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Plymouth, Vermont in Context: a Bibliography



Here are some sources I have found useful for developing a broader and deeper understanding of how the town of Plymouth grew and why it grew the way it did, how people lived there and what they were thinking about in years long past. All of the books on this list can probably be borrowed through interlibrary loan if your local library does not have them. (Each linked title will take you down the page to an extended bibilographic entry for that book.) I welcome additions to this list from anyone interested in Plymouth and in Vermont history.


Hands on the Land: A History of the Vermont Landscape, by Jan Albers. Published in 2000 by The Orton Family Foundation, Rutland, Vermont.

The Story of Vermont: A Natural & Cultural History, by Christopher McGrory Klyza & Stephen C. Trombulak. Published in 1999 by the Middlebury College Press & the University Press of New England, Hanover & London.

Migration from Vermont, by Lewis D. Stillwell. Published in 1948 by The Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier, Vermont, as volume 5 of the series The Growth of Vermont.

Social Ferment in Vermont, 1791 - 1850, by David M. Ludlum. Published in 1948 by The Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier, Vermont.

The Last Yankees: Folkways in Eastern Vermont and the Border Country, by Scott E. Hastings, Jr. Published in 1990 by the University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire.
and
Up in the Morning Early: Vermont Farm Families in the Thirties, by Scott E. Hastings, Jr., and Elsie R. Hastings. Published in 1992 by the University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Profiles from the Past: an uncommon history of Vermont, by Cora Cheney. Published in 1973 by The Countryman Press, Taftsville, Vermont.

The Hill Country of Northern New England: Its Social and Economic History, 1790 - 1930, by Harold Fisher Wilson. Published in 1967 by AMS Press, New York.

A Long, Deep Furrow: Three Centuries of Farming in New England, by Howard S. Russell. Published in 1976 by the University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire.

