Vermont Vs. New Hampshire

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Despite their contrasting natures, however, both New Hampshire and Vermont are proud of how they look. New Hampshire points to its seacoast, the Old Man of the Mountain (recently described by another irritated outside journalist as “possibly the least inspiring rock formation in America”), its lovely lakes, and the White Mountains, featuring Mount Washington. Vermont counters with its long shoreline on Lake Champlain, its Christmas-card countryside, and the Green Mountains, featuring Mount Mansfield. Vermonters hold Mount Mansfield in very hish regard. A few years ago I gave a speech in a church outside Burlington in which I admired a large stained-glass window showing Jesus Christ rising to heaven, accompanied by a host of beautiful angels. In the background—there’s no mistaking it—was Mount Mansfield.

The marked differences between these two brother states are really not surprising when you consider how each was brought up. Unlike most of the original colonists, New Hampshire’s first settlers didn’t arrive with an original charter, strong religious convictions, or a strong-willed proprietor like John Winthrop or Roger Williams. They were simply English adventurers, fishermen, and opportunists looking to make some money. This attitude fitted well with the Puritans in the neighboring Massachusetts Bay Colony, who, after a number of New Hampshire coastal towns came under Massachusetts jurisdiction during the mid-1600s, mixed their stern, frugal, conscientious, and ambitious approach to life with the New Hampshire settlers’ self-reliance and independence.

New Hampshire today is still closeIy tied to Massachusetts in many ways. Tourists and second-homers in New Hampshire are principally Bay Staters. At the same time, New Hampshire abhors the very idea of “creeping Massachusettsism,” a New Hampshire term that implies an assortment of liberal horrors, including higher taxes.

Although “discovered” by Samuel de Champlain on July 4, 1609, Vermont was settled more than a century later. The first settlers, mostly from Connecticut, arrived in the Brattleboro area in 1724. (Their declaration of independence called the territory New Connecticut, a name that had it not been changed within months might well have destroyed the Vermont mystique before it began.) While New Hampshire was incorporating towns (60 percent of present-day New Hampshire towns were settled by 1775), clearing land, sending pine masts to England, and (aided by close proximity to the Boston market and ocean access) starting small industries that would grow into the major textile and shoe manufacturies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Vermont was floundering and in chaos.

This was due to some double-dealing by King George III. In effect, King George handed over Vermont to both New Hampshire and New York. He granted New Hampshire’s governor, John Wentworth, all land to within thirty miles of the Hudson River and then turned around and gave New York the land all the way to the east bank of the Connecticut River. Massachusetts jumped in and claimed some of it too.

All this eventually led to Vermont’s thumbing its nose at all its neighbors and everyone else too. In 1777, with Ethan Alien and his “Bennington Mob” leading the way, Vermont declared itself an independent state, answerable to nobody. Vermont remained independent until 1791, when it paid New York thirty thousand dollars to settle all its land disputes and was admitted to the Union.

Many of the New Hampshire claims in Vermont had been settled earlier by individual landowners, but the two states continued battling over their common boundary well into this century. They simply couldn’t agree on making it the middle of the Connecticut River, as most neighboring states would do. Like brothers arguing over who should have the bigger piece of cake, they insisted on trying to pick one bank of the river as the boundary. Finally, in 1934, the matter went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which chose the west bank. New Hampshire, awarded the entire breadth of the river, felt it had won a victory until someone pointed out that the state would thus be responsible for maintaining all the bridges over the river. Score one for Vermont.

With rolling farmland and small villages, Vermont is the most rural state in the Union.

There is something historic on which Vermont and New Hampshire actually agree. Both maintain that the American Revolution did not begin at Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775. New Hampshire favors December 13, 1774, when Maj. John Sullivan of the Granite State Volunteers and four hundred patriots attacked the British-held Fort William and Mary, at New Castle, New Hampshire. Vermont finds that particular action of no significance in the war’s outcome and sees the Concord/Lexington fight as purely a defensive action. So it proudly points to Ethan Alien’s capture of Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775, as the first offensive action of the war. To be fair, I should say here that every New England state makes a case for having begun the American Revolution—with the exception of Maine, which ignores the Revolution and stoutly points out that it was settled well before the arrival of the Mayflower anyway.