Title: The Green Mountains
Date: June 12, 1923
Location: Burlington, VT
Context: 150th anniversary of the settlement of the city of Burlington
We do not meet to-day so much to think new thoughts l as to rehearse old stories. Our purpose is not to survey new courses, but to relocate ancient landmarks. We review the past not in order that we may return to it but that we may find in what direction, straight and clear, it points into the future. We do not come here burdened with regrets or depressed by any memories of faded splendor, but to rejoice in the possession of hope fulfilled and to glory in the vision of desire realized. The promise which attended the founding and settlement of the city of Burlington has been abundantly redeemed.
The recorded beginnings of this locality lie far back on the verge of American history. When the Cavalier was struggling to plant the first colony in Virginia, just as Henry Hudson was entering the bay of New York, or ever the prow of the Pilgrim Mayflower had been turned toward Plymouth Rock, the great Champlain undoubtedly landed here in 1609. He determined, in no small part, by his fateful collision with the dominant Indian power of this region on the farther shore of the lake, which made them ever after hostile to France and friendly to England, that the prevailing civilization of this country was to be not Latin but Anglo-Saxon. For one hundred and fifty years the tide of conflict rose and fell, One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of the City of Burlington, Vermont, leaving inextinguishable marks and names, until the banners of the old régime passed down the lake forever to encounter Wolfe on the plains of Abraham, holding the master-key to this new continent.
So the time passed when this alluring territory was to be famed chiefly as the meeting-place of the contending forces of native Indians or invading white men and was to become the permanent habitation of a peaceful civilization. The days of conflict were not all gone, but the days of sufficient tranquillity for stable development had come. The power and influence of France, with its devotion and loyalty to church and King, were not to be swept away, for the good does not perish, but whatever it had wrought for good was to be merged in a new order. A new day was rising, a new life was stirring, a new era was opening for the Western world.
The beginnings of this city were tinged strongly with the dominant spirit of the times. The people of the land were for the first time coming to be consciously American. To a reassertion of the old rights there was beginning to be added the assertion of new rights. The colonists had come to feel their power and were reaching out to exercise it with a new boldness. Stronger impulses and broadening opportunities were rousing the old spirit of the pioneer. The country was on the eve of a new birth of freedom.
The territory now comprising most of the State of Vermont made a strong appeal to these sentiments. At first it was supposed to be under the jurisdiction of New Hampshire, which granted charters to many towns within its borders, under which the settlers held title to their lands; next, with the support of crown and Parliament, claimed by New York, which not only asserted political jurisdiction but undertook to deny the legality of the title to any lands not conveyed by its authority. These contentions brought on conflicts, both before the court and in the country, which resulted in the inhabitants, now hostile to the British rule that proposed to confiscate their homes, declaring their independence and organizing the new State of Vermont, and in that condition they maintained themselves, in spite of the constant opposition of powerful adjoining States, the threats of the Congress to send the army against them, and all the peril of war with a mighty empire, until finally admitted to the Union. Those days furnished no example of more heroic devotion than that which was exhibited by the unconquerable defenders of the Green Mountain State.
It was amid such conditions that Burlington came into being. Though her territory was little vexed by all these conflicts, those who founded the town, whose names were early associated with its settlement and development, bore a dominant part in the brilliant and thrilling history of those significant times. One of these was that romantic figure, Ethan Allen, picturesque in word, dashing in action, a typical pioneer. Another was Remember Baker, a skilful mechanic, a trained woodsman, a brave officer, one of the trusted leaders of the settlers. Associated with them was Thomas Chittenden, a man of sound judgment and a strength of character that commanded the confidence of his fellow men. Joined with this band, though never directly connected with your city, was Seth Warner, wise, brilliant, cautious, a soldier gifted with the ability to command. Surpassing them all in breadth of intellect was Ira Allen, a man of affairs, a diplomat and a statesman. This group of pioneers, all Burlington proprietors except Warner, laid the foundation of the State of Vermont, and performed untold sevrice in the promotion of the American cause.
Burlington was chartered by Governor Wentworth of New Hampshire, June 7, 1763, apparently to parties nearly all resident of New York. A few years later the Onion River Company, composed of four of the Allens and Baker, appear as the proprietors. They cut a road through from Castleton to Colchester in 1772, and Ira Allen made the first survey of land within the town September 30 of that year. The first settler was Felix Powell, who came in 1773. He owned land at Apple Tree Point, on which he built a log house. He had also been the first settler in Dorset. In 1778 he sold his rights to James Murdock, of Saybrook, Connecticut, and so, having gained the fame of being the first settler, left others to finish what he had so well begun. In November, 1774, Stephen Lawrence of Sheffield and others bought land in town, but did little in the way of settlement. During this year and the following Lemuel Bradley and others established themselves on the Intervale, but in the summer of 1776 these settlements, in common with all north of Rutland County, were abandoned on account of the impending war.
