The Island's History
A Historic Setting
Cedar Island is located in what could arguably be America’s most historically significant lake, Lake Champlain. The lake was named after the French explorer Samuel Champlain, who became the first European known to have discovered the lake, in 1609, more than 150 years before the American Colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776.
When Champlain arrived at the lake, he marched into a war zone where he fired a single shot with his arquebus (rifle) which would reverberate for 175 years!
The lake formed a natural boundary between two powerful American Indian nations, both of whom claimed the lake as belonging to the members of their own tribe: the Iroquois on the West bank, in what is now northern New York State, and the Algonquins on the East bank, in what is now the State of Vermont. As a result, the lake – both its islands and its shores – had been almost entirely abandoned by the time of Champlain’s arrival. Living within this disputed territory was a recipe for extermination by the enemy tribe as the struggle for control of the lake region raged, causing both Indian tribes to move further inland where they were safer from attack. However, on Champlain’s momentous visit to the lake, he found a party of Iroquois warriors. To further endear the French to the Algonquins, some of whom accompanied him on the journey, he fired his arquebus (loaded with four balls) into the war party. This instantly killed two of the three chiefs and wounded one of their companions (who later died from the wound), to the utter astonishment and consternation of the Iroquois because the chiefs were wearing arrow-proof armor woven from cotton thread and wood. From this day forward, the Iroquois became the eternal enemies of the French, later allying with the English, whom they helped to wrest the eventual control of Canada from the French, who abandoned the province to the English in 1763.
Lake Champlain is located at the northern end of the Champlain Valley, formed by the Green Mountains (part of the Appalachian Mountain system) to the east and the Adirondack Mountains to the west. It is fed by Lake George to the south and drains into the Richelieu River to the north. In a time when there were no highways connecting our nation via land, waterways formed the fastest means of moving military troops from one area to another. As a result, the Lake Champlain region became the scene of important battles in all three of the wars that established the boundaries of the territory that is now the northeastern region of the United States: the French and Indian War of 1754-1763, the American Revolutionary War, which began in 1775, and the War of 1812.
When the French and Indian War started in 1754, the Champlain Valley was part of New France, having been secured by the French through the installation of a number of military forts on and around Lake Champlain. One of these military forts was Fort Ticonderoga, where the Battle of Carillon (the original French name of the fort) was fought in 1758, in which the French successfully defended the fort against a British attack. In 1759, however, a combination of British and American Colonial troops forced the French to retreat from the area, burning their forts behind themselves as they left. When the first Treaty of Paris was signed, in 1763, the French gave to Great Britain much of its claims to New France, including the colony of Canada which had extended south into the Champlain Valley.
On May 10, 1775, soon after the beginning of the American Revolution, Fort Ticonderoga, considered “the gateway to the continent” and then controlled by the British, was captured by the Green Mountain Boys, led by Ethan Allen. Fort Crown Point, Fort George (on Lake George, which connects to Lake Champlain to the south), and Fort Saint-Jean (just above Lake Champlain, on the Richelieu River) were also captured during the Revolutionary War, in effect severing the British forces in Canada from those south of the region and thus playing a major role in the war. Upon hearing the news of the fall of Ticonderoga, Lord Dartmouth, then back in England, after serving as the British Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1772-1775, wrote that it was “very unfortunate; very unfortunate indeed.”
After the Thirteen Colonies won their independence from Great Britain through the second Treaty of Paris, in 1783, forming the United States of America, Lake Champlain served as an important entrance into the new nation from Canada. The lake had to remain fortified to prevent any British military attack from the north. Near the end of the War of 1812, the Battle of Plattsburgh (New York), fought on September 11, 1814 and also known as the Battle of Lake Champlain, played the key role in ending the British invasion from Canada and in preventing Great Britain from gaining any territory from the United States during that war. In that battle, an American naval force led by Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough soundly defeated the British naval squadron, causing the British to retreat into Canada. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24th of that year, ending the war and leaving our northern border with Canada intact as it remains to this day.
