A Short History of Swanton, Vermont
A massive glacier covered all of New England 15,000 years ago and more than a mile of ice capped portions of northwestern Vermont. These millions upon millions of tons of ice depressed the earth’s crust, bringing it below sea level. Some 12,500 years ago the glacier retreated north of the St. Lawrence lowland. Salt water flowed in from the Atlantic Ocean to fill the depression in the St. Lawrence basin, thus creating the Champlain Sea. An arm of the sea extended into the Champlain Valley where it remained for the next 2,300 years. During this period, the land encompassed by the town of Swanton underwent significant changes. Eventually the Champlain Sea disappeared. Lake Champlain was born, and the Missisquoi River flowed out across the extensive deposits of sand and silt that once covered the bottom of the sea. Few people, if any, witnessed these changes. However, people were not far behind.
The Abenaki Indians call themselves the People of the Dawn. They were the major Indian group in Vermont, and they are believed to be the original peoples of Vermont, New Hampshire, northern Massachusetts, and southern Quebec below the St. Lawrence River. The Abenaki nation was in Vermont long before deChamplain came in 1609. Abenaki is the name for a language group that included the tribes of Maine, the Penacooks of New Hampshire and Sokwakis of Vermont. The Penacooks and Sokwakis were the principal inhabitants of the Champlain Valley. Native peoples have lived here for at 10,000 years and some archaeologists believe the ancestors of the present day Abenakis were here as early as 1500 BC. The Missisquoi Village, located in the towns of Swanton and Highgate, was the nerve center for Indians seeking refuge in the Champlain Valley during the 18th century. The Abenakis were the major inhabitants of the village but many Indians driven out of southern New England, such as the Sokokis, lived here as well. These original Vermonters lived off the land and fought fiercely to defend their territory. When, finally, they were overpowered by sheer numbers and technical advantages some moved on while others faded in the background.
The French were the earliest European settlers in this region. In order to secure their grip on the strategic Champlain waterway, the French established colonies under grants that were given chiefly to military and naval officers. The grants carried with them certain obligations, one being that the territory had to be settled within a certain length of time. A grant covering the Swanton area was given to Sieur Phillipe-Rene le Gardeur de Beauvais, Jr. on July 20, 1734. The French occupied Swanton Falls at this time. On May 10, 1741 the above grant reverted back to the Crown Domain because improvements were not made to the land. Nicholas-Rene Levasseur, a naval constructor, was sent to New France (Canada) in May, 1739 to build ships for the King. In searching for ship timber, he visited the settlement at Missisquoi. In 1748 Levasseur was granted the Seigniory of St. Armand. After New France surrendered to Great Britain in 1759, most of the French withdrew from this region.
After Canada was ceded to England, Levasseur sold his Seigniroy of St. Armand to Henry Guyand, a London merchant. In 1763 Benning Wentworth, Royal Governor of New Hampshire, issued a grant for 23,040 acres of land to be called Swanton. The village was named for Captain William Swanton, an officer in the British Army who visited the area during the French and Indian War. Henry Guyand sold his title to the Seigniory to Benjamin Peirce. James Moore and George Fulton in 1766. In 1784 Ira Allen purchased 59 to 64 shares of Swanton at a sheriff’s sale and employed William Colt to survey the town. Swanton’s town government was organized in 1790: however, Swanton Village was not incorporated as a village until 1888. Since then, the town has functioned as one of Vermont’s most important industrial centers, providing the state with marble, limestone, ammunition and timber. While industry has moved away from the village, Swanton continues to thrive as a friendly, livable community, while engaging in efforts to promote its heritage.
Below is a map of the “Walking Tour”:
Illustrated map designed by Sarah L. Farley The University of Vermont 2000
with assistance from the Swanton Historical Society