French America

The French Roots of Vermont

In a testament to North America’s French heritage, many regions, towns, mountains, and rivers in the United States have French names. Every month, French-American author Anthony Lacoudre untangles their fascinating history. For this month, welcome to Vermont!
© Mathieu Persan

Louisiana is not the only American state with a French-sounding name! Vermont owes its toponym to Samuel de Champlain, who explored North America on behalf of French king Henry IV in the early 17th century (he founded Quebec City in 1608). On July 14, 1609, Champlain was the first European to set foot in this mountainous region of the northeastern United States. He named it Verd Mont, or “Green Mountain.” The word vert appeared in the French language in 1100 and comes from the Latin viridis, meaning green, young, or vigorous. It was written vert, vers, and verd interchangeably until 1847.

Vermont belonged to New France – a colony stretching from Labrador to Louisiana and across to the Rocky Mountains – for a century and a half, until 1763. That year, France was defeated in the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years’ War) and conceded the territory to Great Britain. However, the French toponym remained. It was anglicized to become “Vermont” and was officially recorded in the state’s constitution on July 8, 1777.

The French root is also found in the name of the mountain range stretching across Vermont, the Green Mountains, and in the nickname “the Green Mountain State.” Meanwhile, Samuel de Champlain lent his own name to the vast body of freshwater between the current states of Vermont and New York: Lake Champlain. On the eastern bank, the city of Burlington – the biggest in Vermont – has been twinned since 2009 with Honfleur, the port town in Normandy where the man known as “the father of New France” first set sail.

Article published in the January 2022 issue of France-AmériqueSubscribe to the magazine.