This year’s Archives Month is a wrap, and we’ve had a month full of activities and blog posts to commemorate the voices of Vermont’s past and the importance of records with enduring historical value. But you don’t have to wait until next October to engage with Vermont’s archival institutions! Throughout the year, look to your local historical societies and research institutions to see what they’re highlighting and working on. Check out some online archives such as the Green Mountain Digital Archive or Vermont’s various music archives. And search for #vtarchives on your favorite social media platforms to see what’s happening in the Vermont archival world!
The 2020 Archives Month Committee thanks you for your participation this year, and looks forward to gathering together again in 2021.
Sally Blanchard-O’Brien Prudence Doherty Mary Ide Beth Kanell Gary Shattuck
-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee Member
We often read about exciting documents discovered in dark and dusty archives. However, these days researchers are just as likely to make those discoveries online. To make the process of finding digital materials from Vermont repositories easier, the Green Mountain Digital Archive (GMDA) brings over 72,000 items from eight partners and four contributing institutions together in one searchable database.
The GMDA partner institutions, including Middlebury College, Norwich University, the Rockingham Free Public Library, St. Michael’s College, the University of Vermont, the Vermont Department of Libraries, the Vermont Historical Society, and the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration, collaborate to support a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) service hub for Vermont. Contributing libraries and archives include the Bixby Memorial Library (Vergennes), the Brooks Memorial Library (Brattleboro), the Stewart-Swift Research Center at the Henry Sheldon Museum and the Vermont Folklife Center. GMDA participation in the DPLA is supported through generous funding provided by the Library Services and Technology Act administered by the Vermont Department of Libraries.
The materials represented in the GMDA include photographs, documents, maps, recordings and other resources, mostly related to Vermont but also extending beyond the state. At the GMDA site, you can search by keyword. The results appear as a list of thumbnail images, accompanied by brief descriptions and a link to see the item at the contributor’s site. You can refine the results by subject, date, language and contributing institution.
To explore the site, we searched for items related to two subjects of current interest: Halloween and elections. A search for “Halloween” produced 55 results from three institutions and included a great group of vintage holiday cards, photographs of parties held for children, and groups in masks and costumes.
Not surprisingly, GMDA contains many photographs, documents and other items related to political campaigns, elections and voting from the early nineteenth century to almost present day from many of the participating institutions.
The GMDA is a rich resource for research and discovery that can be explored not only during Archives Month, but all year long! Stay tuned as the Green Mountain Digital Archive continues to grow and change – including a newly designed web portal to be launched later this year.
-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee Member
One Vermont tradition that exemplifies our Archives Month theme, “Voice and Vote,” is the annual town meeting, when community members come together to share opinions, make decisions and vote on local issues. The annual town report is an essential reference tool for town meeting. After the meeting, it provides a record of one year in the civic life of the community. Because Vermont’s nine cities also produce similar annual reports, here we will refer to municipal reports.
Towns and cities are required to give voters an annual report on their financial condition, indicating expenses, income and indebtedness. Auditors, who may be volunteers or professionals, are responsible for gathering and certifying that information. The municipality presents the financial data in the annual report. The report typically includes a great deal of additional information, including reports from elected officials, community related entities and social service organizations that receive funds from the community; the proposed budget for the next fiscal year; the warning for the annual meeting or election indicating what will be voted on; and records of births, death and marriages. Reports might also include special sections honoring community members or reporting on an important issue or event that year.
Political scientist Andrew Nuquist described some late 19th- and early 20th-century reports as “long pages of dreary listings of the town orders [bills paid], arranged chronologically month by month,” without totals or explanation. In 1933, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce announced a competition designed to make the annual reports more useful to voters. The Chamber pushed for reports “interesting enough for women to read and clear enough for children to understand…through the use of graphs, charts and simple comparative statistics,” according to the Brandon Union. The competition, supported by UVM Extension, continued for many years, with the ultimate goal of providing citizens with information they needed to act responsibly at town meetings and polling places.
