The Story of Ethan Allen (1738-1789)

Chapter I

One of the characteristics of early American colonial life, was that the vast abundance of land created many opportunities. However, there was no intercolonial power to regulate the distribution of this land. This creates a problem. If the land is bought and sold without any uniform surveying system, then the result would be more than one person claiming ownership of the same piece of property.

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As governor of New Hampshire from 1741 to 1766, Benning Wentworth was an unscrupulous man who craved power, riches, and pomp. He was driven around New Hampshire in a gilded chariot wrapped in a crimson velvet cloak. He was looked upon by the people of New Hampshire not as a tyrant, but as a New Englander who had done well for himself.(3)

Benning Wentworth recognized the opportunity to profit from the then unsettled wilderness that was the Green Mountains. Governors could sell land within their province and directly make a profit. Massachusettes demanded that a Ft. Dummer be taken care of by New Hampshire. Wentworth knew that the fort was in Massachusettes. Then he stopped to think. If the fort was New Hampshire's responsibility, then wouldn't the fort have to lie within the borders of New Hampshire? Wentworth previously believed the Connecticut River to be New Hampshire's border. Although, Fort Dummer was located west of that river. If Ft. Dummer was in New Hampshire, where did New Hampshire's new border lie? Wentworth decided that it now extended all the way to New York.(4)

In 1749, Wentworth issued the town of Bennington, to wealthy land speculators, on the border of what is today Vermont and New York. Governor Clinton of New York wrote Benning that New York's eastern boundary extended east to the Connecticut River. However, to Benning Wentworth the whole matter seemed very confusing. In fact, until the king issued his opinion on the matter, Wentworth would take advantage of the confusion and issue a few more towns. Wentworth granted two towns in 1752 and seven more in 1753. By the end of 1761, sixty-three town grants had been sold. Caldwallader Colden was then in office as acting Governor of New York for his first term after Clinton. He would be governor of New York only for the time it took Clinton's replacement to get to the colonies.(5)

Benning Wentworth's future suddenly became very bleak. A messenger from the King of England declared the east bank of the Connecticut River the western border of New Hampshire. All New Hampshire land grants in the Green Mountains had just become null and void. Many speculators and settlers bought these grants under the belief that they were legal. Wentworth would not sell any more land grants. In 1766, Benning Wentworth retired from office with 65,000 acres.(6)

Before Henry Moore, Clinton's replacement, arrived in New York, Colden decided that the Grant settlers should have to pay a fee to New York or transfer their land titles to New York war veterans. Colden still believed the New Hampshire Grants lay within New York and New York should be paid for them. In response to this, the speculators, not the settlers in the Grants, appealed to the king. They wanted the king to reinstate the lands as belonging to New Hampshire. The king did not consent to their request, but he did tell Governor Moore not to molest the settlers. Most of the settlers were from Connecticut and hated New York from an earlier land dispute those two states had. Furthermore, the king was helping the settlers in this cause. The settlers would not have a reason to hate England until the revolution.(7)

Lt. Governor Caldwallader Colden became the acting governor of New York for the second time on January 2, 1770. The previous order from the king prohibited the selling "of any grants whatever of any part of the land described" as the New Hampshire Grants. Governor Colden's council decided that "the order prohibited oily the granting of such lands as had actually been granted by the government of New Hampshire, and did not extend to any part of the said lands which had not been granted by that government".(8)

Lord Dunmore was the succeeding governor to Henry Moore. arriving early and unexpected late in 1770, he had come to the colonies to amass a fortune. Dunmore did not obey the king's order to not issue grants any more than Colden did. From October 1770 till July of 1771, Dunmore granted 450,000 acres to speculators.(9)

In many cases, two parties now owned the same land. This was a common problem for many owners of land grants in both New Hampshire and New York. Some of the speculators were aware of this, but did not even care. The reason for this was because of what these first speculators had planned for their grants. The men that originally bought the grants from the governors of New York and New Hampshire were often wealthy land speculators. They earned their money by buying land and selling it as profit. This industry was very lucrative when there was so much unsettled property available. With no intercolonial authority to regulate surveying practices, land was often sold with vague boundaries. These speculators would then quickly sell their deed to a second group of speculators. This second group would be looking to make a profit so they would have to find someone who wanted to settle the land. The settlers would pay the most per acre, but buy the fewest number of acres. Therefore, the settlers were often the third owners of the grant. They had no idea that there were settlers just like them in New Hampshire or New York with a piece of paper saying they owned the same land. It was for this reason that the speculators did not care who really owned the land. All they wanted was the money from its sale: first from each other and then from the settlers themselves. If the settlers knew that the land was owned by someone else and ownership was still in dispute, market values for the grants would go down. The speculators needed to make a profit, so they couldn't say anything about the legal issues. The speculators never had any intentions to raise a family in the middle of a wilderness they would call home. Ethan Allen did.(10)