On April 20, 1534, King Francis I of France sent explorer Jacques Cartier to sail west to find a sea route to Asia. Cartier described the land with the native Inuit word “Canada,” which means “settlement.” This land became New France.
It was a contentious period in Europe, with the main rival of Francis I being Charles V of Spain. To oppose Spain, Francis I made a notorious unprecedented alliance with the Muslim Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent, for which Francis was threatened with excommunication.
This treaty emboldened the Sultan to attack Hungary in the Battle of Mohács. Charles V responded by seeking an alliance with the Ottoman Empire’s enemy to the east – Shah Tahmasp I of Persia.
Meanwhile, in 1535, King Francis I of France sent Jacques Cartier on a second voyage with the Commission (Francis Parkman’s Works, Volume 2, p. 38-39; Lescarbot, I. 411; and Hazard, I. 19), stated: “We have resolved to send him again to the lands of Canada and Hochelaga (present-day Montreal), which form the extremity of Asia towards the west … (with the object of the enterprise to be discovery, settlement, and conversion of) men without knowledge of God or use of reason.”
Jacques Cartier sailed up the Saint Lawrence River till he came to impassable rapids near Montreal which he named “La Chine,” meaning “The China” rapids, as he was convinced this was the Northwest Passage to Asia.
An account of this expedition included the winter of 1535-36 (“The Voyages of Jacques Cartier,” University of Toronto Press, 1993): “The Captain (Jacques Cartier) again asked them (natives) what was the trouble? They answered that their god, Cudouagny by name, had made an announcement at Hochelaga … to tell them the tidings, which were that there would be so much ice and snow that all would perish. At this we all began to laugh and to tell them that their god Cudouagny was a mere fool who did not know what he was saying; and that they should tell their messengers as much; and that Jesus would keep them safe from the cold if they would trust in him. Thereupon Taignoagny and his companions asked the Captain if he had spoken with Jesus; and he replied that his priests had done so and that there would be fine weather.”
That winter was extremely harsh, as the account reported: “Already several had died, whom for sheer weakness we had to bury beneath the snow; for … the ground was frozen and we could not dig into it. … We were also in great dread of the people of the country, lest they should become aware of our plight and helplessness. And to hide our sickness, our Captain, whom God kept continually in good health, whenever they came near the fort, would go out to meet them with two or three men. … At this time so many men were down with this disease that we had almost lost hope of ever returning to France, when God in his infinite goodness and mercy had pity upon us and made known to us the most excellent remedy against all diseases that ever had been seen or heard of in the whole world.”
The account explained how Jacques Cartier learned of one who had: “… been healed by the juice of the leaves of a tree and the dregs of these, and that this was the only way to cure sickness. Upon this the Captain asked him if there was not some of it thereabouts. … They showed us how to grind the bark and the leaves and to boil the whole in water. … They called the tree in their language Annedda. … In less than eight days, a whole tree as large and as tall as any I every saw was used up, and produced such a result that had all the doctors of Louvain and Montpellier been there with all the drugs of Alexandria, they could not have done so much in a year as did this tree in eight days; for it benefited us so much that all who were willing to use it recovered health and strength, thanks be to God.”
Thinking it was gold, Jacques Cartier gathered large amounts of iron-pyrite – “fool’s gold.” Cartier also seized Chief Donnacona, his two sons and seven inhabitants and took them back to France, but nine of the ten died. In 1541, Cartier embarked on his third and final expedition, but did not receive a welcome by the native inhabitants.
At the same time, Sieur Jean-Francois de Roberval led an expedition. Sieur de Roberval, similar to England’s Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, raided Spanish ships in the Caribbean and attempted a settlement in the New World. Sieur de Roberval was commissioned by King Francis I of France as the first Lieutenant General of New France (“Lettres Patentes accorde’es a’ Jehan Francoys de la Rogue Sr de Roberval,” Jan. 15, 1541): “Francis, by the grace of God, King of France, to all to whom these presents may come, greetings. Since desiring to hear and learn about several countries. … Whereas we have undertaken this voyage for the honor of God our Creator, desiring with all our hearts to do that which shall be agreeable to Him, it is our will to perform a compassionate and meritorious work towards criminals and malefactors, to the end that they may acknowledge the Creator, return thanks to Him, and mend their lives. Therefore we have resolved to cause to be delivered to our aforesaid lieutenant (Sieur de Roberval) such and so many of the aforesaid criminals and malefactors detained in our prisons as may seem to him useful and necessary to be carried to the aforesaid countries.”