Information collected in annual reports helps tell the story of communities year by year over many decades. The reports from officials and departments document the evolution of municipal services to meet changing needs. They chronicle how Vermont towns and cities have responded to challenges such as natural disasters, environmental degradation, economic recessions, world wars, and public health threats. Above all, the reports are about the people of the community, from the officials who volunteered for the common good, to those who worked on road crews, took refuge at poor farms, turned out to vote, visited the library, or listened to a summer concert.
Officials once mailed reports to all residents, but later restricted the distribution to voters. Now, as more towns and cities post reports online, print copies might only be available in the municipal offices. Older print reports may be available in municipal offices and local libraries. For historical research, the Silver Special Collections Library at the University of Vermont, the Middlebury College Library and the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration (VSARA) have extensive collections of print town reports. Town and city websites and VSARA provide access to the more recent digital reports.
-Sally Blanchard-O’Brien, Archives Month Committee Member
Vermonters have had a lot to ask of and say about their government over the centuries. From pre-statehood times to the present Vermonters have been petitioning their government to effect action on certain issues, to obtain their rights and dues, and to make their voices heard. While there are numerous reasons for petitioning one’s government, we’ll take a look here at three historical reasons in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
Tired of the New York and New Hampshire colonies both laying claim to the land between them, Vermont declared itself an independent republic from 1777 until it achieved statehood in 1791. While several English settlements existed in Vermont by 1777, there were still areas unclaimed by white settlers. The newly independent Vermonters set out to inhabit these areas by petitioning the General Assembly. Bethel was the first town established by the independent Vermont government, petitioned for in 1778 and chartered in 1779. Many petitions for land came to Vermont’s legislative body in these years, and these petitions have been published and can be read online.
Vermonters often petitioned the legislature for services or money owed them. In 1778, John Cannon petitioned the Governor and Council for redress of his losses on account of the Battle of Shelburne and Captain Thomas Sawyer. In his petition, he gave an account of what happened: he had prepaid for some wheat, went to collect it and found Captain Sawyer claiming it as wages for his men. Cannon then worked alongside them to re-earn the wheat. However, the fight at Shelburne broke out and — Cannon broke his hand, rode express for the men, and lost his wheat a second time. The Governor and Council found that his request needed more examination, but they gave him twenty pounds’ relief in the interim. In an 1829 incident, Joel Houghton of Stamford found his store robbed; he took it upon himself to track down the culprits, who were later convicted. Because he went to “great trouble and expense to find out and prosecute to conviction said culprits,” he petitioned the legislature for financial compensation for his service. His request was granted.
Vermonters have also petitioned their government in favor of causes they are passionate about, and have done so for generations. They wrote to their government and expressed their opinions about temperance and abolishing slavery in the 19th century, for and against women’s suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and many other issues and laws that come up for debate up to the present day. Collecting signatures adds impact to a statement in support of or opposition to a political issue, demonstrating the public’s opinion about proposed policies.
Whether it’s a list of names in support of a social cause or a narrative plea to obtain what’s due, petitions have had a long tradition in Vermont of voicing the needs of the people to their government. There are thousands of petitions that exist in Vermont’s historical record, each giving voice to the unique social, economic, and political mores of the time. If you are interested in conducting your own research related to petitions to Vermont state government, you can contact the reference room of the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “small but mighty” Waterford Historical Society relies on many archives to build an understanding of history’s effects on the people of this Connecticut River Valley farming town. Dairy farms face immense pressures, and there is a sense of mourning around the loss of each one. Waterford once had farms along every road, but now has only two dairy farms producing milk, although the surge in diversified land-based plant and animal tending gives us hope that the old bumper sticker “Farms Keep Vermont Green” will still apply in the future.
