Green Mountain Boys Capture Fort Ticonderoga; "In the Name of the Great Jehovah…"
Capture of Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen, May 10, 1775
Engraving by Heppenheimer & Maurer (1875)
Illustration from digital archive of New York Public Library http://digital.nypl.org
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are from Wikipedia)
Today in Military History: May 10, 1775
Today's post addresses an early incident in the American Revolution. Three weeks after the war's beginning, an undermanned British installation was attacked and captured by a group of local militiamen. They were led by one gentleman whose name would in later years be associated with home furnishings, and another officer whose name would become infamous as a traitor to his nation.
After the "shot heard 'round the world" at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, events began to snowball. The men of the various colonies sought to throw off the yoke of British tyranny, and began to formulate their plans for resistance.
In addition to the split between the colonies and England, there was unrest in a sparsely-populated area wedged between the colonies of New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. This area was often referred to as the "New Hampshire Grants;" others christened this in-between land as "Vermont" – taken from the French words for "green mountain." These lands were assigned to New York by the British crown, but most of the settlers had received their land grants from Connecticut or New Hampshire. These pioneers rejected the authority of New York to exercise its rule over them.
In order to protect their rights and property, a number of residents and land speculators formed a militia which called itself the Green Mountain Boys. By the early 1770's they became an armed militia, fully prepared to resist the encroachment of New York in their territory.
Map of British colonies in America, 1775
"New Hampshire Grants" (Vermont) is in purple
(Image courtesy of http://dwkcommentaries.com)
This emplacement – formerly known as Fort Carillon – was built by the French and Canadians during the French and Indian War of 1754-1763. It was the site of a major battle in 1758, when 16,000 British regulars and American militia were driven away by a French garrison of only 4000 regulars, militia, and Indians. The British took the fort the next year, renaming it Ticonderoga. Afterwards, the fort was allowed to deteriorate, and by 1773 the fort's commander stated in a report that it was in "ruinous condition."
By 1775, Ticonderoga was being used as a supply depot, which included various sizes of cannon, mortars, and other munitions and supplies. The emplacement had only a token garrison of less than 100 men to guard these important supplies. With the onset of the Revolution, the Green Mountain Boys began formulating plans to surprise the small garrison and capture the fort. This militia was led by Ethan Allen, a former resident of Connecticut who moved to Vermont to settle. He had a good legal and philosophical mind, but also had a bad temper and a vulgar vocabulary.
Diagram of Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) from 1758
Ethan Allen had been born in Connecticut, but moved to the "New Hampshire Grants" upon receiving one of the desirable documents. He became a leader among the residents who resisted the attempts of the province of New York to exercise its authority over the territory. Allen even journeyed to Albany in 1770 to plead the case of the Connecticut-issue grantholders in New York court. The obvious verdict followed – the court found in favor of New York – which only served to embolden the Vermonters. Surveyors from New York were "persuaded" not to do their jobs, often after severe beatings. Settlers with New York-issued land grants were similarly urged not to stay, especially after their possession were stolen or burned.
Allen and several members of his extended family attained positions of authority within the Green Mountain Boys. Soon after the events of April 1775, Allen and his men began examining actions that could be taken to support the rebel cause. Eventually, it was determined that capturing Ft. Ticonderoga would interrupt a possible British invasion from Canada via Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. The fort's munitions and other supplies would also be valuable acquisitions for the American cause. In late April and early May, Allen and the Green Mountain Boys began making their plans for a lightning late-night attack on the fortification. However, on May 9 – the day before the planned attack – an American officer from Massachusetts appeared and sought to take over command of the attack force.
Arnold was born in Connecticut, and apprenticed to an apothecary (that's druggist to you modern folk). He joined the militia in 1757, and participated in the British campaign to relieve Fort William Henry. When the unit received word of the fort's fall, it promptly turned around and returned home. Later, Arnold went into the pharmacy and bookselling business, then started a merchant business that made him considerable money. He travelled extensively throughout New England to Quebec and the West Indies.
Arnold later joined the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization of American colonists that was not afraid to use violence to oppose implementation of those and other unpopular Parliamentary measures. By early 1775, he had been promoted to captain of a unit of Connecticut militia, which promptly marched northeast to Boston after receiving word of Lexington and Concord. Arriving in Boston in late April, he met with the Massachusetts Committee of Public Safety. Each of the American colonies had such a group, which functioned as a provisional government to rule a province in the place of royal authority. Arnold presented the committee a plan to capture Ticonderoga. The committee agreed with Arnold, issued him a commission as colonel, and gave him authority to lead such an expedition. Arnold left Boston on May 3, arriving in Vermont and riding into Allen's camp on May 9, as the final preparations for the attack on Ticonderoga were being formulated.
