Breed Batchellor: Land Shark?

Rick Church

In 1751 the Masonian Proprietors granted forty square miles called Monadnock Number Six to another group of proprietors responsible for settlement. They were granted the entire town except for a large section referred to as the “land reserved for the Masonian Proprietors”, a 4,000-acre section of the Southwest Quarter of the town. This section consisted of 400 acres of land set aside to support the church and schools and 36, one hundred acre lots for the Masonian Proprietors as individuals. Breed Batchellor’s 1768 plan divided the town’s 25,600 acres into lots to be drawn by the Monadnock Number Six Proprietors. Not a single member of either group settled here; it was only an investment.

Pre-settlement purchases concentrated most of the town into three large ownerships: Thomas Packer, Joseph Blanchard and Breed Batchellor. Of these Batchellor was by far the most active in the town’s early development. He bought and sold some sixty lots, usually about one hundred acres, in the ten-year period from 1767 until his departure in 1777. Thomas Packer and his family who owned almost one third of Monadnock Number Six at one time, sold virtually none of their vast holdings during this period, preferring to wait while Batchellor’s activities settled the place and raised their values. The Blanchard family played a similar game with their extensive holdings in the Southeast Quarter. Batchellor’s holdings were concentrated in the far southwest corner of the town on the Keene line near his own farm and in the Northeast Quarter.

In the early days relations between these large landowners seem co-operative. Packer bought his huge holdings for five shillings a right (about 200 acres) from other proprietors in 1753. Joseph Blanchard picked up his stake at the same time. Batchellor came late to the game (he was a generation younger than the others). His initial purchase was made on the 19th of October, 1763, when Batchellor, then of Brookfield, Massachusetts, received a deed from Jonathan Blanchard for 2,135 acres of land in the Southwest Quarter of the town. The consideration named in the deed was sixty pounds sterling. This sale provided the Blanchards with an eleven-fold increase over their purchase price in twelve years. Batchellor must have acquired most of the Northeast Quarter from Thomas Packer.

These ownership concentrations resulted in the quarters taking on the name of their principal owners. Packer’s Quarter was the name given to the Northwest Quarter with the others: the Proprietors Quarter (Southwest), Blanchard’s Quarter (Southeast) and Batchellor’s Quarter (Northeast). Batchellor was to use his position as tax collector to engineer a land grab against the Blanchards.

With Packer’s and Blanchard’s holdings held off the market, there was no pre-Revolution settlement at all in the Northwest quarter (Munsonville and part of Sullivan today) a little activity on the Blanchard lands in the far southeastern corner of the town and a similar level of activity to the west of Silver Lake as a few Masonian Proprietors sold their lots. The bulk of the settlement took place in Batchellor’s Quarter and on the land Batchellor owned in the Southwest Quarter – Roxbury today.

That Batchellor was a skillful operator can be seen in his early land transactions. He bought at low prices, but also sold at low prices in the beginning to get things started. He seems also to have leased land to entice settlers. Some bought and stayed; others started to clear and build but moved on without buying. He rapidly raised his prices as settlement increased. The most aggressive of his “deals” was his seizure of over two thousand one hundred acres of Blanchard land. The deal almost cost the town its incorporation.

By the time of the petition for incorporation both Thomas Packer and Joseph Blanchard were dead.  Packer’s son, also Thomas, inherited most of his father’s land. James and Jonathan Blanchard and their sister, Catherine Smith, received land as a result of their father’s death in 1758. Catherine sold her interest to the Bancroft family. Jonathan sold his land in the Southwest Quarter to Breed Batchellor leaving James with a large holding in the Southeast Quarter.

Relations between James Blanchard and Breed Batchellor turned very sour when Batchellor seized and sold much of Blanchard’s property for taxes. The source of Blanchard’s difficulty lay in an assessment voted at the 1768 proprietors’ meeting:

“Voted to charge 50 shillings on each share (proprietors share of the town) for surveying and laying out lots and for cutting and making necessary highways and bridges.”

Blanchard’s anger is clear as recounted in a petition from Nathaniel Breed to the royal governor in the battle over incorporation of Packersfield:

“…as to Mr. James Blanchard  (the first time I Ever Saw him we travilling [sic] alone) he told Me that he Would Do Mr. Bathcellor what Ingury [sic] he Could if he would Not give up the Vendue Land which I think he mr. Batchellor Sold. … & I believe [this] is the only Reason that he James Blanchard… got those people… to sign against the Incoropration….”

James Blanchard was delinquent in paying his assessment. Given the size of his holdings, his tax bill would have been quite large – as much as thirty pounds. By 1772 he still owed over half of the assessment. Breed Batchellor, as tax collector, put Blanchard’s land up for sale. The sale would have been “at public vendue” where bids were solicited for lands seized for non-payment of assessments. On April 1, 1772 Batchellor, acting as tax collector, sold 2,125 acres of James Blanchard’s holdings in the Southeast quarter to James Williams, a cordwainer, from Rutland, Massachusetts, for the sum of 17 pounds 16 shillings and 5 pence. Blanchard’s holdings comprised all the land in the original Rights of Sampson French, Joseph Danforth, John Hutchinson, John Kendal and Thomas McCloughlin. The sale covered all but three hundred acres in those Rights that the Blanchards had not already sold.

Blanchard had cause to be angry; he knew the land was worth far more. His brother had sold a similar amount of land to Batchellor some nine years earlier for sixty pounds. Two years before he had sold a one hundred acre lot in this area to John Lund for 10 pounds. Williams got the land for about a fifteenth of its value and the tax sale had cost Blanchard over two hundred pounds.

We know little about the land speculator from Massachusetts except that he marked up his new purchase a paltry three shillings and five pence when he resold it to Breed Batchellor, private citizen, three days later. Batchellor knew many people in Rutland. In a ceremony in Rutland in 1766 Breed Batchellor married Ruth Davis, daughter of a Rutland gristmill owner. Three of the settlers in Batchellor’s neighborhood of Monadnock Number Six came from Rutland as well. Whether Williams was a relative or just a friend isn’t clear. One wonders how public the “public vendue” actually was and whether James Blanchard had notice. It is pretty clear that James Williams got special notice. The transaction was unscrupulous at best.

This transaction and Governor John Wentworth’s refusal to block the incorporation of Monadnock Number Six as Packersfield in early 1774, took the Blanchard family out of the land development game in Packersfield. James sold his remaining 300 acres, holding on to one piece until 1785. The Packers kept virtually the entire Northwest Quarter well after Thomas Packer’s death in 1771. Land sales by that family did not start in earnest until after the Revolution. By then Packersfield was being heavily settled by war veterans and land prices were much higher. Breed Batchellor did not realize many of his ill-gotten gains. The State of New Hampshire confiscated his estate after his declaration of loyalty to England and his exile to Nova Scotia. James Blanchard fought for his state and new nation with New Hampshire’s Third Regiment serving from 1776 to 1781.

State Papers New Hampshire Town Charters Vol. V; Nelson Property Deeds, Cheshire Registry of Deeds and New Hampshire Archives;  Jonas Reed, 1836, History of Rultand, Massachusetts.

2018-10-25T17:26:35+00:00 1751 - 1800, Government, Rick Church|