Call it "land hunger." Competing interests from New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut all looked with covetous eyes at the land to the west of New Hampshire in the early to middle decades of the 18th century — land that constitutes the current state of Vermont.
Somehow Connecticut speculators got the upper hand in the competition by realizing that New Hampshire Gov. Benning Wentworth was very willing to sell land grants to them at the right price.
Wentworth, who had recently declared bankruptcy, was cash hungry and happy to sell the land, despite major jurisdictional disputes with the state of New York over true ownership of it. Astute Connecticut speculators were more than willing to buy, and they did. Huge tracts of it.
Between the years 1750-1765, Benning Wentworth sold land charters for more than 3 million acres of land in Vermont, much of it to Connecticut speculators. These charters came to be known as the "New Hampshire Grants." To gain support for the sales, Wentworth often reserved the right to flatter influential peers by naming towns after them; for example, Rutland, VT, is named after John Manners, the 3rd Duke of Rutland. He named Bennington, VT, after himself.
Former state historian Albert Van Dusen identified two streams of Connecticut charter holders for the land. One group from eastern Connecticut — largely Coventry, Hebron, and Mansfield — settled along the Connecticut River in eastern Vermont. They tended to be conservative and religious in their outlook.
This first group of charter holders settled in Hartford, VT. Not surprisingly, the social structure and physical appearance of these towns bore a strong resemblance to Connecticut towns; furthermore, besides Hartford, an amazing number of Vermont towns still have the same names as many towns in Connecticut, some with slight spelling variants: Windsor, Weathersfield, Marlboro, Plainfield, Waterbury, Chester, Bristol, Wolcott, Middlebury, Essex, Windham, Berlin, Bethel, Fairfield, Guilford, Warren, Manchester, Woodstock, Vernon, Bloomfield, and Andover, as well as more than a dozen others.
Among the other towns in Vermont with a counterpart in Connecticut is Norwich. Most of the settlers in Norwich, VT, came from Mansfield, CT. By 1790, more than 1,000 people in Norwich, VT, had a Mansfield, CT pedigree — the vast majority of the town's population. Pioneers from Mansfield also constituted a large percentage of Hanover, NH, right across the river. Hanover is the home of Dartmouth College and was ranked as the 6th best place in America to live in 2011!
The other stream of Connecticut pioneers in Vermont came largely from Litchfield County — towns such as Salisbury and Litchfield. Van Dusen characterized this group of Connecticut pioneers as "dissenters and free thinkers." Vermont towns that were largely settled by western Connecticut pioneers include Middlebury, Wallingford, Pittsford, Cornwall, Williston, Hinesburg and Vergennes. A Salisbury, CT, native, Gamaliel Painter, was the founder of Middlebury College. Among other notable Connecticut settlers from Litchfield County were Ethan Allen and his brothers Ira and Heman. In fact, Ira Allen is often referred to as the "father of the University of Vermont."
Ethan Allen, however, was the best known of the Allen brothers. Before famously taking Fort Ticonderoga from the British during the Revolutionary War, Ethan Allen was a Major General in the Vermont militia and spent a good deal of his time with his "Green Mountain Boys" raiding and intimidating New York settlers on Vermont land. Eventually, Vermont paid $30,000 to the beleaguered New Yorkers to settle their border disputes.
Eleven Anglican families from Newtown, CT, were principally responsible for settling in Arlington, VT, in 1762. They built the first Anglican (Episcopalian) church there — St. James — in 1772. A veteran soldier of the French and Indian War from New Milford named Isaac Canfield also persuaded several families to settle in Arlington, a place of great beauty that he had visited while in the military service. Another native of Connecticut, Ethan Allen's cousin, Remember Baker, built the first grist mill in the Arlington area and was granted 50 acres of land for doing so.
On January 15, 1777 — 236 years ago this week — the settlers of Vermont, most of them pioneers from Connecticut, declared their own independence from everyone and set up a new republic which they most appropriately called "New Connecticut." Upon realizing six months later that there was another settlement in Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna using that very same name, they renamed their new independent state Vermont — French for "green mountain."
Vermont remained an independent republic for the next 14 years until it finally became the 14th state to enter the Union in 1791. It was the first of four former independent republics that eventually became states. In chronological order, the others were Florida, Texas, and Hawaii.
So if you've ever noticed that many Vermont towns carry the same names as those in Connecticut while driving to peep at leaves in the fall or while on your way to ski at Mt. Snow, there's a good reason for that: Most of the settlers of early Vermont are transplanted people from Connecticut — people who, incidentally, became the first in the Union to ban slavery within their own borders!