The Mountain Boys
Norman Hurlbut also
wrote his own portrait of Roxbury’s revolutionary heroes Ethan Allen, Seth
Warner, and their cousin and companion in arms, Remember Baker even though
their stories had been well told elsewhere. Perhaps he felt he had
to write about them, because they were related. All of them intermarried
with members of the Hurlbut crew.
Remember Baker was the oldest. He was born in 1737, and according to Norman Hurlbut, “was one of the greatest frontiersmen Roxbury ever sent out into the world. He was a tough, redheaded, freckle-faced young giant, a man with whom it was best not to tangle, if it could be avoided. Sheriff John Munro learned his lesson in March in 1772, when he and his gang thought they could take Remember to Albany and collect the reward that had been placed on his head. They never reached Albany.
Town Historian Elmer Worthington wrote: “Remember was descended from John Baker, who married Sarah Hurlbut, a daughter of Joseph Hurlbut, reputedly the first man to finish a house near Shippauge Fort, and who gave him a plot of land on Good Hill in 1704. They were probably the first young couple to make their home here. Mary, the future mother of Ethan Allen, was one of their daughters, born in 1708.
“Mary Baker, daughter of John, was baptized in March, 1709, and married Joseph Allen, March 11, 1736 or 1737. Shortly after Remember’s birth, his father, Remember Baker, Sr., was killed in a hunting accident in Roxbury by a Hurlbut, but his son married Desire Hurlbut. Shortly after his marriage he joined his cousins Seth Warner and Ethan Allen in Vermont.
“His own son Remember Baker III moved to Stafford, New York. He served as an officer and friend of General Winfield Scott during the war of 1812. His son, General Lafayette Baker, was born in Stafford in 1826. General Lafayette Baker became Chief of the National Detective Service under President Lincoln. He also wrote, in 1867, the “History of the United States Secret Service.”
“Lafayette’s grandson Newton D. Baker, was Secretary of War in President Wilson’s Cabinet from 1913 to 1921.”
According to Norman Hurlbut, the Baker house was undoubtedly the scene of Mary’s wedding to Joseph Allen in 1736, and here Remember brought his bride, Tamar Warner, the sister of Col. Seth’s father, and also here was brought his body that June 1st, 1737, after the fatal hunting accident on Mine Hill.
The fatherless boy grew up in his grandfather’s home and with the companionship of cousin Ethan and the soldiers at the fort, until September 11th, 1755, when at the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the Northern army and served through most of the French and Indian War.
In 1758, Remember, now a non-commissioned officer was serving under General Israel Putnam, when Putnam’s forces met a detachment of French at Ticonderoga. With Putnam was Lord Howe, a young English officer much beloved by the men. During the action a stray bullet struck Howe. When the men saw their idol fall, they went wild and, fighting like tigers, tore diagonally through the French lines and then, receiving reinforcements, turned and attacked from the rear, killing some three hundred men and taking one hundred and forty-eight prisoners. A heavy price the enemy paid for a stray shot.
Here it is interesting to note that Roxbury was represented in that encounter, as witness the copy of an affidavit made by General Hinman in 1810: “I, Israel Minor of Roxbury, in Litchfield County, in the State of Connecticut, of lawful age, testify to say that I was formerly well acquainted with Solomon Squire, formerly of this town, that I knew him to be a soldier in the French War in the years 1755, 1756, and 1758 as I was with him in the years 1756, and 1758, that he served under the late Col. Benjamin Hinman in his several grades from Capt. to Lt. Col. That in the year 1758, he served as one of Rogers Rangers, and I knew him to be a gallant soldier and much respected by his superior officers. I also testify that I have been well acquainted with Reuben Castle formerly of this town but now residing in Woodbury, in this County, from early life; and I knew him to be a drummer in the said war under the above-mentioned Lt. Col. Hinman, as I saw him in said service at Ticonderoga at the time Lord Howe was killed. But as I did not belong to the same regiment cannot recollect how many seasons the said Castle served in said army.
And further the deponent saith not,
N.B. My meaning is that I did not serve under the said Benjamin Hinman all the time I was in said service, the last year I belonged to Col. Wooster’s Regiment.”
After the insertion of this document, Normal Hurlbut continued his history: Solomon Squire was a brother of my great-great grandmother, Olive Squire Hurlbut, and after the Revolution emigrated to Tennessee, where he took up a large tract of land, and where he died. Col. Hinman was a native of Southbury and a well-known officer in the Revolution. Col. Wooster, later Gen. Wooster, was killed at Danbury, May 2nd, 1777. He was at this time the senior Brigadier General in the Continental Army. Jonathan Stoughton, another of those present, signed the following proof for Reuben Castle:
“I, Jonathan Stoughton of Woodbury, in Litchfield County, in Connecticut State, of lawful age, testify and say that I am well acquainted with Reuben Castle of said Woodbury, and I further testify that said Castle was a soldier in the late French War in the year 1758, that he served as a drummer under Lieut-Col. Benjamin Hinman of Ticonderoga. That I was clerk of the same Company in the service of the now United States, and that in the month of November in said year we were discharged from said service.”
are among others that belonged to General Ephraim Hinman of Roxbury, under
whom my grandfather’s brother served, 1810-1815, and have remained in my
family, sealed for more than 125 years, until I unsealed them a few years
ago. There were others from Roxbury active in the campaigns in the
French War whose names cannot be ascertained at this late date, and one
of whom did not return. Lovewell Hurd was killed in the 1758 campaign.
