Friday, January 4, 2013

Cavendish’s Role in Emancipation

 One hundred and fifty years ago, on Jan 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring  "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free.". A hundred days earlier, Lincoln had issued a preliminary proclamation stating that he would order the emancipation of all slaves in any Confederate state that didn't return to Union control by January 1. No states returned, and Lincoln issued the order.

Cavendish was such an anti slavery town, that in Dec. 1856 or the early part of 1857, the famous abolitionist John Brown came to Proctorsville, staying at the Village Hotel and using the law offices of Henry Bridge Atherton. His purpose was trying to secure guns from the state arsenal. According to Atherton, He became satisfied on looking at the law, that Gov. Fletcher could not appropriate guns for the Defense of Freedom in the direction indicated. [Atherton’s letter about John Brown’s visit is available on-line]

Governor Fletcher, a staunch abolitionist, was born, raised and buried in Cavendish. Vermont Governor from 1856 to 1858, when the first shots of the Civil War, (April 13, 1861) were fired, Fletcher at the Cavendish Town meeting on April 30th of that year, took up the matter of supporting the “Cavendish Light Infantry.” From a compilation made by the Hon. Calvin French we give the following figures : Cavendish furnished to the armies of the Union twenty men in response to the first call for troops for three months' service. In the Second, Eleventh, Fourth, Seventh aud Fifth Vermont Regiments, forty-two men for three years' service. These volunteers received no bounties Forty-two men were furnished under the nine months call. For subsequent calls fifty-three men were furnished for three years, and thirty for one year, making a grand total of 187 volunteers furnished by the town, whose terms of service would amount to 3521^ years for one man. Of these 125 volunteers received bounties amounting to $43,550, the others being recruited before it was necessary to offer a bounty. History of Windsor County, edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich and Frank R. Holmes, 1891

Contrary to popular belief, there is no documentation that Cavendish was part of the Underground Railroad (UGRR). Even though Rev Warren Skinner, who organized the Universalist Stone church in Cavendish, was an ardent abolitionist, it is unlikely that the Golden Stage Inn, once the Skinner homestead, was a stop on the UGRR. According to “The Vermont Underground Railroad Survey Report,” by Ray zirblis, because Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery, 50% of the documented escaped slaves spent a great deal of time in VT. They could safely live openly and many were brought here to work on farms. Two captains from Cavendish, French and Atherton both brought slaves back to Cavendish as a result of the Civil War.

A probate guardianship paper dated at Cavendish, 19 July, 1864, signed by Gilbert A. Davis, Register gives George B. French guardianship of “Arthur Lewis, a colored boy, apparently about fifteen years of age now residing in said Cavendish.” Lewis was rescued by George French in Virginia during the early years of the Civil War, and stayed with him at different headquarter stations as George’s Regiment fought the war. Lewis lived with the French family for many years, where he was taught to read and write. Excelling in the raising of thoroughbreds, he was a valued member of the family, paid for his work with wages, board and room. He married in Woodstock and had at least two children. Lewis did not join the French family when they moved to Nebraska, instead he remained in Woodstock.

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