Inventing Ethan Allen


August 6, 2014
by Gene Procknow Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

Book Review:

Inventing Ethan Allen by John J. Duffy and H. Nicholas Muller III. Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2014. Hardcover: $85.00, ISBN 978-61168-553-4. Pp. XII, 285. Index, bibliography, maps and illustrations.

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

Where I’m from, we believe in all sorts of things that aren’t true… we call it history.”

-Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

The reporter’s quote from the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence illustrates Professors Duffy and Muller’s first thesis in their recently published re-examination of Ethan Allen’s life and legacy. The professors discredit many of the fabled stories surrounding the most famous Vermonter, which have been uncritically recited by a series of Allen’s subsequent biographers. Maguire’s quote illustrates their second thesis in which a biographer’s contemporary environment and cultural needs impacts their interpretation of history and in this case creating Ethan Allen as a Vermont hero and founding statesman.

Professors Duffy and Muller posit that the dozen or so biographies of Ethan Allen’s life contain many inconsistencies, errors and lapses of missing important information.   They commence their exposé by recounting the events around Allen’s death. The authors describe how even basic facts such as his date of death (ranging between February 12 and 17, 1789 as reported by contemporaneous sources), cause of death, burial location and family reactions are not firmly established and subject to considerable controversy.

Today, Ethan Allen is a larger than life character. He is a storybook hero to millions of children, a venerated Vermont statesman with his statue in the U.S. Capitol and a revolutionary war hero to many. His name is also a well-known consumer brand, ensconced on retail stores, inns, furniture, U.S. Navy warships and even an ice cream flavor (vanilla with chocolate covered almonds).

Allen is best known for co-leading the attack to capture Ft. Ticonderoga in the first year of the American Revolution. His audacity for capturing the “Gibraltar of North America” brought instant (for the 18th Century) fame and made him one of the most notable revolutionary war figures. Further prominence ensued from the publication of his book on his captivity by the British, which became the second largest seller in the colonies after Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.

While Allen was well known by his contemporaries, during his life he was not regarded in the first rank of either military leaders or founding fathers. The authors explain how Allen was exalted to hero status years after his death by burnishing biographers and historians. Duffy and Muller conclude that Allen’s stature was elevated to a pivotal war leader and leading Vermont statesman through a flawed interpretation of historical events, uncritical re-telling of folklore and incomplete research. These errors are uncovered to provide a more complex assessment of Allen. Further the authors identify several unanswered questions for future research and interpretation.

Creating a Hero

Professors Duffy and Muller describe the emergence of Ethan Allen’s legend starting with the first biography of Allen by Professor and later Harvard president Jared Sparks in 1834, 45 years after Allen’s death. Sparks venerated Allen depicting him as a “leading Revolutionary figure and committed Democrat”.   Shortly after Spark’s biography, Daniel P. Thompson wrote a novel entitled Green Mountain Boys lionizing historically based exploits of Ethan Allen thereby fashioning a legendary storybook hero.   This book became required reading for generations of Vermont school children.

Duffy and Muller believe that the veneration of Ethan Allen by these writers filled an unmet need by Vermonters for a heroic founding story to remind them that they came from virtuous and successful pioneers. Vermont in the mid 19th Century experienced declining economic conditions. Population growth had ceased with many families migrating west as the agricultural productivity could not keep pace with other parts of the country. In the tough times of the 1830’s, there was a need for an epic saga to instill pride in Vermonters and to recall the prosperous days of past generations.

Exposing a Hero

Professors Duffy and Muller expose much of which we read about Allen as myths and point out that there was another, more complex side to Allen. They present evidence that he may not have always acted as a loyal Green Mountain boy, was not a successful military leader, may have been a traitor to the American cause, may have had several significant character flaws and was not a virtuous founding Vermont statesman.

Protector of New Hampshire land grants   Ethan Allen is widely recognized as the most prominent leader of the Green Mountain Boys. There are many stories of his leadership in fending off New York land claimants from exerting their legal rights to disputed Vermont property with New Hampshire titles. Professors Duffy and Muller assert that after the 1770 Albany Ejectment Trials which ended with a verdict for the New Yorkers, Allen appeared to have at least for some time agreed to side with New York land claimants. Further he may have taken a bribe to turn on his fellow Green Mountain Boys.

