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tv   [untitled]    June 23, 2012 12:00pm-12:30pm EDT

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popular american history writers of the past decade and airs on american history tv every weekend at this time. next willard sternerrandal ethan allen, best remembered for his 1777 attack. he's the author of "ethan allen." his life and times. it took place in prose bookstore in washington, d.c. >> thank you for coming. >> i'm a bookseller at politics an prose. i'm proud to welcome willard sterne for ethan allen. he's remembered for his attack on fort tie conned rogua in 1775 and his time spent in england and by chronicling it from a
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precocious adolescent to the paramilitary force on the eve of the revolution mr. randall has gone beyond the mix, rendering an accurate portrait of one of the least examined patriots. he's the author of numerous books including bog raves of thomas jefferson and george washington. he's been nominated six times for the pulitzer prize and a newly happily retired history professor from sham plain college. please help me in welcoming him to politics and prose. >> thank you very much. thank you for coming out. tonight in the thunder and lightning. my point of departure is right from the introduction. if we know anything about ethan allen, usually it's only that he took fort ticonderoga wherever
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that is and however you spell it and they're joined by some mystical cord, but we know little else about him and that is why i wrote this book. i lived for over 25 years in vermont. aware he's become a mythical figure and part of what i've had to do is peel away the layers of athology and find out what the real ethan allen was like. to vermonters, he's part paul bunyan, part davey crocket and two part jack daniels. as soon as i said i was writing about ethan allen i saw a gesture i had never seen before, oh, ethan allen. ethan allen and that seems to be the part that vermonters are proudest of. they know little beyond that, even in schools. ethan allen, among other things,
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i found, to start out with a little summary. in addition to take the most formidable fort in british america with only 89 men and without firing a shot, he was the first published american diest philosopher. he organized 29 communities to defend the new hampshire grants as they were called. it still wasn't a vermont against the competing claims of new york and preserving the homesteads until the revolution came along for 40 years. he was a prolific author. i was surprised at how much he wrote, but he was better known as land speculator and the two things connected because ethan allen bought and sold land, bought it as cheaply as he could
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and sold it in small parcels for hundreds and hundreds of frontier families and if he didn't have money on hand he sold you a pamphlet. so either got a few acres or part of the showing. he really is the founding father of vermont because without him, new york could not have been held at bay and neither could have the british by one means or another and he's also the reason why we have a prisoner of war policy stretching down to the present time that we do and i'll explain that more because the case of ethan allen prisoner of war and set the precedent for warring governments in the civil war so he had quite an impact and yet we know little of this. he wrote a narrative of his own
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captivity that went through eight additions in two years and reenlivened the revolution by making it clear to the patriots that the real enemy was the loyalists more than the british forces. and that memoir he wrote about his captivity went through 60 printings before the civil war and it's still in print. there are very few other works that have lasted that well. how did he come about? this robinhood who is also characterized, depending where you are. if you're in new york he was a squatter and land grabber. if you're in vermont, new hampshire or new england, he's robinhood. he's a little bit of both. he was born in litchfield, connecticut, in 1738 when it was the frontier. hard to imagine if you go to the berkshires today. one of eight children, the town
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had been in part, founded by his grandmother mercy allen who took over when her husband didn't have quite the verve to keep the farm going. he was born to perfect parents for the times, joseph and mary, and their children had biblical names and you can actually trace the changes in the religious views of people on the frontier by going through the names of children and ethan means strong in hebrew and the first of the six children have old testament names. the last two after the family back slid into anglicanism one of them, the name is lidia. so he was born on the frontier, but not in a hut or a shack, in a solid home in litchfield and he might have stayed there and may never have gone to vermont
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except for something called the great awakening which is the seed time of the american revolution. it was the first time large numbers of people turned out for mass meetings to hear someone speak. until then, they got enough of speaking in three-hour sermons in the pure tan meeting houses, but in the 1730s and '40s, missionaries came from england, anglicans from the holy club eventually -- i mean, originally, of oxford university, george whitfield and the wesley brothers and every year they preached down the length of the british colonies from newport, rhode island, to savannah, and the crowds were enormous for the times. benjamin franklin was the first to notify how large the crowds were when whitfield came through philadelphia. franklin invented away the crowd and it was a good one. he walked around the edges and then he figured out how many --
