BENNINGTON -- As part of the Bennington Museum's summer lecture series, Jennifer and Wilson Brown presented, "Colonel William Marsh: Tracking a Vermont Patriot and Loyalist."
Jennifer Brown, who described herself as a "five times great granddaughter" of Marsh, gave the presentation, while Wilson Brown operated the slideshow, occasionally standing to point out locations on maps. The couple, both of whom were named Brown prior to their marriage, released a book in October 2013 entitled "Col. William Marsh Vermont Patriot and Loyalist." Jennifer Brown thanked museum historian Tyler Resch for his help with the book, saying, "With the book, Tyler has been very helpful to us, setting us straight and pointing us in the right directions."
Marsh, who was born in Coventry, Connecticut, moved to Manchester with his wife's family in August of 1761, when New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth was giving settlers land grants to start towns west of the Connecticut River, in land also claimed by the colony of New York. When New York began sending sheriffs into the land covered by the New Hampshire Grants, as they were called, to throw the settlers off the land, the settlers formed what became known as "The Bennington Mob," an early incarnation of the Green Mountain Boys.
Marsh, who supported the creation of the colony of Vermont, joined the local militia, where he served as a colonel. He was not a field commander, but was heavily involved in the political negotiations in the years leading up to the American Revolution, said Jennifer Brown. In fact, she asserted that he was one of the three men most responsible for leading Vermont down the road to independence, along with Heman Allen, brother of Ethan Allen, and Jonas Fay, who later served on the Vermont Supreme Court.
During the war, American general Arthur St. Clair, fresh off his retreat from Fort Ticonderoga, stayed in Marsh's Manchester home. While St. Clair played no further role in the campaign, and would later face court martial for his loss of the fort, many of his soldiers would soon after participate in the Battle of Bennington. Marsh, however, was growing increasingly concerned at the treatment of loyalists by the Continental Army, and a few weeks later headed north to join the British army, under the command of General John Burgoyne.
Again, Marsh did not serve as a field commander, but instead was in charge of hearing loyalists' requests for compensation after their lands were seized by the patriots. Marsh's own Manchester estate was seized and sold to finance the American war effort. Marsh was captured after Burgoyne's defeat at the Battle of Saratoga, and was subsequently parolled and exiled to Canada.
While in Quebec, Marsh worked with British governor Sir Frederick Haldimand to negotiate with Ethan Allen and Vermont Governor Thomas Chittenden. Marsh wished to gain Vermont's support for the British, in exchange for Britain declaring Vermont as an independent republic. A secret truce was negotiated, and British raids into Vermont ceased, but before an official agreement could be met, George Washington defeated Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, effectively bringing the war to an end.
After the war, Marsh returned to his father's estate in Dorset, which had not been seized, where he lived until his death. He fought continuously to have his lands in Manchester returned to him, but was unsuccessful.
Today, the Marsh Tavern at the Equinox Resort in Manchester still bears his name, and his gravesite is located in Dorset. His epitaph, written by one of his ten sons, reads, "He whose virtues merited a temple can now scarce find a tomb."
Those who missed Sunday's talk at the museum, but are interested in seeing Jennifer and Wilson Brown speak about Marsh, can visit Northshire Bookstore in Manchester on Friday, June 20, at 6 p.m., where the couple will be promoting their book.