—Romaine Tenney—
A Vermont Farm Love Story

Dateline: 12 February 2016 AD

Romaine Tenney

The importance of personal property rights, and the loss of property rights have been a recent theme in this blog. In researching the subject I came across the story of Romaine Tenney, a farmer in Vermont, whose property rights and way of life were in the way of "progress." 

The Law told Romain Tenney he had to leave his home and his land. But he would not. 

In the minds of some, Romaine Tenney's noncompliance would make him a criminal, deserving of punishment. After all, the Law is always right and it must always be followed. No laws should ever be disobeyed. That's what some people think.

A 2013 Yankee magazine story about Romaine Tenney begins...

In the summer of 1964, Romaine Tenney was a bachelor farmer. He milked 25 cows by hand on his farm in Ascutney, Vermont. He had no electricity in his house, used no gas-powered machinery. He cut his firewood with an axe and a saw; cut his hay with workhorses. He didn’t own a tractor or drive a car. When he went to the nearby big town of Claremont, across the river in New Hampshire, he’d walk the six miles–except that he probably never walked all the way. People always picked him up. Everyone knew Romaine. With his long beard, felt hat, and overalls, he was a familiar sight. Romaine enjoyed visiting on these rides, and all his neighbors liked him. His farm was right on the major road between Ascutney and Claremont; the road hugged his cow barn, and neighbors would often stop to chat. He rose late and worked late into the night. “You could drive by at midnight and there he would be in his barn, fixing some harnesses or just puttering about,” said Deputy Sheriff Robert Gale. It was as if Romaine held the office of Bachelor Farmer in town.

I encourage you to read the rest of the story at this link: Eminent Domain in Ascutney Vermont: "I Will Not Leave"

It's actually a love story. You'll realize that after you have read it.


P.S. Be sure to check out the comments at the end of the Yankee article.


You Can Call Me Jane said...

While this is a very sad and unfair story, I think it reiterates the warning not to build up treasures on earth. It's easy to think of these treasures as cars, jewelry, money, etc. But if we're not careful, we can turn our land, homes and gardens into treasures/idols just the same. Romaine clearly placed his land/farm above all else. It's not surprising to me that such an obsession would lead to his ruin one way or another. It's a challenge for all of us.."Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them." 1 John 2:15. A sobering comment, I know. I just felt compelled to write it. Blessings, Jane

Herrick Kimball said...

That's a great comment, Jane.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding post Jane! Reading what you wrote really made my day, thanks..

Mrs. G said...

I vehemently disagree with the condemnation directed at Romaine and find the sentiments that suggest he was wrong to be so firmly attached to a place that he just couldn't let go a bit unsettling. I think we're *meant* to be tied to the land, it's almost like a marriage and I just as firmly believe that the government was wrong in what they did to him and thousands of others. This story reminds me in some ways of Henry And The Great Society, the cost of progress if very high for those that choose to live simply.

To suggest as Jane did that "the love of the Father is not in him" was a harsh and ugly sentiment, I want no part in any pantomime of Christianity like this. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Susan Humeston said...

Reading this just tore my heart out for that gentle man. Reminds me of the stories of those who had to leave their land in the Great Smoky National Park, except in that case some people were allowed to stay until they died. Also, if that park hadn't been made so that nothing else could be built there, it would all look like Dollywood, Gatlinburg and Cherokee - places that are akin to Orlando - just for tourists to spend their money. There aren't words for the disgust I feel for those kinds of places. It just seems most of humanity, because of sin, just can't keep things nice. I've always thought that "Eminent Domain" is wrong. How can one be truly free to live and pursue happiness if the government can come and take your home at any time? It is not consistent with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but then those documents are barely relevant anymore - very sad.

James Johnson said...

To me, this story speaks about being deliberately agrarian, especially coupled with Lavoy Fennicum's story. The world was mostly agrarian, until the industrial revolution. I believe that it is presented in the Bible as the ideal life; the one most likely to meet our needs for trusting God, and loving our fellow man. Look at the contentment, joy, peace, rest, and productive work in Romaine's life; also, the self-government for himself. Very little of those things are found in crowded cities and suburbs, I'm convinced. Definitions for those things are changed in the industrial culture, less satisfying, and more of a struggle to attain (even in christianity). As for eminent domain, I have one word- Trump. Elizabeth L. Johnson

Jonathan Sanders said...