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he calculated how many square feet the average person took up and he came to the conclusion that there were 25,000 people in the audience. without a microphone george whitfield could reach all of them. he traveled along with two horses, one for himself and one for his portable pulpit from town to town. wherever he went, young people, poor people who had never felt at home in the pure tan meeting houses turned out and so the great awakening produced a schism in new england and 300 new separatist churches which was too much for ethan allen's father joseph. he was born a proud pure tan. they called themselves saints, upper case "s" much as evangelicals still do today. rather than stay in litchfield and be part of the great awak awakeni awakening, he led 19 families into the wilderness of northwestern connecticut, which seems like a funny thing to say,
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the wilderness, but in a valley he started the new town called corn wall. he was everything the town moderator, the selectman, the tax assessor, the tax collector, the grieve all of those jobs until enough people came along. the problem for ethan allen was you didn't build a school in a new community until there were 50 families. why that number? we have this old saying at least when i was growing up, we were told an idle mind is the devil's work shop. in fact, massachusetts had passed a law in 1648 called the old sanctum law, so whenever the community reached a population of 50 families they had to build a school house. ethan allen was born too soon. his younger brother ira and his youngest brother got to go to primary school. ethan allen never went to a formal school. what he learned in cornwall from his father was how you start a
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community. from the ground up, literally and from the ground down because people moved on to the frontier, the first year they had to clear enough land to plant two acres, that was the formula. one acre to plant wheat for bread. one acre for corn for the livestock. for the most valuable thing they had was the livestock and they built a cabin always the same working in teams of people and the logs of the same diameter and length dove tailed. one and a half story cabin, at first. a loft for the people in the winter and downstairs for the livestock who brought them into the house who had no problem with enough heat. by the second year you attached a shed or built a separate barn. that's how a community grew, slowly, but in the same way. we have an idea of frontiers people going off on their own. it's not true. we have a communal frontier.
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communities moved and that would be the pattern all across the country. the other thing that became a pattern across the country was what they did to the landscape when they settled into a community. basically, they cut down the hardwoods. there was a hardwood forest from cape reton highlands of nova scotia to minnesota when the first americans, immigrants arrived and that would be eventually flattened, cut down and why? were they just terrible people trying to destroy their environment? no. they had no money, and if you cut down one water elm, a very tall water elm and trimmed off the top growth and the side branches and twigs and all of that and burnt it, you could produce potash which you then leeched down until you formed a rock crystal, like a big rock candy and those crystals, those
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rock crystals of potash could then be sold for cash to the english who needed it at the start of the industrial revolution for fix tiffs in the textile industry. the formula i have found is one large elm tree produced enough cash to buy two acres of land. so the frontier people would cut down enough timber to buy a little more land and then cut down more timber to buy a little more land. you get the picture. they used the trunks of the trees for fencing, to build houses, and eventually to build shifts and graphs, et cetera. so this was the pattern. so people with almost no money could have a down payment and expand and expand as their families expanded because many of the families had eight to ten children and their problem was they all survived. so ethan allen grew up learning from his father how to start a
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community and learning how to hunt, as well. there were mohawk indians still in the area so he learned to live indian style, how to hunt indian style and he turned into a robust and very outgoing young man. he was over 6 feet tall at a time when the average american male was about 5'6". how do we know the size? when the french were in the revolution and sent over the uniforms they sent the right sizes so we could see the size of the average american. ethan allen was taller from hard farm work which i did for a few years as a young fellow and he carried a lot of weight and it was legendary, it became the myth of ethan allen that he could take 100 pound sack of corn and slinged it over the shoulder. i know what 50 pounds feels
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like, never 100, but he grew up on a farm and when he was 16 his father decided that he needed a better education than he could get learning how to read and write and do some from his mother because women did the education while men did the farmwork and the hunting. women were literate and even though we may not have evidence of much of it, pure tan women were trained to keep records of their spiritual feelings and diaries and they made sure their children knew the bible inside and out. so for more education than that, ethan's father took him to salisbury, connecticut, to the private school of the reverend arthur lee who was a great awakening preacher, but like most of the clergy at that time had to support themeses by taking in boarding student, four or five, six or eight and at a
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time living in the house for with them. for months, ethan allen studied the classics, learning some greek, latin, french, algebra, geography, some literature, for nine months before the news came that his father had dropped dead from all of the hard work at age of 50. so ethan allen's education, and he was being prepared to go to divinity school in yale which turned out to be pretty ironic later on, but he came home and took over the family and helped his mother raise the other seven children and run the farm and pay off all his father's debt because his father was speculating in land which was the addiction of early americans. if you couldn't clear enough land, maybe somewhere else you could have even more. so we raised his younger brothers and he was a bit of a bully to him, there's evidence of this. he was a tough big brother, and he stayed at home until age 26.
