My Weekly Reader 18 December 2018.

Today New England is a great place to go to college: stone walls, church graveyards full of famous men (and the occasional famous woman—repressive gender roles having been what they were), the leaves turning, “Whitey” and “Billy” Bulger of lore, the smart-mouth waitresses at “Legal Seafood,” Boston and Cambridge, with the Red-Line trains crossing from one to the other on a snowy night.  Then, in the 18th Century, New England was a hard place to make a living; the stone walls came from rocks dug out of fields with poor soil, churches reined-in human pleasure, people often died in the first few years after birth, the leaves turned because Fall came early and brutal winters followed close behind, Boston merchants would trade in anything (slaves, lumber, cod, rum) to make money and Boston fish-wives had famously sharp tongues, thugs had their uses for the better sort, and Cambridge’s college—Harvard–trained sour-puss Calvinist ministers.

No wonder then that many New Englanders were hard-bitten, judgmental, fond of pulling a cork, and avid for a better chance.  In a chiefly agricultural society, a better chance meant farmland, especially if they got to log-off and sell the timber first.  New England’s settlements spread along the coast and inland in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.  Then westward toward New York, “down east” into Maine, and northwest from New Hampshire into the “New Hampshire Grants” (which would become Vermont).

Pioneers advancing into ground until recently commanded by the Native American allies of the hated French, the settlers of Vermont despised all authority that was not earned.  Before the Revolution, they resisted the colonial governments of both New Hampshire and New York.  The “Green Mountain Boys” began as the “militia” of those settlers who held land titles from Connecticut or New Hampshire rather than from New York.  They chose leaders like the ruffians Seth Warner and Ethan Allen.[1]

Came the Revolution.  Britain remained in control of Canada and might attack southward along a line that ran from Montreal as far as New York City.  Fort Ticonderoga—built by the French–commanded the invasion route along Lake Champlain.  Connecticut’s governor commissioned Ethan Allen to seize the fort from its British garrison.  Allen recruited 140 men after his own liking and headed toward “Fort Ti.”  He soon encountered Benedict Arnold and 70 men sent by Massachusetts on the same purpose.  Suppressing their mutual dislike in the interest of the common cause, the two men led their troops in storming the fort on 10 May 1775.[2]

Americans both despised the Catholic French Canadians and imagined that they wished to become “Americans.”[3]  Allen proposed an invasion, but the command went to another.  He free-lanced a coup to seize Montreal and spent three years in a British prison.  As a result of his imprisonment, Allen missed the Saratoga campaign (1777) in which Seth Warner played a notable role at the head of the “Boys” originally led by Allen.  Surrounded and cut off, British General John Burgoyne surrendered his army.   Saratoga was one of many decisive moments in the struggle for American independence.

In 1789, Allen died; in 1791, the “Grants” became the state of Vermont.

[1] Christopher S. Wren, Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom (2018).

[2] Later, the artillery captured at the fort provided the siege guns that drove the British out of Boston.

[3] It didn’t end there.  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMEViYvojtY

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