After the War of 1812, Lake Champlain and the waterways to which it is connected continued to play a very important role in the commerce of New England, and especially in the development of Burlington, Vermont, until the creation of automobile highway systems, which diminished the need for water transportation of people and goods. In the twenty-first century, Lake Champlain provides a delightful combination of scenic beauty, recreational opportunities, and historical sites, making it an important tourist destination – especially for American patriots with the cultural and educational background needed to fully appreciate the significance of the region in the formation of our nation, or those with a desire to acquire greater knowledge of our history while relaxing amidst stunning views of sparkling water and mountain grandeur.
The early history of Cedar Island might well bring to mind a phrase usually attributed to New York Tribune founder Horace Greely: “Go West, Young Man”. That phrase was made popular by a 1936 comedy film starring Mae West, which used “Go West, Young Man” as the film’s title. The story of Cedar Island’s first owners is, to a large degree, a microcosm of the European settlement and westward expansion of the United States.
This story begins in Argylleshire, Scotland, where Duncan Campbell married Mary McCoy (Campbell) before heading southwest, to Tyrone County, in the province of Ulster, (Northern) Ireland, where son Robert Campbell was born to them in 1669. While still in Ulster, Robert married Janet Stuart (Campbell), with whom he had six children, before heading southwest (as his father had done many years before) with Janet and the children.
The family arrived in Boston, in the English Colony of Massachusetts, along with the Reverend Samuel Dorrance, a Presbyterian minister, in 1714. By then, their son James (born in Ulster about 1704) was 10 years old. Since the residents of Boston would not sell land to the new immigrants, the family headed southwest, again, eventually settling in Voluntown, New London County, Connecticut, in May of 1722, where Robert lived until his death. There, James married Hannah Taylor (Campbell), and together they had 13 children, all born in Voluntown.
The oldest of the sons born to James & Hanna, William Campbell (born in 1726) married Sarah Barnes (Campbell), with whom he had six children, in Voluntown, before carrying on the family tradition of heading west, settling in South Hero Island, Vermont, around 1784, sometime after he finished his service as a soldier in the American Revolutionary War. After moving to Vermont, he lived another 14 years, dying in 1798, at age 71 or 72. He was buried in the Campbell-Plumb Cemetery, on South Hero Island, where his gravestone stands, to this day.
At least one of William’s sons, Private Samuel Campbell, Sr. (born in 1762), also fought in the Revolutionary War. He was initially in Captain John Spoon’s Company, which was part of Colonel John Brown’s Regiment, but also served in other regiments, including one that was led by a Colonel James Campbell, who might have been his Uncle James. Samuel married Grace Plumb (Campbell), with whom he had seven children, including Samuel, Jr. He became the second private owner of Cedar Island (which was just east of his farm on South Hero Island), before moving even further west, to Durand, Winnebago County, Illinois, where he died, at age 82, in 1844. Grace had died in 1827 at the young age of 52, and was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Saint Albans, Franklin County, Vermont, as was their son Samuel Campbell, Jr., who was buried there at age 70, in 1871. He, along with his brother Zeno, were apparently the only children who stayed behind, in Vermont, when the rest of the family moved west.
However, we are getting ahead of our story. James and Hanna also had another son (William’s brother), Samuel (born in 1831, or – by some accounts – in 1836), who had a daughter named Susannah (born in 1861) who married the man who became the first private owner of Cedar Island, Sergeant Reuben Rowley, who was born on April 16, 1750. Reuben served in the Revolutionary War under Colonel Seth Warner, who – along with Colonel Ethan Allen – led a regiment of soldiers (commissioned by the Continental Congress) which had been formed from the men who had served as members of the Green Mountain Boys (named after the mountain range that forms the eastern wall of the Champlain Valley in which Lake Champlain sits).
The Green Mountain Boys had been formed in the late 1760s to protect the territory (in what is now the state of Vermont) along the eastern border of Lake Champlain, which was claimed by the Colony of New Hampshire as well as by the Colony of New York. As Peter S. Palmer states in his book, History of Lake Champlain, 1609-1814:
Both colonies frequently issued grants for the same territory; causing much confusion in the land titles and creating great animosity between rival claimants.
