Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

A of history down that old road


Even generous folks who know the best spots for autumn leaf-watching in this part of the world tend to keep the little roadway running over the mountains between Montgomery Center and Lowell, Vermont, to themselves.

The narrow gravel road climbs through Hazen's Notch at the north end of the Lowell Mountains. It's very beautiful, especially on its west slope of the notch with sweeping views toward Jay Peak.

There's a lot of history along the roadway, too. The route was scouted by General Moses Hazen, a soldier for the American Continental Congress who worked the northern frontier of the nascent republic stirring up trouble for the British governors of Quebec.

The Bayley-Hazen Road was a military project designed to move American troops from the Connecticut River to within striking distance of Montreal when the route up Lake Champlain was controlled by British warships and forts.

The old military road starts in Wells River and runs about 50 miles to Montgomery Center. It was built between 1776 and 1779 by crews of soldiers and settlers working, according to one source, for $10 a month and a daily pint of rum.

Loyalties were fluid during that period of Canadian and American history. For a while, Hazen was himself settled in Quebec along the Richelieu River, although his sympathies were squarely with the revolution when it broke out. In 1775, he raised a regiment of French Canadian neighbors to support the Continental Congress's General Montgomery, who captured Montreal in the autumn of the same year.

That push by the Americans to take over the colony in 1775 collapsed beneath the walls of Quebec City when Montgomery was shot dead in a November snowstorm. General Benedict Arnold, who'd dragged his men up the Kennebec and down the Chaudière rivers in a truly heroic effort designed to squeeze the Quebec garrison in a pincer movement, was severely wounded in the same assault.

The Americans managed to hold Montreal and southern Quebec that winter, but British reinforcements arrived in May of 1776. The forces of the revolution were rapidly pushed back across the border, including Hazen and his regiment. But the American dream of a northern "fourteenth c

From 1776 until about 1780, hopes for a re-invasion of Quebec were high, especially as French support for the Revolutionaries in Philadelphia reached a peak. Convincing General Washington to invest in strategic transport routes like the Bayley-Hazen Road was relatively easy. But a capable British military governor, Frederick Haldemand, came on the scene in Quebec in 1778 and American hopes for victory in the north began to fade.

The Bayley-Hazen Road never proved to be of much use for military purposes. Local Vermont historians say its real importance was to open central and northern Vermont to settlement.

Which may have been Moses Hazen's intentions all along. He seemed to spend as much of his life speculating in land as fighting as a professional soldier. At a time when military service was often rewarded with parcels of newly-conquered countryside in lieu of pay, it was a natural career fit.

This local revolutionary history is all grist for the reflection mill as you drive slowly through Hazen's Notch on a sun-splashed October day. That General Hazen, you think to yourself, he surely had an eye for real estate.

Royal Orr is a writer and broadcaster living in Hatley, Quebec.

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