A very harsh leader, Roberval attempted a settlement, named Charlesbourg-Royal (present-day Quebec) in 1541, but two years later abandoned it and returned to France with the remaining colonists. Sieur de Roberval resumed pirating Spanish ships in the Caribbean. Sieur de Roberval finally died in 1560, being considered one of the first Protestant Huguenot victims in the Wars of Religion which ravaged France, especially after the Massacre of Vassy in 1562.
In 1562, some French Protestant Huguenots fled with Jean Ribault and René Goulaine de Laudonnière to attempt settlements in Florida, but the Spanish massacred them.
The French Wars of Religion were suspended by the Edict of Nantes of 1598 enacted by King Henry IV, who had been baptized Catholic but raised Protestant. In 1603, King Henry IV sent Samuel de Champlain to begin settlement of Canada.
In 1605, Samuel de Champlain, considered “the Father of New France,” together with Pierre Du Gua de Monts, founded Port Royal as the first capital of French Acadia. Port Royal was attacked and burned by British forces from Virginia in 1613, but rebuilt.
In 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City near the Indian settlement of “Stadacona.” In 1609, Samuel de Champlain encountered the lake named for him – Lake Champlain – which drains north into the Saint Lawrence River Valley of Canada.
Back in France, the Wars of Religion resumed with the assassination of King Henry IV on May 14, 1610. His son, Louis XIII, became the next king. The French Wars of Religion finally ended with the Peace of Alais, negotiated in 1629 by French Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu and Huguenot leaders, being signed by King Louis XIII.
New France was slow to attract settlers so Cardinal Richelieu founded the Company of One Hundred Associates (Compagnie des Cent-Associe’s) April 29, 1627, to bring more colonists: “King Henry the Great, our father of glorious memory, did seek and discover the lands and countries of New France, known as Canada, some able dwelling to establish a colony there, in order to, with Divine assistance, bring the peoples living there to the knowledge of the true God, and to organize and instruct in the Apostolic and Roman Catholic faith and religion.”
The French fortified Lake Champlain by building Fort Sainte Anne on Isle La Motte in 1666. It is considered the first settlement in what would later become the State of Vermont. In 1690, some Dutch Reformed Protestant settlers arrived in the area.
Colonial wars followed between the French and the British:
- King William’s War, 1689
- Queen Anne’s War, 1710
- Father Rale’s War, 1722
- King George’s War, 1744
- Father Le Loutre’s War, 1749
- French and Indian War, 1754
The British finally expelled all French from Acadia. Many were deported back to other colonies, or back to France, or fled south to the Caribbean and French Louisiana, where the name “acadian” became pronounced “cajun.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of this expulsion in his epic poem “Evangeline.”
Britain’s King granted a Royal Charter in 1679 to the fur trading company – The Hudson Bay Company – giving it monopoly control over such a large area that for a long period of time it was the largest landowner in the world, comprising 15 percent of North American acreage. The Hudson’s Bay Company is the oldest continuously operated commercial corporation in North America.
When the British began encroaching further south, the French built Fort St. Frederic in 1734 on Lake Champlain. In 1759, during the French and Indian War, British commander Jeffrey Amherst advanced with 11,000 soldiers, forcing the French to abandon Fort St. Frederic. The French moved 15 miles further south and built Fort Carillion at a strategic point where Lake George flows into Lake Champlain.
British commander Jeffrey Amherst captured Fort Carillion and renamed it Fort Ticonderoga. “Ticonderoga” is the Iroquois word meaning “where two waterways meet.” The capture of the Fort Ticonderoga allowed the British to begin crossing into French territory west of the Appalachian Mountains.
The Mohawks sided with the British and killed many of the French survivors. Part of the former French territory was called “Ver Mont,” French for “Green Mountain.”
British Colonies of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York tried to lay claim to Vermont. Massachusetts relinquished its claims, but New Hampshire issued land grants to proprietors, who subdivided it into lots. Some lots were set aside for a missionary organization of the Church of England by the name the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and some lots were for the first clergyman who would settle in each township.
In 1775, just three weeks after the Revolutionary War Battles of Lexington and Concord, Ethan Allen led 83 Green Mountain Boys of Vermont on a courageous expedition to capture Fort Ticonderoga. In the early morning of May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen, accompanied by Colonel Benedict Arnold, made a surprise assault on Fort Ticonderoga.
