by Bo Price
September 2021 Update:
An historic marker team, consisting of Vergennes community members, historians, and descendants, was started in the fall of 2020 to research Stephen Bates and his time in Vergennes as Sheriff. Much was learned about Stephen Bates and his family through this effort. An historic marker will be placed in his honor in Vergennes, Vermont at 11:00am on October 3rd, 2021.
Since the article below was published in 2019 further information has been discovered during 2020-2021, please see updates below:
Bates and his family were enslaved at Shirley Plantation in Virginia. Historic records show that multiple family members where enslaved there.
Early on in Vergennes, Bates boarded in a home next door to what is now the St. Paul’s Rectory, the former home of Frederick E. Woodbridge, the congressman who employed Bates. Later Bates owned a home on North St. We found no evidence that Bates lived in the Woodbridge home, a question posed in the original blog article from 2019.
Interestingly, we discovered that Frederick E. Woodbridge was a member of the Congregational church, although his grandfather was a founding member of St. Paul’s.
Bates served a total of 25 years as Sheriff of Vergennes, almost consecutively.
Bates and wife Frances are buried in Prospect Cemetery in Vergennes.
In August of 2019, Larry and Lynn Schuyler visited St. Paul’s from Worcester, Massachusetts. Earlier in the summer, Larry had been in touch with us to inquire about his great-grandfather Stephen Bates and his grandmother Rose Bates Schuyler. His ancestors had been members of St. Paul’s in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Larry wondered if there might be any information in our records.
Larry also mentioned that Stephen Bates had been a sheriff in Vergennes and died in 1907. It all sounded very interesting, so I took some time to research our Parish records and found instances of all of the Bates family recorded: Stephen, his wife Frances, and their children Rose and Frederick (Fred).
The marriage of Rose and Raymond Schuyler is also recorded. Family members are listed under Communicants, Burials (both Frances and Stephen), Baptisms (Frances, Rose, and Frederick), and, as mentioned, Marriages (Rose and Raymond).
In addition, I decided to search around historical newspapers online to see if I could find any history on Stephen Bates, as, being a sheriff of Vergennes, I figured that he probably was well known to the community. Indeed he was!
The obituaries about Stephen Bates (see below) provided the most information. We learned that he was born in Virginia in 1842 from free parents and lived with the Hill Carter family*, and he shared memories of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Custises and other prominent families of the time.
During the Civil War he was in the service of officers at Harrison’s Landing and afterwards went to Washington. That in itself is a fascinating story. But what makes his history pertinent to St. Paul's, in particular, is that after the war, he met and was employed by a Vermont Congressman named Frederick Woodbridge, whose family had strong ties to St. Paul's.
*Another interesting fact is that the Hill Carter family were (and still are) owners of the Shirley Plantation near Richmond. Ann Hill Carter, born and married at Shirley Plantation, was mother to Robert E. Lee. Stephen Bate’s obituary from 1907 states that he “had vivid recollections of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Custises, and other prominent families in his native state.” Could Stephen Bates have been living with the Hill Carter family, as stated in his obituary, the same family who owned the Shirley Plantation? His obituary states that he was born in Shirley, Charles City County, Va. If Stephen was living with the Hill Carters of Shirley Plantation, is that where he saw Lee and others? It’s interesting because the obituary says that Stephen’s family was “free,” and that his father was a carpenter and Stephen had trained as a waiter. Why then would he have been on the plantation, if this is the same Hill Carter family? Perhaps an historian could explain. I mentioned to Larry that perhaps he might consider going to the Shirley Plantation to see if there might be records of Stephen Bates living there pre-civil war, if such records were kept. It’s also possible that there is no connection at all, but the clues do seem to add up. If so, what an incredible story he must have had from his journey from Plantation, to Civil War, to Vergennes, Vermont, and Sheriff/Chief of Police. If only we could hear his voice today.
From the Shirley Plantation, a 2020 statement includes: We recognize Shirley Plantation’s, and the family’s, role in slavery. As a site with over four centuries of history which includes the Enslaved, Native Americans, Indentures, Colonials, and more; we believe it is everyone’s history and consider it our mission to preserve and share the whole history with those who want to learn from it and experience it for themselves. Full statement on the Shirley Plantation standing in solidarity with the black community :
Woodbridge and Bates
Stephen Bates’ obituary states that he moved to Vergennes with Frederick Woodbridge in 1866, but Woodbridge served in the United States House of Representatives from 1863 to 1869.
Given that Woodbridge was a US Congressman, it appears that Bates either stayed in Vergennes or accompanied him between Vermont and Washington for three more years.
