Ethan Allen by Willard Sterne Randall
His Life and Times

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Synopsis

The long-awaited biography of the frontier Founding Father whose heroic actions and neglected writings inspired an entire generation from Paine to Madison.


On May 10, 1775, in the storm-tossed hours after midnight, Ethan Allen, the Revolutionary firebrand, was poised for attack. With only two boatloads of his scraggly band of Vermont volunteers having made it across the wind-whipped waters of Lake Champlain, he was waiting for the rest of his Green Mountain boys to arrive. But with the protective darkness quickly fading, Allen determined that he hold off no longer.



While Ethan Allen, a canonical hero of the American Revolution, has always been defined by his daring, predawn attack on the British-controlled Fort Ticonderoga, Willard Sterne Randall, the author of Benedict Arnold, now challenges our conventional understanding of this largely unexamined Founding Father. Widening the scope of his inquiry beyond the Revolutionary War, Randall traces Allen’s beginning back to his modest origins in Connecticut, where he was born in 1738. Largely self-educated, emerging from a relatively impoverished background, Allen demonstrated his deeply rebellious nature early on through his attraction to Deism, his dramatic defense of smallpox vaccinations, and his early support of separation of church and state.



Chronicling Allen’s upward struggle from precocious, if not unruly, adolescent to commander of the largest American paramilitary force on the eve of the Revolution, Randall unlocks a trove of new source material, particularly evident in his gripping portrait of Allen as a British prisoner-of-war. While the biography reacquaints readers with the familiar details of Allen’s life—his capture during the aborted American invasion of Canada, his philosophical works that influenced Thomas Paine, his seminal role in gaining Vermont statehood, his stirring funeral in 1789—Randall documents that so much of what we know of Allen is mere myth, historical folklore that people have handed down, as if Allen were Paul Bunyan.



As Randall reveals, Ethan Allen, a so-called Robin Hood in the eyes of his dispossessed Green Mountain settlers, aggrandized, and unabashedly so, the holdings of his own family, a fact that is glossed over in previous accounts, embellishing his own best-selling prisoner-of-war narrative as well. He emerges not only as a public-spirited leader but as a self-interested individual, often no less rapacious than his archenemies, the New York land barons of the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys.



As John E. Ferling comments, “Randall has stripped away the myths to provide as accurate an account of Allen’s life as will ever be written.” The keen insights that he produces shed new light, not only on this most enigmatic of Founding Fathers, but on today’s descendants of the Green Mountain Boys, whose own political disenfranchisement resonates now more than ever.
 

About Willard Sterne Randall

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Willard Sterne Randall is the Visiting Professor of Humanities at Champlain College in Vermont and an expert on early U.S. history. He received the Sidney Hillman Prize and the National Magazine Award as an investigative reporter. His book, "Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and "A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin" and His Son won the Frank Luther Mott Prize. He lives in Burlington, Vermont with his family.
 
Published August 22, 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company. 617 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, War. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Ethan Allen

Kirkus Reviews

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Determined to see Vermont become part of New England, where he owned land, Allen and his militia waged a five-year campaign of intimidation to drive away New York settlers.

Apr 18 2011 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

Publishers Weekly

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Allen's saga was founded on a giant real estate swindle—the royal governors of New Hampshire and New York sold the territory of modern-day Vermont twice, to rival cliques of developers—that took on insurrectionary dimensions as he led his Green Mountain Boys militia against absentee landlords...

Mar 14 2011 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

The Wall Street Journal

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Robert K. Landers reviews "Ethan Allen: His Life and Times" by Willard Sterne
Randall.

| Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

The Wall Street Journal

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The Green Mountain Boys' leader was a rash commander and the author of a popular prisoner-of-war memoir.

Aug 22 2011 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

Star Tribune

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A spirited man, Allen was, like other founding fathers, not averse to profiting from land speculation and accumulating wealth in ways that allied him as much with the old world as the new.

Jun 28 2011 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

Los Angeles Times

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Whether "Ethan Allen: His Life and Times" will change the Allen who is introduced to Vermont schoolchildren remains to be seen, but Willard Sterne Randall — a Champlain College professor and biographer of Thomas Jefferson and Benedict Arnold — takes great pains to paint a more nuanced, multidimen...

Sep 04 2011 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

Dallas News

“Founding Fathers” brings to mind that coterie of bewigged politicians, jurists and diplomats who “shaped our destiny,” as we’ve been told since kindergarten.

Sep 02 2011 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

Washington Independent Review of Books

Allen, a shrewd land speculator himself, also seeking to pocket some spoils, played the game to his advantage when he could, though always under the pretext of supporting the settlers claiming that the land had been fairly purchased from New Hampshire.

Sep 20 2011 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

City Book Review

In the years spanning the Revolutionary War and the birth of a new nation, Ethan Allen fought for local rights, and local leaders.

Oct 05 2011 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

Huntington News

Joseph Allen and his wife Mary Baker Allen were the parents of 8 children, all of who survived to become adults, which Randall mentions was unusual at the time.

Sep 04 2011 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

HistoryNet

Remembered by history as the Patriot hero who captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British, Ethan Allen was, in fact, a great deal more.

Mar 01 2012 | Read Full Review of Ethan Allen: His Life and Times

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