After the war, whether Remember returned to his home in Roxbury or lingered on in the north country is not known, but he was here in 1760 as in that year he married his cousin, Desire Hurlbut, the daughter of Consider Hurlbut. In fact, all three boys came back to Roxbury for their brides. Remember for Desire Hurlbut, Seth Warner for Esther Hurd, also a distant cousin, and Ethan Allen for Mary, the daughter of Cornelius Brownson, the miller of Southbury. Must be Roxbury girls were as pretty then as now.
It is not known where the young folks made their homes for the first years, but in 1764, Remember brought his little family, wife, and son Ozi, along a rude road to Arlington, Vermont, which town at Proprietors Meeting had offered to grant 50 acres of land to anyone who would build a grist mill to be in operation by November 1765. Remember accepted the challenge and built the first grist and saw mill in Arlington. Now, Remember had to settle down, what with tending his mill, building the home for his family, and hunting meat, he was a busy man. Soon, he was joined by the Warner family and several of his wife’s relations, and still later, Ethan Allen arrived on the scene in time to join in the ‘scraps’ with the ‘Yorkers.’ Ethan’s brother soon arrived also and became engaged in land surveying.
Not long after Seth Warner’s arrival, he had a message from Remember. He had seen New York surveyors going up country and he was worried. The settlers held their titles under grants from Bennington Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire, and now the New York authorities claimed their titles invalid and they must repurchase under Gov. Tryon of New York. “I tell you Seth, we’ve got to drive ‘em out or we’ll lose our homes, and if we do, they’ll have us in their courts.” Not long after, Committees of Safety were being formed in the various towns through the Grants, as they were called, and a meeting was called at the old Catamount Tavern kept by one Stephen Fay, who had mounted a stuffed wildcat atop a pole before his tavern.
Here gathered a motley number of the younger men of the hills, hardened hunters and rangers of the mountains, who were not disposed to submit tamely to injustice. The organization to be known as ‘The Green Mountain Boys’ was here begun with Ethan Allen as Col. Commander, and Seth Warner, Remember Baker, Robert Cochran, and Peleg Sunderland appointed as Captains. Remember and others now made up a ‘Judgment Seat,’ a court for sitting in judgement on the usurpers from New York, and Ethan, Seth, Remember, and Cochran were named as judges. It was a court which some of the worst offenders later had excellent cause to respect.
Finally, the situation grew so serious that on December 9, 1772, Governor Tryon placed a reward of twenty pounds on the heads of Seth, Ethan, and Remember. Ethan immediately offered a reward of fifteen pounds for certain New York officials, to be delivered at Fay’s tavern. Said he, “They ain’t worth as much as we be.”
One night in March, the New York Sheriff John Munro gathered a posse and – coming to Remember’s home – broke in the door with axes. On their entry they were met by a fighting fury of a man armed with only a cudgel and a woman and child just roused from their bed. The fight raged for a time until the beset and outnumbered man sprang up the ladder to the loft and leaped out into the snow, where he was soon overpowered and, without dressing his wounded hand, the start was made for Albany. Remember asked leave to see his injured wife and child, but only gained the brutal reply: “She can see you at the jail.” This brought from Remember, “If she’s hurt bad, Munro, I’ll kill you.” He was told, “In the Albany jail, where you’ll be, you won’t kill anybody for quite some spell.”
But Remember didn’t get to the Albany jail, for his captors failed to realize the size of the hornet’s nest they had aroused. For hardly had they struck the road than the cry rang through the night, “It’s Remember, they got Remember.” Soon grim-faced men were riding in from all directions, and the pursuit was on. Taking a different road the pursuers raced ahead and came out on the Albany Road before Munro and his men who, when they saw them, scattered in the woods like frightened rabbits. Remember was carried back and his wounds dressed and his wife and son cared for.
The next day Seth rode out to Munro’s place and demanded Remember’s gun. “What gun,” replied Munro. “The gun you stole the night you tried to murder him,” Seth said. With visions of that reward in his mind Munro seized the bridle of Seth’s horse and called on his men to make the arrest. Rising in his stirrups Seth brought the flat of his sword down on Munro’s head, felling him to the ground, where he forgot all about making any arrest. A few days later, the town of Poultney, Vermont, voted Seth a hundred acres of land, “for his valor in cracking the head of the hated Yorker.”
Some time afterwards, when an opponent demanded his authority for this action, Remember, holding up his mutilated thumb, declared, “There’s my warrant good in any court in the Green Mountains.” By May, 1773, Ira Allen and Remember, as the Allen and Baker Land Co., owned some 45,000 acres of virgin land along the Onion River, near Burlington. That year there were no roads north of Castleton, and Baker and Allen cut a road through the forest for seventy miles so that supplies could be brought in from Lake Champlain and in the summer they settled on their land and built a stout log house across the river from Burlington, later called Fort Frederick. His brother Ira, being unmarried, lived with Remember. Soon came the outbreak with England, and forgetting their troubles with New York, they joined forces against the common enemy.