One article identified Bates as Woodbridge’s coachman. In Kenneth Degree’s book, Vergennes in 1870: A Vermont City in the Victorian Age, he describes the African American population in Vergennes at the time (see longer excerpt below):
"Eleven African-Americans resided in the city in 1870, a number that was less than one percent of the population. Nine were women and all but two, who were married, worked at menial jobs such as domestic servant, cook or washer woman. The two men held jobs as a barber and a stable boy. It would be easy to pass off the low social standing to there being former slaves. However, seven were natives of the Green Mountain State."
Woodbridge eventually returned to the family home in Vergennes and lived there for the remainder of his life. He died in 1888. One of the articles I found said that Frederick Woodbridge was elected mayor of Vergennes the same year that Stephen Bates was elected Sheriff.
From the Orleans County Monitor from April 7 1879, it states that “Vergennes has elected ex-Congressman F. E. Woodbridge mayor while his colored coachman, Stephen Bates, is the new city Sheriff.”
Interestingly, the Woodbridge home was sold to St. Paul’s in 1890 and has served as our Rectory since then. It’s one of the oldest homes in Vergennes, having been built in the 1790s by Enoch Woodbridge, Frederick’s grandfather, who was also a state politician, mayor, and supreme court judge, and one of the founders of the Episcopal society in Vergennes that started St. Paul’s.
A recent family descendant of the Woodbridge family, George Swift, was a faithful member of St. Paul’s and our current endowment is a result of his generous gift to St. Paul’s. Could it be possible that Stephen Bates lived in the Rectory at one point? According to another article I read, Stephen did own another house on North Street which later succumbed to fire.
Stephen must have been very important to Vergennes as well as to St. Paul's, as, according to the obituaries, he proudly served as sheriff and chief of police for 26 consecutive years (Note: Lenore Morse found some discrepancies in the Annual Reports for that time period at the Bixby Library). But given the starting year mentioned in the Orleans County Monitor, it appears he served consecutively from 1879 until 1905. And then there was a break, and then he was unanimously reelected in 1907, the year of his death.
Apparently Stephen was responsible for rounding up some noted criminals of the time. He is also mentioned in the The Southern Workman, vol. 35 which includes an entry about his life (citation is from the New York Evening Post). He died in 1907, and I believe that he and his wife, Frances, are buried at Prospect Cemetery in Vergennes. Frances predeceased Stephen. Her obituary states that she died in 1897 at age 45 of heart failure.
I don't have much info on other members of the family except some links in the newspaper articles that refer to Rose and her family visiting Stephen Bates in Vergennes. They were visiting from Worcester, Massachusetts. Perhaps they all attended a service at St. Paul's while visiting. (See a 1904 family photo of Raymond, Rose’s husband, and four of their children below). Rose had 10 children, one of whom is Larry’s father, the youngest born later than those shown in the photo. I also found an article on Rose Bates and Raymond Schuyler’s wedding at St. Paul’s
One interesting link did mention Frederick (Fred) Bates, Stephen's son, rescuing the Rector of St. Paul's, E.B. Smith, from drowning in the lake! I can only speculate that the whole family must have been endeared to the St. Paul's community for that episode and for many others besides. It even seems likely that Frederick (Fred) Bates was named after Frederick Woodbridge.
Fred Bates saves Rector from drowning
Middlebury Register, August 18, 1893
Rev. E. B. Smith, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, came near drowning Tuesday last while bathing at the lake. He was rescued by Fred Bates of this city.
Marriage of Rose Bates and Raymond Schuyler at St. Paul’s, 1893
Middlebury Register, August 18, 1893
Wednesday morning at 10:30 o’clock the Episcopal church was beautifully festooned and trimmed with rare and fragrant flowers, vines, etc., the occasion being the marriage of Miss Rose M. Bates, daughter of our chief of police, Stephen Bates, and wife to Raymond A. Schuyler of Worcester, Mass. The church was crowded with the relatives and friends of the contracting parties, the rector, Rev. E.B. Smith officiating. Mr. and Mrs. Schuyler departed on the noon express for Worcester, where they will reside.
