Bennington Historical Society presents ‘Ethan Allen: Hero or Heel?'

Saturday December 15, 2012

BENNINGTON -- On Sunday, Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. the Bennington Historical Society welcomes Don Miller, who will explore the question "Ethan Allen, Hero or Heel?" On May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen captured Ft. Ticonderoga, without firing a single shot. Instantly, he became a ‘hero' well beyond Bennington. A few months later, on Sept. 25, 1775, Allen was captured while staging an attack on Montreal. At this point, due to the surrounding circumstances, some viewed him as a "heel." These two events continue to stir up a range of opinions on Allen which Miller will discuss in his presentation. The program, held in the Ada Paresky Education Center located on the second floor of the Bennington Museum, is free and open to the public.

According to Miller, Dorothy Canfield Fisher thought Allen did not get the recognition he deserved. She praised his sincerity, courage, and concluded that he was the ‘Voice of Vermont.' In her book Vermont Tradition: The Biography of an Outlook on Life, Fisher points to the Yorkers who categorized Allen as a ‘foul-mouthed, low-lived, ignorant bar-fly, atheist and a cheat." She took issue with this characterization.


Self-educated, Allen prepared to pursue divinity studies at Yale. When his father died, his studies were put to the side, but he never gave up his interest in theology. He knew the Bible fully, and in 1783 wrote a treatise on religion that was considered well ahead of its time. Being outspoken and a person who lived according to his own beliefs, he was often found to be in direct conflict with the church hierarchy of the day. While other patriots were thought to lean toward deism, Allen left no doubt. Like his father, he left the Puritan Church to become an Anglican, therefore no longer supporting the church through taxes. His rebellious acts didn't stop there. From publishing a book that influenced Hosea Ballou, one of the theologians in the Universalist movement to being inoculated against a smallpox epidemic, a direct affront to the church teachings, Allen used every opportunity to make a public protest of his actions.

Ticonderoga and Montreal

It was Allen who led the successful attack on Fort Ticonderoga. When questions arose regarding the authorization of the act, it was Allen who explained the situation to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. This led to the formation of the Green Mountain Boys as a regiment of the Continental Army. Two months later, the Continental Army launched two invasions of Canada simultaneously. One was led by General Richard Montgomery up the Champlain Valley to Montreal resulting in its surrender. A second was led by Benedict Arnold and culminated in an attack on Quebec. But Allen wasn't an active participant in either attack. Never making it to his destination, Allen was captured while staging an attack that would never be realized. Was he a ‘hero' or a ‘heel?'

Originally from Connecticut, Miller moved to Bennington in 2002 and quickly became a part of the community. A local businessman, he is a former president of the Bennington Historical Society, and currently serves on the Bennington Museum Board of Trustees.

The Bennington Museum, located at 75 Main Street (Route 9), Bennington has the largest public collection of Grandma Moses paintings in the world as well as the largest collection of 19th century Bennington pottery. In the other nine galleries, the museum presents a 1924 Wasp Touring Car, one of only twenty produced, military artifacts, one of the earliest ‘stars and stripes' in existence, fine and decorative arts, and more. The museum is just a short ride from Manchester, Williamstown, and eastern New York, and through Dec. every day but Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and students over 18. No admission is charged for younger students or to visit the museum shop and café. Visit the museum's website or call 802-447-1571 for more information.


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