Identifying the historical details of our farms is challenging. In 1860, the U.S. Census provided a tally of agriculture for each state by county, and Caledonia County, where Waterford is, showed 32,300 sheep, 11,582 “milch” cows, 3,736 working oxen, and just one animal in the category of “asses and mules.” The county reached third in the state for butter production (1.3 million pounds that year) and a respectable amount of hay, but sadly low amounts of barley, buckwheat, orchard products, wine, cheese, and hops; however, it ranked fourth in the state for clover seed, something that may not even be sold in Vermont today.
Hamilton Child’s 1887 Gazetteer of Caledonia and Essex Counties actually listed the town’s residents individually with their farm assets. So we know that West Waterford postmaster Amos Carpenter farmed with 3,000 “sugar trees,” 35 Jersey cows, 20 head “neat cattle” (beef cattle, dairy heifers, and bulls), and five horses. Sheep still appear on the list, though their numbers had dwindled from before the Civil War; the town’s apiarist, George Felch, had 27 swarms, and Stephen Hastings bred and sold Poland China hogs.
For individual production after this, Waterford relies more on family archives. A particularly rich one is held by the Lee family, which backed up its rich paper holdings with digital scans stored on two different servers. What a great pairing of historic documents and modern caretaking! Bertha Lee’s detailed records of her farm’s milk production actually give figures for each cow, by name.
Over the winter, our town’s history laborers gather to sort donated material into accessible labeled folders for the group’s archives. This past February, a yellowing typed document in a stack of donated “papers” suddenly provided a fresh wave of detail, thanks to the work of the noted WPA, the Works Project Administration. Now we know that in 1935, before World War II, this farm community’s 212 farms from 1850 (before the Civil War) had dwindled to only 97, but by consolidation, since the number of acres farmed remained about the same. The tables give us solid information on livestock, their products, and crop production compared over the years, data that we never had before.
Now when we consider how farming thrives in our town, we have real numbers to work from—numbers that came to us from sorting those overwhelming boxes and bags of worn saved paper, with a team ready to be surprised and excited.
-Prudence Doherty, Archives Month Committee Member
Music is an important part of Vermont culture, past and present. Libraries, historical societies, and music organizations throughout the state house collections that document the state’s diverse musical traditions. To reach wider audiences, many are making their collections available online. Here are profiles of five online music archives.
Vermont Sheet Music. The Leahy Library at the Vermont Historical Society, UVM’s Silver Special Collections Library and Champlain College Special Collections all have significant collections of sheet music related to Vermont that was extremely popular from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. Champlain College makes their collection available online. You can search the Special Collections catalog for “sheet music” to view covers, and in many cases, music and lyrics as well. During the last academic year, Champlain students studied the collection and produced a documentary and a community local history event for the Green Mountain Melodies project, funded by a Humanities for the Public Good grant.
Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection. Helen Hartness Flanders of Springfield, Vermont began collecting Vermont folk songs and ballads in 1930 for the Committee on Traditions and Ideals of the Vermont Commission on Country Life. For thirty years, Flanders and her collaborators recorded over 4,800 songs using wax cylinders, disc, and reel-to-reel magnetic tape. The geographic coverage expanded to New England, and while mostly representing Anglo-American traditions, the collection includes some Franco-American songs. Flanders donated her collection, which also includes a research library, broadsides, songbooks and hymnals, manuscripts and song transcriptions, to Middlebury College in 1941. In 2013-2014, Middlebury participated in a project using innovative technology to digitize deteriorating wax cylinders and cracked records. Middlebury makes recordings, broadsides and photographs from the Flanders collection available through the Internet Archive.
Martha Pellerin Collection of Franco-American Song. As a proud Franco-American who grew up in Barre, Vermont, musician and community organizer Martha Pellerin worked to document, preserve and share Franco-American cultural heritage. The Martha Pellerin Collection is an online database of French and English songs drawn from nine songbook manuscripts and six interviews with Alberta Gagne. UVM and the Vermont Folklife Center make the material available to audiences who might not have the opportunity, as Martha did, to learn the songs at family gatherings.
