Who is a citizen?

The idea of who could be a citizen in the new world was relatively concurrent with the rest of Europe, but varied slightly from state-to-state. to understand who could be a citizen i think it’s important to define what makes a citizen. Some might state that a citizen is a member of the population that can take advantage of the benefits of the collective efforts of the state, to include voting, protection by the military, participation in the militia, etc. But, at this point in the late 1700’s only a select group could vote to have their opinions heard by congress anyway, which was limited to white landowners who were particularly more affluent than not, which was consistent for most of Europe as well. If we take the meaning of the general participation within the state militias as another factor, then we would still only have men recognized as citizens and in the north we’d still not include freed slaves. Citizenship then seems to be much harder to define in such an empirical sense. To account for those groups who did not appear to hold the same benefits as wealthy white men, we must examine from their level in what way they viewed themselves as citizen.

From Mary Bronson’s point of view, she most certainly would view herself as a citizen of the United States, but what qualified that? Well, let’s first take a look at the empirical data that might be justified. Her husband, Ethan Allen, was a landowner and prominent participant in both the revolution as well as state affairs, which would make her (in part) a landowner and a prominent member of the community. Her status was partially dependent upon her husband’s (primarily) and by his position she could have her voice heard. She could not take part in the militia, but most women, in times of war, would work as seamstresses or nurses in aid of the military behind the scenes. And of course she was under the protection of both the militias and the military. This seems to simplify things then, a citizen is one who contributes to society and benefits from it. In the North, this could still include freed-slaves, who could come to own land or businesses, just like white men and women. Yet, as slaves they contributed to society by means of commerce labor, but received only the benefit of associative protection by the military. Citizenship is the pride of belonging to a society as well as the cultivation of benefits awarded by the society as rights or privileges.

Remembering History

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This statue of Ethan Allen resides in the United Sates Capitol, representing the state of Vermont and demonstrating his prestigious place in American history.

The Allen household was fortunate to have a renowned historical figure among its members. Ethan Allen will remain a name synonymous with the American Revolution and the early days of the northeastern United States. From the USS Ethan Allen to the Vermont furniture store that bears his name, Allen remains in the American vernacular. Allen also has statues, biographies, and preserved archives that protect his contribution to the war effort.

While the name of Allen lives on, his presence in the national memory is relatively minor compared to other founding fathers. He is primarily remembered for his capture of Fort Ticonderoga and his time as a prisoner of war later in the Revolution. But what else is remembered of Allen and the Allen family? The average American most likely knows nothing of the struggles of Ethan’s family and the shameful treachery of his brother Levi. Our collected memory of the Revolution has mellowed overtime as it becomes less of a historical event and more of a symbol of America’s quest for freedom. Many of the rougher parts of the time have been washed over, just as the rougher parts of the Allen family and the life of Ethan Allen have fallen by the wayside. In this respect, the Allen family once again provides for a prime example not only of the Revolution itself but of the historical memory that the Revolution has left behind.

A Mixed Blessing

Francis Montresor Buchanan may have been surprised at the turns her life had taken as a result of the American Revolution. Born at the onset of the imperial crisis, she had grown up with it and had made conscious decisions concerning with which side, Loyalist or Patriot, she affiliated. Once a member of the new republic, she chose former Patriot revolutionary Ethan Allen as a spouse, after having previously been married to a retired British officer.

At the close of the Revolution, Fanny and her mother were living in the boarding home of Colonel Stephen R. Bradley in Westminster, Vermont, as they sought to claim their rights to Crean Brush’s confiscated property nearby. There, Fanny and Ethan Allen met in 1784, when Ethan Allen was visiting Colonel Bradley, a friend of his, while attending the Vermont Assembly in Westminster. Ethan was 47 years of age and Fanny was 24, but legend has it that they matched wits. Not only was she beautiful, observers said, she was polished and sophisticated—she could play the guitar, speak French fluently, had a beautiful singing voice, was a notable botanist, and was a “lady of New York fashion.” Reverend Fairbanks, a Westminster minister who wrote a history of the town in 1888, stated that

Mrs. Buchanan is spoken of as a “dashing woman,” with an “imperious bearing,” which attracted the attention of the quiet people of Westminster. She is said to have been a “fascinating woman, endowed with an ease of manner, which she had acquired from intercourse with polite society, and possessed of a refined taste and many accomplishments.

During one of his frequent visits to Westminster, Gen. Ethan Allen, who was at that time a widower, formed an acquaintance with Mrs. Buchanan, which afterwards “ripened into a warm, but singularly intermittent friendship.” (588)

Fanny_Allen

Fanny Margaret Allen was the well-educated child of Francis and Ethan Allen. She purportedly shared her mother’s interest in science and her father’s religious skepticism. In 1807, Fanny went to Montreal to study French, where she converted to Catholicism and entered a convent after having a vision. Contemporaries were shocked that Ethan Allen’s daughter had become one of the first Catholic converts and nuns from New England. Fanny spent the rest of her life using her skills to serve the sick and poor as the hospital chemist. After her death, the Religious Hospitaliers of St. Joseph named the Fanny Allen Hospital in Colchester, Vermont, after her. (Image: Artist unknown, printed in the 10th Biennial Report (1911-1913) of the Fanny Allen Hospital, Hotel Dieu of St. Joseph. Public domain, Wikimedia commons.)

