Politics and Society at the Governor Hunt House

 

It may have taken Jonathan a long time to find a wife but it looks like Lavinah was a good choice. The Governor Hunt House quickly became a center of political and social life in the area. But Lavinah was more than a good hostess—she was the one who named the town Vernon!

 

The town currently known as Vernon had first been called Hinsdale, just like its New Hampshire neighbor across the Connecticut River. At the Town Meeting in 1802 there was a suggestion to change the name of the town to Huntstown. However, Lavinah put forth the name Vernon, after the British Admiral Edward Vernon, a friend of the George Washington family. It is Edward Vernon for whom Washington's home, Mount Vernon, is named. Perhaps Lavinah was loathe to have the entire town named after her husband and this reflects well on her character. Given a choice between Huntstown and Vernon, Vernon certainly has more appeal.

 

By 1814, in an inventory of assets, Hunt was listed as the owner of 1,561 acres, spread over several farms in Vernon. Not only was Hunt an extensive landowner, but the family became nationally prominent in several fields. 

 

Hunt's son, Jonathan Hunt Jr., became a lawyer and politician. Jonathan Jr. held many Vermont offices, was a General in the militia, and served as a Representative in the U.S. Congress from 1827-1832. Jonathan Jr. married Jane Maria Leavitt and they had five children who excelled in a variety of fields. Daughter Jane Maria Hunt was an artist, son Jonathan Hunt became a physician, son William Morris Hunt was a painter, son Richard Morris Hunt grew up to be an architect, and son Leavitt Hunt was a photographer who also became a New York attorney. 

 

Jarvis Hunt, a nephew of Jonathan Hunt Jr. was a Chicago architect. Art and architecture appear to be in the Hunt family blood. Two sons of William Morris Hunt, Richard Howland Hunt and Joseph Howland Hunt, designed the 1902 wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and also completed their father's design of the Museum's central block. 


For those of us who live in Vernon, it is of special interest to note that Jonathan Hunt’s niece, Anna Hunt Marsh, was involved with the founding of the Brattleboro Retreat. Anna’s parents died when she was 15 and Jonathan took a fatherly interest in the young girl. While he refers to her as “daughter” in his original Will and first codicil, the bequest he leaves to Anna is separate from the references to his biological daughters. While he did not legally adopt Anna, he appears to have considered her a de facto daughter. Anna lived a long life and became a successful businesswoman. Her husband, Dr. Perley Marsh, conducted relatively radical experiments with treatments for the insane. This led to Anna’s continued interest in that field after her husband’s death. In 1834 Anna Hunt Marsh's bequest of $10,000 led to the establishment of the psychiatric institution now known as the Brattleboro Retreat. The bequest was for the establishment of a psychiatric hospital that would exist independently and in perpetuity for the welfare of the mentally disordered. The Retreat originated as a humane alternative to the otherwise demeaning and sometimes dangerous treatment of people with mental disorders. Today the Anna Marsh Clinic, one part of the Retreat, services people of all ages and with a variety of problems on an out-patient basis. Anna Hunt Marsh's legacy remains an important asset to Brattleboro and Vermont. (A detailed description of the Hunt family from the 1600s through the 1800s can be found at Hunt Genealogy. Information about Anna is about a third of the way down in the article.)