Marlboro Music. Every summer since 1951, master artists and exceptional young professional musicians have come together in Marlboro, Vermont to learn, rehearse and perform chamber music. While Marlboro Music’s complete archive is located at the University of Pennsylvania, Marlboro Archives Online offers vocal translations, a repertoire search, and information about participants, concerts and tours. From the Archives is a series of long blog posts that profile outstanding Marlboro musicians, including Pablo Casals and Rudolf Serkin, with biographical essays, recordings, interviews, career timelines, and photographs.
Vermont Music Archive at Big Heavy World. With the same passion that drove Helen Hartness Flanders and her team, the folks at Big Heavy World are dedicated to collecting, preserving and promoting contemporary Vermont recorded music. The archive contains over 5,000 items representing all genres and media types. The website provides a searchable catalog that includes album cover images and Sound Proof, portraits of Vermont musicians photographed by Matthew Thorsen from 1990-2000. Musicians are encouraged to submit copies of their recordings for the archive.
-Sally Blanchard-O’Brien, Archives Month Committee Member
2020 brings another iteration of the United States census, an event that happens every ten years to gather information about the American population. While the census is of crucial importance for determining services for communities, it also serves as a rich resource for historical and sociological research. Census records can show both macro-level trends through the patterns of change within entire communities, as well as micro-level trends by showing the details about one family, or even one individual, through time. Here, we’ll take a quick journey through 150 years of the census to see the story of Glastenbury, Vermont and a family who lived there for generations.
If the name Glastenbury sounds familiar, it may be because of the mysterious disappearances of several individuals that occurred in the mid-twentieth century. But that’s not the part of the story we’re telling here (though, if you must know more, try searching for the term “Bennington Triangle”). This tale begins in 1761, when Glastenbury was first chartered as a New Hampshire grant. Unfortunately for the grantees, the area was “one of the roughest and most inaccessible towns in the state,” as described by Child’s Gazetteer and Business Directory for Bennington County. This fact is probably why the town was so sparsely settled for its entire history – Glastenbury’s population peaked in 1870 at 119 residents.
There are some clues as to why the population increased, and later decreased, when you look at the occupations listed in the census. In 1870, most Glastenbury residents were farmers, but 50% of the male population was involved with the lumber industry, listed as woodchoppers, sawyers, or lumbermen. Lumbering was a big industry for Vermont, coming to its peak around the same time as Glastenbury’s population. However, as more land was clear cut there were fewer lumbering jobs, and the census shows a steadily declining population. By the 1920 census, only 41 residents were listed; 45% of the male population still worked in the town’s lumber camp. And most of those men were temporary boarders, not settling in the town. By 1930, the population had plummeted to 7 people, then to 4 people in 1940. All of those residents were members of one family, the Mattisons.
The Mattisons lived in Glastenbury for at least a century. They first appear on the Glastenbury census in 1850, and for the previous decades in the neighboring (and more populous) town of Shaftsbury. In 1850, John Mattison was the head of one household in Glastenbury, and by the following census of 1860, his son Norman had been born. Norman Mattison spent his entire life in Glastenbury and was a prominent member of Bennington County society. He served in many government roles, including as Bennington County’s state senator and Glastenbury’s town clerk. He married Abigail “Angelia” McDonald in 1874, just around the time of Glastenbury’s population boom. Angelia had also been born in Glastenbury, and her own family appears on the census as far back as 1820. Together, Norman and Angelia raised several children and you can trace them through the decades using the census, as they have families of their own and become neighbors to their parents. Norman died of a sudden illness in 1913, and Angelia continued to live in Glastenbury for thirty more years. After she was widowed, she lived with her son Ira, and his family. By 1930, there are only two households that appear on the Glastenbury census with just 7 residents between them, all of the Mattison family. Ira Mattison clearly followed in his father’s footsteps as he is listed as the Glastenbury town clerk and treasurer on the 1930 census. But, by 1940, Ira has passed, and there is only one single household enumerated in the entire town – the widow Angelia Mattison, age 81, her daughter-in-law, and two grandsons. Glastenbury was disincorporated in 1937 and has been an unorganized place ever since. An unorganized place means that it does not have its own town government, instead relying on a governor-appointed supervisor to deal with taxes and other governance. In 2010, census data shows only eight residents in the former town of Glastenbury.
