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Westminster Massacre

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

March 14. –Yesterday afternoon several riotous and disorderly persons, to the number of between eighty and ninety, assembled at Westminster, Cumberland county, in the province of New York. 1 They took possession of the court house, with an avowed intent of preventing the court from being held. Many of them had arms, and those who were unprovided for, collected arms and ammunition with all possible despatch. Many of the magistrates being present, it was thought advisable that the sheriff should make the usual proclamation against riotous assemblies, and demand possession of the court house and jail, which being refused several times, about nine o’clock at night a party assembled in order to disperse the rioters. These proceeded with the sheriff and some magistrates to the court house, where proclamation was again made by the sheriff for the rioters to disperse, and sundry attempts were made to get in, without using fire-arms, but this proving ineffectual, three guns were fired over the door, in hopes the rioters would be intimidated and retire; but so determined were they in their undertaking, that the fire was immediately returned from the court house, by which one of the magistrates was slightly wounded, and another person shot through his clothes. The magistrates seeing the imminent danger they were in, so well exerted themselves that they forced the front door, and after a very smart engagement, wherein one of the rioters was killed, 2 and many persons on both sides wounded, the court house was cleared, and proper measures were taken to preserve the peace. This morning all was tumult and disorder; the judges, however, opened the court at the usual hour, and adjourned till three o’clock this afternoon; but by that time the body of rioters beginning to assemble in large parties, from New Hampshire and places adjacent, and particularly from Bennington, in the neighboring county of Albany, with a hostile appearance, the court, foreseeing no probability of being able to proceed to business, adjourned till next June term. The body of rioters, which soon amounted to upwards of five hundred, surrounded the court house, took the judges, the justices, the sheriffs, the clerk, and as many more of their friends as they could find, into close custody, and sent parties out, who are returning with more prisoners. The roads and passages are guarded with armed men, who indiscriminately lay hold of all passengers, against whom any of the party intimates the least suspicion, and the mob, stimulated by their chief leaders to the utmost fury and revenge, breathe nothing but blood and slaughter against the unfortunate persons in their power; the only thing which suspends their fate, is a difference of opinion as to the manner of destroying them. And from the violence and inhumanity of the disposition apparent in the rioters, it is greatly to be feared that some of the worthy men in confinement will fall a sacrifice to the brutal fury of a band of ruffians, before timely aid can be brought to their assistance. 3


1 Now in the State of Vermont.
2 William French. The following record may be seen at this day (1859) upon a simple slate stone, in the old burial-ground at Westminster, Vermont:
“IN Memory of WILLIAM FRENCH, Son to Mr. Nathaniel French, who Was Shot at Westminster, March ye 13th, 1775, by the hands of Cruel Ministereal tools, of Georg ye 3d, in the Corthouse at a 11 o’ Clock at Night in the 22d, year of his Age.
HERE WILLIAM FRENCH his Body lies. For Murder his Blood for Vengance cries. King Georg the third his Tory crew tha with a bawl his head Shot threw. For Liberty and his Country’s Good, he Lost his Life his Dearest Blood.”
3 Essex Gazette, March 21; New York Journal, March 23; Gaines’ Gazette, March 27. The persons taken into custody were conveyed to the jail at Northampton, Mass.; but upon their application to the Chief Justice of New York, they were released from confinement, and returned home. —Jones’s Narrative.

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