Writer, philosopher, businessman, politician, the words that describe Ethan Allen, born on the 21st of January 1737 in Connecticut and later died on the 12th of February 1789.He is best known as one of the founders of the U.S. state of Vermont, and for the capture of Fort Ticonderoga early in the American Revolutionary War along with Benedict Arnold.
The family moved to the town of Cornwall shortly after his birth. The move to Cornwall grew out of Ethan’s father’s quest for freedom of religion during a time of turmoil: the Great Awakening, when Puritans were separating into churches with differing dogmas, in particular about the proper form of conversion: by works or by grace.
Allen’s education was cut short when his father died in 1755 and he had to take over the family farm. Allen joined the militia (1757) during the French and Indian War, but didn’t see any fighting.
He and his brothers acquired large tracts of land in 1769 in what was called the New Hampshire Grants, but ownership of the area was in dispute with settlers from New York.
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.
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. 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.
After his release, Allen opted to return to Vermont, which had declared it an independent republic during his captivity. 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. After the New York Supreme Court ruled that any claim to ownership of land granted by New Hampshire was invalid, Ethan became extremely involved in defending these Yankee grants.
He did so to protect his own considerable interests and those of the pioneers who came north from Connecticut and Massachusetts after the end of the French and Indian War in 1759.
He preferred to associate the newly developed lands with historically democratic New England rather than New York, where there was a less democratic tradition and a government influenced by wealthy landowners.
The last five years of Ethan’s life were his most tranquil. He and his second wife, Fanny, moved to a home on their property in the Burlington Intervale. Ethan concentrated on farming and writing, and died in 1789. As so often in his life, Ethan presents yet another unanswered question as to the manner of his death.
He either suffered a stroke returning across the frozen lake, or, as popular legend tells it, fell from the loaded sleigh in a drunken stupor. Whatever the cause of the trauma, he did not regain consciousness, and died the next day at home.