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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
He had a distaste amounting to loathing for all that was devious, dishonest, and underhanded in personal relationships. On one occasion a note for $150 which he had signed fell due at a time when he could not conveniently pay it. He asked for an extension, but was refused. The matter was taken into court, where Allen’s lawyer sought to gain the needed time by denying that the signature on the note was genuine. Allen, sitting in a far corner of the room, listened in astonishment, then sprang to his feet and cried to his lawyer: “I didn’t hire you to come here and lie! That’s a true note. I signed it. I’ll pay it. … What I employed you for was to get this business put over to the next court—not come here and lie and juggle about it!” The postponement was granted. …
And indeed as he slept into the dark morning hours of May 2, 1775, he had just given a further proof that selfish economic motives were subordinate in him to other, disinterested ones. When the news from Lexington and Concord first reached the Grants, many who lived there were in a quandary. They had by that time reason to believe that the Crown was on their side in the quarrel with New York and would ultimately uphold their land claims if the colonies remained colonial. The Crown would certainly do so if, at this critical juncture, they declared their loyalty to it. On the other hand, if they declared for independence and Britain won the war that must follow, New York’s claims would as certainly be upheld. Hence there was at once an anxious policy meeting at Bennington—first gathered in Landlord Fay’s Catamount taproom, no doubt, but soon adjourned to the meetinghouse—attended by the leaders of the Green Mountain Boys, the Council of Safety, and other principal inhabitants. At this meeting, some urged the economic advantages of adhering to the Crown. Others counselled a policy of wait-and-see. Both of these groups had in mind and doubtless stressed, some of them on the basis of bitter experience, the vulnerability of the Grants to attacks by British troops with Indian allies coming down Lake Champlain from Canada.
But Ethan Allen scorned such prudent considerations. Since “futurity,” as he called it, was “unfathomable,” such decisions as faced them now must be made in terms of right versus wrong, of freedom versus tyranny. He called for bold, forthright action on the side of colonial independence—and the majority was with him. …
Soon after daylight on May 2, 1775, Heman Allen dismounted from a winded horse in the yard of the Catamount, having ridden hard through the night from Pittsfield. He brought exciting news, and just the news that brother Ethan wanted most to hear.
The Revolutionary Committee of Correspondence in Hartford, which Allen had asked for help, wanted Ticonderoga taken at once . To finance the expedition £300 had been drawn from the Connecticut Colony treasury; Noah Phelps and Bernard Romans were on their way with it, using part of it to obtain men and supplies as they proceeded. Connecticut men had been and were being recruited, and so were men from Massachusetts; they would arrive in Bennington within a day or two to join with the Green Mountain Boys. A couple of representatives were being dispatched to Albany to consult with the leading independence man there, Dr. Joseph Young, and “ascertain” from him “the temper of the people.” It was assumed that Ethan Allen, colonel commandant of the Green Mountain Boys, would lead the expedition.
Fourteen Connecticut men, including Phelps and Romans with the money, and Ethan’s brother Levi, arrived in Bennington on Wednesday, May 3; they were led by Captain Edward Mott of Hartford. On the following day Colonel James Easton of Pittsfield arrived with thirty-nine men he had raised. Meanwhile Ethan had sent out calls to his Boys, asking them to assemble at Shoreham, near the southeastern end of Champlain and almost directly opposite Ticonderoga; they were to take all necessary precautions on the way to insure that word of the impending action did not reach the enemy. Anyone found on the road leading from Ticonderoga was to be seized and interrogated by Green Mountain Boys; anyone found moving toward Ticonderoga was to be forced to turn back.
On Monday morning, May 8, Ethan and the others arrived at Castleton, some twenty miles south of the final rendezvous point, Hand’s Cove in Shoreham. The nerve center for the enterprise became, for the moment, Richard Bentley’s house, where the leaders met to give the expedition, for the first time, a definite if loose organization. A war committee was established for overall planning and direction of the enterprise. Captain Mott was elected chairman. Ethan Allen was named to command the actual assault. This was in accordance with the promise to the Mountain Boys that they would serve under officers of their choice; Ethan was always their unanimous choice. Seth Warner, habitually Ethan’s second-in-command, was continued in that post.
From Castleton, Ethan dispatched a messenger to tell all the Boys he could find in the countryside to assemble at the Cove at the earliest possible moment for an impending great “wolf hunt.” This messenger was one Gershom Beach, a blacksmith whose name might now eclipse Paul Revere’s if Longfellow had been a Vermonter—for Beach, according to the generally accepted story, travelled on foot from Castleton through Rutland, Pittsford, Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury, Middlebury, and Whitting to Shoreham, a total of some sixty miles, in just twenty-four hours!