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The imposing Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
When he taught in backwoods Reading, his pupils thought Salmon P. Chase to be a tall and awkward young man. (Photo from the American Bar Association.)

Lincoln's Second Inaugural.
Chase is at right, administering the oath of office to the President (Harper's Weekly, March 18, 1865).

The young Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase and Robert Estabrook on Shedd Hill, too.

Yep, history travelled down the Stone Chimney road

  • In ca. 1824-26, the young Salmon P. Chase taught school in the Chase District and returned to bid goodbye to his mother before he left for the west (Ohio, in those days) to become part of his country’s history. Probably he travelled down this Shedd Hill road as he left to catch the train at Windsor.

  • And Robert Estabrook of Estabrook Woods in Concord, Mass. (can you believe the coincidence?--I've spent much time immersed in its history) settled here, of all places, about 1780. In sort of an anticlimax to the story, he fell off his horse and died in 1803, and I know a steep, icy turn near the Stone Chimney that would have done the job. Go to his tale below.

1. The young Salmon P. Chase in Reading, Vermont

In 1995, Oxford University Press published John Niven's Salmon P. Chase: A Biography. Chase (b. 1808 d. 1873) became an active abolitionist, the governor of Ohio, a US senator, a strong-willed Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War, and the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. (Bio here.) My grandmother and mother had in the 1940s told me that Chase in his youth had lived and/or taught school in Reading VT, probably in the now-empty landscape near Chase Four Corners. Thus, I was naturally interested in looking at the relevant pages in Niven biography. I was both disappointed and charmed for, though Niven mentions that Chase had a connection with “Reading” and describes the events in the town quite touchingly, Niven unfortunately locates the events as occurring in Reading, New Hampshire. For more than one reason, I suspected Niven’s reference to New Hampshire to be a mistake and that the biography thus misplaced part of Reading, Vermont's history.

The Niven book opens with a description of Chase’s birth and boyhood in Cornish NH and (in much reduced circumstances) in Keene NH; his schooling at the academy in Windsor VT; a trip west; his education at Dartmouth; his return to Royalton VT; and his final departure for the West. The paragraph in question (Niven, p.20) describes the young Chase the year after his Dartmouth graduation, as follows:

“Meanwhile [Chase] must support himself on this quest for self-realization.… ‘It was my purpose,’ said Chase, ‘to go South and teach for a time, and then pursue whatever profession might appear to me best.’…Before coming to any decision, Chase visited his mother, who was now living with his sister, Hannah Skinner, in Reading [New Hampshire, according to Niven]. Mrs. Chase listened to her son’s rather vague plans for his future and, though a practical woman, she offered no serious objections. On a gray March [1826] morning with a hint of snow in the air, Chase took an early breakfast. Supplied with a small sum of money his mother was able to spare, her ‘blessings and sad but hopeful heart, [he] left home for the world.’ The great adventure was about to begin.” [Note by Ells: I believe the internal quote “her blessings…[etc.]” to be by Chase himself.]

Thus, he could well have departed (his mother’s blessing in his ears!) down the old Stone Chimney Road and past our cabin site, en route to the train at Windsor.

The Niven book also mentions an earlier period of teaching in an unspecified location. In the 1874 history of Reading VT, author Gilbert A. Davis confirms that Chase taught in Reading VT: “The late Chief Justice Chase was at one time a teacher of a public school in Dist. No. 7 [the Chase District] in Reading, and many of his pupils are yet living and remember him as a tall and awkward young man, then a student at Dartmouth College.” [ Chapter XIII “Educational Affairs and Eminent Sons of Reading:” on p. 113, Gilbert A. Davis “Centennial Celebration together with an Historical Sketch of Reading, Windsor County, Vermont, and its Inhabitants from the first settlement of the town to 1874,” Bellows Falls VT: A.N. Swain. 1874 (called Vol. 1)]. Another Chase biography dates his teaching experience as the winter of ca. 1824-25, or the winter which followed his first term at Dartmouth, when he "boarded around." This biography says Chase went back to Hanover with his earnings, proud and happy that he had accomplished something for himself. (p. 19, J.W. Schuckers, The Life and Public service of Salmon Portland Chase, NY:O.Appleton & Co. (1874)

Also the Reading town history confirms that Chase said goodbye to his mother here. The following “lively historical poem” (of five and one half pages of very small type!) was read by Mrs. Frances Maria Shedd Baker at the Centennial Celebration of Reading, on Aug. 28, 1872:

“. . . .
Seven towns disputed for the honor
Of giving birth to the famous Homer;
So very like, with just as good reason—
Because it happened once on a season.
He came there to bid good-bye to his mother—
(She lived there with his sisters and his brother,)

Reading may compete with many another place,
For having been the birth-town of Chief Justice Chase!
. . . .”

(Source: Davis, p. 22 (1874). Note that Mrs. Baker was a Shedd, whose ancestral homes were on Shedd Hill along the Stone Chimney Road leading to the Chase District. It’s not clear to me, however, whether Mrs. Baker's Homeric reference to a possible Chase birth in Reading VT was just having fun with the rivalry of seven towns to be so recognized, or whether she was seriously advancing Reading as a candidate. In any event, Cornish NH has won the birthplace honors.)

2. The Estabrooks left Thoreau's Estabrook Woods to settle in Reading, Vermont

As I was searching for any Reading roots of Mina Keyes Goddard (the Nantucket watercolor artist on this site), I turned a page in the 1903 Reading VT history and read (p. 224) to my astonishment that "about 1780" Thomas Estabrooks's descendents (probably Robert) from Estabrook Woods, Concord MA resettled in Reading, Vermont in the Chase District. This is within a mile of my cabin on Shedd Hill and within a few miles of where some of my forebears have been (in South Woodstock) since they moved there from Groton and Watertown (Waltham) MA in the seventeen hundreds.

Perhaps Chase taught Robert Estabrook's grandkids.

It is unknown why these Estabrooks left Estabrook Woods and why they chose Reading, another out of the way corner of the country. They appear to have left Robert’s daughter Rebecca behind in Estabrook. She later married Hugh Cargill and Paul Adams in Concord, and was the last person named Estabrook to live in the Estabrook Woods.

In 1810, shortly after Robert Estabrook died, this Chase school district contained 60 scholars; in about 1824, Salmon P. Chase taught school here, so the area was still inhabited enough to support a school. But by 1903 not a building in the district was standing (Davis, History of Reading, Vol. 2, p.225 [1903]). And that's still true in 2001.