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Why not the earlier law?

As so often happens, about a nanosecond after The Legal Genealogist posts about a topic, somebody pops in with a question that the original post probably should have mentioned — or at least might have if there wasn’t a realistic limit to the length of a blog post…

I won’t say it happens every single time, but…

It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise when — after yesterday’s post about earmarks registered in a book of town records in Shaftsbury, Vermont1 — in came the question.

“You mentioned records starting in 1766, but cited a law from 1797,” the inquirer mused. “Why not cite Vermont law from 1766?”

Now that’s a really good question.

After all, if there’s anything that’s a mantra for The Legal Genealogist, it’s that if we want to understand the records, we have to understand the law at the time and in the place where the records were created.

So there ought to be an easy answer, right?

Except there isn’t.

Because there wasn’t exactly a Vermont in 1766.

Act admitting Vermont as a state

Oh, there was an area called Vermont, of course.

Claimed first by the French, who erected a fort in Isle La Motte in 1666.2

And then by the English, with their first permanent settlement at Fort Dummer in 1724.3

And then contested between and among:

• The Province of Massachusetts Bay, which said the land was part of the 1629 charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

• The Province of New York, which said it was land granted to the Duke of York in 1664.

• And the Province of New Hampshire, which said it was included in a decree of George II in 1740.4

Not to mention, of course, the indigenous population that had lived on the land for centuries before the first European ever heard of Vermont, and those hardy Europeans who were actually settled there, scratching out their living from the land.

To put it mildly, the law when it comes to Vermont was a mess. Was it French law, English law, Massachusetts colonial law, New York colonial law, New Hampshire colonial law, local custom, or some combination of the above?

Which is why there really isn’t an easy answer to that question.

Add in the French and Indian War, and the armed conflicts between people claiming land under grants from both New York and New Hampshire, the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the declaration of Vermont as an independent republic in 1777 and the bitter resistance of New York to the Vermont claims, blocking Vermont from statehood 5 and —

Yeah, it’s a mess.

It doesn’t really get easier until well after the Revolution and, indeed, even after the adoption of the new U.S. Constitution.

It wasn’t until 1781 that Massachusetts gave up all of its claims to Vermont, not until 1782 that New Hampshire did, and not until 1790 that Vermont and New York finally resolved their dispute over the competing land grants.6

That finally paved the way for Vermont statehood. In January 1791, Vermont ratified the Constitution. On 18 February 1791, Congress approved a law admitting Vermont as the 14th state of the new United States of America, effective on 4 March 1791.7

And oh by the way there were still pissing contests8 over Vermont’s borders that were being decided by the courts in the 20th century.9

So why not cite earlier Vermont law?

Um… because we’d first have to figure out whose law that might be.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Vermont law: who’s on first,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 9 Mar 2022).


  1. Judy G. Russell, “A different set of vital records,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Mar 2022 ( : accessed 9 Mar 2022).
  2. See Site of French Fort Ste. Anne
    Vermont’s oldest settlement
    , The Historical Marker Database ( : accessed 9 Mar 2022).
  3. See Michael Kleen, “Fort Dummer in Brattleboro, Vermont,” Historic America, posted 22 May 2019 ( : accessed 9 Mar 2022).
  4. See Wikipedia (, “History of Vermont,” rev. 31 Dec 2021.
  5. See generally “Freedom & Unity: New Frontier 1750-1820,” Vermont History ( : accessed 9 Mar 2022).
  6. See generally LaFayette Wilbur, Early History of Vermont, 4 vols. (Jericho, Vt. : 1899-1903).
  7. See “Freedom & Unity: New Frontier 1750-1820,” Vermont History. And see “An Act for the admission of the State of Vermont into this Union,” 1 Stat. 191 (18 Feb 1791).
  8. What? You don’t think that’s a technical legal term?
  9. See Vermont v. New Hampshire, 289 U.S. 593 (1933).
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