Vermont became the first state outside of the original 13 colonies admitted to the United States when it joined the Union on March 4, 1791. On the anniversary of Vermont’s statehood, learn 10 surprising facts about the Green Mountain State.
1. In Colonial America, New York and New Hampshire both staked claims on Vermont.
During the 1700s, both New Hampshire and New York claimed the no man’s land that lay between them. The dispute over which American colony controlled Vermont rose to the highest levels of the British Empire, and in 1764 King George III decided in New York’s favor. Vermont’s eventual admission to the Union ultimately came at a price—$30,000 to be paid to New York in compensation for the loss of its property.
2. For 14 years Vermont was an independent republic.
Not wanting to pay additional money to New York for land already granted to them by New Hampshire, Ethan Allen and other settlers formed the Green Mountain Boys militia to challenge King George III’s decision. Its members burned opponents’ houses, rioted against New York sheriffs and attacked rent collectors. After the American Revolution began, the Green Mountain Boys decided independence from Great Britain was not enough. In January 1777, delegates from 28 towns met in a tavern and declared their independence from New York as well. However, at the behest of New York, the Continental Congress refused to recognize the new state. Frustrated by the decision, Vermont started in the fall of 1780 to make overtures to the governor general of Canada to rejoin the British Empire as part of the province of Quebec. The discussions fizzled, however, after the American Revolution came to a close. Operating as a sovereign state, Vermont printed its own money and ran its own postal service.
3. Its original name was “New Connecticut.”
It may seem a strange choice for a people seeking a distinct identity from their neighbors, but leaders of the newly independent republic initially called it “New Connecticut” in honor of the state where Allen and other leaders of the Green Mountain Boys were born. Not until six months later in June 1777—at the suggestion of a Philadelphia doctor who was Allen’s friend—did the republic change its name to “Vermont,” based on the French words for “green mountains.”
4. Vermont adopted the first constitution in North America to ban adult slavery.
The first chapter of the Vermont constitution that was adopted in January 1777 affirms that “all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights.” The constitution abolished the enslavement of men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 18. The law, however, was not universally enforced.
5. The state has its own version of the Loch Ness Monster.
The Abenaki who originally settled Vermont told stories of a legendary sea serpent named “Tatoskok” that inhabited the depths of what is known today as Lake Champlain. Reported sightings of the enormous lake monster were so prevalent during the 19th century that showman P.T. Barnum in 1873 offered a reward of $50,000 for the “hide of the great Champlain serpent.” The lake monster affectionately known as “Champ” might be imaginary, but a very real Vermont state law has made it a protected species.
6. Vermont had a three-month head start on the rest of the country in fighting World War II.
While the United States did not declare war on Nazi Germany until December 11, 1941, Vermont declared three months earlier that the two countries were already in “armed conflict.” After the country re-instituted a draft in 1940, the Vermont legislature sought to issue a $10-a-month bonus to those state residents serving in the military, a decision that required a new tax in peacetime. In order to distribute the bonuses without new taxes, the state legislature in September 1941 pointed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s recent order to the U.S. Navy to shoot first if it encountered German warships entering American waters to declare that a state of “armed conflict” between the United States and Germany already existed.
7. Vermont was home to a Great Lake—for a few weeks.
In 1998 President Bill Clinton signed a bill that designated Lake Champlain as one of the Great Lakes for the purpose of competing for federal research money under the National Sea Grant Program. That designation was inserted into the legislation by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, although hydrologically Lake Champlain lies outside of the Great Lakes Basin and is one-fifteenth the size of Lake Ontario—the smallest of the Great Lakes. The federal designation was changed a few weeks later after protests by legislators in states adjacent to the Great Lakes.
8. More people live in El Paso, Texas, than in Vermont.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, slightly more than 625,000 people resided in Vermont in 2010, fewer than in every state but Wyoming. Five other Texas cities in addition to El Paso have larger populations than Vermont.
9. It was attacked by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
Although Vermont was hundreds of miles removed from the battlefields of the Civil War, it was the scene of one of the war’s most unexpected attacks. On October 19, 1864, approximately two dozen Confederate soldiers who had descended from Canada robbed three banks in the town of St. Albans before retreating back across the border with $200,000. Gunfire that erupted during the raid killed Elinus Morrison, a contractor supervising a hotel construction project, in what was the northernmost land action of the Civil War.
10. Two-thirds of Vermont’s covered bridges were destroyed in a flood.
At one time, Vermont had approximately 600 of its distinctive covered bridges. However, hundreds of them washed away during the devastating Flood of 1927. Today, barely more than 100 covered bridges survive in Vermont.