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he only left twice briefly to join militia trying to reinforce the english during the french and indian wars. he saw no combat, but he saw vermont for the first time crossing over the mountains through the valley of vermont. at age 26 he married and which was average for an american male and he married a woman six years older than he was. it was not a flaming romance, it was just that he carried the corn and sacks to her father's home and it took all day to get the milling done so she'd fix him something to eat and they got to know each other pretty well and he spent a little more time before he went home as the years went by, a very slow courtship. everybody knew that she was ethan allen's girl. nobody else apparently dated her
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and he didn't date anybody else in corn wall because they were all relatives. there wasn't much of a selection, but he did marry at age 26 and moved to salisbury and set up his first business. he founded the forbes and allen iron foundry, the oldest in connecticut which went right through the revolution and would produce canon for the american revolutionaries. he got a little distracted from his business which was flourishing. when he met a young doctor in town who was a diest and they spent long afternoons studying writings in england and having fun with the inconsistencies of the bible which was all right as long as they kept it to themselves, but as they read most diest writings they began
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to think more that reason was more important than scripture, and reason told ethan allen that some of the things that the town leaders were doing made no sense. for example, every year smallpox went through the british colonies. every 30 years there was a great epidemic that hit boston. the people left boston, moved up and down the coast and started to go into the frontier and move farther and farther west because of those epidemics and one reason this continued was because inoculation was illegal in every british colony. it wasn't that people hadn't done it successfully somewhere else. the turks had done it successfully and as early as 1715 lady montague had written about this and members of the royal society of england had spread those writing to america, but there was so much superstition wrapped up in intervening any way against what
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was considered god's will that the smallpox epidemics went on. ethan allen thought something had to be done about this and he did it in what became his quint essential way. in front of the town meeting house on a sunday as everyone poured out of the service he had himself inoculated by dr. young. a needle and thread passed through a sword by somebody with smallpox was then passed through his arm giving him a mild dose of smallpox. well, he was arrested, not for inoculation, but because when one of the select men, his former teacher and magistrate, robin lee accosted him and he managed to put beelzebub and god in the same sentence and he was tried for blasphemy. he didn't make it any better and the working men crowded in and
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loved ethan allen too much for the magistrates and he was convicted and fined the maximum fine of ten shillings. it doesn't sound like much, but if you had two convictions in any town you were read out of town and you and your family had to leave and not come back and they got him in the second offense. in the second offense, someone's hog got out and got into ethan allen's garden. he arrested the hog. he didn't have the right to do that. there was a hog grieve that was supposed to turn the hog to the owner or turn it into pork chops, but ethan allen had broken the law by violating the covenant of the hog grieve who then brought charges against him and he was convicted again and he was read out of salisbury, connecticut. he had to leave which many had to leave connecticut, so he went right to the flame. he went to north hampton,
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massachusetts which was already a battle ground because of the great awakening, jonathan edwards had been read out of that town because he had accused young men of getting a book belonging to a mid wife and passing it around to the girls and he named names from the pulpit. you just didn't do that. so he eventually became president of princeton which was the same thing at the time. i can say it, i went there. ethan allen got in trouble right away and he opened a lead mine. people thought at the time that when there was lead there was silver and gold, there wasn't. as people do in mines and the clergy kept inspecting and finally brought him up on charges again on profanity this time. he was fined and convicted and he sold his interest in the lead fine and he was losing interest
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in business, but when the fellow who bought the mine, he stripped to the waste and thrashed the fellow, he was arrested again. he left town and got his friends to come back and ethan allen this time stripped to the waist and got out his bull whip and there was another altercation and this time ethan allen was read out of north hampton and out of massachusetts, but then where do you go? he had a family. he left his wife and children with his younger brother who was the tamest one of the clan hayman allen and ethan allen for the next four winters went into the now empty land the french had left and it was unpopulated except for indian hunters and ethan allen became professional hunter for four years and literally ran with the indians.
