Vermont Genealogy Resources -- Some Vermont History
 Some Vermont History
January 2003

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Vermont is located in northern New England. It is the home of the Algonquin, Iroquois and Abenaki Native American nations. Many of Vermont's town, river and lake names are derived from the old indian names. These native Vermonters lived off the land, using the riverways as their means of traveling through the mountainous wilderness of their home. When the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, first viewed the tree-covered mountains to the south in 1649, he called it "les Verts Monts", which was 17th century French for the Green Mountains. In time, "Les Verts Monts" became "Verts Mont" and later, "Vermont". He claimed the land in the name of France. As part of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France gave the land to England. That treaty ended the French & Indian War. New Hampshire and New York both claimed rights to the new territory. Those who were settling "Vermont" wanted independence and united against those who disputed for control of their lands. The result was the formation of the Green Mountain Boys, who were led by Ethan Allen. Vermont officially declared itself a republic on June 30, 1777. Vermont was granted admission to the United States on March 4, 1791, becoming the 14th state. Athough the 13 colonies conducted their 1790 Federal Census on August 2nd of that year, Vermont didn't become a state until March 1791, therefore our 1790 Census day was April 4, 1791.

State Holidays

Most State offices are open to the from 8am to 4:30pm. They are closed for the following holidays:

January 1: New Year's Day
January 20: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February 12: Lincoln's Birthday
Third Monday in February: Washington's Birthday
First Tuesday (after the first Monday) in March: Town Meeting Day
May 30: Memorial Day
July 4: Independence Day
August 16: Bennington Battle Day
First Monday in September: Labor Day
Second Monday of October: Columbus Day
November 11: Veteran's Day
Fourth Thursday of November: Thanksgiving
December 25: Christmas

Benning Wentworth and the New Hampshire Land Grants

It can be said that if it hadn't been for Benning Wentworth, Vermont probably would not exist (at least, not as we know it). Upon graduation from Harvard he was appointed as the first Royal Governor of New Hampshire (1741-1766). Starting with Bennington in 1749, Wentworth granted (sold) to speculators large tracts of land (towns) in what would become Vermont, despite claims on the territory by the Province of New York and a subsequent Royal Order to discontinue the activity. Pocketing the hefty £20 fee paid by each of (usually) sixty grantees per town and reserving "two shares" (500 acres) of each town for himself, he became very wealthy in the process (not an unusual practice among Colonial Governors). To guarantee the support of the clergy, a plot of land was reserved in each town for a church. Desperately wanting a title for himself, he named most of the towns to honor rich and politically powerful people, many of whom were members of the peerage, seeking to curry their support in this quest. Wentworth's "New Hampshire Grants" set the stage for a bitter struggle between "Yorkers" and settlers who, having bought land from the speculators, had endured the hardships of making a life in a wilderness. While King George II had placed the eastern boundary of New York 20 miles east of and parallel to the Hudson River (roughly its present location), his grandson, George III, decreed the Connecticut River to be the boundary, thus invalidating settlers' claims to the land. The real blow came when, despite George III's instruction not to disturb settlers already in place, New York courts ruled that the settlers would have to buy their land again, this time from holders of New York "Patents" on the properties. The atmosphere was ripe for someone like Ethan Allen to enter the scene, advocating freedom from New York and to "organize" the affected settlers into "The Green Mountain Boys". There were accusations of nepotism: appointing relatives to government jobs and giving them large tracts of rich land. Stories told by purchasers of worthless swampland and mountainsides in "The Grants" started to surface. Despite all, Benning Wentworth was allowed to resign from office rather than be removed, and he retired to his splendid home on Little Harbor. He had accumulated a sizable fortune from The Grants, and the hornet's nest he had stirred up in creating what would become Vermont was now in the hands of his nephew, John, who succeeded him as Governor.

