A Memoir of Ruth Messenger Thayer

 Judy Frazer of Shelburne Historical Society cleaning the lichens and moss from the headstone so the inscription could be read.
Judy Frazer of Shelburne Historical Society cleaning the lichens and moss from the headstone so the inscription could be read.

March is Women’s History Month. What better time to recall the story of one of the first women who lived in Shelburne. Judy Frazer of Shelburne Historical Society researched the story of Ruth Messenger Thayer, a story that provides a dramatic picture of the difficulty of life in those early days, and the courage of the early settlers.

In 1770, Roderick Messenger moved from Connecticut to Jericho. He settled on land near the Winooski River in the west part of Jericho and started a farm. Soon after the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, the British and Indians invaded what is now northern Vermont, and the Messengers, like many of the few early settlers in this region had to flee.

On the first of September 1776 the Messengers began their journey, heading for Pawlet in southern Vermont where they could find protection. It was a difficult journey with many hardships and dangers as they made their way through unbroken forests.

On the 24th of September, Mrs. Messenger gave birth to twins. She and one of the twins died within a few days. Ruth, the remaining twin, only nine days old, was put in the care of her eleven-year-old sister. Nine weeks later, Ruth’s father, Roderick made a bargain with Daniel Barber, a resident of Sunderland, to take Ruth. Daniel eventually adopted Ruth and she was considered one of his family.

In 1784, at the end of the Revolutionary War, when Ruth was eight years old, Daniel Barber moved to Shelburne and bought a lot in the west part of town. Ruth grew up in Shelburne and as a young woman she taught school near where she lived.

In 1773, Eli Thayer moved to Shelburne from Thompson, Connecticut, and settled at the mouth of the La Plotte (now LaPlatte) River. In December, 1795 when Ruth was 19, she and Eli were married. They had ten children. Two died young, but their three sons and five daughters lived to middle age, dying of consumption. Eli died October 26, 1838.

Ruth was known for her remarkable memory. She could tell the date of most of the principal events which happened in the town, and notable events in the county, and the dates of birth of most of the residents of Shelburne.

She outlived all but one of her children, Lyman, and died September 9, 1861 just fifteen days short of her 86th birthday. A member of the Episcopal Church, she expected at her death to enter that rest which remains for the people of God.

Ruth Thayer’s headstone in Shelburne’s West Cemetery.
Ruth Thayer’s headstone in Shelburne’s West Cemetery.

“Her life began in sorrow and she experienced a full share of affliction through its course.”

Source: The Vermont Historical Gazetteer, a History of Each Town, edited by Abby Maria Hemenway. The chapter on Shelburne was written by Lyman Thayer, Eli and Ruth’s son.

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