Early Exploration of Vermont

It has been aptly said, that “that country is the happiest which furnishes fewest materials for history;” yet, if rightly considered, the duty of the historian will be found not limited to the narration of the dramatic events of war, but equally applicable to the arts of peace, and that the true heroes of mankind are those who have manfully encountered and overcome the difficulties which might have hindered them from arriving at honorable ends by honest means. Viewed in this light, the pioneer who has subdued the wilderness of nature, and surrounded his home with the luxuries of a well directed husbandry, is socially far above the victorious warrior, and his toils, privations, and successes are more worthy of record. Still, to those who dwell with interest on the recital of scenes of blood, this district is classic. Tradition relates that in ancient times it was the scene of long and bloody wars between its savage possessors, who fought for the supremacy of its soil, and doubtless many a stealthy march and midnight massacre, had they but had their historian, would now thrill the blood of the reader. But we have to leave this period of the buried past, through which the stream of time has coursed its way, without leaving more to mark its path than the scattered relics and obscure traces, which tell nothing, but that something was, and is not, to approach the period of authentic history; and even here we find many links wanting in the claim of events, which might have enabled us to trace the progress of the discovery, and the settlement and the changes of dominion, which our country has undergone.

There are good reasons for believing that the first civilized people who visited New England were a colony of Norwegians, or Northmen, who emigrated thither, according to the original Icelandic accounts of their voyages of discovery, as follows:

” In the spring of A. D., 986, Eric the Red, so named from the fact of his having red hair, emigrated from Iceland to Greenland, and formed a settlement there. In 994, Biarne, the son of Heriulf Bardson, one of the settlers who accompanied Eric, returned to Norway, and gave an account of discoveries he had made to the south of Greenland. On his return to Greenland, Leif, the son of Eric, bought Biarne’s ship, and, with a crew of thirty-five men, embarked on a voyage of discovery, A. D., 1000. After sailing sometime to the southwest, they fell in with a country covered with slaty rock, and destitute of good qualities, and which, therefore, they called Helluland (Slateland). They then continued southerly until they found a low, flat coast, with white sand cliffs, and immediately back, covered with wood, whence the called the country Markland (Woodland). From here they sailed south and west, until they arrived at a promontory, which stretched to the east and north, and sailing round it turned to the west, and sailing to the westward, passed between an island and the main land, and entering a bay, through which flowed a river, ‘they concluded to winter there. Having landed, they built a house to winter in, and called the place Leifsbuthir (Leif’s booths). Soon after this they discovered an abundance of vines, whence they named the country Vinland, or Wineland, which corresponds with the present country at the head of Narragansett Bay, in Rhode Island.”

Other discoverers and navigators followed this expedition, attempts at colonization were made, and the country was explored, in some localities, quite a distance back from the coast, but dissensions among themselves, and wars with the savages, at length put an end to these rude attempts at civilization, and except a few records, such as the above, and a ” rune stone ” found here and there throughout the territory, marking a point of discovery, or perhaps the grave of. some unhappy Northman, the history of these explorations are wrapt in oblivion. Even the colonies that had been established in Greenland were at length abandoned, and the site upon which they flourished, became, for many years, forgotten. Finally, however, the fifteenth century was ushered in, marking an era of great changes in Europe. It put an end to the darkness of the middle ages; it witnessed the revival of learning and science, and the birth of many useful arts, among which not the least was printing. The invention of the mariner’s compass in the preceding century having enabled sailors to go out of sight of land with impunity, a thirst for exploring unknown seas was awakened. Long voyages were undertaken, and important discoveries made.

It was during this age of mental activity and growing knowledge, that Christopher Columbus undertook the most memorable enterprise that human genius ever planned, or human skill and courage ever performed. On the third of August, 1492, a little before sunrise, he set sail from Spain for the discovery of the western world. A little before midnight, on the thirteenth of October, he descried a light on the island of San Salvador. From this moment properly dates the complete history of America. From this time forward its progress bears date from a definite period, and is not shrouded in darkness, nor the mists of tradition.