Ethan Allen as a military heroThe capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775 was an audacious action that furnished a big psychological boost to the patriots but was not a military triumph. Simply disarming a lone sentry and forcing the rest of the sleeping 35-man garrison to surrender, Allen and his 83 men seized the dilapidated fort.   There was no battle and no one was killed. Allen’s leadership of this bold assault was subsequently marred when the attackers’ discipline dissolved into an embarrassing drunken affair consuming the garrison’s liquor supply.

Later that month, Allen launched an imprudent attempt to capture the British post at St. Jean, which was a near disaster. Later, Allen while leading a rash attack on Montreal in advance of the main patriot army was captured by the British. There is little evidence that Allen was an effective military leader.

Ethan Allen and the Haldimand Negotiations     During the Revolution, Vermonters were in a vexing conundrum as they were wide open to attack from Canada with few military forces to resist. Further, the Continental Congress was unwilling to recognize Vermont as a separate state and New York authorities contested the inhabitants’ New Hampshire granted land titles. Given this situation, Allen and several other leaders opened negotiations for Vermont to re-join the British Empire. Some historians in an effort to rehabilitate Allen’s reputation have depicted these negotiations with British Governor General of Canada Frederick Haldimand as a ruse. Professors Duffy and Muller provide evidence to the contrary, which injects some doubt about Allen’s true intentions.

Ethan Allen’s Character  The authors postulate a potential dark side to Allen’s character. They examine the possibility that he committed murder and was a slaveholder. Further, Allen’s reputation as a backwoods philosopher is also in doubt. Allen published a book entitled Reason, the only Oracle of Man, which may have been plagiarized from a manuscript written by Thomas Young.

Ethan Allen as the leading Vermont Statesman   Allen is credited by many historians as the leading founding father of Vermont. Duffy and Muller point out that Allen was held in British captivity during the formative period in which Vermont declared its independence and created a new government. Further upon his return, he served briefly as a general in the militia but held no elected office. He was mainly an unofficial political advisor and propagandist who wrote several pamphlets espousing the Vermonters’ rights to clear land titles and invalidating any New Yorker land claims.

The authors’ reassessment of Ethan Allen’s legacy calls into question many of the statements, actions and accomplishments generally attributed to him. They argue that later historians had a much higher assessment of Allen than his contemporaries and the need for founding Vermont heroes contributed to the creation of several myths.

In many ways Ethan Allen was a hero, but in others a self serving character with tragic flaws. In the end, this complexity and uncertainty is why people are fascinated by his life’s story. Maybe this complexity is why Vermonters commemorated Allen by naming a remote, non-descript peak after him rather than one of the largest and most prominent of the Green Mountains. Mt. Ethan Allen is a rarely visited, hard to locate, tree-lined summit located in the Mad River Valley.

Duffy and Muller conclude with this apt assessment; “The real Ethan Allen does stand up, but few have seen him”. I recommend Inventing Ethan Allen for those who want to better understand Vermont’s most famous denizen and to better understand how contemporary society impacts historians, their writing and the need for critical historical inquiry.


  • Thank you for this accurate description of Duffy’s and Muller’s work and their conclusions calling into serious question history’s past assessments of Allen’s contributions to the formation of Vermont. There are probably no more worthy gentlemen capable of coming to such conclusions than these two, and their considered assessments are a valuable effort towards righting our understanding of this man.

    Now, what should the state of Vermont do with the statue of this “fabled leader” that stands so prominently on the statehouse portico?

  • Great book review summary, Gene! Thank you!

    Real history is always more complex than black and white, and I’m now never shocked when I learn that a certain historical hero is…well… human, with foibles like all of us.

    Regardless, I would still give money to hear the argument over who will be commander of the Green Mountain Boys’ raid on Fort Ti……Allen or Arnold? That would be rich.