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Hands on the Land: A History of the Vermont Landscape,
by Jan Albers.
Published in 2000 by The Orton Family Foundation, Rutland, VT.
"The landscape we see around us shows the effects of layer upon layer, decade upon decade, of human decisions about what to do on the land," and these reflect our ancestors' lives and thoughts. This history includes many old and recent photographs, and reproductions of early drawings and paintings.
Chapter 1: Native Vermont - discusses the 6 physiographic regions, the forest types, and the native people of the area which became Vermont, known to their western neighbors as Abenaki, meaning 'Dawn Land People,' although they called themselves Alnobak, 'Ordinary People'.
Chapter 2: Claiming the Land - discusses the arrival of European colonists in the pre-statehood period, from the building of the Crown Point Military Road, through the flood of immigrants to the new northern frontier after the end of the French & Indian Wars. It includes a lot of detail about how these people usually travelled, how they established their homesteads, and the patterns of land use and house design typical of various groups of settlers.
Chapter 3: The Classic Agrarian Landscape, 1791-1860 - traces the changes in land use and the shape of farms and villages as the economy shifted from subsistence and barter to a market economy. The author's perspective is that "...the absence of growth was not indicative of stagnation in early 19th century Vermont." Rather, it was a process of reaching equilibrium. "It just meant that the land was telling the people how many of them it could support under prevailing conditions. Small could be beautiful."
Chapter 4: Creating Vermont's Yankee Kingdom, 1860 - 1945 - begins with George Perkins Marsh and the writing of Man and Naturein 1864, with "the almost unprecedented idea that there are limits to nature's bounty." The look of the land changed again as sheep were replaced by cows. The author discusses the rise of agricultural education, and the growth of industry: logging and quarrying, expanded by the railroads, mining, and manufacturing - and the beginnings of tourism.
Chapter 5: Choosing Vermont, 1945 to the Future - asks "What makes a 'good' landscape? Who makes the decisions about how the land will be shaped? How are we to resolve tensions between the community's right to enjoy the landscape and individuals' rights to do what they want on their own property? Do societies get the landscapes they deserve?" There is considerable detail about land use and patterns of development towards the end of the 20th century.
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The Story of Vermont: A Natural & Cultural History,
by Christopher McGrory Klyza & Stephen C. Trombulak.
Published in 1999 by the Middlebury College Press & the University Press of New England, Hanover & London.
Part I: Setting the Stage for Vermont - begins with the earliest geological evolution of the region, the recent ice age, retreat of the glaciers, colonization of the landscape by plants and animals, and the first human colonists.
Part II: The Recent Landscape History of Vermont - takes up the effects of European settlement on the land, beginning in 1616-17, when an epidemic of European disease devasated native communities, killing people in southern New England, and the eastern Abenaki, by the thousands, and probably also the western Abenaki of what is now Vermont. Disease continued to reduce the native population through the mid-1700s. "By 1763, when European influx into Vermont began in earnest, there were not many natives left," and early Vermont schoolbooks taught for years that there had never been a native population there. The forests, which had already lost much of their large mammal population, were cleared for agriculture. European agriculture was very different from the native agriculture: domesticated animals required grazing land, and fencing, and wolves were gradually exterminated to protect them. Oxen allowed use of plows to cultivate more land. Imported weeds escaped and further altered Vermont ecosystems. Roads were built, replacing the native system of canoes and trails. Monoculture and grazing led to erosion and soil exhaustion, which in turn led to the clearing of more land.
With statehood, the human population grew, and the transformation of the land accelerated. Railroads gave access to log forests previously inaccessible. By the mid-nineteenth century, cutting of the forest was driven primarily by the market needs of a growing economy and nation, not subsistence farm needs. This led both to increased cutting and to more selective cutting, which in turn changed habitats and altered tree composition of the forests. But after the mid-19th century, the demand for wood dropped, allowing the forest to begin to return.
The authors also describe how Vermont agriculture was shaped by soils & climate, and by the shift from early self-sufficiency towards market-oriented production, and then the decline of agriculture in Vermont due to competition as western lands were put into production. There are wonderfully detailed descriptions of the average subsistence farm in the early periods, and of crop patterns as they changed through the 19th century.
Immigration and emigration are discussed, mining and manufacturing, and the development of roads, canals, and railroads. And then, the gradual regrowth of the forest from the latter 19th through the mid-20th century, so that now it is hard to imagine how much of the land [Plymouth Kingdom, for example] was once cleared. Finally, the authors discuss the effects of modern conservation, and the new industries of tourism and recreation, on the landscape of Vermont.
The final section is a portrait of the various ecological communities that exist in the state.
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Migration from Vermont,
by Lewis D. Stillwell.
Published in 1948 by The Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier. VT, as volume 5 of the series The Growth of Vermont.
This story moves decade by decade, from the early years of European settlement there, even before statehood, through the 19th century. Stillwell traces the patterns of emigration from Vermont - who left, & why - and how did those patterns change over time? For one thing, Vermonters left as they used up the resources of the land: even by 1820 "fish and game, forest and water power, and the fundamental richness of the soil itself, were on the wane. In the newer, less accessible towns [like Plymouth] the process was slower and less marked, but it went on nonetheless." The pioneers had neither the knowledge nor the time and strength to practice conservation; they simply used "whatever came handy for their own survival and enrichment." All this did not happen so fast as it did later in the middle West, but many Vermont hill towns were essentially speculative bubbles which were bound to burst. Of course, Vermont was never ideal farming country, with its short growing season, hilly land and thin soils. It was inevitable that people would leave the hilliest and most difficult areas once anything better was available.
In the 1830s, emigration increased massively because agriculture in Vermont had shifted dramatically away from field crops to sheep pasturage (in a map showing the number of sheep in each town in 1836, Plymouth ranks among the higher density, with over 5,000). Farmers were bought out by big sheepmen who could pay more for the land than the farm could produce, just as had happened during the period of the enclosures in Britain & Ireland. Meanwhile, industrialization never provided an alternative for the majority of those displaced from the land, despite Vermonters' ingenuity and efforts; the lack of transportation kept them from being competitive.
Meanwhile, the early Vermonters tended to have large families, which the farm economy depended on. And they made it a point to educate them well - book learning which broadened their horizons and pulled them away from the farm and often out of the state. Another cultural trait of the Puritans which played into the history of migration was "the capacity for zealous excitement and millennial furor." Out of the many movements which inspired these passions came many spurt of emigration. Sometimes the dissenting minority left; sometimes the most zealous of the enthusiastic majority, like "the continuous stream of Vermont missionaries and some at least" of those who emigrated to Kansas when abolitionist Vermonters were being exhorted to settle there in order to swell the numbers who would vote to make the new state a free state. Even when there was no such moral cause, the quest for the promised land inspired fevers for each new territory: "the 'Genesee fever,' then the 'Ohio fever,' and so on to the 'California fever' which was the most feverish of all." This also meant that many of them, having moved West from Vermont, did not stay settled for long, but moved on again.
