Moses Robinson – Under Appreciated American Founder


Book Review
Moses Robinson and The Founding of Vermont Robert A. Mello Barre and Montpelier: Vermont Historical Society, 2014.
Most historians emphasize Ethan and Ira Allen’s role in the founding of Vermont. Ethan Allen is lauded as the rough and tumble leader of the Green Mountain Boys, a vigilante group defending their disputed land claims against overlapping New Yorker land deeds. Most famously Ethan led an attacking force which conquered the British Fort Ticonderoga at the beginning of the American Revolution. Ira Allen, Ethan brother was an early political leader and infamous land surveyor.
Mello’s new biography of Moses Robinson presents an alternative perspective of the importance of the Allens. Robinson, a early immigrant into Vermont from Massachusetts is portrayed as a principle founder of Vermont. His contributions included the political recognition of Vermont as an entity separate from New York and New Hampshire. Robinson focused on establishing legal means to recognize Vermont rather than the forceful belligerency of the Allen’s. In Mello’s narrative the Allen’s are bit players not critical to the formation of Vermont.
Mello writes a compelling history of the beginning of Vermont. He describes the early life of Moses Robinson and his role as one of the first settlers in the Bennington area. Robinson becomes a leading figure the land tile dispute between of settlers who purchased them from the New Hampshire governor and competing land claims of the government of New York. Robinson sided with the Allen’s and the landholders with New Hampshire Grants.
When Vermont establishes a separate government in 1777, residents elected Robinson to the first governor’s council and although he lacked formal legal training also named him Vermont’s first Chief Justice. Vermont’s citizens highly respected and trusted Robinson.
As the Revolution dragged on Robinson broke ranks with the Allen’s in the relationship with the Continental Congress and the British. Robinson initially supported the Allen led truce negotiations with British Canadian Governor Frederick Haldimand. Robinson endorsed negotiations as a clever ploy to prevent British invasion but he did not advocate rejoining the British Empire. Mello provides a cogent overview of the little known and opaque Hardimand negotiations and the simultaneous negotiations with the Continental Congress.
After Yorktown, the Haldimand negotiations petered out and Vermont operated as a separate republic. Vermont attracted an increasing stream of settlers from the surrounding region with cheap land and low taxes. Vermont citizens even welcomed back some loyalists Tories and New Yorkers. Because Vermont was not one of the original thirteen colonies its citizens did not fund revolutionary war debt.
After enactment of the U.S. Constitution, Robinson negotiated with the U.S. Congress for Vermont statehood. He brokered a deal by which Vermont gave up the concept of a Greater Vermont including eastern New York and western New Hampshire in exchange for admission to the U.S. as a separate state. In addition Vermont paid New York $30,000 to extinguish Yorker land claims. Interestingly, Mello points out that even though Vermont was on the frontier, it had more population that four of the original 13 states.
After Vermont joined the U.S., the Vermont legislature elected Robinson as one of the first two U.S. Senators. He served less than a full term and resigned to re-enter Vermont politics. An ardent anti-federalist, Robinson actively supported Thomas Jefferson and his policies. Notably, he courageously opposed President Adam’s Alien and Sedition Act. Eventually Vermont citizens became predominately Federalist supporters and Moses returned to his farm in Bennington. However, he continued to be highly respected as a elder statesman.
In the end, Robinson served Vermont as judge, legislator, governor and U.S. senator. With the exception of Ira Allen serving on the Governor’s Council these are all roles that the Allen’s did not serve. Judge Mello make a compelling case that Moses Robinson is an under recognized founding father and deserves more recognition by the citizens of Vermont.

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