The day after the capture of Ticonderoga, Remember, at the Onion River was asked by Seth to join him in the occupation of Crown Point. He started at once and on the way intercepted two boats sent by the British to warn St. Johnsbury of the fall of the fort. They did not deliver their message as Remember kindly took them along with him while he met with Seth. Remember was now in frequent demand for scout duty. In August he was sent by General Schuyler to gain information on the condition of the British forces in Canada, and on his return was immediately sent back for more details. On August 19, 1775, he left Crown Point with four or five men, and on August 20, was on the schooner “Liberty” at the foot of Champlain, and next morning started down the Sorel River. Leaving a man named Griffin and an Indian of the west side of the river, he pushed on further. This is the last Griffin saw of Remember.
Hiding his canoe in the bushes, Remember crept up a little further, but on his return found that a party of Indians had discovered his canoe and were making off with it. He demanded they return it, and on their refusal opened fire, killing one of them. Then, his flint needing some adjustment, he leaned against a tree, when a shot struck him in the forehead and killed him instantly. The Indians returned, cut off his head and right hand with the mutilated thumb, and carried them to Canada to collect the bounty. So died one of Vermont’s great pre-revolutionary men.
At the time he was killed, one of the Indians took possession of Remember’s powder-horn, and he kept it. But a day or two later, when the Indian was also killed, the horn came back to Remember’s friends, who sent it to his son, Ozi. Later, it disappeared and was not found until 1928, when it was discovered behind a rafter in an old house. Now it is a treasured relic in the Vermont museum in Montpelier. On it is inscribed, cut into the horn: “Remember Baker, Bennington., Vt. Ye Sept. 9, 1774.” In Roxbury still stands the old house by the cross-roads, but the family that lived there in those days are entirely forgotten. The level land that stretched northward from the Episcopal church for three-fourths of a mile used to be known as the Baker Plains. The lone white oak still stands by the road as an ancient landmark.
Of the three mountain boys from Roxbury, the poorest was Seth Warner. Among the papers kept by Norman Hurlbut is a copy of an interview with Seth Warner Jr., the younger son of Colonel Seth Warner, in which he recalls how George Washington visited his home in person, after the War of Independence, and paid off the mortgage on it. Seth Warner Jr., then 75, and living in Lower Canada had come to the capital of Vermont to petition the legislature for compensation for some lands formerly granted to Col. Warner’s heirs. “It was there and then that the writer of this reminiscence was introduced to him,” Norman’s paper states, “and held several interesting conversations.”
He recorded the following statement, “It was in the month of September 1789, the fall that General Washington made his tour through the eastern states. We had kept ourselves tolerably well posted about the progress of this tour and heard that he was to be in New Haven or Hartford somewhere near the time at which the event I am going to relate took place. But as either of those places was quite a number of miles from Woodbury, where we lived, we had not more idea of seeing him than the man in the moon. My elder brother, Israel Putnam Warner, then a grown man, and myself a lad of twelve or thirteen, were both living with our mother at the time. And at that particular time of day I refer to, Israel was in the yard grooming father’s old war horse, which he had been compelled to go with father through all his campaigns to take charge of, for the fiery and proud old fellow would never let anybody but his master, the Colonel, and his son Israel mount or come near him, though he had now tamed down by old age that he would behave quite meekly with me or anybody. I was in the house with mother, who happened to be unusually downcast that day and was brooding over the family embarrassments. She had just been saying, ‘No, no, Seth, I can never pay, nor with our means hardly begin to pay this dreadful mortgage. And now I hear it is about to be foreclosed. Soon we must be driven from our pleasant home, where we have lived so long and, until your father’s death, so happily. My husband, the Colonel, fought as well as the bravest of them and did all he could and more than his part for the good cause, they all are willing to allow. And I know very well that he wore himself out in the service and was thus brought to a premature grave. And yet here is his family almost on the verge of beggary.’ Tears here started in mother’s eyes, which so touched me that I rose and went and looked out the window, when to my surprise, I saw entering into the yard two well-mounted stranger gentlemen, whom from something about their general appearance, I took to be old military officers of pretty high rank, or at least one of them, who was large and had a very commanding look.
“Having significantly beckoned mother to my side, who eagerly gazed out at the newcomers in silence a moment, when she suddenly gave a start and with an excited air exclaimed, ‘Seth, just take notice of the noble looking one. Why he looks ever so much like the picture I once saw of but no, that surely couldn’t be!’ I said, ‘Well, at any rate, mother, he must be a man of some consequence, for see brother Israel, who acts as if he knew him, is swinging his hat from his head clear away at arm’s length and bowing lower than he would to a king. Israel is quite too stiff-necked to do that for any common man. But they are beginning to talk. I will just open the door here a little mite and perhaps we can hear what they are saying.’ I did so, and the first words I distinguished were those of the personage, who had so attracted our attention and who was addressing my brother, and pointing to the horse by the side of which he was standing, asked, ‘Is not that the horse Colonel Warner used to ride in the war?’ ‘Ah, yes, I thought so,’ resumed the former, turning to his companion or attache, and pointing to the old war steed with that interest with which he was known ever to regard fine horses. ‘I thought it could be no other. Just glance at his leading points, finely shaped head, arched neck, deep chest, haunches and limbs. I have seen Colonel Warner riding him on parade, when I noted him as a rare animal and thought that the horse and rider, taken together, for Warner, a model of a figure and several inches taller than I am, made a military appearance second to none in the Continental Army. But my business is with your mother, my young friend, and I will now, if you will take charge of my horse a few minutes, go in and see her at once.’
