Ethan Allen

December 6, 2002

The body of Vermont was formed during a thunderstorm in Windsor in 1777 when (unlike any other state save, perhaps, Texas) we created ourselves by adopting the most liberal constitution then known to man.

But the soul of Vermont – its spirit – was given life in a bar in Albany, New York.

It was there that Ethan Allen, Vermont’s greatest folk hero, issued his cryptic (and, ironically, biblical) warning to a group of Albany Sheriffs who had invited him there as leader of the Green Mountain Boys to discuss the future of Vermont, which New York claimed belonged to New York.

After passing round the “flowing bowl” (an eighteenth century euphemism for having a few beers) it was suggested to Allen with a wink and a nod that if he as Vermont’s brave and wise leader would acquiesce to the so very reasonable suggestion that Vermont be annexed to New York, his courageous action would surely be remembered and his own Vermont holdings spared from the ensuing taxation that was to follow.

There it was.  The bribe. Worse, this bribe was made in a manner all too familiar to those who have occupied the “outback” of world from the hills of biblical antiquity to the great plains of the American west – wherever the cities confront the farms, the big the small, the powerful the weak. The subtext read. “This hillbilly won’t even know he is being bribed.”

One can only imagine the mix of emotion – from anger to bemused delight – that Allen felt when he declined the offer, rose from the table and said.

“The Gods of the hills,” Sirs “are not the God’s of the valleys.”

It was at this precise moment that Vermont’s soul was formed.

As with all great persons controversy followed Allen throughout his life and controversy continues among those who interpret his life.

But two truths are clear.

First he was a rebel. Aligning himself with the more radical elements of America’s early revolutionaries like Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine and Thomas Young he was a constant source of irritation (and even legal indictments) to and from the established hierarchies of Church and State. He penned the first anti-Christian book ever published on the North American Continent. A free-thinking liberal, Churchmen throughout New England breathed a sigh of relief on his death. Even in Vermont he was feared and distrusted. Rebellion was his legacy.

Second. He could not be bought. Not by Hew York. Not by the United States Congress. Not even by Vermont.

We see this mix of stubborn defiance and loyalty to principle throughout the history of our state. Allen would have agreed with much of it, disagreed with more. But he would have always admired our style.

This is Frank Bryan from Starksboro