Gateway to the Classics: Historical Tales, Vol I: American by Charles Morris
Historical Tales, Vol I: American by  Charles Morris

The Green Mountain Boys

Down from the green hills of Vermont came in all haste a company of hardy mountaineers, at their head a large-framed, strong-limbed, keen-eyed frontiersman, all dressed in the homespun of their native hills, but all with rifles in their hands, a weapon which none in the land knew better how to use. The tidings of stirring events at Boston, spreading rapidly through New England, had reached their ears. The people of America had been attacked by English troops, blood had been shed at Lexington and Concord, war was begun, a struggle for independence was at hand. Everywhere the colonists, fiery with indignation, were seizing their arms and preparing to fight for their rights. The tocsin had rung. It was time for all patriots to be up and alert.

On the divide between Lakes George and Champlain stood a famous fort, time-honored old Ticonderoga, which had played so prominent a part in the French and Indian War. It was feebly garrisoned by English troops, and was well supplied with munitions of war. These munitions were, just then, of more importance than men to the patriot cause. The instant the news of Lexington reached the ears of the mountaineers of Vermont, axes were dropped, ploughs abandoned, rifles seized, and "Ticonderoga" was the cry. Ethan Allen, a leader in the struggle which had for several years been maintained between the settlers of that region and the colony of New York, and a man of vigor and decision, lost no time in calling his neighbors to arms, and the Green Mountain boys were quickly in the field.


Ethan Allen's Entrance, Ticonderoga.

Prompt as they had been, they were none too soon. Others of the patriots had their eyes on the same tempting prize. Other leaders were eagerly preparing to obtain commissions and raise men for the expedition. One of the first of these was Benedict Arnold, who had been made colonel for the purpose by the governor of Massachusetts, and hastened to the western part of the colony to raise men and take command of the enterprise.

He found men ready for the work, Green Mountain men, with the stalwart Ethan Allen at their head, but men by no means disposed to put themselves under any other commander than the sturdy leader of their choice.

Only a year or two before Allen, as their colonel, had led these hardy mountaineers against the settlers from New York who had attempted to seize their claims, and driven out the interlopers at sword's point. The courts at Albany had decided that the Green Mountain region was part of the colony of New York. Against this decision Allen had stirred the settlers to armed resistance, thundering out against the fulminations of the lawyers the opposite quotation from Scripture, "The Lord is the God of the hills, but He is not the God of the valleys," and rousing the men of the hills to fight what he affirmed to be God's battle for the right. In 1774, Governor Tryon, of New York, offered a reward of one hundred and fifty pounds for the capture of Allen. The insurgent mountaineers retorted by offering an equal reward for the capture of Governor Tryon. Neither reward had been earned, a year more had elapsed, and Ethan Allen, at the head of his Green Mountain boys, was in motion in a greater cause, to defend, not Vermont against New York, but America against England.

But, before proceeding, we must go back and bring up events to the point we have reached. The means for the expedition of the Green Mountain boys came from Connecticut, whence a sum of three hundred pounds had been sent in the hands of trusty agents to Allen and his followers. They were found to be more than ready, and the Connecticut agents started in advance towards the fort, leaving the armed band to follow. One of them, Noah Phelps by name, volunteered to enter the fort and obtain exact information as to its condition. He disguised himself and entered the fort as a countryman, pretending that he wanted to be shaved. While hunting for the barber he kept his eyes open and used his tongue freely, asking questions like an innocent rustic, until he had learned the exact condition of affairs, and came out with a clean face and a full mind.

Allen was now rapidly approaching, and, lest news of his movement should reach the fort, men were sent out on all the roads leading thither, to intercept passers. On the 8th of May all was ready. Allen, with one hundred and forty men, was to go to the lake by way of Shoreham, opposite the fort. Thirty men, under Captain Herrick, were to advance to Skenesborough, capture Major Skene, seize boats, and drop down the lake to join Allen.

All was in readiness for the completion of the work, when an officer, attended by a single servant, came suddenly from the woods and hurried to the camp. It was Benedict Arnold, who had heard of what was afoot, and had hastened forward to claim command of the mountaineers.

It was near nightfall. The advance party of Allen's men was at Hand's Cove, on the eastern side of the lake, preparing to cross. Arnold joined them and crossed with them, but on reaching the other side of the lake claimed the command. Allen angrily refused. The debate waxed hot; Arnold had the commission; Allen had the men: the best of the situation lay with the latter. He was about to settle the difficulty by ordering Arnold under guard, when one of his friends, fearing danger to the enterprise from the controversy, suggested that the two men should march side by side. This compromise was accepted and the dispute ended.

