Vermont Place Names: Footprints Of History
The names of the places around us often tell the unique story of Vermont’s history. Our guide is Vermont Place Names: Footprints of History, by Esther Munroe Swift.
Swift wrote the town “was chartered to some of the Green Mountain Boys’ officers and men and to the heirs of other men who had been killed during the revolution. …The town was chartered to the veterans in the hope that it would be a post-war Eden for them; however as far as can be ascertained, none of them ever settled there.”
Swift went on to say that “Eden didn’t really offer the Green Mountain Boys much prospect for settlement: in 1883 Hamilton Child’s Gazetteer of Lamoille County, said ‘In surface, Eden is rough and mountainous and made quite picturesque by numerous ponds and rivers.' It was 1800 before any settlement was made, and that year the United States census showed only 29 residents. Soon after that the first child, a boy, was born to Isaac and Lydia Brown and named Eden. The town reached its peak of population in the decade of 1860-1870, when the residents numbered over 900, but it has declined nearly every decade since then to the 1970 census figure of only a little more than 500.”
Swift’s book was published in 1977, and has not been updated. In the 2000 census, the population of Eden was again on the rise, to 1,000 people.
Swift wrote, “two members of the Underhill family were listed on the grant…They were Benjamin Underhill and Underhill Horton…” Sorry to all of you who thought it was named because of its location, under the hill that is Vermont’s highest mountain. Swift continues, “The town of Mansfield… was granted on the same day as Underhill. Mansfield had almost no land suitable for farming, and the peaks of the Green Mountains, running through the center of the town, made it impossible to go from one side to the other. In 1839, the western section of Mansfield was annexed to Underhill, thereby bringing the town to its present size. After a long hassle with the Mansfield townspeople, who wanted to have their town remain a separate civil entity, the legislature managed to give the rest of the town to Stowe, in Lamoille county in the East.”
“Mount Mansfield…is in the eastern section of Underhill, which originally had been the western half of Mansfield town.” People often think that Mansfield, got its name from features its like nose and chin. But Swift wrote that this isn’t correct, “This fancied resemblance gave rise to the oft-repeated story that the name of the town was a made name Man’s field and in return that the town’s name came from the mountain."
"The true story is less picturesque: the Vermont town was named for Mansfield, Connecticut, the home town of some of the grantees; and the mountain had its name for the town.”
Mendon was first chartered as Medway, but became Mendon in 1827. But in between, it was briefly, Parkerstown. Swift wrote… “a charter was issued to Jonathan Parker, who then lived in Clarendon, for a 3,000-acre tract that was given the name of Parkers Gore. Then in 1804, according to Child’s Gazetter for Rutland County, there occurred a piece of classic skullduggery. Some of the land in Parkers Gore and Mendon was to be put up for tax sale and the account says Parker made it worthwhile for the county sheriff to start the sale at midnight of the appointed day. Parker was of course, the only bidder present, and he bought the land for a purely nominal sum; when the scandal became known the sheriff had to leave the state.”
“The name of the combined Parkers Gore and Medway became Parkerstown in 1804. Apparently, Parker’s influence was of more of a passing nature, because the town retained his name until 1827, when it was changed to Mendon by the legislature.”
Meanwhile, the nearby town of Killington has also had a number of changes. It was chartered as Killington, and became Sherburne in 1800, and in 1999, it was changed back to Killington, well after Vermont Place Names: Footprints of History was published.
Barton was named for one of its original grantees, General William Barton, who as Swift writes, “did take up residence in his new town soon after the charter was issued, but did not bring his family to Vermont – a fact that has since occasioned considerable speculation.”
Barton was a Revolutionary war veteran, and Swift shared a bit of his story, “Apparently, Barton was a feisty and quarrelsome sort, who was resented by the other settlers. One of the best-known stories about him concerns his being jailed for refusing to pay a legal judgment of $50.13 and court costs of an additional $51.10. It is thought that he was perfectly well able to pay, but simply refused to do so; as a result he went to jail for his debt in 1811, and there he stayed until 1825."
"When the Marquis de Lafayette was touring Vermont, he heard about what had happened to his old wartime friend, and paid for the General’s release. Lafayette undoubtedly envisioned Barton as languishing in a dark, dank jail at Danville, but this was not the case: the prisoner was merely restricted to the area within one-mile radius of the jail, and probably lived quite comfortably in a private home, not in the actual jailhouse. It is quite possible that the term in jail was mutually agreeable to the General and the people of Barton, for he didn’t return there after his release, but instead went back to Rhode Island and the wife that he had left there 30 years earlier.”
Vermont Place Names: Footprints of History was first published in 1977. The copyright is held by Esther Munroe Swift’s estate, which granted permission for its use. Series broadcast April 14-17, 2014 during Morning Edition on VPR.