Home > Uncategorized > A History of the Argyle Patent

A History of the Argyle Patent

Source: Islay V.H. Gill, History of Washington County, N.Y., A History of the Argyle Patent (Washington County Historical Society, 1956).

[page 44]


The trouble with Vermont, stilled during the early years of the Revolution, opened again into near civil war. There was much dissatisfaction, among the Charlotte County settlers who were of New England origin, with New York’s management of affairs and a substantial number favored joining the independent state of Vermont. A Union convention was held at Cambridge, May 9, 1781, with representation from Vermont, and a solemn set of resolutions provided for the secession of Charlotte county, together with Cambridge, Easton and Hoosick, and their incorporation in Vermont. Phineas WHITESIDE and Joseph CALDWELL of Cambridge were elected to the Vermont legislature and attended at least one session of that body. New York was ready for war with Vermont. The majority of the people of the county were bitterly opposed to the proposed union, especially the people of Argyle, Hebron and Salem. The furor was such that Vermont abandoned the attempt to exercise authority in New York state.

In the summer of 1781, Ethan ALLEN and his brother, Ira, had treasonable conferences at Whitehall with British representatives, looking to the incorporation of Vermont as a part of the British empire, but the men who took part in the Cambridge convention knew nothing of this until years afterwards. Had they known of it, there would have been no such convention, for these men were staunchly loyal to the American cause. In March, 1782, those who had attended the Cambridge convention addressed a petition for forgiveness to the State of New York. Many of them had been seized and imprisoned in Albany and there were threats of confiscation of their lands. Their petition was endorsed by many men of undoubted loyalty, like Edward SAVAGE, Peltiah FITCH and Joshua CONKEY. Forgiveness was granted and the prisoners discharged.

In 1784, with the war over, came procedure for the forfeiture of

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Tory lands. Alexander WEBSTER of Hebron was the Commissioner of Forfeiture. Many parcels of land were declared forfeited, largely in the north part of the county, but the Argyle settlers were not molested in these proceedings. Since the battle of Saratoga they had kept very mum and saw to it that they were inoffensive to their neighbors. It is doubtful if many of them ever had strong Tory convictions. Rather were they Tories because of the threatening and dubious conditions in which they were enmeshed. Their children and grandchildren became forthright Americans.


Religion and the church played a great part in the daily lives of our Argyle settlers, and had much to do with the moulding of their characters and careers. Of the people that came to America under Captain Laughlin CAMPBELL’s leadership, only a comparatively small number became settlers in Argyle. Those who did settle in Argyle, attracted to the locality many hundreds of other Highland Scotch people, newly come from the old country. So, Argyle became almost wholly a town of Highland Scotch ancestry. Hebron and Salem were settled largely by Protestant Irish of Scotch race, and many of the settlers of Cambridge, Jackson and White Creek, were of that ancestry. Cambridge and Jackson also had a considerable sprinkling of Highland Scotchmen. All of these people were of the same religious faith, Covenanter Presbyterians, the Secession church which broke from the Established Presbyterian church in 1732, and which was officially known, in Scotland, as the Associate Synod. These towns were rapidly settled between 1762 and 1790 so that, by the latter date, the Argyle pioneers were a part of an extensive community of Covenanters.


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The name of the county of Charlotte, which smacked of the hated Royalty, was changed to Washington county in 1784. In 1788 the town of Argyle was officially recognized by the State. Vermont was admitted as a state in 1791 upon payment of thirty

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thousand pounds as an indemnity to New York state residents who had been driven from their lands in Vermont. Also, in 1791, the towns of Cambridge and Easton were added to Washington county. In 1803, Greenwich was set off as a separate town.

During the closing years of the Revolution, and for a few years thereafter, the people in Washington county were in dire straights to get along. The unsettled conditions had greatly reduced the productivity of the farms. Money was very scarce and of doubtful value. It became necessary for the state to make an appropriation for relief in the county. There is no evidence that the Scotch settlers in Argyle asked for, or received, any of these relief funds. Whatever their faults, they were self-reliant and proud. Throughout the one hundred and eighty years that their descendants lived in Argyle, there has been a very low percentage of expenditure for poor relief.

Soon after the close of the Revolution, new settlers flocked into Argyle and the neighboring towns, although the development of Argyle was comparatively slow because of the difficulty in obtaining good titles to the lands, largely abandoned by the original grantees. Squatters settled upon much of the acreage. Their doubtful title tended to a slack and wasteful development of the land. Many of the newcomers were also Scotch or Scotch-Irish, but there was a sprinkling of colonial Dutch, of Palatinate Germans, and a larger number of New England Methodists. But the Scotch Covenanter was predominant and it was his culture and his rigid brand of Protestantism which gave the town that distinctive character which, though modified, has endured to this day.

In 1794, a town ordinance provided severe penalties for Sabbath breaking. It had the support of all the prominent citizens of the town. Salem and Cambridge had similar ordinances, and out of the serious effort to strictly enforce these ordinances grew much trouble, for into the towns had drifted, or had grown up in them, a considerable minority much given to drinking and other ribald ways.

By 1800, about one-quarter of the land had been cleared.

[page 53]

Wheat, oats and rye were the principal crops. Cattle were guarded from the wolves which were not wholly exterminated in the county until 1812. The surplus grain and the pot and pearl ashes, recovered from the burned timber, were marketed in Montreal. The transportation was tedious, being largely in winter on sleighs through Whitehall and Lake Champlain. There were but few wheeled vehicles and, such as there were, were lumber wagons or ox carts, the latter being the favorite means of transporting the family to church. Log houses and barns still prevailed. By 1812 they were being replaced by small red and brown frame structures. The building of the better homes and barns, which now dot the town’s landscape, started about 1825.

By the time the third generation of the descendants of the original settlers from the island of Islay had reached maturity, their numbers had greatly increased while the fertility of the soil, as then wastefully managed, had decreased. The grandsons and granddaughters began to emigrate to larger nearby towns and cities but the larger number, still fired by the pioneer spirit of their ancestors who left Islay one hundred years before, trecked to the middle west where they became pioneers in opening the great hinterland of America.

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