Editor’s note: Mark Bushnell is a Vermont journalist and historian. He is the author of “Hidden History of Vermont” and “It Happened in Vermont.”
The numbers didn’t look good. During the 1850s, Vermont’s population grew by only 0.3 percent. That was an increase of only 978 people, if you are keeping track. In comparison, the U.S. population increased nearly 36 percent during that period.
The imbalance was enough to give Vermonters an inferiority complex. While the rest of the country was booming, Vermonters saw their state becoming a backwater.
People were still moving to the state, but many native-born Vermonters were leaving. Many headed to the Midwest, where farmland was cheaper and more productive. Others moved to California in hopes of cashing in during the gold-mining mania. And many more moved to southern New England, where expanding industries needed workers. Vermont agriculture, the state’s main industry, could do little to attract people to the state.