Coming of Age During the Imperial Crisis

Frances Montresor, who was five years old at the Stamp Act’s passage in 1765, was only a child during the onset of the imperial crisis, but came of age alongside the mounting tensions between colonies and Crown. A bright, well-educated child with interests in science and music, Fanny must have been attuned to how her family experienced and even responded to these challenges, even if she did not fully understand them herself. The scant evidence that exists to suggest her personality attests that she was quick-witted, and not necessarily one disposed to simply absorb and mirror opinions imparted to her. She certainly thought about the events unfolding before her, even if she did not convey her true sentiments to others. Nevertheless, more so than the adult male colonial leaders through whose eyes we tend to learn about the imperial crisis and subsequent revolution today, Fanny’s maturing mind was more susceptible to a variety of fluctuating influences, especially as she witnessed the trials her family would face when this crisis came to a head. If she had left records of her life, they would offer an extraordinary “bottom-up” view of how a child becoming a young woman learned to perceive and navigate through this conflict as one who had the privilege of being well-to-do, but lacked the same opportunities as men. Her age and gender gave her little political sway at the time, but incredible opportunities for observation and subtler decision-making.

In American Revolutions: A Continental History, Alan Taylor writes (perhaps a bit too sweepingly) that, “Tradition excluded colonial women from even talking about politics” (110). No record remains of what political opinions Fanny may have expressed during the imperial crisis or in her lifetime, but the choices she made in marriage indicate she was relatively open to change. Fanny was able to take advantage of her privileged status and her political anonymity as a woman to live a relatively comfortable life. Whatever her opinions on the imperial crisis were, the unfolding events shaped the decisions she made in her life.

crean-brush

Crean Brush, by Benson Lossing. From Special Collections, Bailey Howe Library, UVM.

Most of what we know and can surmise about Fanny comes through the men in her life. Fanny’s adoptive father, Crean Brush, was a staunch loyalist, attorney, land speculator, member of the New York Assembly, and official of the Crown. Not only did Crean engage in land speculation that had led to the banishment and condemnation of his business partner John Kelly by Vermont and New York’s revolutionaries, he also profited from political corruptions and favoritism for his loyalty to the Crown. From 1764 to 1771, a succession of three of New York’s royal governors awarded townships of unsettled land and titles to those who were most allegiant to them. Crean received land from Cumberland and Albany counties, and became clerk, surrogate judge, and administrator of all civil and military oaths in Cumberland County. Fanny, likewise, whether she knew it or not, benefitted from her father’s dealings.

 

margaret-schoolcraft

Margaret Schoolcraft Brush, Fanny’s aunt and adoptive mother. Artist unknown, Fort Ticonderoga Museum.

As Fanny grew, Crean and his wife likely endeavored to instill the unwavering loyalty of their family within her. Fanny may have accepted her adoptive father’s views, or she may have privately begun to evaluate them against the growing expressions of opposition to the Crown at this period. Due to what little information exists about Frances, it is necessary to look into Fanny’s future to measure how she saw herself within the imperial crisis of the 1760s. Ultimately, though her first spouse was a retired British officer, these loyalist ties did not stop Fanny in the years after the Revolution from taking as husband her father’s foe, patriot General Ethan Allen, her father’s notoriety and enmity to Allen not deterring them. Though some have said that Fanny’s looks, intellectualism, and wit attracted Allen, more recent historians have argued that the prospect of financial comfort may have been appealing to them both. Ultimately, political opinion seemed less important to Fanny than comfortable circumstances. Finding herself on the losing side of the war and a member of a new nation, the choice of one of the revolution’s leaders as a spouse was a strategic and safe one.

Thus, Fanny held a unique position within the British world, due to the relative freedom her wealth provided, the advantage of her education, and her status as a woman, to be both an observer of the imperial crisis and, to some extent, a participant. Her story, if more of it existed, would tell us how a young woman of her status may have moved through the revolution in perhaps some sort of “middle” position, as neither a committed Loyalist or Patriot, able to adapt to whatever was the most advantageous or reflective of her views at a given time. She navigated the divisions of the imperial crisis and American Revolution with seemingly more ease than most of her contemporaries could have. Her age and wealth helped make this freedom possible, and as a woman, her opinions, because they were not valued on par with men, were likely less central to where she stood within colonial society. Thus, unlike most men, she was able to move between opposing circles without much comment or consequence, and her observations, if they existed, would tell us from a bottom-up approach how one woman, though more privileged than most, experienced the divisions that built up to the American revolution, adding more nuance to the narrative we know.

Header image: Eighteenth-century dolls from Clarke Hall Museum.

Sources

  • Duffy, John J., and Eugene A. Coyle. “Crean Brush vs. Ethan Allen: A Winner’s Tale.”
  • Randall, Willard Sterne. Ethan Allen: His Life and Times. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011, 522-526, 529.
  • Duffy, John J., Samuel B. Hand, and Ralph H. Orth. The Vermont Encyclopedia. UPNE, 2003.
  • Duffy, John J., and H. Nicholas Muller III. Inventing Ethan Allen. University Press of New England, 2014.
  • “Frances Montresor Buchanan Allen.” Accessed January 31, 2017. http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2009/05/frances-montresor-buchanan-allen.html.
  • “How Ethan Allen Got Married to a Loyalist.” New England Historical Society, March 6, 2016. http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/how-ethan-allen-got-married-to-a-loyalist/.
  • Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (Deerfield. History and Proceedings of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. The Association, 1905.
  • “People of Westminster – Fanny Buchanan.” Accessed January 31, 2017. http://www.usgennet.org/usa/vt/town/westminster/fanny.html.
  • “The Ethan Allen Homestead Museum | Home.” Accessed January 31, 2017. http://www.ethanallenhomestead.org/ethan-allens-burlington-home-1787-1789.html.
  • Ulrich, Laurel. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. New York: Knopf, 1990. (Though not of the same status as Fnny, Ulrich’s assessment of Martha Ballard has much to say about the political role, or lack thereof, that women had during this period. Most women’s social networks and daily activities did not center politics, nor did men tend to associate politics with them. Thus, they often did not have to suffer the consequences of meddling in political affairs, other than those in which their husbands engaged. This was at least the case for women of Ballard’s status in her area of New England.)
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s