250 years ago, it all began with one man.
Phillip Skene, a member of the British Army, was given a plot of land from the King of England, which he named after himself.
It became his home and his passion, as he stated to a letter penned to the people of Skenesborough, now known as Whitehall, after having fled back to Brittan during the Revolutionary War.
“…I intend God Willing to visit Skenesborough this fall,” said Skene in a letter written to it’s inhabitants on July 15, 1784. “Nothing will give me greater pleasure than to become once more your friend, and neighbor at Skenesborough.”
Skene also said that the trip to his town would be to make restitution as part of the peace treaty drawn up between Brittan and the newly formed county of United States.
“Nothing shall be wanting in my power to the inhabitants to make everything agreeable,” said Skene. “And as we are taught that Blessed are the peace makers for they shall enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven, what is passed, with the olive branch must be wiped away, and we must like repenting sinners be born anew to righteousness, forgive and forget our trespasses.”
Skene joined the Army under his uncle, Andrew Skene, and was a captain in the Royal Scots. Skene came to America in 1756 and returned to Ireland in 1765 in order to bring his family, wife Katherine and children Andrew, Mary Ann Margaret and Katherine, to America and establish a new home on property that was partially given to him by the King and partially land that he purchased.
Skene spent the next several years establishing a colony and raising a family, often writing to Lieutenant Gamble, British Quarter Master General in New York, about the conditions.
One such letter, addressed to Gamble on March 14, 1770, talked about the destruction of his barns by fire.
“I am but just come home from surveying the Lakes distance (and) I lost my barns and stables by a fire but I am well satisfied as my cattle are saved,” said Skene. “This accident happened by a horse kicking the boy that feeded the cattle and the light in his hand communicated to some flax.”
In a letter on Sept. 13 of the same year, Skene details the rebuilding of his stables and talks about the harvest, saying that while it is not as plentiful as he would like it, it will do for the winter.
“(Unknown name) did his duty in producing a fine crop from seed,” said Skene. “Neither did I slave more or have been more disappointed, but I am satisfied that it is not worse with me than others. I shall have enough for myself and that inhabitants shall not want.”
In 1775, Skene was appointed the Lieutenant Governor of the forts at Crown Point and Ticonderoga as well as surveyor of the forests of Lake Champlain.
A little more than a year later when the war for American Independence began, Skene and his family were arrested and his land in Skenesborough was confiscated. Skene returned to England in 1778, and was awarded $20,000 in damages by the Commissioners for the Claims of American Loyalists between 1786 and 1787.
Two years earlier, Skene had written what may have been his final letter penned to the inhabitants of Skenesborough. However, he was not able to make good on the promise to visit his town, nor is it believed that the letter ever made it to Skenesborough.
The letter was discovered by a Mrs. Booth, who sent a copy to the newspaper.
“The enclosed letter, which I have just found among my old papers seems to me so remarkable that I send it at once,” said Booth. “It does not appear that it was ever delivered, as I know of, but it shows how firmly his heart was wedded to (Skenesborough) and its people, and how much he desired to begin life again as a citizen of America.”
In the letter, Skene said that his hopes were to help the town that was founded by him continue to grow.
“I shall cancel all debts passed, and raise the different works, for iron, mills and all other things to the advantage of the township,” said Skene, ending, “Your very humble servant and sincere friend, Phillip Skene.”
Skene died in Hartwell, Ireland in June of 1810 at the age of 86.