The legendary stories of Ethan Allen and Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys have long been part of American folklore. Their heroically described exploits are fabled in many fictional accounts and children’s books. Allen’s name is synonymously linked with the Green Mountain Boys as if he was their sole leader. However, while Allen receives the fame, there is a strong case that Seth Warner, a lesser-known member of the Green Mountain Boys, was the more impactful military leader during the American Revolution.
Prior to the revolution, Allen organized New Hampshire land grantees into a militia-like organization to protect their disputed land claims from New York usurpation in the area we call Vermont today. New York authorities derisively referred to this extra-legal organization as the Green Mountain Boys, and Vermonters adopted the name with pride. Allen became its widely recognized leader by employing aggressive pamphleteering, intimidation and strong-arm tactics. Allen famously thumbed his nose at the New York authorities with bombastic statements such as:
“The Gods of the valleys are not the Gods of the hills”
Under Allen’s direction and encouragement, the Green Mountain Boys became a very effective paramilitary force, which backed up his magniloquent oratory.
In May 1775, Allen’s place in American history was cemented by leading a contingent of the Green Mountain Boys (along with Benedict Arnold) in seizing Fort Ticonderoga. The colorful surrender demand attributed to Allen is:
“In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress. Damn it!”
Although Fort Ticonderoga was widely regarded as the “Gibraltar of North America,” Allen’s military conquest was vastly overestimated in light of the fort’s poor condition and ineffective garrison.
During the revolution, Seth Warner emerged as the leader of the Green Mountain Boys. A day after Fort Ticonderoga fell, Warner led a contingent of the Green Mountain Boys in capturing British forces at Crown Point. Crown Point was as weakly defended and as strategically important as Fort Ticonderoga. Both Warner and Ethan Allen traveled to Philadelphia to meet with the Continental Congress to obtain military pay for the Green Mountain Boys and to obtain permission to enlist a Green Mountain regiment in the Continental Army. They returned with both.
The Green Mountain Boys regiment was authorized by the Continental Congress but under the auspices of the State of New York. In deference to their unique status, the Green Mountain Boys received the right to elect their own officers rather than having them appointed by the New York authorities. By a surprising margin of 41 to 5, Seth Warner was elected leader of the Green Mountain Boys regiment. The rationale for selecting Warner over Allen is not clear. Perhaps there was a feud between the two men or maybe the conservative residents of the New Hampshire Grants sought a less rash and impetuous leader.
Although Ethan Allen was piqued with the decision to elect Warner he managed to wrangle a volunteer role in the American expedition to drive the British from Canada in the fall of 1775. The Green Mountain Boys made a good decision as Allen rashly attacked Montreal with a small group of Canadian farmers ahead of the main American force. He was captured and sent to Britain in chains.
In contrast to Allen’s defeat, Warner led the Green Mountain Boys, now known as Colonel Warner’s Continental Regiment, to victory against Major General Guy Carleton at the battle of Longueuil near Montreal on November 1, 1775. The victory blocked Carleton’s attempt to relieve the American siege of St. Johns and demonstrated Seth Warner’s military prowess. After this battle, Warner and his men returned to their homes for the winter.
In January 1776 Brigadier General David Wooster asked Seth Warner to reform his regiment and return to Canada. Remarkably, Warner was able to raise the regiment in the dead of winter and travel to the front lines. In the spring, when the British returned with overwhelming force, Warner orchestrated a well-organized rear guard defense. This allowed the Continental Army to avoid annihilation during a disorganized retreat from Canada to Fort Ticonderoga.
During the 1777 British invasion led by General Burgoyne, Seth Warner again proved that he was a capable military leader. In July 1777, he ably commanded undersized rear guard units at the battle of Hubbarton, Vermont and rallied his troops to cement a patriot victory at Bennington in August. British losses at these two battles weakened their invasion force, which aided the Continental Army victory at Saratoga in October. After the 1777 campaign, Warner continued leading his regiment despite declining health until the unit was disbanded on January 1, 1781.
While Warner was protecting Vermont from British invasion, Ethan Allen remained a prisoner of war. After three years of captivity, Allen was exchanged and returned to Vermont after General Burgoyne’s invasion had been thwarted. Shortly after his homecoming, he was named a general in the Vermont militia but commanded no troops in the field or in battle. His energies turned to the political future of Vermont.
