Originally populated by various indigenous peoples of the Algonquin, Iroquois, and Abenaki nations, the land now known as Vermont was first seen by European eyes on this day in 1609, when the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed the still partly frozen lake that now bears his name. The French must have paid their visits during the warmer months, for when they gazed upon the mountains that form the spine of the state, they named them Les Verts Monts--or the Green Mountains. The quaint capital of the state, Montpelier also got its name from the French--it means the naked mount or the mountain without trees. As happens with language, Les Verts Monts was somehow transliterated into Vermont. And as generally happens with explorers, Champlain claimed all he saw in the name of France.
In 1763, England was granted the area via the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years War--a global imperial conflict known in the Americas as the French and Indian War and celebrated in our folklore by the tales of Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper. The land was at various times claimed by the colonial governors of both New Hampshire and New York; however, the fiercely independent residents maintained their autonomy. By 1775, they had joined the spreading rebellion against British rule--but rather than join forces with the other thirteen Atlantic coast colonies, Vermonters, naturally, chose to go it alone.
Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys did not fight for American independence, rather, they fought for Vermont’s freedom. The great victory at Fort Ticonderoga was won not by American forces but by the militias of a sovereign Vermont under the authority of President Thomas Crittenden and the national legislature convened in Windsor. Even after the other thirteen colonies had confederated into a single American nation, the little state of Vermont remained an independent republic. It was not until 1791, some fifteen years after declaring autonomy, that it joined the United States as that fledgling nation's fourteenth member state.
Even after Vermont joined the Union, its rugged citizens maintained their distance and independence—-they reserved the right to secede at any time by a simple majority vote of its legislature. It is the only state to continue to have that statutory prerogative to this day. It is sometimes quipped in the other forty-nine that it might be better for all if it were to exercise that prerogative. Regardless, the fierce independence of Vermont is never in doubt.