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Discover Shaftsbury – a bit of history

The town was “laid out between Bennington to the south and Arlington to the north. It extended eastward to the Green Mountains and westward beyond the Taconics and straight into trouble with  New York.”

— Bradford Smith, The Story of Shaftsbury

Located in the heart of the region known as The Shires of Vermont, Shaftsbury is one of the very first towns chartered in Vermont. While known for it’s bucolic views and peaceful nature today, it’s history and it’s 1761 charter were anything but peaceful. One of the infamous “Hampshire Grants” sold by New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth, early settlers were almost immediately at odds with rival land claimants from New York. While New York arguably had the better claim to the lands, Wentworth was quicker to act and by the time New York surveyors started making appearances in the area, those early settlers were ready to defend their homes and the time and effort they had made improving their lands.Like many towns in The Shires, the town was named after titled nobility in England, probably an effort by Wentworth to curry favor back in England, for what he must have known would ultimately become a controversial granting of land. In this case, the third Earl of Shaftesbury (note the slight difference in spelling) was the honored individual, flanked by neighboring towns such as Sunderland, Manchester, and Arlington, all similarly named after nobility.

Economically Shaftsbury was an important contributor to the success of early Vermont. One of it’s earliest industries, and one linked with the frontier life of carving settlements from the wilderness, was the production of potash produced by burning hardwoods. Shaftsbury was also known for its maple sugar, sheep farming, and a wide variety of crops and animal husbandry… a tradition of local of local agriculture that continues today.  An early manufacturing center for pig iron, and the home of the carpenters square (a right angle tool used in construction, helping to standardize construction methods), combined to make Shaftsbury a leading economic center during its early history.

Politically Shaftsbury also played an important role in Vermont. Shaftsbury was also home to Jonas Galusha, Vermont’s 6th and 8th Governor, as well as many citizens who were active on both sides of the controversy over New York and New Hampshire land claims. Perhaps most famously was John Munro, a holder of a New York deed for lands in Shaftsbury Hollow, led a group to arrest the well known Hampshire Grantee Remember Baker. After a scuffle at Remember Baker’s house in East Arlington where Baker and his son were injured, Monroe attempted to bring his prisoner to Albany. Fast action by his wife, Desire Baker, got the word of the kidnapping out and brought together a group of New Hampshire grant men, known as Green Mountain Boys, to his rescue. Conflicts such as this set the stage for the subsequent battles over land ownership that were to continue until long after the Revolutionary War.

Speaking of battles and the Revolutionary War, many citizens of Shaftsbury participated in the Battle of Bennington that occurred on August 16, 1777; the most important battle in our region that both forged the new Republic of Vermont founded that same year, and set the stage for the American victory at Saratoga just a couple of months later. A final agreement between Vermont and New York to finally settle land claims was not achieved until 1790, when a deal was struck to reimburse New York $30,000 for the land and thus open the door for Vermont to become the 14th state, admitted to the Union in 1791 after fourteen years of independence.

Over the years, Shaftsbury has evolved. Many people live here because their families have deep roots in the area… you will meet the descendants of people who fought at the Battle of Bennington here! An equal number have moved here over time, some for the natural beauty, some for the laid back lifestyle, some for the “small town” feeling of security that you get in a place where you can get to know your neighbors. But whatever the reason, or wherever you come from, we welcome you to join in the pride and love for this classic Vermont town!

See also our article on the History of Shaftsbury provided courtesy of the Shaftsbury Historical Society.