Enjoying Ethan

The high yesterday was 10 below zero. I spent much of the day outside waddling through chores (including dealing with a flat tire on the truck) in many layers. It was a relief to come into the house to warm up with soup at lunch.

I haven’t had much time to read but I’m enjoying dipping into the first of my Christmas books, Inventing Ethan Allen by John J. Duffy and H. Nicholas Muller III. This is an academic book devoted to untangling the many myths surrounding the “hero of Vermont.” I have long known that Ethan Allen was a land speculator and a thug, even a terrorist, before the Revolution and that he and his lawless mob (later romantically dubbed the Green Mountain Boys) stole credit from Benedict Arnold in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. However, I had no idea of the yards and yards of fiction draping Allen.

It’s very fun to read that instead of his famous claimed rejoinder to the question of by whose authority he took Ticonderoga (“In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!”), folks on the scene recalled him saying, “Come out of there, you old rat!” and “Come out, you sons of British whores!” Similarly, as Allen was not a member of the Continental army at the time, but the leader of a gang, he wore no dashing uniform or riding boots, as always depicted, but most likely a homespun shirt or smock, buckskin breeches, and a pair of new shoes.

I’ve always thought that Ethan Allen and Norwalk boy Isaac Sears, who led the New York City mob before the Revolution, were twins separated at birth — both charismatic bullies who seized headlines, power, and fame. But Ethan had the advantage of a genius for self-promotion that kept him constantly writing, so despite his misjudgments and disasters at every turn, he left a jovial paper trail of complete lies to enhance his reputation. Today there are fictionalized statues all over Vermont and in Washington, D.C., books, and even a chain of furniture stores in Ethan Allen’s name. Very few have ever heard of Isaac Sears.

As I always tell my students: If you want to be remembered, write.

* * *

-22° F again this morning.

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