Love Story: How Cabot Got Its Name

Material excerpted or adapted from Esther Munroe Swift's "Vermont Place Names: Footprints of History," Stephen Green Press, Brattleboro, Vt. 

It has been said that a man could live in Cabot for seventy-five years and have been a resident of four counties without ever leaving his place of birth. The town has been successively part of the Vermont counties of Cumberland, Orange, Caledonia and, since 1855, Washington. As far as can be discovered, Cabot is the only town in Vermont to have been named as a result of a romantic attachment. Major Lyman Hitchcock of Connecticut and Miss Sophia Cabot fell in love while Lyman was still in the Continental Army. Sophia's father refused to let his daughter marry a soldier, and the lovers were thwarted. Then Lyman got in on a Vermont grant in which he was the next-to-largest land buyer. 

Sophia's father went north with a survey crew to inspect the holding of his would-be son-in-law and liked what he saw. He gave the couple his blessing, and the other grantees of Lyman's Vermont town agreed to let him name it for his fiancee.  After the revolution, the young couple settled on their Vermont land, and the 1790 census (actually taken in Vermont in 1791) listed Lyman Hitchcock as head of a household of four people.

Cabot started out as an army town. When the town was officially organized, eight years after the chartering, six out of seven people elected to fill town offices had been commissioned Continental Army officers (the odd civilian was elected to the office of highway surveyor). The fact that soldiers bought many of the charters sold by Vermont during the Revolution has engendered the mistaken idea that the land was pay for their services. In fact, however, hard money changed hands, and went into the treasury of the little republic. And the money was badly needed; the Continental Congress did not pay any of  Vermont's war expenses because she was neither an old colony not yet recognized as a separate, independent entity, and Cabot did not have what the proprietors of every town hoped for: good farm lands, plenty of mill sites and no excessively high hills. At first the town grew quite rapidly, then after the Civil War it started to decline. The population at present is somewhat less than it was thirty years after the charter was written.

According to Prentiss R. Carnell III, a direct descendant of Lyman Hitchcock and Sophia Cabot Hitchcock, part of this story is wrong. Research shows Sophia's renowned father, the Reverend Marston Cabot, died "of apoplexy" April 8, 1756, in the pulpit of the Second or North Society of Killingly (now Thompson), Connecticut. Sophia was born July 20, 1756, three months later.  Probably her brother, Marston Cabot, Jr., (1747-1814) was the person who objected to her marriage until Major Hitchcock bought a land grant in Cabot. Marston Cabot, Jr. was a farmer and early settler of Hartland, Vermont. He was Windsor County surveyor and surveyed several Vermont towns, including Hartland, Williamston, Berlin, Northfield, Wildersburgh (now Barre) and Cabot. A 19th century history of Cabot by John M. Fisher, in Vermont Historical Magazine, states, " Cabot . . . was granted Nov. 6, 1780; chartered by Vermont to Jesse LEVENWORTH and 65 others, Aug. 17, 1781; but not surveyed and lotted till 1786. The survey was made by CABOT, of Connecticut, and James WHITELAW. Thomas LYFORD, whose father was one of the first settlers, being at that time a young man, 18 years of age, worked with them through the survey. In the extreme west part of the town Mr. CABOT broke the glass in his compass, and was obliged to go through the wilderness to the nearest house about 6 miles away, and take a square of glass out of the window to replace it." Major Lyman Hitchcock married Sophia Cabot Sept. 14, 1785, before the survey.
Whitelaw was then the Republic of Vermont's Deputy Surveyor-General; he also did private surveys. In Oct. 1787, Whitelaw became the second Vermont Surveyor-General, succeeding Ira Allen. In 1789, Thomas Lyford, Jr. helped his father build an up-and-down sawmill on the Winooski River, alongside what became Main Street in the village of Cabot.