The first meeting of the proprietors was held at Salisbury, Connecticut, March 23, 1774, of which Thomas Chittenden was the moderator and Ira Allen the clerk. During the ensuing year more meetings were held at Fort Frederick, which was a blockhouse they had built on the Colchester side of the river to protect the settlements, the last being May 1,.1775. Although this meeting stood adjourned to the first Monday of the following September, it was never held. Only a few days before news had come of the momentous events at Lexington and Concord. The land was aflame. No longer could men turn their thoughts to the peaceable affairs of territorial development. They listened to a sterner call than that which comes from commercial enterprise, yet they accorded to it an even more ready response. No other meeting of the proprietors was held until that of January 29, 1781, which met at the house of Noah Chittenden in Arlington.
A few days after the May meeting Ethan Allen was at Bennington sending for Baker and Warner, who were at Fort Frederick, to join him in the surprise attack on Ticonderoga and Crown Point, which they did. Allen captured Ticonderoga May 10, and Warner took Crown Point on May 11. These victories, with their capture of ammunition, arms, and about two hundred pieces of cannon, were to have a result all out of proportion to the small force engaged in their accomplishment. Just how important this operation turned out to be was best realized by the British when one morning in the following March they saw the cannon which Allen had captured so mounted on Dorchester Heights as to command their positions in the city and harbor and force them to evacuate Boston.
After the war the inhabitants began to return. Stephen Lawrence moved his family into town in 1783. Settlement proceeded rapidly. The first recorded town meeting was held in Burlington, March 19, 1787, when Stephen Lawrence, Frederick Saxton, and Samuel Allen were chosen selectmen. They voted to raise a tax of twopence on the pound to purchase town books, and the same for the repair of highways and bridges, but this later was reduced to one penny at a meeting held the first Monday of the following May. The first freemen’s meeting on record was held the first Tuesday of September, 1794. The last Tuesday of the following December occurred the first recorded election of a representative to Congress. The first recorded marriage is that of Lucy Caroline, a daughter of Ethan Allen, to Samuel Hitchcock, May 26, 1789, and the first recorded birth is that of their daughter, Loraine Allen Hitchcock, on June 5, 1790. So now the government of town, of State, and of nation was proceeding in accordance with public law. Immediately began that general development toward a modern city which has since continued without ceasing.
It is altogether probable that Ira Allen perceived the possibilities for the development of Burlington as a centre of population, transportation, and commerce, by reason of its location and natural advantages. He supported his judgment with his resources, which at that time were very considerable. He owned, at different periods, a large portion of all the land within the limits of the town. He was instrumental in locating here the University of Vermont, to which he made generous contribution. Although his residence was across the river. in Colchester, his chief interests and chief efforts were here.
The old names early associated with the town now began to appear—Ferrand, Catlin, Van Ness, Buel, Pearl, Sawyer, and others. The first store, always an important meeting-place in a new and small community, was built by Stephen Keyes and opened in 1789. Professional men, doctors and lawyers, soon joined the growing community, which became of sufficient importance and accessibility that the legislature met here in 1803.
The desire formally to organize the religious life soon appeared. About 1795 the Reverend Chauncey Lee preached here for some time, and was followed by Reverend Daniel C. Sanders, who preached at intervals until 1807. In 1799 the town voted to raise two hundred dollars, “to be paid in grain, beef, pork, butter, and cheese, to be delivered to the minister who shall be hired in Burlington for the year ensuing,” and it was further voted, on June 15, 1805, to form themselves into a religious society, known as the First Society of Social and Public Worship in the Town of Burlington. In 1810 this society was divided on the line of liberal and conservative. The conservatives took the name of the First Calvinistic Congregational Society, ordained Reverend Samuel Clark on April 19, 1810, and built the Unitarian Church in 1816. These were followed by the Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic, and other churches, which now minister to the religious well-being of a devout people.
