“beech seal” to the naked back — Vermont Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Vermont Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the New York Assembly assigning reward bounties on Vermonters 242 years ago.

From the History of Vermont, Natural, Civil and Statistical, by Zadock Thompson, published in 1853:


During the protracted controversy in which these men acted so prominent a part, there had been, up to this time, frequent attempts to arrest it and bring it to an amicable settlement.

Orders from the crown had likewise been often given to New York to suspend further prosecutions and make no more grants of the lands in dispute till his Majesty’s further pleasure should be known respecting them.

But in despite of royal orders and the remonstrances of the settlers on the grants, New York continued to assert and to endeavor to enforce her claims, and the repeated but vain attempts at reconciliation, served only to embitter the resentment of the contending parties and produce a state of hostility more decided and alarming.

The affairs of the inhabitants of the grants appear to have been managed during this period by committees appointed in the several towns, and who met in convention as occasion required, to adopt measures for the common defense and welfare.

The resolutions and decrees of these conventions were regarded as the law of the land, and their infraction was always punished with exemplary severity.

The punishment most frequently inflicted was the application of the “beech seal” to the naked back, and banishment from the grants.

This mode of punishment derived its significant name from allusion to the great seal of the province of New Hampshire, which was affixed to the charters of the townships granted by the governor of that province, of which the beech rod well laid upon the naked backs of the “Yorkers,” and their adherents, was humorously considered a confirmation.

That the reader may have a just idea of the summary manner in which the convention and committees proceeded against those who violated their decrees, we will lay before them the sentence of Benjamin Hough, as a sample.

It appears that Hough, who resided in the vicinity of Clarendon and who was a violent Yorker, went to New York in the winter of 1774, for the purpose of obtaining the aid of government against the Green Mountain Boys, and that on the 9th of March, the very day of the passage of the extraordinary law** of which we have already spoken in the fourth section of this chapter, he accepted the appointment of justice of the peace for the county of Charlotte, under the authority of New York.

On his return he proceeded to execute his new office within the grants, in defiance of the decree of the convention which forbade it.

He was repeatedly warned to desist, but being found incorrigible, he was arrested and carried before a committee of safety at Sunderland.

The decree of the convention and the charges against the prisoner being read in his presence, he acknowledged that he had been active in promoting the passage of the law above mentioned and in the discharge of his duties as magistrate, but pleaded the jurisdiction of New York over the Grant, in justification of his conduct.

This plea having no weight with the committee, they proceeded to pronounce upon him the following sentence, viz.

“That the prisoner be taken from the bar of this committee of safety and be tied to a tree, and there, on his naked back, receive two hundred stripes; his back being dressed, he should depart out of the district, and on return, without special leave of the convention, to suffer death.”

This sentence was forthwith carried into execution, with unsparing severity, in the presence of a large concourse of people.

Hough asked and received the following written certificate of his punishment, signed by Allen and Warner:

“Sunderland, 30th of Jan., 1775. This may certify the inhabitants of the New Hampshire Grants, that Benjamin Hough hath this day received a full punishment for his crimes committed heretofore against this country; and our inhabitants are ordered to give him, the said Hough, a free and unmolested passport toward the city of New York, or to the westward of our Grants, he behaving himself as becometh.

“Given under our hands the day and date aforesaid. Ethan Allen, Seth Warner.”

On the delivery of the paper, Allen sarcastically observed that the certificate, together with the receipt on his buck, would no doubt be admitted as legal evidence before the supreme court and the governor and council of New York, though the king’s warrant to Gov. Wentworth and his Excellency’s sign manual with the Great Seal of the province of New Hampshire, would not.

Hough repaired immediately to the city of New York, where he gave, under oath, a minute account of the transactions above mentioned, and this matter, together with the particulars of the transactions at Westminster on the 13th of March, was made the subject of a special message to the colonial assembly by Lieut. Gov. Colden.

The Assembly, after discussing these subjects on the 30th and 31st of March, finally resolved to appropriate £1000 for the maintenance of justice and the suppression of riots in the county of Cumberland, and that a reward of £50 each be offered for apprehending James Mead, Gideon Warren and Jesse Sawyer, and also a reward of £50 each, in addition to the rewards previously offered, for the apprehension of Ethan Allen, Seth Warner, Robert Cochran and Peleg Sunderland.

These resolutions constituted the last and dying efforts of the royal government of New York against the New Hampshire Grants.

The assembly was soon prorogued and never met again, being superseded by the revolutionary authority of the provincial congress.

Although the application of the beach seal was the most common punishment, others were frequently resorted to.

Some of these were in their nature trifling and puerile.

The following may serve as a specimen.

A Dutchman of Arlington became a partisan of New York and spoke in reproachful terms of the convention and of the proceedings of the Green Mountain Boys.

He advised the settlers to submit to New York, and re-purchase their lands from that government.

Being requested to desist, and disregarding it, he was arrested and carried to the Green Mountain tavern in Bennington.

The committee, after hearing his defense, ordered him “to be tied in an armed chair, and hoisted to the sign, (a catamount’s skin, stuffed, sitting upon the sign post twenty-five feet from the ground with large teeth, grinning towards New York,) and there to hang two hours in sight of the people, as a punishment merited by his enmity to the rights and liberties of the in habitants of the New Hampshire Grants.”

This sentence was executed to the no small merriment of a large concourse of people ; and when he was let down he was dismissed by the committee with the exhortation to “go and sin no more.”


** While the convention of the New Hampshire grants was discussing and adopting these resolutions, the general assembly of New York was proceeding to carry into effect the resolutions of the 5th of February; and on the 9th of March, 1774, they enacted a law which put an end to all prospects of reconciliation.

This extraordinary law, (which is of too great length to be inserted entire,) enacted, among other things equally sanguinary and despotic, — that if any person, or persons, oppose any civil officer of New York, in the discharge of his official duty, “or willfully burn or destroy, the grain, corn or hay, of any other persons being in any enclosure; or if any persons unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the public peace, shall, unlawfully and with force, demolish, or pull down, or begin to demolish, or pull down any dwelling-house, barn, stable, grist-mill, saw-mill, or out-house, within either of the said counties of Albany and Charlotte; that then each of said offences shall be adjudged felony, without benefit of clergy, and the offenders therein shall be adjudged felons, and shall suffer death, as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.”


The Vermont Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s portrayal of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys in Council.

Vermont Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin