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Coffin: Whitehill Farm

The Whitehill farmhouse stands in high fields above the Peacham/Groton road, actually located in a corner of Ryegate. James Whitehill came from Scotland late in the 1700s with brothers John and Abraham. James built the place in 1798 and according to a Vermont historic roadside marker, it resembles a Scottish stone croft house, or farmhouse.

From those three Whitehills have come thousands of descendants, including my friend Ken Whitehill, who lives in Morgan. His wife Carlie, years ago, invited me to speak at the annual Whitehill reunion, and I was asked to come back this year since the old house appears in my book on Vermont Civil War sites.

The Whitehills gather at the house every year for the annual meeting of their family association, whose primary official purpose is to preserve the historic house. On a late summer morning the place was opened early as scores of Whitehills began to arrive. More than 100 would be on hand before the day ended, to reacquaint, and get caught up.

After a chicken barbecue served under a tent, Ken Whitehill presided at the annual meeting. The need to fund a replacement of the roof was discussed, and will be quickly done. The next project is replacing the front windows. That, too, will be tended to.

The house is in fine condition, lived in by a caring tenant in a back apartment. Some members of the family, who own a farm nearby, cut the fields, keeping the place looking like a Vermont farm of long ago, surrounded by hundreds of mown acres, with two working farms abutting it.

Early in the Civil War, from this house, brothers Calvin and Peden Whitehill went to join the Seventh Vermont’s Company E. They ended up with the regiment at Fort Barancas, in the Florida Panhandle, rising from a mosquito-ridden coastal swamp. Both lads soon got sick there and died.

Late in the meeting, a list of newborns come into the Whitehill family during the past year was read. The list of family members recently perished was far longer.

Then a moment of silence was held for all Whitehills gone before, all the way back to James. All was quiet save for the wind, murmuring through the maple boughs by the house and out across the long fields of hay. In the quiet my gaze shifted east, over green mountain ridges to a prominent New Hampshire ridgeline, blue under the mighty clouds of a cool unsettled upcountry late-summer afternoon. A season was dying.

The highest summit in view was of that of Lincoln Mountain, named for the Great Emancipator, whom those Whitehill boys had gone to serve 152 years ago, never to return to this house, this old place still so dearly loved.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War.
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