As the war dragged on Ethan Allen became increasingly concerned that the Continental Congress would not uphold the New Hampshire land grants, and therefore would fail to recognize Vermont as an independent state. Whether this was the cause or not, Allen opened up clandestine negotiations with Canadian Governor Sir Frederick Haldimand for Vermont to rejoin the British Empire. Initially, these negotiations were privy to a small group called the Arlington Junto, but eventually rumors leaked to other military and political leaders including New Hampshire General John Stark.
Allen attempted to justify why Vermonters needed to negotiate with the British. In a December 7, 1780 letter to Stark, Allen said:
“I am at a loss to form an Idea what the people of the United States would have Vermont to do –”
Allen’s perspective was that Vermont was in a bind without allies who would recognize its sovereignty.
In opposition to Allen’s parley initiative, Seth Warner publically demanded that Allen and the Arlington Junto cease their negotiations. This was to be Warner’s last public service. His life was cut short by an illness probably hastened by extensive exposure to the brutal Vermont winters during his military service. He died at the age of 42 in 1784. Although Allen lived another five years, neither leader lived to see Vermont join the United States.
There are good reasons why Warner should be regarded as the leader of the Green Mountain Boys during the revolution. He was elected by his peers to lead them into battle. He did so during three hard years of campaigning and performed admirably as a tactical battlefield commander. Furthermore, unlike Ethan Allen, Seth Warner’s loyalty to the United States was never questioned.
Allen’s knack for self-promotion, blustery political writing and bellicose oratory created an illusion of him as the superior Revolutionary War leader of the Green Mountain Boys. His principal accomplishments emanate from his pre-war activities to defend the New Hampshire land claimants and for his leadership role in seizing the dilapidated but vaunted Fort Ticonderoga.
In actuality, Seth Warner was the elected and recognized commander of the Green Mountain Boys during their entire service with the Continental Army, with Ethan Allen playing the important political roles of firebrand, publicist and spokesperson. Clearly, the American cause benefited from Seth Warner’s military leadership, while Ethan Allen’s political leadership was critical to the formation of Vermont as a distinct, independent sovereign entity.[FEATURED IMAGE AT TOP: Statues of Seth Warner at Bennington, Vermont (left) and Ethan Allen in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda (right).]
 Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys by R. Conrad Stein, Ethan Allen: The Green Mountain Boys and Vermont’s Path to Statehood by Emily Raabe and Ethan Allen: Green Mountain Boy by Gertrude Hecker Winders are good examples of children’s books.
 Willard Sterne Randall, Ethan Allen – His Life and Times (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011), 236-7 provides the context and provenience of this quote.
 While there is some dispute whether Allen or Arnold was in command (or were co-commanders), Arnold’s role is downplayed in many popular accounts due to his subsequent traitorous actions, further burnishing Allen’s exploits.
 Walter Hill Crockett, Vermont – The Green Mountain State (New York: The Century History Company, Inc., 1921), Vol. I, 436. The exact wording of Allen’s surrender demand is open to considerable conjecture and debate. Crocket is convinced that the version he reports is correct given subsequent attributions by Ethan Allen, Ira Allen, Samuel Williams (who wrote the first history of Vermont) and an aged survivor quoted in the “History of Shorham”; see pages 438-9.
 Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Friday June 23, 1775.
 Daniel Chipman, Memoir of Seth Warner (Middlebury, VT: L. W. Clark, 1848), 35.
 Crockett, Vermont, Vol. I, 478-9.
 Guy Carleton was Governor and Commander of Quebec.
 Frederic F. VandeWater, The Reluctant Republic – Vermont 1724-1791 (New York: The John Day Company, 1941), 270-1. VandeWater names seven key members including Thomas Chittenden, Ira Allen, Ethan Allen, Timothy Brownson, Jonas Fay, John Fassett and Matthew Lyon.
 John J. Duffy, Ethan Allen and his Kin Correspondence 1772-1819 (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1998), Vol. I, 106-7.
 Crockett, Vermont, Vol. II, 334 and Charles A. Jellison, Ethan Allen – Frontier Rebel, (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1969), 266-7.