The cause of education must have had very early attention, for at the March meeting in 1790 it had been sufficiently developed so that it was voted to divide the town into school districts. In 1812 a system of graded schools was apparently started, and some years later the Burlington Academy took over the high-school work, which it continued until 1849, when the Union School superseded it. The Burlington Female Seminary, an institution which was of great importance, started in 1835. There were also other schools for young women. The University of Vermont was chartered and located in Burlington in 1791, a lot of fifty acres was assigned to it, and a building was begun in 1794 and completed in 1798. In 1799 citizens of the young town gave 2,300 pounds sterling to this enterprise, when the entire grand list of the town, as then figured, was but 2,174 pounds sterling, and the whole number of polls but 224. The Reverend Daniel C. Sanders was chosen president, October 17, 1800, and the university formally admitted four young men to its courses. The charge for tuition was established at ten dollars a year. The town was thus early equipped to provide that liberal education which is one of the foundations of an enlightened civilization.
One of the oldest newspapers in Vermont, known as The Sentinel, began to be published here in 1801. This was followed by The Free Press, which was started in 1827. The town has been, almost from its beginning, well provided with the best that could be had in the way of newspaper publications and has benefited through the tremendous influence which they wield for good by informing the public mind. Newspapers are one of the strongest supports of the republic.
Navigation was an early contributing force to the material welfare of the town. In early days it was carried on with a fleet of sailboats. The second steamboat in the world in actual point of construction, was built at Burlington, christened Vermont, and launched in June, 1808. By 1814 regular communication had been established with Boston by four-horse coach. The Champlain Canal, opened in 1823, connected the lake with the Hudson River, which left Burlington one of the chief ports on the continuous waterway from New York City to Montreal, while the coming of the railroads in · 1849 opened up the overland route to Boston.
The early settlers and proprietors had nearly all some share in the Revolutionary War. Some of them, like the Allens and their close associates, played a most heroic and important part. But this glory must all be shared with other places, for it represents not so much a local production as an importation. The next conflict was on a_ different basis. The War of 1812 and its causes were not popular issues in New England. A very considerable commerce was at stake, but beyond that the substantial element of this section preferred the conservatism of Great Britain to the radicalism and imperialism of France in that era. On February 2, 1809, the town unanimously adopted resolutions which declared its loyalty to the National Constitution and its government, but condemned the embargo policy of the Federal administration. Nevertheless, Burlington responded eagerly to every requirement for national defense when the actual need arose. Colonel Isaac Clark, being sent here, called out the local militia, purchased and fortified the Battery, which dates from that time, for the protection of the town. Captain Thomas MacDonough of the navy was stationed here. He had very valuable assistance from the people in winning the great naval battle at Plattsburg, September 11, 1814, by which he regained entire control of the lake. Captain Horace B. Sawyer, a native of the town, was made prisoner when the British captured the Growler and Eagle, but returned to serve on the famous frigate Constitution, taking part in her remarkable victory over the Cyane and Levant.
When the call came from Lincoln, in April of 1861, the Burlington company, under Captain David B. Peck, at once responded. Their example was followed by a host of others who served with distinction until the close of the war. The part which was taken by this town in the lesser contest with Spain and the brilliant and effective contribution made to the success of the Great War demonstrated that, in military spirit and power, it retains its ancient vigor. One of your townsmen, a graduate of the Naval Academy, Lieutenant-Commander Jonas H. Holden, was on the battleship Maine, but was rescued only to be lost on the vessel which mysteriously disappeared in the Gulf of Mexico during the World War. Another, Lieutenant Devere Harden, with the regular army, was the first American officer wounded in France, while still another, Admiral Henry T. Mayo, had the merited distinction of being commander-in-chief of the Atlantic fleet.
In the comparatively short space of time of a century and a half Burlington has steadily advanced from the day of Felix Powell, the lone settler on the northern frontier, to the day when it is the metropolis of an extensive and cultivated region of activity and industry. It became the centre of an important foreign and domestic commerce, and has ranked as one of the chief lumber ports of the nation in bygone times. The falls of the Winooski, on its border, have been a valuable source of water-power, which has supported the industrial interests of the region. Manufacturing has contributed to make this not only a source of distribution but a source of production. It provides employment for thousands of wage-earners and its annual output reaches many millions of dollars. In its material development Burlington has become a city marked by enterprise and wealth.
Men of ability and fame have given an added distinction to these surroundings, already honored by reason of the quality of its citizenship. It has been often represented in the governor of the State, in the national House and Senate, and in the high diplomatic stations of our country abroad. The first to be governor was Cornelius P. Van· Ness, who also served as minister to Spain, and the last was Urban A. Woodbury; Heman Allen was minister to Chili, and that learned scholar George P. Marsh was minister to both Turkey and Italy, while Edward J. Phelps was ambassador to Great Britain. One of the men who ranked very high as a United States senator, a profound lawyer, and an able statesman, was George F. Edmunds. One of your present citizens, a leading figure of the Vermont bar, Charles H. Darling, has been an assistant secretary of the navy.
