The New Hampshire Grants
or Benning Wentworth Grants
were land grants
made between 1749 and 1764 by the provincial governor
of New Hampshire
, Benning Wentworth
. The land grants, totaling about 135 (including 131 towns
), were made on land claimed by New Hampshire west of the Connecticut River
, but which were also claimed by the Province of New York
. The resulting dispute led to the eventual establishment of the Vermont Republic
, which later became the U.S. state
According to Wentworth, the border between New Hampshire and New York was ambiguous, especially if he leaned on the dictate from Britain "that the northern boundary of Massachusetts
be a similar curve line pursuing the course of the Merrimack River
at three miles (5 km) distance on the north side thereof, beginning at the Atlantic Ocean
and ending at a point due north of a place called Pautucket Falls
, and by a straight line drawn from thence west till it meets his Majesty's other governments." Wentworth took this to mean that New Hampshire's jurisdiction extended as far west as the jurisdiction of Massachusetts extended—in New Hampshire's case this meant a line 20 miles (32 km) east of the Hudson River
. New York based its claim on the letters Patent
granted the Prince Edward Augustus
, Duke of York
all of the lands west of the Connecticut River
to Delaware Bay
Wentworth made the first grant, Bennington, a township west of the Connecticut River, on January 3, 1749. Cautioned by New York to cease and desist, Wentworth promised to await the judgment of the king, and refrain from making more grants in the claimed territory until it was rendered, but in November 1753, New York reported that he had continued to grant land in the disputed area. Grants briefly ceased in 1754, because of the French and Indian War, but in 1755 and 1757, Wentworth had a survey made 60 miles (97 km) up the Connecticut River, and 108 grants were made, extending to the line east of the Hudson, and north to the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.
The grants were usually six miles (9.6 km) square (the standard size of a U.S. survey township
, although the Public Land Survey System
is not used in Vermont) and cost the grantee(s) £20. The grants were then subdivided amongst the proprietors, and six of the lots were set aside—one for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts
(a missionary organization of the Church of England), one for the Church of England
itself, one for the first clergyman
to settle in the township, one for a school, and two for Wentworth himself. The permanent annual tax on each grant, called a quitrent
, was one shilling
, paid directly to the king.
In September 1762, New York caught New Hampshire surveyors working on the east side of Champlain, provoking the former colony's government to reiterate its claim to the area, citing both its own patent and the New Hampshire letters patent of 1741. In March 1764, Wentworth released a statement to the effect that the resolution of jurisdictional dispute required a royal verdict, which he was certain would be made in his favor. Meanwhile, he encouraged his grantees to settle in the land and to cultivate and develop it.
New York went to the British authorities, requesting a confirmation of their original grant, and the crown resolved the border dispute between New York and New Hampshire in favor of New York. The royal order of July 26, 1764, in response to New York's petition, affirmed that "the Western bank of the Connecticut, from where it enters the province of Massachusetts Bay as far north as the 45th degree of northern latitude, to be the boundary line between the said two provinces of New Hampshire and New York." Wentworth issued his final two grants on October 17 of that year: Walker, Vermont and Waltham, Vermont.
New York interpreted the decision as invalidating Wentworth's grants entirely—to the great dismay of area residents—and subsequently divided the territory into four counties, Albany
. New York required that grantees surrender their charters, and in many cases buy their lands back from New York at greatly increased prices. Those who would not pay lost legal title
to their lands, which New York then reassigned to others. The people, who would later become Vermonters, petitioned the governor of New York to confirm the New Hampshire Grants; he complied, in part, by declaring that no other grants should be made until the King's wishes were known. Land not previously granted by New Hampshire was considered open for distribution by New York's government.
In 1770, the New York Supreme Court advanced New York's case by declaring all of Wentworth's grants invalid. This infuriated residents of the area, including Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, leading to the establishment of the self-declared Vermont Republic and general rebellion against the New York government.
Following the American Revolutionary War
, during which period and beyond the people of the Green Mountain State had been self-governing (having written their own constitution
and settled into the habit of sovereignty
), it became clear to the Continental Congress
(et al.) that the region of the New Hampshire Grants should become a state. The idea was pursued at several stages, ending in failure for one reason or another until 1790, when New York consented to the admission
of Vermont into the Union
, ceded control of the New Hampshire Grants to Vermont and stated the New York-Vermont boundary should be the western edge of the New Hampshire Grants and the mid-channel of Lake Champlain. (The Vermont-New Hampshire boundary is still the western bank of the Connecticut River.)
Vermont voters ratified the United States Constitution on January 6, 1791 and the U.S. Congress passed the resolution admitting Vermont into the Union on February 18. On March 4 of the same year, the New Hampshire Grants, as Vermont, became the 14th state, the first state admitted to the Union after the original 13 colonies.
In order to prevent further legal to-dos, the government of Vermont paid the government of New York $30,000 (New York had sought $600,000) in compensation for that state's diminished territorial reach.
It is also worth noting that while Wentworth's land sales were underway through several decades of the mid-18th century, New York had simultaneously been issuing land patents in the same area. However, in contrast to the New Hampshire grants, the New York patents were generally (a) irregularly shaped and (b) issued to wealthy landowners. The New Hampshire grants were "town-sized," and generally settled by middle-class farmers, setting the stage for Vermont's populist uprising of the Revolutionary era. So, in general, after statehood, the New York boundaries were ignored in favor of the New Hampshire boundaries and designations. Some of these New York patents are now referred to as paper towns, because they existed only on paper.
- Robinson, Rowland (1892). Vermont: A Study of Independence. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company (American Commonwealths Series).
- Thompson, Charles Miner (1942). Independent Vermont. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Van de Water, Frederic (1941). The Reluctant Republic: Vermont 1724-1791. New York: The John Day Company.