Ownership Dispute Beginning in the Mid 1700s

Ownership of these lands was greatly disputed between the French and British. The various English colonies also were vying for it.  Massachusetts got a toehold first, and then New Hampshire began claiming ownership when their governor divided it into townships called grants to sell the land.  Then the King of England proclaimed that this area was owned by New York and the New Yorkers tried to drive off the settlers that had already paid New Hampshire for their land.  The Green Mountain Boys chased the New Yorkers out of the Grants, as the land that would later become Vermont was then called. The most offensive issue with being claimed as a part of New York was that commoners would not have been allowed to own their land. All land would have been owned by the aristracratic class and worked under a serfdom system, like what was happening in the Hudson Valley at that time.

When the Revolutionary War began, the quarrel was forgotten while the colonists drove the British out of New England. After the war, a tug-of-war ensued between Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York over the “Grants” as each attempted to get Congress to grant ownership. While this was happening, the Grant people (the original settlers who had purchased land from New Hampshire) declared themselves to be the Independent Republic of Vermont. Delegates from 28 towns met and declared independence from Britian, New Hampshire and New York. They also were the first to abolish slavery within their boundries.

When Vermont set up its own government in 1777, they kept all of the towns that had been granted by New Hampshire as they were. Land that hadn’t been granted by New Hampshire was declared to be vacant land belonging to the State of Vermont. Plainfield was in a “vacant area”.

James Whitelaw was the chief surveyor for the northern portion of Vermont. His job was to get all of the “vacant area” land divided up into standard sized townships, each being six miles square. In the course of his work he discovered that there was a piece of land lying between Marshfield and Montpelier that hadn’t yet been granted. This piece was less than half the size of the usual township. It was one of the many, “gores”, or bits and pieces of land left over after the regular townships had been laid out. Whitelaw marked one corner of this gore and called it, “St. Andrew’s Corner”. This section would later become known as Plainfield.

The state owed Whitelaw and his assistants quite a large sum for their work as surveyors. Being unable to pay them in money, the state offered them payment in new lands, one of which was St. Andrew’s gore.

Whitelaw and his assistants were expected to “cultivate and settle” their new property, but they wanted to sell it.  Ira Allen, a Green Mountain Boy, during the Revolutionary War, purchased most of St. Andrew’s Gore.

Ira had a special plan for it. He wanted to start a college in Burlington, and to help it along he offered to make a gift of a yearly sum of money, which he would collect as rent from the new settlers. He expected that he could get the new settlers to pay rent in the form of wheat, pork and butter, which he would turn over to the college.

Part of Ira’s plan succeeded. The college, which later became known as the University of Vermont, was founded in Burlington. But part of the plan failed. Ira had appointed Jacob Davis of Montpelier to rent the land while he was in Europe. Davis had misunderstood and instead sold the land to the settlers. By the time Ira had returned almost six years later, most of his land was gone. Davis had sold most of the land.

This caused a great deal of trouble. Ira’s nephew, who was a lawyer, tried to fix things for his uncle. He paid the University the money that Ira had promised. He then tried to collect money from the settlers who had already bought their land from Davis. Lawsuits dragged on for years. In the end the settlers got the worst of it and had to pay again for their land. Davis divided the rest of the gore into regular sized lots of about a half a square mile each, or 320 acres.

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