Burning of Royalton 235 years ago – Vermont Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Vermont Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the British and Indian attack on Royalton on October 16, 1780.

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


During the continuance of the war, the frontier towns were frequently alarmed by the appearance of Indian scouting parties in their neighborhood, but the inhabitants were seldom molested. Their dwellings were, however, occasionally plundered, and sometimes men were taken prisoners, and a few, at different times, were killed, but the women and children were not usually injured, and never massacred as in former wars. In 1777, the Indians killed two men in Brandon, took several of the inhabitants prisoners, and burnt their dwellings.

On the 9th of August, 1780, they took three men in Barnard, whom they carried to Canada; and in October of the same year, they made a successful expedition against Royalton, a thriving settlement on White river, which then consisted of about 300 inhabitants.

This expedition was designed against Newbury, on Connecticut river, for the object, as was supposed, of capturing a Lieutenant Whitcomb, who in July, 1770, while on a scout, had wantonly shot General Gordon, a British officer, between Chambly and St. Johns, and robbed him of his watch and sword. The British deeply resented this attack as unworthy of an officer, and were desirous of getting Whitcomb into their power.

The party, consisting of about 300 men, mostly Indians, was commanded by one Horton, a British lieutenant. While proceeding up Winooski river, they fell in with several hunters, by whom they were told that the people of Newbury were expecting an attack, and were well prepared for defense. This information induced them to turn their attention towards Royalton.

They accordingly proceeded up Stevens and jail branch, and down the first branch of White river, to Tunbridge, where they lay in their encampment during the Sabbath, and on Monday morning, it being the I6th of October, they commenced their depredations at the house of Mr. John Hutchinson, who lived near the line between Tunbridge and Royalton.

After making Mr. Hutchinson and his brother Abijah prisoners, they proceeded to the house of Mr. Robert Havens, where they killed Thomas Pember and Elias Button. They then went to the house of Joseph Kneeland, took him and his father, and Simeon Belknap, Giles Gibbs and Jonathan Brown. Proceeding thence to the house of Mr. Elias Curtis, they made him and John Kent and Peter Mason prisoners.

Thus far the business was conducted with the greatest silence, and the prisoners were forbid making any outcry upon pain of death. They at length arrived at the mouth of the branch, where they made a stand, while small parties proceeded in different directions to plunder the dwellings and bring in prisoners.

By this time the alarm had become general, the inhabitants were flying for safety in every direction, and the savages filled the air with their horrid yells. One party extended its ravages down the river into Sharon, took two prisoners and burnt several houses and barns. Another party proceeded up the river, made prisoner of David Waller, a young lad who lived with General Stevens, plundered and set fire to the General’s house, and advanced in that direction about three miles, killing the cattle and plundering and setting fire to the buildings as they passed.

After completing their work of destruction, they returned with their booty to the place where they commenced their attack in the morning. From this place they proceeded across the hill to Randolph, where they encamped for the night on the second branch of White river.

In the course of the day they had killed two persons, taken 25 prisoners, burnt upwards of 20 houses, and about the same number of barns, and killed about 150 head of cattle, and all the sheep and hogs that fell in their way; having suffered no loss themselves, and scarcely met with any opposition.

Surprised, affrighted and scattered from one another, the inhabitants could take no steps for their defense; the alarm, however, soon spread, and a number of men immediately marched from Connecticut river, and the adjacent towns.

By evening they amounted to several hundreds, and were collected at the place where the attack was first commenced. Here they organized themselves, and chose for their commander a captain John House, who had served several campaigns in the continental army.

Early in the evening, House began his march with this undisciplined but brave corps, in pursuit of the savages, who were at this time encamped seven or eight miles ahead. The night was dark and he was guided amidst the logs, rocks and hills with which the wilderness abounded only by a few marked trees.

When they supposed themselves near the Indians, they proceeded with caution, but as they were passing over a stream which was crossed upon a large log they were fired upon by the enemy’s rear guard, which had been posted behind some trees near the place, and one man was wounded.

House’s party returned the fire, killed one Indian and wounded two others. The guard then retreated to the Indian camp, and House advanced within about 300 yards of the same, where he waited till daylight without commencing an attack.

Fatigued by the business of the preceding day, and now suddenly awakened from profound sleep, the savages were at first filled with consternation and thrown into the utmost disorder. They, however, soon recovered from their fright, and were not long in concerting measures for their own safety.

They sent out an aged prisoner to inform the Americans that, if they proceeded to make an attack, they should immediately put all the prisoners to death. The proceedings thus far had caused two to be put to death; one to retaliate the death of the Indian, who had been slain, and the other for refusing to march, in the expectation that the Americans would relieve them.

These were tomahawked as they lay bound upon the ground. Having placed their warriors in the rear to cover their retreat, they silently left their encampment, proceeded to Randolph, where they took one prisoner, passed through the west part of Brookfield, and, by the way of Winooski river and lake Champlain, to Montreal.

House and his men were waiting for the dawn of day and deliberating upon the message brought them by the prisoner, till the Indians had departed and were far beyond their reach. They, however, followed upon their trail as far as Brookfield and then returned, having lost the opportunity of attacking the enemy by their caution and delay.

On their way to Canada, the prisoners were well treated, and with respect to provisions fared as well as their masters. Of the twenty-six who were carried away, one died in captivity, and the rest were liberated the next summer and returned to their friends.

During the attack upon Royalton, there were several occurrences which are worthy of notice.

In one of the houses first attacked, two women, being suddenly awakened by the rushing in of the savages, were so much frightened that they lost the use of their reason, went out of their doors naked, and stood motionless till the Indians brought them their clothes. This act of kindness restored their senses; they put on their clothes, collected the children and fled to the woods, while the savages were engaged in plundering the house.

At another place one of the women had the boldness to reproach the Indians for distressing helpless women and children, telling them that if they had the spirit and souls of warriors, they would cross the river and go and fight the men at the fort. The Indians bore her remarks patiently, and only replied, squaw shouldn’t say too much.

At another place a woman having her gown carried out of the house with other plunder, resolved to recover it. Seeing it in a heap of pillage which the savages were dividing among themselves at the door, she seized it; upon which one of the Indians clubbed his gun and knocked her down. Not discouraged, she patiently awaited an opportunity when the savages were collecting more plunder, seized and brought off her gown, having at the same time one child in her arms and leading another by the hand.

Another woman having her young son taken away with other little boys, followed the Indians with her other children, and entreated them to give him up, which they did. Encouraged by this success, she then interceded for others, and finally prevailed upon them to give up 12 or 15 of her neighbors’ children.

One of the Indians then in a fit of good humor offered to carry her over the river upon his back. She accepted his proposal, and her savage gallant carried her safely over, though the water was up to his middle, and she soon returned with her little band of boys, to the no small surprise and joy of their parents.


The Vermont Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows beside a map of Vermont, circa 1856, with Royalton and Windsor County.

Vermont Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin