On January 15, 1777, representatives of the New Hampshire Grants declared the independence of the Vermont Republic. For the first six months of its existence, it was called the Republic of New Connecticut. On June 2, 1777, a second convention of 72 delegates met and adopted the name “Vermont.” This was on the advice of a friendly Pennsylvanian, Dr. Thomas Young, friend and mentor of Ethan Allen, who wrote to them on how to achieve admission into the newly independent United States of America as the 14th state. The origin of the name “Vermont” is uncertain, but likely comes from the French les Verts Monts, meaning “the Green Mountains”. The republic lasted for fourteen years. Aside from the original 13 states that were formerly colonies, Vermont is one of only four other U.S. states that were previously sovereign states (along with California, Hawaii, and Texas). Vermont was also the first state to join the U.S. as its 14th member state after the original thirteen. While still an independent republic, Vermont was the first of any future U.S. state to partially abolish slavery.
For thousands of years the territory that is now Vermont was inhabited by indigenous peoples, including the Algonquian-speaking Abenaki and Mohawk. Between 8500 and 7000 BCE, at the time of the Champlain Sea, Native Americans inhabited and hunted in the area. During the Archaic period, from the 8th millennium BCE to 1000 BCE, Native Americans migrated year-round. During the Woodland period, from 1000 BCE to 1600 CE, villages and trade networks were established, and ceramic and bow and arrow technology was developed. In the western part of the state there lived a small population of Algonquian-speaking tribes, including the Mohican and Abenaki peoples. Sometime between 1500 and 1600 CE, the Iroquois, based in present-day New York, drove many of the smaller native tribes out of Vermont, later using the area as a hunting ground and warring with the remaining Abenaki. The population in 1500 CE was estimated to be around 10,000 people.
The first European to see Vermont is thought to have been Jacques Cartier in 1535. On July 30, 1609, French explorer Samuel de Champlain claimed Vermont as part of New France. In 1666, French settlers erected Fort Sainte Anne on Isle La Motte, the first European settlement in Vermont.
In 1690, a group of Dutch-British settlers from Albany established a settlement and trading post at Chimney Point eight miles (13 kilometers) west of present-day Addison. During Dummer’s War, the first permanent British settlement was established in 1724 with the construction of Fort Dummer. It was to protect the nearby settlements of Dummerston and Brattleboro.
From 1731 to 1734, the French constructed Fort St. Frédéric, which gave the French control of the New France/Vermont frontier region in the Lake Champlain Valley. With the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754, the North American front of the Seven Years’ War between the French and British, the French began construction of Fort Carillon at present-day Ticonderoga, New York in 1755. The British failed to take Fort St. Frédéric or Fort Carillon between 1755 and 1758. In 1759 a combined force of 12,000 British regular and provincial troops under Sir Jeffery Amherst captured Carillon, after which the French abandoned Fort St. Frédéric. Amherst constructed Fort Crown Point next to the remains of the Fort St. Frédéric, securing British control over the area.
Following France’s loss in the French and Indian War, through the 1763 Treaty of Paris they ceded control of the land to the British. Colonial settlement was limited by the Crown to lands east of the Appalachians, in order to try to end encroachment on Native American lands. The territory of Vermont was divided nearly in half in a jagged line running from Fort William Henry in Lake George diagonally north-eastward to Lake Memphremagog. With the end of the war, new settlers arrived in Vermont. Ultimately, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York all claimed this frontier area.
On July 20, 1764, King George III established the boundary between New Hampshire and New York along the west bank of the Connecticut River, north of Massachusetts, and south of 45 degrees north latitude. New York refused to recognize the land titles known as the New Hampshire Grants (towns created by land grants sold by New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth) and dissatisfied New Hampshire settlers organized in opposition. In 1770 Ethan Allen, his brothers Ira and Levi, and the Allens’ cousins Seth Warner and Remember Baker, recruited an informal militia known as the Green Mountain Boys to protect the interests of the original New Hampshire settlers against newcomers from New York.
In 1775, after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, the Green Mountain Boys assisted a force from Connecticut, led by Benedict Arnold, in capturing the British fort at Ticonderoga. Thereafter, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia directed the New York colony’s revolutionary congress to fund and equip Allen’s militia as a ranger regiment of the Continental Army, which it did. Seth Warner was chosen by the men of the regiment to lead, while Ethan Allen went on to serve as a colonel in Schuyler’s Army of Northern New York.
On January 15, 1777, a convention of representatives from towns in the territory declared the region independent, choosing the name the Republic of New Connecticut (although it was sometimes known colloquially as the Republic of the Green Mountains). On June 2 of that year, the name of the fledgling nation was officially changed to “Vermont” upon the suggestion of Dr. Thomas Young, a Boston Tea Party leader and mentor to Ethan Allen.
John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1779 poem The Song of the Vermonters, describes the period in ballad form. First published anonymously, the poem had characteristics in the last stanza that were similar to Ethan Allen’s prose and caused it to be attributed to Allen for nearly 60 years. The last stanza reads:
Come York or come Hampshire, come traitors or knaves,
If ye rule o’er our land ye shall rule o’er our graves;
Our vow is recorded—our banner unfurled,
In the name of Vermont we defy all the world!
