Biography of Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen was a Revolutionary War hero and one of the first heroes of the war. He rose to prominence when he moved to the New Hampshire Grants — present-day Vermont — and was hired by the settlers living there to represent them in a dispute with New York authorities over ownership of the land. The proceedings, which are known as the Albany Ejectment Trials, resulted in the settlers losing the rights to their land. Allen returned to the Grants, where he and many of the settlers vowed to defend their homes. They formed a militia group — the Green Mountain Boys — and Allen was chosen as the leader. For the next four years, they fought against New York authorities to keep their land, even when the New York legislature branded Allen and others, including Seth Warner, as outlaws and offered a reward for their capture. When the American Revolutionary War started, Connecticut hired the Green Mountain Boys to attack Fort Ticonderoga for the purpose of capturing the cannons and heavy artillery. On the trip to Ticonderoga, they were joined by Benedict Arnold. Then, on May 10, 1775, they successfully captured the fort, weapons, and ammunition. Soon after, the Green Mountain Boys joined the Continental Army as a regiment, but Seth Warner was chosen to lead them, not Allen. Allen volunteered to join the army for the Canada Campaign and served under General Richard Montgomery. During the campaign, Allen was captured at the Battle of Montreal. He was held prisoner until 1778 when he was exchanged for a British officer. He returned to the Grants and worked toward independence for the territory and even conspired with British authorities to make it happen. However, the war ended, the negotiations fell apart, and the northern part of Vermont opened to settlement. Allen continued to work for independence, but died in 1789. Two years later, Congress recognized Vermont and it entered the Union as the 14th state.
Important Facts About Ethan Allen
- 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.
Life and Career of Ethan Allen
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 and he had five brothers — Heman, Heber, Levi, Zimri, and Ira, along with two sisters — Lydia and Lucy.
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, so he stopped attending school.
French and Indian War
In 1757, Allen enlisted in the Connecticut militia after the Siege of Fort William Henry. However, he did not see any military action during the French and Indian War.
Defending The New Hampshire Grants
After the war, 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.
When Allen was young, his 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 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.
Participation in the Albany Ejectment Trials
A lawsuit was filed and heard before the court in Albany, which is known as the Albany Ejectment Trials. Allen was chosen to represent the settlers from the Grants. 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
Allen returned to the grants where he and the settlers decided 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.
Onion River Land Company
In 1773, Allen formed a company for the purpose of buying and selling land around Burlington. It was called the Onion River Land Company, and his partners were his brothers Ira, Heman, and Zimri, along with Remember Baker.
At first, they settled land on land in the Winooski Falls area, near Colchester. Ira Allen and Remember Baker build a blockhouse near the falls on the Onion River, which served as a small fort and was stocked with weapons and gunpowder. Then, in June 1773, they cut a road through the forest from Castelton to Burlington — 70 miles long — that the Green Mountain Boys would use two years later to march to Fort Ticonderoga.
The “Bloody Acts” of the New York Assembly
As violence in the Grants escalated, the New York Assembly put a committee together to investigate the situation. George Clinton was the chairman and he appointed Crean Bush to document the committee’s recommendations.
Clinton’s committee labeled the leaders of the Green Mountain Boys as outlaws and offered a reward for the capture of Allen and Seth Warner. They were given 70 days to turn themselves in. If they failed to do so, they would be considered guilty and would be executed if captured.
The committee also banned “tumultuous and riotous assemblies” in the territory of the Grants and authorized violators to be shot.
Allen responded by encouraging the members of the Green Moutain Boys to arm themselves at all times. He also proclaimed the action taken by the committee was invalid because the Grants did not have elected representatives in the New York Assembly. In essence, he used the concept of “no taxation without representation” to argue against the action of the New York Assembly.
A Brief Narrative of the Proceedings of the Government of New-York
On September 23, 1774, Allen published a book called “A Brief Narrative of the Proceedings of the Government of New-York” in which he provided details — from his perspective — on the history of the feud between New Hampshire and New York, including the events that had taken place after the Albany Ejectment Trials.
He sent copies of his book to important people he knew, including Oliver Wolcott, who lived in Litchfield, Connecticut. He also sent a letter to Wolcott and told him there was talk of setting up an independent government in the Grants. Wolcott went on to serve as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Ethan Allen in the American Revolution
Allen Volunteers the Green Mountain Boys
On March 1, 1775, Allen wrote another letter from his home in Sheffield, Massachusetts to Wolcott, and told him that if war broke out between Great Britain and the Colonies the Green Mountain Boys would “Assist their American Brethren in the Capacity of Rangers.”
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 its 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.
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.
Prisoner of War
Allen was held prisoner on a ship in the St. Lawrence River for five weeks. After Seth Warner and the Green Mountain Boys won the Battle of Longueuil, the ship was sent to Quebec. Once it arrived there, Allen was put on another ship and sent to England to be put on trial for treason. When he arrived in England, he was held at Pendennis Castle near Falmouth.
The British did not hang him, because they were concerned the Americans would retaliate by hanging a British officer.
In the spring of 1776, he was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he stayed until the fall, and then he was sent to New York, which was under British control. He was kept in New York for about 16 months and was exchanged in May 1778 for Archibald Campbell, a British officer.
Ethan Allen and Vermont Independence and Statehood
Allen returned to the 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. The people living in the Grants felt Congress was being “ungrateful” toward them, because of the role they played in capturing Fort Ticonderoga and helping defend the frontier during the Battle of Hubbardton.
In July 1780, Frederick Haldimand, the Governor of Quebec, heard about the disappointment and had someone he knew send a letter to Allen. Allen was walking along the streets of Arlington when it was handed to him. The letter presented the Committee of Safety with an opportunity to eliminate the threat of a British attack on the frontier.
Allen, his brother Ira, Thomas Chittenden, and Joseph Fay acted on behalf of the Grants. However, when the British surrendered at the Battle of Yorktown, the negotiations ended.
Death of Ethan Allen
On February 11, 1789, he went to visit his cousin, Ebeneezer Allen. On the trip home, he fell ill and may have suffered a stroke. He lost consciousness, and died soon after, on February 12th, 1789. He was buried in a cemetery near the Winooski, at Burlington.
Significance of Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen is important to United States history because of his role in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point in 1775. He also played an important part in helping New Hampshire Grants gain independence and eventually become the state of Vermont.