Vermont Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Vermont is the seventh smallest state. The only New England state not bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Vermont is bordered by New Hampshire in the east, New York on the west, Massachusetts in the south, and Quebec, Canada, in the north.

History of Vermont

Vermont is the seventh smallest state. The only New England state not bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Vermont is bordered by New Hampshire in the east, New York on the west, Massachusetts in the south, and Quebec, Canada, in the north. Vermont owns more than half of Lake Champlain, which makes up the half of the state’s western border.

Vermont’s terrain has a little of everything, from the Taconic Mountains, with good granite quarries, to the Champlain Valley, with the flattest land and best soil in the state, to the Green Mountains, which run through the middle of the state. There are about 430 lakes and ponds in Vermont, 420 named peaks, and forests on about 80 percent of the land. The waterways in the state provide trade routes to Canada and New York, and the forests produce hardwood, paper, and the nation’s largest supply of maple syrup.

Native American Lands

Until the 1500’s, Vermont land was inhabited by Abenaki, Mahican, and Pennacook Indians, all members of the Algonquian tribe. Then the land was overtaken by tribes of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy. When French settlers arrived in the 1600’s, they allied themselves with the Algonquians, because they wanted to trade furs with them. The first permanent white settlement in Vermont was Fort Dummer in the southeast, built by the English to protect Massachusetts residents from French and American Indian raids. There were never any major battles between Native Americans and Europeans over land, as there were in the rest of New England. Still, American Indians were made unwelcome in the state, and they made up less than 2 percent of Vermont’s population in the late twentieth century.

Settlement of Vermont

After French explorer Samuel de Champlain settled Quebec and Montreal, he traveled south on the Richelieu River into the lake named for him. In 1609 he claimed the Vermont area for France, naming the mountains Verd Mont (green mountains). The French built a few military posts to protect their land and established a fur trade with the Algonquians, but Vermont, unlike the other New England states and New York, was not settled for a long time.

In 1724 Dutch newcomers moved into the southwest of the state, and in 1750 Vermont began to attract settlers. Benning Wentworth, the royal governor of New Hampshire, sold pieces of land west of the Connecticut River to pay off his debts, though he had no claims to the region. Between 1750 and 1764, 138 towns on three million acres were established, and the area was called the New Hampshire Grants.

From 1754 to 1763, the French and Indian War raged because of land disputes between the French and British. Fighting in the Lake Champlain area ended with the British, with Iroquois allies, defeating the French and Algonquians. The 1763 Treaty of Paris, ending the war, gave control of Vermont to Great Britain.

The governor of New York, George Clinton, had also been making claims on the New Hampshire Grants. After he decreed that settlers in the Grants should pay New York for their land, the landowners in the Grants went to King George III of England with their cause. The king sided with the Grants residents, ordering Clinton not to bother them or to issue any land grants for land that was not his. However, in 1769-1770 Clinton gave titles to 600,000 acres in the Grants and tried to evict those who lived there. Some Vermonters, called the Bennington Nine, fought New York’s claims to the area and formed a regiment, the Green Mountain Boys, led by Ethan Allen. The group drove the New York settlers out of the region.

The American Revolution

The Green Mountain Boys were active in the American Revolution (1775-1783), capturing Britain’s Fort Ticonderoga and a British ship in 1775. Even though they logically should have sided with the British for supporting their claims to the Vermont land, they were more interested in liberty for the United States. American Indians fought on the British side, hoping to be able to keep some of their rightful land, in vain. The only Revolutionary battle fought for Vermont took place in July of 1777 at the Battle of Bennington. Although the battle took place on New York land, the fight remains significant to Vermonters because Vermont won, leading to the defeat of the British at Saratoga, a turning point in the war.

Independence

In 1777 the residents of the New Hampshire Grants declared their independence from England and New York and called their state New Connecticut. Five months later, they changed the name to Vermont. In 1777 they drafted a constitution; the Bill of Rights from that year would be used for more than two hundred years. In 1778 Vermont declared itself independent of the Continental Congress, because the region believed the Congress was a danger to Vermont’s liberty; the area made a separate peace treaty with Britain.

