Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Carr, Jacqueline B.


In the 1790s and early 1800s, Burlington, Vermont – like towns in Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky – represented a frontier on the edges of the new republic. Burlington was but one of many destinations for the settlers of the 1780s and 1790s. The town’s population merely kept pace with that of surrounding townships until 1820. Though Burlington became Vermont’s largest community in 1840, its place as the state’s most substantial population center was hardly a foregone conclusion in the early years of the republic. This study examines how town residents translated Burlington from a forested territory into a town with a central square, vibrant marketplace, comprehensive school system, and established church. It places Burlington within the existing historiography of community of the early American frontier, where settlers borrowed from previous experiences and precedents to formulate a vision for their new town. Burlington residents projected a vision that their town would become a central hub and city in northern Vermont. At the same time, community members also exhibited a good deal of division and disagreement during these early years of settlement. This echoes the findings of other community historians of early America. While the current study deals with mainstream historical topics (land distribution, the economy, education, and religion), it also looks at some of the less celebrated dynamics of frontier settlement. It deals with land distribution, but it looks at how the land speculation of the early republic created controversy and confusion for local residents. It acknowledges Burlington’s economic growth, but it also considers how the Lake Champlain shipping boom has masked the presence of the poor and homeless people in the community. It tells the story of the state’s first university, but it also probes the depth of community support for that project. Finally, this study confirms that formalized religious practice developed slowly in Burlington, but it also explores how formalized worship further exposed divisions in the community.