Ethan Allen: Leader of the Green Mountain Boys

Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen captures Fort Ticonderoga, May 10, 1775. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Ethan Allen was prominent colonial leader during the early days of the American Revolution. A Connecticut native, Allen later played a key role in the territory that would later become Vermont. During the early weeks of the American Revolution, Allen jointly led a force that captured Fort Ticonderoga at the southern end of Lake Champlain. He was later captured during the invasion of Canada and was a prisoner until 1778. Returning home Allen agitated for Vermont's independence and remained active in the region until his death.


Ethan Allen was born in Litchfield, CT, on January 21, 1738, to Joseph and Mary Baker Allen. The eldest of eight children, Allen moved with his family to nearby Cornwall, CT shortly after his birth. Raised on the family farm, he saw his father become increasingly prosperous and serve as a town selectman. Educated locally, Allen furthered his studies under the tutelage of a minister in Salisbury, CT with the hopes of gaining admission to Yale College. Though possessing the intellect for higher education, he was prevented attending Yale when his father died in 1755.

Rank & Titles

During the French & Indian War, Ethan Allen served as a private in the colonial ranks. After moving to Vermont, he was elected colonel commandant of the local militia, better known as the "Green Mountain Boys." During the early months of the American Revolution, Allen held no official rank in the Continental Army. Upon his exchange and release by the British in 1778, Allen was given the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army and major general of militia. After returning to Vermont later that year, he was made a general in the Army of Vermont.

Personal Life

While working as the part owner of an iron foundry in Salisbury, CT, Ethan Allen married Mary Brownson in 1762. Though a largely unhappy union due to their increasingly conflicting personalities, the couple had five children (Loraine, Joseph, Lucy, Mary Ann, & Pamela) before Mary's death from consumption in 1783. A year later, Allen married Frances "Fanny" Buchanan. The union produced three children, Fanny, Hannibal, and Ethan. Fanny would survive her husband and lived until 1834.

Ethan Allen

  • Rank: Colonel, Major General
  • Service: Green Mountain Boys, Continental Army, Vermont Republic Militia
  • Born: January 21, 1738 in Litchfield, CT
  • Died: February 12, 1789 in Burlington, VT
  • Parents: Joseph and Mary Baker Allen
  • Spouse: Mary Brownson, Frances "Fanny" Montresor Brush Buchanan
  • Children: Loraine, Joseph, Lucy, Mary Ann, Pamela, Fanny, Hannibal, and Ethan
  • Conflicts: Seven Years' War, American Revolution
  • Known For: Capture of Fort Ticonderoga (1775)


With the French & Indian War well underway in 1757, Allen elected to join the militia and take part in an expedition to relieve the Siege of Fort William Henry. Marching north, the expedition soon learned that the Marquis de Montcalm had captured the fort. Assessing the situation, Allen's unit decided to return to Connecticut. Returning to farming, Allen bought into an iron foundry in 1762.

Making an effort to expand the business, Allen soon found himself in debt and sold off part of his farm. He also also sold part of his stake in the foundry to his brother Hemen. The business continued to founder and in 1765 the brothers gave up their stake to their partners. The following years saw Allen and his family move several times with stops in Northampton, MA, Salisbury, CT, and Sheffield, MA.


Moving north to the New Hampshire Grants (Vermont) in 1770 at the behest of several locals, Allen became embroiled in the controversy over which colony controlled the region. In this period, the territory of Vermont was claimed jointly by the colonies of New Hampshire and New York, and both issued competing land grants to settlers. As a holder of grants from New Hampshire, and wishing to associate Vermont with New England, Allen aided took in legal proceedings to defend their claims.

Exterior view of the Catamount Tavern.
The Catamount Tavern in the 19th Century. Public Domain

When these went in New York's favor, he returned to Vermont and helped found the "Green Mountain Boys" at the Catamount Tavern. An anti-New York militia, the unit consisted of companies from several towns and sought to resist Albany's efforts to take control of the region. With Allen as its "colonel commandant" and several hundred in the ranks, the Green Mountain Boys effectively controlled Vermont between 1771 and 1775.

Fort Ticonderoga & Lake Champlain

With the beginning of the American Revolution in April 1775, an irregular Connecticut militia unit reached out to Allen for assistance in capturing the principle British base in the region, Fort Ticonderoga. Located at the south edge of Lake Champlain, the fort commanded the lake and the route to Canada. Agreeing to lead the mission, Allen began assembling his men and the necessary supplies. The day before their planned attack, they were interrupted by the arrival of Colonel Benedict Arnold who had been sent north to seize the fort by the Massachusetts Committee of Safety.

Commissioned by the government of Massachusetts, Arnold claimed that he was to have overall command of the operation. Allen disagreed, and after the Green Mountain Boys threatened to return home, the two colonels decided to share command. On May 10, 1775, Allen and Arnold's men stormed Fort Ticonderoga, capturing its entire forty-eight man garrison. Moving up the lake, they captured Crown Point, Fort Ann, and Fort St. John in the weeks that followed.

Canada & Captivity

That summer, Allen and his chief lieutenant, Seth Warner, traveled south to Albany and received support for the formation of a Green Mountain Regiment. They returned north and Warner was given command of the regiment, while Allen was placed in charge of a small force of Indians and Canadians. On September 24, 1775, during an ill-advised attack on Montreal, Allen was captured by the British. Initially considered a traitor, Allen was shipped to England and imprisoned at Pendennis Castle in Cornwall. He remained a prisoner until being exchanged for Colonel Archibald Campbell in May 1778.

Exterior view of Pendennis Castle.
Pendennis Castle, Cornwall. Public Domain

Vermont Independence

Upon gaining his freedom, Allen opted to return to Vermont, which had declared itself an independent republic during his captivity. Settling near present-day Burlington, he remained active in politics and was named a general in the Army of Vermont. Later that year, he traveled south and asked the Continental Congress to recognize Vermont's status as an independent state. Unwilling to anger New York and New Hampshire, Congress declined to honor his request.

For the remainder of the war, Allen worked with his brother Ira and other Vermonters to ensure that their claims to the land were upheld. This went as far as negotiating with the British between 1780 and 1783, for military protection and possible inclusion in the British Empire. For these actions, Allen was charged with treason, however since it was clear that his goal had been to force the Continental Congress into taking action on the Vermont issue the case was never pursued. After the war, Allen retired to his farm where he lived until his death in 1789.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Ethan Allen: Leader of the Green Mountain Boys." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). Ethan Allen: Leader of the Green Mountain Boys. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Ethan Allen: Leader of the Green Mountain Boys." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).