Ethan Allen - Revolutionary War Hero

Painting of the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga on MAY 10, 1775. This shows Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys demanding the surrender of the British forces at the fort.
Painting of the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga on MAY 10, 1775. This shows Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys demanding the surrender of the British forces at the fort. H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Ethan Allen was born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1738. He fought in the American Revolutionary War. Allen was the leader of the Green Mountain Boys, and along with Benedict Arnold, captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British in 1775 in what was the first American victory of the war. After Allen’s attempts to have Vermont become a state failed, he then unsuccessfully petitioned to have Vermont become part of Canada. Vermont became a state two years after Allen’s death in 1789.

Early Years 

Ethan Allen was born on January 21, 1738, to Joseph and Mary Baker Allen in Litchfield, Connecticut, Shortly after birth, the family moved to the neighboring town of Cornwall. Joseph wanted him to attend Yale University, but as the oldest of eight children, Ethan was forced to run the family property upon Josephs’ death in 1755. 

Around 1760, Ethan made his first visit to the New Hampshire Grants, which is presently in the state of Vermont. At the time, he was serving in the Litchfield County militia fighting in the Seven Years’ War.

In 1762, Ethan married Mary Brownson and they had five children. After Mary’s death in 1783, Ethan married Frances "Fanny" Brush Buchanan in 1784 and they had three children.

The beginning of the Green Mountain Boys 

Although Ethan served in the French and Indian War, he did not see any action. After the war, Allen purchased land near the New Hampshire Grants in what is now Bennington, Vermont. Shortly after purchasing this land, a dispute arose between New York and New Hampshire over the land’s sovereign ownership.

In 1770, in response to a New York Supreme Court ruling that the New Hampshire Grants were invalid, a militia named the “Green Mountain Boys” was formed in order to keep their land free and clear from the so-called “Yorkers”. Allen was named as their leader and the Green Mountain Boys used intimidation and sometimes violence in order to force the Yorkers to leave.

Role in the American Revolution 

At the onset of the Revolutionary War, the Green Mountain Boys immediately joined forces with the Continental Army. The Revolutionary War officially began on April 19, 1775, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. A major consequence of the “Battles” was the Siege of Boston whereby colonial militiamen surrounded the city in an attempt to keep the British Army from leaving Boston.

After the siege began, Massachusetts military governor for the British, General Thomas Gage realized the importance of Fort Ticonderoga and sent a dispatch to General Guy Carleton, Quebec’s governor, ordering him to send additional troops and munitions to Ticonderoga.

Before the dispatch could reach Carleton in Quebec, the Green Mountain Boys - led by Ethan and in a joint effort with Colonel Benedict Arnold - were ready to attempt to overthrow the British at Ticonderoga. At the break of dawn on May 10, 1775, the Continental Army crossed Lake Champlain. A force that numbered around one hundred militiamen overran the fort and captured the British forces while they slept. There was not a single soldier killed on either side nor were there any serious injuries during this battle, which was the first American victory of the young war. The following day, a group of the Green Mountain Boys led by Seth Warner took Crown Point, which was another British fort just a few miles north of Ticonderoga. 

One major result of these battles was that colonial forces now had the artillery that they would need and use throughout the war. Ticonderoga’s location made the perfect staging ground for Continental Army to initiate their first campaign during the Revolutionary War – an invasion of into the British-held province of Quebec, Canada.

Attempt to Overtake Fort St. John

In May, Ethan led a detachment of 100 Boys to overtake Fort St. John. The group was in four bateaux, but they failed to take provisions and after two days without food, his men were extremely hungry. They came across on Lake St. John, and while Benedict Arnold provided the men food he also attempted to discourage Allen from his goal. However, he refused to heed the warning.

When the group landed just above the fort, Allen learned that at least 200 British regulars were approaching. As his men were outnumbered, he led them across the Richelieu River to spend the night. While Ethan and his men rested, the British began to fire artillery at them from across the river, causing the Boys to panic and return to Ticonderoga. Upon their return, Seth Warner replaced Ethan as the leader of the Green Mountain Boys, as they had lost respect for Allen’s actions in trying to overtake Fort St. John.

Campaign in Quebec

Allen was able to convince Warner to allow him to stay on as a civilian scout while the Green Mountain Boys were participating in the campaign in Quebec. On September 24, Allen and about 100 men crossed the Saint Lawrence River, but the British had been alerted to their presence. In the ensuing Battle of Longue-Pointe, he and about 30 of his men were captured. Allen was imprisoned in Cornwall, England for approximately two years and returned to the United States on May 6, 1778, as part of a prisoner exchange.

Time After the War 

Upon his return, Allen settled in Vermont, a territory which had declared its independence from the United States as well as from Britain. He took it upon himself to petition the Continental Congress to make Vermont the fourteenth U.S. state, but due to Vermont having disputes with surrounding states of over the rights to the territory, his attempt failed. He then negotiated with Canadian governor Frederick Haldimand to become part of Canada but those attempts also failed. His attempts to have Vermont become part of Canada (which would have reunited the state with Great Britain) eroded the public’s confidence in his political and diplomatic capabilities. In 1787, Ethan retired to his home in what is now Burlington, Vermont. He died in Burlington on February 12, 1789. Two years later, Vermont joined the United States.

Two of Ethan’s sons graduated from West Point and then served in the United States Army. His daughter Fanny converted to Catholicism and then entered a convent. A grandson, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, was a Union Army general in the American Civil War.

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Kelly, Martin. "Ethan Allen - Revolutionary War Hero." ThoughtCo, Dec. 20, 2022, Kelly, Martin. (2022, December 20). Ethan Allen - Revolutionary War Hero. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Ethan Allen - Revolutionary War Hero." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).