  • Thanks for the review, Gene. I would like to echo Gary’s comment about the authors: these two men are THE most knowledgeable historians on Allen. They did not pick this subject on a whim or because they thought it would be interesting. They have been researching and writing about Allen and Vermont for decades. What they say can be taken as state-of-the-art and I look forward to reading the book.

    I’m a native-born Vermonter still living in the state (there really aren’t that many of us) and I have had an interest in my state’s history for decades. I grew up hearing the name Ethan Allen on a regular basis and, until my college years, I looked on him as a local hero. After all this time, it still raises my eyebrows when I hear his story is nationally known. Myth and legend are necessary elements of any culture but it is nice to see the truth be told, as well.

  • So here we go with another book smearing our nations founders. When a book is filled with the authors best guess of how it could be that Ethan Allen was a traitorous, unpopular, and a self serving dunce, you better have some facts to back it up. As expected no facts to back the theory these two spray out. “The authors postulate” may be the best quote in the article.

    Save your money for the next book about Thomas Jefferson and his numerous slave children or the book on Ben Franklins orgies in France.
    How will history survive the historians that write books that correct history with theory?

    1. Your post does not state whether you actually read the book or are responding to the review. If you read it, you would know that this effort by two very knowledgeable, caring, careful scholars wove a delicate path in looking at the historiography surrounding Ethan Allen. This was not a story about Allen per se, but about what others have written about him.

      Neither Muller of Duffy “smear” or condemn Allen in any way or “spray out” theory.” If others made conclusory statements about him without evidence to support it, then they rightfully flagged it. If there was evidence in support, then that too was acknowledged. People can then make their own judgments of what amount of credibility they want to place on what Allen’s legacy is/was.

      What we learn from their work concerns the state of historical writing in Vermont in the nineteenth century. There were those with axes to grind for reasons outside of what Allen did and we learn of behind-the-scenes events and relationships of what was taking place. It is all very interesting to anyone wanting to know where our many cherished “truths” come from and on which we base so many of our opinions and beliefs. We all have to be ready to question those when new scholarship provides reasons why we might, after all, be wrong.

      Please consider more fully exactly what it is these two gentlemen were trying to accomplish rather than assign ill will towards their important work.

    2. I don’t believe that Duffy and Muller intended to impugn Ethan Allen’s character or tarnish his accomplishments. They point out inconsistencies between the published historiography and a fresh look at primary sources. Duffy and Muller point out that some biographers had motives to present Allen as a hero which led them to omit or gloss over contrary events (such as the Haldimand Negotiations). Other biographers repeated homespun stories which are not corroborated in primary sources.

      Certainly, Allen was a controversial figure in his day and as evidenced by your post, remains one today.

      Please respond with further views on the authors’ treatment of the Allen historiography and resulting bias. As they point out in their conclusion, the last word on Ethan Allen has not been written!

  • “Inventing Ethan Allen” sits waiting on my night stand, but even without reading it I agree that his school-taught image was “invented”. In reading the comments above I’m struck at how little is publicly known about the multiple “affairs” Allen engaged in. His New Hampshire Grant realty scheme and subsequent defense of those grant titles is most widely known, but he was also engaged in grant profiteering in Westmoreland County, Connecticut… or rather Wyoming Valley Pennsylvania (see 29 Oct 2014 JAR: “The Incredibly Convoluted History of Westmoreland County”, Connecticut by Jackson Kuhl). The so-called “Haldimand Affair” is un-taught in schools even though it was public knowledge at the time it commenced (New York papers printed letters exchanged by the principle characters and Allen himself revealed the correspondence to Congress). When discussing the Haldimand negotiations it must be noted that Allen (and his brother Ira, who took over the role of negotiator in the latter half) were acting on the direction of the duly-elected Vermont head of state, and that at that time Vermont was an independent republic (or commonwealth), that the negotiations were a legitimate affair of state which ended upon Vermont’s incorporation into the United States – as Allen told Congress they would, and that at the time the Vermont legislature examined Allen’s role and exonerated him. I’ve previously proposed in this space that the Allen’s actions in re Haldimand should be viewed as those of “Vermont” patriots and that the Allens both acted consistently within that role – throughout the revolutionary period, not just in regard to Haldimand. Those wishing for them to be “American” patriots must adjust their lens to perceive that they truly were trying to preserve the grants which they held, their friends held, and which they had staked their reputations on in promoting Vermont and selling to others. We don’t sense the urgency today which those men felt from 1766 through 1794: that all they owned and had worked to create could be taken from them if the Crown or Congress invalidated the New Hampshire Grants.

