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Ethan Allen, a Hero of the Revolution

Updated on January 2, 2011

During our exploration of Vermont, I came across the names of two significant personalities, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.

Both were lauded as Heroes of the Revolution, yet both were also called traitors at one time or another!

They had remarkably parallel life stories, up to a certain point that is. What was it that made the outcome so different?

Hero of the Revolution

Ethan Allen (1738-89) was born in Litchfield, Connecticut. In 1769 he moved to Bennington in the New Hampshire Grants, which include the contemporary Vermont. He took a very active part in the conflict between New York and New Hampshire over the region's control.

New York steadfastly refused to recognize Vermont as a separate province, and Allen promptly formed a militia, the Green Mountain Boys, to continue fighting. For this he was accused of high treason, and just as promptly outlawed by the British governor of New York. Or how the tide can turn...

At the outbreak of the American Revolution (1775-1783), the outlaw Allen offered his home state of Connecticut his services against the British. In the same year, he conquered fort Ticonderoga with his Green Mountain Boys, and overnight he became a national hero of the Revolution...

Later, he garnered more laurels during the military action against Canada. In 1778, after an imprisonment of three years in Montreal, he returned home with the title of lieutenant-colonel in the Army and Major General in the militia. Or how the tide can turn...

The war hero settled in Burlington, and started a farm. He was now a popular and flamboyant public figure and became very active in land speculation, an activity that the history books lovingly cover with the cloak of oblivion...

Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen

Traitorous contacts - or not?

In 1780 he once more asked the National Congress for the independence of Vermont. Congress refused, and so between 1780 and 1783 he negotiated with the Governor of Canada (a Brit and therefore the enemy...) about the accession of an independent province of Vermont to the Canadian Commonwealth.

Once more he was accused of high treason, but this time by the Congress ! Or how the tide can turn... However, public opinion, his immense popularity and his great local influence (on voters...) soon made the politico's reconsider their opinion. A not-so-elegant political compromise was worked out.

Allen's "treason" had not been high treason, for his actions had merely served to put pressure on Congress to make Vermont a state (sic...), and so they had not really constituted treason! Almost 200 years later, modern science came up with an apt name for such a twisted political logic : fuzzy logic!...

So as not to suffer a loss of face in its flipping, Congress did not immediately agree to Vermont's independence, but they would take the matter "under consideration" and provide a favorable answer "in a few years".

Four years later, in 1789, folk hero Ethan Allen died in Burlington, and later that same year, Vermont was proclaimed an independent state...

Benedict Arnold

My next article will concern the life of Benedict Arnold, and you will be able to compare their histories and draw your conclusions.


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