The Story of Ethan Allen (1738-1789)

Chapter III

The republican ideology that Ethan learned in the library of Thomas Young, left him wanting more for himself as well as his family. His jobs and career opportunities had not fulfilled his goal of providing for his family. Ethan had heard of great opportunities for cheap land to the north of Salisbury. It was north, then, where he would go.

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Ethan Allen joined the search for opportunity in the Green Mountains of the New Hampshire Grants. However, according to Michael Bellelises, "his motivations appear slightly different from those of the major speculators who sought profit..." Many Connecticut families were packing up for the cheap land in the Grants. The reason for this was that the security of the family depended on how much land it had for its own use and for descendants. Land was depended upon for food and a home. With each parcel of land a child inherited, there was less land for future generations in the family. This pattern of land inheritance would be crucial so long as land was the basis of existence. The Constitution would change that.

Ethan Allen had the same concerns for his family. He went to the New Hampshire Grants to buy land. He would eventually move the entire family to Vermont. Ever since his father Joseph died, Ethan always looked out for the best interest of his family. Furthermore, after talking to Thomas Young, Ethan realized that he could make a living from land speculation to provide for his family. This was why Allen fought the Yorkers so hard for Vermont's independence. If New York authority was allowed to do as it pleased in the New Hampshire Grants, the Allen family would lose their land and therefore, their liberty.(33)

Before Ethan Allen moved to the Grants, there was already some protest and resistance against New York. What Allen brought to the situation was a magnetic personality, strong leadership, and organizational capabilities. It should also be noted that it has not been recorded that Ethan never killed anyone other than in the American Revolution. His threats and boldness worked just as well with the Yorkers.(34)

Dr. Samuel Adams of Arlington, got into some trouble with Allen when he ordered some Grant settlers to buy from him the New York deeds to their property. Fearing a violent response to his demand, Adams armed himself with a pistol in each hand, and announced he was ready for anyone who would attack him. Ethan walked right up to him, knocked the pistols out of his hands, and hauled him off to Fay's tavern in Bennington. Fay's Catamount Inn was the headquarters of Vermont government, courts, major decision making, and drinking "stonewalls". A stuffed catamount, or mountain lion, was on top of the sign post in front of the tavern. Its mouth, open to bear its fangs, was pointed east towards New York. After a trial to determine Adam's guilt, he was "tied to a chair" and set on the Tavern's signpost. He spent many hours staring at the stuffed catamount while onlookers laughed at him from below. Mr. Adams then kept very much to himself "for the next several years."(35)

On another occasion, Allen captured two Albany county sheriffs. They were put in a two room jail, each room having a window on the same side. While they were sleeping, Ethan hung an effigy, or stuffed doll of human proportions, from a tree, quite a distance away, outside their windows. In the morning, Ethan told both that the other had been hanged the night before. After looking out their windows to make sure the other was hanged, each sheriff was allowed to go at separate times. They told many people in Albany about the barbaric Ethan Allen before they caught up with each other.(36)

Most importantly was Allen's ability to persuade others that he was right. In the New York countryside, he spoke to those settlers of the problems in the Grants. He pointed out to them that what New York authorities were doing in the Grants, could just as easily be done in New York. If the New York authorities did not recognize the Grant property deeds, why should New York authorities recognize the property deeds of those farmers? The tenant farmers of the Hudson Valley in New York, who listened to Allen's reasoning, would later play a helpful role for Vermont.(37)

Allen did not only unite the settlers in resistance, but also in political structure. Before this time, the grants did not have any kind of local government. In two conventions in 1771, Allen formed committees of public safety in eleven western Grant townships. The second of the two conventions, passed a decree outlawing New York land patents and forbidding anyone to hold a New York government office. There was now an organized voice of the people against New York. This holds with the Lockian principle of representation. If there is not a vehicle for representation, then one should be created. The conventions gave the people a chance to voice their concerns to Ethan Allen and other leaders of the Grants.(38)

These conventions also produced pamphlets and articles to be published in the Connecticut Courant. What Allen did in these articles was make the plight of the Grants look as bad as he could make it: "The Writs of Ejectment coming thick and faster. Women sobbing and lamenting, children crying and men pierc'd to the Heart with Sorrow and Indignation at the approaching Tyranny of New York."(39)

In October of 1771, New Yorkers moved on to the property of the Grant settler Robert Cochran. Cochran, Allen, and some other Green Mountain Boys, ran the Yorkers off the property and burnt their house down. While watching the fire, Allen told Charles Hutcheson, a Yorker authority, that "they had resolved to offer a burnt Sacrifice to the Gods of the world" and told him to "Go your way now & complain to that Damned Scoundrel your Governor. God Damn your Governor, Laws, King, Council & Assembly."(4O)

Unable to enforce its own law, New York appealed to General Frederick Haldimand, commander of British forces in Canada. Yorker authorities asked him to fortify Ft. Ticonderoga against the settlers. Haldimand replied, that if "a few lawless vagabonds" forced New York to "have recourse to the Regular Troops to suppress them", it was a "reflection of weakness." The situation, as Haldimand described it, appears very similar to a few years ago when the mayor of Washington D.C. requested the National Guard to help the police fight crime. If the present and past authorities could not enforce the laws it passed, then maybe these were the wrong people in authority.(41)