Located in the southwest corner of Vermont the township of Pownal is bordered on the west by the Taconic Mountains and on the east by the Green Mountain range. The Hoosac River enters the town from the south and has a course of about three miles before crossing the border into New York state.
Even though first settled by the Dutch farmers in the 1730’s the town carries the name of an English colonial administrator Governor Thomas Pownall of Massachusetts colony. The governor had the distinction of being respected as one of the ablest British government officials and was a friend of Gov. Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire. The town’s official charter still exists and is dated Jan 8, 1760. Seth Hudson, former soldier and surgeon at Fort Massachusetts, is credited with being the “founder” of Pownal. He was living at the time in what was then know as West Hoosick (Williamstown, MA.). The charter was issued by Gov. Benning Wentworth and was part of the “New Hampshire Grants”. These grants led to a protracted legal battle with New York colony claiming that the Hoosick Patent was legally the owner of these lands. These claims were not settled until 1789 after the American Revolution. (see “Was Vermont Ever a Colony?”)
The first settlers after the Dutch came from neighboring towns, Rhode Island, and Litchfield, Connecticut area. Today the population of the town is approximately 3,500 and the town is primarily a bedroom community with many residents working in neighboring towns in Vermont, New York or Massachusetts. One doing research in the town records can see the some of the same family names today that existed in the early settlement era – Pratt, Gardner, Niles, Brownell, Mason, Noble, Carpenter, Sweet and Bates.
Local history and lore speak about the Indian legend of the “Weeping Rocks”, the witch trial of widow Kreigger*, “Tories” in town and their treatment, and rattlesnakes in North Pownal, and Indian battles to mention a few. A comprehensive history of the town was published in 1976 and was authored by Joseph Parks (Pownal- A Vermont Town’s Two Hundred Years and more, c1977). An updated version edited by Raymond and Dawn Rodrigues was published in 2010 (Pownal a Towns Two Hundred Years and More 250th Anniversary Edition).
A Vermont Historical Site marker in North Pownal reads: “Here two Presidents taught school at the beginning of their careers. Chester A. Arthur, a graduate of Union College (Schenectady, N.Y.) educated Pownal youth in 1851. Later, while an undergraduate of Williams College, James A. Garfield did likewise. When Garfield was assassinated in 1881, Arthur succeeded him as President.” The marker was placed near the North Pownal Congregational church in 1958 on Rt. 346.
Pownal, VT: Town Clerk: 802-823-7757 – Pownal, VT 05261
Pownal Historical Society
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*It is said that Pownal was the location of Vermont’s only witch trial. The controversial trial claimed that the Widow Kriegger possessed extraordinary powers (there is no record of what the “extraordinary powers” were) and was brought before a commmittee of townspeople and charged with witchcraft. Cutting a hole in the ice of the Hoosick River, the Widow Kriegger was dumped in on the theory that if she was innocent she would sink, and if she floated it was due to the support of the Devil and would be guilty. Legend has it that the Widow Kriegger sank like a stone, and it was with difficulty that she was fished back out to enjoy her acquittal.