The bewildered British captain asked in whose name such a request was being made. Ethan Allen reportedly shouted: “In the Name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.”
The British surrendered in one of America’s first victories of the Revolutionary War.
Three weeks after the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, Harvard President Samuel Langdon told the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, May 31, 1775: “If God be for us, who can be against us? .. May our land be purged from all its sins! Then the Lord will be our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble, and we will have no reason to be afraid, though thousands of enemies set themselves against us.”
A little over seven months later, 25-year-old Colonel Henry Knox incredibly moved 59 cannons from Fort Ticonderoga over 200 miles across Vermont, New York and New Hampshire to Massachusetts to Dorchester hill overlooking Boston’s Harbor. This forced British ships to evacuate.
During the Revolution, Vermont not only fought the British but also New York, resulting in Vermont becoming its own independent nation for 14 years, similar to Texas.
The people of Vermont wrote in their original Constitution, 1777: “Whereas, all government ought to … enable the individuals who compose it, to enjoy their natural rights, and the other blessings which the Author of Existence has bestowed upon man; and whenever those great ends of government are not obtained, the people have a right, by common consent, to change it, and take such measures as to them may appear necessary to promote their safety and happiness. … And whereas … the King of Great Britain … continues to carry on, with unabated vengeance, a most cruel and unjust war against them; employing therein, not only the troops of Great Britain, but foreign mercenaries, savages and slaves, for the avowed purpose of reducing them to a total and abject submission to the despotic domination of the British parliament, with many other acts of tyranny. …
“Therefore, it is absolutely necessary, for the welfare and safety of the inhabitants of this State, that it should be, henceforth, a free and independent state … We the representatives of the freemen of Vermont … confessing the goodness of the Great Governor of the Universe, (who alone, knows to what degree of earthly happiness, mankind may attain, by perfecting the arts of government) in permitting the people of this State … to form for themselves, such just rules as they shall think best for governing their future society.”
Vermont’s 1786 Constitution stated: “That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments; therefore, the freedom of the press ought not be restrained. That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state; and, as standing armies, in the time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up. … And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz. ‘I ____ do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and Punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration, and own and profess the Protestant religion.'”
Vermont’s 1790 Constitution stated: “All persons have a natural and unalienable right, to worship Almighty God, according to the dictates of their own consciences and understandings, as in their opinion shall be regulated by the word of God. … No authority can, or ought to be vested in, or assumed by, any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner control the rights of conscience. … Nevertheless, every sect or denomination of Christians ought to observe the Sabbath or Lord’s Day, and keep up some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed Will of God.”
The United States government accepted Vermont as the 14th State of the United States in 1791, being approved by President George Washington. Denominations grew in numbers, most notably Congregationalists, Episcopalians and Baptists, followed by Methodists, Presbyterians, Free Will Baptists and Quakers. In the early 1800’s, there were also Unitarians, Universalists, and unconventional sects, such as Millerites and Perfectionists.
Beginning in 1820 with the Second Great Awakening, revivalism swept Vermont and academies with religious affiliations were founded. The anti-slavery sentiment was strong in Vermont. In the 1840’s the Catholic Church increased with French Canadians and Irish immigrants. In the late 1800’s, Judaism, Welsh Presbyterianism, Swedish Lutheranism and Greek Orthodoxy made a presence.
In 2006, the Pew Religious Landscape Survey listed Vermont as:
- 11 percent Evangelical Protestant
- 23 percent Mainline Protestant
- 0.5 percent Black Protestant
- 29 percent Catholic
- 1.0 percent Mormon
- 1.0 percent Jewish
- 1.0 percent Buddhist
- 7 percent Other Faiths
- 26 percent Unaffiliated
The state of Vermont put a statue of Ethan Allen in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
On Jan. 9, 1872, Senator Henry Bowen Anthony gave a speech in the U.S. Capital’s Statuary Hall (Washington: F & J. Rives & Geo. A. Bailey, 1872): “My colleague has well said that it was a happy idea to convert the old Hall of the House of Representatives into the Pantheon of America. The idea originated with my distinguished friend who sits upon my right (Senator Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont), then a leading member of the House. … It was indeed a happy idea to assemble in the Capitol the silent effigies of the men who have made the annals of the nation illustrious. … I anticipate … every state shall have sent her contribution … of heroes and patriots. … Vermont shall send us the stalwart form of that hero who thundered at the gates of Ticonderoga ‘in the name of the Continental Congress and the great Jehovah.'”
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