Vermont, January 01, 2013. Most North Country residents in the Connecticut River valley know that up until 1791 Vermont was an independent republic after breaking away from New York and New Hampshire. Many know of the VT and NH towns in the Upper Valley attempt to create a separate state of New Connecticut. In addition, there is a lesser-known republic that staked its claim to independence from 1832 to 1836, the nation of the Republic of Indian Stream.
This independence movement at the headwaters of the Connecticut River was born of confusion about ownership and fostered through settler frustrations because two countries presumed to govern them. Europeans settled the area under a land grant, not from the King of England, but from the chief of the Native American St. Francis tribe lead by King Philip. King Phillip made the grant to a land speculation company with the understanding the St. Francis tribe would always have access to the land to fish and hunt and that the company would support King Phillip and his family for as long as they lived.
The first confusion about ownership of the Indian Stream area started almost immediately. A rival chief to King Phillip claimed that King Phillip had been overthrown and that he, the new chief now had the power to issue land grants and did so to a competing land speculation company. The stage was set for overlapping grants made for the same land.
Then the Treaty of Paris that settled the American Revolution in 1783 created uncertainty about the boundary between Canada and the US, defining the boundary as the “northwest most head of the Connecticut River.” The first surveyor took the word head to mean tributary and set the boundary at Halls Stream, well to the west of the Connecticut Lakes. New Hampshire thought this was fine and England did not object immediately.
Soon enough friction arose between the US and England about the boundary and after 30 years of squabbling, in 1819 England unilaterally split the difference between the Connecticut Lakes and Halls Stream and set the boundary at Indian Stream. That action did not settle the matter so in 1827, the two countries agreed to submit their competing claims to the King of Holland and to abide by his decision. When the King decided in favor of England, the US said thank you very much and proceeded to ignore his decision.
The question of governance remained in limbo until 1832 when a NH court decision upheld a prisoner’s claim that the State of NH did not have jurisdiction in the Indian Stream area and set him free. Therefore, there was no local NH law protecting the citizens from ruffians and smugglers but the US did assert its right to levy duties on goods imported into Indian Stream and England asserted its right to impress Indian Stream citizens into her army. Clearly, the situation was the worst of all possible worlds for Indian Streamers.
In 1832, the citizens appointed a committee of five charged with the task of devising a Constitution for the “United Inhabitants of the Indian Stream Territory” that completed their work in one month and on a vote of 56 to 3, the citizens adopted a Constitution providing for an assembly, a council, a judiciary and a president. The citizens of the tiny 282 square mile stronghold of Indian Stream resolved, “to abide by and support our own constitution and laws, agreeable to our oaths until known to what government we properly belong, when our constitution is to end.”
The Assembly made provision for a school system, organized its own army, 41 strong in all and managed to coexist peaceably with the United States and Britain both. That is until a series of misadventures involving a Canadian sheriff, an Indian Stream Assembly action challenging NH, a series of cross arrest warrants leading to the arrest of the Coos County deputy who, after his removal to Canada, would stand trial for ignoring the Canadian sheriff’s warrant.
In a ride reminiscent of Paul Revere, a horseman rode through Clarksville, Stewartstown and Colebrook sounding the alarm and 300 frontiersmen answered his call. Their anger fueled some say by “old rum” sent them off to rescue the Coos County deputy sheriff. Upon his safe return, the assembled militia decided, after some more rum, to invade Canada. Met on the road to Hereford, Quebec, a Canadian posse stopped the frontiersmen short and after some heated words, a battle ensued. The fray resulted in the wounding of three men and a horse.
The citizens of Indian Stream felt things were out of hand and became convinced it would be in their best interests to acknowledge they were part of NH. The Indian Stream Assembly adopted a series of resolutions that were published in the Concord, NH papers and the country was dissolved in 1836. The Republic of Indian Stream officially became part of the town of Pittsburg four years later. In 1842 the Webster-Ashburton Treaty that resolved several US border disputes with England, established Halls Stream as the boundary between the US and Canada.
Given the history of the Vermont secession from NY and NH, the Upper Valley towns attempted secession from VT and NH, the Indian Stream secession from NH and Canada, one might wonder, what is in the water in our watershed?
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David Deen is River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. CRWC is celebrating 60 years of protecting the River.