Ethan Allen Institute


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About Colonel Ethan Allen

    Colonel Ethan Allen


    Ethan Allen - frontiersman, soldier, and statesman - has long been the great symbolic figure of Vermont's two hundred year tradition. His giant figure stands on the front portico of the Vermont State Capitol, arm raised to bid defiance to those who would threaten Vermont's independence and the liberties of her people.

    "It would hardly be proper to assert that Ethan Allen was the greatest of that notable group of men who made possible the independent commonwealth of Vermont, but his career is more familiar to the American people than that of any of his associates - and it was easily the most picturesque.

    "While it is true that he was not distinguished for modesty or refinement, it should be borne in mind that the New Hampshire Grants was not a region well suited to the cultivation of the graces and adornments of life. The struggle for existence among these Green Mountain pioneers, from the viewpoint of the individual, the family, and the commonwealth, demanded stern measures and strong men; and Ethan Allen was preeminently a strong man - strong physically and strong mentally.

    "He possessed many of the qualities which, in earlier days, have made chieftains and kings, namely, a commanding presence, a strong right arm, great personal valor and a natural capacity for leadership. He rendered splendid service to the embryo commonwealth and to the cause of American freedom, with sword and tongue and pen.

    "Although he was a prisoner of war when Vermont declared her independence, and died before constitutional government was inaugurated in America, or Vermont was admitted to the Union, yet his achievements constitute a notable chapter in the early history of the American Revolution, and his career is so closely interwoven with the early annals of Vermont that the one inevitably suggests the other."

    Walter H. Crockett, VERMONT: THE GREEN MOUNTAIN STATE (New York: Century, 1921) at 437.

    Ethan Allen: a Brief Biography

    The following biographical sketch has been prepared by the Ethan Allen Homestead Trust, which maintains Ethan's 1789 homestead in Burlington Vermont. For more on the Trust, please refer to its website using the link at the bottom of this page.

    Ethan Allen (1738-1789), the folk hero of Vermont, was an unusually flamboyant farmer-turned statesman from Connecticut. In the 1760's, the royal governor of New Hampshire, with no clear authority to do so, began to grant lands in the region now known as Vermont. After the King decided that New York's governor wielded the rightful authority over the territory, the original settlers and their townships were subjected to burdensome New York fees; in some cases settlers found their lands confiscated. Not surprisingly, the settlers formed a citizens' militia, the Green Mountain Boys, to protect their rights and chances of survival, electing Ethan Allen as their colonel. Shortly thereafter, Ethan and other family members formed the Onion River Land Company to invest in the New Hampshire land grants (which were by then much undervalued). Ethan's leadership and personality helped give Vermont the self-identity and independent spirit which, many think, remains to this day.

    But the Allen family, its friends and supporters did still more. Ethan was the guiding spirit in the taking of Fort Ticonderoga, the first Crown property to fall to America and the source of the cannon that allowed George Washington to drive the British from Boston. While Ethan joined the American campaign in Canada, the Green Mountain Boys were integrated into the American army under other commanders. After Ethan's unsuccessful attack on Montreal, and during his imprisonment, his brother Ira organized the conventions which declared Vermont sovereign and drafted her Constitution (which is still in force).

    Freed in a prisoner exchange, Ethan became commander of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Vermont. While Vermont defended America's northern border from a renewed British assault from Canada, Ethan and other Vermont representatives petitioned Congress to recognize Vermont and to admit her into the American Confederacy. When New York succeeded in blocking Vermont's attempts, the Allens began secret negotiations with Great Britain for the preservation of Vermont sovereignty, negotiations which became less attractive to the Allens after the defeat of Cornwallis (1781) and the Treaty of Paris (1783).

    The family's land holdings, meanwhile, had surpassed a hundred thousand acres which they now began to sell in earnest. Members of the family were the first English speaking explorers and surveyors of northern Vermont. To speed settlement, they harnessed the rivers and built sawmills and grist mills. While, in the end, the land company ruined the Allens financially, they had succeeded in opening up the north country.

    With the coming of peace, Ethan had begun to put together an impressive farm on the Winooski (Onion) River at Burlington where he might become American's bucolic philosopher. During this period, the self-taught Ethan published Reason, the Only Oracle of Man. In addition to Ethan's own reflections, clothed in his characteristic wit, Reason draws on ideas familiar from European deism of the period, ideas probably adopted by Ethan during discussions with the minor American philosopher Thomas Young. The book, further, allowed Ethan to lambaste New England's clergy for what he saw as their failure to recognize the dignity of ordinary people. Reason was condemned from every pulpit, but revealed a hitherto unsuspected element of religious devotion in Ethan's spirit. As it happened, Ethan died in 1789, only six years after the peace with England.

    Meanwhile, New York's efforts to prevent recognition of Vermont had gradually eased and were abandoned altogether when New York perceived that Vermont's votes in Congress could counterbalance the impending admission of Kentucky, thus preserving the power of the northeastern states. Vermont joined the United States in 1791 as the fourteenth state.

