Published: March 1, 2011
On June 18, 1761, a group of 22 men, women and children from central Massachusetts, led by Capt Samuel Robinson, arrived in Bennington. They were the first group of settlers to establish a community that has remained in existence to this day in what is now the state of Vermont. Through May 30, the Bennington Museum has on view “Founding Documents,” an exhibition that celebrates the 250th anniversary year of Bennington’s settlement.
Using the resources of the museum’s archival collection, the story of Bennington’s first few decades, from the period immediately preceding the arrival of that first band of settlers in 1761 until Vermont entered the Union as the nation’s 14th state in 1791 is told. Featuring actual documents that helped to shape Bennington and Vermont, this exhibit is fascinating to anyone with an interest in history or, more specifically, the origins of the town, state and country.
The exhibition and accompanying publication are organized around four themes: Pre-Settlement, Early Settlement Era (1761‱791), Revolutionary War and the Battle of Bennington, and Boundary Battles and Statehood. Through these topics, the origins of Bennington and Vermont itself are examined.
The pre-settlement documents illuminate the main factors that played a role in Bennington’s, and ultimately Vermont’s, settlement. Among these are the land grants that were issued between 1749 and the mid-1760s by Benning Wentworth, the governor of the New Hampshire province and Bennington’s namesake.
Exploring the early settlement period (1761‱791), the exhibition examines some of the important issues and social establishments that helped to shape Bennington into the leading town in the New Hampshire Grants. One of the most critical elements in Bennington’s development was the Congregational Separatist Movement †evidenced by the original covenant for the town’s first church, written within a few years of settlement. Still other documents shed light on some of the more practical details of forging a town out of what was essentially wilderness.
The Revolutionary War in Bennington revolves around the Battle of Bennington, which took place on August 16, 1777. A defining moment in the town’s history, it was a battle that also had significant ramification in the larger picture of the war. The resounding American victory at Bennington was a prelude to the Continental Army’s victory at Saratoga. This battle is often referred to as the “turning point of the Revolution,” and may well have paved the way for American independence.
The story of Bennington’s (and Vermont’s) origins is the story of her citizens’ ongoing quarrel with the government of the province of New York. The dispute over land rights between New York and the New Hampshire Grants, later Vermont, lasted for 30 Years †beginning shortly after the arrival of Bennington’s first settlers in the spring of 1761 to a few months prior to Vermont being officially admitted as the 14th state into the union of the United States of America on March 4, 1791.
The exhibition features items such as land deeds indicating these overlapping land claims, including deeds that refer to Shaftsbury as being within the province of both New York and New Hampshire, and a letter sent from Governor Thomas Chittenden of Vermont to Governor George Clinton of New York, formalizing a treaty between the two states. This treaty paved the way for Vermont to become the 14th state.
The Bennington Museum is at 75 Main Street (Route 9). Call 802-447-1571 or visit www.benningtonmuseum.org for information.
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