By Rosalyn Graham
Recently you’ve heard bits of the story of the first permanent settlers in Shelburne, with some colorful adventures involving beer. Now here is the whole story.
Moses Peirson was born Oct. 17, 1733 in Newark, New Jersey. His wife, Rachel, was born Oct. 13, 1735. They were married on March 27, 1754. They lived in Parsippany, New Jersey and had five sons and three daughters: James, Sarah, Zilla, Ziba, Uzal, William, Hannah and Samuel. To pay off debts incurred by his father, James, who had come to America from Wales at the age of 16 some time around the year 1715, Moses sold the property bequeathed to him by his father.
In 1769, Moses purchased 1,000 acres of land in the southwest corner of Shelburne along the lake, which is the location of Shelburne Beach today, including Meech Island. Moses, Rachel and their children moved to Shelburne in 1770. He built a block house of hewn logs and a log barn. They had two more daughters, Martha, born 1772, and Rhoda, born in 1777. Their son James died of consumption Dec. 14, 1775 at age 20 and was buried on Meech Island. They spent the years from 1770 to 1776 farming and living a peaceful, quiet life.
In 1776 the American colonies declared their independence from England and the American Revolutionary War began. In 1777, after harvesting a large crop of wheat and hearing of the approach of the British and Native Americans, the Peirsons fled from Shelburne and moved to another part of the state.
In March of 1778, the Peirsons returned with a company of armed men under the command of Captain Sawyer to thresh the wheat and secure it. About an hour before daybreak on March 12, 1778, a guard ran into the house and cried “They are coming,” having observed a large party of about 57 Native Americans and British soldiers dressed as Native Americans. The men jumped out of bed and grabbed their guns. At that moment the first shot from the attackers was fired upon the house. Two men, Woodard and Daniels, who had stopped and stayed the night, were killed. An intense skirmish ensued for about two hours.
During the battle, the house was set on fire twice. Both times someone went out and extinguished the fires with water, then returned safely inside. The third time the house was set on fire there was no water left. Corporal Joseph Williams broke a hole through the roof and extinguished the flames with a barrel of beer brewed the day before by Rachel.
The Peirson party withstood the attack and finally drove the besiegers off, killing a number of them. As they retreated, the attackers threw the dead and fatally wounded in a hole in the ice. Later, a hole was dug and the remaining dead attackers, including an Indian chief, were all piled in. Six British soldiers were taken prisoner.
Ziba, age 17, and Uzal, age 15, were actively engaged in the battle. As Moses reached for his rifle, a bullet went through his shirt, leaving two holes in it—but he was not hurt. Rhoda, the 10-month-old daughter, was found lying in bed unharmed, although shots had passed through the headboard. Three other daughters lying in a bed next to hers were not hurt. Woodard, Daniels and a Captain Barnum were put in coffins and buried.
Soon after, they packed up and started out on the ice with their horse teams. The cattle were driven by land through the woods. They stopped in Shoreham at a farm owned by a Mr. More and later moved to Rutland and Clarendon until peace was declared.
The British authorities, exasperated by their defeat, offered a large reward for the body of the notorious rebel, Moses Peirson, “dead or alive.” In 1913, the Vermont Society of the Sons of the American Revolution dedicated a bronze monument to commemorate this battle, known as the “Siege of the Shelburne block house.” It is located at the north end of the beach parking lot. Ethan Allen wrote about this battle in a letter to George Washington.
In 1783 at the end of the war, the Peirsons returned to their Shelburne homestead and took up farming again. In 1787, at the first town meeting, Moses was elected a selectman for the town. Moses lived on the farm until his death on February 28, 1805 at age 71. Rachel died on March 22, 1815 at age 79. They were Shelburne’s first permanent residents. They are buried in the West Cemetery at Shelburne Farms.
In 1922 the town received a bequest of $38,000 from the estate of James Pierson who spent his early life in Shelburne. The library was renamed Pierson Library to commemorate this pioneer family. The change in spelling Peirson to Pierson took place in the third generation with some branches of the family adopting Pierson and others keeping Peirson.
In July 2015, two ninth-generation descendants, Deborah Peirson Fischer from Pennsylvania and Kenneth Peirson from New Jersey stopped by the town offices to research the town’s records and other historical documents about Moses and Rachel Peirson. They also visited the monument at the beach and the West Cemetery. They have become members of the Shelburne Historical Society. Deb, Ken and their families were recently in Shelburne attending the October Rick and the Ramblers concert at Shelburne Farms. After a brief history of the siege of the block house, they were each presented with a growler of Moses Peirson Beer from Fiddlehead Brewing.