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Early Barre History:
Somber, Sensational and Otherwise

by Richard Bottamini

First a farmer and then a doctor, Barre's first physician, Dr. Robert Paddock, came to the new town of Wildersburgh in 1793, just in time to watch the memorable fist fight over the naming of Barre. Not only did he watch the Thompson-Sherman scrap, which took place on a new hemlock barn floor, but after the fight, he removed hemlock splinters from the back and buttocks of Sherman, the winner.

A man of action, he was described as being "exceedingly wroth" when deacons of the Congregational Church refused to permit the funeral of a non-member to be held in church.

Dr. Paddock enlisted the aid of a sturdy buddy in the person of Judge Chapin Keith. Neither man was a member of the church, but that didn't stop them. Armed with axes, they marched right up to the church doors on the day of the funeral. They were met by the church deacons, who barred the way. But seeing the glint in the eyes of the doctor and the judge and noting the axes, the deacons decided to retreat. However, they let it be known that they had done their duty toward protecting the church of God from invasion, and that all responsibility rested on the heads of the "invaders."

Dr. Paddock took care of the ailments of his fellow Barreites for 49 years (1793-1842), after which his son, Dr. Lyman Paddock, took over the practice. In 1814, the elder Dr. Paddock built a brick colonial house that was perhaps the finest dwelling in Barre at the time. It still stands, majestically, at the corner of South Main and Circle Streets.

Barre's first lawyer was James Fisk, a Baystater, a Revolutionary War veteran, and a Universalist preacher. He came to town in 1798 and earned his livelihood by being both a farmer and a preacher. Two years later, the townspeople sent him to the Vermont Legislature as a representative, and they re-elected him to that post no less than seven times. Later, he served in the U.S. Senate, and became a close friend of President James Madison.

Shortly after being admitted to the Orange County Bar in 1803, he gave up being a preacher-farmer to earn his living as a Barre lawyer. It is said that Fisk, described as a "small-sized, keen-eyed, ready-witted and really talented" individual, enjoyed a brisk business. He became chief judge of the Orange County Court, a Vermont Supreme Court judge, and a U. S. collector of customs for Vermont, moving to Swanton when he was named collector. Fisk, in the 20 years he lived in Barre, captured enough honors for several lifetimes.

Discipline in the early churches of the town was stern, tough and unrelenting. If any member failed to attend church meetings, it was held to be the "indispensable duty" of the church to find out the reasons why. Church members were told not to attend dances and not to "join with the wicked in any of their vain amusements or misspent time and money at taverns or unnecessarily associate with the wicked." A dark chapter in Barre's early history centers on its care of the poor. Take, for example, "Miss Braughton," a town pauper, who in 1804 was vendued (auctioned) off to the lowest bidder, that is, to the person who would agree to keep her at the least expense to the town. Malum Stacy, the successful bidder, offered to take the "keep" of the woman for sixty-six cents a week. It was considered "good business" on the part of the town to place the poor out in the homes of individuals with as little expense to the town as possible.

The birth of Barre's public school system took place at the town's March meeting in 1794 when citizens voted a tax to support schooling but rejected a proposal to establish religious services.

The voters simply cast over Article 16, "To see if the town will erect some cheap log cabin in the center of said town for the purpose of holding their meetings to do town business and to meet in on Lord's Day for the public worship of God." A few years later, however, the Universalists, Methodists and Congregationalists did establish themselves in the area.

And the town's people also voted that "swine should not run at large in the present year."

Such was life in early Barre. For sure, it was never dull.


This is a condensed version of an article published in Central Vermont Magazine Summer 1989 issue. For information on where to locate these magazines contact the chamber at 229-5711.

Thanks are extended to Earline Marsh, Alan Noyes, Elizabeth Ralph, Sally Finn and Jack Belding for their time selecting and editing Central Vermont Magazine articles for publication on the web.


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