Two years after the discoveries of Columbus became known in England, Henry VII. engaged John Cabot, a Venetian merchant, to sail in quest of discoveries in the west, and this navigator, in 1497, reached the coast of Labrador, which he named Prima-vista, thus making, probably, the first visit of Europeans to this coast since the days of the Norsemen. This voyage was succeeded by others under Sebastian Cabot, son of John, in 1498; and by Gasper Cortereal, from Portugal, to whom the discovery of the St. Lawrence some authorities claim is due. This adventurer returned to Lisbon in the month of October of that year, laden with timber and slaves, seized from among the natives of the coasts he had visited. On a second voyage he perished at sea. In 1504, the French first attempted a voyage to the New World; and in that year some Basque and Breton fishermen began to ply their calling on the banks of Newfoundland, and along its adjacent coasts. From these the island of Cape Breton derived its name. In 1525, Stefano Gomez sailed from Spain, and is supposed to have entered the. Gulf of St. Lawrence, and to have traded upon its shores. A Castilian tradition relates that finding neither gold nor silver upon the coasts, nor, anything which conveyed to these sordid adventurers an idea of mines of wealth of any kind, they frequently exclaimed “aca-nada,” signifying “here is nothing,” and that the natives caught up the sound which was repeated by them when other Europeans arrived, and thus gave origin to the designation of Canada.

In 1534, Francis I., king of France, listening to the urgent advice of Philip Chabot, admiral of France, who portrayed to him in glowing colors the riches and growing power of Spain, derived from her Trans-Atlantic colonies, despatched Jacques Cartier, an able navigator of St. Malo, who sailed April 20, 1534, with two ships of only sixty tons each, and a hundred and twenty men, reaching Newfoundland in May. After coasting along for some time, without knowing that it was an island, he at length passed the straits of Belleisle, and traversed the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Having spent part of the summer on these coasts, he sailed on the 25th of July, highly pleased with the hospitable reception he had received from the natives, with whom he traded for furs and provisions. His report induced the French king to attempt a colony in the newly discovered regions; and in May, 1535, Cartier again sailed with three small ships, with a numerous company of adventurers, and arrived on the coasts of Newfoundland much scattered and weakened by a disastrous storm of July 26th. Here they took in wood and water, and proceeded to explore the gulf, but were overtaken, August 1st, by a storm which obliged them to seek a port, difficult of access, but with a safe anchorage, near the mouth of the ” Great river.” They left this harbor on the 7th, and on the roth came to a gulf filled with numerous islands. Cartier gave to this gulf the name of St. Lawrence, having discovered it on that saint’s festival clay.. Proceeding on his voyage, he explored both shores of the St. Lawrence. Pleased with the friendly disposition of the natives and the comfortable pros-. petts for a winter’s sojourn, Cartier moored his vessels where a little river flowed into a ” goodly and pleasant sound,” which stream he named the St. Croix,. near the Indian village of Stadacona, the site of the present city of Quebec. Subsequently, October 2d, he ascended the river to a populous Indian village called Hochelaga, upon the site of which the city of Montreal now stands. Here Donnacona, an Algonquin chief, conducted Cartier to the summit of a mountain situated about two miles from the village, and to which he gave the name of Mount Royal, or Montreal, and showed him, “in that bright October sun,” the country for many miles south and east, and told him of great rivers and inland seas, and of smaller rivers and lakes penetrating a beautiful territory belonging to the warlike Iroquois. This beautiful country,. which the chief called Iroquoisia, included the present State of Vermont. Thus, to Jacques Cartier, a French navigator and explorer, is due the honor of having been the first European to gaze upon the Green Mountains of. Vermont.

In May, Cartier returned to France, taking with him the Indian chief, Donnacona, and two other prominent natives of the village, as prisoners;, and they, who had treated him with such uniform kindness, died in a strange land, exiles from their homes and friends.

During each succeeding year, for some time after, expeditions were sent out to the newly discovered river, but misfortune attended them all, and no efficient attempt at colonizing the country was made until 1608, when DeMonts, a Calvinist, who had obtained from the King the freedom of religious faith for himself and followers in America, but under the engagement that theCatholic worship should be established among the natives, after several perilous voyages, and much opposition, despatched Champlain and Pontgrave, two, experienced adventurers, to establish the fur trade and begin a settlement, Samuel Champlain reached Quebec, where Carrier had spent ,the winter nearly three-quarters of a century before, on the 3d of July. On the 18th of the following April, 1609, in company with two other Frenchmen, and a number of the natives, he started up the St. Lawrence, and, after a time, turned southward up a tributary, and soon entered the lake which perpetuates his name.

