The picturesque state of Vermont, land of maple syrup and beautiful fall foliage can also claim to have the first written constitution in North America to provide for the the abolition of slavery, suffrage for men who did not own land, and public schools.
Elijah West’s tavern, scene of the adoption of this unique constitution in 1777, still stands and is now called the Old Constitution House.
The four photographs below are of the Old Constitution House, 15 North Main Street, Windsor, Windsor County, Vermont taken ca. 1930 from the Library of Congress
Only New England state not bordering the Atlantic Ocean
Vermont is the 14th state of the United States. Vermont is the 6th smallest in area and the 2nd least populous of the 50 United States. It is the only New England state not bordering the Atlantic Ocean.
Although settled early by Europeans, the Colonies of New York and New Hampshire both claimed the land which makes up present day Vermont during much of the 18th century.
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Green Mountain Boys protected interests of New Hampshire
Settlers who held land titles granted by these colonies were opposed by the Green Mountain Boys militia.
In 1770, Ethan Allen—along with his brothers Ira and Levi, as well as Seth Warner—recruited an informal militia, the Green Mountain Boys, to protect the interests of the original New Hampshire settlers against the new migrants from New York.
A significant standoff occurred at the Breakenridge farm in Bennington, when a sheriff from Albany arrived with a posse of 750 men to dispossess Breakenridge. The residents raised a body of about 300 armed men to resist. The Albany sheriff demanded Breakenridge, and was informed, “If you attempt it, you are a dead man.” The sheriff returned to Albany.
The Westminster Massacre
When a New York judge arrived in Westminster with New York settlers in March 1775, violence broke out as angry citizens took over the courthouse and called a sheriff’s posse. This resulted in the deaths of Daniel Houghton and William French in the “Westminster Massacre”
In the summer of 1776, the first general convention of freemen of the New Hampshire Grants met in Dorset, Vermont, resolving “to take suitable measures to declare the New Hampshire Grants a free and independent district.
New Connecticut – an independent republic – changed to Vermont
On January 15, 1777, representatives of the New Hampshire Grants convened in Westminster and declared their land an independent republic. For the first six months of the republic’s existence, the state was called New Connecticut.
On June 2, a second convention of 72 delegates met at Westminster, known as the “Westminster Convention”.
At this meeting, the delegates adopted the name “Vermont” on the suggestion of Dr. Thomas Young of Philadelphia, a supporter of the delegates who wrote a letter advising them on how to achieve statehood. The delegates set the time for a meeting one month later.
Constitution drafted on July 4th while thunderstorm took place
On July 4, the Constitution of Vermont was drafted during a violent thunderstorm at the Windsor Tavern owned by Elijah West. It was adopted by the delegates on July 8 after four days of debate. This was the first written constitution in North America to provide for the abolition of slavery, suffrage for men who did not own land, and public schools.
The republic lasted for fourteen years. Aside from the Thirteen Colonies, Vermont is one of only four U.S. states (along with Texas, Hawaii, and California) to have been a sovereign state in its past. In 1791, Vermont joined the United States as the 14th state, the first in addition to the original 13 Colonies. Vermont was the first state to partially abolish slavery while still independent.
On the eastern side of the mountains, Elijah West’s tavern, scene of the adoption of Vermont’s constitution in 1777, continued as a tavern until 1848 and is now administered as a state historic site.
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