US census records are available for research up to 1940 through Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org and the 1950 census records will be opened to the public in 2022. However, more recent census data is searchable through the US Census Bureau’s website: https://data.census.gov/cedsci/. There are many more stories that can be told about Glastenbury beyond this brief overview, and it will be exciting to see how those stories continue to unfold when the 1950 census is available. And, right now, we can make our own history by filling out the 2020 census. You can learn more at: https://www.uvm.edu/crs/2020-census-vermont.
In the first couple of years when the Waterford Historical Society scrambled into existence, the group’s leaders often put out a call for photos at the program meetings. “Share your family and house photos with us!” But there was almost no response. We dug steadily through online sources, purchased anything relevant that popped up on eBay, and longed for more. The photos we yearned to see existed—but were not being brought forward.
As of 2020, despite the pandemic, we’ve solved this problem. We found three things that work:
One: We post images of the photos we have on Facebook pages that relate to local history. In our area, these pages often have titles that begin with “Things I Remember About Growing Up In …” (add town name). Plus, the historical society has its own page. The posts that get the most attention and conversation are ones that include a question, like “Who remembers Mrs. X” or “Did you go to school here?” People who respond often share more photos. A quick follow-up to a photo owner, “Is it okay if we print and share this with Waterford Historical Society?,” almost always gets a big yes.
Two: We settle for second best with photos. Instead of asking someone to donate a treasured photo or even to let us take it to get professionally copied, we take a cell-phone photo of it right away. With a little fine-tuning, these photos-of-photos can have excellent resolution. They get identified when we snap the pictures, so there are fewer that get labeled with “?” and more that have actual dates as well.
Three: We accept any offer of paper ephemera, and tackle the identifications with two versions of team research. When conditions allow, we have photo archive meetings in the winter, with half a dozen people labeling everything possible and a few individuals doing research at the same time. This was a good way to process the boxes of undated newspaper clippings that came in from an estate! And whenever possible, for a set of images that need identification, we team up two or three people who can drive around to match photo backgrounds, or develop family trees, or add cemetery information. That has enabled us to identify about 80 percent of two extensive photo albums. We were first given online access to these albums, then the owners chose to donate the originals to the historical society afterward.
The two biggest factors have been providing routes for sharing photos that don’t take the originals out of the hands of family members who treasure them, and preparing team approaches to photo identification. These, in turn, result in many newspaper and online articles based on the discoveries, and fosters much regional pride in our history.
And yes, our photo archive has become more digital than we’d originally expected. But it’s the sharing of the photos that builds the archive, so digital has turned out to be a great advantage over the long run. Learn more and keep up with the Waterford Historical Society at their website and on their Facebook page.
In 1919 the Vermont Legislature passed a bill in support of women’s suffrage. However, the bill was ultimately vetoed by Governor Percival Clement. Despite calls for a special election to by-pass the Governor and vote on ratification of the Federal amendment, it was not until the February 1921 regular session that the Vermont General Assembly was able to confirm the right for women to vote.
Within Vermont archival collections, there are both the public and private stories of women’s fight for the vote. For instance, there are oral history transcripts in the Vermont Historical Society, conducted in 1980s, with two women who were young adults during the women’s suffrage movement in Vermont. Susan Sleeper and Marjorie Townsend talk in the interviews, not only about their memories of why the women’s vote was important, but also about the 1918 flu epidemic and the end of WWI.
