Who Was Ethan Allen?
Ethan Allen fought in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. With Benedict Arnold, he led the Green Mountain Boys to capture Fort Ticonderoga from the British in 1775. After the war, he petitioned to have Vermont become a state. When that failed, he tried to have Vermont become part of Canada.
Allen was born on January 21, 1738, in Litchfield, Connecticut. He was the first child of Joseph and Mary Baker Allen. Joseph and Mary went on to have five more sons and two daughters. Allen, who developed a reputation as a firebrand and rabble-rouser, married Mary Brownson in 1762, and they had five children. Mary died in 1783. Allen married again in 1784; he and his second wife, Fanny, had three children.
Explorer and Military Leader
Although Allen was born in Connecticut, he and his family explored land in the New Hampshire Grants. After serving in the French and Indian War, Allen purchased land and settled in what is now the state of Vermont. However, a dispute over the land in the Champlain Valley soon arose, with both New York and New Hampshire claiming it as their own.
In 1770, the New York Supreme Court ruled that the New Hampshire Grants were invalid. In response, a group that called itself the Green Mountain Boys came together to stop the “Yorkers” from interfering in land that they had claimed for themselves. They named Allen their leader and set out on a campaign of intimidation to get the Yorkers to leave, sometimes using violence to do so.
In 1775, the Green Mountain Boys shifted their focus to the American Revolution, fighting for the American colonies against Great Britain. Along with Benedict Arnold, Allen led the Green Mountain Boys to capture Fort Ticonderoga, which they did easily. (The fort was staffed by only a small number of British soldiers.) Arnold, Allen and their men went on to capture Crown Point, north of Ticonderoga, just as easily. With those successes in mind, Allen and his men tried to seize Montreal as well. They failed, however, and Allen was captured and sent to prison in Cornwall, England, for two years.
When he returned to North America, Allen settled in Vermont, which had declared its independence from both Britain and the United States. He tried to persuade the Continental Congress to accept Vermont as the fourteenth state, but because of disputes among Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York over the territory, the Congress refused.
Rebuffed, Allen became involved in negotiations with the Canadian governor Frederick Haldimand to have Vermont become part of Canada. Had that happened, Vermont would have become part of the British Empire once again. Allen’s support of these negotiations contributed to his reputation as a rash and untrustworthy man.
With his military service completed and his political and diplomatic skills in question, in 1787, Allen retired to his home in what is now Burlington, Vermont. There he revived a book he had begun years earlier with a philosopher friend, Dr. Thomas Young. In 1785, he published Reason the Only Oracle of Man, a book of Deist philosophy. It was largely condemned by Christian clergymen. Allen died in Burlington, Vermont on February 12, 1789. Two years later, Vermont joined the United States.
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