|Jabez G. Fitch, was one of a large and enterprising family in the vicinity of Norwich, Connecticut. Born in 1764, he grew up to become one of the original land owners at the establishment of the town of Vergennes. He moved easily across the Canadian border and could be found often at St. Johns in the late 1780's and early 1790's.He engaged in active business both in Vergennes real estate and in the Quebec trade in lumber and potash. He was a live Yankee, capable of doing any kind of business. (1,2)|
Request to President Washington for Fitch's appointment (4)
|Politically, it would appear Fitch was a dyed-in-the-wool Federalist. In 1794 he was appointed by President George Washington to become the United States Marshall for the District of Vermont. He later would be known as the notorious "Hard Hearted Savage" who jailed both Bennington printer Anthony Haswell and Vermont's U.S. Senator Matthew Lyon for sedition during the period that the Alien & Sedition Acts were the law of the land. He was removed from office in 1801 by incoming president Jefferson, who acted decisively in turning over the judicial establishment by eliminating important Federalist party operatives from the rolls of U.S. marshalls and district attorneys.(3) It was around this time that Fitch began to acquire the rights to Coventry. There is much uncertainty in the chain of events which now follows, ending with Fitch owning "nearly" all the rights to Coventry. Duffy says that it was Allen who lost all of Coventry to Fitch at the May 1801 tax sale.(2) Pliny White first says that only Bayard lost the Gore for $4.80, and that Fitch then began immediately to make "large purchases" in the town. He later amends this to say that all of Coventry was sold to Fitch for the $4.80 price and that he became the "ostensible" owner of the town.(5)|
|The March 27, 1801 edition of Spooners Vermont Journal included a supplement listing all lands on which the U.S. land tax had not yet been paid. It advertised that on May 20th, the township of Coventry was to be sold at the tax sale at the house of Thomas Tolman, tax assessor for Orleans county in Greensboro, for $57.13.|
Announcement of tax sale of Coventry Town, Mar. 27, 1801 (6)
|A certified copy of a Coventry deed made a few years later states that on May 14, 1801 six days before the tax sale, in a transaction in Vergennes, Jabez Fitch deeded to Allen 2,000 acres of Coventry land. Regardless of Fitch's claim to Coventry from the May 20th tax sale, later that summer Allen was still claiming that he owned Coventry. He took out advertisements in Boston newspapers in July, and in the August 11th edition of the Vermont Gazette, insisting he was still the rightful owner of Coventry. Although it would appear that by December Allen had run out of time, record of Coventry land transactions remains muddled. The same certified Coventry deed states that on Dec 14, 1801 in Vergennes, Allen conveyed to Samuel B. Sheldon of Sheldon Vermont all his rights to the township of Coventry "lying partly in the County of Orleans and partly in the County of Chittenden" * for $1,800. Sheldon then turned around at the same meeting and conveyed those same Coventry rights to Jabez Fitch for only $500. At this same meeting Allen also conveyed directly to Fitch all his rights to Duncansboro (Newport Town) for $1,800.|
|* This would appear to include Buel's Gore in the transaction, which by now had been settled by Buel and partially annexed to the town of Huntington.|
Fitch then travelled to Greensboro with the Duncansboro deed and 5 days later on December 19th had it
duly recorded by the Orleans county clerk Timothy Stanley. There is no record of Fitch also bringing the
Coventry deed to Greensboro. Three years later in March of 1804, Fitch went back to Greensboro and had
his Duncansboro deed attested "a true copy of record "by the new Orleans county clerk John Ellsworth.
On the back side of the Duncansboro deed, the record of the Coventry deed was added and then "certified"
by the same county clerk.
Certified Copy of Coventry Deed - March 1804 (7)
Fitch's tortured trail to ownership of Coventry was not yet over. According to Pliny White, Fitch was
required to buy out six other landowners who claimed "color of title" to Coventry. Along with getting
Allen's conveyance of the deed, Fitch bought out 63 titles from William C. Harrington of Burlington,
Reed Ferris of Pawlington, NY, Alexander Schist of Canada, Thaddeus Tuttle of Burlington and James Seaman
of New York City. (5)
It would appear that as the year 1802 began Fitch had finally sewn up his title to Coventry lands. But now he had another problem, "Squatter Sovereigns". While Fitch and Allen were duking it out in the final stages of the land grant battle, settlers had arrived on the land in Coventry. Lacking any deeds, they began settling along the banks of the Barton river pitching their lots on the east side of town. It wasn't until 1803 that the first of them got any deeds from Fitch. Apparently Fitch's "ostensible" ownership of "nearly" the entire township was entirely flawed. By 1804, Fitch was selling settlers faulty titles, requiring them to repurchase their titles from the rightful owners. An 1806 petition by 17 of the original Coventry settlers to the Vermont legislature complained that Fitch never made a draft of the lands in the township. There were no public lands set out, and because proprietorship was not transferred to the settlers they were unable to legally sell their land.
Jabez G. Fitch eventually went bankrupt. In 1813 he was being held in the common jail at Vergennes apparently for debts which he owed to a number of creditors (8). 15 years after wrestling away a part of Ira Allen's fortune, Fitch was poor. He died around 1820, in Vergennes. It was presumed that he fell from the bridge, his body being found in the creek at the foot of the falls.
1. History of Addison county Vermont, edited by H. P. Smith. Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & co., 1886.
2. Ethan Allen & His Kin Correspondence 1772-1819, ed. by John Duffy, Univ. Press of New England, 1998, Hannover, N.N.
3. The Passing of the Aristocracy: Jefferson's Removal of the Federalists, 1801-1805 Carl E. Prince The Journal of American History, Vol. 57, No. 3. (Dec., 1970), pp. 563-575.
4. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 7. Applications for Office.
5. History Of Coventry, Pliny White, Irasburgh, 1859
6. Vermont Historical Society 617, United States Treasury Dept., Supplement to Spooners Vermont Journal, No. 925 Windsor: A. Spooner 1801 Broadside Folio. List of Persons who had not paid the U.S. Direct Tax due Mar. 6, 1800, dated Mar. 27, 1801
7. Ira Allen Papers, Bailey-Howe Library, Special Collection, University of Vermont
8. Laws passed by the Legislature of the State of Vermont at their session at Montpelier on the second Thursday of October 1813, Rutland, Fay & Davison, W Fay State Printer p 87
- The Proprietors: Dividing Commonage Into Severalty, Tenth Annual Vermont Judicial History Seminar, June 29, 2004, Paul Gillies, Vermont Bar Journal #159 Fall 2004, Vol30 No.3, Montpelier. Vt.