The New Hampshire Grants
If you’re familiar with the history and settling of New Hampshire and Vermont along the Connecticut River Valley and throughout the Upper Valley, you’ve likely heard of the New Hampshire Grants. The New Hampshire Grants are also known as the Benning Wentworth Grants. Benning Wentworth was Governor of New Hampshire from 1741 through 1766. Land granted through these land grants include towns such as Woodstock, Sharon, Thetford, Vermont and more. So, what are the New Hampshire Grants?
The New Hampshire Grants
The New Hampshire Grants were land grants made between 1746 and 1764 by New Hampshire Provincial Governor Benning Wentworth. Land grants are geographical regions awarded by the government to companies, individuals or groups of individuals. In this instance, with the intent of the land being settled and developed in unpopulated areas to the west of the Connecticut River, in the area that we now know as Vermont.
Governor Benning Wentworth issued 135 land grants west of the Connecticut River including 131 towns. The Province of New York had also laid claims to land in the same territory. This eventually lead to major disputes between the two states and eventually lead to the creation, by the citizens, of the Vermont Republic and eventually leading to Vermont becoming the first state beyond the original 13 colonies. Vermont was admitted to the United States, as the 14th state, in 1791.
History of the New Hampshire Grants
The history of the New Hampshire Land Grants extend beyond the Upper Valley and into New York and Massachusetts, as it all began there. With Massachusetts northern boundary being set by royal decree in 1741, they could no longer post claim to land in the Province of New Hampshire.
New Hampshire native Benning Wentworth was appointed as the first governor of New Hampshire in 1741, and was the leader of the New Hampshire Grants, hence the land grants also being known as the “Benning Wentworth Grants”. During this time, Wentworth set the decree as if the New Hampshire and Massachusetts boarder ran equally on a north south line, meaning New Hampshire extended equally as far west as Massachusetts. Considering the Massachusetts boundary was just east of the Hudson River, Wentworth was under the assumption that land which is west of the Connecticut must belong to New Hampshire.
Granted to New York’s Prince James, Duke of York, by way of a Letters Patent, was all land west of the Connecticut River and onto Delaware Bay. This means that both New York and New Hampshire were posting claiming the same land. At the same time that Governor Wentworth was issuing land sales on the west side of the Connecticut River, New York was issuing land patents to the same lands.
However, the New Hampshire Land Grants were more favorable because the land was divided into town-sized land portions whereas New York had issued larger, irregularly shaped parcels of land to wealthy landowners – rather than settlers. The New Hampshire Grants and the boundaries set by the grants were used, for the most part, as boundaries for towns as Vermont achieved statehood. The New York patents are now known as “paper towns”, since they only actually existed on paper.
Though there were many attempts by New York to invalidate the New Hampshire Grants, in the end the citizens established their own body of government and the Vermont Republic was born. New York spent years pleading to the citizens of the land to ignore the New Hampshire Grants, even offering to purchase the land back at inflated rates and trying to strong arm the citizens with the use of the New York Supreme Court. Eventually and ultimately, the citizens couldn’t be bought and lead to the self declaration of the Vermont Republic, and paved the way for statehood.
Vermont’s Push For Statehood
28 towns that were part of the New Hampshire Grants met in Manchester, Vermont in 1775. They’ve had it. They want independence from New York. Quickly emerging was a political body which vowed to take over regulation from New York and regulate their own communities. A short two months later, another meeting was held in Westminster, Vermont and the authority of New York’s government over the people of this land was renounced.
Two men died at the hands of officers from New York in Westminster and news of the first battle between the British Troops and the American Militia in Lexington and Concord only escalated the situation. Settlers gathered once again in 1776, this time in Dorset, Vermont, and decided to petition Congress for recognition of statehood as the state of Vermont, independent of New York.
The people of the area established a local constitution in 1977 and, although no formal recognition was given, declared independence from New York. They had established their own government including assembly, currency and even courts.
The plea for statehood wasn’t favorable until 1791 when the United States Constitution was ratified and Congress passed a resolution admitting Vermont into the Union. Also in 1791, the New Hampshire Grants became part of Vermont, as Vermont was admitted as the 14th State — the first state admitted after the original 13 colonies.