The True Rebel: Ethan Allen – Forgotten Freedom Fighters

Somewhere in our psyche, we human beings feel the need to seek out a hero. We long for stories of those who overcome trials, defend the less fortunate, and fight against evil. In the American culture this kind of devotion to heroes is no less prevalent than in any other culture. The American hero is slightly different than some of the traditional heroes. We prefer Batman or Wolverine in our comic books. The people in this country like when our sports star is also a rebel. Sure, we still want them to be good, just not too good. I think this is our understanding that perfection is seldom actually real. Another place that this is found is in Star Wars. Luke is an important character who grows up in front of us and goes through many trials to become the Jedi that saves everyone. Yet, is he your favorite? He isn’t mine. Does he have his own movie? My favorite, and obviously America’s, is Han Solo. The recent movie that has hit the theaters proves he is also the favorite of many others.

Han Solo is a good guy, he is also imperfect. He is a scoundrel, a criminal, and an outlaw. It is his character who allows for the actual victories to come into being on countless occasions, even if he comes in to save the day at the last minute. That character, brought to life by Harrison Ford, is the reluctant hero in so many of us. Many of the people who are involved in the Freedom Movement would rather be doing other things than taking up this fight, but we are compelled to action because, like Han Solo in that crazy tavern, we found ourselves needed and we felt that we had to act.

I like the people who rebelled against the British Government in the Revolutionary War. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin all give us heroes and freedom fighters we can be proud of. They are almost deified in history. What if I told you that they were not the most important characters in the drama that is the Revolutionary War? Thus far, I have covered a couple of forgotten freedom fighters that were actually more important to the winning of that war, Thomas Young and Thomas Paine. Obviously, the real people responsible for the success of this rebellion were the countless men and women who waged the guerilla warfare that brought more freedom to the former colonies and led to the foundation of the United States. That being said, there was one more player that made all of the efforts of people from John Adams to George Washington possible. His name was Ethan Allen. This one man, just like Han Solo, was not exactly the picture of virtue that the writers of history like to praise. He was certainly an outlaw, an uncontrollable man, a bold blasphemer, and maybe the best leader that this hemisphere has ever known.

Ethan Allen was born January 31st, 1738. His father taught him all of the skills that a man needed to live in the challenging conditions of New England in the 1700s. Heavy farm work left him with enormous strength in his over six foot body at a time when most men were about a head shorter. He also would become self educated and even memorized large portions of the only book he had access to, the Bible. Eventually, he would marry Mary Brownson, a miller’s daughter. Ethan was devoted to her and their four children. His friends would include the native Mohawk Indians, who also would teach him their ways.

When he was 16, he became friends with an upcoming and well educated firebrand doctor named Thomas Young. If you would like to know more about Thomas Young follow this link:

The good doctor and Ethan would sit around for hours and talk about everything that Young found interesting and the brilliant mind of Ethan Allen could soak up. They talked about everything from religion to politics. Every conversation would be filled with rebellion. He learned the writings of Locke and Hobbes. He became a fierce defender of natural rights and a devout Deist. From Thomas Young, Ethan Allen learned what it meant to be free. He also learned that he was not. He made up his mind to change that. Thomas Young would go on to be one of the most influential men in the revolution and Ethan would be its most successful warrior. There lifelong friendship would change the face of America forever.

With the help of his good friend, Ethan became an activist. North America, at this time, was being ravaged by smallpox. The disease killed thousands. There was a cure. The inoculation which involved applying the live virus to an open wound was illegal. The religious authority said that it was god’s will whether the people would die or not.

Both Thomas Young and Ethan Allen decided to take a stand publicly. In the summer of 1764, when Ethan was 26, the peaceful town that the pair lived in, Salisbury, Connecticut, had one Sunday disrupted. After morning services concluded, in the meeting house of the town, Ethan stripped down to the waist in front of the congregation and the horrified minister. Ethan, who was drunk and shouting obscenities, had the doctor inoculate him. Picture the scene, in a church that preached against the cure, these two non-believers desecrated the room with not only the forbidden act but nakedness, drunkenness, and unclean speech. The town was displeased, but the inoculation worked.

