Was Vermont Ever A Colony?

By Tyler Resch
RR 1 Box 533 • North Bennington, Vt. 05257 • 802-447-7839

While many visitors admire what they think is Vermont’s “colonial” architecture, that term is subject to great dispute. One’s perspective depends on whether one believes Vermont was ever a colony.

Was Vermont a colony?

Surely it has never been a colony since it was given the name “Vermont,” which is short for the French words for “green” and “mountain.” If you think it was, then who was its colonial governor? And what country was its “mother”?

Only in the sense that this territory was once officially a part of New York can one argue that there was ever colonial status. We’re talking about the era between 1664 when King Charles II granted a large territory to his brother, the Duke of York – whose name the new province assumed – and 1777, when “Vermont” declared its independence.

It was out of the turmoil of this dispute with New York that the independent Vermont Republic emerged. Nobody’s colony, this little nation was self-sustained, complete with its own coinage, postal system, customs, regulation of weights and measures, naturalization of citizens, and correspondence with other governments. Its population was about 85,000. Vermont wanted to be a state, no question about it. Dummerston author Frederic Van de Water’s 1940s book accurately called it “the reluctant republic.”

Vermont became the fourteenth state in 1791 only after adjudication by a special commission, and payment of $30,000 by Vermont to New York to settle all pending land claims. As such, Vermont was the first to join the Union of the original thirteen. A convention of all towns in Vermont was held at Bennington early in 1791 and voted, not quite unanimously, to ratify the U.S. Constitution and thus qualify for statehood.

Statehood settled the conflict, as a matter of fact, with New York. But formal legal resolution did not occur until 1933 when the United States Supreme Court decided a boundary dispute between New Hampshire and Vermont. The court accepted as fact that Vermont had been created by citizens’ forcible resistance “which assumed the proportions of a revolutionary movement.”

Therefore, when you admire Vermont’s “colonial” architecture, think twice about the implications of that adjective. Most of what passes for “colonial” style is actually “colonial revival” anyway. That is what 19th-century esthetes wanted us 20th centuryites to think of as “colonial,” and many of us seem willing to fall into their trap.


An example of “colonial” architecture. Shaftsbury, Vermont

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