Politics and Military

Vermont Statehood, Never A Sure Thing Until

The American Revolution finally ended for Vermont in Oct. 28, 1790, when the state offered to pay New York $30,000 ($770,000 in 2014 dollars). In exchange, New York would release all claims against land in the future Green Mountain State. New York accepted the deal, clearing the way for Vermont statehood the following year.

Ira Allen (Smithsonian Institution)

Ira Allen (Smithsonian Institution)

Vermont’s tortured journey to statehood was mired in a decades-old struggle between New Hampshire on one side and New York on the other. In between stood the irascible Allen boys, Ira and Ethan (with their Onion River Land Company). Also in the way: Thomas Chittenden, Vermont’s first governor (and president of Vermont when it operated as an independent republic).

Vermont Statehood Uncertain

By 1790, the issues over Vermont statehood were pretty well resolved, but 10 years earlier nothing had been certain. The trouble started decades earlier when Benning Wentworth, New Hampshire’s colonial governor, began issuing land grants in Vermont.

Gov. Benning Wentworth

The King of England invalidated those grants, instead authorizing New York governor George Clinton to distribute the land.

Not surprisingly, the Vermonters already occupying the land took the decision badly. Calling themselves the Green Mountain Boys, they then began running off New York surveyors, judges and anyone else who came to Vermont to enforce the king’s wishes.

revolutionary-flags-green-mountain-boys

Flag of the Green Mountain Boys

When the American Revolution broke out, Vermont found itself in a strange predicament. Its people mostly supported the American side. But New Hampshire and New York blocked it from having much influence in the Continental Congress. Both  resisted Vermont’s efforts to form a government of its own and join the Congress.

For a while the Allens even entertained the notion of attaching to Quebec as a British colony. Faced with the prospect of losing Vermont altogether, representatives of other colonies then began softening their positions.

Chittenden Deals

Settling first with New Hampshire, Vermont established the Connecticut River as a boundary. However, many towns along both sides of the river wanted to remain united as part of the same state (either Vermont or New Hampshire). Vermonters then agreed to make no claims west of the western border of Massachusetts, though some in the border regions wanted to remain part of New York.

Presumed likeness of Thomas Chittenden

Finally, the leading families of Vermont, with Chittenden in the lead, agreed to make the offer that New York accepted in 1790.

Ethan Allen never made it to statehood, dying unexpectedly in 1789. By the time of his death, he had made himself widely unpopular, not only for trying to ally with the British but for publishing a book attacking the Bible. News of his death brought no mourning from many public figures. Ira and Chittenden, however, made it to the goal line.

With Vermont established, Ira Allen would move on to cook up a scheme to take over Canada, with French assistance. The British, however, stopped him before he put his plan into action.

This story last updated in 2022. Images: Ira Allen By pohick2 – originally posted to Flickr as 1941.5.3, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6076872.

To Top

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!