Vermont History


Vermont (vərmŏnt´) [Fr.,=green mountain], New England state of the NE United States. It is bordered by New Hampshire, across the Connecticut River (E), Massachusetts (S), New York, with Lake Champlain forming almost half the border (W), and the Canadian province of Quebec (N).

Facts and Figures

Area, 9,609 sq mi (24,887 sq km). Pop. (2010) 625,741, a 2.8% increase since the 2000 census. Capital, Montpelier. Largest city, Burlington. Statehood, Mar. 4, 1791 (14th state). Highest pt., Mt. Mansfield, 4,393 ft (1,340 m); lowest pt., Lake Champlain, 95 ft (29 m). Nickname, Green Mountain State. Motto, Freedom and Unity. State bird, hermit thrush. State flower, red clover. State tree, sugar maple. Abbr., Vt.; VT


The forested Green Mts. constitute the dominant physiographic feature of Vermont. They consist of at least four distinct groups, all traversing the state in a generally north-south direction. Largest and most important are the Green Mts. proper, which extend down the center of the state from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts line, rising to Vermont's highest peak, Mt. Mansfield (4,393 ft/1,339 m). The Taconic Mts., occupying the southwestern portion of the state, contain Vermont's important marble deposits. East of the Green Mts. and extending from the Canadian border to somewhat below the middle of the state are the Granite Hills, so called because of their valuable stone. The fourth group, sometimes called the Red Sandrock Hills, extends along the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain. In E Vermont there are also isolated peaks or monadnocks not connected with the principal ranges.

The rivers of Vermont (the only completely inland state of New England) flow either into the Connecticut River or into Lake Champlain. The Winooski rises east of the Green Mts. and cuts directly through them to Lake Champlain. Grand Isle county, comprising several islands and a peninsula jutting down into Lake Champlain from Canada, is connected to Vermont proper by causeways.

Vermont has a short summer and a humid, continental climate, with abundant rainfall and a growing season that varies from 120 days in the Connecticut valley to 150 in the Lake Champlain region. Winter brings heavy snows, which usually cover the ground for at least three full months, but because the state's good roads are almost always kept clear, this season no longer forces complete isolation on rural communities. With its rugged terrain, much of it still heavily wooded, Vermont has limited areas of arable land, but the state is well suited to grazing (the Justin Morgan breed of horses was developed there).

Every summer thousands of vacationers are drawn by the scenic mountains and the picturesque New England villages, while climbers attempt the many accessible peaks and hikers take on the Long Trail that runs the length of the state along the Green Mt. ridge. In the winter thousands of skiers flock to the slopes at Mad River Glen, Bromley, Stowe, Stratton, and elsewhere. Montpelier is the capital, Burlington the largest city.


Dairy farming has long been dominant in Vermont agriculture, although it has declined somewhat. Apples, cheese, maple syrup, and greenhouse and nursery products are important. The state's most valuable mineral resources are stone, asbestos, sand and gravel, and talc. In the areas around Rutland and Proctor is a noted marble industry, and at Barre the famous Vermont granite is quarried and processed.

The manufacture of nonelectric machinery, machine tools, and precision instruments is important. The textile industry, once dominant in Burlington, has declined, but the manufacture of computer components, food products, pulp and paper, and plastics has helped to compensate for this loss. Cottage industries have long thrived in Vermont, making a variety of products from knitwear to ice cream, while captive insurance companies (insurance companies owned by the companies they insure) are more recent and growing industry. Tourism is also vitally important to the state economy.

Government, Politics, and Higher Education

Vermont is governed under a constitution adopted in 1793. The state legislature, called the general assembly, consists of a senate with 30 members and a house of representatives with 150 members, all elected to two-year terms. The governor is elected for a two-year term. In 2003, Jim Douglas, a Republican, succeeded Democrat Howard Dean, who retired after serving since 1991. Douglas was reelected in 2004, 2006, and 2008. In 2011, Democrat Peter Shumlin was elected to the post; he was reelected in 2012 and 2015. In 2016 Republican Phil Scott was elected to succeed Shumlin. Vermont sends two senators and one representative to the U.S. Congress and has three electoral votes.

The state's traditional devotion to the Republican party was evidenced in the presidential elections of 1912 and 1936, when Vermont was one of only two states in the union that voted Republican. This has changed, however, as the state's liberalism in cultural and environmental matters has turned it away from the Republican party. Since 1991, the socialist former mayor of Burlington, Bernard Sanders (who runs as an independent), has represented Vermont in the U.S. House of Representatives and then (from 2007) the Senate.

Among Vermont's institutions of higher education are Bennington College, at Bennington; Middlebury College, at Middlebury; Marlboro College, at Marlboro; Norwich Univ., at Northfield; the School for International Training, at Brattleboro; and the Univ. of Vermont, at Burlington.