    Understanding the Allens is critical to understanding many facets of early American history. For example, one cannot fully comprehend Benedict Arnold unless one understands Ethan Allen and the NH Grant history. Through Connecticut emissaries Allen had already plotted to take over Ticonderoga, had put his plan into action, raised the force to do it, and had everyone in place to fulfil their role – commanding by virtue of his status as elected leader of the men fighting New York to retain their homes. Arnold coincidentally ran into those Connecticut emissaries on the road: he in route to the siege of Boston with the Connecticut militia; and they returning from Vermont on the way report to Connecticut Governor Trumbull. Arnold got the whole story, then parleyed the shanghaied idea into a commission from Massachusetts without revealing that someone else was already on the job. Tasked with raising troops to take the fort, Arnold completely skipped the “raise a regiment” part and showed up on (literally) the eve of the “attack”; flashing his paper commission and demanding command of Allen’s troops. Credit Allen with defusing the situation by accepting a joint leadership relationship (nice); and also credit him with sending reports to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Congress that were effective in denouncing Arnold as a self-serving poser (true, but not so nice). Those who cite Schuyler’s subsequent endorsement of Arnold to Washington universally fail to note that Schuyler was a chief investor in the New York grants for the Vermont lands and a BFF of the chief New York land speculation cabal members (who received a substantial payment from the compensation provided by Vermont to settle the grant dispute as a condition of statehood). So, to Schuyler, even an urbanite self-serving poser like Arnold looked like a better choice to lead an expedition through the Maine wilderness to Canada than the hated backwoodsman Schuyler had been in nearly open warfare with for a decade. When the Green Mountain Boys then became a Continental Line regiment, a primary reason Seth Warner was elected to command the Green Mountain regiment over Arnold was that Congress directed they join the Continental Line as a New York administered regiment. Allen could not possibly have worked harmoniously under New York authority (as he amply demonstrated during the assault on Canada).

    Though rising somewhat to Allens’ defense as a Vermont Patriot, many other aspects of his life aren’t pretty. But the facts are the facts; he was critically flawed in many ways and I fully agree that those flaws were not conducive to building a nation of which Vermont was trying to be an integral part. Writers of the 1800’s wanted to put those differences behind them in the spirit of national unity: the war of 1812 was a not-too-distant memory when the first Allen biographers were writing; at the same time Vermont was lobbying for rail service and government arms contracts. Hailing Allen as a revolutionary patriot made far more political sense than as the Vermont separatist he was. Nor did anyone want to point out his atheistic bent at a time when the Old and New Lights of the Congregational Church were rejoining and Methodist revivalism was sweeping the country. And on the eve of the American Civil War it was far better to focus on Vermont’s history as the first place in the modern world to ban slavery. Thus, we get the simplistic Allen of grade-school history and a book about the how and why that history was invented. I’m really looking forward to the read.

    Oh yeah… my wife was a native Vermonter once, then 33 years ago this week we skipped deer season, honeymooned to the Bahamas, and after an hour out-of-state she lost her Woodchuck status.

    1. Jim, you make very well reasoned points. Ethan Allen needs to be viewed through the lens of a revolutionary period land holder protecting their livelihood. Most “Vermonters” we’re trying to just survive the war’s destruction and prosper in a harsh and difficult environment. They lived in uncertain times.