“Hearing this announcement, mother and I hastily retreated to our former seats, and with the curiosity and excitement, which what we had witnessed naturally raised in us, silently awaited the entry of the expected visitor. We had been thus seated, but two or three minutes before he came in, and bowing graciously to my mother said, ‘I take this to be Mistress Warner, the widow of my most esteemed friend, the late Colonel Warner of the Continental Army?’ ‘It is, Sir,’ she replied tremulously. ‘Will you permit me to introduce myself to you, madam?” he resumed with that winning air of dignity I had noticed in him from the first. ‘I am General Washington, and after I arrived in this section of the country a few days ago, I hope you will pardon the liberty I took with your private affairs. I made some inquiries about you and the situation of your family when learning, to my deep regret, that your late husband, in consequence of his long, continued absence from his home and business, while in the service of his country, and his subsequent shattered health, resulting from the hardships of war, left you laboring under pecuniary embarrassments, I was prompted to come and see you.’ She replied, ‘I had little dreamed of such an honor and such a kindness, General,’ nearly overpowered by her emotions and the imposing presence of her august visitor. ‘There is a mortgage,’ he rejoined, without responding in any way to her last remarks, ‘a rather heavy mortgage on your homestead?’ ‘I am sorry,’ she replied sadly, ‘very sorry to be compelled to say there is, General, a much heavier one that I can ever pay.’ ‘So I had ascertained,’ he proceeded, ‘and I have also, before coming here, been at the pains of ascertaining the exact amount now due, and required to cancel this, to you doubtless, a ruinous encumbrance, and I propose now to leave with you the sum of money you will need for effecting that desirable object.’ ‘Does the money come from the government, Sir?’ she asked doubtfully, and with a look that seemed to say, if it does, then all right.
“Washington looked at her, hesitated a little at first, but soon, while taking up the valise he had brought in with him, slowly responded, ‘In one sense it does, I may say, madam, if you have delicacies on the subject. I am in receipt of a liberal salary from the government, from which it is discretionary with me to impart sometimes to deserving objectives, and I certainly know of none so than one which will relieve the family of so meritorious an officer as your late self-sacrificing husband.’ Without waiting for any rejoinder to these remarks, he opened his valise and took from a bag of silver money, and deliberately proceeded to draw out and count from it, till he had reached the sum of nine hundred and some odd dollars, which afterwards proved to be precisely the sum demanded in principal, interest, and fees for the discharge of the mortgage on our place.
“He then, after returning the money to the bags and setting it aside for the purpose he had designated, and taking the hand of my mother, who seemed inclined to remonstrate but could not force the words from her quivering lips, tenderly but with an air that seemed to forbid any attempt at refusal, said to her, ‘Accept it.' Don’t hesitate to accept it. Take it and get the mortgage discharged at once, and then all your immediately pressing anxieties will be relieved and soon you will find those brighter days the God of the widow has kept in store for you. And now, as my time is quite limited, it only remains for me to say, Heaven bless you, dear madam, heaven bless you. Farewell.’
‘I was present during the whole interview between General Washington and my mother, heard every word they both said and saw all the money counted down on the table and feel very confident that I have neither taken from nor added to anything that there took place. On leaving the house, Washington immediately mounted his horse and rode away, leaving us quite unable, for a while, to realize this unexpected visit and the still more unexpected benefaction.”
This reminiscence is widely believed, although it sounds too good to be true. Elmer Worthington, for one, disputes the son’s account. “Washington never came anywhere near here,” he says, “Stratford is the nearest place he came, after he became president.” But he also admits that, “Washington and Warner were friends. I believe that Washington sent Connecticut’s delegate to the continental congress William Samuel Johnson. I imagine probably a trooper came along with Johnson, and the kid, twelve years old, thought ‘Gee, this is Washington,’ because he had a uniform on.”
Seth Warner Jr. may have embellished on the story to substantiate his and his family’s petition for further compensation. It was not the first. Petitions on behalf of his family had been filed with congress by friends of the family as well as with William Samuel Johnson, Connecticut’s delegate, personally. Norman Hurlbut searched the journal of the Continental Congress for the years 1786 and 1789 a century and a half later, as well as William Samuel Johnson’s papers, but, “could find no reference to any action being taken on the petitions.” He died wondering how Congress could have ignored a petition signed by such prominent men as Vermont’s governor ‘Thomas Chittenden, and Warner’s comrade in arms Ethan Allen, the most famous of the Green Mountain Boys.
