I wish I had been amongst the congregation that Sunday morning in 1775, when the Reverend Jedediah Dewey gave thanks to the Lord for the capture of the British stronghold of Fort Ticonderoga. It was a tpical Calvinist service, filled with fire and brimestone, until Dewey's fervernt prayers were interupted by a towering figure rising from the congregation and bellowing him into silence. The six foot one inch ruffian reminded the minister that God had not captured the fort, rather that miraculous feat had been accomplished by The Green Mountain Boys, under the command of Ethan Allan. With a sardonic snear on his lips, the giant asked, “Are'nt you going to mention that I was there?” The minister's sharp puritan features turned beat red, and he thundered at the malconent, “Ethan Allen, thou great infidel, sit down and be quiet!” If I had been there I would have reminded the Reverend , that it is just such infidels who build nations.
"Ethan Allen....did in a tumultuous and offensive manner....strip himself even to his naked body and with force and arms...did assault and actually strike (with a club) the person of George Caldwell of Salisbury....on the head...and in a threatening manner with his fist lifted up repeated … three times [to Caldwell]: ‘You lie you dog’ and also did with a loud voice say that he would spill the blood of any that opposed him.”
Justice of the Peace charge - 1765
The orignal trouble maker here was the colonial born capitalist and first royal governor of New Hampshire, Bennington Wentworth (above). Over fifteen years this vulture's greed drove him to sell off three milllion acres west of the Connecticut River, mostly to relatives and inlaws, who re-pcackaged it in smaller chunks and resold it at a profit to smaller investors, who did the same, etc. etc. The problem was the land actually belonged to the colony of New York. But by selling what he did not own, Benington made the Wentworth clan the richest scavangers in North America and set off a wild speculation in shares of The New Hampshire Grants. Of course, after 1764, when King George declared Wentworth's grants to have been illegal, the value of shares in the grants plummeted. But people kept buying and selling them, and they never became entirely worthless. And nobody ever asked Benington Wentworth to return the money.
“I shall do everything in my power to render this state a British province.”
Ethan Allen 1782
“(Ethan Allen) is an awful infidel, one of ye wickedest men who ever walked this guilty globe”
Reverend Nathan Perkins 1774
He studied for the ministry, but even God must have thanked God that Ethan Allan (above) chose a different career. By the time he was thirty, this eldest son of eight siblings was well known for his brains, his profantiy and his capacity for alcohol, arguing and violence. His business partners were as likely to end up in fist fights with him as any share in profits. He was married to a devoutly Calvinist woman, Mary Brownson, and yet first the town of Salisbury, Conneticut and then the town of Sheffield, Massachusetts, both expelled him for religious and social trouble making. Then, in 1770 he was picked by his fellow gamblers in the New Hampshire grants to represent them before the New York courts.
"Mr. Allen, fickle and enterprising,...was joined by...men of rash and violent tempers ...and they vainly conceited that they were become invincible."
James Duane, lawyer, 1773
He lost, of course - the cards were stacked, the game was rigged and he wasn't a lawyer. So, out of the mostly illiterate seetlers who had been duped by Wentworth, Allen formed “The Green Mountain Boys”, and began a campaign of terror against their opponents - for example, in October of 1771, when local farmer Benjamin Hough was appointed a justice of the peace for New York, his farm was burned and Ethen delivered 200 lashes across Hough's bare back, before banishing him from the country. Such treatment became standard for The Boys (above). The New York colonial government tried to reason with the “Bernnington mob”, and finally in 1774 passed the Act of Outlawry, which ordered Ethan Allen and seven other Boys to turn themselves in or be be hanged without a trial. It also put a price of 100 pounds on Ethan Allen's head. Whereupon “The Boys” offered ten pounds for the arrest of the Governor of New York. By the spring of 1775 New York was ready to call out their milita. Then in Massachuets some fool fired a musket on Lexington Green, and New York had something more pressing on its mind; revolution.
“In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!”
Ethan Allen. 1775
The idea of capturing Fort Ticondaroga (above) - “The American Gilbrater” - originated with Benidict Arnold from Conneticut. He contacted the rebels in Massachuetts, who were busy surrounding Boston. So they contacted the Green Mountain Boys. Ethan Allen jumped at the opportunity. Joining the new Contiental Army would put him and his men beyond the authoritiy of New York. So on May 10th 1775, under Ethan's command, 83 Green Mountain Boys and Massachuetts and Conneticut milita rowed to the western shore of Lake Champlain and just before dawn walked right up to the front gate. The lone sentry managed to bayonet one of The Boys, but with that pinprick the strongest fort in North America was captured, less than a month after the start of hostilities.
