Ethan Allen was born January 10, 1738 in Litchfield, Connecticut. After fighting for some time in the French and Indian War, he started a career in land speculation, which found him in today's western Vermont in 1770.
The colonial governor of New Hampshire had given land claims to settlers in the area, even though the territory was not part of his realm. These settlers soon found themselves in conflict with settlers from New York, who had received claims to the same parts of the countryside. Allen found himself in the middle of this conflict, siding with those from New Hampshire. He organized a militia, called the Green Mountain Boys, to run the 'Yorkers' "back over the Green Mountains." Allen also formed the Onion River Land Company, and began to invest in lands held by the New Hampshire settlers.
The American Revolution soon brought matters more important than land claims to the people of Vermont. In the spirit of bringing independence to the area (though not strictly the colonies), Ethan Allen, along with Benedict Arnold and the Green Mountain Boys, crossed Lake Champlain and assaulted Fort Ticonderoga the night of May 10, 1775. After taking the fort intact, he gave the cannons of Ticonderoga to George Washington and the Continental Army, which they used to drive the British from Boston.
Feeling confident after his complete victory at Ticonderoga, Allen then attempted to organize another militia to attack the British at Montreal before the main Continental Army could arrive. He went up to Canada and, along with John Brown, collected together a militia of 300 men. On the evening of September 25, the force attacked the city, with Allen crossing the Saint Lawrence from the south, and Brown crossing from the north. However, Brown was not able to get across the river, leaving Allen and half the militia exposed to a British garrison of 450. Most of the Canadians in his militia scattered when the first shots rang out and, after a fighting retreat of over a mile, finally surrendered to British forces. He was captured and jailed by the British until a prisoner exchange resulted in his freedom. He wrote a book about his experiences in prison, titled Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's Captivity, which was published in 1779.
Allen then returned to Vermont, which had declared its independence in the time he had been gone. The Continental Congress did not recognize the independence of Vermont, and it was still considered the territory of New York and New Hampshire in their eyes. Allen, along with his brother Ira, decided to retain this newly formed political entity, whether or not it became a part of the United States. Still under threat from British invasion, Allen entered talks with British officials about attaching Vermont to the rest of British-controlled Canada. However, the Treaty of Paris soon negated any bargaining power the British held, and the talks were soon called off.
He then turned to the government of New York, hoping that he could negotiate statehood with his long-bitter rival. However, New York was much more interested in their land claims than creating a new state, and negotiations soon were at a stalemate. Instead, Allen turned to opening up the northern reaches of Vermont to new settlement. He built roads, sawmills, and gristmills. While this effort ended up bankrupting his family, new settlements sprung up across the northern tier.
Ethan Allen retired from politics in 1784, settling down in Burlington. He began writing down his life and his ideas, resulting in the publication of Reason, the Only Oracle of Man. In this book, he denounces the effects of Christianity and the bible on the society of the colonies. He died five years later, and is buried in the Chittenden County Cemetery just outside the city.
Sadly, he did not live long enough to see his dreams for Vermont come true. In 1791, New York encouraged statehood for Vermont to counteract the imminent admission of Kentucky
, thus keeping the power base for the new government in the Northeast
. Vermont was admitted as the 14th state on March 4, 1791.
Ethan Allen is commemorated with a statue of his likeness in front of the Vermont State House, and another statue at the US Capitol. His farmhouse in Burlington now stands as a museum to his life and the early days of Vermont.