Swashbuckling Days in Vermont

THERE was lately tried, in Bennington County Court, a very interesting case, involving the alleged embezzlement, by one citizeness, of ‘a six-quart pail of blueberries’ harvested by another. The case attracted spectators, and excited comment in the press of southern Vermont. And well it might do so. Though unlikely to be carried to the Supreme Court, the Blueberry Case may very well go down in history as the triumph of a principle, and the end of an era in Vermont.

Time was when the courts would have had no jurisdiction over such a matter, in any section of the Green Mountains. When the ‘Beech Seal’ was affixed, not to the deeds, but to the backs, of interlopers on the farms granted by New Hampshire; when Ethan Allen took Ticonderoga ‘in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress,’ though ‘holding,’ as one historian very justly remarks, ‘no commission from either' ; — when, in short, Vermont was still

The outlaw state that held her own
In single-handed fight
Against the British on the left,
The Yorkers on the right; —

then, indeed, the mountain where these blueberries were picked would have been the scene of their last reckoning; and neither of the stalwart housewives would have troubled judge or jury in the matter.

She should take who had the power.

Turbulent, indeed, were the Green Mountains of the early days! Ethan Allen was, I think, the only great swashbuckler of the Revolution. His swaggering feats are commemorated by at least three monuments in his native state; whereas the finer genius of Seth Warner is unmemorialized, save by that graceful shaft in the mountain township of Peru. Vermont sent to Congress, in her adopted son, the Irishman Matthew Lyon, a swashbuckling legislator if ever there was one. His resort to the arbitration of fists with his colleague Griswold is not, to be sure, unparalleled in Congressional history; but there was a unique element of swagger in his solitary session in the House, when every other member of House and Senate marched away in state to pay their customary devoirs to the President. Lyon justly represented, on that occasion, his almost Jacobin constituency.

Vermont used then to cast her tiny vote with herculean energy for Thomas Jefferson. Which of our forbears in these rocky valleys could have foreseen what a phalanx we were later to present on the Conservative and Whiggish side? Republican Vermont to-day seems to require ‘breaking up’ more urgently than the most solid regions of the South!

Our early Democracy is departed, along with our Wild West airs of a century ago; but there survives in Vermont a very sturdy democracy of the uncapitalized description. We may, I think, be fairly called ‘democratic Republicans.’ Who ever heard of sumptuary laws in Vermont? The very names of our villages are a lesson in democracy. Pumpkin Hollow alternates with the proud names of Danby, Shaftesbury, and Arlington. Our southwestern counties abound in the names of famous English noblemen of the seventeenth century; a certain page of Green’s History is like a roll-call of townships in Bennington, Rutland, and Windham counties. Yet intermixed with these sounding and splendid titles, on the leveling map of Vermont, are Bald Mountain, Owl’s Head, Mother Merrick, Chiselville, and Bear Town.

The anecdote is still told in our valley of the reply which Mrs. Chittenden, the Governor’s wife, made to some squeamish guests who objected to meeting the farmhands at dinner. ‘We usually all dine together,’ said the first lady of Vermont, ‘but I really think there should be two tables set: the first for the farmhands, because they have been working very hard, and must be very hungry; and the second for the rest of us, who can very well wait.’

A certain importance once attached to Vermont as the eldest daughter of the Revolution. She took a slight precedence in statehood over Kentucky. The two were, however, in sisterly agreement in their dispositions. There was a great deal of ‘uppishness’ in the conduct of both. Congress thought it very bad taste in any of her frontier children to demand or threaten her dignified and deliberate procedure; but Vermont and Kentucky set an example of anything but meekness and patience to the swarming young brood of would-be states.

In the old curiosity shop of history several interesting parallels can be traced between Vermont and Kentucky. Before the former entered on her half-century of prohibition, strong waters were fully as popular in the Green Mountains as in the Blue Grass. Account-books are extant of an old shop-of-all-goods in our village, where incredible quarts, nay gallons, of rum were sold to many a deacon and elder. A singular circumstance it seems that Stephen A. Douglas came from Vermont, while Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky. (‘And of Sion it shall be reported, that he was born there.’) The Little Giant, when he left Vermont, was but one of the crowding, ever-increasing army of emigration from ‘ that, sapphire of a state.’ Chicago in its early days was rich in Vermonters. They built up the West, and left their native valleys, as the biographer of Bishop Hopkins indignantly remarks, ‘feeble and fainting’ behind them. From 1850 to 1860 the railroad and the stock combined brought fewer than a hundred persons a year to Vermont.

The mountaineers swarmed, and are still swarming, away from the sugarbush and marble-quarries of home. Like the Irish, we love home, and leave it. Unlike the Irish, we have, however, no homesick poetry. Who will write a ‘ Far Corrymeela,’ or a ‘ Dark Rosaleen ’ about Vermont?—who will praise our

Little stony pastures, whose flowers are sweet, though rare ?

Ireland, however, has paid a high, a prohibitive price for her poetry. Better for Vermont that she has not been a distressful country, such as produces a Mangan or a Ferguson. And yet Company E, of the Fifth Vermont, might, I always thought, have been accorded a poem. They were recruited and drilled in my own village, and marched away to Virginia to be annihilated in an obscure skirmish, the very name of which is hardly to be found outside the files of our village paper. Into the mouths of those young men, on the eve of that dreadful little battle, might well have been put the fine lines of Miss Lawless (with a slight change in geography, and a shade less bitterness): —

The wind is wild to-night, and there ’s tempest in the air;
The wind is from the North, and it seems to blow from Clare;
The whole night long we dream of home, and waking think we ’re there; —
Vain dream, and foolish waking! we never shall see Clare.