January 15, 1777 – Vermont declared independence from England and New York. It would remain a quasi-independent nation until 1792, when it joined the US as the 14th state.
The first white settlers in Vermont were the French, who gave it its name “Les Monts Verts,” or “green mountains.” English colonists from Connecticut and Massachusetts began infiltrating the area in the early 18th century, and after the French and Indian War France ceded the entire area to England.
Immediately following the war, Vermont became a popular spot, as no fewer than three separate colonies – Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire – claimed it as part of their own colony based upon their own vague colonial charters. New Hampshire, however, took the lead in claiming the area when, in the 1750’s and early 1760’s, New Hampshire’s governor, Benning Wentworth, issued over 100 land grants (known as the New Hampshire Grants) in the Green Mountain area east of Albany for settlement by New Hampshire colonists; one of those grants became the town of Bennington, named after the governor.
The competing claims became muddled in 1764 when King George III, by royal decree, established the official boundary between the New York and New Hampshire colonies along the Connecticut River, which cut through the area of the New Hampshire Grants, giving much of that land to New York. New York used the decree to claim that the New Hampshire Grants were invalid, began to sell the land to New Yorkers, and set up courts in the region to prosecute settlers in the area who claimed ownership of their land under those grants.
Unsurprisingly, those settlers opposed New York’s actions. By 1770, that opposition became militarized, as several residents of the area, under the leadership of Ethan Allen, formed a militia which they called The Green Mountain Boys. The goal of the Green Mountain Boys was to use armed resistance against New York’s attempts to dispossess them of their lands. In 1775 that resistance ended in bloodshed when an armed standoff at a local courthouse in March resulted in the death of two Green Mountain Boys, shot by British officials supporting New York settlers.
Soon afterward, however, other events took center stage as fighting between the colonies and England erupted at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775. The Green Mountain Boys turned their attention to the English, and later that spring Ethan Allen and his militia captured the British fort at Ticonderoga in upstate New York (cannon taken from the fort were subsequently instrumental in Washington’s successful siege of Boston). After that daring raid the Green Mountain Boys were formally incorporated as a unit of the Continental Army,
By the summer of 1776, as the Continental Congress was formally declaring the colonial break from England, a group of New Hampshire Grant landowners met and resolved to declare their independence as well – from both England and New York. On January 15, 1777, a convention of delegates from the Grants declared their region an independent republic, which they named “New Connecticut.”
A second convention met on June 2, and at that time delegates adopted the name of “Vermont” for the new republic. In July, the delegates adopted a constitution for the new republic. That constitution, possibly the most liberal of its day, abolished slavery, gave universal suffrage to men, and provided for public schools.
Like the other 13 independent states, Vermont issued its own coins and operated its own postal service. It also engaged in its own diplomatic relations with the United States, as well as with France and the Netherlands. When the US Constitution was ratified in 1788, Vermont, not one of the 13 colonies, was not involved. Even though popular opinion at the time considered Vermont to be a “14th state,” until the land disputes with New York were resolved, statehood was not on the table.
This situation changed in 1790, when the New York state legislature agreed to give up its claims to the region and allow Vermont statehood as long as a boundary could be agreed upon. This agreement was reached in the fall of 1790, and in January of 1791 a Vermont convention voted 105 to 2 to apply for statehood. That request was accepted by Congress in record time, and on March 4, 1791, the Republic of Vermont ceased to exist, replaced instead by the 14th US state.