Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Ethan Allen: From the Green Mountain Boys to Vermont's Statehood


Ethan Allen, a larger-than-life figure in American history, played a pivotal role in the early years of the United States. Known for his leadership during the American Revolution and as a key figure in the founding of Vermont, Ethan Allen's contributions extend beyond the battlefield to the realms of politics, philosophy, and statecraft.

Early Life:

Ethan Allen's early life, born on January 21, 1738, in Litchfield, Connecticut, unfolded against the backdrop of colonial tensions between the American colonies and Great Britain. The mid-18th century was a period marked by growing discontent with British rule, fueled by issues such as taxation without representation and the desire for greater autonomy among the colonists.

As a young man in colonial Connecticut, Allen experienced the stirrings of discontent that would later erupt into full-scale revolution. The seeds of resistance were sown in response to British policies that increasingly encroached upon the liberties and self-governance of the American colonies. Allen, like many of his contemporaries, came of age during a time of political ferment, where discussions of individual rights, representative government, and the principles of liberty permeated colonial society.

Little did Ethan Allen know during his early years in Litchfield that he would emerge as a central figure in the unfolding struggle for American independence. The events and grievances that shaped his formative years would ultimately propel him into a leadership role during a pivotal period in history.

As the tensions between the American colonies and Great Britain escalated, individuals like Allen became instrumental in channeling the spirit of resistance into organized action. His upbringing and experiences in colonial Connecticut contributed to his understanding of the importance of individual freedoms and the right to self-determination.

Ethan Allen's journey from a young man in colonial Connecticut to a key player in the struggle for American independence reflects the broader narrative of individuals who, unexpectedly, found themselves at the forefront of historical change. The circumstances of his time, combined with his own convictions and leadership qualities, propelled him onto the stage of the American Revolution, where he would leave an enduring mark on the fight for liberty and the founding of the United States.

The Green Mountain Boys:

Ethan Allen's leadership of the Green Mountain Boys stands as a cornerstone of his legacy, showcasing his commitment to defending the rights of settlers and resisting external authority. The formation of the Green Mountain Boys was a response to the complex and contentious land disputes in the New Hampshire Grants, which later became the state of Vermont.

During the mid-18th century, conflicting land claims arose between settlers holding titles granted by New Hampshire and the assertions of New York, which also claimed jurisdiction over the same territory. In this turbulent atmosphere, Ethan Allen emerged as a charismatic and determined leader who sought to protect the interests and rights of the settlers.

The Green Mountain Boys, under Allen's command, became a formidable force known for their resilience and fierce defense of the territory. Allen's leadership was instrumental in organizing this militia group, which played a crucial role in resisting attempts by New York authorities to exert control over the New Hampshire Grants.

The Green Mountain Boys were not just a military force; they represented the collective determination of the settlers to assert their autonomy and resist what they perceived as unjust claims on their land. Allen's leadership was marked by a combination of strategic acumen, determination, and a deep sense of justice.

One of the most notable episodes in this struggle occurred in 1771 when New York authorities issued land grants that conflicted with existing grants. In response, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys actively resisted, employing both legal and physical means to protect the settlers' claims. This period of resistance set the stage for Vermont's eventual independence and statehood.

Ethan Allen's leadership of the Green Mountain Boys not only defended the rights of settlers in the New Hampshire Grants but also laid the groundwork for Vermont's unique path to statehood. The resilience and determination exhibited by the Green Mountain Boys, under Allen's guidance, contributed significantly to Vermont's eventual recognition as a separate and independent entity.

In essence, Ethan Allen's leadership of the Green Mountain Boys is a testament to his role as a defender of settlers' rights and an ardent advocate for the autonomy of the New Hampshire Grants. The legacy of the Green Mountain Boys, marked by their resilience and commitment to their territory, reflects the broader spirit of resistance that characterized the American Revolutionary era and played a crucial role in shaping the destiny of Vermont.

The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga:

Ethan Allen's daring capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775 stands as a bold and decisive moment in the early stages of the Revolutionary War. This audacious undertaking, conducted in collaboration with Benedict Arnold, showcased Allen's leadership, tactical brilliance, and resourcefulness on the battlefield.