French Vermont

The first European known to have entered the area that is now Vermont was Samuel de Champlain, who, after beginning the colonization of Quebec, journeyed south with a Huron war party in 1609 to the beautiful lake to which he gave his name. The French did not attempt any permanent settlement until 1666, when they built a fort and a shrine to Ste Anne on the Isle La Motte in Lake Champlain. However, this and later French settlements were abandoned, and until well into the 18th cent. the region was something of a no-man's-land.

Benning Wentworth and the New Hampshire Grants

Fort Dummer, built (1724) by the English near the site of Brattleboro, is considered the first permanent settlement in what is now Vermont. However, Vermont's history may be said to have really begun in 1741, when Benning Wentworth became royal governor of New Hampshire. According to his commission New Hampshire extended west across the Merrimack River until it met "with our [i.e., the king's] other Governments." Since the English crown had never publicly proclaimed the eastern limits of the colony of New York, this vague description bred considerable confusion.

Wentworth, assuming that New York's modified boundary with Connecticut and Massachusetts (20 mi/32 km E of the Hudson River) would be extended even farther north, made (1749) the first of the New Hampshire Grants—the township called Bennington—to a group that included his relatives and friends. However, New York claimed that its boundary extended as far east as the Connecticut River, and Gov. George Clinton of New York (father of Sir Henry Clinton) promptly informed Gov. Wentworth that he had no authority to make such a grant. Wentworth thereupon suggested that the dispute between New York and New Hampshire over control of Vermont be referred to the crown. The outbreak of the last of the French and Indian Wars in 1754 briefly suspended interest in the area, but after the British captured Ticonderoga and Crown Point in 1759, Wentworth resumed granting land in the area of present Vermont.

In 1764 the British authorities upheld New York's territorial claim to Vermont. New York immediately tried to assert its jurisdiction—Wentworth's grants were declared void, and new grants (for the same lands) were issued by the New York authorities. Those who held their lands from New Hampshire resisted, and a hot controversy, long in the making, now exploded. New York and New Hampshire land speculators had the most at stake, with the New Hampshire grantees, first on the scene, having the advantage. Regional pride among the New England settlers played a large part in creating resistance to New York authority. Chief among the leaders of this resistance was Ethan Allen, who organized the Green Mountain Boys. New York courts were forcibly broken up, and armed violence was directed against New Yorkers until the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, when the British became the major threat and common enemy.

The American Revolution and Independent Vermont

At the beginning of the Revolution, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys captured Ticonderoga, and Seth Warner took Crown Point. In Jan., 1777, Vermont (as its citizens were soon calling the region) proclaimed itself an independent state at a meeting in the town of Westminster. Chiefly because of the opposition of New York, the Continental Congress refused to recognize Vermont as the 14th colony or state. The convention that met at Windsor in July reaffirmed Vermont's independent status and adopted a constitution, notable especially because it was the first in the United States to provide for universal male suffrage. Thomas Chittenden was elected the first governor.

The Green Mountain Boys under Seth Warner and John Stark made an important contribution to the American cause with their victory at Bennington in Aug., 1777 (see Saratoga campaign). Later, Ethan Allen and his brother Ira Allen, acting on their own, entered into devious negotiations with British agents, possibly with the intent of annexing Vermont to Canada. The talks were inconclusive and ended when the Americans finally triumphed at Yorktown in 1781. For ten years Vermont remained an independent state, performing all the offices of a sovereign government (such as coining money, setting up post offices, naturalizing new citizens, and appointing ambassadors) and gradually becoming more and more independent.

Statehood, at Last

Not until 1791, after many delays and misunderstandings and, most important, after the dispute with New York was finally adjusted (1790) by payment of $30,000, did Vermont enter the Union. It was the first state to be admitted after the adoption of the Constitution by the 13 original states. In the next two decades Vermont had the greatest population increase in its history, from 85,425 in 1790 to 217,895 in 1810. As in the earlier days, most of the settlers migrated from S New England, and, since the more desirable lands in the river valleys were soon taken, many of them settled in the less hospitable hills.

Although the Embargo Act of 1807 aided the development of many small manufacturing establishments, it was bitterly opposed in Vermont for its disruption of the profitable trade with Canada. The War of 1812 was unpopular in Vermont as it was in the rest of New England, and during the war extensive smuggling across the Canadian border was carried on. Vermont was threatened by British invasion from Canada until U.S. troops, under Thomas Macdonough, won (1814) the battle on Lake Champlain.