To add insult to injury, when the minister and the town authorities arrived, they had intended on doing little but confining Ethan to a room to make sure he did not become contagious and fining both he and Dr. Young. Ethan wanted to make a larger point. He felt that religion and government were conspiring to keep this cure from the people. It was his intent to take them both on. Ethan Allen, drunk, went a little too far for his puritan neighbors when he said,

“By Jesus Christ, I wish I may be bound down in hell with old Belzabub a thousand years in the lowest pit in hell and ask the reason why of Allen lying there, if it should be said that he made a promise… that he would have Lee (the Minister) and Stoddard (the most powerful man in the local government) and did not fulfill it.”

They might have intended little more than charging him with inoculation, but they wound up charging him with Blasphemy which held a stiff punishment. To the amazement of everyone, during the trial Ethan argued that the oath was merely hypothetical. The now sober Ethan Allen pointed out that the offensive parts only became effective if he himself did not keep his promises. It was his argument that he could only have blasphemed if he was prosecuted for the inoculation, which he was not. Therefore he made the case that the “King’s Peace” had not been breached. This was brought howls of approval from the courtroom. He was acquitted. His first act as an activist had paid off. He brought attention publicly to the nonsense preventing the saving of lives.


Not all of Ethan’s activities would be in the cause of freedom. Just like many other unlikely heroes, he liked to fight. After he was wrongfully robbed of property, a theme that will replay itself later, he started a fight with the man who had cheated him in court. These are the words of the official complaint,

“(Ethan Allen) did in a tumultuous and offensive manner with threatening words and angry looks, strip himself even to his naked body and with force and arms without law or right, did assault and actually strike the person of George Caldwell of Salisbury in the presence and to the disturbance of many of His Majesty’s subjects.”

He was convicted and fined. A few days later he found Caldwell. This time he stripped his enemy naked and beat him with a club. He also told the man who had swindled him out of a considerable amount of money, “You lie, you dog,” and threatened to kill both Caldwell and his friend. He was kicked out of town.

This and other misadventures led to Ethan and his family moving to what is today Vermont in 1767. The name of the state, as an aside, would be given to it by Dr. Thomas Young. At this time, claim to the land between New Hampshire and New York was disputed between the two colonies. Growing older and more mature, Allen settled down and became a member of the frontier community. He found a real home in the beautiful “Green Mountains.”

Eventually, the entire area where Ethan and his neighbors lived would be in danger. They had acquired land grants from New Hampshire and had worked and lived on that property for years. As the population of New York exploded, the wealthy land owners looked to the same land as an opportunity, to not only expand the lands governed by the New York colony but also to enrich themselves by the sale of lands that already had settlers. The people of these grants had come to respect their new leader, Ethan Allen. They elected him to represent them in the court case in New York over whether these farmers had any right to the property that they had already paid for.

In the biography of Ethan Allen, written by Willard Sterne Randall, he says this of Ethan’s cause to the people of the grants, “It was impossible for Allen to fathom, much less to explain to assemblage, the extraordinary level of defalcation of corrupt British imperial official’s intent on subjugating while increasingly taxing their troublesome American subjects.” Ethan Allen, according to Randall, “explained that, if this trend continued, all settlers already on the grants would end up as impoverished tenant farmers paying rent to wealthy landlords in New York.”

As Ethan Allen sat in the court room that would decide the official ruling of the crown on this dispute, he had this to say of the proceedings,

“The plaintiffs appearing in great state and magnificence,… together with their junto of land thieves, made a brilliant appearance, but the defendants (including himself) appearing in but ordinary fashion, having been greatly fatigued by hard labour wrought on the disputed premises,… In fine, interest, connection, and grandeur… easily turned the scale against the honest defendants.”

Ethan had seen that everyone in the court room from the lawyer for the plaintiffs to the Judges stood to profit from New York winning this case. He saw the corruption of the government and their obvious theft of land from the settlers. When almost all of the land in question was ruled to be the property of these same wealthy men and the entire New Hampshire grants void, Ethan Allen, fully steeped in an understanding of John Locke’s ideas of property, became enraged. He wondered how he could break the news to his neighbors and friends, that not only did they rule that they did not own the land, but they would now have to pay rent to the wealthy owner, who had never stepped foot on any of the land they had been working on for years.

