This Place in History: Daniel Pierce Thompson



“We are (in Berlin) on the site of the boyhood home of Daniel Pierce Thompson, who was a great writer of Vermont tales — let’s put it that way — and a founder of the Vermont Historical Society,” society executive director Steve Perkins said. “This beautiful monument was erected in 1929 on what used to be a farm path, but we’re now on the side of the Barre-Montpelier Road. We’ve got some wonderful materials describing his life back at the (Vermont) History Center in Barre.

“He was actually born in Charlestown, (Massachusetts), but he moved to Vermont when he was five years old,” Perkins continued. “His family moved into a farm in Berlin; we were there. He went to Middlebury College and then ended up in Virginia, of all places, read the law, but ultimately ended up moving back to Montpelier and was a lawyer in Montpelier. He was what we would now call legislative counsel to lawmakers. He published a book, a compendium of Vermont laws — and this was all relatively early in life — and then he really got involved in history and writing about history.”

“One of the works he produced is likely going to be familiar to a lot of people because of how long it’s been in print and how many editions it’s gone through,” Mike Hoey said.

“It was called ‘The Green Mountain Boys’, and it was a fictional account of Ethan Allen and his merry band of men,” Perkins added. “First in print in 1839 — we have a first edition of that — and then continuously printed. We have a version that was printed in 2000! We have three or four shelves in our storage facility of Thompson books because they were so popular. So, we were talking about ‘The Green Mountain Boys’, and this is a very early printing of the book. It’s actually in two volumes; this is Volume One, so 1839, Montpelier publication.”

“(Published by) E.P. Walton and Sons, I see,” Hoey noted.

“You have people in the early 19th century saying, ‘hey, we can go back to a simpler time, a time of chivalry, of knights in shining armor’, and so it told this fanciful tale. Now, what happened when people start telling tales like this is, it becomes canon and it becomes part of history. Now, of course, like I said, he helped found the Vermont Historical Society, so his writings about Ethan Allen — which are fictional — start to take on this ring of truth, and that sticks with us for generations. Even now, authors are still trying to say ‘these are real people and they are more than one-sided characters’.”

“The term ‘revisionist history’ probably has a negative connotation to most of us today,” Hoey observed. “But there absolutely is a need for the concept to exist — and for contexts exactly like this.”

“Yeah, we’re just reconsidering history, and it’s what we do all the time here at the Vermont Historical Society,” Perkins replied. “You can come here to our library and you can read some of D.P. Thompson’s earlier books, but you can also read information by some of our most current scholars today.”



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