At this early period in its history, Vermont, lacking an aristocracy of wealth, was the most democratic state in New England. Jeffersonian Democrats held control for most of the first quarter of the 19th cent. Beginning in the 1820s political and social life in Vermont was considerably affected by the activities of those opposed to Freemasonry, and in the presidential election of 1832 Vermont was the only state carried by William Wirt, candidate of the Anti-Masonic party. Anti-Masonry agitation was soon succeeded by even more vigorous efforts in behalf of another cause—the one against slavery.

The Mexican and Civil Wars

In the Mexican War, which it viewed as having been undertaken solely to increase slave territory, Vermont was very apathetic. However, no Northern state was more energetic in support of the Union cause in the Civil War, and Vermonters strongly favored Lincoln over Vermont-born Stephen Douglas. One of the most bizarre incidents of the war was the Confederate raid (1864) on Saint Albans, a town which, after the war, also figured in the equally bizarre attempt of the Fenians to invade Canada in the cause of Irish independence.

The Changing Economy of Vermont

The economy of the state, meanwhile, was in the midst of a series of sharp dislocations. The rise of manufacturing in towns and villages during the early 19th cent. had created a demand for foodstuffs for the nonfarming population. Consequently, commercial farming began to crowd out the subsistence farming that had predominated since the mid-18th cent. Grain and beef cattle became the chief market produce, but when the rapidly expanding West began to supply these commodities more cheaply and when wool textile mills began to spring up in S New England, Vermont turned to sheep raising.

After the Civil War, however, the sheep industry, unable to withstand the competition from the American West as well as from Australian, and South American wool, began to diminish. The rural population declined as many farmers migrated westward or turned to the apparently easier life of the cities, and abandoned farms became a common sight. The transition to dairy farming in the 20 years following the war staved off a permanent decline in Vermont's agricultural pursuits.

Since the 1960s, Vermont's economy has grown significantly with booms in the tourist industry and in exurban homebuilding and with the attraction of high-technology firms to the Burlington area. In recent years, prosperity has to some degree conflicted with concern for environmental issues. Nonetheless, the state has been active in attempts to preserve its natural beauty, enacting very strict laws regarding industrial pollution and the conservation of natural resources.


See Federal Writers' Project, Vermont: A Guide to the Green Mountain State (3d ed. 1968); R. N. Hill et al., comp., Vermont (1969); A. M. Hemenway, Abby Hemenway's Vermont, ed. by B. C. Morrissey from the 5-volume Vermont Historical Gazetteer of 1881 (1972); C. T. Morrissey, Vermont (1981); T. D. Bassett, Vermont: A Bibliography of Its History (1983); H. A. Meeks, Vermont's Land and Resources (1986).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Vermont History: Selected full-text books and articles

Yankee Kingdom: Vermont and New Hampshire By Carl Carmer; Ralph Nading Hill Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated, 1960
The Reluctant Republic: Vermont, 1724-1791 By Frederic F. Van de Water The John Day Company, 1941
Land Use and the States By Robert G. Healy; John S. Rosenberg Resources for the Future, 1979 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. Three "Vermont - Eight Years of Experience"
Bennington, Vermont, an Industrial History By Rush Welter Columbia University, 1959
The Archaeological Northeast By Mary Ann Levine; Kenneth E. Sassaman; Michael S. Nassaney Bergin & Garvey, 1999
Librarian's tip: "Myth Busting and Prehistoric Land Use in the Green Mountains of Vermont" begins on p. 115
Interest Group Politics in the Northeastern States By Ronald J. Hrebenar; Clive S. Thomas Pennsylvania State University, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. 12 "Vermont: Interest Groups in a Rural Technopolity"
The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action By Joseph F. Zimmerman Praeger, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "The Vermont Open Town Meeting"
Inclusion: Alive and Well in the Green Mountain State By Thousand, Jacqueline S.; Villa, Richard A Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 77, No. 4, December 1995
Vermont: American Pastoral By Routly, Paula Book, September 2000
Telecommunications Policy and Economic Development: The New State Role By Robert H. Wilson; Jurgen C. Schmandt; Frederick Richard Williams Praeger Publishers, 1989
Librarian's tip: Chap. 8 "Vermont"
Twentieth Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape By Owen D. Gutfreund Oxford University Press, 2004
Librarian's tip: "Good Roads and the Advent of the Automobile in Vermont" begins on p. 133
Marriage and Same-Sex Unions: A Debate By Lynn D. Wardle; Mark Strasser; William C. Duncan; David Orgon Coolidge Praeger, 2003
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "Essay One: Vermont Civil Unions: A Success Story"
American Legislative Leaders in the Northeast, 1911-1994 By James Roger Sharp; Kevin G. Atwater; Gina Petonito; Charles F. Ritter; Jon L. Wakelyn Greenwood Press, 2000
State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide By Barbara S. Shearer; Benjamin F. Shearer; Jerrie Yehling Smith Greenwood Press, 1994 (Revised edition)
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.