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Tuesday September 30, 2008 Edition
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Around and About in Addison County- Panton

Tuesday September 30, 2008

By M. Stuart Parks

    New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth chartered two towns on the same day; Panton and Weybridge.  This event occurred on November 3, 1761 and caused a serious mix-up.  When the early settlers of Panton surveyed the town they found that if they followed the boundary lines as laid out in the charter a large part of Panton was in Lake Champlain.  A grant that was supposed to be 25,000 acres was reduced to about 15,000 acres.  Not only did the town never recover any of this land but it lost small amounts later to Waltham and Vergennes so that it now contains a little over 14,000 acres.  The town was probably named for Francis Panton who was a friend or business acquaintance of the Ferrises and Burlings, or possibly for the town of Panton in Lincolnshire, England.  

    There was little settlement in Panton until late in 1764 when the proprietors voted that fifteen men were to go to Panton and begin the work of clearing land for homesteads and that Daniel Barnes, Jeremiah Griswold and Isaac Peck would build a saw mill on the falls at what is now Vergennes.  The saw-mill was not completed until the following year.  It is not likely that much clearing was accomplished in 1765 but the proprietors voted to lay out a highway ten rods wide through Panton, north to south.  Jedediah Ferris, Peter Ferris and Joseph Pangborn were directed to lay out this highway and to actually clear a roadway one rod wide.  At the same meeting Joseph Pangborn was given permission to build a grist mill on the falls and to have it ready to go by the first day of May, 1767.  But in the summer of 1766, Colonel Reid of New York took possession of the mills by force claiming under a New York Grant all the lands on Otter Creek three miles wild from the mouth to Sunderland’s Falls.  The proprietors, in 1769, revoked the grants given to the men who built the mills because they had not finished the mills as soon as they were supposed to and because they allowed Colonel Reid to take the mills from them.  The settler took the mill back from Reid not once, but twice, before the dispute was resolved.  

    Peter Ferris was believed to be the first settler in Panton.  He came from Dutchess County, New York.  He came with his second wife and two sons, Squire and James about the year 1766.  His third son Darius is thought to be the first child born in the town.  What is now known as Arnold’s Bay was then known as Ferris Bay.  Peter Ferris was well known to the militia and he had many interesting friends and/or acquaintances such as Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.  Historians believe that Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll spent a night at the Ferris home on April 24, 1776.  Franklin, then seventy years old, was on the way to Canada to see if that country would join the American colonies in their revolt against the British which he had been commissioned to do by the Continental Congress.  Benedict Arnold chose Ferris Bay to scuttle his fleet and delay the British giving the Americans time to regroup and defeat them at Saratoga.

    Peter Ferris and his son Squire were captured by the British and held for a considerable period of time before they were able to return home.  Peter Ferris ran a ferry between Arnold’s Bay and Barber’s Point New York for many years. The abolitionist John Brown rode that ferry to Vergennes to shop for supplies.  After Brown’s execution for treason his body was returned to New York for burial on the ferry.  The Ferris property has been excavated as an archeological site and many artifacts have been discovered there.  Lastly, Peter Ferris is the fifth great-grandfather of this writer.

    Elijah Grandey came to Panton about 1773.  He wanted to marry Salome Smith of Bridport but had to travel to Ticonderoga to find a person authorized to conduct a wedding.  He was also taken prisoner during the Revolutionary War.  He and his brother Edmond appeared to have a superior education to most of the settlers.  He was the first Town clerk in Panton.  Edmond was at the siege of Quebec in 1776.  He was several times chosen to represent the town and held other offices.

    Phineas Holcomb came from Duchess County in 1774 with a large family. In November of 1778 his son Joseph was splitting wood when he was surrounded by a group of Indians.  They took him, with his father and three brothers, to a ship on the lake
and burned their houses.  They were imprisoned in Quebec in terrible conditions and by 1781 the two older boys and the Phineas had died.  After three years the two younger boys were exchanged for prisoners held by the Americans.

    William Shepherd came from Simsbury, Connecticut with six children in 1785.
His three sons were all men of prominence and served in the Legislature at various times.

    These are but four of the men who braved not only the elements of Vermont winters and it’s untamed wilderness but who came to settle a land at a time when the risks to life and limb were real and ever present.  Panton sent forty men to fight in the Revolutionary War, displaying the degree of patriotism that was seen all through Addison County.  The full story of Benedict Arnold and the battle at Arnold’s Bay will be the topic another time to do it justice. 


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