By this time day was about to break. Eighty-three men had landed, and the boats had returned for the rest. But there was evidently no time to lose if the fort was to be surprised. They must move at once, without waiting for the remainder of the party. A farmer's boy of the vicinity, who was familiar with the fort, offered to act as guide, and in a few minutes more the advance was begun, the two leaders at the head, Allen in command, Arnold as a volunteer.

The stockade was reached. A wicket stood open. Through this Allen charged followed by his men. A sentry posted there took aim, but his piece missed fire, and he ran back shouting the alarm. At his heels came the two leaders, at full speed, their men crowding after, till, before a man of the garrison appeared, the fort was fairly won.

Allen at once arranged his men so as to face each of the barracks. It was so early that most of those within were still asleep, and the fort was captured without the commander becoming aware that any thing unusual was going on. His whole command was less than fifty men, and resistance would have been useless with double their number of stalwart mountaineers on the parade-ground.

Allen forced one of the sentries who had been captured to show him the way to the quarters of Captain Delaplace, the commander. Reaching the chamber of the latter, the militia leader called on him in a stentorian voice to surrender. Delaplace sprang out of bed, and, half dressed, appeared with an alarmed and surprised face at the door.

"By whose authority?" he demanded, not yet alive to the situation.

"In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!" roared out the Green Mountaineer.

Here was a demand which backed as it was by a drawn sword and the sound of shouts of triumph outside, it would have been madness to resist. The fort was surrendered with scarcely a shot fired or a blow exchanged, and its large stores of cannon and ammunition, then sorely needed by the colonists besieging Boston, fell into American hands. The stores and military material captured included a hundred and twenty pieces of cannon, with a considerable number of small arms and other munitions of high value to the patriot cause.

While these events were taking place, Colonel Seth Warner was bringing the rear-guard across the lake, and was immediately sent with a hundred men to take possession of the fort at Crown Point, in which were only a sergeant and twelve men. This was done without difficulty, and a hundred more cannon captured.

The dispute between Arnold and Allen was now renewed, Massachusetts supporting the one, Connecticut the other. While it was being settled, the two joined in an expedition together, with the purpose of gaining full possession of Lake Champlain, and seizing the town of St. Johns, at its head. This failed, reinforcements having been sent from Montreal, and the adventurers returned to Ticonderoga, contenting themselves for the time being with their signal success in that quarter, and the fame on which they counted from their daring exploit.

The after-career of Ethan Allen was an interesting one, and worthy of being briefly sketched. Having taken Ticonderoga, he grew warm with the desire to take Canada, and, on September 25, 1775, made a rash assault on Montreal with an inadequate body of men. The support he hoped for was not forthcoming, and he and his little band were taken, Allen, soon after, being sent in chains to England.

Here he attracted much attention, his striking form, his ardent patriotism, his defiance of the English, even in captivity, and certain eccentricities of his manner and character interesting some and angering others of those with whom he had intercourse.

Afterwards he was sent back to America and held prisoner at Halifax and New York, in jails and prison-ships, being most of the time harshly treated and kept heavily ironed. He was released in 1778.

A fellow-prisoner, Alexander Graydon, has left in his memoirs a sketch of Allen, which gives us an excellent idea of the man. "His figure was that of a robust, large-framed man worn down by confinement and hard fare. . . . His style was a singular compound of local barbarisms, scriptural phrases, and Oriental wildness. . . . Notwithstanding that Allen might have had something of the insubordinate, lawless, frontier spirit in his composition, he appeared to me to be a man of generosity and honor."

Among the eccentricities of the man was a disbelief in Christianity,—much more of an anomaly in that day than at present,—and a belief in the transmigration of souls, it being one of his fancies that, after death, his spiritual part was to return to this world in the form of a large white horse.

On his release he did not join the army. Vermont had declared itself an independent State in 1777, and sought admittance to the Confederation. This New York opposed. Allen took up the cause, visited Congress on the subject, but found its members not inclined to offend the powerful State of New York. There was danger of civil war in the midst of the war for independence, and the English leaders, seeing the state of affairs, tried to persuade Allen and the other Green Mountain leaders to declare for the authority of the king. They evidently did not know Ethan Allen. He was far too sound a patriot to entertain for a moment such a thought. The letters received by him he sent in 1782 to Congress, and when the war ended Vermont was a part of the Union, though not admitted as a State till 1791. Allen was then dead, having been carried away suddenly by apoplexy in 1789.

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