From massacre to building a nation

WESTMINSTER-"Who, but the heroes of Vermont, were first to strike the blow? At Lexington and Bunker, before a martyr bled, the blood of that glorious war, at Westminster was shed." - Charles G. Eastman

Westminster. Off hand, this sleepy Vermont village doesn't conjure up rebels, redcoats, or revolutions yet with less than 3,100 residents today, Westminster might very well force a few revisions to history textbooks-at least if one Vermont historian gets her way.

For before the Battles of Lexington and Concord there was-the Westminster Massacre. And then came author and historian Jesse Haas, 236 years later.

Haas's' new book, titled "Revolutionary Westminster" (The History Press • ISBN:978-1-60949-166-6 • Paperback • 176 pages • $19.99 • 2011), may help rewrite those dog-eared patriotic texts. The book should become the definitive history of the true, first shot-heard-round-the-world.

While Massachusetts has long been blessed the cradle of the American Revolution, the Green MountainState deserves a lot more of the limelight. After all the first American blood shed in the War of Independence was right here, on Vermont soil.

On March 13, 1775, a little over a month before Lexington and Concord, Westminster Whigs (later the Republicans) endured an attack from the local Loyalist sheriff-William Paterson, an Irish immigrant-and his surly men that left two local patriots, William French and Daniel Houghton, dead.

Sheriff Paterson led his Loyalist posse that day from the nearby Tory Tavern and marched the musketeers to the courthouse. It was said Paterson shouted to the posse, "Fire on them, God damn ye, and send them all to Hell!"

In response to the cold-blooded killing of French and Houghton, people of Windham County-and far beyond-rose up following what became known as the Westminster Massacre.

"Really, it's a wonder there was only one Westminster Massacre," Haas said. "It was a confused and passionate time. Vermont towns were granted by three different colonies. Westminster alone had four charters. A new king trying to close a budget deficit, growing sentiment for independence, jurisdictional confusion:Vermont was a revolutionary incident waiting to happen."

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