In 1858, about 75 years after he had been buried in one of Roxbury’s cemeteries, public interest was once more aroused about his role in the War of Independence, and the General Assembly voted $750 toward the construction of a monument on the condition that Roxbury raise $250 toward the same end. In the autumn of 1858 his remains were brought to the Green in the center of town, and by the spring of 1859 an obelisk of Quincy granite was erected. Col. Warner’s daughter Abigail, who had been nine years old when he died, then 84, was present at the reburial. The monument looks like a smaller version of the Washington monument and has since served as the spot where the town’s Memorial Service is held each year.
Worthington says the Warner’s house stood on River Road, but except for descendants on the distaff side, Roxbury saw the last of the ‘Baker clan’ in 1790. The differences of opinion between him and the Hurlbuts, as we shall see in another chapter, are not limited to whether Washington visited the Warner home, either.
Few of Roxbury’s
famous men have so captured the imagination of their contemporaries as
Brigadier General Ethan Allen. There are probably few American school
boys who could not quote his famous summons to the commander of Fort Ticonderoga:
“Surrender in the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.”
Ethan Allen was one of the most daring, and popular soldiers of early American history. Gifted by nature with the frame of a giant, he added to nature’s gift by developing a most excellent opinion of himself and a confidence in his ability to handle any problem that confronted him.
Seth Warner was nearly six feet, three inches, and it was said that when walking together, Ethan towered far above Seth, so it is likely that Ethan was six feet, six inches tall. A demonstration of his strength and agility was shown at the time of his surrender at Montreal, when he grasped an English officer and by whirling him about, used him as a shield until some attacking Indians were driven off. It is easy to understand his self-confidence. However, this same trait most certainly contributed to his defeat in the election at Dorset, when Seth Warner was chosen to command the Green Mountain Boys in place of Ethan.
Ethan’s father, Joseph Allen, was born October 14th, 1708, the son of Samuel Allen and his wife, Mercy Wright, and grandson of Nehemiah Allen, who moved from Windsor, Connecticut, with his mother, Ann Allen, widow of Samuel, to North Hampton, Massachusetts.
Mercy Wright was born in 1669, the second child of Judah Wright and Mercy Burt. Samuel and Mercy moved from place to place and finally to Coventry, Connecticut, where apparently Samuel died. About 1720 his widow moved to Litchfield, where she died, in 1728. Her son Daniel was named executor of the estate, while another son, Joseph was allotted one third of his mother’s estate. In 1732 he gave deed to his sister Lydia and in March 1733 a deed to one Paul Pack, Jr. These deeds were for a hundred acres each and by these Joseph conveyed all the real estate he had received from his mother except right to certain “wild lands” which he retained until 1742, when he sold to one Harrison.
Some time after 1733, when he had parted with the homestead and other real estate in Litchfield, he moved to Woodbury to the neighborhood of Shippauge Fort, where he became acquainted with Mary, the daughter of John Baker, a prominent resident of the new settlement. Joseph and Mary were married on March 11, 1736 by the Rev. Anthony Stoddard, the second minister of Woodbury.
About 1715 John Baker had moved from his cabin on Good Hill to Shippauge and built his small house near the fort, where he lived for fifteen years. Then in 1730 he built the larger house that still survives. Joseph and Mary then made their home in the vacant house until about 1740, when they moved to Cornwall, Connecticut. Ethan was born in Roxbury on January 10th, 1737.
Norman put all of these dates so succinctly because of an argument with Litchfield historians, who claim that Ethan was born there. The evidence, Norman says, is based on entries on the first page of volume one of the Litchfield Records, where it says: “Daniel Allen was married to Mary Grant, April 28, 1736 by ye Rev. Mr. Timothy Collen, Minister of the Gospel.
“Joseph Allen and Mary Baker were joined in marriage by ye Reverend Anthony Stoddard of Woodbury, March 11, 1736.
“Ethan Allen, ye son of Joseph Allen and Mary, his wife, was born January 10th, 1737.
“Elihu Allen, son of Daniel Allen and Mary, his wife, was born May 4, 1739.
“Mercy Allen, ye daughter of Daniel Allen and Mary, his wife, was born January 24th, 1737.”
The following pages carry entries dating back to 1723 and on to 1750:
Rev. Stoddard’s records in Woodbury contain the entry: “Joseph Allen and Mary Baker were joined together in marriage by ye Anthony Stoddard, March ye 11th, 1736.”
You will note that none of the entries mentioned where the event took place. In the record of Litchfield it shows only the date, his name, his parent’s names and the fact that they were legally married; and the same regarding the records of his brother Daniel. Apparently, these records were all entered the same day and covered a space of three years. Furthermore, the marriage record of Joseph and Mary is there. Now, if we are to assume that because the marriage is on the records of Litchfield, it is proof that it occurred there, then we are asked to believe that Mary, accompanied by her minister, and with her family and friends, journeyed on horseback some twenty miles through an almost unbroken wilderness to a frontier town for her wedding. Somewhat hard to believe. Far more likely is that the wedding took place in her father’s new house. If the record of the marriage is not proof of the place, then why does not the same course of reasoning apply to the birth of Ethan?
