The Earliest Vermonters
Native Americans, primarily from the Abenaki nation, lived in Vermont for thousands of years. Recent archaeological research shows that there were permanent Paleoindian settlements in many places in Vermont. Ancient Native Americans first came into Vermont hunting big game animals, such as caribou and mastodon, after the last glacier receded. In time, forests grew and the Abenaki learned to hunt smaller animals, gather herbs and berries, and make maple syrup. Today the Abenaki continue many of these traditional customs. Many place names in Vermont use Abenaki words. For example, Winooski means wild onion place and Ascutney means at the end of the river.
The Republic of Vermont
Vermont was an independent republic before joining the Union. Between 1777, when Vermont established its independence, and 1791, when Vermont joined the Union as the 14th state, Vermont was truly independent - with its own coins and its own postal service. French explorer Samuel de Champlain came to Vermont in 1609 guided by Algonquin Indians from Canada. He claimed northern Vermont for France. The French built the first fort in Vermont at Isle LaMotte and established other smaller settlements. When the British won the French and Indian War in 1763, the territory became part of what is now New England.
The first British settlement was at Fort Dummer (near Brattleboro), built as a defense against the French and their Indian allies. After the French and Indian War, the English began to settle the territory, which became known as the New Hampshire Grants, but was also claimed by New York.
Since both New York and New Hampshire claimed Vermont, many settlers who received land from the New Hampshire government found that other settlers were given the same land from the New York government. In 1775, the Green Mountain Boys formed to defend the New Hampshire land grants against the New Yorkers. Ethan Allen, one of Vermont's founders, led this army until the British captured him.
The Green Mountain Boys became famous for their role in the American Revolution at the battles of Hubbardton and Bennington in 1777. After these battles, the Green Mountain Boys returned home and declared Vermont an independent republic. In 1790, New York consented to the admission of Vermont into the Union (for a payment of $30,000) and stated the New York-Vermont boundary should be the mid-channel of Lake Champlain.
In 1791, fourteen years after declaring independence, Vermont became the 14th state, and the first state to join the Union after the original 13 colonies.
In January 1777, delegates from towns around Vermont held a convention in Westminster and declared their independence. They called the new state "New Connecticut." Beginning on June 4th, they met again, in Windsor, to write the constitution. It was at this time that they decided to change the name to Vermont.
The delegates began with a constitution that was written by Benjamin Franklin for Pennsylvania. Like Pennsylvania's constitution, Vermont's constitution described how the government was to work and established the rights of citizens. The Vermonters, however, made some significant changes to the Pennsylvania constitution. The Vermont constitution was the first in America to prohibit adult slavery and the first to let all men vote, even if they didn't own property or have a specific income. The Vermont constitution was also the first to require the creation of public schools.
On July 2nd, another group of delegates elected by the towns met in Windsor for Vermont's Constitutional Convention to debate and adopt Vermont's constitution. Meanwhile, on the other side of the state, British forces captured Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence. British soldiers chased retreating American forces into Vermont and many people who lived on the western border of Vermont were forced to flee.
Of course, news traveled slowly by horseback, so the delegates didn't learn about these alarming events until days later, on July 8th. Delegates who lived in the area under attack convinced the others to disband so that they could return to try to save their homesteads. It is recounted that a violent thunderstorm prevented the delegates from leaving. While they were trapped by the storm, the delegates had enough time to vote on the constitution and accept it! It is reported that Vermont's constitution was approved amidst a "baptism of thunder, lightning and rain."