Ethan Allen was a Revolutionary War hero, and leader of the Green Mountain Boys. He was also a key figure in the push for independence and statehood for Vermont.
Ethan Allen helped start the Green Mountain Boys and was one of their leaders early in the American Revolution. On May 10, 1775, the Green Mountain Boys and Benedict Arnold took Fort Ticonderoga from the British. This was the first offensive victory for American forces during the war and eventually led to the American invasion of Canada later in the year.
Allen was born on January 21, 1738, in Litchfield, Connecticut. His parents were Joseph Allen and Mary Baker. He was the oldest of their eight children.
Allen was educated in Salisbury, Connecticut under the guidance of Reverend Jonathan Lee, who was preparing him to attend Yale. However, Allen’s father died in 1755, and he became responsible for taking care of the family farm.
French and Indian War
In 1757, Allen enlisted in the Connecticut militia. However, he did not see any military action during the French and Indian War.
The New Hampshire Grants
At the time, ownership of the land between New York and New Hampshire was in dispute. It was commonly known as the New Hampshire Grants, due to the fact that many people living there had purchased land titles from Benning Wentworth, the Governor of New Hampshire. Allen’s father taught him and his brothers that land was one of the most valuable possessions they could have, so they were involved in land speculating — buying land as cheap as possible and then selling it for a profit.
Allen, his brothers, and other relatives, including Seth Warner, moved into the New Hampshire Grants and purchased land. However, government officials in New York did not recognize the New Hampshire land titles and tried to evict the settlers. This led to conflicts between the Allen and other settlers.
Albany Ejectment Trials
A lawsuit was filed and heard before the court in Albany. However, the New York lawyers and judges were all investors in the land and had purchased their titles from New York. Naturally, they ruled the New Hampshire titles were invalid.
Founding the Green Mountain Boys
The case, known as the Albany Ejectment Trials, led to the settlers in the New Hampshire Grants deciding to take up arms to defend the property they believed was rightfully theirs. The militia force they set up was called the Green Mountain Boys and Allen was chosen as the leader. Over the next four years, the Green Mountain Boys helped protect the settlements of people who had purchased titles from New Hampshire against the New York officials.
Illustration of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountian Boys. Image Source: Library of Congress.
The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga
On April 19, 1775, the American Revolutionary War started with fighting at Lexington and Concord. Later that day, and over the next few days, thousands of militia forces from Massachusetts and surrounding colonies surrounded Boston and laid siege to the city. However, the Americans did not have enough heavy artillery to fire on the British and force them out of Boston.
It was well known throughout New England that there were cannon and artillery at the British forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and even before the first shot was fired at Lexington, plans had been set in motion by Connecticut to have Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys to capture Ticonderoga.
Not long after Connecticut launched their expedition, with Ethan Allen as its field commander, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety funded its own expedition with Benedict Arnold in command. Along the way, the two expeditions joined together and traveled to Ticonderoga at the southern tip of Lake Champlain.
The British at Ticonderoga and Crown Point were not aware war had broken out and were not expecting an attack of any kind. On May 10, 1775, Allen, Arnold, and the Green Mountain Boys stormed the fort and took captured it with almost no resistance from the British garrison.
Illustration of Ethan Allen demanding the surrender of the British commander at Fort Ticonderoga. Image Source: Wikipedia.
When the Continental Congress found out about the capture of the fort, there was concern that it may have ruined any chance at reconciliation with Britain. Congress asked Allen to take the cannon and artillery to the southern end of Lake George so that inventory could be taken. Allen refused the request and argued that removing the weapons from the fort would leave the fort defenseless and leave the colonists in the western territories vulnerable to attack. As long as the cannon and artillery remained at the fort, it could be used to control traffic on Lake Champlain.
The cannon and artillery from Ticonderoga were eventually retrieved by Henry Knox and taken to Boston where they were used to fortify Dorchester Heights and other areas around the city. Once Dorchester Heights was fortified the British were forced to evacuate Boston.
The Green Mountain Boys Become Warner’s Regiment
Congress decided to use the Ticonderoga as a staging point for the planned invasion of Quebec. Congress asked Connecticut Governor John Trumbull to send troops to reinforce the fort.
When the Connecticut troops, under the command of Colonel Benjamin Hinman, arrived, Allen relinquished command, and the Green Mountain Boys left and returned to their homes and farms in the New Hampshire Grants.
