Vermont is famous for its haunted tales and sordid stories of the past, and the Patch Hollow massacre is a good one. While this story may not be as well-known as others, it doesn’t make it any less real. Deep in the woods of Wallingford lies Patch Hollow, a small community that was made up of 5 families in the early 1800s. The events that took place here on May 11, 1831 would change the history of Patch Hollow forever.
Today there are no physical clues as to what happened that fateful night – no make-shift knife left at the scene, no bodies, and aside from a few crumbling foundations, there isn’t much evidence that a civilization ever existed here. However, the well documented accounts describing the Patch Hollow massacre are detailed and still chilling to this day.
The Patch Hollow Massacre
North of Glastonbury and over the Green Mountains in the town of Wallingford lies a little-known place called Patch Hollow which existed in the early 1800s.
One of the Patch Hollow settlements was owned by Rolon Wheeler, a “man of violent passions and jealous disposition,” according to an account written by the Rev. Walter Thorpe in 1911.
Wheeler was reportedly guilty of sexual acts with his wife’s sister, and when the community discovered this, it naturally created a great deal of anger and resentment. So resentful, in fact, that groups from nearby Wallingford and Shrewsbury decided to “give (Wheeler) a coat of tar and feathers and perchance ride him on a rail.”
In classic angry mob style, the two groups set off at night, complete with jugs of rum, to tar and feather Wheeler. Wheeler, having been tipped off about the attack, prepared for the assault with a file for a knife and barricaded his door.
The group from Shrewsbury never made to Wheeler’s house. After getting lost in the woods due to either the darkness or “too frequent potations,” the group returned home, and bragged that they “had a great time with ‘Old Wheeler,’” according to Thorpe’s account. The Wallingford group, however, did made it to Patch Hollow, but the attack did not go according to plan.
Not being able to get into the house through the door, three men made their way in through the roof and attacked Wheeler, who fought back stabbing one man in the side and slashing another 14 times.
The mob was able to knock down the door and poured inside where man named Isaac Osborne fell across the bed and died “without a cry,” according to the account by Thorpe.
When the group stopped to see the punishment they had inflicted on Wheeler, they discovered their brutal and fatal mistake.
They had killed group member and friend, Issac Osborne by mistake, and Wheeler was nowhere to be found.
Upon closer examination of the cabin, the picture was clear. Wheeler had escaped by wrestling out of his clothes, crawling under his bed, and prying up some floorboards before escaping beneath the house.
Later, Dr. John Fox recounted the scene as “the most terrible sight he could recall.” By the light of a candle, he saw “the livid body of Osborne on the bed and cabin literally soaked in blood.”
Wheeler went on the run, stealing a shirt from a clothesline and making his way to his sister’s house in Pawlet, where the law eventually caught up with him. But justice wasn’t served as the angry mobs from Wallingford and Shrewsbury had originally intended.
The trial was held in a makeshift court held at the Baptist Church in Wallingford — the only building in town that could hold the crowds eager to watch the proceedings. In the end, Wheeler was found innocent under terms of self defense. The mob who assaulted him didn’t get off so easily. Two of his attackers were fined $60 each, while three others were fined $40, a steep fine in the 1830s.
After that fateful night, Patch Hollow became abandoned and no one has ever tried to rebuild it. While the mountains have quietly reclaimed their land, the area is still accessible and to this day hikers still travel through the area. To check out Patch Hollow yourself, you can reach it from the Route 140 trail head in Wallingford, or South from The Clarendon Gorge just off Route 103 in Shrewsbury.
Did you know about the Patch Hollow massacre or perhaps unknowingly hiked through? Be sure to join our Facebook page for more stories like this and more that check out all things Vermont.