History of Vermont and Lake Champlain


Vermont is often overlooked as far as states go, being the nation’s second smallest state per capita and tucked away in its northeastern corner.

But its rich and complex past more than makes up for its diminutive land mass. The state was originally populated by the Algonquin, Iroquois, and Abenaki nations, but as early as 1636 the Puritans had began settling the southern and eastern sections of the state (The History of Vermont by Hiland Hal), despite the land being at first described as uninhabitable with dense tangles of wilderness.

Uninhabitable, perhaps, but not unwanted, as the territories of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York would all fight over the Green Mountain State like bears over a bee hive, ever seeking to expand their boarders. These already well-established and greedy states often petitioned the Crown for the land in a drawn out game of border disputes that would last for years.

Around the same period, the ever-lurking French sent famed explorer Samuel de Champlain down the St. Lawrence river and into the giant lake that would eventually bear his name – Lake Champlain. At first sight, the Francophile dubbed the surrounding lushness “Verde Mont” (Green Mountains) and claimed it in the name of France.

The Green Mountain Boys

Thus, the shape of Vermont’s future would remain in flux until Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, in the wake of the Revolutionary war, helped secure its independence in 1777. Unsure of her future as a member of any nation and thanks in part to the continued gorilla efforts of the G.M.B., Vermont declared herself the official republic of Windsor from 1777 to 1791 and even printed her own official money for a time.

Along the way, the busy little state constitutionalized universal male suffrage, public schools, and abolition while chartering its first college in Castleton and opening its first marble quarry in Dorset.

UVM and the 14th State in the Federation

Finally, in 1791 Vermont became the 14th state in the Federation, and in the same year the University of Vermont (UVM) was chartered.

Clearly, Vermont marked herself as progressive early on, and at the early date of 1779 she established property rights for women, and went on to produce the nation’s first African American college graduate and, later, legislator, Alexander Twilight.

Alas, the Green Mountain state never really experienced the population boom of her neighbors, and around the turn of the century, it was reported that cattle actually outnumber people in the state.

Vermont Facts and Statistics

Indeed, when Vermont joined the nation there were only estimated 85,341 people living there, and almost 20 years later that number finally crept over the two-hundred thousand mark (History of Vermont by Hiland Hal). Even now, as of 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the number of people in Vermont (9615 square miles) still only tops out at around 620,000. By comparison, the puny 2000 square mile state of Rhode Island packed in over a million people in 2008.

Vermont’s firsts are still coming, though, despite her often obscure presence on the nation’s population meter. For example, she was the first to legalize Civil Unions (July 1, 2000) and the first to join the Climate Registry, a national effort to track and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Other notable dates include 1837, when John Deere patented his steel plow, and 1855, when the first Republican governor was elected (a position that the GOP would hold continuously until 1962). John Dewey was also born in Vermont, as was former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge (1872 on the Fourth of July). Almost a decade later Vermont sent her second President to the White House in the form of Chester Arthur.

At one point, Vermont was even one of the nation’s leaders in hops production. Clearly, this is a state worth getting to know.