Obituaries of Stephen Bates
Middlebury Register, June 21, 1907
Stephen Bates, sheriff and chief of police of this city, died suddenly Sunday evening from heart disease while milking a cow in the barn of F. I. Fish. For over a year Mr. Bates had been subject to the disease which causes his death and Sunday complained of feeling ill but persisted in taking care of his work as usual. Stephen Bates was born of free parents in Shirley, Charles City county, Virginia in 1842. During the Civil War, he was in the service of officers at Harrison’s Landing and afterward went to Washington. There he entered the service of Col. Frederick E. Woodbridge of Vergennes, member of Congress from this district, returned with him to this city in 1866 and remained with him until Mr. Woodbridge’s death. After his retirement from Congress, Col. Woodbridge was elected mayor and the same year Bates was elected city sheriff and chief of police. His standing in the community was such that he was able to furnish the bond of $10,000 then required from the sheriff. These offices he held for 26 consecutive years. In 1905 Bates was defeated but in 1907 was unanimously re-elected. The funeral was largely attended Friday.
The Barre daily times, June 11, 1907
Stephen Bates, sheriff and chief of police of this city, died suddenly Sunday night of heart’s disease while milking a cow in the barn of F. I. Fish. He was born of free parents in Shirley, Charles City county, Virginia, in 1842. He lived with the Hill Carter family and had vivid recollections of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Custises and other prominent families in his native state. His father was a carpenter and Stephen was trained as a waiter.
During the Civil War he was in the service of the officers at Harrison’s Landing and afterwards went to Washington. The offices of sheriff and chief of police he held for 26 consecutive years. In 1905 Bates was defeated but in 1907 was unanimously reelected. While chief of police he had the satisfaction of arresting “Brooklyn Slim” and “Ottawa Red,” two members of a gang of post office burglars, who are now serving sentence in the state prison, and at one time had in his custody as a tramp, Perry the New York train robber, but released him before he was informed that the Pinkertons wanted him. Mr Bates was almost entirely a self-taught man, and in the discharge of the duties of his office was cool and self restrained, rarely if ever acting hastily. He is survived by a son, Frederick M. Bates, one daughter, Mrs. Raymond Schuyler, both of Worcester, Mass, and two sisters who reside in New York. The funeral will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church sometime Wednesday.
Excerpt from Kenneth Degree’s book: Vergennes in 1870: A Vermont City in the Victorian Age
Throughout its history, the citizens of Vergennes were always caught up in the movements of social reform. The little city with its church-going population generally in the vanguard, grappled with such issues as slavery, temperance, and anti-masonry. By wars end, one would have expected to find the residents longing for days of less social churning. Instead the residents of 1870 found themselves wrestling with many new problems and trying to solve some of the older ones.
One issue that drew a great deal of discussion was the future of the former slaves. It was the subject from the pulpit on many Sundays in the city's churches. The congregations listened with rapt attention to speakers suggesting collections be made to societies that would educate them and give them spiritual guidance or to defray the cost of transporting them to Liberia. It seems ironic that these citizens who showed such concern for the former slaves in the south were indifferent to those blacks who resided within Vergennes' borders.
Eleven African-Americans resided in the city in 1870, a number that was less than one percent of the population. Nine were women and all but two, who were married, worked at menial jobs such as domestic servant, cook or washer woman. The two men held jobs as a barber and a stable boy. It would be easy to pass off the low social standing to their being former slaves. However, seven were natives of the Green Mountain State. Vermont had been staunchly anti-slavery from its birth, but whether Vermonters believed in equality of the races is truly open to question. If the Vergennes example was any indication, they clearly did not.
Early Photos of Raymond and 4 children (no Rose)
Note that there is an article form the Middlebury Register from April 6, 1906, the year before Stephen Bates died, about his daughter Rose and two children visiting Vergennes:
"Mrs. Raymond Schuyler and two children who have been visiting her father, Stephen Bates, for the past week, leave today for their home in Worcester, MA."
Perhaps the two oldest in the photograph shown here were in Vergennes and went to a service at St. Paul’s?!
Below are newspaper articles with mention of Stephen Bates and family members. Note that the obituaries include a mention of St. Paul’s as well as Rose Bates wedding to Raymond Schuyler.
The search on newspapers was done on the Chronicling America site. All newspaper results included a search on Stephen Bates. In some instances, family members (Frances, his wife, and children, Rose and Fred) were also mentioned.
All Results on Stephen Bates
Below were selections from the All Results page:
Stephen Bates, obit, Middlebury Register, June 21, 1907– includes Civil War info, and info on his coming to Vergennes with Mr. Frederick E. Woodbridge from Washington D.C. where Woodbridge was serving in Congress
Stephen Bates took horses for Col. Walter Scranton (associated with St. Paul’s; father of Cornelia Swift Wagstaff, who was also granddaughter of F.E. Woodbridge on mother’s side), Middlebury Register, May 8, 1891