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that's not a figure of speech. his brother ira later wrote as ira attempted many things he attempted a biography of ethan and never finished it. ethan allen would run alongside a herd of deer. in indian style they waited for a full moon and in the snow, if there was a crust of snow perfect for snowshoeing, but not perfect for the sharp hoovs of deer and ethan allen would shoot one and take his hat and put it on the carcass and take off his coat and put it on the deer. shoot another one and take off his tunic and put it on the deer. you get the picture. before he was through, we could say buck naked, but what he would do is take the skin of the last deer he shot and put it on himself while he went back and dressed the game.
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the hides every spring were sent by canoe to salisbury where the younger brothers had set up a tannery and made buckskin coveralls, a very prosperous business. and he would put on buck skin, and it was a go to meeting, so the family was prospering. while ethan allen was hunting, he was also exploring and finding the very best lands and getting the idea that he would move his family, all of his family up into the valley of vermont which he did in 1770 and he bought his first land, 1,000 acres for the equivalent of $1,000, and 500 in new haven, just above middleburry and he had the bug, a speculative bug and other members in the family followed him. some of his neighbors had seen
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vermont during the french and indian wars and the head of the militia in litchfield county, connecticut, decided to move to his hand into the river valley up near burlington, vermont and bowlton valley. to do this, ethan allen became a land speculator and investor. at first with very small pieces of land. his timing could not have been worse. at exactly that time in 1770 the old problem of who owned the land flared. new hampshire's royal governor benny wentworth had sold charters for 170 townships in new hampshire and vermont. now who bought the charters? i did a little digging, for example, willingston, vermont is named after sam willis who was from hampstead, long island, and
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like his merchant friends wanted to lay some of it off in land in vermont. so willis and his friends came up with 40 shillings in silver andn't that that went to governor wentworth from granting the papers to set up a township five miles by five miles and you get to see the numbers. benny wentworth in 15 years pocketed $3 million of our money in fees just from those land charters only to be outdone by new york when new york said, wait a minute, our charter says everything between lake sham plain and the connecticut river is part of new york. so new york governors became counterclaiming and insisted that the settlers buy the land a second time. the speculators and settlers had begun to trickle in. there were 1500 people living in vermont by 1770.
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those people had wanted to hold on to the land and it was clear they took whatever they had. what ethan allen did as speculator, as a shareholder among these people said we should resist and at a stockholders meeting we would call it today to hire the best lawyer in new england and go to albany, new york, the capital of -- not the capital, but where the supreme court of new york was, the supreme court of judi judicature. meanwhile, new york had sent the albany county sheriff with 300 men to survey and seize the farms of settlers in the benington area who wouldn't budge. they stood with their guns at their sides in the fields until the posse went away. most of the posse were dutch which were then the british overlords and weren't about to cooperate and land riots had
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already been taking place in new york by this time. ethan allen as the chosen emsear went before the supreme court in albany and was basically left out of court and he wrote about it. he began writing about it about the rights and the claims of the settlers. he described the grandeur of the members with their long wigs and their beautiful robes in the middle of a wilderness. what he also knew was that the chief council for the royal province of new york owned 60,000 acres of vermont land. the chief judge owned 170,000 acres or was claiming to own in vermont and they all had conflicts of interest. so allen went back to benington and the leaders of the 29 settlements got together at a meeting at the catamount tavern which became the official capital of the vermonters and
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they decided to form a militia with captains in each town and the captains elected ethan allen as colonel, commandant and he was paid a salary. so he was one of the first paid american rebels. and for four years the green mountain boys held off the new york sheriffs and drove out any would-be new york settlers. how they did it today, william might not approve of completely. you can call it vigilanteism or call it terrorism. it depended. the first time they visited you if you tried to start a farm with the new york deed, they took your fences down at night and the livestock just went into your garden and into your fields. that would be enough for most people to say this isn't going to work. if it didn't do the job the next time they came and took your barn apart and if you were still there they took the


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