Fort Ticonderoga, situated strategically between Lake Champlain and Lake George, was a key stronghold held by the British. Its location made it a critical asset for controlling water routes and access to northern territories. Recognizing the importance of securing such a fortress, Allen and Arnold devised a plan to capture Fort Ticonderoga and its valuable military supplies.

The operation unfolded during the early morning hours of May 10, 1775, when Allen and a small band of Green Mountain Boys, along with Benedict Arnold and his forces, launched a surprise attack on the fort. Allen's leadership was instrumental in coordinating the assault, and his audacity played a key role in its success.

One of the most iconic aspects of the capture is Allen's demand for the fort's surrender. Legend has it that, upon reaching the quarters of the sleeping British commander, Allen exclaimed, "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!" This bold proclamation encapsulated the fervor and determination of the American forces.

The successful capture of Fort Ticonderoga yielded a significant haul of military supplies, including cannons and artillery, which would prove invaluable to the fledgling Continental Army. The strategic importance of this victory was twofold – it deprived the British of a crucial stronghold and bolstered the American forces with much-needed weaponry.

Beyond its tangible benefits, the capture of Fort Ticonderoga served as a morale boost for the Continental Army. The audacity and success of the operation instilled confidence in the American forces, demonstrating that they could achieve victories against a superior military power. This early triumph contributed to the momentum of the Revolutionary cause and inspired other patriots to join the fight for independence.

Ethan Allen's leadership in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga solidified his reputation as a daring and effective military commander. His resourcefulness and strategic acumen in orchestrating this bold maneuver set a precedent for future military actions in the Revolutionary War. The capture of Fort Ticonderoga remains a testament to Allen's crucial role in shaping the early successes of the Continental Army and establishing a foundation for the eventual triumph of the American colonies in their quest for independence.

Vermont's Struggle for Statehood:

Ethan Allen's impact on American history extended far beyond his military achievements, as he played a pivotal role in Vermont's journey to statehood. His involvement in the political and diplomatic arena showcased not only his military leadership but also his skills as a negotiator and advocate for the region's independence.

Vermont's path to statehood was fraught with challenges, including conflicting land claims, disputes with neighboring states, and the overarching struggle for recognition. Ethan Allen emerged as a central figure in navigating these complexities, working tirelessly to secure Vermont's place as a distinct entity within the Union.

Allen's advocacy for Vermont's independence led him to engage in negotiations with both British and American officials. His diplomatic efforts were marked by a pragmatic approach, as he sought recognition for Vermont's sovereignty amid the geopolitical landscape of post-Revolutionary America.

In 1777, Vermont declared itself an independent republic, separate from both British and American rule. However, its status remained unrecognized by the Continental Congress and neighboring states. Despite facing opposition from some quarters, Allen continued to pursue diplomatic channels, recognizing the importance of securing Vermont's place within the United States.

Allen's negotiations culminated in success, as Vermont was finally admitted to the Union as the 14th state on March 4, 1791. This achievement underscored Allen's diplomatic skills and determination in navigating the intricate political dynamics of the time. His efforts not only secured Vermont's statehood but also contributed to the shaping of the American federal system.

The admission of Vermont as a state marked the end of a long and arduous journey, and Ethan Allen's role in this process highlighted his adaptability and commitment to the cause of Vermont's independence. His ability to navigate the intricate diplomatic landscape demonstrated a different facet of leadership, showcasing pragmatism and perseverance in the pursuit of political goals.

Ethan Allen's influence in Vermont's quest for statehood reflects the broader theme of regional identity and autonomy during the post-Revolutionary period. His diplomatic skills and determination not only secured Vermont's place within the Union but also contributed to the evolving understanding of federalism in the early years of the United States. Allen's legacy encompasses not only his military exploits but also his lasting impact on the political landscape, solidifying his place as an influential figure in American history.

