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The Yankee Express

Xpressly yours ... a letter from the editor

Rod Lee

The Oxford Free Public Library and bank robbers?

Thoughts written while awaiting Christmas breakfast at a granddaughter’s home in Putnam, and a New Year’s Eve dinner with close friends at Point Breeze in Webster.
Dan Prouty of the Oxford Business Association and the new “Gateway Park” in town is one of those people any journalist would love for the tips they pass along that turn into good story material. Recently, Mr. Prouty sent me this email.
“Try to read this about Oxford bank robbers from the 19th Century. When I was a kid, old-timers told me that the $$$ for the library came from the Larneds who were infamous bank robbers. Thus the Larned library in Oxford. Several years ago I came across a short story about an 1850 bank robbery in Charlestown, NH (boyhood home of Carleton Fisk). The Larneds were supposedly tied to other robberies in NH, VT and NY State. Clara Barton’s brother Stephen was an accomplice and a biography about Clara included in her correspondence about Clara having to reimburse an insurance company after the Larneds and her brother were accused of burning down a textile mill…They were evidently great entrepreneurs….”
A separate email, forwarded to me by Mr. Prouty and headed “Monadnock Moments No. 34: The Bungling Bank Robbers—Historical Society of Cheshire County,” describes an incident that occurred the evening of June 11, 1850, when “Abijah Larned and an accomplice broke into the bank at Charlestown, New Hampshire. By midnight they had loaded nearly $12,000 in gold, silver and bills into their carriage and drove peacefully out of town.” The report goes on to say that eleven miles to the south they came to a long hill between Drewsville and Marlow and got out of the carriage so their horse would have less weight to carry. They somehow managed to lose the horse and the carriage, which were discovered by Horace Gee of Marlow, who returned the money to claim a reward.
“Abijah Larned was later arrested and agreed to return to Charlestown to stand trial, probably in part so that he could learn what happened to his carriage of riches. He asked to be taken before the bank officers where he confessed to the crime and apologized for the trouble he had caused. It was also discovered that the horse had turned off on a side road halfway up the hill and wound up at Mr. Gee’s house.
“Larned’s apology so impressed the local officials that they returned his burglar’s tools and allowed him to leave Charlestown after posting a small bail. Needless to say, Larned jumped bail and never returned to stand trial. He did continue to use his burglar’s tools, however, and was later arrested and jailed for robbing the bank at Cooperstown, New York.”
In trying to pin this down, and Clara Barton’s brother’s actual role, I could find no mention of the Larned family in a “Centennial Celebration” report written by Gilbert Asa Davis for Windsor County, Vermont. The information was voluminous, however, so I might have missed it.
The only reference to the Larned family I have come across so far comes from The Oxford Free Public Library’s own website, which states that Charles Larned, a former resident, donated money in memory of his mother, Clarissa Larned, for construction of what was called the Larned Memorial Library “on the former Hyde lot.” The building opened in 1903 and featured a stained glass window at the top of the stairs in the front foyer, depicting the arrival of the Pilgrims with a caption “Let there be light.”
I am not sure when the Larned Memorial Library became The Oxford Free Public Library. The library’s director, Brittany McDougal Bialy, put me in touch with her catalog and technology coordinator, Jacob Potter.
Mr. Potter likes to do “historical sleuthing,” she said.
I have not yet heard back from Jacob Potter.
Given Clara Barton’s sterling reputation, which is enshrined at the Clara Barton Birthplace Museum in Oxford, it is hard to believe she had a brother who was up to such no good. The museum’s website lists as family members her father, Capt. Stephen Barton (1774-1862), “a prosperous businessman, captain of the local militia and a selectman in Oxford;” her mother, Sarah Stone Barton (1983-1851), “an independent woman who was known for her thrift, eccentricity and volatile temper;” and siblings Dorothea Barton (1804-1846), Stephen Barton (1806-1865); Capt. David Barton (1808-1888); and Sarah “Sally” Barton Vassall (1811-1874).
Which leaves Stephen Barton as something of a mystery man, in the scheme of things. 
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.