The Battle of Bennington

In July 1777, General John Burgoyne's invasion of New York had reached Fort Edward (just east of Glens Falls). He planned to capture Albany and join the British troops coming from New York City, hoping to bring New York back under British control, thus dividing the rebellious colonies. However, Burgoyne's army was short of beef, wagons, and draft animals. Hearing that the American storehouses at Bennington, Vermont were poorly defended, Burgoyne told Lieutenant Colonel Baum to lead an expedition into Vermont and capture them. Half of Baum's troops were Brunswickers; the remainder were Canadians, British sharpshooters, Tories & Indians. Vermont's Council of Safety, aware of Baum's approach, sent out a call for help. New Hampshire had responded by sending 1500 troops under John Stark. Stark's men and a smaller force of Vermont militia under Seth Warner were near Bennington as Baum's forces prepared to attack. After dispatching a request for reinforcements, Baum advanced to a hill overlooking the Walloomsac River. Only five miles from Bennington, Baum's men entrenched on and around this hill, awaiting further American resistance. After a day of rain, Stark decided to attack on August 16 at 3:00 pm. Baum himself died in the battle, which lasted two hours before the hill was finally taken. Stark's men had barely cheered the victory when news arrived that Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich von Breymann was approaching with the requested reinforcements. Fortunately, Warner arrived at that time with his Vermont militia. The Vermonters pushed back Breymann's forces and pursued them until sundown. Over two hundred of Braun's men were dead, and most of the remainder (some 700) were taken prisoner. By contrast, only 40 Americans had been killed, 30 wounded. Burgoyne had failed to obtain his needed supplies. His army was thus weaker against the Continental forces at Saratoga and after two unsuccessful battles, the British General surrendered on October 17, 1777. Bennington Battle Day is observed each August 16. The monument in Bennington, with Seth Warner on guard in front, stands on the site of the armory Baum had been sent to capture.

The Summer of 1816

Spring started off fine after a severe winter, dry and warm by the end of April, with flowers bursting into color, trees blooming, and the earthy smells of the new season in the air. May, however, was annoyingly cold and dryer than normal; many blamed it on huge sunspots, visible to the naked eye for the first time in memory. It was 90 degrees on June fifth. By the following day, the temperature dropped to 40 degrees, and the snow that was falling melted as it touched the still very warm ground. It was snowing again on the seventh, and continued until noon the next day at Waterbury. By that time there was a foot of white on the ground in Montpelier, over eighteen inches in Cabot. Many crops and leaves on trees were killed; farmers wearily replanted. Birds which had not taken shelter perished and newly shorn sheep froze to death. June 9 found inch-thick ice on shallow ponds and foot-long icicles were noted. A good early crop of oats kept many from going hungry; it was the first time most had even tasted oatmeal. Seed prices were by now up to five times the norm, but farmers were thankful even at that. "Some account was given . . . of the unparalleled severity of the weather. It continued, without any essential amelioration, from the 6th to the 10th instant -- freezing as hard five nights in succession as it usually does in December. On the night of the 6th, water froze an inch thick -- and on the night of the 7th and morning of the 8th, a kind of sleet or exceeding cold snow fell, attended with high wind, which measured in places where it was drifted, 18 to 20 inches in depth. Saturday morning the weather was more severe than it generally is during the storms of winter." -- North Star, Danville, Vermont  June 15, 1816. July was not much better. Some parts of New England got rain, but Vermont remained dry as a bone. A frost on August 21 killed more beans, potatoes and corn, and the mountains were snow-covered. Farmers burned their hay, sacrificing it to save the corn. By September, frost had killed corn well south into Massachusetts. By September, most of Vermont had been a full three months without rain. Fires which swept through parched forest land filled the air with acrid smoke and a general darkness. Another killing frost struck the final blow on the tenth, wiping out whatever had managed to survive to that point. A meager crop of unripe potatoes was harvested. Better than nothing. That winter, cattle starved for lack of hay. There was much human suffering but little starvation as the more fortunate shared what they had. Importing food was difficult with little money available with which to buy it. A full day of converting trees into salts and potash would yield about 30 cents. Fish had became a staple diet, with people in the east operating large nets day and night on the rivers and trading fish for maple syrup. Boiled wild foods and porcupines also sustained many. 1816 having been the worst of a string of bad years, many moved west, thinking the weather had turned permanently. Richford was nearly a ghost town, the remaining few barely surviving; Waterford had so few residents that no Town Meetings were held for several years; Granby's population fell so low that the town gave up its incorporation. Unable to sell their land, many just up and left it. New immigration eventually brought in people who had no memory of the hard times. Mount Tambora, a volcano in the Dutch East Indies, had erupted the year before. The resulting cloud of dust, ash and cinders in the upper atmosphere is said to have been the cause of the drastically lowered temperatures during the summer of "Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death". For those who have ancestors who lived in Vermont at this time, you may find that this was the reson the family suddenly left the state. The above is only one of the traumas the early pioneers had to endure in order to make a home in the wilderness called Vermont.