“I have seldom met with a man, possessing, in my opinion, a stronger mind, or whose mode of expression was more vehement and oratorical. Notwithstanding that Allen might have had something of the insubordinate, lawless frontier spirit in his composition ... he appeared to me to be a man of generosity and honor.”
Alexander Graydon 1778
Then things started to go wrong. Nathan appropiated ninety gallons of rum from the fort's stockpile, “For the refreshment of the fatigued soldiary”. This led to what one writer has described as “one of the...most riotous binges in all American history”, which left only the milita under Arnold fit for duty. Once sober reinforcments from Masachuetts arrived, Arnold sailed off to the northern limits of Lake Champlain. A few days later, Ethan loaded 100 bleary eyed Boys into boats and rowed after him. But Ethan forgot to bring food. The British at St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, up the Richelieu river from Lake Champlain, were on alert. So Arnold raided the town and sailed back south, pausing only in mid- lake to feed Ethan Allen's hungry boys. But Ethan ignored Arnold's suggestion they return to Ticonderoga together, instead leading his Boys on to St. Jean. There his men starved for another two days until British reinforcements from Montreal fell upon their unguarded camp in the middle of the night. Ethan now retreated so quickly he abandoned three of his Boys in the wilderness. Two days later the exhausted remainder of his force rowed back to Ticondaroga. And the next time the Boys met they passed judgement on Ethan Allen's leadership by chosing a new commander.
“I always dreaded his impatience and imprudence.”
American General Schuyler, 1775
Determined to regain his reputation, the “great infidel” hired on as a civilian scout with the “quixotic if not downright insane” expedition under the American General Schuyler to capture Montreal. After an exhausting march from St. John, on September 25th 1776, without authorization or support, Ethan Allen abruptly crossed the St. Laurence River with 100 men, intending to assault the fortess of Montreal. Allen and 30 of the men who had followed him were captued. He suffered a harsh confinement for 952 days aboard rotting English prison hulks, was kept in chains and rairly saw the sun. However it might be said that one of the reasons America won her independence was that Ethan Allen was prevented from all further participation in the hostilities. At the very least, captivity saved his health (by keeping him sober) and thus saved his reputation.
"His figure was that of a robust, large-framed man, worn down by confinement and hard fare; but he was now recovering his flesh and spirits...”.
Alexander Graydon, 1779
If only his confindement had lasted longer. Exchanged for a Britsh officer in May of 1778, Allen returned to the now self proclaimed republic of Vermont (French for “Green Mountain”.) He was welcomed home as a hero, and appointed a judge. He was assigned to the seizing and selling off the property of British supporters, and quickly broadened that mandate to include eliminating any remaining New Yorkers from Vermont. The next year he published his autobiography, “A Narrative of Col. Ethan Allen's Captivity”. It was an immediate colonial best seller, going through eight editions in just two years. But in relating the capture of Ticondaroga, it managed to avoid any mention of Benedict Arnold, or the fisaco at St. John-sur-Richelieu.
The following year, as New York continued to resist giving up the lands across Lake Champlain, Ethan Allen led secret negotiations with the Governor of British Quebec, offering to join Vermont to Canada. It may have been a political ploy, or a hedging of bets. We will never know, since in 1783 the revolution ended with America as a new nation but Vermont offically still part of New York. Earlier in that same year the pious Mary died of cosumption, and just six months later Ethan Allen married the far younger and far more worldly Frances Buchanan.
Her family had backed the crown in the recent unpleasantness. And her first husband had been a British officer at the seige of Boston. But by marrying an honored hero of the revolution she saved the 20,000 acres of Vermont lands she had inherited from her dead first husband. At the wedding ceremony Ethan refused to swear his fidelity to her “by God”,except under the stipulation that the God in question was “the god of nature”. Still Fanny had a calming affect upon Ethan, or maybe he was just worn down.
"Allen was an ignorant and profane Deist, who died with a mind replete with horror and despair”
Reverend Uzal Ogdan 1789
They had five happy years together, produced three children and spent a lot of money. Then, on February 11th , 1789 the fifty-one year old Ethan Allen attended a party with friends and had that final one drink too many. The next day he suffered a “fit”, slipped into a coma and died. He was buried four days later in the Green Mountain Cemetery in Burlington Vermont. The Reverend Doctor Ezra Stiles President of Yale college noted in his diary, “General Ethan Allen of Vermont died and went to H-ll this day.” Such judgements did not matter. A year later, New York finally relented and Vermont became the 14th state. And that is Ethan Allen's monument.
Behold him move ye staunch divines! His tall head bustling through the pines; All front he seems like a wall of brass, And brays tremendous as an ass; One hand is clench'd to batter noses, While t'other scrawls 'gainst Paul and Moses."
Lemuel Hopkins, 1793
- 30 -