Ethan Allen: Colonial Activist and Hero

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Ethan Allen was one of Vermont’s most famous residents. Most well-known as leader of the Green Mountain Boys, he was also a woodsman and a writer.

Born in 1738, in Litchfield, Conn., Allen was a successful frontiersman and fought on the British side in the French and Indian War.

Allen saw a need for leadership in what is now Vermont (but was then called the New Hampshire Grants) in the 1760s when settlers in neighboring New York got permission from England to ignore New Hampshire land grants and claim the land for themselves. Allen, along with his brother and several cousins, organized a group of a few hundred men to patrol the area and take action against “Yorkers,” as they called them who tried to seize New Hampshire land. Taking the name from the nearby Green Mountain, Allen and his group called themselves the Green Mountain Boys. They had their own flag, which was green and had 13 stars (representing the 13 Colonies).

In 1775, Allen and the militia, along with American General Benedict Arnold, captured Fort Ticonderoga, a British fort on the southern of Lake Champlain. Britain had occuped the fort since 1763, gaining possession of it as a concession from France at the end of the French and Indian War.

The fort was of strategic importance because it allowed men within it and in the surrounding area to patrol against invasions. The seizure of this fort likely played a large part in forestalling, at least for a time, a British invasion from Canada. The captured forts also yielded the Continental Army some badly needed cannons, which were sent to Boston and played a part in convincing British troops to abandon that city in 1776.

Allen and his men also captured another British fort, at Crown Point, a few miles north of Fort Ticonderoga. They did not fare so well in their invasion of Montreal, however, and were captured. British forces sent Allen, whom they knew well, to England to be tried as a traitor. He was not killed, as was a common fate for traitors in those days; instead, he spent several years aboard prison ships and in prisons on land, in Cornwall. Some reports say that the British offered him his freedom if he turned spy for them. He was eventually handed back over to American forces, in exchange for the release of a British officer.

Released, Allen, served as a lieutenant colonel in the Northern Army of New York.

Allen for some reason decided to act on behalf of the Vermont territory and pursue an alliance with England. These actions contributed to a great loss in popularity for Allen. He labored instead on a long piece of writing, which was eventually published in 1785 as Reason the Only Oracle of Man, which proved controversial for espousing the views of Deism. Allen found more success in farming and in managing an iron works; he spent the last years of his life working on his farm, where he died, in 1789, in what is now Vermont.

Allen had been married twice (to Mary Brownson in 1762 and to Fanny Buchanan in 1784), and he was the father of eight (five by Mary and three by Fanny).

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