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A Brief History of the Settlement of the Colony


Although there is more than one theory about how Vermont came to be known by its present name, the more popular one supposes that French explorer Samuel deChamplain referred to the mountains as les Verts Monts (the green mountains).  An alternative theory suggests that he called it Vers Monts, meaning “toward mountains,” so-called because he approached the mountains from the flat plains of Québec. 


     Extending backward to ancient history, it took the melting of glaciers more than one and a half millennia (from 8500 to 7000 BC) to create the Champlain Sea, and the only inhabitants of what would some day become Vermont were Native Americans who hunted for their food.  For the next 6,000 years, Native American tribes migrated year-round. Villages and trade networks were established beginning in about 1000 BC, up until around 1600 AD.  This period also saw the development of ceramic and bow-and-arrow technology. Vermont was populated by the Algonquian-speaking tribes, including the Mohicans and the Abenaki peoples, and during the next century, the Iroquois were responsible for driving out many of the smaller tribes. 


     It is believed that the first European to see Vermont was Jacques Cartier in the year 1535, followed in 1609 by Champlain, who claimed the area now known as Lake Champlain.  In the earliest days of the colonial period, France claimed Vermont as part of the Colony of New France.  As part of their fortification of Lake Champlain, they erected Fort-Sainte-Anne on the Isle la Motte in 1666.  It is generally referred to as Vermont’s first European settlement, as well as being the site of the first Roman Catholic mass.


     During the second half of the 17th Century, non-French settlers began their exploration of the territory.  In 1690, a group of Dutch-British settlers from Albany, under the command of Capt. Jacobus deWarm, established the DeWarm Stockade, a settlement and trading post located at Chimney Point.  During the several years that followed, regular periods of skirmishing occurred between the English colonies to the south and the French colony to the north, with Vermont in the middle, remaining an unsettled frontier.


      The first permanent British settlement was established in 1724 with the construction of Fort Dummer in the far southeast corner of present-day Vermont.  Under the command of Lt. Timothy Dwight of Connecticut this fort protected nearby Dummerston and Brattleboro – settlements established by people from Massachusetts and Connecticut. It would not be until nearly 40 years later that the second British settlement (at Bennington) would form, and then only after considerable conflict.


      Despite English infiltration, the French continued to hold an interest in Vermont.  In 1731, the French constructed a temporary wooden stockade known as Fort-de-Pieux near present-day Addison.  It remained until 1734, when work began on Fort-Sainte-Frédéric.  Once fully constructed, the fort gave the French control of the New France/Vermont border region in the Lake Champlain Valley, and it was the only permanent fort in the area until Fort Carillon was constructed, more than 20 years later.  The French government encouraged colonization by its people, leading to the development of several small valley settlements.  Between 1755 and 1758, the British attempted to take Fort-Sainte-Frédéric four times to no avail; but in 1759, under the command of Sir Jeffrey Amherst, a combined force of 12,000 British regular and provincial troops finally succeeded in capturing the fort.  The French were driven out of the area and retreated to other forts along the northern outlet of Lake Champlain.  A year later, the Mohawks burned the settlement at Chimney Point to the ground, leaving only chimneys, and this is said to be the origin of the area’s name. 


      The years 1740-1748 brought King George’s War, and with it, raids on Bridgeman’s Fort and Fort Number 4.  These were led by the French and the natives, and were essentially the precursor to the French and Indian War (1755-1761).  It was during this period that Ethan Allen joined the colonial militia to assist the British in attacking the French.  During this time, Rogers’ Rangers also staged their attack on Saint-Francis, Québec.  Once finally lost to the French during the war, the 1763 Treaty of Paris gave the British control of the entire region.


     With the end of the French and Indian War finally realized, Vermont saw more British settlements.  Samuel Robinson, the first settler of the grants, began clearing land in 1761 at Bennington.  However, it took three decades for the population to grow from 300 persons to more than 85,000.