As Ethan prepared to leave court and report the news, he was approached by the plaintiff’s lawyer and a couple other men. They offered him a bribe and a good horse to smooth over the news with his friends. These men wanted Ethan to, “go among his people to quiet them.” The men told him, “We have might on our side, and you know that might often prevails against right.” To this Ethan Allen retorted, “The gods of the valleys are not Gods of the hills.” Although he was a deist, Ethan Allen knew the Bible far better than most people. If these men had known the Bible, they would have known what Ethan referred to when he quoted 1 Kings 20:28. He had basically said, come back with me and we will kill you. Ethan smiled, knowing they had no idea what he had just told them, he took their money and the horse and rode back home.

A meeting was called after he arrived. He told them everything, including the bribe he received. The proof they had of their rights granted from New Hampshire had not even been allowed to be entered in as evidence. The group was told that the entire proceeding was a farce and their land had been taken. Far from appeasing them, he rallied them into what would be known as “The Green Mountain Boys.” He understood the law and knew that it was tilted in favor of New York, but he said that there was, “Justice without mercy.” Everyone including the minister rose to support him. These forced evictions would be resisted. The Green Mountain Boys would stand against the tyrannical government of New York. It was Ethan’s plan to wait for the New Hampshire governor’s appeal to the crown. “Everything would be adjusted,” he told them.

The Green Mountain Boys started defending the farms of Vermont. When the officials of New York showed up to evict them, they were met with armed resistance. In one instance, when the “Yorkers” arrived, they were surrounded by a superior number of men with their faces blackened. When the Yorkers demanded the eviction, Ethan shot back, “they damned the Laws of New York.” He told them that they had their own laws. The Boys then chased them back to the New York boundary line. When they returned a few days later with a sheriff, Ethan warned him that he was ready to, “blow his brains out,” if he did not leave.

Over the next few months, the Green Mountain Boys grew, and eventually they would be the second largest army in all of America, second only to the British army, which was spread all over the colonies. Ethan Allen would be elected their leader and was given the title of “Colonel Commander.” He was given the power to fight New York and instantly became a legend. Stories were told of him both in the grants and New York. Ethan Allen was a giant who could lift soldiers up and throw them to their death. He was also a protector who saved lost children who wondered away from town. He had become a reverse Moses protecting the “virtuous frontier pioneers,” in the Promised Land.

New York continued to try to both kick the farmers off their land and move new settlements in. The Green Mountain Boys attacked the new settlements. When one of the new settlers begged for his new home given to him by New York, Ethan Allen responded, “They will burn it, for that morning they had resolved to offer a burnt sacrifice to the gods of the world in burning the logs of that house.” They then sent him on his way and Ethan commented, “Go your way now and complain to that damned scoundrel, your governor, God damn your governor, laws, King, Council and Assembly.”

Ethan began writing pamphlets that would be read all over, not only Vermont, but all of the colonies. New York responded by putting a price on his and the other leaders of the Green Mountain Boy’s heads. Meanwhile, Ethan Allen had become the, “voice of the oppressed.” In his pamphlets he challenged royal authority.

“When New York, by the handle of jurisdiction, aims at the property of the inhabitants, and that flagrantly, can they expect obedience? Can the New York scribblers, by the art of printing, alter wrong into right? Or make any person of good sense believe that that a great number of hard laboring peasants, going through the fatigues of settlement, and cultivation of howling wilderness, are a community of riotous, disorderly, licentious, treasonable persons?”

People all over New England saw Ethan Allen and his people’s plight as their own. Massachusetts, in particular, was suffering from the taxes and tyranny of King George. They found brothers in the cause. The first group of people to stand with Massachusetts in their resistance to Britain was the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont. Together in the words of Ethan Allen they would stand against, “crafty, defying, and monopolizing government!”

This is what made Ethan Allen a hero. What would follow made him a freedom fighter that absolutely would lead directly to the success of the Revolutionary War. In one night, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys would give the blossoming American rebels a chance against the most powerful empire the world had ever known. His hot tempered and charismatic leadership would deliver the most important victory of the early revolution. His writings, which were only slightly less popular than those of his friend Thomas Paine, and huge volunteer militia would make him the first choice to lead an offensive against the British.