    2. Jim,
      That is a great response and one you might consider expanding on in some fashion beyond this venue. It would greatly add to the discussion of Allen, certainly one of the most challenging characters to try and understand.
      It is interesting to consider how Allen and his contemporaries viewed Vermont as a “state” per se; there are repeated references in the archives that that is what they called it years before 1791 statehood as they sought connections to Canada while courting Congress for admission at the same time.
      Certainly, protection of the land and its inhabitants was of great concern to them, but they were also acting in a legalistic manner, trying to maintain credibility in their claims. What I have been trying to do is look at these times through a legal lens and it can be an eye-opening experience (resort to Connecticut law as they were doing can only get you so far).
      Very convoluted times and you could help to sort this out from a legal standpoint.

      1. Gary;
        I’d love to revisit Allen at some point, but present projects carry me in another direction. Specifically towards correcting a set of local (York – Hampton, Virginia) historical mis-perceptions.

        I think it likely that the Vermont founders understood and deliberately used “State” as a term of political art; reaching back to classical Greek conventions of confederation amongst the various “city-states” (Sparta Athens, Corinth, Thebes, etc.). These states were politically self-governed and consented to collective governance by delegating a small portion of their independent power to support the collective defense of the federation. By referring to their region as a “state”, Vermont founders were overtly claiming self-governance and absolving themselves of vestigial colonial governance by any of the Crown colonies or their successors. Essentially they were saying “we are an entity unto ourselves and must be treated as such”.

        New Hampshire Grant-holders faced a losing battle in seeking redress through the colonial legal system even though the vast majority of the NH grants were made (1749-1757, with two additional grants in 1764) long before NY issued contradictory grants (starting roughly 1764). With NY issuing (selling to others) grants for what they viewed as their homes and land, NH Grant-holders sued for recognition of Wentworth’s previous grants. However, due to the King’s proclamation of 1764, the case was destined for NY courts. By the time the case was brought in NY courts in 1770, a series of events combined to doom the NH Grant-holders: the King had proclaimed the western boundary of NH at the Connecticut River in 1764; Benning Wentworth had pocketed the twenty pound fee for each grant, sold much of the 500 acres reserved for him in each township and left office in riches in 1766 (and never would have interfered anyway since it would have adversely affected his quest for a title); and Wentworth’s NH replacement, his nephew, had no vested interest in the case as well as a “cease and desist” order from the King. So NH Grant holders lacked any royal backing. The only logical rationale for the NH Grant-holders to have pursued legal action in NY courts was the promise of an out of court settlement compensating the NY governor for his lost grant revenue. But once NY had started issuing its own grants for the same land individual investors and speculation consortiums had purchased large blocks. To make matters worse, the Chief Justice and several other members of the New York Supreme Court hearing the case held NY grants individually and/or were partners in speculation consortiums. No surprise they invalidated all of Wentworth’s grants. I hope “Inventing Ethan Allen” covers this ground.

        And for Randy, I certainly did not mean to offend; I share your appreciation and a strand of ancestral lineage that runs along Otter Creek. Vermont would not exist if not for the Allen family (Ethan in particular) and any re-examination should not diminish his stature. Sadly, Ethan Allen is not alone in suffering from an image cast in the selective-memory forges of posterity. My point is solely that Vermont and US history are better understood if we strip away the veneers applied over time so that we can better understand the fundamental motivations and relationships that drove our founding era.

        1. Jim, you point out that the New Hampshire grant holders were in a tough position. New York was not going to recognize their claims and the King was not going to come to their rescue. This was a larger issue for them than independence from Britain.

          In the end, Allen and the Vermonters successfully navigated this complex, uncertain state of affairs and preserved their land titles. So Allen might not be a storybook hero, but he was critical to the formation of Vermont as a separate political entity.

        2. Correction, sale is tomorrow, Nov. 20, at 1:30 – left bids, phone bids accepted.

          450 acres for ten pounds gives an idea of what contested frontier land of was worth in 1774. Interesting that it contains language that even though it is NH grant land that it is also being claimed by NY.

          1. Apparently my bid did not win. I sincerely hope that whomever did win graces us with display in a suitable museum!

          2. The spirited bidding produced a winning bid of $13,750! Allen would have been proud to see his signature worth so much!

