Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vermont

Two and a half years ago we moved from Illinois to Vermont. I'm still learning about the state, but will relate some of my current thoughts to you. Vermont has a combination of characteristics that make it a desirable place to live.

As the only landlocked state in New England, it was the last one settled. By 1749, Massachusetts and Connecticut were becoming crowded, and farmers were looking for new places to live. The colonial governor of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth, accommodated them by illegally selling land grants in what is now Vermont. The sales were illegal because, at the time, the land belonged to New York. Settlers in the New Hampshire Grants, led by Ethan Allen, formed a militia, known as the Green Mountain Boys, to protect their property from New York authorities who attempted to seize it. Allen developed an intense dislike for New York landowners. They typically were well-connected Englishmen who had been granted enormous estates of thousands of acres, on which tenant farmers lived much as in England. In contrast, the New Hampshire Grants went mainly to small farmers who owned their land outright.

The settlement of the region was slow from 1754 until the end of the the American Revolution in 1783. The French and Indian War placed Vermont in a vulnerable position between the English colonies to the south and the French colony to the north, with Lake Champlain providing free access to marauding French soldiers and their Native American allies. In 1777, Vermont became an independent republic and was initially called New Connecticut. Because of property disputes, it did not become the 14th state until 1791, at which time Vermont paid $30,000 to New York State to resolve the issue of  land ownership. By then, settlers were moving in in larger numbers.

Many of the early settlers didn't stay here for long. Better farmland became available in the Midwest and drew them away. Although some small pockets of industry developed, the state never became industrialized, and the population has always been small. Because of this, much of Vermont that existed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries is still intact. Beyond the Burlington area, there has been minimal development.

Where I live, I get a deep sense of continuity with the past. We live on the corner of one of the original hundred-acre lots of a New Hampshire Grant chartered in 1761. The stone marker is still there. Our immediate neighborhood was first settled by the Severance family, which moved here in about 1793 from Northfield, MA.  Except for a few additional houses, it probably looks about the same now as it did then. Three of the four Severance houses, including ours, are still standing. Our house was built in about 1797 and has the original foundation and frame, and the upstairs floor is mostly the original pine planks, some of which are 22" wide. In the Town Clerk's office, you can find copies of the original hand-written deeds.

The Severances were all farmers. They cleared the flat lands along the creek. Our house was built by Enos Severance, who was a beekeeper and kept an orchard. One of his apple trees is still alive. Enos's father, Ebenezer, lived about 300 yards down the road, and his house is also intact, though it was remodeled in the 1800's. Enos's younger brother, Moses, lived there and took care of Ebenezer when he grew old. The eldest son, Samuel, who first came to the area in 1786 and had another farm, moved and built a house at the end of the road. That one is gone, but the Severances built a new one next door which is intact.

I like the fact that so little has changed here. The worn mountains across the fields have been there for 450 million years, longer than the Atlantic Ocean or even land animals. The lack of overpopulation and the natural setting are more agreeable to the instincts than the urban and suburban environments that most people inhabit. Moreover, the outdoors and locally grown food are popular here: the natural life is part of the culture.

There are some negatives here too, just as anywhere. Having a tourism-based economy and being in New England, with wealthy states nearby, makes it a little expensive. The people tend to be relaxed, which is characteristic of many rural areas. However, the mix of people includes descendants of New England's early religious fanatics, which perhaps makes them a little taciturn and closed compared to rural people elsewhere. And rural life means that some goods and services can be hard to find.

2 comments:

  1. It sounds like a very nice place to live if you are a certain type. I am originally from New Brunswick which put me in mind of there reading this.

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  2. I haven't been to New Brunswick, but I like Nova Scotia. Would like to visit there and Quebec City again.

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