As Palmer explains, the Governor of New Hampshire had made land grants “prior to the close of the year 1763” – the year when the French, after years of war, ceded the territory to the British under the first Treaty of Paris. During that time of confusion and disputed land titles, which followed the French & Indian War, a number of settlers who had taken possession of their land in the territory east of Lake Champlain, called the “New Hampshire Grants,” were driven off their land by other settlers who had been granted the same land by the Colony of New York. In turn, the Green Mountain Boys drove the New York settlers off the land they had taken from the New Hampshire grantees. As a result, the New Hampshire grantees were able, then, to return and reclaim the land granted to them. The Green Mountain Boys eventually secured total control of the entire region for New Hampshire, when New York became distracted from giving attention to the land grant conflict, as the colony got embroiled in conflicts with the British, preceding the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. Those conflicts, of course, were a part of what led to the Revolutionary War, during which most of the settlers were fighting in the war, or merely trying to survive the war, with some of them having fled their lands around Lake Champlain to evade conflict with British troops who had invaded the region. It was not until after the war that most of the settlements near the eastern border of Lake Champlain became permanent.
In 1779, while the war was still raging, Thomas Chittenden, governor of the independent state of Vermont (before Vermont became a member of the United States of America, in 1791), granted, to “Colonel Ethan Allen, and Samuel Herrick, and their Associates,” “about 23,000 acres” of land consisting of “a certain large island, lying and being situated in Lake Champlain, in This State, and known sometimes by the name of Grand Isle,” which was divided into the “South Island” and the “North Island,” and “incorporated into one distinct Township, or Incorporation, by the Name of the Two Heroes.” This grant almost certainly included Cedar Island, given its small size and proximity to South Hero Island, even though it is not specifically named in the grant. Among the associates listed in that land grant document was “Reuben Rowley.”
Retention of the grant of land was conditional upon actually settling the land, as the grant document explained:
That each Proprietor in the said Two Heroes, his heirs or assigns, shall plant & cultivate [crops on] the Land, or have one Family settled on each respective Right, within the Term of One Year next after the Conclusion of the Present War, on penalty of Forfeiture of each respective Right or Share of Land in said Island, not so improved & the same to revert to the Freemen of this State, to be, by their representatives regranted to such Persons as shall appear to [qualify].
The Revolutionary War came to an end in 1783, with the signing of the second Treaty of Paris. It was at that point that settlers began to arrive in the “Two Heroes”. Although Reuben Rowley was living in nearby Rutland County about that time, he appears to have met the qualifications, above, for retention of his grant, since he signed a warranty deed (contained in Volume 6, Pages 518 – 519, of the deed records of the Town of South Hero) dated May 11, 1784, in which he affirms that he is transferring “one right of land granted to Me by the Governor and Counsel of the State of Vermont on the Grand Isle or two Grate Heros” to “Samuel Campbell,” who, at that time, apparently was living in the vicinity of Boston, as mentioned in the deed. It appears that – in the absence of Samuel – the deed was signed in the presence of, and given to, William Campbell (named on the deed), Samuel’s father. By this means, it appears that Private Samuel Campbell, Sr., the first cousin of Reuben’s wife, Susannah (Campbell) Rowley, became the second person to own Cedar Island, even though there is no description, in that deed, of what that “Right or Share of Land” included.
What is known, for certain, is that the South Hero town clerk’s office has on its walls maps of the original subdivisions of land, from the fall of 1783 and spring of 1784, which show a “Reuben Rowley” as the owner of one of the original lots at the northeast corner of South Hero island called Campbell Point (what is Kibbe Point, today), which is almost directly west of Cedar Island. From this, it appears highly likely that Reuben Rowley was, in fact, the original grantee of land on South Hero Island, which included (by proximity) Cedar Island (even though the island is not shown on that map), and that his conveyance of his land grant to Samuel Campbell, in 1784, was the first conveyance of the island between private parties.
