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Ethan Allen

Allen, Ethan, 1738–89, hero of the American Revolution, leader of the Green Mountain Boys, and promoter of the independence and statehood of Vermont, b. Litchfield (?), Conn. He had some schooling and was proud of his deist opinions, which he later incorporated in Reason the Only Oracle of Man (1784). After fighting briefly in the French and Indian Wars, he interested himself in land speculation, and in 1770 he appeared as one of the proprietors in the New Hampshire Grants. He and his brothers, notably Ira Allen, became the leaders of the New England settlers and speculators in the disputed lands—inveterate enemies of the Yorkers (settlers under New York patents) and violent opponents of all attempts of New York to exert control in the area. He was active in forming the Green Mountain Boys and became their leader in defying the New York government and harrying the Yorkers. Governor Tryon of New York put a price on the heads of Allen and two of his followers, but Ethan was not captured. After the outbreak of the American Revolution, he made the Green Mountain Boys into an independent patriot organization. Joined by Benedict Arnold (with a commission from Massachusetts) and some Connecticut militia, Ethan Allen and his men captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British on May 10, 1775. Legend says that when the British officer asked him under what authority he acted, Ethan Allen roared, "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!" The story is, however, apocryphal. Allen then urged an expedition against Canada, and the Green Mountain Boys were attached to Gen. P. J. Schuyler's invasion force, but the men chose not Allen, but his cousin Seth Warner, as leader. Allen went on the expedition and, in a rash effort to capture Montreal before the main Continental army arrived, was captured (Sept., 1775) by the British. He told his own story of this in the popular Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's Captivity, which appeared in 1779, a year after he had been exchanged. He returned to Vermont, which had declared its independence but was unrecognized by the Continental Congress. Ethan and his brother Ira then devoted themselves to insuring the new political unit in one way or another. The region remained in danger of British attack, and the British late in 1779 opened negotiations with Ethan Allen in an attempt to attach Vermont to Canada. No conclusion was reached, and the victory at Yorktown ending the American Revolution also ended the talks. Ethan Allen withdrew from politics in 1784. When he died, Vermont was still independent and still dickering with Congress and dealing with internal struggles between the Allen party and their opponents.

See biographies by C. A. Jellison (1969) and W. S. Randall (2011).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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