“Here William French his Body lies.
For Murder his Blood for Vengance cries.
King George the third his Tory crew
that with a bawl his head Shot threw.
For Liberty and his Countrys Good.
He Lost his Life his dearest blood.”
—From William French’s gravestone
When one hundred unarmed farmers occupying the county courthouse at West-minster refused to leave, a Yorker sheriff ordered his men to shoot them. Panic ensued and forty men, including the wounded, were herded like animals into the courthouse jail and left to die. William French, twenty-two years old, died from a gunshot to the head. Massachusetts and New Hampshire militia did come to the farmers’ aid the next day and arrested the sheriff. The Westminster Massacre of March 13, 1775 is viewed by some as the first battle of the American Revolution.
The Westminster confrontation was a continuation of the Grants vs. Yorkers dispute. The farmers needed to put off their creditors until the fall harvest when they would have money to pay off their debts. They resented the New York land speculators they owed and feared being jailed or losing their land.
Up until this time most Grants settlers on the east side of the Green Mountains had peacefully negotiated any disputes with New York. They had not been enthusiastic supporters of the Green Mountain Boys. The New York sheriff’s actions changed their minds, and they were happy when Ethan Allen’s men rode into town the next day.
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