The material resources and wealth of the’ community, the ability of distinguished men, the high character of the people, and the practical application of the teachings of religion, have all combined to make this city well-governed, well-educated, and richly endowed with many charities. All these forces have united to create a moral and spiritual power, the influence of which has been felt in the uttermost parts of the earth. The world is not what it would have been without that influence. It has increased the vigor of health, the strength of intellect, the power of character, and extended the domain of everlasting righteousness.
To-day we behold the wonder of all these accomplishments. We realize that they have been wrought by the hand of man working in harmony with the will of Divine Providence. When we inquire what manner of men they were, what principles they represented, what character they developed, the answer is revealed in their work. They were active, enterprising men, intent upon conducting a successful business. They were endowed with imagination and vision, but their chief guide was that hard common sense which is the result of continued experience with hardships and difficulties, always the heritage of the pioneer. They had come up out of much tribulation. Their methods were bold and direct, the very essence of all that was practical. They believed in common honesty and simple justice. They were determined to be free. It was in accordance with these standards that they fashioned their town and established their Commonwealth. The local public policy of that day is declared in the town charter. All the fit pine-trees were reserved for masting the royal navy. Of the seventy-two shares provided for in the charter, one was reserved for the incorporated society for the propagation of the gospel in foreign parts; one for the glebe for the Church of England; one for the first settled minister of the gospel; and one for the benefit of a school in the town.
Although the perils of war had left the region of Burlington bare of inhabitants, compelling the people to take refuge in more thickly populated and better-protected settlements at the south, they did not cease to exert a powerful influence over the destiny of those rebellious days. The founders of this city appear as leaders in the records of the public actions which established the State of Vermont. At the convention held in Dorset, September 25, 1776, Burlington was represented by Lemuel Bradley, and those present who were connected with the Onion River Company were Thomas Chittenden, Ira Allen, and Heman Allen. When the convention reconvened at Westminster Chittenden and the two Allens were present. Here, on January 16, 1777, they adopted the momentous resolutions asserting their readiness to do their “full proportion in maintaining and supporting the just war,” but declaring that they should hereafter be “a separate, free, and independent jurisdiction or state.” Chittenden was a member of the committee that drafted this declaration, and the Allens were on committees instructed to plan for further proceedings. The claim of independence that they set forth they made a reality by their future action.
When the convention met at Windsor, July 2, 1777, undoubtedly Chittenden and the two Allens were there, although almost the only record is the Constitution, which on July 8 was adopted. That document asserted that government was “derived from and founded on the authority of the people only,” forbade slavery, adopted manhood suffrage, recognized that conscience, speech, and press should be free, undertook to guarantee the protection of life, liberty, and property, prescribed trial by jury, provided for town and county schools and a State university, admonished the people to observe the Sabbath, maintain religious worship, and remember that “a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality are absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty and keep government free.” Those who held these opinions were not likely tamely to submit or long to be deprived of success.
The charter of the town and the constitution of the State recognized religion as the foundation of human relationship. They acknowledged that their obligation of spreading the gospel was world-wide. Having contributed to the clergy at home and the missionary abroad, they extended liberal support to the cause of education. They knew that learning belonged to the people. In sustaining the royal navy they were not only providing for the defense of the realm but extending the domain of commerce. They were well aware that the observance of the plain virtues of life is not only the source of all individual character but the foundation of all national greatness. The principle of freedom and equality was not a visionary doctrine with them but a rule of action to be put into practice. Within the State of Vermont no person could ever be held as a slave and no man was ever too poor to have a vote.
These rights were neither secured nor maintained without the exaction of supreme sacrifice. Whatever property interests the inhabitants had in Burlington at the outbreak of the war were rendered practically valueless. The leading men of the region risked their lives in the capture of Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Remember Baker was killed by an enemy bullet in the closing days of the summer while leading a scouting party toward Canada. Ethan Allen, a month later, was captured in his attempt to take Montreal. Transported across the sea in irons, he was held for nearly three years in British prisons. It is probable that the house of a Felix Powell in Pittsford, which was plundered and burned in his absence, was that of your original settler. Mrs. Powell looked on, hidden in the woods near by. In such destitution she bore a child before the next morning. Some fell in the disaster at Hubbardton, others on the victorious field at Bennington. They all showed such a spirit that Burgoyne reported them to be the most active and most rebellious race on the continent, that hung like a gathering storm on his left. That storm, more violent than his forebodings, swept him to destruction at Saratoga.
