Tucked away in the center of New England between New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and Quebec, tiny Vermont, nicknamed the Green Mountain State, is the second least populated, and the sixth smallest by area of the fifty states that make up the United States, with a rich and varied history stretching back to the late Pleistocene period.
Vermont’s Native history started 12,900 years ago, when people called the Paleo-Indians first moved onto the land. Since these earliest occupations, Native communities have continually lived in Vermont. Native knowledge, experience, and traditions have deeply influenced many aspects of the state’s rich history.
Researchers estimate that the native population of New England numbered more than 90,000 before European settlers reached the land in the sixteenth century, among which were around 10,000 Abenaki living in what is today known as Vermont and New Hampshire.
Those Abenaki included an estimated 4,200 living in the Champlain Valley, a region around Lake Champlain in Vermont and New York, extending north slightly into Quebec,
and another 3,800 in the upper Connecticut River Valley, which stretches the entire length of New England.
Between 1534 and 1609, the Iroquois Mohawks drove many of the smaller native tribes out of the Champlain Valley region, later using the area as a hunting ground and warring with the remaining Abenaki.
Arrival of the French and British
The Lake Champlain area was named in the mid-17th century, when French explorer Samuel de Champlain found the region. De Champlain also gave the state its name, which originates from the French for Green Mountain (Verd Mont). It wasn’t until over a century later that the area became more formally known as Vermont.
By that time, in the mid-18th century, the state had become a British settlement, after victory in the French and Indian war, which pitted the colonies of British America against those of New France, with each side supported by Native American allies and military units from the parent country.
In 1764, King George III established the boundary between New Hampshire and New York along the west bank of the Connecticut River. This meant that Albany County, New York, as it was then known, gained the land presently known as Vermont. This line became the modern boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont.
Thirteen years later, representatives of the New Hampshire Grants declared their land an independent republic, the Vermont Republic. For the first six months of the republic’s existence, the state was called New Connecticut. Later that year, the Constitution of Vermont was drawn up, the first in North America to provide for the abolition of slavery.
During this period, the American rebels were fighting the American Revolutionary War against the British, with the state of Vermont playing a pivotal role in the fighting. Two of the key battles recognized as the turning point in the war, at Bennington and Saratoga, were fought in Vermont.
These battles represented the first major defeat of a British army, convincing the French that the American rebels were worthy of military aid. They were so important in fact, that August 16th, the anniversary of the battle, has since become known as Bennington Battle Day, and is a legal holiday in Vermont.
In 1791, Vermont joined the federal union as the fourteenth state, becoming the first to enter after the original thirteen colonies. In the early decades of the 19th century, there was an influx of French-Canadian immigration, boosting an already large population in Burlington.
When the American Civil War began in 1861, Vermont continued the military tradition it had established during the Revolutionary War by contributing a significant portion of its eligible men to the war effort. More than 28,100 Vermonters served in Vermont volunteer units, with a total of 1,832 killed or mortally wounded in battle.
During the two decades following the end of the Civil War in 1865, like much of the United States Vermont endured a period of instability, experiencing both economic expansion and contraction, and dramatic social change. Over the next century, the state would develop a reputation for embracing broadly left-wing politics.
Vermont has led the way in many areas of modern life. In 1940, the first monthly Social Security benefit check for the amount of $22.54 was issued to a Vermont resident. In 1978, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first Ben & Jerry’s Homemade ice cream shop in a refurbished gas station in Burlington.
After narrowly supporting Republican George H. W. Bush in 1988, four years later Vermont voted Democratic for the first time since 1964, helping Bill Clinton to the Presidency. Vermont has voted Democratic in every subsequent presidential election, and since 2004 has been one of the party’s most loyal states.
In 2000, Vermont became the first state to introduce civil unions, and in 2009 was the first to legalize same-sex marriage. In 2018, Vermont became the first of the United States to legalize cannabis for recreational use by legislative action, and the ninth state in the United States to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
Today, Vermont is still known for being politically-engaged, but is also recognized for its breathtakingly picturesque landscapes and endless scenic places to explore, exceptional food, safe cities, great schools, and down-to-earth residents.