Dealing with the Disloyal

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In 1774, when Fanny was fourteen years old, her adoptive father, Crean Brush, a powerful member of New York’s Assembly, devised a report urging the Governor to award fifty pounds each for the seizure of Ethan Allen (who, ten years later would become Fanny’s husband) and seven Green Mountain Boys leaders. Subsequently, by mid-1775, Crean had offered his loyalist services to General Gage in Boston, who in the spring of 1776 put Brush in charge of removing goods from Boston warehouses where Gage intended to provide winter quarters for his army. While in Boston, Brush urged British leaders to send a loyalist regiment to put down Allen and his men and regain Cumberland County and the surrounding region, but was never successful. On March 17, 1776, Crean and his men made off with the confiscated property on the brigantine Elizabeth, which the patriot ship Hancock intercepted on April 2. The Council of Massachusetts tried Brush and his fellow leaders on April 11. Though the council did not convict him of anti-revolutionary crime, they refused to release him from prison.

Crean’s wife, Margaret, came to Boston to be with her husband in January 1777, and though the Grand Jury of the Province acquitted him on August 25, its members did not release him from jail. He remained imprisoned until November 5, 1777, when Margaret came to her husband during visiting hours and exchanged places with him. Crean made his escape disguised in Margaret’s clothing. He returned to New York in an effort to regain his property, which the new State of Vermont had confiscated in his absence. Unsuccessful due to his reputation as a Tory, Crean Brush died in May 21, 1778, according to one newspaper account ending his own life over the loss of his prospects.

Meanwhile, Fanny, at the age of sixteen, had married John Buchanan in 1776. Some accounts list Buchanan as a British naval officer while others label him as a member of the King’s American Rangers. Hagiographies of Ethan Allen, if they are to be believed, claim that while Buchanan doted on her, she was not fond of him, though they were close in age. Buchanan died from wounds after the Battle of the Brandywine in September 1777. Fanny, who was pregnant in New York at the time, lost the child shortly after Crean Brush’s death.

How did her adoptive father’s imprisonment and her brief but seemingly unsatisfactory marriage shape Fanny’s outlook on what should become of the disloyal? Did Fanny share her loyalist father’s sentiments that patriot leaders deserved seizure and punishment? We do not know the relationship Fanny had with Crean, other than that he provided her material comfort and an education that made her one of New York’s most attractive and fashionable socialites due to her beauty, brains, and wealth. Fanny’s relationship to Crean must have at least seemed strong to him, since he provided land for her in his will. Margaret, Fanny’s aunt and adoptive mother, certainly remained devoted to her husband, willing to rescue him and risk herself by exchanging places with him in prison. Perhaps Fanny harbored indignation over her father’s imprisonment and disgraceful death and wished similar punishment upon the Patriots who had caused his suffering.

The answer becomes more complicated in consideration of Fanny’s marital life. Her first husband was a staunch loyalist officer, perhaps a match her loyalist parents imposed upon her, if indeed she was unhappily married. Had her husband survived, Fanny may not have been as dependent on the circumstances of Brush’s losses. But finding both her husband and her father dead by 1778, Fanny likely suffered more acutely from her father’s dispossession. In 1784, Fanny and her adoptive mother, Margaret, who had since married a Boston tailor named Patrick Wall, had to move into a boarding home in Westminster, New York, where they sought to claim Brush’s confiscated property. Fanny’s actions suggest that while her relationship to her family was strong, she did not feel fully bound to adhere to their loyalty to the Crown, at least not as circumstances changed at war’s end. While she may at one point have wished for vengeance against those who had thrown her into needy circumstances, Fanny’s marriage by the close of the Revolution to the man whose punishment Crean pursued the most adds another dimension to the story. By the time twenty-four-year-old Fanny met and married Ethan Allen in February 1784, American victory was already secure.

Though twenty-two years apart in age, both Ethan and Fanny, according to biographers, were more comfortable in one another’s company than with their previous spouses. Allen deemed her wise and beautiful and she had a calming effect on him. Allen helped his new wife and mother-in-law appeal for the property they had inherited from Crean Brush. The women transferred much of Brush’s property to Allen two months after he married Fanny.

Seeing as Fanny’s life brought her into association with leaders on both sides of what to her must have felt like a civil war while she growing up in the contested lands of New York and Vermont, perhaps she was not inclined toward punishment at all. Nevertheless, Fanny does seem to have had a strong sense of justice that drove her to obtain what was rightfully due to herself and her family (more on this in the next blog post). What should become of the disloyal may have been less important to Fanny than what would become of herself. Though at seventeen Fanny may have felt that the Patriot rebels deserved punishment, her sentiments had likely changed by the time she married Ethan Allen, who helped rescue much of her father’s inherited land which had been confiscated by the Patriots.

As editors Denver Brunsman and David J. Silverman articulate in their summary of Mary Beth Norton’s article in The American Revolution Reader, “most women experienced the war in the context of home and family, … exercised less control over their lives than their male counterparts, and … were culturally conditioned to view themselves as ‘helpless’ amid the vagaries of war” (166). Moving in a separate sphere from the wartime actions of her father and husbands, the question of how to treat the disloyal, whether branded Patriot or Tory, may have been less central to Fanny. In this sense, perhaps Fanny found it most advantageous to move with the flow of the times, mirroring the views of those around her. Like the women Mary Beth Norton describes, she took advantage of her female identity and its perceived limitations to navigate the war and to reclaim lost land. Legend has it that before her marriage someone told Fanny that if she married General Allen, she would become the queen of a new state, to which she responded, “If I should marry the devil, I’d be the queen of hell.” Whatever the truth of this account may be, Ethan Allen, now on the side of the powerful within the new nation, was in a suitable position to aid Fanny and Margaret in reclaiming Crean’s lost land. Moreover, Fanny’s choice to marry Allen, a renowned Patriot, helped counterbalance her loyalist associations of the past, which, as Norton describes, could have excluded her from a position of esteem instilled upon republican wives and mothers.

Sources

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