Ethan Allen (January 21, 1738 – February 12, 1789) was an
early American revolutionary and guerrilla leader during the era
of the Vermont Republic and the New Hampshire Grants. He fought
against the settlement of Vermont by the Province of New York.
was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the first child of Joseph
and Mary Baker Allen. Ethan was the oldest of the eight children.
He was the only one to be born in Litchfield, since the family
moved to Cornwall shortly after his birth. His brother, Ira, figured
prominently in the early history of Vermont. Joseph Allen was
the leader of a rebellious group of land owners and speculators
who held New Hampshire title to land grants in the New Hampshire
Grants. New York, which held substantial claim to the area, refused
to honor the New Hampshire titles and sold competing titles to
different people, who generally did not live in Vermont. This
led to open rebellion among the population in much of Vermont.
In April of 1755, Joseph Allen died, leaving Ethan to take care
of the family farm and title claims.
was well over six feet tall, in a time when most men were a foot
shorter. He was outspoken and apparently quite articulate. As
a young man, he served in the colonial militia in the French and
Indian War. He was married and had five children. In the early
1770s, he emerged as the military leader of Anti-New York dissidents,
known as the Green Mountain Boys, who were fighting New York over
the New Hampshire grants. He was apparently reasonably effective
in that role. A warrant was issued for his arrest by the government
of New York, for the substantial reward of 100 pounds.
the spring of 1775, following the arrival of the Revolutionary
War, Allen and Benedict Arnold led a raid against Fort Ticonderoga.
The relative roles of Allen and Arnold are not entirely clear.
Nor is it clear to what extent the campaign was formulated by
the strongly anti-British faction in Connecticut, to what extent
it was the idea of the Green Mountain Boys headquartered at the
Catamount Tavern in Bennington, nor how much of the enthusiasm
was fueled by alcohol rather than by patriotism. What is clear
is that the rebels moved north, managed to get a few dozen men
across Lake Champlain (they had considerable trouble finding a
boat and the one they found was quite small).
In a dawn attack, Ticonderoga was taken from the 22 British troops
that held it and who were not aware that a war was in progress.
Allen/Arnold's rebels also quickly captured forts at Crown Point,
Fort Ann on Isle La Motte near the present Canadian border, and
(temporarily) the town of St John (now Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu,
Quebec). The comic opera aspects of this campaign notwithstanding,
the huge stores of cannon and powder seized at Ticonderoga allowed
the American rebels to put in place an effective siege of Boston
which caused the British to evacuate in October of 1775.
Green Mountain Boys elected Allen's cousin, Seth Warner, as leader;
however, Allen commanded a small military force in the American
rebels' campaign in Quebec in 1775. As a result of miscommunication
or misjudgment, he attacked Montreal with a handful of men and
was captured by the British. He was shipped to England where he
was imprisoned in Pendennis Castle, Cornwall, and suffered considerable
mistreatment. Allen was later transferred to New York, where he
was eventually paroled in a prisoner exchange.
then moved back to Vermont, which had become a hotbed of anti-everyone
sentiment, harboring little affection for either England or for
the nascent United States. Vermont was also harboring a significant
number of deserters from the armies of both. Allen settled a homestead
in the delta of the Winooski River near the modern city of Burlington.
Allen remained active in Vermont politics and was appointed general
in the Army of Vermont.
1778, Allen appeared before the Continental Congress on behalf
of a claim by Vermont for recognition as an independent state.
Allen then negotiated with the governor of Canada between 1780
and 1783, in order to establish Vermont as a British province.
Because of this, the US charged him with treason; however, because
the negotiations were demonstrably intended to force action on
the Vermont case by the Continental Congress, the charge was never
first wife died in 1783 and he remarried in that year. Allen died
in 1789, of a stroke, at the age of 51. Two
ships of the United States Navy have been named Ethan Allen in
his honor, as well as Fort Ethan Allen, a cavalry outpost, in
Colchester and Essex, Vermont.