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Grafton Historical Society

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In 1754 Benning Wentworth, the British governor of the New Hampshire territory, granted a charter to the town of Thomlinson, the last such charter to be issued before the outbreak of the French and Indian Wars.  Consequently, settlement was forstalled until just after the French Defeat.  By this time the previous charter had expired, none of its conditions having been met, and a new charter was granted in 1763.  Despite this, the founding date of Thomlinson (later renamed Grafton) officially remained 1754, under the authority of the King of England.

As chartered, Thomlinson was bounded on the north by Chester in Windsor County, on the east by Rockingham in Windham County, by Athens and Townshend to the south, and by the town of Windham on the west.  Waterflow was defined by the Saxtons River and its tributaries, which flowed southeast into the Connecticut River, and by Hall Brook which flowed northeast into the Williams River.  According to Francis Palmer, the area was noted for "hills which do not seem to belong to any clearly defined range [and which] rise up in all parts of [Grafton] and stand facing each other in all conceivable positions." 
Frequently, grants of land were a means of rewarding friends and relatives of the grantor, and not all grantees settled on their property.  In fact, there is no record that John Thomlinson, Wentworth's business representative in London for whom the town was originally named, ever set foot on this continent.

The grant for Thomlinson consisted of 23,040 acres, approximately six square mils, and was divided into 64 equal shares.  There were a total of 58 grantees.  The remaining six shares were divided between: Governor Wentworth, two shares comprised of five hundred acres; the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts, one share; a glebe for the Church of England, one share; the first settled minister of the gospel, one share; and a town school, one share.

The charter required that within five years each grantee have cultivated five acres of land for every fifty contained in his share, failure to do so resulting in the forfeiture of the grant.  Before any division of land was made, a tract near the center of the township was to be reserved and marked for town lots of one acre, one per grantee.  The payment for each town lot was one ear of Indian corn per year for five years, payable, upon request, on Christmas Day.

Settlers in many parts of present-day Vermont struggled under divided loyalties following the American Revolution.  Some pledged allegiance to New York and others to New Hampshire; others cared little to which province they belonged.  What mattered most to a majority of settlers was having clear title to their land, a single source of taxation, and a government elected by its citizens.  Although there was no evidence that any of Grafton's early settlers were double-taxed, many other grantees caught in the New York and New Hampshire dispute were.  In 1777 Vermont declared itself to be an independent state "by the name and forever hereafter to be called New Connecticut, alias Vermont," and after 14 years thereafter remained a nation unto itself with a government that performed all the offices of a sovereign state: coining money, naturalizing citizens, and appointing ambassadors.

Although forty-two of the men who would later settle Grafton fought in the American Revolution on the side of independence, their state of Vermont would wait until 1791 to be recognized as the 14th state of the Union.


In 1781 Amos Fisher, Thomlinson's first constable, was notified by Ira Allen, treasurer of the Republic of Vermont, that he was required to collect a tax of ten shillings on each one hundred acres of land.  Failure to pay would result in forfeiture of the land.  As a result, on August 5, 1782, 118 pieces of land were sold at public auction, 61 of which contained more than one hundred acres each.  Although some of the forfeitures were probably made by settlers unwilling or unable to pay the tax, the tax also served effectively to terminate the ownership of absentee landholders who were not interested in keeping their land.  Unsettled land of original New Hampshire territory grantees or their heirs was legally seized and sold.


In the year 1779 Asa Fisher, Aaron Putnam, James Guild, William Parkhurst, and Thomas Kinney all purchased land in Thomlinson from Thomas and John Chandler of Chester, the deeds recorded in the town of Rockingham.  The first deed recorded in the land records of Thomlinson where the grantor was a resident of the town is a deed from Thomas Kinney of Thomlinson to Esek Sanders of Ashford, Connecticut, dated December 27,1781, and recorded June 17, 1782.


When Vermont entered the Union as the 14th state in 1791, the first census counted 561 people in Tomlinson (the "h" dropped from the name in 1788), probably comprising some forty or fifty families.  That same year, the townspeople decided that the town should no longer bear the name of John Thomlinson, a man who had never set foot there.  On October 31, 1791, the privilege of renaming the town was sold at public auction to Joseph Axtell for the high bid of five dollars and a jug of rum.  Axtell officially renamed Tomlinson "Grafton" in honor of his Massachusetts home town.


According to family records, Daniel Axtell, fresh from the Revolutionary War, and his son Joseph arrived in Thomlinson from Grafton, Massachusetts, in 1787.  In 1790  Elizabeth Axtell, Daniel's wife, and three of her children and their families also made the journey to the new settlement.  One of Elizabeth and Daniel's daughters, Mary, was accompanied by her husband, George Smith, Jr., and their three children.  Around her waist Mary had tied a linen pocket, rust-brown in color with a black stripe, in which she carried apple seeds to plant around her new home.  Pioneers were knowledgeable about tree planting, pruning, grafting, and fruit preserving, but apple trees are difficult to grow from seed, and no one can say for certain whether or not Mary's seed, symbolic of the early settlers' optimism and determination, actually grew into trees for the Axtell's extended family.

The pocket, a gift from Mary's descendants, is now on display by the society as a rare example of a Grafton woman's garment from the eighteenth century.