Colonial history lies in our backyard

Cradled in the basin of the town of Hubbardton rests one of Vermont’s most treasured landscapes. Nestled between Mount Zion and Sargent Hill lies Hubbardton Battlefield, the site of the only battle fought entirely on Vermont soil during the Revolutionary War over 225 years ago. Today, Hubbardton Battlefield is a state-owned historical site that operates as a link between the America we love and the country our ancestors were trying to become.

Recognition of the historic site dates back to 1859 when the citizens of Hubbardton and the surrounding towns created a marble monument honoring those who fought that day. Then, in 1937, the Vermont legislature created Hubbardton Battlefield Commission and began purchasing the land from local farmers for preservation.

Now, most of the original battle area is owned by the state and restored to its condition during the time of the fighting. A visitor’s center was built in the 1950s and an updated facility was added in 1971. While the grounds are open for walking year-round, the building and museum are only open between May and October.

It is between the months of May and October that the site comes to life and visitors of the battlefield can step back in time and live a day in the 18th century. Each year, on the weekend closest to the date of the actual battle, hundreds of re-enactors convene on the site and create a colonial setting.

“It’s a different feeling and atmosphere for that weekend,” said Carl Fuller, site interpreter and caretaker. “Everything becomes the 18th century.”

At 5 a.m. the first shots are fired, just as they were on July 7, 1777 when the American soldiers fired upon the British red coats advancing toward their position.

Today, visitors at any time can walk a half-mile that chronicles the events of the famous day with descriptive plaques marking their way. From the crest of the hilltop visitors can see down into the valley where the first musket balls ripped through the air.

As the trail progresses, it brings you to the peak of Monument Hill, where the red coats stormed the Americans in what appears to be an impossible climb. The steep vertical incline is a reminder of the different time they were fighting in.

The soldiers were fighting only a few hundred feet apart, loading black powder muskets and firing at the closest enemy. Then as a last resort, the fearless soldiers would battle each other with just a bayonet between them.

Both the muskets and the musket balls can be seen inside the museum. In display cases at the beginning of the museum tour, there are original musket balls recovered from the site. Several types are shown, including one (musket ball) that was removed from a soldier’s body and had taken shape of whatever bone it had been wrapped around.

There are also original pieces of recovered muskets as well as beautifully created three dimensional maps and battle scenes.

According to Elsa Gilbertson, regional site historic administrator, people come to Hubbardton Battlefield for many reasons.

“Some people go because they are interested in the Revolutionary War, especially the northern campaign,” Gilbertson said. “Others are on kind of a pilgrimage, making their way down to Saratoga.

“And some are attracted because it is such a beautiful place.”

During summer months there are nature walks, astronomy nights, archeology and history lectures, and hikes up Mount Zion. On the weekend, there are special guided hikes that feature first person accounts of the battle.

The hikes, “through the eyes of Samuel Churchill” a resident of Hubbardton at the time of the battle and “through the eyes of Ebenezer Fletcher” a 16-year-old boy who fought in the battle, became a prisoner then escaped and hiked all the way back to his home in New Hampshire, are both played by the site interpreter, Fuller.

No one would be more qualified to recreate the characters than Fuller. With a degree from Johnston State in Colonial history, Fuller grew up on the battlefield where his parents owned close to 300 acres of land including part of the hill top where the red coats stormed. During the 1950s, he attended a one-room schoolhouse that still sits on the property, but was closed in the 1970s. For a time, he fought with the Green Mountain Boys in the annual reenactment.

“I actually still have the outfit,” Fuller said, with a grin and a resemblance of what the soldiers must have looked like in 1777 with his mountain beard and hair pulled back by a rubber band. “It still fits too; sometimes I wear it when I am in character as the site interpreter.”

But Fuller is more than the site interpreter, he is its dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia. He swells with excitement when he speaks about the battle and could go on for hours as his knowledge far surpasses that of just the battle and includes the names and stories of all the residents of Hubbardton during the battle.

Just an eight-mile march from Castleton, Hubbardton Battlefield is an important piece of history, not just to Vermont, but the nation as well.

“It helped in the battle of Saratoga, which was the turning point in the war,” said Professor Mike Austin, who teaches a Vermont history course at Castleton State College.

Austin tries to bring his class to the site each year so the students can benefit from the full experience.

“It’s preserved, pretty much the way it was, so you get an appreciation of what it must have been like,” Austin said.

For some, the experience is more than just quick lesson. For Fuller, having spent most of his life on the battlefield, his knowledge and passion for the site can be seen in the winter months when he heads to the snow covered site every day to check up on the building and the land.

He leaves the front gate open so people can use the battlefield all year long, whether it is by touring the grounds, snowshoeing, skiing or sleigh riding.

“We encourage it,” Fuller said. “It’s the whole idear, that’s why those guys were fighting here, to enjoy the land.

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