The Constitution of Vermont was drafted and ratified at Elijah West’s Windsor Tavern in 1777, and was the first written constitution for an independent state in North America. The settlers in Vermont, who sought independence from New York, justified their constitution on the same basis as the first state constitutions of the former colonies: authority is derived from the people. As historian Christian Fritz notes in American Sovereigns: The People and America’s Constitutional Tradition before the Civil War:
“They saw themselves as a distinct region outside the legitimate jurisdiction of New York. Possessing an identifiable population or “a people” entitled them to the same constitutional rights of self-government as other “Peoples” in the American confederacy.”
In addition to creating a new government for the original thirteen colonies, the claims for Vermont’s independence raised the question of creating state governments. At the same time as they struggled for independence from Great Britain, Americans had to confront just how that formation should take place and who constituted “the people”.
The Vermont constitution was modeled after the radically democratic constitution of Pennsylvania on the suggestion of Dr. Young, who worked with Thomas Paine and others on that 1776 document in Philadelphia. The drafting of the Constitution of Vermont was completed on July 4, 1777, at the Windsor Tavern and adopted on July 8. This was the first written constitution in North America to ban adult slavery, saying male slaves become free at the age of 21 and females at 18. It provided for universal adult male suffrage, and required support of public schools. It was in effect from 1777 to 1786. The revised constitution of 1786, which established a greater separation of powers, continued in effect until 1793, two years after Vermont’s admission to the Union.
During the time of the Vermont Republic, the government issued its own coinage and currency, and operated a postal service. The governor of Vermont, Thomas Chittenden, with consent of his council and the General Assembly, appointed commissioners to the American government seated in Philadelphia.
The Battle of Bennington, fought on August 16, 1777, was a seminal event in the history of the state of Vermont and the United States. A combined American force, under General John Stark’s command, attacked the Hessian column at Hoosick, New York, just across the border from Bennington. It killed or captured virtually the entire Hessian detachment. General Burgoyne never recovered from this loss and eventually surrendered the remainder of his 6,000-man force at Saratoga, New York, on October 17 that year.
The battles of Bennington and Saratoga together are recognized as the turning point in the Revolutionary War because they were the first major defeat of a British army. The anniversary of the battle is still celebrated in Vermont as a legal holiday.
The Battle of Hubbardton (July 7, 1777) was the only Revolutionary battle within the present boundaries of Vermont. Although the Continental forces were technically defeated, the British forces were damaged to the point that they did not pursue the Americans (retreating from Fort Ticonderoga) any further.
After a British regiment and allied Mohawks attacked and terrorized Vermont settlers, in the Royalton Raid, Ethan Allen led a group of Vermont politicians in secret discussions with Frederick Haldimand, the Governor General of the Province of Quebec, about rejoining the British Empire.
Much of the symbolism associated with Vermont in this period expressed a desire for political union with the United States. Vermont’s coins minted in 1785 and 1786 bore the Latin inscription STELLA QUARTA DECIMA (meaning “the fourteenth star”). The Great Seal of Vermont, designed by Ira Allen, centrally features a 14-branched pine tree.
Vermont continued to govern itself as a sovereign entity based in the eastern town of Windsor for 14 years. Because the state of New York continued to assert a disputed claim that Vermont was a part of New York, Vermont could not be admitted to the Union under Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution until the legislature of New York consented.
On March 6, 1790, the legislature made its consent contingent upon a negotiated agreement on the precise boundary between the two states. When commissioners from New York and Vermont met to decide on the boundary, Vermont’s negotiators insisted on also settling the property ownership disputes with New Yorkers, rather than leaving that to be decided later in a federal court. On October 7, the commissioners proclaimed the negotiations successfully concluded with an agreement that Vermont would pay $30,000 to New York to be distributed among New Yorkers who claimed land in Vermont under New York land patents. The Vermont General Assembly then authorized a convention to consider an application for admittance to the “Union of the United States of America”. The convention met at Bennington, on January 6, 1791.
On January 10, 1791 the convention approved a resolution to make an application to join the United States by a vote of 105 to 2. Congress acted on February 18, 1791, to admit Vermont to the Union as the 14th state. Vermont was admitted to the Union by 1 Stat. 191 on March 4, 1791. Vermont’s admission act is the shortest of all state admissions, and Vermont is “the only state admitted without conditions of any kind, either those prescribed by the congress or the state from which it was carved.” March 4 is celebrated in Vermont as Vermont Day.
Vermont’s admission to the Union in 1791 was in part as a free state counterweight to Kentucky, which joined as a slave state shortly after Vermont. The North, the smaller states, and states concerned about the impact of the sea-to-sea grants held by other states, all supported Vermont’s admission. Thomas Chittenden served as governor for Vermont for most of this period, and became its first governor as a member-state in the United States.
The 1793 Vermont state constitution made relatively few changes to the 1777 Vermont state constitution. It retained many of its original ideas, as noted above, and kept the separation of powers. It remains in force with several amendments.
On March 4, 1941, Scott #903 — a light violet 3-cent stamp, perforated 11×10½ — was issued to mark the 150th anniversary of Vermont statehood. The central design shows the State Capitol at Montpelier.