Clarina Howard Nichols, an important figure in Vermont’s women’s suffrage movement, was born in West Townshend in 1810. Nichols was an early and strong activist for women’s rights, abolition and temperance. As editor of the Windham County Democrat, Nichols was one of the first women to hold such a position in the country.
Through her work in women’s rights and other causes, Nichols traveled the country attending conventions, giving speeches and promoting equality. On December 6, 2019, members of the Brattleboro Words Project made a public presentation about Clarina Nichols and related archival resources.
While the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920, it’s important to remember that women of color were, by and large, denied voting rights until 1965.This is an issue with a long and complex history.
A researcher looking for extensive facts and figures about Vermont voting history will find a treasure trove at the Vermont Elections Archive.
This extensive collection documents election results since 1789 for state-wide elections. and 1848 for federal election results. For instance, when Thomas Chittenden was elected governor in 1789, he won the vote by 50.8% and two challengers, Moses Robinson came in with 30% of the vote and Samuel Safford of Bennington with 19.2% of the vote. There were 2,865 total votes cast.
A mere ten years later, Isaac Tichenor won his gubernatorial election by 63% of the vote against challenger Israel Smith. The total vote count was 10,163. If you want to do your own Vermont election history research, be sure to check out the data in the Elections Archive.
-Sally Blanchard-O’Brien, Archives Month Committee Member
Through correspondence, voices of the past come alive for us in the present. Here, we take a look at two nineteenth century letters that not only bring the details of the writers’ life into focus, but that shed light on the moments and movements of history of which they were a part.
In 1815, Jonas Clark wrote home after traveling to Montpelier, where the legislative session was beginning in October of that year. Clark was serving his fourth term as Representative for Middletown, and wrote in his letter that he was “very much fatigued” after the long journey. He then went on to write about election results. 1815 was an interesting point in Vermont election history, as Jonas Galusha won the governor’s race against the incumbent Martin Chittenden. Galusha had held that office before, prior to Chittenden. The two campaigned against each other for five years, and the two years previous to 1815, neither candidate had won a majority. This meant that Vermont legislators, including Jonas Clark, chose the state’s Governor. But, in 1815, Clark’s letter tells that Galusha won by a majority, the first time in three years that a gubernatorial candidate won outright.
Jonas Clark served in public office in many capacities, and even ran for governor himself many years later. Knowing that he later ran an unsuccessful campaign, it’s interesting to read his report home about the 1815 gubernatorial election. Even while participating in the legislative session, Clark tried to manage domestic affairs back in Middletown; he writes his wife Betsey “whenever a leisure time happens…the cellar should be cleaned, it can be done in wet weather.”
Another letter written to a wife back home comes from Sergeant Valentine Barney, a Civil War soldier from Swanton. He served in the First Regiment of the Vermont Volunteer Infantry, which was officially mustered into the United States Army in May of 1861, stationed at Fort Monroe in Virginia. On May 19th, the Vermonters saw their first actual fighting with the attack on the steamer “Monticello,” and Barney writes of it to his wife Maria. He tells her “the report is that some 18 or 20 of the Enemy were killed but how true it is is not known by me, but we could see the firing and hear the report plainly.”
Barney wrote his wife often, and through his letters we can observe the experience of a Union soldier away from home and his family. In his letter, he writes first about his concern for his family’s health before even mentioning the fighting. He also tells Maria, “I never before realized so forcibly the comforts of a home and the kindness and goodness of my loving wife and children as at the present, and I hope and trust that I may be more attentive to them in the future than I have been in the past.” Barney’s regiment returned home after a three month campaign. However, less than two years later, Barney was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel for the Ninth Regiment, serving until several months after the end of the Civil War.
The Jonas Clark letter is housed at the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration. The Valentine Barney letters were microfilmed by the Vermont Civil War Centennial Committee, and later digitized through the University of Vermont. You can read the May 19th, 1861 letter in its entirety, and many others, online.