Home Commentary History Corner: The First (Tragic) Thanksgiving in the Settlement

History Corner: The First (Tragic) Thanksgiving in the Settlement

The first Thanksgiving in Montpelier on Dec. 3, 1791, ended in tragedy according to Daniel P. Thompson in “History of Montpelier.” Thompson wrote, “the most melancholy event that ever transpired here, and became doubly memorable in all this region by its saddening character, and its association with the first Thanksgiving ever held in the settlement.”

“The young men and maidens of this and the neighboring settlements, for many miles around, assembled, in mutually chosen and happy pairs, at the house of Colonel Davis, to while away the golden hours in the lively dance,” Thompson wrote. Festivities continued through the night by “joyous company.”

The happy event soon turned to tragedy. On returning home, some  participants would succumb to a “repose of death” in the “cold, watery bed of the dark and turbid Winooski.” Following a night of dance, the company went separate ways. Among them were the daughters of Capt. James Hobart, an early Berlin settler.

No bridges crossed the river from Montpelier to Berlin. And on that night, the river was “unfordable,” Thompson wrote. “Betsey Hobart, one of these sisters, was attended by Theophilus Brooks, of Montpelier, her affianced lover. The other sister was attended by Captain Isaac Putnam – then one of the ‘most Herculean and resolute young men among the Montpelier settlers.’ The party, on going from Montpelier, passed down the same side of the river to a canoe landing in the borders of Middlesex, nearly opposite to the home of the young ladies. Here they all got in a log canoe … used for crossing at this place. The river was swollen by recent rains, and the current was strong and rapid. The conditions of the river along with the nervous alarms of the people may have prevented them from preserving the balance of their rolling vessel, causing the canoe to upset. Soon, the four found themselves in the deepest part of the high, wintry stream. By almost superhuman exertions, Putnam at last succeeded in righting the boat, and placing within it not only the two girls, but Brooks, who, being unable to swim, was equally helpless.” 

But the canoe overturned a second time, and “they were all again upset and plunged into the stream.” Putnam had become so cold and exhausted that he could not save them all. He barely pulled one friend to shore, while hearing despairing outcries from Brooks, and “the shrieks of his fair companion in death, as well as in life, were soon lost in the rushing murmurs of the dark and angry flood, beneath which they now disappeared forever.” The body of Miss Hobart was recovered the next day, but that of Brooks was not found till the breaking up of the ice months afterwards.