If you think Vermont has nothing in common with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, think again.
The whole flap about the "N-word" variant "n*****head" being painted on the entrance to Perry's family hunting compound has highlighted the fact that this term was used throughout the United States as a place name, including in Vermont.
Last night, "Daily Show" correspondent Wyatt Cenac ran down a list of northern states that are home to equally offensive place names (see video below); there are several in upstate New York.
He mentioned a Vermont pond in his list, which made me wonder: Is it still named that?
Not officially. In Marshfield, three geographic place names have been officially listed with a variant of the "N-word" — a brook, a pond and a mountaintop, according to an online search of the U.S. Board on Geographic Name's Geographic Names Information Service. All three have since been changed.
A quick Internet search finds that the brook has been renamed, though its more offensive name is still noted in several fishing guides. According to the University of Vermont's Center on Rural Studies website, a group petitioned to have the mountaintop and the pond names changed to Marshfield Ledge and Marshfield Pond in 1971. Since 1971, the pond has again been renamed — this time to Turtlehead Pond.
You mean the state that abolished slavery in its constitution back in the late 1700s held onto racially-insensitive place names for nearly 200 years?
In his report on the Marshfield place names, former CRS director Fred Schmidt notes that changing the names to something less offensive was "controversial" and a state board in charge of the place names had to hold a public hearing.
"Not everyone agreed it should be changed. The original name might have come from an old Yankee word used to describe the medicinal weed black-eyed Susan," noted Schmidt in his synopsis. "Marshfield resident Hap Hayward said he thought the name described a tall grass-covered termite hill found near ponds and swampy areas. Hayward, who has lived in Marshfield since 1930 said he had no objection to the changing of the name. 'It didn't make much difference to me,' he said. 'They left the pond in the same place.' "
Schmidt concluded: "Parenthetically one might add, racism is alive and strong in rural — and urban America."
Indeed. Just ask the Abenaki.
Here's Cenac's report. Worth a watch.