How Ethan Allen, Odiferous Hero, Escaped Hanging: Lewis Lapham

With a ragtag band of his Green Mountain Boys, Ethan Allen launched a pre-dawn attack on the greatest fortress in colonial America.

Without firing a shot, he captured Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 for the first victory in the Revolutionary War. His next major foray, however, attacking Montreal, led to disaster.

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Allen was captured and sent as a trophy to England for trial and execution. Confined to a cramped, dark, lice-infested hold with two tubs for excrement, Allen and the 33 other prisoners soon developed fever, diarrhea and an “intolerable thirst.”

An emaciated, jaundiced Allen disembarked at Falmouth, clad in the same clothes he’d been wearing for two months. The crowds gathered to see him were so thick, officers had to draw their swords to clear a passage to the dungeon.

His outlaw reputation had preceded him, and Allen was now a celebrated folk hero.

Fearing that it would be impossible to get an English jury to convict him, much less condemn him to death, British officials sent Allen back to America, where he died in 1789.

I spoke with Willard Sterne Randall, author of “Ethan Allen: His Life and Times,” on the following topics:

1. Rebellious Spirit

Source: Norton via Bloomberg

The cover jacket of "Ethan Allen: His Life and Times" by Willard Sterne Randall. Close

The cover jacket of "Ethan Allen: His Life and Times" by Willard Sterne Randall.

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Source: Norton via Bloomberg

The cover jacket of "Ethan Allen: His Life and Times" by Willard Sterne Randall.

2. Green Mountain Boys

3. Prisoner of War

4. Back to Vermont

5. Prison Narrative

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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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