People who have made a difference in and from Bennington
Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to an eminent New England family, Benning Wentworth attended Harvard University (Class of 1715) and was a prosperous purveyor of wines and spirits, as well as timber, munitions and other commodities. Wentworth was named the governor of New Hampshire when it was separated from Massachusetts and granted the status of an independent province. On January 3, 1749 Governor Wentworth issued a charter that granted a six-mile square territory to Colonel William Williams of New Hampshire along with 59 others. The new town, named Bennington, was the first New Hampshire town to be chartered west of the Connecticut river.
Ethan Allen arrived in the fledgling settlement of Bennington in 1766. He invested heavily in land speculation and therefore pressed himself into service in the quarrels of Bennington, and other New Hampshire Grant communties, with the colony of New York. These quarrels led to the formation of the Green Mountain Boys. Led by Allen, its purpose was to turn back the incursions of New York. During the Revolutionary War, Allen led the Green Mountain Boys in battle, siezing the British fortifications and Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Plans for this mission were formulated by Allen and his officers at the Catamount Tavern in Bennington. After the war, Allen’s philisophical tract, “Reason the Only Oracle of Man” was printed in Bennington. Allen later relocated to Burlington, where he remained active in the politics and economics of Vermont, which led to its financial stability and it ultimate acceptance as the nation’s fourteenth state.
GENERAL JOHN STARK
General John Stark of New Hampshire is the acknowledged hero of the Battle of Bennington in 1777. Learning that General Burgoyne was preparing to dispatch a force to Bennington to capture suppplies and munitions, Stark spent five days in reconnaissance and consulation with Continental authorities at Bennington. Though outnumbered, Stark combined strategy with fortuitious timing, and the late arrival of Seth Warner’s troops, to defeat the British. This victory paved the way for the much larger British defeat at Saratoga two months later, which is considered by historians to be the turning point of the Revolution.
Today, more than 75 years after its first appearance, most Benningtonians are unaware that their town produced one of the most ambitious and stylish automobiles of the 1920s. Bennington’s automobile, the Wasp, was the brainchild of Karl Martin. Martin begain his career as a professional designer, engineer and builder in 1912. He moved to Bennington after World War I and began building automobiles. At the height of its importance as a transportation center, in 1925, Bennington had some eight garages at the center of town selling and servicing fifteen brands of automobiles including Chrysler, Buick, Chevrolet and Rolls-Royce. The first Wasp produced by Martin was presented shortly after its completion in January 1920. Its fine craftsmanship and striking design made it popular and the actor Dluglas Fairbanks was so taken with it that he bought one for his fiance’ Mary Pickford. Poor business conditions and difficulty obtaining capital ened production of the Wasp in 1925. Only sixteen were ever produced. One is on display at the Bennington Museum.
Poet Robert Frost, who wrote, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world,” spent his early years not in New England but in California. In his mid thirties, Frost resided in England where his work first became recognized. In 1920 Frost moved with his family into the beautiful early “Stone Cottage” still to be seen on Historic Route 7A south of the town of Shaftsbury. Here he later said that he wrote one of his best known works, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Frost later moved to a quiet farm he dubbed “The Gulley” a mile to the north. He lived at the Gulley until 1938. Although Frost spent much time away in his academic and literary role he considered himself a Benningtonian. Upon his death in January of 1963 he was buried in the cemetery of the Old First Church in Old Bennington.
Anna Mary Robertson Moses, known now simply as ‘Grandma Moses” was born in 1860 in New York. She married Thomas Salmon Moses of Eagle Bridge, New York. Although the Moses’ and their children spent twenty years in Virginia, they returned to Eagle Bridge in 1905. From 1927 to 1935 she spent much of her time on Elm Street, in Bennington, nursing her daughter Anna, who had contracted tuberculosis. Her strong ties to Bennington were confirmed when the Bennington Museum became the principal public instituion to collect and display her work. Today, this rural farm wife who took up painting seriously only in her seventies, has a gallery of her own at the museum, and her art is known throughout the world.
When Norman Rockwell and his family moved to Vermont in 1939, the change affected the artist’s work as well as his life. It was here that he began to work not from professional models but from local models and scenes drawn from the community around him. Many of his models here were from the Arlington area and had strong ties, through family and friends, to Bennington, where a number of them still live and work. Over the course of the fifteen years of Rockwell’s residence, until 1953, models and scenes from the Bennington area come to represent for many a vision of the nation at its best.
Born in San Francisco and educated in upstate New York, Shirley Jackson began writing poetry and prose at an early age. in 1945 she and her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, moved to Bennington, where he joined the faulty at Bennington College. It was while living here that Jackson wrote her most celebrated short story,”The Lottery.” This haunting tale set in a small New England town brought the echoes of Puritan madness and intolerance associated with withcraft into the present. Jackson and her husband raised four children in North Bennington. They led a spirited and agreeably unconventional life in North Bennington until her untimely death at age 46.
(The biographical information found above was gathered from “Poets & Pioneers, 50 Lives in the History of Bennington,” edited by Tom Fels)