Although the Congress wanted to invade Vermont, General George Washington warned against it, but he advised Vermont governor Thomas Chittenden to relinquish his claims to thirty-five New Hampshire and fourteen New York towns. In 1790 Vermont paid New York thirty thousand dollars for disputed land. In 1791 it became the fourteenth state, but its people never forgot its tradition of independence and the fact that it was, unlike the rest of New England, never an English colony.

Industry

Vermont’s early industry depended on water and timber, of which the state had plenty. Gristmills, sawmills, and paper mills were built on the state’s fast streams. In 1805 Brattleboro became a printing center, and cities such as Brandon became iron-mining hubs. The first canal built in the United States was at Bellows Falls in the Connecticut River in 1802, and steamboats began operating on Lake Champlain in 1808, carrying goods to and from Canada. The Embargo Act of 1807 mandated against trade between the United States and foreign countries, so Vermonters had to smuggle food and lumber into Canada in order to maintain their livelihoods.

A special breed of horse, the Justin Morgan, was bred to plow hilly farms in the state, and Spanish merino sheep were imported for the manufacture of wool, leading to the opening of tanneries, carding mills, and finally textile factories. In the 1870’s and 1880’s industries and cities grew, but Vermont never became fully industrialized, like the rest of New England, with huge cities and numerous factories. The state stayed mostly rural. In fact, the Great Depression of the 1930’s did not really affect Vermont because the state was so rural.

Economy

During the War of 1812 the economy boomed, because the production of wool was essential for troops fighting Britain. However, after the war, in 1814, trade with Britain resumed, lowering wool prices. By 1820 the economy was doing poorly, and thousands of people left the state. The construction of the Champlain-Hudson Canal in 1823 and the Erie Canal in 1825 helped trade, but by the 1840’s Vermonters were leaving again because of cheaper land in the West and depleted resources and topsoil in the state. The residents who stayed behind turned to dairy farming, which would be Vermont’s main industry for more than one hundred years.

Although from the 1820’s to the 1850’s the population was declining, more so-called summer people were visiting the state for the refreshing air and spring waters. Tourism became a big business, and Vermont was the first state to open a state publicity service to encourage tourism, in 1891. After the Civil War (1861-1865) agriculture stayed in decline, and more Vermonters took the federal government’s offer of cheap land in the West. However, immigrants began flocking to the state, from Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Spain, and Sweden. In the late twentieth century most immigrants, about 9 percent, were from Quebec.

World War II

The Vermont General Assembly declared war on Germany in September of 1941, three months before Pearl Harbor was attacked. Because Vermont men in training for the war returned fire under attack at sea, they declared war. The state sent fifty thousand soldiers to the war. Vermont experienced a huge population growth after the 1940’s, with people looking to return to a quieter, simpler way of life. The state was still two-thirds rural, with the highest proportion of rural residents in the country.

Independent Thinkers

Vermont never followed the religious movements of the rest of New England, such as the Puritan or Congregationalist faiths. For this they were deemed atheistic sinners by the surrounding communities.

Vermont was very antislavery, providing numerous stops on the Underground Railroad, the escape route for slaves out of the South. Vermonters were so antislavery that more than 75 percent voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 against opponent Stephen A. Douglas, who was a native Vermonter. Vermont contributed more than nine million dollars and thirty-five thousand men to the Civil War effort on the Union side.

After the Civil War the state became notoriously Republican-minded, and it remained that way until 1958. During the 1950’s and 1960’s it became more liberal, electing a Democrat, William H. Meyer, to the House of Representatives for the first time in more than one hundred years. In 1974 Patrick Leahy became the first Democratic senator from Vermont since the inception of the Republican Party in 1854.

Environment and Industry

Soon after World War II, Vermont became a huge ski attraction, due to the invention of the mechanized rope tow to pull skiers up a mountain. The downside of this technology and influx of people is that the environment suffered. In 1970 the Environmental Control Law was passed to cut down on pollution and development. It stated that developers would have to prove their projects would have no adverse effects on the surrounding environment.

By the 1990’s, the service industry was the largest in the state, accounting for 67 percent of the workforce and 62 percent of the gross state product (GSP), mostly in the tourism and leisure fields. Manufacturing accounted for 21 percent of the workers and 26 percent of the GSP, and agriculture applied to only 6 percent of the workers and 1 percent of the GSP. However, 40 percent of the dairy in New England comes from Vermont, and it is the leading producer of maple syrup in the United States.

Categories: History Content