  • My opinion of this may biased by the fact that I already understood Allens flaws and assumed it was common knowledge. That does not make him fabled or less important.

    As a direct descendant of Green Mtn Boys, a son of the American revolution and a 8th generation Vermonter I have researched my family history and Vermont history extensively have never found anything making Ethan Allen a “fabled” leader. I am not going write an 4 paragraph response why because his leadership is well documented.

  • Some really random comments on this discussion: (1) Contrary to popular belief, Vermont never called itself a “republic.” That’s a 19th-century creation. Indeed, as has been pointed out, the leadership referred to the entity as a “state.” However, we must not hint that the “Arlington junta” originated the idea of using that term. All the other colonies and Congress used it long before Vermont did.

    (2) The Haldimand negotiations did not have the approval of much of the Vermont population. We should remember that Vermont did not present a unified front in the whole grants question. Some inhabitants wanted to live under New Hampshire governance. Even Mass. and Conn. offered up some claims to parts of the region. Most of all, the Green Mountains physically and socially divided the area. Ironically, much of the east side of the state supported New York’s claims and did not want the region to join either Canada or Congress.

    (iii) While the Haldimand negotiations did become public knowledge, those very few involved tried to keep them secret. Nor did the talks last very long. The British in Canada put an end to them long before Vermont’s acceptance by Congress in 1791.

    (iv) I don’t believe Ethan held any New Hampshire grants when he began his defense of them in the New York courts.

    (E) Ethan became a prisoner of the Brits in Sept. of 1775 when he attempted–on his own volition–and failed to capture Montreal. He remained in British prisons until exchanged in 1778 and did not have any involvement in the creation of the Vermont constitution or government. Nor did he provide any significant contribution after his return. His real value to Vermont ended with the outbreak of the Revolution when the region no longer had a need for his skills at mob (in the 18th-century positive sense of the word) creation and leadership.

    (6) The placing of Ethan Allen on a pedestal came as a result of the 19th-century desire to show the world that, like them, Vermont and the United States had a storied past—just not a very long one. We needed mythical heroes to be part of that story and, these heroes could not be flawed.

    1. Great points, Mike. I think the turning point for me was in reading period documents describing Allen’s handling of the “Yorkers” on “Vermont” soil and then his suppression of the rioting taking place in southern parts of the “state” aimed at the heavy-handed ways authorities were dealing with their claims.
      I realize this was a vicious time and things did not progress even remotely in an orderly fashion, but it appears, to me at least, that there was a nasty, vindictive side to him that would broker no opposition. It was sheer force and intimidation that ripped those lands away from New York setters. Yes, Allen was important in establishing the state, but the methods used were not attractive in the least.

      1. Gary it is well documented that authorities such as the sheriff from Albany would come into Vermont and remove Vermonters from there homes in the middle of the night and take them back to new York for punishment for accusations made by New Yorkers but not proven. Petty things such as disagreement over a debt.
        That does seem to make the family, friends, neighbors of the person accosted somewhat angry and yes maybe take actions considered nasty. The entire community not just Ethan Allen took these actions.
        It may have been easier for him and others to do nothing but his actions against injustice made him the leader he was. That again is not fabled but real.

        1. Randy,
          Great points and no disagreements here. Yes, there was a quid pro quo aspect and I agree that Allen was a leader in that regard; it is certainly not a fable!

          I think the lesson that comes out of this is that since he was indeed someone that others looked up to and followed that it is a bit of a shock to us now to have to understand the unseemliness of what they were involved with when it is so at odds with the picture that nineteenth century historians painted.

          However, in our assessments of the role he played we have to be careful not to put our 21st century perceptions on what it is he did. But I think that since there were others who did act with restraint and did not engage in the things that he did that we can still pass judgement, albeit on a limited basis, on the methods and means used. One way or the other, we cannot deny the impact he had on Vermont coming into being.

    2. Mike;
      For the most part I’d agree with your characterizations, but offer some information regarding point (iii) of your post. Rarely do I get to offer illumination to someone of your calibre!

