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“in The Name Of The Great Jehovah And The Continental Congress!”
So bellowed Ethan Allen as he took Fort Ticonderoga without a shot. Once again the brawling giant of the Green Mountains had lived up to a myth that was indeed mighty—but no greater, perhaps, than the actual man
October 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 6
Consistent with the view of Ethan as an “awful Infidel, one of ye wickedest men yt ever walked this guilty globe” (so said one Reverend Nathan Perkins, who looked upon Allen’s grave with “pious horror”), was the widely told and evidently true story of Ethan’s second marriage. His first wife having died in Sunderland in 1783 while Ethan, typically, was not at home, he was available and vulnerable to the very real charms of a young widow named Fanny Montresor Buchanan, whom he met early in 1784. She was the stepdaughter of a notorious Tory named Crean Bush, who had committed suicide in disgrace in 1778, and the widow of a British officer killed in an early action of the Revolution. She was as widely different in all respects from poor Mary Allen as one woman may be from another.
She was beautiful, imperious, vivacious, and impious. When Allen first met her and promptly let it be known that he desired her, she was told by someone that if she married him she would “be queen of a new state.” “Yes,” she replied, “and if I married the Devil I would be queen of hell.” But marry him she did, after a scandalously brief courtship. The ceremony was performed by Judge Moses Robinson, chief justice of the Republic of Vermont, and was shockingly interrupted by Ethan when the Judge asked him if he promised “to live with Fanny Buchanan agreeable to the laws of God.” Allen refused to answer until the Judge agreed that the God referred to was the God of Nature, and the laws those “written in the great book of Nature.” He then made the necessary promise and left for Sunderland with his bride a few minutes later.
A daughter and son were soon born to them, the latter in 1787 shortly after they had moved (retired, as Ethan put it) to a farm near Burlington.
It was on this farm, two years later, during one of the hardest winters in all Vermont history, that he died. The manner of his departure was of a piece with the manner of his living. He had driven with his Negro hired hand across the thick ice of Lake Champlain to South Hero Island, to borrow a load of hay from his cousin Ebenezer Allen. Ebenezer had sent out word that Ethan was coming, so there was soon assembled a large party abundantly supplied with Stonewalls and punch and flip—many of them old Green Mountain Boys—for a carouse that lasted most of the night. Shortly after daylight—and after a final stiff drink—Ethan was deposited atop the sled-load of hay and there he lay in seeming peace as the Negro drove the team homeward. On the way he suffered what the newspapers of the time called an “epileptic fit.” A few hours later, on February 12, 1789, he was dead.
When news of the event reached New Haven, the Reverend Doctor Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, known as an “inveterate chronicler” of things which might interest posterity, noted in his diary: “General Ethan Allen of Vermont died and went to Hell this day.”
Ethan himself, without undue seriousness, had anticipated a different otherworldly fate. He was fond of telling about a dream he had had in which he was among several men standing in line at heaven’s gate. One by one the men were questioned by the gate-keeper; then each of those admitted was asked to sit in a specifically designated seat inside, there to await further disposition. Not so Ethan Allen. The gate-keeper looked at him sharply when he gave his name.
“You’re the man who took Ticonderoga?” the gate-keeper asked.
“The very same.”
The gatekeeper’s stern visage broke into a warm smile.
“Come in,” said he. “Come in, Ethan! Sit down wherever you please!”