Vermont’s Ebenezer Allen: Patriot, Commando and Emancipator by Glenn Fay Jr. (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2021)
Ethan Allen, the militia leader who shares credit for taking Fort Ticonderoga early in the Revolution, is the most recognizable historical figure from early Vermont history. His brother Ira is also famous for his association with the Green Mountain Boys. Their cousin, Ebenezer Allen, is not as well-known, which is a situation Vermont native and historian Glenn Fay Jr. tries to correct in his brief but interesting biography. Vermont’s Ebenezer Allen: Patriot, Commando and Emancipator brings to life the unique and very successful military and business-savvy Allen, whose accomplishments more than exceeded those of his two famous cousins. The biography is also a thorough history of Vermont and its role in the American Revolution. Former Vermont Governor James H. Douglas, who wrote the book’s Foreword, states that the book “describes an America before laws, order and justice, when Patriots, Tories and Native Americans were living on the edge of the frontier, teetering between life and death.” (page 14)
Allen was born in Northampton, in the colony of Massachusetts, where the Great Awakening minister Jonathan Edwards preached (Edwards even baptized the infant Allen). Ebenezer became an apprentice to a blacksmith, and those skills would be of use to him all his life. He later became a surveyor and travelled all over the New Hampshire Grants, which was what the land of Vermont was known as before the Revolution. Allen became an active participant in the Native American communities in Vermont, mastering several dialects early. He became involved with the Green Mountain Boys, which was a highly motivated and experienced organization by the mid-1770s. The Boys were dealing with both the British and the “Yorkers,” the New York Loyalists who wanted Vermont to be annexed to New York. Fay provides the famous story of the taking of Fort Ticonderoga, in which Ebenezer participated with his cousin Ethan and Benedict Arnold. Details about the bounty taken out of the Fort demonstrate why the victory was so important to the rebel cause.
The British continued to raid settlements in Vermont, and the colonists continued to erect forts in the wilderness. Fay includes several illustrations of some of the forts, showing how they were constructed and used. While Allen was busy fighting as a member and leader of the Herrick’s Rangers, he was also instrumental in helping to create the Vermont Constitution of 1777. People described him as having a military manner and character, but some saw him as being combative. Fay takes the opportunity of using the book’s narrative to describe the conditions of the soldiers during the war: what they ate, how they dressed, etc. Allen’s leadership skills contributed to the rebel victory at Bennington, and he continued to harass Gen. John Burgoyne’s armies in what was called the Pawlet Expedition. British property was seized as a result of the Pawlet Expedition, and that property included enslaved Africans. Allen took it upon himself to emancipate one slave woman named Dinah Mattis. Allen took this action because, as he claimed in his order, “I being conscientious that it is not right in the sight of God to keep slaves.” (p. 96) Vermont would abolish slavery in 1778, although that abolition was not always enforced. Fay ponders in his book what might have been the fate of Dinah Mattis after the Revolution.
Vermont became a republic and sought admittance to the United States, which was denied at first. Ebenezer Allen established several towns in Vermont, which Fay describes as a lawless wilderness immediately after the war. Whereas many settlers suffered during the economic crises of the 1780s, Allen established himself in the hospitality business, opening a tavern in South Hero. One of his guests was the son of King George III, Prince Edward Augustus, who would become the father of the future Queen Victoria. Allen’s involvement in a murder indictment led to his moving to Burlington in 1800. In the Epilogue, Fay wraps up his picture of the war hero: “From all accounts, we are left with combat scenarios that depict an invincible Allen as a larger-than-life character with a knack for strategy and deliberate action that, in some cases, seemed to defy the odds and imply divine providence.” (p. 153)
Glenn Fay Jr. draws on several primary and secondary sources to complete his work, and the bibliography is a valuable reference to anyone curious to learn more about northern New England during the Revolutionary era. He also adds several maps and pictures of some of the figures and battle scenes. The photographs are of the many sites mentioned through the narrative, and fortunately many of the buildings and installations are still standing in Vermont. Special thanks to Fay for including pictures of the historical re-enactors, whose accurate clothing gives a sense of what the militia members wore. Vermont’s Ebenezer Allen: Patriot, Commando and Emancipator is a unique and valuable study of a lesser-known revolutionary whose story certainly should be told outside of the Green Mountain State.
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