In 1758, during the French and Indian war, the British attacked an unfinished French fort in the undeveloped land between New York and New Hampshire later to be named Vermont. In one afternoon, 3 thousand British troops lay dead before Fort Ticonderoga. The French would eventually lose the war, and as they retreated, they torched everything as they fled, and they blew up their prized fort on Lake Champlain. As the British took control of the fort and rebuilt the walls, it became more than a strategic fort between Canada and the New England colonies. It became a symbol of British power and a temple dedicated to the men lost trying to take it from the French.

Ethan Allen, in his forest green coat and commanding a huge army, knew that when war came with England, Ticonderoga would need to be captured. The English Army had stocked it with hundreds of cannons that the American forces would need.

166471-004-1E4DF1DB.jpgWhen word came of the hostilities in of the events at Lexington and Concord, Ethan Allen was sitting at the bar of the headquarters of the Green Mountain Boys, Catamount Tavern. When the breathless courier delivered the news, Ethan pounded the table angrily, finished his drink, and set out with his Boys to devise the plan to take the fort. Ethan said of his plan to help in the war of independence,

“Ever since I arrived to a state of manhood, and acquainted myself with the general history of mankind, I have felt a sincere passion for liberty.”

The American blood spilled in Massachusetts was to him a “systematical and bloody attempt,” by England to, “enslave America.” He set out with around 2 thousand troops, the largest militia in America. Put this in to perspective; the attack would take place 6 days before the Continental Congress in Philadelphia would pass a resolution declaring, “Congress had nothing in mind but the defense of the colonies.” When those three founders who I said we all could be proud of, were still trying to reconcile with the Crown, Ethan Allen had already won victory in the north.

While Ethan was on the move towards Ticonderoga, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, the revolutionary leaders in Massachusetts, decided to send him some help. Benedict Arnold was dispatched with orders to get their brother in arms, Ethan Allen and his Boys to attack the Fort. They had no idea he was already on his way to do just that.

Arnold would quickly make it to the tavern that served as the base of operations, for the Green Mountain Boys. He and his 3 companions walked into the bar dressed in red uniforms. Sure, it was a different shade, but all that the Green Mountain Boys saw was 4 Redcoats walking in asking where to find Ethan Allen. Needless to say, the 4 barely made it out alive, but were eventually able to show their orders and prove who they were. They were escorted in the direction of the Fort. They soon overtook the Green Mountain Boys on their way to Lake Champlain.

After Arnold demanded that Ethan turn over command, Ethan Allen calmly announced that Benedict Arnold would be in command. His unusual demeanor sent a signal to his men. Without even a word, every man stacked their weapons and silently made their way to the edge of the woods. Not a single man would fight for this red coated buffoon that stood a full head shorter than their elected leader, Ethan Allen. Realizing that Arnold and he were on the same side, Ethan, proposed a joint command. As a sign of good faith, Ethan handed his new partner a weapon. Arnold had gone to war without a gun.

The plan was to send a large portion of the Green Mountain boys to commandeer some British ships and quickly carry all of the men a mile across the lake to the fort. When, by early morning, they did not arrive, Ethan knew he had to act. The fort was severely undermanned and the wicker door that led into the fort was, according to reports, left open. By daybreak, the element of surprise would be lost and this same fort had held out against 3 thousand trained British soldiers. They had to get in before dawn. At 4 in the morning, on May 10th 1775, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold with around only 80 Green Mountain Boys, arrived on the banks just outside of Fort Ticonderoga. Before the offensive, Allen addressed the men.

“Friends and fellow soldiers, you have, for a number of years past, been a scourge and terror to arbitrary power. Your valour has been famed abroad… I now propose to advance before you, and in person conduct you through the wicket-gate; for we must this morning either to quit our pretensions to valor, or possess ourselves of this fortress in a few minutes; in as much as it is a desperate attempt, which none but the bravest of men dare undertake, I do not urge it on any contrary to his will.”

Silently led by Ethan Allen on the right and Arnold on the left, they approached the gate. Their intelligence was wrong, it was locked. Quietly, they worked on the gate. The lone sentry, just beyond the gate, had fallen asleep. Arnold, who was smaller, made it through first. Amidst the noise of the men slipping through the gate, the guard awakened. Terrified, he fired his musket. It had been a damp night, and it misfired. The soldier threw down his weapon.

Suddenly a second sentry appeared. He shot, but missed. Ethan Allen smacked the man in the head with his cutlass. The only thing that saved the man was a piece of wood in his powdered wig. Ethan later wrote, “My first thought was to kill him with my sword, but; in an instant, I altered the design and fury of the blow to a slight cut to the side of the head.” They made the stunned guard guide them to the officers. They first found a lieutenant naked from the waist down and scared to death. They made him lead them to the room of the officer in charge, who was calmly dressing. His thoughts were that he was in command and no one would dare attack him directly.

When Ethan Allen reached the door and began breaking it down, he yelled at the commanding officer, Captain Delaplace. There is argument to exactly what was said. The record of the events at the continental congress reads that Ethan Allen said, “Come out, in the name of the great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress!” The account of what was reported by the people who were actually there has two versions. The first one is, “Come out of there you goddamn rat.” The other, which is my favorite, was “Come out of there you damned British sons of whores.” Today, we really don’t know what he said, but I can guess which ones are more likely.

Seeing that he had no other choice, Delaplace opened the door and the Captain was face to face with the legendarily huge Ethan Allen, without a weapon. The two redcoats were told, “if there were a single gun fired, neither man, woman or child would be left alive.” Captain Delaplace surrendered. The fort was taken without a single man being killed.

At the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Ethan Allen rode into a hero’s welcome. He had secured artillery for the army, took a strategic fort and symbolically took control of British power. Ethan Allen was made the commander of the northern forces and ordered to return with a plan to invade Quebec and cut off reinforcements from the north.

The political influence of the more traditional leaders in the revolution, like Benedict Arnold and George Washington, challenged Ethan’s authority before he could even return to Vermont. They, with the help of the ministers, who feared Ethan’s religious beliefs, stripped him of command. Most of his Boys had returned to tend to their fields. Ethan Allen, the man who, not long ago, had won the prize fort of the North, had to practically beg to be used as a scout. The plans to move into Canada were delayed allowing reinforcements. While Ethan urged action, a visit from General Washington showed that the famous father of the country was more concerned about the uniforms that the men were wearing, rather than the timely weakness of the British forces.

I wonder at what would have happened if Ethan Allen had been left to carry out his orders. Would there be a Canada? The Revolutionary forces may have taken large portions of Canadian land. Could the war have ended more quickly by shutting off reinforcements from the North? In my own opinion, there would not even be a United States. Ethan Allen went on to eventually be captured and imprisoned by the British. He would survive, but his fame had waned.

Early in this country, we were organized under The Articles of Confederation. This was only a loose set of rules and each state was assured its own sovereign rights. Many people clamored for a more powerful central government. This effort would be led by people like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, their hero was George Washington. These men would be known as the Federalists.

The Anti-Federalists opposed this action. Arguing for decentralization, people like Patrick Henry wanted to protect individual rights and opposed any form of executive power. Ethan Allen, who was already friends with Anti-Federalists like Thomas Paine, and hated all governments he had come into contact with, likely, would have sided with Henry. What if they had a successful war hero of their own? We will never know.

Ethan Allen was rash and rebellious. He did not always say what was proper. Again, these are the kind of leaders we look to. We want honest leaders, who tell us the truth even if it is not easy. Those who followed him did so of their own free will. Ethan Allen respected the voluntary nature of his militia. He led them because they asked him to. Compare that to the military of this country today. As with all forms of government control, they coerce and lie to fill the ranks. Ethan Allen fought to save the farms of his people. While fighting New York, he amassed lots of land and money. When one of his Boys was without land, he sometimes just gave it to him. Our military can’t even honor the promises it made at the VA.


Today, we can follow the lead of many Freedom Fighters including Ethan Allen. We have a choice to say that no man is a subject of another. Adam Kokesh is turning the next presidential election into a referendum on whether the federal government should exist. Adam, a veteran, is trying to do right by our military. First of all, Kokesh has fought for years to end the adventurism oversees. Our men and women should not be fighting for empire. Second, it is our duty to honor those soldiers who have fought when they return home. There is a veteran suicide epidemic that is being ignored by the media and our government. Our campaign has organized “The March of the Dead Veterans” for July 1st in New Orleans.

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