|Born|| January 21, 1738
|Died|| February 12, 1789 (aged 51)
Burlington, Vermont Republic
Vermont Republic militia
|Years of Service||1778–1781 Continental Army
1779–1780 Vermont Militia
Major General (Vermont Militia)
Colonel (Continental Army)
|Commands Held||Fort Ticonderoga|
American Revolutionary War
Capture of Fort Ticonderoga
Farmer, Politician, Land Speculator, Philosopher
Ethan Allen (January 21, 1738 – February 12, 1789) was a farmer; businessman; land speculator; philosopher; writer; and American Revolutionary War patriot, hero, and politician. He is best known as one of the founders of the U.S. state of Vermont, and for the capture of Fort Ticonderoga early in the American Revolutionary War along with Benedict Arnold.
Ethan Allen was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the first-born child of Joseph and Mary Baker Allen, both of English and Puritan descent. The family moved to the town of Cornwall shortly after his birth. The move to Cornwall grew out of Ethan's father's quest for freedom of religion during a time of turmoil: the Great Awakening, when Puritans were separating into churches with differing dogmas, in particular about the proper form of conversion: by works or by grace. Ethan's lifelong interest in philosophy and ideas emerged against the backdrop of his father's involvement in these Puritan debates and his father's refusal to convert to the covenant by grace. As a boy Ethan already excelled at quoting the Bible and was known for disputing the meaning of passages.
Seven siblings, all of whom survived to adulthood, joined the family between Allen's birth in 1738 and 1751. His brothers Ira and Heman would also become prominent figures in the early history of Vermont.
Although not very much is known about Allen's childhood, the town of Cornwall was frontier territory in the 1740s. By the time Allen reached his teens, the area, while still a difficult area in which to make a living, began to resemble a town, with wood-frame houses beginning to replace the rough cabins of the early settlers. Joseph Allen died in 1755; at the time of his death he was one of the wealthier landowners in the area, ran a successful farm, and had previously served as town selectman. Allen had, before his father's death, begun studies under a minister in the nearby town of Salisbury with the goal of gaining admission to Yale College. Allen's brother Ira recalled that, even at a young age, Ethan was curious and interested in learning.
Allen was forced to end his studies upon his father's death. While he volunteered for militia service in 1757 in response to French movements resulting in the Siege of Fort William Henry, his unit received word while en route that the fort had fallen, and turned back. Even though the French and Indian War continued over the next several years, Allen did not apparently participate in any further military activities, and is presumed to have tended his farm, at least until 1762. In that year, he became part owner of an iron furnace in Salisbury. He also married Mary Brownson, a woman five years his senior, from the nearby town of Roxbury, in July 1762. They first settled in Cornwall, but moved the following year to Salisbury with their infant daughter Loraine. Allen bought a small farm and proceeded to develop the iron works.The expansion of the iron works was apparently costly to Allen; he was forced to sell off portions of the Cornwall property to raise funds, and eventually sold half of his interest in the works to his brother Heman. The Allen brothers sold their interest in the iron works in October 1765.
By most accounts Allen's first marriage was an unhappy one. His wife was rigidly religious, prone to criticizing him, and barely able to read and write. In contrast, Allen's behavior was sometimes quite flamboyant; and he maintained an interest in learning. In spite of these differences the marriage survived until Mary's death in 1783. Ethan and Mary had five children together, only two of whom reached adulthood.
Allen's exploits in those years introduced him to the wrong side of the justice system, which would become a recurring feature of his life. In one incident, he and his brother Heman went to the farm of a neighbor, some of whose pigs had escaped onto their land, and seized the pigs. The neighbor sued to have the animals returned to him; Allen pleaded his own case, and lost. Ethan and Heman were fined ten shillings, and the neighbor was awarded another five shillings in damages. He was also called to court in Salisbury for inoculating himself against smallpox, a procedure that at the time required the sanction of the town selectmen.
When he moved to Salisbury, Allen met Thomas Young, a doctor living and practicing just across the provincial boundary in New York. The doctor, only five years older than Allen, taught the younger Allen a great deal about philosophy and political theory, while Allen was able to bring to Young his appreciation of nature and life on the frontier. Young and Allen eventually decided to collaborate on a book intended to be an attack on organized religion, as Young had convinced Allen to become a Deist. They worked on the manuscript until 1764, when Young moved away from the area, taking the manuscript with him. It was not until many years later, after Young's death, that Allen was able to recover the manuscript. He expanded and reworked the material, and eventually published it as Reason: the Only Oracle of Man.
While Heman remained in Salisbury, where he ran a general store until his death in 1778, Ethan's movements over the next few years are poorly documented.He is known to have been living in Northampton, Massachusetts in the spring of 1766, where his son Joseph was born, and where he invested in a lead mine. He was asked to leave Northampton in July 1767 by the authorities; while no official reason is known, biographer Michael Bellesiles suggests that religious differences and Allen's tendency to be disruptive may have played a role in his departure. He then briefly returned to Salisbury before settling in nearby Sheffield, Massachusetts with his younger brother Zimri. It is likely that his first visits to the New Hampshire Grants occurred during these years. While Sheffield would be the family home for ten years, Allen was often absent for extended periods.