One can find the same kind of entries in the early records of Roxbury. A father would bring in the Registrar’s office the record of his family: John, born on such a date, Samuel on such a date, and so on. Nothing was said as to the place where the birth occurred, apparently they didn’t think it was important. In one instance an entire page is given to the record of one family. Do these records prove that all the events mentioned took place in Roxbury? By no means. Some of them may have happened before the family moved here. In one case of a family moving from Stratford to Woodbury the birth of the child is recorded in both Stratford and Woodbury. It is easy to understand the father’s action. Not knowing whether the births had been recorded in his place of former residence, he had them recorded wherever he was making his new home. But note the coincidence that Joseph and Mary were married in March, while Daniel and Mary were married in April. Both brides were named Mary. Joseph’s son Ethan was born on January 10th, Daniel’s daughter Mercy was born on January 24th. It is more than possible that the families wanted these coincidences a matter of record, regardless of where they took place.
Furthermore, Dr. William Allen, a noted author, historian and biographer, president of Bowdoin College from 1820 to 1839, and a member of the American Antiquarian Society, wrote in his American Biographical and Historical Dictionary: ‘Brigadier General Ethan Allen was born at Woodbury (Roxbury was then part of Woodbury) January 10th, 1737.’ Dr. Allen himself was born in 1784 and was five years old at the time of Ethan Allen’s death. Ethan was the fourth generation from Samuel Allen of Windsor and Northhampton, and Dr. Allen the fifth. It is more than probable that he knew from his own family where Ethan was born. In any event, a statement made by a historian of the prestige of Dr. Allen is not to be lightly thrust aside.
On September 25th, 1775, Ethan, in an unfortunate attempt to capture Montreal, was taken prisoner by the British and carried to England. After his release in 1778, he published a booklet giving an account of his experience as a prisoner of war. A reprint of the little volume is in my possession. The preface, not written by Ethan, states the following: “Ethan Allen, the author and subject of the following narrative was certainly one of the most noted and notable men of his time. Bold, ardent and unyielding, he possessed an unusual degree of vigor both of body and of mind, and an unlimited confidence in his own abilities. He was born in Roxbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut, on the 10th of January 1737. He married in Connecticut and migrated to Vermont about the year 1769, where he spent most of his later life.”
Also, the History of Ancient Litchfield County, published in 1881 by the J.W. Lewis and Co., Philadelphia, gives Roxbury as the place of his birth, as well as a publication called The Family Magazine in 1837. William Cothren in his History of Ancient Woodbury devotes a considerable space in support of his conviction that Roxbury was the place of Ethan’s birth. Can the statements in various publications be cast aside as of no moment? It is hardly possible. However, I believe that Ethan’s spirit, in whatsoever shades it may be wandering, would likely chuckle over the controversy over where he first entered this vale of sorrow, when all his life he was much more concerned as to where, when, and how he might have to leave it.
Joseph, soon after the birth of Ethan, removed to Cornwall, where his several children were born and where he died on April 14, 1755. Ethan spent much of his youth at his grandfather’s home in Roxbury, which was also the home of his cousin, Remember Baker, and not far away was the home of Remember’s cousin, Seth Warner. The three boys grew up on tales of military affairs. Grandfather Baker and Seth’s father and Grandfather Warner were prominent officers in the ‘train band,” somewhat similar to our militia of later days. Grandfather Baker’s home was but a stone’s throw from the fort on Sentry Hill. No doubt the boys spent many an hour listening to the soldiers. With the training from early boyhood in matters military, they were being fitted for the roles they were to play in the stirring times before and during the Revolution.
Remember, enlisting in the Northern Army at the age of eighteen, brought back tales of adventure and danger that helped to fan the imagination of Ethan and Seth. Remember was just half a dozen years older than Ethan and Seth. Ethan had settled in Cornwall, and in 1762, started in the iron business in Salisbury. In the same year he was married to Mary, the daughter of Cornelius Brownson, the miller. He was married by the Rev. Daniel Brinsmade, paying him four shillings.
In 1764, while a resident of Salisbury, he purchased a one-sixteenth interest in the mining rights of Mine Hill in Roxbury, but more exciting fields were calling. About 1772, leaving the scenes of his boyhood, he joined Remember and Seth in the new lands in the Green Mountains. Almost immediately he became, with Remember and Seth, an acknowledged leader of the settlers in their resistance to the New York authorities over land titles and they offered 50 pounds for his apprehension.
On one occasion, accepting a dare from his friends, Ethan mounted his horse and, riding to Albany, entered a tavern and called for a bowl of punch. After attending to the punch he placed his hands on his hips and announced to the company, “My name’s Allen, now who wants that reward?” Faced with such a giant the bystanders apparently decided discretion was the better part of valor and let him return to the hills of Vermont.