The St. Albans Raid, October 19, 1864

Twenty cavalrymen, organized by Confederate agent George Sanders and led by Lieutenant Bennett Young, swooped down out of Canada and took over St. Albans, Vermont in what was to go down in history as the northernmost engagement of the Civil War. With his gun drawn, Young mounted the steps of a hotel and shouted: "This city is now in the possession of the Confederate States of America." The battlefields of the Civil War suddenly didn't seem so far from this village about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. Shock and confusion followed as gun-toting horsemen galloped down Main Street, herding terror-stricken townfolk onto the Village Green. The raiders then turned their attention to robbing the three local banks. Even though the Confederates dropped much of their loot in the confusion of escape, they still managed to make off with over $200,000. By the time residents could organize a pursuit, the marauders were well on their way back to the border. As they left, they tried to burn down the town, but managed to destroy only a woodshed. They had evidently planned to burn the mansion of Governor J. Gregory Smith, who was in Montpelier at the time. One of the raiders was wounded and died shortly thereafter. The survivors were arrested in Montreal and tried, but never extradited despite energetic efforts by Washington. Lieutenant Young rose to the rank of General. When he again visited Montreal in 1911, a group of St. Albans dignitaries paid him a courtesy call at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Some Famous Vermonters

Sherman Adams born in East Dover, governor

Ethan Allen  Revolutionary War leader, founding father

Ira Allen  Land speculator, surveyor, founding father

Chester Alan Arthur  born October 5, 1830 in Fairfield, 21st President of the United States, (September 19, 1881 to March 3, 1885).

Orson Bean born in Burlington, actor

Myra Colby Bradwell  First woman attorney

Calvin Coolidge born July 4, 1872, in Plymouth, 30th President of the United States (August 3, 1923 to March 3, 1929). Vice President, 1921-23 (under Harding). Governor of Massachusetts, 1919-20. Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts, 1916-18.

Thomas Davenport born in Williamstown, inventor

John Deere born in Rutland, inventor of "The Plow That Broke The Plains"

George Dewey born in Montpelier, admiral

John Dewey born in Burlington, author, philosopher, educator

Stephen A. Douglas born in Brandon, US Statesman

Edwin L. Drake  "Founder" of the petroleum industry

James Fisk born in Bennington, financial speculator

Wilbur Fisk born in Bennington, clergyman, educator

Ralph E. Flanders born in Barnet, senator

Martin Freeman  First Black College President

Robert Frost  Poet, teacher

Hetty Green  At one time or another, "The Pride and Pain of Bellows Falls" or "The Witch of Wall Street". Either way, she was the richest woman in America

Paul P. Harris Founder of Rotary International

Lemuel Haynes First Black Pastor of a White Congregation in America

Samuel Herrick Revolutionary War leader

Richard Morris Hunt born in Brattleboro, architect

William Morris Hunt born in Brattleboro, painter

George Perkins Marsh  Linguist, legislator, diplomat, seminal environmentalist

Justin Morrill born in Strafford, Friend of higher education, politician

Justin Morgan  His name lives on in the State Animal of Vermont

Elisha Graves Otis born in Halifax, inventor

Moses Pendleton choreographer

Norman Rockwell Many of his best-loved illustrations of small-town America include settings and people he found in and around Arlington and Manchester.

