How Did Barre Get Its Name?

by Richard Bottamini

Through a fist fight, some people claim.

No, no says another group. It was through a gift of money.

Which group is right? Read the evidence and render your own judgment.

The story really begins in 1788 when two pioneers -- John Goldsbury and Samuel Rogers -- and their families decided to quit their places in Massachusetts and trek up into the Green Mountain wilderness, where land was cheap and they could set up new homes. Other pioneers followed in short order, coming from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. They all settled in Wildersburgh, nearly 20,000 acres of wild land chartered to William Williams and 60 others in 1780. But none of these original chaps ever settled there. It took Goldsbury and Rogers to lay the groundwork.

Within a few years, five areas made up Wildersburgh: the Upper Village, now South Barre, the largest of the settlements; the Lower Village, now Barre; Jockey Hollow, the south end of the Lower Village; Gospel Village, now the vicinity of Lincoln School and Elmwood Cemetery; and Thwingville, now North Barre.

Now comes the fight scenario. As far as the early settlers were concerned, the name Wildersburgh was for the birds. They wanted something snappier.

If you stop by the present West Hill Farm in Barre Town, you will find on one of the buildings an attractive sign bearing this inscription: "At a town meeting held at this site September 3, 1793 occurred a fight between Jonathan Sherman of Barre, Mass., and Capt. Thompson of Holden, Mass. for the privilege of naming the town. Sherman won and named the town Barre."

Alack and alas, the town records fail to mention any fight. Hence, the second legend, which is backed up by town records.

The townspeople, at a meeting in September, 1793, decided to erect "a house of worship" and voted that the person kicking in the most money for the building should have the right to name the town. Ezekiel Dodge Wheeler came through with £62 -- equal to approximately $310 -- and promptly named the town Barre.

But historian J.W. Ramsay refers to the fight and goes on with this eye-opening sentence: "This (the fight) is corroborated by the action of the town which, 12 years later, in September 1805, 'voted to destroy the note given by Mr. Wheeler and not collected,' thus carrying the impression that the note was never given a bona fide business transaction."

So there you have it -- two legends, one backed up by town records and the other coming to us from the distant past by a tradition that just won't go away.

Which legend are you picking: the fight or the gift of money?

This is a condensed version of the article appearing in the Winter, 1988, issue of Central Vermont Magazine. For information on where to locate these magazines contact the chamber at 229-5711.

Thanks are extended to Earline Marsh, Alan Noyes, Elizabeth Ralph, Sally Finn and Jack Belding for their time selecting and editing Central Vermont Magazine articles for publication on the web.

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