Soon after the outbreak of the Revolution pushed the differences with New York into the background, the plans for the capture of Ticonderoga were under way. About four o’clock on the morning of May 10, 1775, Col. Ethan Allen was delivering his famous order to commander de la Place to surrender. Allen continued in the lead in the activities of the war until the 24th of September, 1775, when he and thirty-eight of his men were captured in an ill-advised attack on Montreal. Ethan, in his narrative, tells of the incidents of his surrender. It seems that the plan agreed upon was that Major Brown was to lead a force around the rear of the town, and when they reached their position to give three loud huzzas, which were to be answered by Allen’s men, so serving notice that the attack was to begin. Through some mistake Brown’s men failed to give the signal and Allen’s men were forced to withstand the attack of the entire English garrison as their retreat was cut off by the river. Allen’s men numbered only about one hundred and ten, while the English forces were as high as five hundred. Meanwhile, Allen had ordered two detachments to guard his flanks. Both grasped the opportunity to make good their own escape, leaving Allen with about forty men to cope with five hundred. Faced with such odds Allen at last agreed to surrender, “Provided I could be treated with honor.” How this promise was kept Allen tells later.
A half minute after he had given his sword, a naked, painted savage came running and at a dozen feet or so drew his firelock at him. Immediately, Allen grasped the officer to whom he had delivered his sword and, whirling him about, kept him as a shield, until a second savage joined in the attack, forcing Allen’s shield to move so swiftly as almost to leave the ground. At this stage of the game, an Irishman came to Allen’s defense with a fixed bayonet and swearing, “By Jesus, I will kill the Devil.”
Allen was treated with decent courtesy until he came before General Prescott, who enquired if he was the Allen who took Ticonderoga. Allen replied that he was the very man, at which General Prescott flew into a rage, shaking his cane over Allen’s head and calling him hard names. Allen warned him not to cane him and shaking his huge fists in Prescott’s face, assured him, if he made the attempt, it would be his last act.
Prescott then ordered Allen taken on board a schooner of war lying before Montreal and had both his wrists and legs shackled with chains. The handcuffs were of usual size, but Allen says that the leg irons would weigh thirty pounds. They were fastened to an iron bar eight feet long in such a way that he could lie down only on his back. He was placed in the lowest part of the vessel and given a wooden chest to sit on and use for bed at night.
In this manner he was confined under chains and insults on board this boat for six weeks. In one instance, after being goaded to fury by the insults, he twisted a nail out of his handcuffs with his teeth and heard one of his guards say, ‘Why, damn him. Does he eat iron?’ After that they fastened the cuffs with a small padlock. To help cheer his spirits he was frequently taunted with the remark that the sole purpose of being carried to England was that he might, “grace a halter at Tyburn.” Allen and his men to the number of thirty-four were forced into a small room lined with white oak plank and measuring possibly twenty by twenty-two feet. Later, two more were added, and in this filthy enclosure they were confined for forty days, until the boat landed at Falmouth.
The populace had heard of the rebel who had dared to attack the King’s fortress was coming, and they gathered in such numbers that the guards were obliged to force their way through the mob with drawn swords. Ethan says the housetops and rising ground were lined with people as the prisoners were marched to Pendennis Castle for, ‘to see a gentleman in England regularly dressed and well behaved would be no sight at all, but such a rebel, as they were pleased to call me, it is probable, was never before seen in England.’ It must have been a sensation for those Britishers to glimpse this giant from the forests of America, dressed in a fawn-skin jacket with underdress and breeches of sagatha (a woolen material similar to broadcloth), worsted stocking and worsted cap.
During his confinement at the Castle he was visited by many of the curious, some gentlemen saying they had come fifty miles to see him. Most of the visitors expressed their opinion that he was to be hanged sooner or later which, of course, did not add to his peace of mind. About the first of January, contrary to the expectations of his captors, Allen and his men were placed on board ship for the return to America as prisoners of war, and on the third of May cast anchor in the harbor of Cape Fear, in North Carolina. Soon after, the prisoners were transferred to the frigate Mercury, and on May 2th, set sail for Halifax. The frigate came to anchor on the Hook of New York, where she remained for three days. Here the boat was visited by Gov. Tryon and Mr. Kemp, the Tories from Albany, Allen’s old enemies. They held no conversation with Allen, but he noticed that after his visitors departed their treatment by the officers was more severe. The boat again took off for Halifax, where they arrived about the middle of June. Not long after, the prisoners were again transferred to New York, arriving there late in October. Here Allen was placed on parole and allowed the limits of New York City. His constitution, which had been almost worn out by his barbarous treatment during his long confinement, now began to mend, and in six months, he nearly regained his usual health.
During his parole in New York, he was called to the residence of an English officer and told that his faithfulness, though in a wrong cause, had recommended him to General Howe, who had promised him a prominent position in the English army in return for his allegiance and when the war was over, large grants of land to be confiscated from the Rebels. ‘I replied that if by faithfulness I had recommended myself to General Howe, I should be loth by unfaithfulness to lose the General’s good opinion. Besides, I viewed the offer of land not unlike that of the devil to Jesus Christ, to give him all the kingdoms of the world, if he would fall down and worship him, when all the time the old devil didn’t own a foot of ground on earth.’ This ended the conversation and he was sent back to the post as incorrigible.
Ethan was finally exchanged on May 3, 1778, for a Col. Campbell, after having been confined to the provost-jail in New York since the 26th of August. He was taken out under guard and conducted to the quarters of General Campbell, “where I was admitted to eat and drink with the General and several other British officers and treated in a polite manner.” The next day, Col. Campbell arrived, conducted by Elias Boudinot, (later president of the Continental Congress). “Col. Campbell saluted me in a handsome manner saying he was never more glad to see a gentleman in his life. I gave him to understand that I was equally glad to see him.” One can well understand Allen’s pleasure at meeting his exchange, after three years of insult and abuse.