Benedict Arnold (1741-1801)
Engraving by H.B. Hall (1879) after portrait by John Trumbull
Prelude to the Attack
In the afternoon and evening hours of May 9, Arnold and Allen argued over who should command the attacking forces. The Green Mountain Boys said that they would not serve under Arnold's command. Finally, a compromise was reached: Arnold agreed to march at the head of the troops with Allen, which satisfied everyone involved. The Vermonters had gathered about 160 men to commandeer Ticonderoga. The original plan was for a number of boats to meet the men on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain at midnight, row the half-mile across, and attack the fort at dawn.
Arriving at the appointed place and time, no boats had appeared. It was not until 1:30 am of May 10 that some boats appeared, and their number was not adequate to carry all of the attackers across. Making a split-second decision, Allen decided to take half of his men across the lake immediately. Once the men reached the western side of the lake, the boats were sent back to retrieve the remaining men. However, the long wait for boats and the long voyage across wasted valuable time. With dawn approaching, Allen and Arnold decided to attack the fort with just the men they had at hand, numbering 83.
Four years later, Col. Allen wrote a memoir of his attack on Ft. Ticonderoga. He stated that he gave the following speech to his command:
"Friends and fellow soldiers, you have, for a number of years past, been a scourge and terror to arbitrary power. Your valor has been famed abroad, and acknowledged, as appears by the advice and orders to me, from the General Assembly of Connecticut, to surprise and take the garrison now before us. I now propose to advance before you, and, in person, conduct you through the wicket gate; for we must this morning either quit our pretensions to valor, or possess ourselves of this fortress in a few minutes; and, inasmuch as it is a desperate attempt, which none but the bravest of men dare undertake…"
Consequently, the Green Mountain Boys were arrayed in three lines and advanced toward the main gate of Ticonderoga, still hoping for the element of surprise to carry the day, as dawn threatened to reveal their desperate enterprize.
"By What Authority Have Ye Entered His Majesty's Fort?"
Fort Ticonderoga today; Lake Champlain in the background
Allen and Arnold led their men forward, toward a single British sentry guarding the main gate. The surprised guardsman aimed his weapon and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. [A spy had reported that the fort's gunpowder was wet, which may have been the cause.] The Vermonters rushed the gate in hot pursuit.
The spooked sentry ran to the enlisted barracks hoping to awaken his companions, but apparently failed. Allen's memoir claims at this point his men marched into the fort, still in their three ranks, and raised three huzzahs to awaken the garrison. Moments later, a British soldier emerged from the barracks and charged, using his bayonet to wound one of the invaders. Col. Allen struck the man on the side of the head with his sword (though Allen admitted he was moved by mercy not to outright kill the man). Grabbing the wounded Brit, Allen demanded to know the location of the commanding officer. The soldier quickly did so, and Allen and some of his men – probably including Arnold – headed for the commander's quarters.
Rushing up a set of stairs to the officers' quarters, Col. Allen hammered on the door, demanding that the commander, a Captain Delaplace, come out and surrender. Probably stalling for time, Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham emerged – possibly mistaken as the commander by Allen, who he described and holding his breeches in his hand. Lt. Feltham then asked by what authority had the rebels entered Fort Ticonderoga. Allen then made his famous statement, "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!" Shortly afterwards, Capt. Delaplace came out in uniform and formally surrendered the fort to the rebels.
Amazingly, no one was killed in the fort's capture. Within minutes of the surrender, the Green Mountain Boys began ransacking the fort's store for liquor, which thoroughly disgusted Benedict Arnold. Over the next few days, Arnold was kept busy cataloging the number and caliber of the many artillery pieces within the wall of Ticonderoga. Within a couple of weeks, most of Allen's men drifted back across Lake Champlain, once the alcohol ran out.
Footnote #1: The British recaptured the fort in July of 1777, during the course of General Burgoyne's invasion of New York. It was abandoned later that year, and by that time the fort had become essentially irrelevant. Ticonderoga fell into disrepair, and was the focus of restoration and rebuilding efforts between 1900 and 1950. It has been a major tourist attraction for years.
Footnote #2: One of the interesting mysteries of history is that there are no reliable portraits of Ethan Allen in existence. However, one of Allen's grandsons was Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who was a Union officer during the American Civil War. His mother – one of Allen's daughters – claimed that Hitchcock bore a remarkable resemblance to her father.
Gen. Ethan A. Hitchcock (1798-1870), U.S.A.
Daguerreotype taken between 1851-1860, photographer unknown
From the Library of Congress' Prints and Photographs division
Footnote #3: The Republic of Vermont (1777-1791) adopted as their flag the one carried by the Green Mountain Boys. Even after joining the United States in 1791, the banner was retained. Even today, the flag is used as the banner of the Vermont National Guard, which refers to itself as the Green Mountain Boys.
Flag of the Green Mountain Boys, and of short-lived Republic of Vermont