    Some Quotations From Colonel Ethan Allen

    "Ever since I arrived to a state of manhood and acquainted myself with the general history of mankind, I have felt a sincere passion for liberty."

    "Coloring a crime with a specious pretence of law only adds to the criminality of it, for it subverts the very design of law, prostituting it to the vilest purposes."

    "Those bloody lawgivers know we are necessitated to oppose their execution of the law where it points directly at our property, or give up the same... That person or country of persons are cowards indeed, if they cannot as manfully fight for their liberty, property, and life as villains can do to deprive them thereof."

    "If we have not fortitude enough to face danger, in a good cause, we are cowards indeed, and must in consequence of it be slaves. Liberty and Property; or slavery and poverty, are now before us, and our Wisdom and Fortitude, or timidity and folly, must terminate the matter."

    "I am resolutely determined to defend the independence of Vermont as Congress are that of the United States, and rather than fail, will retire with the hardy Green Mountain Boys into the desolate caverns of the mountains, and wage war with human nature at large."

    At the unveiling of the Ethan Allen monument at the state house in 1941, a young lawyer named Deane C. Davis (later Governor) spoke thus of Ethan Allen:

    "All who passionately love liberty revere the memory of Ethan Allen. Long after this monument to his memory shall have crumbled in decay, his fame will burn with a great light upon the ramparts of the fortresses of liberty. The record of his life will continue to inspire men who love liberty to dare greatly and fight courageously for the cause of human freedom."

    From the inscription on the Ethan Allen Monument in Lakeview Cemetery, Burlington, near Ethan's gravesite: "Wielding the pen as well as the sword, he was the sagacious and intrepid defender of the New Hampshire Grants, and Master Spirit of the arduous struggle which resulted in the sovereignty and independence of this State."

    Selected References On Ethan Allen And Early Vermont

  • Bellesisles, Michael A., REVOLUTIONARY OUTLAWS: ETHAN ALLEN AND THE STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE ON THE EARLY AMERICAN FRONTIER (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993). Note: This book is entertaining but may not be trustworthy. A later book by the same author, Arming America, has been shown to have been deliberately based on false historical information, for which the author was forced to resign from the Emory University faculty.)
  • Dean, Sidney W., HE FOUGHT FOR FREEDOM: A Boy's Life of Ethan Allen (Philadelphia: MacRae-Smith, 1940)
  • Graffagnino, J. Kevin and H. Nicholas Muller III, eds., The Quotable Ethan Allen (Montpelier: Vermont Historical Society, 2005)
  • Hahn, Michael T., ETHAN ALLEN: A LIFE OF ADVENTURE (Shelburne VT: New England Press, 1994)
  • Holbrook, Stewart H., ETHAN ALLEN (New York: Macmillan, 1940).
  • Jellison, Charles, ETHAN ALLEN: FRONTIER REBEL (Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press, 1969)
  • Krueger, John W., ed., The Best of Ethan Allen (Benson, VT: Chalidze Publications, 1992)
  • Pell, John, ETHAN ALLEN (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1929)
  • Randall, Willard Sterne, ETHAN ALLEN: HIS LIFE AND TIMES (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011). (pp.534)v
  • The following books are for sale by the Vermont Historical Society, 109 State St., Montpelier VT 05609. Shipping and handling is $4.50 for the first book, plus 75 cents for each additional book, to a maximum of $12.00.

    • Aronson, Virginia, Ethan Allen: Revolutionary Hero (Grades 5-8, pp. 80, 2001) $8.95
    • Hahn, Michael T., Ethan Allen: A Life of Adventure (Grades 5-8, pp.106, 2001) $10.95
    • Holbrook, Stewart, Ethan Allen (pp. 283, 1940 (reprinted 1988)) $12.95
    • Sparks, Jared, Life of Ethan Allen (pp. 140, 1848 (reprinted 2001)) $18.95

    Genealogical Information on the Allens

    The Ethan Allen Institute has no genealogical resources for the Allen family. However these references may be useful.

    • Allen, O.P., THE ALLEN MEMORIAL (Palmer MA: C.B. Fiske & Co., 1905)
    • Barr, John L. THE GENEALOGY OF ETHAN ALLEN AND HIS BROTHERS AND SISTERS (Burlington: Ethan Allen Homestead, 2nd ed. 1993) (Available for $12.50 + $2.50 S/H from the Ethan Allen Homestead Trust, 1 Ethan Allen Homestead, Burlington VT 05401; 802 865 4556).
    • The Ethan Allen Homestead Trust maintains Ethan's restored 1789 homestead in the Burlington Intervale off Vermont Rt. 127. For more information and a calendar of activities, call or consult their web site at
    • The Fort Ticonderoga Foundation has restored the scene of Ethan Allen's greatest exploit. For more information on the Fort and its programs, see its web site at