reviewed by Lindsey Grutchfield
Vermont’s early years were characterized by chaos and uncertainty, but also by extraordinary resilience and independence on the part of her people. What had previously been an isolated frontier outpost began to grow in the mid 1700s with an influx of settlers, who were lured by plentiful, cheap land. Here arose the source of the conflict that would dominate the area for decades to come. The New Hampshire Grants, as they were called, were claimed by both the colonies of New York and New Hampshire and, accordingly, both issued land titles to settlers in the region, titles that often conflicted with one another. Rather than resolve the issue at an administrative level, New York attempted to seize land owned and farmed by numerous settlers, who had purchased their homesteads from New Hampshire. Obviously, these attempts met a less than stellar reception among the settlers of the region. They rose up in defiance, not only against the British, with whom the 13 colonies were beginning to wage war, but against the neighboring colonies as well, all of whom claimed land in what was now Vermont. This was the golden age of the Green Mountain Boys and other strong-willed citizens of Vermont, among them Moses Robinson, whose illustrious political career was only just beginning.
The tumultuous beginning of the Green Mountain State is thoroughly recounted in Robert A. Mello’s new book, Moses Robinson and the Founding of Vermont, as is the life and career of a man who helped to bring it about, though far more of the book is devoted to the former than the latter. Indeed, at times it seems as though Robinson himself is something of an afterthought, or at most remains little more than an example of a prominent man of the age. Instead, the state of the territory, and later the young republic, takes center stage.
The story being told is fascinating, and the writing of Moses Robinson and the Founding of Vermont does it justice, avoiding the pitfalls of dragging academic prose or brief, sensational coverage. In addition, Mello does an excellent job of bringing the characters involved to life. Had Moses Robinson himself played a bigger role in the story, this could have been a real asset. Even in his minor role, Robinson is a well-fleshed-out historical character, as are Thomas Chittenden, Ira Allen, and other prominent figures in early Vermont history.
Moses Robinson is a story well told, and the story in question is an interesting one. With that said, Moses Robinson himself is a side character, no more prominently featured than any other political figure of early Vermont history, and as such, the book is not, as the cover and title imply, in any way focused on him.