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Ethan Allen: Leader of the Green Mountain Boys

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Ethan Allen: Leader of the Green Mountain Boys

Ethan Allen captures Fort Ticonderoga, May 10, 1775

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Ethan Allen - Birth:

Ethan Allen was born at Litchfield, CT, on January 21, 1738, to Joseph and Mary Baker Allen. The eldest of eight children, Allen had hoped to attend Yale, but was prevented from doing so when his father died in 1755.

Ethan Allen - Rank & Titles:

During the French & Indian War, Ethan Allen served as a private in the colonial ranks. After moving to Vermont, he was elected colonel commandant of the local militia, better known as the "Green Mountain Boys." During the early months of the American Revolution, Allen held no official rank in the Continental Army. Upon his exchange and release by the British in 1778, Allen was given the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army and major general of militia. After returning to Vermont later that year, he was made a general in the Army of Vermont.

Ethan Allen - Personal Life:

While working as the part owner of an iron foundry in Salisbury, CT, Ethan Allen married Mary Brownson. The couple had five children (Loraine, Joseph, Lucy, Mary Ann, & Pamela) before Mary's death from consumption in 1783. A year later, Allen married Frances "Fanny" Buchanan. The union produced three children, Fanny, Hannibal, and Ethan. Fanny would survive her husband and lived until 1834.

Ethan Allen - Early Career:

Though he served in the ranks during the French & Indian War, Ethan Allen's military career began in earnest after he relocated to Vermont in 1770. In this period, the territory of Vermont was claimed jointly by the colonies of New Hampshire and New York, and both issued competing land grants to settlers. As a holder of grants from New Hampshire, and wishing to associate Vermont with New England, Allen aided in forming the "Green Mountain Boys," an anti-New York militia.

With Allen as its "colonel commandant" and several hundred in the ranks, the Green Mountain Boys effectively controlled Vermont between 1771 and 1775. With the beginning of the American Revolution in April 1775, Allen began making plans to capture the principle British base in the region, Fort Ticonderoga. Located at the south edge of Lake Champlain, the fort commanded the lake and the route to Canada. The day before their planned attack, they were interrupted by the arrival of Colonel Benedict Arnold who had been sent north to seize the fort.

Ethan Allen - Fort Ticonderoga & Lake Champlain:

Commissioned by the government of Massachusetts, Arnold claimed that he was to have overall command of the operation. Allen disagreed, and after the Green Mountain Boys threatened to return home, the two colonels decided to share command. On May 10, 1775, Allen and Arnold's men stormed Fort Ticonderoga, capturing its entire forty-eight man garrison. Moving up the lake, they captured Crown Point, Fort Ann, and Fort St. John in the weeks that followed.

Ethan Allen - Canada & Captivity:

That summer, Allen and his chief lieutenant, Seth Warner, traveled south to Albany and received support for the formation of a Green Mountain Regiment. They returned north and Warner was given command of the regiment, while Allen was placed in charge of a small force of Indians and Canadians. On September 24, 1775, during an ill-advised attack on Montreal, Allen was captured by the British. Initially considered a traitor, Allen was shipped to England and imprisoned at Pendennis Castle in Cornwall. He remained a prisoner until being exchanged for Colonel Archibald Campbell in May 1778.

Ethan Allen - Vermont Independence:

Upon gaining his freedom, Allen opted to return to Vermont, which had declared itself an independent republic during his captivity. Settling near present-day Burlington, he remained active in politics and was named a general in the Army of Vermont. Later that year, he traveled south and asked the Continental Congress to recognize Vermont's status as an independent state. Unwilling to anger New York and New Hampshire, Congress declined to honor his request.

For the remainder of the war, Allen worked with his brother Ira and other Vermonters to ensure that their claims to the land were upheld. This went as far as negotiating with the British between 1780 and 1783, for military protection and possible inclusion in the British Empire. For these actions, Allen was charged with treason, however since it was clear that his goal had been to force the Continental Congress into taking action on the Vermont issue the case was never pursued. After the war, Allen retired to his farm where he lived until his death in 1789.

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