Vermont State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Vermont State History

The Native American inhabitants of the area now known as Vermont were the Abenaki, a tribe of the Algonquin nation. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of Abenaki villages along the shores of Lake Champlain near the mouth of the Winooski River. "Winooski" is an Abenaki term for "wild onion". Abenaki villages were also located along the Connecticut River.

Samuel de Champlain, an early French explorer of North America, was the first European to discover the Green Mountains. In the summer of 1609, Champlain left his encampment on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec and joined the Algonquians in an expedition against their enemies, the Iroquois. The journey up the river brought Champlain onto the lake that now carries his name on July 4, 1609.

The name "Vermont" is itself derived from the French, les monts verts, "the green mountains". The first permanent English settlement was established along the Connecticut River in 1724 at Fort Dummer, near what is now Brattleboro. The fort was maintained by the colonial governments of Vermont and New Hampshire as a defensive outpost throughout the French and Indian Wars.

When peace was made with the French in 1760, the Green Mountains were quickly opened to settlement, and to considerable squabbling between the colonies of New Hampshire and new York as to which had the proper claim to the territory, then called the New Hampshire Grants. Most of the new settlers were from Connecticut or Vermont and persistently resisted the claims of authority by New York. Resistance to the "Yorkers" brought the organization of the Green Mountain boys under the leadership of Col. Ethan Allen in 1775; this small by experienced army came to play a significant role during the American Revolution at the battles of Hubbardton and Bennington in 1777.

On January 17, 1777, Vermont was declared an independent republic in a meeting held at Westminster. This independent course, with the little republic minting its own coin and providing postal service, was followed until 1791 when Vermont was admitted to the union, the first state to join the original thirteen. The first governor was Thomas Chittenden.
Vermont Historic Figures

Admiral George Dewey
1837-1917: Naval officer; born in Montpelier, Vt. He served under David Farragut during the Civil War, then followed the standard career of a peacetime naval officer. In 1897 he was assigned command of the Asiatic Squadron, and in May 1898 he directed the action in Manila Bay that totally defeated the Spanish fleet (during which he is said to have commanded his flagship's captain, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.") Dewey stayed on for over a year to oversee the American takeover of the Philippines, then returned to a tremendous hero's welcome. He was honored with a special rank, admiral of the navy, and urged to run for U.S. president; but he settled for presidency of the General Board of the Navy Department, serving as an adviser on naval affairs to his death.


Calvin Coolidge
1872-1933: Thirtieth U.S. president (was sworn in by lamplight in his Vermont home at 2:47 a.m. August 3, 1923, following the death of President Warren G. Harding.); born in Plymouth, Vt. After graduating from Amherst College (1895), he became a lawyer in Northampton, Mass. As a Republican, he held a series of local and state offices until becoming governor of Vermont (1919--20); he gained national attention for using the state militia to suppress a police strike. Elected vice-president in 1920, he succeeded to the presidency on Warren Harding's death in 1923. He was reelected the next year. A popular and deliberately hands-off president in prosperous times, he was noted more for what he did not do and say than for what he did (although among his oft-quoted phrases is his 1925 remark, "the business of America is business."). In his private life he was equally noted for his taciturn, thrifty ways. After leaving the White House, he retired to Northampton and wrote various articles promoting his conservative views as well as his autobiography (1929).


Chester A. Arthur
1830-86: Twenty-first U.S. president; born in Fairfield, Vt. A lawyer, he joined New York's Republican political machine, which led to a patronage appointment as New York customs collector and an uproar when antipatronage President Hayes removed Arthur. Nominated as vice-president to Garfield in 1880 to pacify party regulars, Arthur became president on Garfield's assassination in July 1881. He surprised all by making solid appointments and signing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883. He lost the 1884 nomination due to his declining health as well as to his having antagonized many Republican politicians.


Stephen A. Douglas
1813-61: U.S. representative/senator; born in Brandon, Vt. Admitted to the Illinois bar in 1834, after a distinguished career in state politics Douglas was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem., Ill.; 1843--47) and to the U.S. Senate (1847--61). Known as the "Little Giant" to his followers (because he was short and dynamic) he supported sectional compromise to avoid the threat of disunion in the 1850s. In the 1858 senatorial campaign, he debated Republican politician Abraham Lincoln seven times in what became known as the "Lincoln-Douglas debates." Although he won reelection to the Senate, his increasingly inconsistent positions on the slavery issue would cost him the support of many Democrats. In 1860, as the Northern Democrats' candidate for president, he was defeated by Lincoln. He at once called for support of Lincoln in his efforts to preserve the union, but, exhausted by his speaking tour, he died of typhoid fever less than two months after the Civil War began.