Allen wanted to press on into Canada and wrote to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He said that Canada could be taken easily and offered to raise a regiment Massachusetts would provide commissions and pay. Benedict Arnold wrote a similar letter to the New York Provincial Congress.
Allen and Seth Warner rode to Philadelphia and met with the Continental Congress. Allen proposed his plan to invade Canada to Congress. Congress agreed, and on July 4, 1775, the Green Mountain Boys were mustered into the Continental Army and told they could name their own officers. Allen was passed over as commander of the regiment. Seth Warner was named Lieutenant Colonel. Allen was also passed over for the rank of captain and lieutenant. Warner’s new regiment was officially known as “Colonel Warner’s Regiment in the Service of the United Colonies.”
Allen Joins the Invasion of Canada
Allen was embarrassed about being passed over for command of the regiment but still wanted to be involved in the fight against the British. He volunteered to serve under General Richard Montgomery in the Invasion of Canada.
Battle of Montreal (Longue-Point)
During the Siege of Fort St. John in September 1775, Montgomery was in need of more volunteers. He sent Ethan Allen and John Brown out into the countryside to recruit Canadians to help the Americans in their fight against the British.
Allen went north along the Richelieu River, towards Montreal, and was able to pick up some recruits. Brown also went north, to La Prairie, just across the river from Montreal. Allen suggested an attack on Montreal, but many of his recruits decided to leave, and he was left with roughly 110 men. With such a small force, he abandoned the idea of attacking Montreal and set out to return to St. John.
On the way back, he met up with Brown, who had about 200 men. They believed that between the two contingents they had enough men to take Montreal, and devised a plan where Allen would lead his men across the St. Lawrence River and land below the city, while Brown and his men would cross the river and land above the city.
Sir Guy Carleton, the Governor of the Quebec Province, knew it was only a matter of time before the Americans attacked Montreal. When spies informed Carleton of the American plan, he devised a trap to catch the American forces on the outskirts of the city.
Allen and his men crossed the St. Lawrence River under cover of darkness on the night of September 24. Unfortunately, Brown and his men were not able to get across the river. It is also possible that Brown abandoned Allen and never made an attempt to cross the river.
Without Brown, Allen was forced to take a defensive position a few miles outside of the city, near Longue-Pointe, so he could wait for daylight and then cross back over the river to safety.
Carleton sprung the trap and attacked Allen’s position with a force made up of regulars, militia, and Indians. After a brief skirmish, most of Allen’s men scattered. Allen was unable to organize a withdrawal and was forced to surrender, ending the Battle of Montreal.
Illustration of Ethan Allen’s capture at Montreal in 1775. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Allen was held as a prisoner on a ship in the St. Lawrence River for five weeks. Eventually, he was sent to England where he was kept as a prisoner at Pendennis Castle near Falmouth.
The British did not hang him, because they were concerned the Americans would retaliate by hanging a British officer. He was sent to Halifax in the spring of 1776 and then to New York. In May 1778, he was exchanged for British officer Archibald Campbell.
Allen returned to the New Hampshire Grants, which had declared independence from New York while he was gone. Allen devoted himself to helping the colony, known as New Connecticut, to achieve recognition from Congress. The early attempt failed because New York threatened to leave the union if the colony was recognized. New Hampshire and Massachusetts also started to make claims to the territory.
This led Allen and others to reach out to British authorities in New York and Canada as a possible path to achieving recognition of an independent state. Allen and the others communicated with Frederick Haldimand from 1781 until at least 1783.
After the Treaty of Paris was signed, Congress finally agreed to recognize the independent colony, which changed its name to Vermont.
Death of Ethan Allen
He died at Colchester, Vermont, February 13th, 1789, and his remains repose in a beautiful cemetery near the Winooski, at Burlington.
Significance of Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen was significant to the founding of the United States for his role in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point in 1775. He also played a key role in helping the territory of the New Hampshire Grants gain independence and eventually become the state of Vermont.
- Allen was born in Litchfield, Connecticut on January 21, 1738.
- In 1757, he volunteered for the Connecticut militia and fought in the French & Indian War.
- Purchased land in the New Hampshire Grants (Vermont) in 1757.
- Helped organize the Green Mountain Boys militia in 1770.
- Aided in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775.
- Captured by the British during a failed attack on Montreal in 1775.
- Spent two years in prison in England.
- After he returned to America in 1778, he did not fight in the war.
- He focused on helping Vermont gain independence and statehood.
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