“At Valley Forge I was courteously received by Gen. Washington and was introduced to most of the generals, who treated me with respect. I took my leave of his Excellency and set out with General Gates and his suite for Fishkill, where we arrived the latter end of May. I then bid farewell to my noble general and set out for Bennington, where I arrived to their great surprise, for I was to them as one arose from the dead.” Cannon were fired and friends gathered round with every expression of joy. Their idol was back. Next day, Colonel Herrick ordered fourteen discharges of cannon, thirteen for the United States and one for young Vermont.
As soon as his exchange had been effected, Congress appointed Allen a Colonel in the Continental Army, although it is not certain he ever entered into actual service. Shortly after his return to Vermont, he was appointed a General and commander of the militia of the state. At the next election he was chosen as Representative in the Assembly.
On his retirement from military affairs he engaged in frontier farming and in writing his conclusions on various religious subjects. His “Conclusions” in these subjects scandalized the strict orthodox clergy of his day, some of whom referred to him as that “awful infidel.” But in my study of Allen, I believe he was not so much an infidel, but an agnostic, a searcher after truth, and one who could not accept the dogmatic teaching of the clergy of his time.
The year 1789 had been very unfavorable for farm operations. Late in the winter, Ethan’s supply of hay became nearly exhausted. His brother offered him a load, and he, with a negro driver, came across the river with his oxcart and was to spend the night. By evening the news that Ethan was come had been noised about, and old cronies began to arrive at the Allen home. Stories of old days and memories of the war were told and retold with, of course, the rounds of drinks to quicken their memories. Late that night the old warriors withdrew and quiet reigned for a time, but in the morning Ethan was astir and he and his driver started for home. Not far on their journey, the driver noticed that Ethan was in a bad way. He whipped up his team, but it was late in the afternoon when they reached home. Late that night, February 12, 1789, Ethan Allen’s stormy life came to its end.
The one thing prominent in the life of Ethan Allen was his almost unlimited confidence in his ability to cope with whatever difficulty confronted him. Little can be added to the eulogy written by the historian, Jared Sparks, an early president of Harvard College: “There is much to admire in the character of Ethan Allen. He was brave, generous and frank, true to his country, consistent and unyielding in his purpose, seeking at all times to promote the best good of mankind, a lover of social harmony, and a determined foe to the artifices of injustice and the encroachments of power. Few have suffered more in the cause of freedom. Few have borne their sufferings with a firmer constancy or a loftier spirit. His enemies never had cause to question his magnanimity, or his friends regret confidence or expectations disappointed. He was kind, benevolent, and placable.”
In short here was a man, whom Roxbury may well be proud to say: “He was born here.”
Ethan could never be browbeaten. On one occasion, when as a prisoner of war, he was walking the deck, an (sic) officer accosted him, “Sir, don’t you know that this deck is for gentlemen only?” His reply: “By God, I do, Sir. That’s why I’m here.” One of the earlier stories is to the effect that certain of his friends thought to throw a scare, and donning white sheets, hid under a bridge, waiting for Ethan to pass by. On their appearance Ethan halts and accosts the ghosts, “Well, if you’re angels of light, I’m happy to meet you, and if devils, come home with me, I married your sister.”
In the Historical Museum at Montpelier, Vermont, there is a brick from the roof of the cell, where he was confined as a prisoner of war by the British, his wooden canteen, snuff box, and his gun. In memory of him there is a park at Burlington, Vermont, a military post, and also the Ethan Allen Highway.”
But Norman Hurlbut was not averse to searching for deeper truths in history, and concluded his chapter on the Green Mountain Boys and Ethan Allen with the following reflection: “Before we take leave of Ethan, let us ponder a moment the vagaries of fate. Earlier in the chapter, I referred to the ill-advised attack on Montreal, but just a moment. Careltone, believing he was threatened by a considerable force, was on the point of abandoning the town, when word reached him of the weakness of the enemy, and he prepared for battle. Now, had Major Brown fulfilled his part of the strategy, it is quite likely that their combined forces would have taken the town. Then they could have heard the plaudits winging through the colonies: ‘The great Ethan Allen, the hero of Ticonderoga, has added to his laurels by the capture of the stronghold of Montreal.’ What a hero he would have become. But fate was looking the other way, and Ethan was a prisoner of war and his participation in the war was over.
“Again let us suppose that on that May morning at Ticonderoga, Commander de la Place had been warned of Allen’s approach and had prepared a reception for him. As Allen and Arnold came through that sallyport, instead of being challenged by a single sentry, they would have faced the guns of an alert garrison, and the first volley would have killed both Allen and Arnold as well as many of the men while the survivors would never have been able to escape by the boats. Allen would have been branded as a hare-brained enthusiast, who thought he could with a few men at his back take possession of the king’s fortress of Ticonderoga. But this time fortune or fate, whichever one wishes to call it, smiled, and Ethan Allen became one of America’s heroes.”