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Step 1 — Document analysis

Examine the related documents depicted in the following clusters of scans: Documents 1-2; Documents 3-6; Documents 7-8; Document 9. (Note that Document 9 is from the same work as Documents 7-8.) Please view the documents here.

  1. With what organization do the documents relate?
  2. What is the purpose of the organization?
  3. What do its members share in common?
  4. What time frame do the documents encompass?
  5. How active does the organization appear to be during this period?
  6. What attitude is expressed in Document 9

Step 2 — Read the description of the documents

All documents relate to the establishment and activities of the Illinois Association Sons of Vermont between the years 1877 and 1885. Documents 1-2, which are consecutive pages, goes into the reasons for its establishment. Documents 3-6 depict the cover page and constitution of the association. Documents 7-8 consist of the financial reports of the association for the years 1883-85. Principal among the costs are annual galas for the members. Document 9 is a poem included in the 1883-85 report on the activities of the association.

Step 3 — Consider the documents in the historical context

  1. What conclusions can you draw about emigration from Vermont during this time period of the Gilded Age?
  2. What evidence leads you do those conclusions?
  3. Is there evidence that Vermont emigrants shared a sense of camaraderie?
  4. What attitude toward Vermont does the poem (Document 9) display? Is there a contrast of sorts between the first two stanzas and the last stanza?

Step 4 — Final narrative

Out-migration was a serious problem to the economic viability of Vermont in the 19th century. The population stagnated after the 1820s due to difficult farming conditions and the lure of greater economic opportunity further west. This emigration was facilitated by improvements in transportation — first with the Champlain and Erie Canals in the mid-1820s, and later with the advent of the railroads.

Many of those who left the state met with considerable success in their adopted states. Two better known examples are John Deere and Stephen A. Douglas, both of whom settled in Illinois.

These emigrants displayed conflicted attitudes toward the state of their birth. On the one hand, most agreed that there was little alternative, for those with ability and ambition, to leaving Vermont. This attitude is best summed up by a quote from Stephen Douglas: "I once remarked, perhaps half in jest, that Vermont was a good State to be born in….Yet it does a man good to emigrate.” On the other hand, there exist many paeans to Vermont — generally maudlin in nature — such as DC Stewart’s “Vermont” — which harken to the idyllic setting of the state the emigrants left behind. Even in these, however, the compliments are sometimes of a left-handed nature. The last stanza of the Stewart poem, for example, proclaims his love for Vermont despite the fact that many other places have more to offer! Anyone who has ever read Shakespeare’s “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun” will appreciate the similarity.

It is worth noting that the documents from the Illinois Association are not unique. Similar associations existed in other states including California, and had a vibrant existence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Vermont Historical Society has documents from several of the Sons of Vermont associations among its archives.

Sources

Johannsen, Robert W. “Stephen A. Douglas' New England Campaign, 1860.”

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Jun., 1962): 162-186.

Searls, Paul M. Two Vermonts: Geography and Identity 1865-1910. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Press, 2006.

Lesson plan and commentary by

Joe Ritzo
Stowe High School
Stowe, VT 05672