Supposedly, when John Norton, the local tavernkeeper, told her that if she married Ethan Allen she would be queen of a new state, Fanny responded, “Yes; and if I should marry the devil, I shall be queen of hell,” an answer which bemused Allen. Despite her response, the prospect seemed to have some appeal to Fanny, who married Ethan Allen shortly thereafter, on February 16, 1784, after Ethan had appeared in the boardinghouse parlor while Fanny was still in her dressing gown on the morning of February 9 and declared, “If we are to be married, now is the time.” Fanny said ‘fine,’ then added that she would need to get her jacket. Fairbanks wrote that “The aversion…with which she at times held the character of the man ‘whom all feared and few loved,’ appears to have given a place to the admiration of his nobler traits, and she consented to become his wife” (588). Their marriage announcement in the Vermont Gazette described Fanny as “a lady possessing in an eminent degree every graceful qualification requisite to render the hymenial bonds felicitous.” (Brown, 278). They departed on a sleigh with Fanny’s belongings to Ethan’s home in Sunderland, Vermont. In 1784, Ethan sold the Sunderland home and the family moved to Bennington, where Ethan could better conduct his land business.  Fanny appreciated being in a more cosmopolitan area that was bustling with events and people. She gave birth to their first two children, Fanny Margaret (1784) and Hannibal Montresor (1786) in the Allen’s large rented home in Bennington. Another son, born before Hannibal, died in infancy of whooping cough.

All accounts of Ethan and Fanny’s marriage state that it was a happy one, and that it had a settling effect on Ethan, who retired his penchant to be at the center of the political scene. Nevertheless, each had tempestuous natures. Ethan was a passionate man, heavy drinker, and a critic of organized religion, all of which were unbearable to his first wife, Mary Brownson, who was illiterate and deeply religious, and had a reputation for scolding. Fanny’s more vivacious character may have appealed to Allen after the trials of his previous marriage, which had ended at Mary’s death six months earlier. According to one Ethan Allen biographer, “Fanny was expensive and flighty and sometimes given to sudden flurries of temper, but she was also young and gay and witty. In short, she was everything that Mary had not been.” (Jellison, 315). Fanny and Ethan enriched one another with their intellectualism, she even helping him learn French. Accustomed to considerable wealth, Fanny was reportedly a spendthrift. A lack of currency available in the new Republic strained her spending habits, especially as Ethan was frequently selling and reinvesting in Vermont land as the state’s population grew. Financial difficulties increased in 1785, when Ethan published Reason the Only Oracle of Man, which was not well-received due to its controversial views. On several occasions Ethan faced the threat of debtor’s prison. Nevertheless, Ethan expressed a fondness of Fanny. He gifted a copy of his book to her, the following verses inscribed within:

Dear Fanny wise, the beautiful and young,
The partner of my joys, my dearest self,
My love, pride of my life, your sexes pride,
And partner of Sincere politeness… (qtd in Jellison, 315)

Fanny, Ethan, and their family moved to Burlington, Vermont, in the late summer of 1787. In 1778, Ethan had purchased about 150 acres of land in Burlington from Colonel James Claghorn, “Commissioner for the confiscation and sale of the estates of the enemies of Vermont and the United States.” The land had formerly belonged to loyalist William Marks. By August 1784, Ethan was writing to his brother Ira about plans for constructing a “34 x 24, two-story” house, and proceeded to purchase land until he owned 1400 acres by the time his family settled on the property. Continue reading

Navigating the Postwar Economy

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This is a New Hampshire dollar bill that would have been used during the early postwar years.

After the war, the Allen household exemplified the need for the newly created United States of America and the empire of Great Britain to remain able to trade and conduct business. Vermont’s proximity to Canada made it essential for a relationship to develop between Vermont and its British neighbors in the north.

Levi Allen, who abandoned the patriot cause during the war in favor of business ventures, moved to Quebec and created a mercantile business. Levi became an important liaison between Vermont and British Canada.

Ira Allen attempted to continue the family business of land speculation but found the economy of the United States a difficult one to navigate. His plan to export lumber to Canada and import manufactured goods was unravelled by the weary government in Quebec. He later attempted to instigate a revolution in Canada, seeking a break from the British Empire similar to the United States.

Ethan Allen worked tirelessly to assure the security of Vermont. He worked to have Vermont admitted into the union as the 14th state but was frustrated by the slow actions of the Congress. He then began talks with officials in British Canada regarding the possibility of admitting Vermont into the British empire as an autonomous state. These talks much diminished his reputation with patriots in the United Sates. The Allen family did not have great success in the new economy, and by and large show the immense difficulty of conducting business in which a strong sense of distrust still clouds the minds of many.

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. Continue reading

William Knox

We took into our household Mr. William Knox, a wealthy loyalist who had lost possessions and positions during the revolution due to his allegiance to the crown. He made his claim to the claims commission seeking to be reimbursed for the damages done to him, which for the most part were not wholly met. But, being as the claims typically came with a fifty percent return, this was not all that unlikely. The possessions of the loyalists were typically hefty worldly things, such as slaves (referred to in the documents as negroes), land (acreages expanding from plantations), and other such commodities related to wealth. Their losses came from the ravaging of land by war itself as well as the disdain of the rebels for the loyalists, stealing either for the war’s sake or merely looting and pillaging. In our timeline, we’re depicting the life of our loyalist, as well as the time frame in which his claims may have made sense as well as when they happened.

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