History of Vermont

The history of Vermont stretches back thousands of years and the natural and human forces that shaped this rugged landscape are evident today. Many events and markers throughout the state celebrate important dates in the history timeline for Vermont.

Vermont was first settled about 8,000 years ago by small groups of Paleo-Indians, who came to the region as glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. Vermont history began a dramatic change in 1609 when French explorer Samuel de Champlain named the beautiful lake that still bears his name to this day and claimed the area as part of New France. Champlain’s sympathetic descriptions of the forests around his eponymous lake brought other French to the area. The first European settlement in Vermont history was Fort Sainte Anne near Lake Champlain’s northern reaches, not far from present-day Burlington. The settlement did not last, but by the beginning of the 18th century there were several large French estates around the lake.

The French presence in Vermont history is evident to this day in many place names, most notably the city of Montpelier and the name of the state itself, which comes from the French for Green Mountains, les Monts Verts. A small but significant segment of the state still speak French and dual language signs are evident as you travel toward the Quebec border.

The French-Indian War (or Seven Years War) of 1756–1763 was a defining moment in the history timeline for Vermont. The Treaty of Paris that concluded the conflict in Britain’s favor ceded Vermont and other parts of New France to British control and opened a flood of immigration up the Connecticut River and between the Taconic and Green Mountain ranges.

Jurisdiction over the new settlers remained unclear as the area was claimed by both New Hampshire and New York colonies. In 1770, the greatest hero in the history of Vermont rose to prominence for his efforts to limit New York’s control over the region. Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain boys began to expel New York sheriffs and surveyors from Vermont.

In 1775 Allen pressed his men into service against British forces, seizing Fort Ticonderoga in an audacious dawn raid. The history of Vermont took an interesting turn in 1777. A special convention in a tavern in Windsor declared Vermont an independent republic. Despite this strange occurrence in the history timeline for Vermont, the areas Green Mountain Boys continued to fight proudly for the revolutionary army, helping to secure a crucial victory over the British at nearby Saratoga, New York.

Vermont state history did not begin until 1791, when the independent republic became the Union’s 14th state. It was in the early years of Vermont state history that much of the old forests of the region were cut to make room for farmland. For most of the 1800s Vermont history was the history of sheep farming. At its peak, Vermont boasted over 2 million sheep (today the entire United States has just 10 million). Dairy farming also became an integral part of the Vermont economy; this trend has continued to the present.

For much of the history of Vermont, the state has been heavily rural and agricultural, but the coming of the railroads in the late 1800s saw an increase in manufacturing and industry. Marble, slate, and granite were extracted from Vermont earth in large quantities and the landscape still shows signs of this extraction, most notably at the granite quarries outside Barre, Vermont.

The better transportation of the railroads and the highways that superceded them also fostered increased travel to Vermont. The Vermont ski industry began in earnest in the 1950s and 1960s and Vermont secured its reputation as a four-season destination. Visitors from New York and Massachusetts who came to Vermont to ski or to enjoy summer vacations fall foliage began to stay in large numbers.

These newcomers have made recent Vermont state history. The state continues to embody the rugged individualism of Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, but tourism and "new economy" industries like semiconductors now make up a much larger slice of the workforce than dairy farming. Throughout Vermont history the state’s pleasant scenery and friendly people have continued to attract settlers and visitors.

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