Ethan Allen (1738-1789)

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American militia commander during War of Independence. Although in some ways a stereotypical backwoodsman, Allen was also the author of a religious pamphlet published after the war. Born in Connecticut, Allen moved to the New Hampshire Grants (now Vermont). The area was claimed by both New Hampshire and New York, but New Hampshire had been first to move, issuing township charters from 1749. 131 of these grants had been issued by 1764, the year before New York began to issue competing grants. The most divisive of these were for areas already settled by New Hampshire.

Allen gained military experience during the Seven Years War, but he first rose to prominence as the commander of the Green Mountain Boys, a militia group first raised in 1770 to fight a Sheriff's party from New York. As a result of his actions, there was a price on his head in New York. When the fighting broke out in 1775, many Americans worried about Fort Ticonderoga on the western side of Lake Champlain. Originally a French stronghold it had been captured by the British in 1759. At the time it was a strong fortification, but by 1775 it had been allowed to crumble. However, it worried many Americans, and soon after Lexington Allen was approached by a group from Connecticut who offered to back him in an attack on Ticonderoga. Allen agreed, and raised a force of two hundred men, mostly Green Mountain Boys. At the same time Benedict Arnold had gained a commission from Massachusetts to attack the fort, but when he reached Allen and his men they refused to follow him. Eventually the attack went ahead with both men claiming command.

The attack itself was launched early in the morning on 10 May 1775, and is considered to be the first offensive action taken by American troops during the war. The British garrison was only fifty strong, and was surprised in its beds. This exploit made Allen and the Green Mountain Boys popular heroes in New York. His disagreements with Arnold continued. Arnold captured St. Johns on the Richelieu River, before abandoning it. Allen disagreed with this, and reoccupied St. John before himself being forced to abandon it by a British attack.

Nearly two months passed after the fall of Ticonderoga before Congress decided to launch an invasion of Canada. On 27 June General Philip Schuyler was appointed to command the invasion. Allen was sent to Canada to recruit, but instead found the Loyalists to be stronger. On 25 September he launched an attack on Montreal, but the Loyalists defeated his attack, and Allen was himself captured.

He remained in British captivity for nearly three years, before finally being released on 6 May 1778 in exchange for Archibald Campbell. He did not return to active service after his release, but instead returned to Vermont, which in 1777 had declared itself to be an independent republic. Allen campaigned in favour of this and against domination from New York even preferring annexation to Canada. He died in 1789, two years before Vermont joined the Union as the 14th state (1791)
War for America Black, Jeremy, War For America: The Fight for Independence 1775-1783. Provides a clear narrative of the war, taken year by year, with good chapters on some of the later years that are often skipped over. Also contains a good selection of quotes from participents in the conflict. cover cover cover
The Glorious Cause Middlekauff, Robert, The Glorious Cause, The American Revolution 1763-1789. A very well researched book that is especially strong on the events that led up to the Revolution, which take up the first third of the book. Unlike many similar books it also covers the years immediately after the war and up to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. cover cover cover

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (28 May 2003), Ethan Allen (1738-1789), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_ethanallen.html

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