Wow, lighten up Mrs G... Consider your own last sentence and be merciful to Jane - she was quoting from the scriptures, not speaking her own mind. I took her words as a warning to us, not as a judgment upon Romaine.
He sounds like a really nice man who made a really bad decision...

Herrick Kimball said...

There is a lot that can be said about this story, and Romaine Tenney's response to it.

My personal response, were I in Romaine Tenney's position, would not have been his response. I would have resigned myself to the reality of my situation, moved to another piece of land, and started over.

But the injustice of Romaine Tenney's story is the point I hoped to show with this blog post. And the love of a spot of land is not, in my opinion, a bad thing. And the erosion of personal property rights in this country has only increased since the Tenney episode.

Christians down through history have, as a whole, traditionally responded to injustice of various forms by speaking and working against it. Christians of America's past did not have the same apathetic, self-centered and defeatist attitude of most of the modern church today. If they did, there would never have been a Declaration of Independence, and the Constitutional republic that followed.

Property rights must be defended in a civilization that was built in large part upon individual liberty, and in which the preservation of property rights was a cornerstone. Jefferson's "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" was understood by everyone of the day to be a variation of the more commonly used phrase of "life, liberty, and property."

Continued in next comment......

Herrick Kimball said...

...Continued from previous comment...

Personal property rights do not pertain only to land ownership. For example, for most of the history of this country, it was understood that parents "owned" their children, in the sense that they took full responsibility for the upbringing of their children. There were parallels between the love, care and upbringing of children in a family and the love, and care of a farmer for his land. It was rare that the government took away these rights and responsibilities of child "ownership" within a family. And when those rights were taken away, they were taken away by local authorities.

However, along with the steady erosion of property rights has come the steady erosion of parental rights. Children are now routinely and arbitrarily taken from loving homes by distant bureaucrats because we have a bureaucratic system that no longer honors traditional understandings.

Our government now "owns" the children and the government bureaucracy now determines what is right and best for children. If, for example, the bureaucracy decides that your children must receive 49 vaccination shots before age 6, and you as a parent, out of love and concern for your children, do not comply with the directive, then you will lose your children. The bureaucracy only allows you to have your children as long as you comply with the bureaucratic dictates.

That is pretty much where we are at, and definitely where we are headed when it comes to children, the family and parental rights, which are, as I said, entwined with property rights. That being the case, how should Christian parents look at this situation? Should they be mindful of not holding their children too tightly and making idols of them?

My point is that the loss of individual property rights is the loss of individual freedoms, and that is the loss of our American birthright and way of life. Those Christians who put their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" on the line to secure those rights in the beginning years of this nation did so for their posterity. They considered this freedom something to literally fight and die for.

What are Christians in America doing for their posterity in this day and age? Are they so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good? Are they so rapture minded that they have lost all sense of obedience to their earthly responsibilities? What does it mean to be a responsible Christian citizen in America today? Now there is some fodder for much deeper conversation. But this format really doesn't lend itself to that sort of thing.

What I'm saying (and I'm not directing this at any one person) is that the loss of individual property rights is fundamental to the loss of all other rights, and I do think that Christians have a responsibility to at least cut through the fog of confusion and diversion, and point out that the loss of property rights is wicked and evil when it clearly is wicked and evil.

James Johnson said...

Elizabeth L. Johnson said,
Wow! Well said, Herrick. Loosing individual property is a sign of the loss of individual freedom. A side-bar: Mrs. Dorothy Robbins, age 96, in Redding, California says: "I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, whose form and spirit are derived from the Holy Scriptures, in order to guarantee those God-given rights, enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and thereby to secure to me and to my posterity Life, Liberty, and Property and, in the pursuit of these ends, so limits the functions of civil government as that these rights cannot be abrogated by unprincipled men. I will ever uphold and defend it against all who would seek to undermine, subvert, or destroy it....and to this end, as a sacred trust from those who first uttered these words...I pledge my Life, my Fortune, and my sacred Honor, trusting in that same divine Providence in Whom our forefathers put their reliance." Mrs. Robbins is a midwife, grammarian, author, and teacher of American Christian History of the United States Constitution. Look up on the web Foundation of American Christian Education, for more.