Patty Sheehan born in Middlebury, golfer

Joseph Smith born in Sharon, (1805-1844) Founder of The Mormons

John Stark Revolutionary War leader (1728-1722)

Ann Story "Mother of The Green Mountain Boys"

Horace A. Tabor born in Holland, silver king

Ernest Thompson actor, writer

Seth Warner American Revolutionary soldier

Rudy Vallee born in Island Pond, singer, band leader

Henry Wells born in Thetford, pioneer entrepreneur

William Griffith (Bill) Wilson  Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

Brigham Young born in Whitingham, (1801-1877) Converted from Methodism to Mormonism in 1832, two years after Joseph Smith's brother passed through Mendon, New York, leaving a copy of the Book of Mormon with Young's eldest brother, Phineas, an itinerant preacher. Young, who had gained a substantial reputation for industry and trustworthiness operating a mill and carpentry shop, had wanted to investigate the premise thoroughly. He preached his first sermon two weeks later. Sometimes referred to as the "American Moses" he personally organized and led the "Exodus" of some 16,000 Mormons from Missouri and Illinois to the "Promised Land" of Utah, where he founded Salt Lake City. He served as second President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death. In 1851, he was appointed Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Utah Territory by President Millard Fillmore. Six years later, controversy over the separation of church and state (not to mention cries of immorality over Mormon polygamy) found President James Buchanan replacing Young with an "outsider". At Young's direction Karl Maeser established Brigham Young University (originally Brigham Young Academy).

Some Important Vermont Dates

1790: US Patent Number One, signed by George Washington, was issued to Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, for a process he had developed for making potash. Vermont's first main economy was founded on this ingredient of soap manufacturing.

1791: Vermont is the first State to join the original thirteen colonies in the new Union. Vermont's Constitution is the first such document to outlaw slavery.

1846: The first US Postage stamp is printed in Brattleboro. The ventilated fly fishing reel was developed in Vermont by Charles Orvis of Manchester, who devised a method of allowing fishing lines to dry quickly on the reel. His invention was so successful that the company he founded in 1856 (still in Manchester) remains as one of the country's most well-known suppliers of fishing and sporting goods. Education: In addition to being the first state to provide for a state university in its constitution, Vermont built the first land grant college under a national plan conceived by Vermonter Justin Morrill. The first agricultural college in the US (as it is known officially, "The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College"), the first normal school, the first private military academy (Norwich University) and the first school specifically established for the college training of women were also in Vermont. Science: Being the first person to photograph snowflakes under a microscope earned Wilson A. Bentley his nickname.

1903: On a $50.00 wager, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, a Burlington physician, made the first transcontinental crossing by car in a two-cylinder, open-top Winton. He was accompanied by a mechanic named Crocker and a dog named Bud. The daring of this feat requires some clarification: at the time, there was not a single mile of paved rural highway in the US. Such roads as existed were unmarked dirt tracks, swamps in wet months and hopelessly rutted in dry. Steep uphill stretches (such as the Rockies) often required being accomplished in reverse, as the lack of a practical fuel pump permitted the fuel to flow away from the engine rather than to it. The trip took 65 days.

1924: A Vermonter, now President, makes the first radio address from the White House.

1934: The first ski tow in the US is built in Woodstock.

1938: Vermonter C. Minot Dole creates the National Ski Patrol.

1940: The first Social Security benefits check, in the amount of $22.54, was issued to Ida May Fuller, a Vermont widow. By the time she died in 1975 at the age of 100, Ida had received more than $20,000 in benefits.

1954: Consuelo Northrup Bailey of Fairfield is elected as the first female Lieutenant Governor in US history.

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