      At the urging of Seth Warner, in March 1781 Ethan Allen voluntarily divulged his participation in the “Haldimand negotiations” by passing Beverly Robinson’s letters to Congress along with an explanatory note, truthfully stating that he had not responded to Robinson (this was months prior to the interception of the Lord Germain’s letter to Haldimand regarding the “negotiations”, which was not read in Congress until July 31, 1781, so there was no other pressure for the revelation). Allen also wrote to Haldimand, through Justus Sherman, to inform the British that he had revealed the correspondence to Congress. I’m not taking a position, but classic triad diplomacy dictates that if one party wants to play two other parties against each other, it is essential that each know that the other knows, too.

      Or, perhaps Seth Warner was concerned any correspondence from Beverly Robinson would publicly place a recipient in the same light as Benedict Arnold. Note that the same Beverly Robinson writing to Ethan Allen was actively involved with Maj Andre in the earlier Benedict Arnold/West Point affair, a fact which was known to American leaders as a result of Andre’s trial and his post-capture correspondence to General Clinton. Years later a letter from JG Simcoe to Colonel Thomas Dundas (dated Aug 12, 1791), states that there was a Vermont “plan of operations” conceived by Sir Henry Clinton with implied connection to the plan for Arnold to hand over West Point (see this letter on pg 558 of “Relations Between Vermont Separatists and Great Britain, 1789-1791”, S.F. Bemis, within “American Historical Review” Vol XXI, No 3, April 1916, pg 558-560,(available free on line at ).

      The reason Simcoe wrote the above-noted letter to Dundas on 12 Aug 1791 was because Dundas was still engaged in negotiations with Vermont. While Haldimand left office in Canada in 1784 and Ethan’s participation halted in 1781, Chittenden still retained Fay and brother Ira, and later brother Levi Allen, in continued “negotiations” with Britain that did not end until Vermont was accepted into the union. The last correspondence between Levi and Dundas is dated 27 Nov 1791, from “Onion River” (Winooski). In that letter Levi Allen reveals, “to his great mortification”, that Vermont has voted to join the United States. Levi Allen tells Dundas that if he’d been able to return “…up the River Saint Lawrence last year with a well-chosen assortment of goods, Vermont would not have joined Congress…”. (see Bemis, “Relations Between…” source above, pg 559-560).

      1. Thanks for the grand compliment, Jim. I’m not sure what caliber I am. And, am I rifled and zero in on a target? Or, a smoothbore and take a shotgun approach? Something for me to ponder.

        And, thanks for including some documentation on other elements of the negotiations. The whole activity is a fascinating and frustrating study.

        I would like to emphasize that I agree that some negotiations did continue on sporadically for many years. However, from the British perspective, Haldimand felt by late summer, 1781, that Vermont would end up happily going with whichever side came out of top of the conflict. He felt the state did not have a serious desire to become part of the British North American holdings and he issued an ultimatum to Vermont in Sept. that Vermont negotiators agreed to. It included a British force under St. Leger moving up the lake to Crown Point upon a signal from Ira Allen (Ethan had earlier pulled himself out of the talks). However, Ira never told what the signal would be. The final straw came with Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown and, with that, St. Leger’s force pulled back from its staging point. With that, the intensity of the negotiations faded considerably. It is interesting to speculate what would have transpired had St. Leger moved to Crown Point. What would Vermont have done? What would Congress, New York and the Eastern states, and the Continental Army have done?

        One last minor note: I believe you mean Haldimand’s chief of intelligence, Justus SherWOOD, not SherMAN.

  • An interesting juxtaposition with Ethan Allen is the life of William Marsh as described in a new biography by Jennifer and Wilson Brown. Marsh was a member of the Green Mountain Boys and supported Allen’s fight to keep out the Yorkers. Initially during the revolution he was a patriot but during Burgoyne’s invasion, he became a loyalist.

    The authors indicate that Marsh’s “prime loyalties were to the communities of the New Hampshire Grants.” Ethan Allen was also likely had the same motivations. He just saw a different path to achieving their goal.

    Interesting in the end, Marsh returned to live in Vermont after statehood.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *