Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Guest Blogger, Laura Davies Tilley on Ethan Allen and Forming the Green Mountain Boys

Today on History Undressed I'd like to introduce you to a new guest blogger, and a fellow writing chapter mate, Laura Davies Tilley.  Ms. Tilley writes 18th century American romance. Today she has a fascinating post for us, which I think you will thoroughly enjoy!

Ethan Allen and Forming the Green Mountain Boys
by Laura Davies Tilley

Most people have heard of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, but few know the story behind their creation. (I’m talking about Ethan Allen before the furniture store!)

It all began on January 3, 1749. From then through August, 1764, Benning Wentworth, the Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire, sold more than one hundred thirty Grants of Charter for towns in the land that became Vermont. The land granted was called the New Hampshire Grants, or often simply the “Grants”.

After that fifteen-year period, the farmers who had bought those New Hampshire grants were finally seeing the rewards of all of their hard work in clearing and planting the land and building homes. Just when things finally seemed to be going well, up stepped New York and began issuing grants for the same lands New Hampshire had already sold.

Worse for the Grants settlers, New York demanded they re-purchase the land they had cleared, settled, and planted – for at least ten times the amount they had originally paid.

By 1765, Ethan Allen and most Grants settlers joined the rest of the colonists in protesting the Stamp Act. But New York was not swayed. When the Grants settlers could not afford the exorbitant amount New York demanded, New York sent surveyors with armed sheriffs to claim and re-sell the land out from under the people who had paid for and settled it.

Though New York sent armed sheriffs to escort its surveyors onto already settled Grants lands, New Hampshire gave no aid or support for the people who had paid New Hampshire and settled under its grants.

Ethan Allen, never one to sit still for an injustice, walked all the way to New Hampshire to request help from New Hampshire's Royal Governor. The new Governor, nephew of the prior Royal Governor Benning Wentworth (who had issued the land grants) clearly did not have his uncle’s sense of civic pride. He listened to Ethan Allen but did not send help.

So Ethan came up with another plan. In June 1770, he hired a Connecticut lawyer, Jared Ingersoll, to defend the Grants settlers against charges of ejectment in a New York court. The Chief Judge of the New York court, Robert Livingston, was a close friend of wealthy Yorkers (as the Grants settlers called New York’s rich and powerful) who had bought Grants claims from New York. Those prominent people included New York’s attorney general and lieutenant governor. In a show of true jurisprudence and impartiality, Livingston heard the case and excluded all evidence of the grants New Hampshire sold to the Grants settlers. Naturally, this prevented any proof that the Grants settlers owned their land, so this same judge decided in favor of the New Yorkers, ordering the Grants settlers ejected from their land.

When Ethan Allen returned to Bennington with this news, the Grants settlers took stock of the forces surrounding them. Not unreasonably, they decided that since they received no help from New Hampshire and could not receive justice from New York, they would have to defend themselves from the Yorkers.

On that hot summer day in Bennington, Ethan Allen called for a meeting at Stephen Fay's Green Mountain Tavern, commonly called the Catamount Tavern. The Catamount Tavern got its nickname because of a stuffed catamount (a type of wildcat; short for “cat-a-mountain”) poised high on a pole in front of the tavern, its mouth posed open, teeth bared, and snarling in the direction of New York. The Grants settlers evidently felt this symbolism made the tavern an appropriate meeting place.

At that meeting, the Grants holders decided to form a militia group headed by Ethan Allen (with the self-chosen title Colonel Commandant) to provide their own defense. Lieutenants included Seth Warner, Remember Baker (yes, that’s really his name!), and Robert Cochrane.

When New York's Governor Colden heard about this plan, he vowed to drive the ‘Bennington Mobb’ back into the Green Mountains. Ethan, naturally, soon heard of that taunt. His notorious sense of humor kicked in and he dubbed the group the “Green Mountain Boys.”

The Green Mountain Boys were definitely “irregulars.” They seldom drilled. (In fact, it’s rumored that only Seth Warner drilled his militia company). They gathered only if they received word of a problem. Even then, they were not required to answer the call, so they did only if they deemed their current farm responsibilities less important than the purpose calling them away. Then, when the Green Mountain Boys had completed that particular duty, they returned to their homes - usually after celebrating with large amounts of alcoholic libation.

Because they needed the skills for survival in the wilderness, the Green Mountain Boys were talented at stealth, tracking, trapping, and sharpshooting; most of the Grants settlers lived in poverty, so they could not waste bullets. They had to make every shot count. Little did the Yorkers know they were taking on guerilla warfare!

The Green Mountain Boys designed a flag: green with a blue field on the top left spattered with 13 white stars of various sizes. But it is said that the only uniform the Green Mountain Boys wore was a sprig of evergreen in their cap. However, it seems likely that most of them knew each other and did not need to wear that “uniform” often, either.

To sway public opinion to support the Green Mountain Boys and the cause of the Grants settlers, Ethan Allen published several newspaper articles in the Hartford, Connecticut Courant. He also printed his marketing on large pieces of paper referred to as “broadsides” and tacked them up on trees and other convenient posting places. Ethan signed these publications as AA Lover of Reason and Truth@. Although his father’s untimely death prevented him from following through on his longtime plan of attending Yale, Ethan clearly had an understanding of how to sway public opinion and peoples’ hearts. He called the struggle in the Grants a Astruggle of poor, honest men of the land@ against Aprinces of privilege.@ He also referred to it as the struggle by the colonies against wealthy landlords and English.

Because New York had attempted similar claims for land against other neighboring states, the plight of the Green Mountain Boys raised more support in those states than they might otherwise have gained.

The Green Mountain Boys met each Yorker challenge with ingenuity and wit. Ethan Allen specified that the Boys were to kill no one. In fact, in the over ten years from their creation until the time when fighting between New York and the Grants effectively ceased due to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, the Green Mountain Boys killed no one. The Boys, and especially Ethan Allen, cultivated a fearsome and challenging image because it helped their cause to be seen as fierce, and helped to back down Yorkers. But Ethan and the Boys considered it a point of pride that they killed no one.

Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys successfully protected the lands of the New Hampshire Grants settlers from the Yorkers. On January 15, 1777, the Grants settlers declared themselves an independent State. When they took a name, they first chose New Connecticut, but ultimately they adapted the French for “Green Mountain” into “Vermont”. The Green Mountains Boys had already joined the rest of the States in their fight for independence. Nonetheless, New York prevented the State of Vermont from joining the union of the other thirteen states until March 4, 1791, when Vermont became the fourteenth State in the United States of America.

Come back next time Laura Davies Tilley blogs to hear more about Ethan Allen. Ethan Allen also figures prominently in the historic romance Laura is currently writing, Wolf Hunt, set during the formation of the Green Mountain Boys. The Green Mountain Boys are also featured in her recently-completed historic novel set in Vermont slightly after this time, during a portion of the Revolutionary War, The Valiant Thirteen.


Laura said...

Good morning, Eliza!

Thank you for hosting me this morning - I'm delighted to be here.

Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys have fascinated me since I was a child. Something about their brash stance against so many larger, already established forces captured my imagination. And they did it with such wit! How could they not capture my imagination?


Sherri D. said...

Laura! Good to see you on this forum and read more about this history of Vermont. Looking forward to seeing Wolf Hunt too. By the way, whatever happened to the Green Mountain Boys?

Sherri D.

Laura said...

Hi, Sherri!

Thank you for stopping by. Keep reading to find out what happened to the Green Mountain boys! Here's a hint: They and Ethan Allen negotiated with the United States of America, feinted with Canada ... and they WERE used to winning!

Take care ~ Laura

Bro Rob said...