Philosophy and Writings:

Ethan Allen's contributions to American intellectual and philosophical thought were as profound as his impact on the military and political arenas. Beyond being a military and political leader, Allen demonstrated his versatility by engaging in thoughtful reflection and articulating his philosophical views. His work, "Reason: The Only Oracle of Man," is a testament to his intellectual depth and influence on the intellectual landscape of his time.

In "Reason: The Only Oracle of Man," Allen expounded on his philosophical views, placing a strong emphasis on reason and deism. The work reflected his conviction in the power of human reason as the primary guide for understanding the world and making decisions. Allen, influenced by Enlightenment ideals, advocated for rational inquiry and critical thinking as essential components of individual and societal progress.

Allen's emphasis on deism in his philosophical writings aligns with the broader intellectual currents of the Enlightenment era. Deism posits a belief in a higher power or divine creator but rejects organized religion, emphasizing reason and natural law as the means through which humans can understand the universe. Allen's embrace of deistic principles showcased his commitment to a more secular and rational approach to understanding the world.

The impact of Allen's philosophical ideas went beyond the pages of his writings; it contributed to the development of a distinct American identity. During the tumultuous period leading up to the American Revolution, intellectual discourse played a critical role in shaping the ideals that underpinned the quest for independence. Allen's emphasis on reason and rejection of religious dogma resonated with the broader spirit of Enlightenment thinking that influenced many of the Founding Fathers.

Allen's work and ideas added intellectual depth to the revolutionary fervor of the time, providing a philosophical foundation for the principles of individual liberty, autonomy, and the pursuit of truth. The emphasis on reason as the guiding force for human understanding aligned with the democratic and egalitarian ideals that would later shape the American political experiment.


Ethan Allen's legacy is multifaceted, encompassing his contributions to the Revolutionary War, his pivotal role in the establishment of Vermont, and his philosophical writings.

Firstly, Allen's involvement in the Revolutionary War was significant. He led the Green Mountain Boys, a group of militia from what is now Vermont, in capturing Fort Ticonderoga from the British in 1775. This bold move provided much-needed supplies for the Continental Army and boosted morale among the revolutionaries. Allen's leadership and bravery in this endeavor earned him recognition as a key figure in the early stages of the war for American independence.

Furthermore, Allen played a crucial role in the establishment of Vermont as a distinct entity. He was a leading advocate for the region's independence from both New York and New Hampshire, ultimately leading to the declaration of the Vermont Republic in 1777. Vermont remained an independent republic until it joined the United States as the 14th state in 1791. Allen's efforts in securing Vermont's autonomy helped shape the state's identity and fostered a sense of pride among its inhabitants.

Beyond his military and political endeavors, Ethan Allen was also a prolific writer and philosopher. His work, particularly "Reason: The Only Oracle of Man" and "A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's Captivity," reflects his intellectual curiosity and commitment to individual liberty. Allen's writings continue to inspire and influence scholars, historians, and political thinkers, contributing to ongoing discussions about freedom, democracy, and governance.

The enduring presence of Ethan Allen's legacy is perhaps most evident in the state of Vermont itself. Known as the "Green Mountain State," Vermont proudly embraces its heritage tied to Allen and the Green Mountain Boys. Monuments, historical markers, and place names throughout the state serve as reminders of Allen's indomitable spirit and the struggles of early Vermonters for independence.

Ethan Allen's legacy endures through his contributions to the Revolutionary War, his role in establishing Vermont, and his philosophical writings. His impact on American history is far-reaching, and his influence continues to shape the identity of Vermont and inspire generations of Americans.


Ethan Allen's life is a testament to the complex and interconnected nature of the American Revolution and the founding of the United States. From his early days as a militia leader to his role in shaping the destiny of Vermont and his philosophical contributions, Ethan Allen remains a compelling and influential figure in  American history. His legacy lives on in the principles of independence, resilience, and the pursuit of a more perfect union that continue to define the United States to this day.



James Parrish Hodges, Ph.D., Author

Winner of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge Medal of Honor
Member: National Speakers Association, American Society for Training and Development


Cynthia F. Hodges, JD, LLM, MA
Attorney and Author

Auriga Books, LLC
Email: cyn (at) cynthiahodges.com




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