Windham County Vermont
Windham County lies in the lower south east corner of the state of Vermont. The Connecticut River (once called the "Great River" and also by the Indian name of "quonet-tu-cut," which means "long river with waves") flows along the eastern border of the county, separating it from nearby New Hampshire. This river provided passage for the Indians long before the arrival of English settlers. Later it also provided passage to and from Canada for colonial military forces and the French traders. Many of the earliest settlers in the county had at first travelled the Great River and being struck with the beauty and the resources along it, decided to establish their home there. The following are some excerpts describing what they saw, taken from The History of Putney Vermont 1753 - 1953, edited by Edith DeWolfe, Lura H. Frost, Edith I. Gassett, Inez S. Harlow and Elizabeth G. Scott (The Fortnightly Club of Putney, Vermont, 1953).
Probably none of us today has ever seen a vast tract of forest land untouched by human hand, yet that is what the first pioneer beheld. Great towering trees, more than one hundred feet high clothed these valleys and hills like a green mantle. The treetop branches met each other overhead like interlacing fingers, and formed a canopy over the solitary explorer as he made his way through the forest, so dense that it was darkened even in the middle of the day. The forests were of white and yellow pine, maple, ash, hemlock, birch, elm, oak, chestnut, beech, butternut, and some lesser varieties.
Game was plentiful in those far-off times. Bear were numerous, as were deer and moose. There were many rabbits and squirrels. Passenger pigeons, now extinct, came in great numbers and were used extensively food, being eaten fresh or "larded down" for further use. ....Other wild life included the mink, marten, muskrat, wolf, fox, bobcat or lynx, beaver, and the more common woodchuck, porcupine, skunk, weasel, etc. Catamounts too prevailed...
Shad and salmon, now vanished, and other river fish were abundant and a valuable source of food. In the spring salmon were often taken weighing thirty or forty pounds. They came up the river about April 25th. The brooks were full of trout.
One account that I read (and have lost) stated that the streams were so full of fish that it looked like you could walk across the water.
A good number of the earliest settlers made their way up the River from Northfield where they had been stationed at the military outpost. Other groups from other areas, also made attempts at settlement. One of these early groups was from Rehoboth and Taunton MA.
While many settlements were started in the 1730's, they almost all failed at the first try because of the Indians that still inhabited their land. Though settlements did become established it was a process of slow growth because the pioneers often had to leave during times of Indian attacks. Many returned to Northfield and other locations until things quieted down and some chose to remain there and others to return.
After the Indian threat had finally died down, there were waves of settlers that arrived by travelling up the Connecticut Valley from Connecticut. Others migrations came from Rhode Island, Cape Cod, Essex County, Worcester County in Massachusetts, as well as other areas. During the time of the of the railroads, many Frenchmen came from Canada and Irishmen from Ireland as workers in building and maintaining the railroads.
Early life in Vermont was primitive, but the settlers quickly set up homesteads and developed farms, saw mills, grain mills, newspapers, and even a mint. There were also blacksmiths, tinsmiths, barrelmakers, tanners, hatters, basketmakers, and painters. Taverns abounded during the age of horses, but began to close down after the arrival of the railroad and other modes of transportation. The farmers would sell their produce in Boston and in Connecticut. Most people became self sufficient and the old system of "warning out" provided an incentive for all to be gainfully employed. Education has always been an important part of each community.
Today, there are descendants of many of those early settlers that still inhabit the land. Through the years other groups and individuals have come to call Vermont home. I think that what makes Vermont unique is that with all of the diversity of people in the state, most have an ethic of individual thought and determination of purpose. In the present, there is a move to keep Vermont from being overtaken by the trends of today's society. This falls mostly in the commercial and environmental areas and attempts to maintain have put great tax burdens on the citizens. Along with this, many of the businesses that kept the people self-sufficient, have been discouraged or shut down in order to keep Vermont "clean and green." Whether this is good or bad, I cannot say, but it is slowly changing the flavor of what Vermont has been. There have also been many migrations of people leaving Vermont through the years, as the "west" was opened and many left for the farmlands of Ohio and the gold fields of California. Many others went into Canada where they settled.
Vermonters have come from many walks of life and many different parts of the country and world, but most have settled there in their search for freedom and the desire to live in peace and harmony.
The "Great River" of New England - The Connecticut River
Windham County Vermont by Rachel V. Duffalo, © Copyright 2000, All Rights Reserved
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Page Last Updated Wednesday, June 07, 2000