Politics and Military

In 1790, the Deal for Vermont Statehood Finally Emerged

The American Revolution finally ended for Vermont in October 28, 1790, when the state’s offer to pay New York $30,000 ($770,000 in 2014 dollars) to release all claims against land in the future Green Mountain State was finally accepted, 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 were the irascible Allen boys, Ira and Ethan (with their Onion River Land Company), and Thomas Chittenden, Vermont’s first governor (and President of Vermont when it operated as an independent republic).

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.

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

Not surprisingly, the Vermonters who were already occupying the land took the decision rather badly and began running off New York surveyors, judges and others who came to Vermont to enforce the king’s wishes.

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

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

Settling first with New Hampshire, Vermont established the Connecticut River as a boundary, though there were many towns along both sides of the river that 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 there were some in the border regions that wanted to remain part of New York.

Finally, the leading families of Vermont, with Chittenden in the lead, agreed to make the offer to New York that was 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. He was stopped by the British before putting his plan into action.

This story was updated from the 2014 version.

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  1. Pingback: Zareh Colburn – Vermont’s Mental Calculator - New England Historical Society

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