Ethan Allen was an American Revolutionary War patriot born on January 21, 1738* in Litchfield, Connecticut. He was the first born of Joseph and Mary Baker Allen. Shortly after Ethan’s birth, the family moved to Cornwall, which was frontier territory. Between Ethan’s birth and 1751, seven other siblings arrived and all survived into adulthood. Two of his brothers, Ira and Herman, were also prominent figures of the early history of Vermont.
By the time Ethan reached his teens, Cornwall had begun to look like a town with wood-framed houses, which replaced cabins of the earlier settlers. Ethan began his studies to become a minister in the nearby town of Salisbury. His goal was to get into Yale. Ethan had an unquenchable curiosity and intense interest for learning. He was tall, over six feet tall, was outspoken and articulate and enjoyed using profane language. He made no such claim, but he was considered a deist.
Joseph was the leader of a group of rebellious landowners and speculators who held New Hampshire titles to land grants in the New Hampshire Land Grants. New York was one of the states to refuse to honor the New Hampshire titles and sold competing titles to different people do did not live in Vermont. This created a large rebellion within much of the Vermont population.
In 1755, Ethan’s father Joseph died and was one of the largest landowners around. He also ran a farm and served as a town selectman.* Joseph’s death ended Ethan’s studies and forced him to take care of the family and title claims.
Ethan volunteered for military service in 1757 in the response to French movements. This resulted in the Battle of Fort William Henry. The French and Indian War continued for several more years, but Ethan did not participate in any further military activities. It is presumed that he tended the family farm until 1762. During this same year, he became part owner of an iron furnace in Salisbury. He married Mary Brownson from Roxbury in July of 1762. They settled first in Cornwall and then moved the following year to Salisbury with their daughter Loraine who was an infant. There, in Salisbury, he bought a small farm and continued to develop the iron works. The expansion of the iron works cost Ethan a lot of money and had to sell portions of the Cornwall property to raise funds. He ended up selling half of his interest in the works to his brother Herman. In 1765, the Allen brothers sold all of their interests in the iron works.
There have been words that Ethan’s marriage was an unhappy one. His wife, Mary, was extremely religious, was prone to criticism and could hardly read or write. Ethan’s behavior wasn’t helpful and was some times ostentatious. He did, however, maintain his interest in learning. In spite of the differences between the two, the marriage produced five children of whom, only two reached adulthood. Mary died in 1783.
In the early 1770’s, Ethan became the military leader of Anti-New York rebels, known as the Green Mountain Boys. The Green Mountain Boys were fighting New York over the New Hampshire Grants. Ethan and the Green Mountain Boys were the ones to carve out the Republic of Vermont and then later the state of Vermont. The government of New York issued a warrant for Ethan’s arrest and the award was one hundred pounds, which was substantial for that time.
After the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, about 1775, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold led a raid in hopes of capturing Fort Ticonderoga. This campaign was formulated by anti-British faction in Connecticut. The Green Mountain Boys had their headquarters at the Catamount Tavern in Bennington, Vermont. The “boys” moved north and managed to get a few doze men across Lake Champlain.
At dawn, the Green Mountain Boys took Fort Ticonderoga from a small British garrison that was guarding the fort. These rebels quickly took other forts such as Crown Point, Fort Ann on Isle La Motte near the Canadian border and the town of St. John better known today as Saint-Jean-sur-Richeliu, Quebec. The large stores of cannons and powder seized at Ticonderoga allowed the American rebels to break the deadlock at the siege of Boston. This caused the British to evacuate the city in 1776.
Ethan commanded a small militia in the Green Mountain Boys’ campaign in 1775 in Quebec. Either there was miscommunication or misjudgment, he attacked Montreal with a few men and was seized by the British. Ethan was sent to Pendennis Castle, Cornwall, where he was imprisoned and badly treated. In May of 1778, Ethan was taken to a sloop in the harbor at New York, where he was taken to Staten Island. He was admitted to a general’s quarters where he was invited to eat and drink. He was treated well for two days and on the third day he was exchanged for Colonel Archibald Campbell.
Ethan moved back to Vermont. Vermont harbored a great number of deserters of both the British and of the U.S. Ethan settled in the delta of Winooski River and what is now Burlington. He remained active in politics and was even appointed as general in the Army of Vermont.
Ethan died on February 12, 1789 of a stroke in Burlington, Vermont. He was fifty-one years old.