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Migration: Past & Present

The items in this section of the database reveal information about the food traditions, customs and food-related practices, not only of the earliest settlers in Vermont, but also of more recent refugees and transplants. Although there are continuities in the stories of Vermonters relationship to food, the many movements of people into and out of the state have made an imprint of how we farm, cook, eat and celebrate.

From the earliest recorded data about the foodways of the Native American tribes, through the arrival of the earliest French and British colonists, to the many Europeans who later arrived to work in the industrializing Northeast, these cultures laid the foundation for foods and foodways.  Building on foraging and hunting traditions, different groups arrived and expanded the culinary spectrum of Vermont to include specific recipes like French-Canadian tourtières (meat pies), Italian “gravy” (red sauce) and Syrian and Lebanese kibbeh (minced raw lamb).

The Refugee Act of 1980, the first general United States refugee admission policy, created the most recent significant influx of groups of new Americans to Vermont. These groups, starting with Southeast Asia, largely Vietnamese, in the early 1980s, followed by significant numbers of Bosnians in the late 1990s and, more recent arrivals from African nations such as Congo, Somalia and the Sudan have added rice-paper-wrapped spring rolls, meat-stuffed burek pastries and samosas into the Vermont food landscape.

Migration: Past

Human settlement of Vermont began with Native American tribes who were displaced by first the French colonists and then by other mostly western European immigrants who came to escape oppression of different sorts (poverty, starvation, religious persecution) and also simply in search of economic opportunity. Through the late 1800s, federal policy allowed for a fairly diverse mix of European immigrants, although certain ethnicities were definitely favored. In the early 1920s, both policy and economic factors stemmed the flow of immigration.

The first humans believed to arrive in what we now know as Vermont were the Abenaki, “people of the dawn.” In the 16th century, the French became the first European immigrants to what the Abenaki called Ndakinna, “our land,” bringing a fort, trading outposts and missionary chapels.

The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended large-scale French immigration and the English began to arrive, dubbed Yankee, English descendents born on American soil. They were flanked by Scots, Irish, Dutch, Germans and still some French. The largest early non-English group arriving in Vermont during this period was Scottish, settling largely in Caledonia county. There were also significant numbers of Dutch who came from the former Dutch colony of New York, many of whom settled in the Champlain Valley to farm. There were also a relatively high number of free blacks/African-Americans, particularly in Vergennes and Sheldon. The Abenaki population had been decimated by war and disease; those remaining settled mostly in Franklin country.

From 1776-1881, the US had an open door immigration policy, but preferred Western and Northern Europeans who they actively recruited. However, since life was relatively stable in Europe and it was expensive to relocate, there was not much movement. The 1840s brought a major change with the Irish potato famine and the Russian pogroms both resulting in major influxes of Irish and Russian Jews arriving in the US and in Vermont. By 1850, the Irish were the largest foreign-born group in Vermont. Industrialization in the 1880s and ‘90s with growth in slate, granite and woolen mills drew immigrants from Wales, Italy and Switzerland, among other countries. French-Canadians also came south due to Quebec’s weak economy.

Vermont actually recruited “desireable” northern Europeans (English, Finns, Swedes), but by the 1890s more immigrants were arriving from southern and eastern Europe – and were not always welcomed. Christian Greeks and Lebanese fled persecution and Russians and Poles of Jewish heritage did the same. The national Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924 along with the Great Depression effectively ended the kind of significant immigration that contributed to the historical make-up of Vermont’s population.

Source: summarized from “Behind the White Veil: A History of Vermont Ethnic Groups” by Elise Guyette from Many Cultures, One People (The Vermont Folklife Center, 1992) and “Gathering and Interactions of Peoples, Cultures and Ideas: Immigration to Vermont: 1840-1930” by Elise Guyette (www.flowofhistory.org)

Migration: Present

The 2010 census numbers show that diversity has increased in Vermont. Although it still ranks as one of the most homogenous states, according to the Burlington Free Press (February 11, 2011), the percentage of the Green Mountain state’s population that is non-Hispanic white dropped from about 96 percent in 2000 to 94 percent last year, while those who identify themselves as black or African-American doubled.  A significant part of this change can be attributed to the arrived of more than 1000 refugees from Africa to Vermont over the last decade.

Since the Refugee Act of 1980 created the first general United States refugee admission policy, the inaugural groups of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees came to Vermont in the early 1980s and a steady flow from around the world has arrived each year since, over 2000 each decade.

According to statistics from the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, the 1990s brought over 1,200 refugees from Bosnia (also Kosovo) and 783 from Southeast Asia. Then, in the first decade of the 21st century, the largest numbers came from Africa (909 from Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somalia and Sudan) and the Balkan region (487) with continued arrivals from Southeast Asia (474).  Over the last two decades, about 200 refugees have also arrived from the former Soviet Union. In addition, although not technically refugees, over 100 Tibetans have come to Vermont since 1993.

The majority of refugees are settled in Chittenden County to benefit from broader employment opportunities and support services, although some have been placed in Middlebury and the Barre-Montpelier area. Non-refugee groups of new Americans from other parts of the world include a number of people from India, many of whom come to work for IBM or to study or work at the University of Vermont, who have also largely settled in Chittenden County.

The impact of these new cultures arriving over the last 30 years has started to have an effect on the Vermont food scene, particularly in more urban areas, through the establishment of restaurants, specialty food shops and farmers market stands. Their longer term impact on Vermont foodways remains to be seen but they have introduced new flavors, techniques and ingredients to our food scene.

Sources: “Pace of diversity quickens” by Sally Pollak and “Census tells tale of two Vermonts” by Adam Silverman and Matt Sutkoski both in the Burlington Free Press, 2/11/11; statistics from Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program via Laurie Stavrand, June, 2011.