Highlights from 1830s and 1840s Burlington Free Press

One of the first digitization projects we are working on here at the VTDNP is the Burlington Free Press from 1836-1848. We are also working on the Rutland Herald from 1836-1854, and the Vermont Farmer from St. Johnsbury in the 1870s. Today, I want to share some quick scans from the Burlington Free Press. (These are scans from the film that has been in use for some years, and are not as high quality as the final product will be.)

These great titles are loaded with wonderful history of Vermont from the early to mid 19th century. As I have been working with these titles, I find that my attention is often drawn to the advertisements. The advertisements are dominated by patent medicines for any number of conditions we scarcely think of today, like worms, scrofula, the vague category of “blood disorders,” and all of the medicines for weak and ill children. It is humbling to see these advertisements. It is a reminder of how hard life was for our forebears, armed only with these often useless defenses against pain, suffering and death.

Mixed in with these advertisements are notices that exemplify the charm and simplicity of those days. These two, both from 1838, depict a common problem people in the Burlington area had–animals straying off or straying on to their land (click them for a larger version):

Strayed horseOther ads give a much different view of life in the era. If you think bankruptcy today is bad, take a look at this ad from September 2, 1838:










I certainly wouldn’t want to be Benjamin Thompson (if that was his real name) if they ever caught up with him.


This remarkable ad from May 6, 1836 shows a traveling “Zoological Exhibition” that features a “Unicorn” (rhinoceros):











There are so many interesting articles and advertisements, I can scarcely begin to share them here. One article that I encountered from August 30, 1838 that may be of particular interest is this piece where the editor of the Free Press complains at length about the cost of the new Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier:

(Click the image to see a larger, eye-readable version.)

This title for 1836-1848 will be one of the first available that we digitize, along with the Rutland Herald for 1836-1854. I hope to bring you similar highlights from the Rutland Herald in the near future. These titles, and all of the titles we are working with, open a fascinating window into an era that is populated by wandering horses, incredible animals, and people very much like us making the best of their lives. We are looking forward to bringing you all of these titles fully digitized and searchable in collections online.

– Tom McMurdo, VTDNP Project Librarian

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2 Responses to Highlights from 1830s and 1840s Burlington Free Press

  1. Doug Varney says:

    I greatly appreciate looking at the historic records from the BFP. It would also seem that with the large number of boomers now having the time and inclination to review their lives, that searchable archives of the BFP from the 1940-1960 era would be a great hit. Any hope of this happening in the near future?

  2. vtdnp says:

    Doug, I think your comment is exactly right. I do think those more recent issues would be of great interest. Our work on the Vermont Digital Newspaper Project ends with 1922. The reason the project ends in 1922 is that was the last year of public domain under current copyright laws. Naturally, we would like to be able to work with more recent newspapers, but our funding from the NEH specifies that the work end in 1922 to avoid any future legal issues. We are hoping to expand the project through other funding streams, and that future work could include more recent newspapers, pending legal agreements, of course.
    Thanks for your comment.

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