This seems especially likely based upon the land description contained in the Warranty Deed dated September 3, 1818 in which Samuel Campbell, in turn, transferred the island to Benajah Phelps, who then became the third private citizen to own Cedar Island, which was still, then, known by the name “Gull Island”. That deed refers to the “Division of lots of the [land grant] rights of … Reuben Rowley”, and gives a very specific description of the land, as follows:
commonly known by the name of Campbell Point farm containing by intimation two hundred forty acres and also two islands, lying about one mile east of the above described transfer containing about eighteen acres said islands known by the name of Fish Bladder and Gull Islands …
Benajah, whose family may have been the first family to settle on South Hero Island (and who still has descendents on that island), was born on March 4, 1770, and lived until April 12, 1862, dying at age 92. He is buried in the South Hero Cemetery. On September 18, 1852 (shortly before the Civil War), Benajah transferred ownership of Cedar Island to his two younger sons, George Phelps (1822–1911), and Samuel Phelps (1824–1906). It appears that, at some point, Samuel gave his interest in the island to his older brother George, since the next available deed record shows that George, alone, divided the island, selling the eastern side of the island to Eleazar Jewett, on April 18, 1870, for $200, and the “west half” of the island to Horace C. Martin, on February 20, 1875.
In turn, Eleazar Jewett conveyed the eastern portion of the island to Ell Barnum, on August 13, 1877. Then, on July 4, 1879, the island was reunited under one owner – never to be divided, again – when Jed P. Clark purchased the western half of the island from Homer C. Martin for $150, and the eastern half of the island from Ell Barnum, also for $150. Jed was the son of Joseph Clark who was arguably the most influential citizen in the history of Milton, a town of about 10,000 people, which is almost due east from Cedar Island, in Chittenden County, Vermont. Milton was chartered by Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire, on June 8, 1763, just months after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, on February 10, 1763, when the French ceded most of their North American territories – including the Lake Champlain region – to the British, as mentioned earlier in this history, but the town was not settled until 1782. The Lamoille River flows through Milton and enters Lake Champlain at the town’s southwest corner, depositing sediment into the lake that forms the sand bar just south of Cedar Island, as well as the beaches of Sand Bar State Park.
On June 5, 2013, a local newspaper, Milton Independent, published an article entitled “Clark made Milton,” in which the staff writers explain that Joseph Clark came to Milton “at the young age of 20 in 1816,” a year “known as Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death,” which was “not a good year for most of the northeast because of the frosts and snow every month,” which caused agricultural crops to fail that year, creating a great deal of hardship. The Champlain Canal opened in 1823, which increased trade with New York, and Clark began to supply spars (ship masts, booms, etc.) for the shipping trade, purchasing a sawmill in 1825, in which to finish the raw wood. Perhaps his most important accomplishment was his influence in bringing “the railroad” to Milton. Clark was also an active Republican, who “served three terms in the state senate.” He passed away in 1879, the same year his son Jed P. Clark bought Cedar Island. Most likely, the funds for the purchase came from Jed’s inheritance, and Jed continued to live in the stately home his father built on Main Street, in Milton, which later served as the town’s offices until 1994.
Jed retained the ownership of Cedar Island until September 5, 1890, when he sold the island to Alexander Whiteside for $400 – making a $100 profit above his purchase price. Whiteside, who was a prominent resident of Champlain, Clinton County, New York, was born on November 14, 1825, and died on February 2, 1903 at age 77. He is buried in the Glenwood Cemetery in Champlain. He was married to Eleanor Anne Shattuck (Whiteside), who became the owner of Cedar Island upon his death, and who created a warranty deed, on February 19, 1903 (which was corrected on March 26, 1903), transferring the island to their children George S. Whiteside, Alexander Whiteside, Helen E. Whiteside (later Helen E. Soutter), and Anne H. Whiteside (later Anne. H. Williams).