     With the construction of Crown Point Military Road, which stretched across the Green Mountains, travel between the British colonies became easier.  Unfortunately, this greater facility toward access opened the door for multiple claims to the area.  The Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, the Province of New York and the New Hampshire Province each staked a claim to Vermont on the basis of charters and land-grants from King James II (in the case of New York), King George II (New Hampshire) and the Massachusetts Bay charter of 1629. 


     It was New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth who, during the period 1749 to 1764, issued numerous land grants (known as the New Hampshire Grants) in the large western valley of the Green Mountains.  Many were located not far from present-day Albany, New York, and today are known as the town of Bennington, in memory of the governor.  In 1764, King George III established the boundary between New Hampshire and New York.  Under his decree, Vermont became part of Albany County, New York, as it existed then.  Despite occasional disputes, the boundary remains the modern line separating Vermont from New Hampshire. When New York refused to recognize land titles through the New Hampshire Grants, demanding instead that the land-holders purchase new grants from the New York government for land they already held, the colonists were outraged, leading to their creation of an independent colony in 1777.  Because the long arm of New York law did not stretch far enough, New York began creating counties in the region, populating them with courthouses, sheriffs, and jails, followed by the bringing of charges against all those who held land by grants made by New Hampshire.


     In 1770, Ethan Allen, along with his brothers Ira and Levi and a friend named Seth Warner, established an informal company of militia known as the Green Mountain Boys.  Men were recruited to protect the interests of the original New Hampshire settlers against the aggressions of New York migrants.  These men succeeded in quashing several attempts by the New York government to dispossess residents of their land.  Skirmishes included, in one case, sending a sheriff back to Albany with a flea in his ear, while another involved taking over a courthouse that led to the Westminster Massacre.


     In 1776, the first general convention of freemen of the New Hampshire Grants met and resolved “to take suitable measures to declare the New Hampshire Grants a free and independent district,” and on January 18, 1777, representatives of the New Hampshire Grants convened in Westminster and declared their land an independent republic that would be known for a short time as “New Connecticut.”  Five months later, again at Westminster, 72 delegates convened the “Westminster Convention” at which time the delegates adopted the name “Vermont” on the suggestion of a Philadelphian named Thomas Young, who supported them through a letter counseling them on how to achieve statehood.  On July 4 following, the Constitution of Vermont was drafted at the Elijah West’s Windsor Tavern.  Adopted by the delegates after only a four-day-long debate, this consititution is revered as the first written constitution in North America to provide for the abolition of slavery, for suffrage for men who were not land-owners, and for public education.


      On August 16, 1777, a seminal event in Vermont’s history occur-red, known as the BATTLE OF BENNINGTON. The budding republican government that had been created after years of political turmoil faced challenges from New York, New Hampshire, Great Britain and the newly formed United States, none of whom recognized the sovereign-ty of the Vermont Republic. But the Republic’s ability to defeat the more powerful Gen. Burgoyne would ultimately legitimize the small nation, sustaining it through 14 years of independence. Indeed, the BATTLE OF BENNINGTON is considered today to be one of the turning points in the AMERICAN REVOLUTION, because not only was that battle – as well as the BATTLE OF SARATOGA – a major defeat of the British, but it also convinced the French that Americans were worthy of military aid.

      The Constitution of Vermont was amended in 1786, and again in 1793 following its admission to the federal union (in 1791). During its 14 years as an independent republic, Vermont had three chief executive officers: Thomas Chittenden (1778-1789), Moses Robinson (1789-1790), and Chittenden again (1790-1791). Vermont achieved statehood as the 14th state in the union on March 4, 1791.

     Some of Vermont’s more famous sons and daughters include Presidents (John) Calvin Coolidge (Jr.) and Chester Alan Arthur; Vice President Levi Parsons Morton (Benjamin Harrison’s administration); actor Orson Bean; inventors Thomas Davenport (the electric motor), John Deere (the cast steel plowshare and founder of Deere & Co.), William Chandler (the refrigerated railroad car) and Elisha Otis (the Otis elevator); philosopher John Dewey; novelist Dorothy Canfield Fisher; singer Rudy Vallee; religious leaders Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, and Andrew Ellicott Douglas, who developed tree-ring dating.