Early Vermont Settlement

The region now known as Vermont was claimed by its neighbors, New Hampshire and New York, for much of the 18th century.  The governors of those states squabbled over who had the right to grant charters, and many overlapping grant claims existed.  By 1761 New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth began making grants for town charters in this geographic area.  Two years later in 1763, the British and French signed a peace treaty to end the French and Indian War.  This stopped the widespread unrest in the area, making it ripe for new settlement.  By the early 1760s, there were 138 towns chartered by New Hampshire west of the Connecticut River, and the territory became known as the “New Hampshire Grants.”  Governor Wentworth named the western-most town after himself –“Bennington.”  New York also granted towns in the same region, and called them the “New York Grants.”

Proprietors of the new towns were required to lay out villages and clear the land within certain time frames.  After the area was no longer a war zone, the new settlers—many of whom, though under English rule, were born in America and residents of Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire—began moving in.  To get to the western side of what would become Vermont, the settlers traveled overland on the Crown Point Road and followed the rivers, or they traveled north on Lake Champlain and then inland on the rivers, such as the Otter Creek or further to the north on the Winooski River.  Settlers of towns east of the Green Mountains traveled primarily up the Connecticut River and then along its tributaries such as the West, Black, Ottauquechee, and White Rivers.  Sometimes, as they settled in, other people came to claim the same property due to the conflicting land grants.    

A number of settlers were familiar with Vermont already as during the French and Indian War they had passed through the area during their military service under the British.  Some who settled in the lower Champlain valley, finding the land favorable for farming, had been stationed at the British fort at Crown Point, New York.  The most knowledgeable of these settlers knew the lakeshore near Chimney Point, Vermont, “having been cleared and cultivated and made ready to receive the plough, rendered this a desirable location for those, who were removing into this new country.”  In 1765 French and Indian War veteran John Strong, the first settler of the town of Addison on Lake Champlain, and his fellow settlers, found some of the French apple and plum trees as well as old French cellar holes.  Strong built his house on top of a French house site that dated from the 1740s-50s. 

Conditions were extremely rugged and settlement efforts were very slow to progress.  Early houses had to be built of logs with bark floors and occasionally bark roofs.  Soon some saw mills were constructed on rivers near falls that provided the power to saw logs into boards; however they did not last very long.  In 1766, 16 men from Connecticut attempted clearing land in Addison and Middlebury, but most returned home, not to try again until 1773.  As they cleared more fields and planted crops, many settlers were fascinated by the traces of a much earlier history.  They discovered stone tools of all kinds, cooking pots and pottery fragments, flints and chips, stone fire hearths, tilled land along some streams, burial sites, metals and stones not native to the area, and foundations of longhouses, all evidence of a much more ancient past. 

As the American Revolution got underway in 1775-76 in what would become Vermont, many communities being developed were in the path of war and British and American activity.  It became quite dangerous for those trying to live here.  

By July 1776 the American Northern Army began building an extensive fortification on Lake Champlain at Mount Independence in Orwell, Vermont, across from Fort Ticonderoga in New York, to defend New England and points south against a British attack from Canada.  When British General John Burgoyne pushed south on the lake in the summer of 1777, the American forces withdrew from Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga, some of them fighting a successful American rear guard action at Hubbardton on July 7, 1777.  The next day in the town of Windsor on the Connecticut River, delegates ratified the Vermont Constitution at Elijah West’s tavern  (now the Old Constitution House) and the territory New Hampshire and New York had been struggling over became the Republic of Vermont. 

For those few settlers left, the nearest American fort in western Vermont was to the south in Pittsford.  In April 1778 the Vermont Council of Safety informed those living north of Pittsford that they could not provide a guard further north and ordered troops to escort them south to safety.  Many moved, back to the states from which they originally came.  Those who stayed suffered great hardships, with men taken prisoner and sent to Canada, and properties plundered and burned, with nearly everything destroyed in a British raid in November 1778. 

After the war ended in 1783, the original settlers came back to rebuild and new ones flowed into the area to join them.  On the eastern side of the mountains, Elijah West’s tavern, scene of the adoption of Vermont’s constitution in 1777, continued as a tavern until 1848.  On Lake Champlain in or about 1785, Benjamin Paine built a tavern at Chimney Point in Addison on the bluff where the 1731 French fort had stood. The tavern welcomed visitors as well as eager settlers.   You can visit both these historic taverns—the Old Constitution House and Chimney Point State Historic Sites. 

On March 4, 1791, Vermont became the 14th state in the United States of America.  That May two future presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, took a trip to see the new state, stopping at Bennington and going as far north on Lake Champlain as the Chimney Point area. 

Timeline:

1761 Gov. Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire begins granting towns in what would become Vermont.
1763 French and Indian War ends and new settlement begins.
1776 - 1777 Northern Campaign of American Revolution in Vermont and Champlain Valley.
1777 Vermont Constitutional Convention in Windsor.
1783 American Revolution ends.
1784 American settlement of Vermont resumes.
1791 Vermont becomes 14th state in the United States of America.