of Brown, John Redpath, in 1882, was to seek guns and money to help with his anti slavery cause.
When the Civil War began, Atherton offered his services to Governor Fairbanks, who on August 12, 1861, commissioned him to raise a company of three-year men for the Union. Within two weeks he had secured his hundred men and twenty to spare. It was the color Company of the 4th Vermont known as the “Lion Brigade.” Atherton was chosen captain and was mustered into service at Brattleboro in Company “C.” He wrote a great many letters during the war, some of which are available at the on-line Atherton Collection, compiled by Linda Welch.
It is interesting that in 1853, at the age of 16, he wrote a poem, “The Widow,” which would take on a very sad and tragic meaning ten years later, when so many Cavendish wives lost their husband in the war.
The widow is a dangerous thing.
With soft, black shinning curls,
And looketh more bewitching
Than an host of romping girls;
Her laugh is so delicious-
So, knowing, clear, beside.
You’d never dream she’s thinking
Soon to become a bride.
Her dress, though made of sables,
Gives roundness to her form-
A touch of something thoughtful,
A witching, winning charm.
And when she sits down by you,
With quiet, easy grace-
A tear may fall unbidden,
Or a smile light up her face.
Her voice is soft melodious-
And lute-like in its tone.
She sometimes sighs: “it’s dreadful
To pass through life alone.”
And she’d tell you, you remind her
Of the loved one dead and gone.
Your step, your form, your features;
Thus the widow will run on.
Oh! Listen, yet be careful,
For well she plays her part-
Her lips distill the nectar
That doth enslave the heart.
Be barded or she’ll win you,
With smiles, and sighs, and tears;
I’l saith she’ll wear the breeches, too,
And box your silly ears!
Severely wounded by a bullet in the groin, he resigned his commission, which was taken over by another Cavendish solder, George Blood French. Atheron accepted the editorial management of the New Hampshire Telegraph, in Nashua, NH. Returning to law practice, Atherton served in the legislature and was even offered the governorship of Alaska by President Harrison. He continued to write, including an article “The Old Indian Road,” covering the history of Vermont and the Crown Point Military Road and the captivity of Mrs. Johns, mother of the first white child born in Vermont.
Atherton died of pneumonia at the age of 71. “He was fulfilling a speaking engagement at the Tremont Temple in Boston, and stepped onto an outside balcony for a breath of fresh air. He suffered a chill, and within ten days he was dead.”