Grave of William French - Atlas Obscura

Grave of William French

Westminster Old Cemetery
Westminster, Vermont

This man's death led (indirectly) to Vermont's independence in 1777. 

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Along the Connecticut River in the quiet town of Westminster, Vermont, a headstone in the town’s old cemetery commemorates the life of William French, a man whose death indirectly led to Vermont’s independence, both from the British Loyalist government of New York Colony and the crown of Great Britain.

In 1775, Westminster was a part of the once-fraught New Hampshire Grants, a strip of disputed land that was claimed by the provinces of both New Hampshire and New York. Tensions quickly rose between individuals granted land by New Hampshire and those granted the same land by New York. 

Meanwhile, in 1774, the Continental Congress voted to put into place a trade embargo against England. Each of the 13 colonies ratified the embargo, except for New York. However, the small town of Westminster did vote to ratify the embargo—further solidifying tensions between locals who were Revolutionaries or Whigs and New Yorkers who were seen as Loyalists or Tories. 

Tensions came to a head on March 13, 1775. A New York judge came to the town of Westminster to hear a murder case. Seeking to stop the court session, a group of about 100 locals armed with pitchforks assembled outside the courthouse to protest the judge’s arrival in town.

Then, half an hour later, New York and Tory Sherriff William Patterson rode into town with an armed posse of 60 to 70 men. When the protestors refused to disband, he ordered his posse to fire indiscriminately into the crowd. William French and Daniel Houghton, both patriots, were both killed in the ensuing gunfire. Patterson and his posse rounded up an additional 40 people, many of them wounded, into the jail. 

The following day the tables turned when a local patriot militia, called the the Green Mountain Boys, showed up. The militia captured and imprisoned Patterson and freed those the sheriff had imprisoned the previous day. 

Following the incident, the New York Governor decreed that no more court sessions would be held within the New Hampshire Grants. 

Two years later, on January 15, 1777, some prominent locals came together at the Westminster courthouse—this time to declare independence both from the Colony of New York and Great Britain. Delegates initially called their new state New Connecticut, but later, in June 1777, changed the state’s name to Vermont (from montagne verte, French for “green mountain”).

French’s gravestone, which can be found in Westminster Old Cemetery just north of town, reads: “In memory of William French, Son to Mr. Nathaniel French, who was shot at Westminster, March 13, 1775, by the hands of cruel ministereal tools of George the 3rd, in the corthouse, at 11 a clock at night, in the 22nd year of his age.”

The epitaph is followed by a short poem, “Here William French his body lies, for murder his blood for vengence 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.”

Within the cemetery also stands a memorial to French with the same inscription as his headstone.

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