Good stuff. I can't wait to read more on the Green Mountain Boys and the history of Vermont. When will you be back with more? Where can I get the Valiant Thirteen?


Laura said...

Thank you, Rob. (My brother, folks! :D )

I appreciate you taking the time to stop by. I'll let you know when I'll be back :D And when The Valiant Thirteen is pub'd!

Take good care,

sister Beth said...

Vermonters - independent from the beginning! Got to love them. Sister Beth

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura

Great story and photos. I am looking forward to reading your novel.

your Canadian friend

Mary Jo Putney said...

Wow, Laura! I'm an Upstate New Yorker, but I never knew the origin of the Green Mountain Boys. That really shows how corruption, injustice, and misuse of the legal system by the rich and powerful are not exactly new issues. No wonder you want to write about these people and this time.

Laura said...

Hi, Beth! Thank you for dropping by. Yep, got to love those independent Vermonters!


Laura said...

Thank you, Frank. Wait till you hear the shenanigans between Ethan Allen and Canada!


Laura said...

Hi, Mary Jo!

Thank you so much for stopping by. One reason I want to write about these folks is because people nowadays don't know their story. I think some of their role is omitted from our history books because they weren't accepted as part of the USA at that time.

Another reason I want to write about them is because they're just so darn fun!

And - har! So right - corruption, injustice and misuse of the legal system have a looong history.

Take good care,

Donna Williams said...

What an interesting start to Vermont history. Who knew?! Can't wait to read more!

Your friend,

Laura said...

Thank you, Donna. There's lots more to read!

Your friend,

Anonymous said...

Cool stuff , write more

Laura said...

Hi, Anonymous. Thank you for your nice comment!


Jery said...

Upstate New York roots always have me focusing on the other side of the river, but Laura brings real life to what the history books made us memorize --- and helps me put my love of the area into historical context.

L Simpson said...

I found Laura Davies Tilley's vivid account of the Green Mountain Boys and Ethan Allen to be enchaning and compelling. I did not realize that "Vermont" was from the French for green mountain.

Keep up your great writing!

Professor Larry S.

Laura said...

Hi, Jery,

I'm glad I could enhance your enjoyment of the beautiful Green Mountain State!

Thank you for dropping by :D


Laura said...

Hi, Professor,

Thank you for your lovely comments.

I don't know when I first found out about the origins of Vermont's name, but it's always tickled me. The University of Vermont uses a Latin version of the origins in its seal. I'm glad you got a kick out of it too.

Thank you again,

Krista said...

Hi Laura,

What a wonderful piece of history to write about, so vivid and engaging!

Anonymous said...

Now this is the kind of story that makes history come alive! Thanks for sharing it.

Laura said...

Hi, Krista,

How great to hear from you! Thank you for coming by - and thank you for your kind comments.


Laura said...

Hello, Anonymous - I think this is Pam since you emailed me that you'd posted :D

Great to hear from you. I'm delighted it came alive for you.


Allison Knight said...

I love stories about the beginning of our country, things you rarely hear. It would make a wonderful plot for a pre-revolutionary war.

The east coast must have been wild.
I've learned about the Naughty Cowboy of Duchess County and I defintiely will use them in a novel.

Laura said...

Hi, Allison,

Thank you for coming by, and for your comments. I'm glad you like these stories too.

Yes, doesn't it sound like the east coast was wild and woolly? At least, parts of it!

I'd love to hear about the Naughty Cowboy of Duchess County! Great name. Do tell!

All the best,

Anonymous said...

The Seth Warner Inn. The Ira Allen House. These are a few of the names that intrigue me as I pass them on my drive to work. How interesting to learn more about these brave and clever Vermonters who made such a large impact on the history of this small state!
I would like to think that The Boys would take pride in seeing that almost 250 years after the fact, their righteous endeavors are still celebrated and their names still dot the local landscape.
Great writing, Laura! I look forward to reading more :o)