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History Corner: When Barre was Wildersburgh

image of fist fight plaque - granite on a wood-clapboard siding
Photo by Rick McMahan
When settlers first arrived, Barre was named Wildersburgh. How did it become Barre? Two accounts exist — both historically authentic. One is from the first town meeting minutes. The other is an eyewitness account from the town’s first doctor. Which is true? We’ll never know.

The Fight

The name Wildersburgh turned out to be unpopular, so at the first town meeting in 1793, people were free to choose a new name. However, two men refused to back down on their name choices. Captain Joseph Thompson and Jonathon Sherman both wanted to name it after towns where they formerly lived. So meeting goers decided it should be settled in a boxing match, historic documents state.

Terms were set that “they should fight across a pole; but if one should knock the other down, they might then choose their own mode of warfare.” So they reconvened to another spot with a floor of rough hemlock planks to duke it out. There, “the combatants advanced upon each other, and soon Thompson, … brought his antagonist to the floor, and, springing upon him, at full length, began to aim his heavy blows at his head and face; but Sherman … fell harmless on the floor … During this process, Sherman was dexterously plying his ribs from beneath, when Thompson was soon heard to groan, and his blows became palsied and without effect. Sherman then rolled him off, and, springing upon his feet, exultingly exclaimed: ‘There, the name is Barre, by God’!” 

The next day Sherman went to Dr. Robert Paddock and asked him to remove hemlock splinters from his “ back and posterior” he got during the fight. Paddock later gave this account to a writer for Abby Hemenway’s historical Gazetteer.

Highest Bidder

In the very first town meeting minutes, written in eighteenth century script and kept safely in a vault in the Barre City town clerk’s office, the account is as follows: On September 3, 1793, “the inhabitants of the town of Wildersburgh qualified by law to vote” met at Calvin Smith’s house. There they voted in Asaph Sherman to be moderator. They also “voted to petition the general assembly to alter the name of the town of Wildersburgh.” The person who would choose that name is “the man that will give the most toward building a meeting house in town.” That man was named as Ezekiel Dodge Wheeler, who, the minutes state, offered 64 pounds lawful money. He named it “Barre.”