The Whiteside Family retained ownership of the island until August 2, 1942, when the “Heirs of Alexander & Eleanor A. Whiteside” conveyed the island to Eugene A. Richard, via a quit-Claim Deed that identifies the island as “Cedar Island”, further known as “Gull Island”. This is the first deed in the chain of title that refers to any buildings or other improvements on the island. Eugene Richard was from Winooski, Vermont, which (according to Wikipedia) “is the most densely populated municipality in northern New England”. It is also a very culturally diverse city, and it was in Winooski that Eugene “ran a furniture factory,” according to Kim Chase, as reported in the Burlington Free Press, in a June 10, 2016 article entitled “History Space: Winooski – a ‘p’tit Canada.” Eugene retained the property for 20 years before transferring it to his children Henry J. Richard, Priscilla R. Sleeper, and Bertha M. Condon on April 17, 1962.
The Richard children owned the island for exactly five years before they sold it to Suburban Realty of Vermont Corporation on April 17, 1967. In turn, the corporation sold the island to Patricia M. Bellows on June 24, 1972 for $28,750. The island would remain in the Bellows Family for 30 years. After Kendrick F. “Rick” Bellows, Jr. passed away, on February 15, 2016, his obituary in the Burlington Free Press ended with the words:
For thirty years, Cedar Island in South Hero was his joyful retreat.
Rick, who grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, graduated from Princeton University in 1957 and served in the U.S. Marine Corps before entering the banking business, at one point serving as President and CEO of the Bank of Vermont. In addition to being a private pilot, Rick was an avid tennis player, and he was probably the owner responsible for the building of the red clay tennis court on Cedar Island, which stood for many years, until it fell into disrepair (many years after Rick sold the property) and was removed. In addition to two daughters, Rick is survived by his wife, Barbara O’Reilly, and son Kendrick F. Bellows, III, both of whom were also listed as owners on some of the multiple Bellows Family deeds to Cedar Island.
It was near the end of the Twentieth Century, while the Bellows Family still owned Cedar Island, that they became the victims of arsonists, during one winter, when the lake was frozen over, and some drunken fellows on a snowmobile apparently decided it would be ‘fun’ to watch a house burn down, so they set fire to the island’s main house, which was rebuilt in its current form (with some 2004 enhancements) in 1999. The original main house was also a two-story home of about the same size as the current home, but it was constructed before building permits were required in the Town of South Hero, so there are no public records showing the construction of that home. The South Hero “lister card” shows that one of the two cottages on Cedar Island was built in 1930. (In Vermont, listers are elected officials responsible for valuing properties for the purpose of assessing property taxes.) But there are no public records showing the date when the other cottage was built.
However, well before Rick Bellow’s death, in 2016, Cedar Island had been sold (on November 1, 2002) to the Marshall and Kristine Cooper Family, through a family limited partnership, for $960,000 – a far cry from the $400 for which Jed Clark had sold the island in 1890, which says a great deal about the inflation of real estate prices in this nation over the past 100 plus years! In 2004, Marshall and Christine added a hot tub and expanded the patio with a stone fireplace, built by Collin Marcotte, the current caretaker of Cedar Island, as well as adding the current boathouse. At some point during the 14 years during which the Cooper Family owned the island, they had the honor of hosting U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on the Island. There, Pence used his skill as an artist to create a painting of an island scene, which was proudly displayed in the island’s main house, until the Coopers sold the island.
Brint Ryan, the current owner of Cedar Island, grew up in Big Spring, Texas, and acquired the property from the Cooper Family on November 10, 2016. Brint is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Ryan, LLC, a global tax services firm. He is a member of the University of North Texas System Board of Regents and served as its Chairman from 2013 through 2019. He received his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in accounting, with an emphasis in taxation, from the University of North Texas. In 2018, the University named the School of Business the G. Brint Ryan School of Business, in his honor. Brint lives most of the year in Dallas, Texas with his wife, Amanda Ryan, and their five daughters.
(The above history of Cedar Island was updated on December 3, 2019.)