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Around and About Addison County- Leicester

Tuesday October 28, 2008

By M. Stuart Parks

    Leicester’s charter on October 20, 1761 came about in the usual way but after that there was nothing usual about it.  There are eight miles between Middlebury and Brandon. That land was presumed to be divided between the towns of Leicester and Salisbury and there was a month’s difference in the dates of their charters.  Both towns were believed to contain the usual 23,000 plus acres.  When the Leicester proprietors surveyed the land it was discovered that their town was short of acreage.  There had been a mistake in the first surveys which were known to be wildly inaccurate.  This began a feud between the towns over a strip in the middle that went on for twelve long years.  One town would plant crops in the disputed area and the other would sneak in and harvest them.  Salisbury accused Leicester of changing the date on its charter.  Lawsuit followed lawsuit and held back settlement in the towns.  Finally, in April of 1796, a committee was formed in each town to effect a settlement and this ended the dispute.

    Leicester remained unsettled for about thirteen years after its charter was granted.  In 1774 Jeremiah Parker and his son, Jeremiah, Jr. came to the unbroken wilderness and began clearing the land.  They spent several summers here before their farms were ready for their families.  Samuel Daniels also came with the Parkers and they were all from Massachusetts.
Jeremiah and his son were captured by Indians during the Revolutionary War, taken to Crown Point, and later released.  There is a story that when Jeremiah Parker was about seventy-five years old and attending the first Leicester Town Meeting he wagered a gallon of whisky that he could leap higher than any of the young men present.  Jeremiah allegedly leaped lightly over a string that was held about head-high and won the wager and the gallon of whiskey.  Jeremiah was proficient at other tasks, too.  He was married three times and had six children.  Eighteen years after her death he married again and fathered seven more.  Ten years after the death of his second wife he married yet again.  And there the record ends.

    The history of Leicester is full of interesting stories.  For instance:  Mr. Langley kept a store in the part of town called Jerusalem.  He had a very unusual system of bookkeeping.  He recorded all credit charges on a wall of the store until they were paid.  One day when Mr. Langley was away, probably buying goods in Rutland, Mrs. Langley decided to clean the store and wiped away all the figures on the wall.  On his return Mr. Langley was sure his business was ruined.  Mrs. Langley suggested they replace the figures from memory.  Upon finishing he is reported to have remarked that he had not remembered all the debtors but did remember all the debts and had charged them to better men”.  He surely meant men better able to pay.

    Leicester’s history was, however, not all sweetness and light. In 1813 there was an epidemic of typhus.  It began with the soldiers stationed in Burlington and spread throughout the state.  It was brought to Leicester by a soldier passing through on his way home on furlough.  Dr. Joseph Gallup wrote a treatise on the disease in 1815 stating that, in New England, an estimated 6,400 people died out of a population of 218,000.  

    The year 1816 brought another period of hardship.  In 1815 Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia sending tremendous amounts of ash and sulfur dioxide into the air obscuring the sun.  This situation destroyed crops in the American northeast, eastern Canada and northern Europe.  In Leicester and the rest of Vermont there was a frost every month.  The Fife farm in Leicester planted forty bushels of potatoes but harvested only thirty bushels.  

    Although Leicester was not settled at the time of the revolution many of those who did eventually settle here were already seasoned patriots.  A company of men from Leicester went to the battle of Plattsburgh under the command of Ebenezer Jenny.  A total of sixty-four, or about ten percent of the population of the town served in the Civil War.  

    Leicester holds one of nature’s diamonds within its borders. Silver Lake is atop Bald Mountain, 670 feet above Lake Dunmore and 1,240 above sea level.  It has been called “strangely picturesque” and as “being held in a cradle in the heart of Bald Mountain”.  Hikers and campers who are willing to carry everything in are very enthusiastic and give great reviews.

    The southern part of Lake Dunmore is in Leicester and so is Fern Lake, both of which offer wonderful recreational possibilities with a good deal less effort for the more faint of heart.

    As a last reminder for those not familiar with the area; when you pass a very large concrete gorilla holding up a Volkswagen Beetle on Route 7 you know you are in Leicester, Vermont!


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