Along the way Stillwell also considers where Vermonters were likely to go in each successive decade, and how. Some went in wagons, but in the earlier period more often by sleighs, because both the Vermont roads and the western ones were impassable for heavily loaded vehicles unless the ground were frozen. Many went by water as the canals opened, and those routes, like the railroads after them, carried many people to the same general destinations. Most of them "travelled in groups of friends or relatives," as neighbors from Vermont became neighbors in the West. Occasionally this was planned in an organized colony, but more often it was not.
All this is of great help both in fleshing out in our imaginations the journeys of our relatives who moved West from Vermont - and for guessing where the lost ones might have gone.
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Social Ferment in Vermont, 1791 - 1850,
by David M. Ludlum.
Published in 1948 by The Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier, VT.
Different regions of Vermont, separated by the mountains and by the cultural backgrounds of those who settled in each, developed very distinct social characters and distinct politics. In the Connecticut River Valley east of the mountains, Ludlum says, the settlers tended "to reproduce the institutions and forms of social expression of central Massachusetts and Connecticut" from which most of them came. These towns were more conservative politically - Federalist & Whig - and more firmly Congregational in religion. "These towns experienced many religious revivals, but they were neither so long lasting for so intense as those in other sections" to the west, or in the far northeast. "Temperance took a strong hold on the people, but antimasonry found few adherents; most of the antislavery sentiment focused on colonization schemes and veered away from proposals of immediate abolition. Daniel Webster [Whig] with his high tariff views and conciliatory anti-slavery principles became the idol of this wool-growing, church-going section."
After setting that stage, Ludlum devotes the larger part of the book to examing the various movements which inspired Vermonters through this half century. He begins with the Puritan Counter-Reformation at the end of the 18th century, the Congregational response to the rise of new sects: Universalists, Freewill Baptists, Christians, and Methodists. Then, the Temperance Crusade of the early 19th century, the Anti-Masonry movement, Abolitionism in religion and politics, Jacksonian Democracy, and the 19th century millenial movements in Vermont, some quite small and local, some larger, including Noyes, the Swedenborgians, the Millerites, as well as non-religious movements.
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The Last Yankees: Folkways in Eastern Vermont and the Border Country,
by Scott E. Hastings, Jr.
Published in 1990 by the University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire.
This book is based on Hastings' fieldwork in a region he defines as the Yankee Highlands (which includes Plymouth at the southwest. There are interviews with traditional farmers and craftsmen born around 1900, and photos of them and their work. The section on mills and trades includes a water tub maker, ladder round maker, pump log maker, sawmill and woodworking, log drive bateau, and cider pressing. The section on farming craft includes farm-built sleds and sledges, Indian corn, building wall, plowing, cutting tanbark, and recollections of farm women. The final section includes many short reflections on farm and household life, from breakfast to smoking meat to memories of hired me and Gypsies.
Up in the Morning Early: Vermont Farm Families in the Thirties,
by Scott E. Hastings, Jr., and Elsie R. Hastings.
Published in 1992 by the University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire.
This book combines excerpts from Scott Hastings' interviews of traditional farmers, made in the 1960s and '70s, with photographs taken during the Depression years, from the collection of the Farm Security Administration. As the Tom Slayton's forward points out, the equipment used in the mid-20th century on many Vermont hill farms was the same as had been used since the 1880s. The book follows the farming year through the seasons, and also includes sections on farm women, community affairs, off-farm work, and homes and highways.
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Profiles from the Past: an uncommon history of Vermont,
by Cora Cheney.
Published in 1973 by The Countryman Press, Taftsville, VT.
Profiles of the development of roads in Vermont, religion among the early settlers, the War of 1812, the Year Without a Summer in 1816, the early Temperance movement, the canals, the Canadian Rebellion of 1837, the opening of the railroads in the 1840s and emigration from Vermont, Irish immigrants, the Civil War, and the establishment of the Grange.
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The Hill Country of Northern New England: Its Social and Economic History, 1790 - 1930,
by Harold Fisher Wilson.
Published in 1967 by AMS Press, New York.
Written by a native Vermonter from the town of Bethel, includes a great deal about migration outof the region (much drawn from Stillwell's Migration from Vermont but also citing many primary sources). There is a chapter on the hill farms and why they were chosen by the early settlers, even though to our eyes they seem so unsuited for agriculture. Another chapter which I found valuable explores the developments of the early 20th century (rural mail delivery, telephone service, automobiles, radio, and electricity) and how they changed the lives of hill farm families. Much of the rest of the book discusses history which I found better covered in Hands on the Land.
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A Long, Deep Furrow: Three Centuries of Farming in New England,
by Howard S. Russell.
Published in 1976 by the University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire.
Being about the whole region of New England, this book does not contain a great deal of detail specifically about Vermont. However, if you are interested in farming - in what the lives of our farming ancestors were like day-to-day - then this is a wonderful book. And, if your ancestors came to Vermont from the southern New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Rhode Island, then you can follow their story (although not them personally) back through this book.
The first several chapters outline the state of native agriculture before the Pilgrims arrived, and how they and the other early New England colonists arrived not to a wilderness but to an open coast of salt marshes and village sites cleared by generations of native people.
The first section also says a great deal about how the patterns of settlement and agriculture in New England were drawn from the colonists' experience in Old England, and what was typical in the particular regions which were the home of most of the early New England immigrants.
The book is full of detail about the changes in farming techniques and tools over the years, including lists of tools and household items most commonly found in estate inventories at various periods. What did it mean if an inventory included plow chains, but no plow? There are also discussions of how the various livestock were kept and how the various crops were grown, how these varied from region to region depending on the soils and available markets, and how these patterns changed and evolved. These are wonderful to compare with the agricultural census schedules. Along the way there are descriptions of typical houses built in various areas and how these changed over time, as well as the layout of villages, and even the clothing worn in the earliest period. There is a great deal about what goods were being traded, where they were exported to, and how farmers and merchants got their goods from one place to another. What was life like on the farm? What was the women's work like? Since most people in early New England were farmers, a history of New England farming is a story of their lives.
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This site maintained by Nancy Wygant of Philadelphia, PA. Last updated 3-16-2002.

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