BENNINGTON — "Village Enlightenment: Print Culture in Rural Vermont, 1810-1860," on view at Bennington Museum through Sept. 15, brings to light the widespread and growing interest in rural New England for printed matter that could spread knowledge during the development of the American republic.
Many people assume that rural Vermont was a relatively isolated during this period; a cultural backwater during the first half of the nineteenth-century. However, during the late eighteenth-century and well into the nineteenth century, Vermont was a boom state. During this time, Vermont went from an almost unpopulated frontier to being more populous than neighboring New Hampshire and it had nearly half the population of neighboring Massachusetts, the most populous state in New England.
Cosmopolitan centers popped up all over the state, which was home to many intellectuals, entrepreneurs and craftsmen inspired by the same ideals as Enlightenment in eighteenth-century Europe. There was a widespread belief that through rationalism, scientific reasoning and exploration, and most importantly, in this context, the distribution of that knowledge via printed matter, humans could harness the world that they lived in and turn it to their benefit.
This small but detailed exhibition features engravings, maps and books published and/or illustrated by the "Greenbush Group," a small circle of artisans, entrepreneurs, and printmakers/publishers based in Windsor County, Vermont, during the first half of the nineteenth century. Led by James Wilson, the first globe maker in America, and Isaac Eddy, who established a print shop in the tiny hamlet of Greenbush around 1810, the group had among its members Ebenezer Hutchinson, Moody Morse Peabody, Lewis Robinson, and George White. Together this small group of artisan-entrepreneurs and their associates provided the printed material that served the widespread and growing interest among their neighbors in rural New England.