Thus entered the first European upon the territory now included within the limits of Vermont, unless, perhaps, we accept the testimony of the curious document found a few years since, on the banks of the Missisquoi river in Swanton, as follows:: In December, 1853, as Messrs. Orlando Green and P. R. Ripley were engaged in excavating sand on the left bank of the Missisquoi, near the village of Swanton, they discovered a lead tube about five inches long, and an inch and a half in diameter, embedded in the earth. Enclosed within this tube was found a manuscript, of which the following is an exact copy:

“Nov. 29 A D 1564.

” This is the solme day I must now die this is the Both day since we lef the Ship all have Parished and on the Banks of this River I die to farewelle may future Posteritye know our end.


This document had every appearance of being genuine, and nothing has Occurred since to point in an opposite direction. It certainly does not seem improbable that a party of sailors should wander away from their ship, or for some cause be left behind, and that they should then become lost and finally die in the forest; and it is also very natural that a sailor should leave some record to tell of his fate. But be that as it may, there is, of course, no positive evidence that the manuscript is genuine.

The early explorations and discoveries we have mentioned, led to much litigation and controversy on the part of the several European countries under whose auspices they had been conducted. The English, on the ground of the discoveries by the Cabots, claimed the territory from Labrador to Florida, to which they gave the name Virginia; but their explorations were confined principally to the coast between Maine and Abermarle Sound. The French confined their explorations principally to the country bordering on the St. Lawrence and its tributaries, which they named New France, while the Dutch, by virtue of the discoveries of Henry Hudson, afterwards laid claim to the country between Cape Cod and the Delaware river, which they called New Netherlands.

Attempts at colonization were made by England during the reign of Elizabeth, but they proved abortive, and it was not until the Tudor dynasty had passed away, and several years of the reign of James I., the first of the Stuarts, had elapsed, before the Anglo-Saxon gained any permanent foothold. Stimulated by the spirit of rivalry with France, England pushed her explorations and discoveries, while France, from her first colony on the St. Lawrence, had explored the vast region from the great lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and established among the savages missions and trading posts, first in Canada, then in the West, and finally in New York and Vermont.

But the rivalries and jealousies that had made France and England so long enemies in the Old World, were transplanted to the New Continent. The French made allies of the savages and waged war against the English, and years of bloodshed followed. The first of these hostilities, which are now known as the Old French Wars, began with William’s accession to the throne of England, in 1690, and was terminated in the peace of Ryswic, in 1697. Queen Anne’s war, so called, came next, commencing in 1702, and, terminating in the peace of Utrecht, in 1713. The third controversy was declared by George II., in 1744, and continued until the preliminaries of peace were signed at Aux-la-Chapelle, in 1748. The last conflict was formally declared by Great Britain, in 1956, and terminated by the capture of Montreal, in September, 1760, when the whole of New France was surrendered to Great Britain.

During the progress of these wars, the territory of Vermont was often crossed by portions of both armies, and a few settlements sprang up. The first of these was in 1665, on Isle LaMotte, where a fort was erected by Captain De LaMotte, under command of M. De Tracy, governor of New France. In 1690, Captain De Narm, with a party from Albany, N. Y., established an outpost in the present town of Addison, at Chimney Point, where he erected a small stone fort. The first permanent settlement, however, was made at Brattleboro, in 1724, when Fort Dummer was built. For six or seven years the garrison of this fort were the only white inhabitants. In 1730, the French built a fort at Chimney Point, and a considerable population settled in the vicinity. In 1739, a few persons settled in Westminster, and about the same time a small French settlement was begun at Alburgh, on what is now called Windmill Point, but was soon abandoned. The colony at Westminster increased but slowly, and in 1754, the whole population, alarmed by the Indian attack upon Charleston, N. H., deserted their homes. Forts were erected, and small settlements were commenced in several other places, but fear of the Indians prevented any large emigration till after the last French war, when, the Province of Canada being then ceded to Great Britain, the fear of hostile incursions subsided, and the population rapidly increased. 

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