By Barbara Emery Moseley
Click here for the full series on the vanished Polly Lee Cemetery and the Peeler and Lee families.
Eli and Rebecca (Stebbins) Lee lived “in affectionate and happy communion together for 46 years, until her death in March, 1862.”
Their oldest son was John Stebbins Lee, born Sept. 23, 1820. He learned to read at an early age and set a goal to get a college education. After going through eight grades at Vernon’s West Road one-room school, at age 16 he commenced the study of Latin, which qualified him to teach school. His parents thought it best for him to wait until he was 18, and at that age he first taught school in Guilford, followed by two terms in Vernon, in 1839 and 1840.
His goal of attending Amherst College was achieved in July, 1841. Reputedly, he walked there. Railroads were still in the future locally, and horses were needed at the farm. Among a class of 30, his standing was among the first ten. At once, he began teaching at Mt. Caesar Academy in Swanzey, NH, where he met his wife Elmira Bennett.
Ordination as a Universalist minister followed. His pastorates included Montpelier, Woodstock and West Brattleboro, and he also became principal of academies in those locations. His greatest achievement followed, when a move to Canton, New York resulted in his becoming principal of the collegiate department of St. Lawrence University, a new institution in which “ladies as well as gentlemen receive a complete classical and scientific education.”
Even today, his descendants hold an annual reunion in Canton, coming from as far away as Vancouver, Dubai (and Bernardston, Mass.!) — an to think it all started at a hilly mountain farm at the end of today’s West Road!
Lee daughters were achievers as well, including one forced to return home to Vernon from her job teaching below the Mason-Dixon Line, at the outset of the Civil War. Another married a prominent Vernon man, active in town affairs. Would you believe another Vernon cemetery bears their name, and has a surprising history involving illicit love, scorn, and an amputation!
Illustration: John Stebbins Lee, engraving in “Vernon”, by A. H. Washburn, Esq. and Lucinda W. B. Washburn, published as part of Vermont Historical Gazetteer: A Local History of All the Towns in the State, Civil, Educational, Biographical, Religious and Military, Volume V: The Towns of Windham County; published by Mrs. Carrie E. H. Paige, Brandon, Vermont, 1891.