That same spirit had been exhibited in every hour of peril in all their history. They had established a reputation which gave entire credibility to Ethan Allen, when he declared: “I am resolutely determined to defend the independence of Vermont . . . and rather than fail will retire with the hardy Green Mountain Boys into the desolate caverns of the mountains and wage war with human nature at large.” Washington, who knew the power of their soldiers, issued a warning against any attempt by the Congress to subdue the State with the army. He knew, and plainly said, that such a people, occupying such a territory, could not be conquered. Besides, Washington admired courage, believed in freedom, and loved justice. It was said that he looked with sympathy on the cause of the struggling little State of Vermont.
Yet these people were neither quarrelsome, lawless, nor violent. They had that respect for constituted authority which had been bred in their race by more than a thousand years of liberty under the law. It has been their characteristic to submit their cause to the courts, as John Hampden submitted his cause, as James Otis submitted that of his clients; and only when the plain requirements of justice were denied did they determine to meet an illegal decision with righteous resistance. So the settlers of the Green Mountains, under the leadership of Ethan Allen and his associates, submitted their cause to the determination of the royal court at Albany.
When the court, which apparently had a personal interest in its own decision, found against them, and the opposing authorities intimated that it would be wise to submit because might oftentimes made right, it was found that the settlers were by no means inclined to yield to the application of that principle. Such a course might be decreed at Albany, but it would not be executed in Vermont. Allen remarked grimly, “The gods of the valleys are not the gods of the hills,” and further offered to make his meaning clear to those who would come up to Bennington. To those who went up with the unauthorized writ of this court, his word was kept. They were chastised with the twigs of the wilderness and sent home, bearing on their backs, as the test of the higher authority of this jurisdiction, the unmistakable imprint of the beech seal, in the hope that those who considered irrelevant and inadmissible the Warrant of the King, an Order of Council, and the Broad Seal of the Royal Province of New Hampshire might recognize the weight of this more impressive evidence.
Outlawed, with a price set on their heads, in constant peril of death, yet through all this conflict, though they met threat with threat, they never inflicted loss of life upon any one; they never resisted the execution of either civil or criminal process which they considered lawful. Such was the character of the men of that day, such were their works. The first moderator of the Onion River Company, Thomas Chittenden, became the first governor of the State, holding the office many years. The first clerk, Ira Allen, became the first State treasurer, ranking as a benefactor of mankind. Another member, Ethan Allen, became a national hero, holding forever the applause of his countrymen. They were supported by the invincible forces of truth and justice. They were destined to immortality.
The standards which the men of that day adopted, the principles in accordance with which they acted, have the power to supply their own vitality. They are self-perpetuating. Had the authorities of New York been content to exercise political jurisdiction over the Green Mountain region and leave undisturbed the land titles acquired and paid for in good faith, instead of using their power to further the unjust speculations of some of their high officials, undoubtedly the settlers would have remained a contented part of the Empire State. The desire to locate farther away from the molestations of Albany would not have sent the proprietors of the Onion River Company into this locality. The power of leadership which they developed would have been used for some other purpose than to defy the governor of New York and the King of Great Britain. The city of Burlington, with its population, its wealth, its commerce, its university, and the State of Vermont, with all its romantic history and its glorious contributions to liberty, would not have come into being. Ticonderoga and Crown Point might still hold a British garrison. There might have been no evacuation of Boston, no victory at Bennington, no decisive battle at Saratoga, and no final success at Yorktown. It was the overreaching greed for gain and an overmastering desire to impose an autocratic rule that raised up the makers of Burlington and set in her midst a crowning citadel of knowledge and of truth which will defend the cause of justice and liberty for all mankind forevermore.
When Ethan Allen and his eighty-three Green Mountain Boys stood within Fort Ticonderoga, in the dawn of that May morning, this man, some time to be charged with the darkness of infidelity, did not fail to utter the word of light when he demanded the garrison captain surrender “in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” He there gave expression to the faith and the cause for which he and his fellow patriots ever stood ready to make the supreme sacrifice. For God and country. That faith has been justified. That cause has been prospered. Could there be any better description of the purpose which has created the city of Burlington? Could there be any firmer foundation on which its influence will stand through all eternity? The same sun is above us which lighted the morning of that day with all that it has come to mean. The same gleaming waters remain. The same shadowy mountains tower around us. The same dream city rises from the shore, now a reality. In those who shall continue to behold them, let them inspire the same spirit, the same abiding faith, the same power, through sacrifice, to minister to the same great cause. For God and country.
Citation: The Price of Freedom
The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of John McLeod, who prepared this document for digital publication.