By Willard Sterne Randall
Published by W. W. Norton & Co.
Copyright © 2011
Review by A. Kendrick
Ethan Allen – it’s not just a furniture store. Ethan Allen was a founding father of the State of Vermont, and also of the United States of America. He was a war hero, a land speculator, an author, and a philosopher.
Randall provides us with a glimpse of Colonial New England and its Puritan governance in the time of Ethan and his ancestors. He adroitly points out the people and events that shaped his thinking and actions – from preachers to French philosophers, and from doctors to Indians. We are given the image of a strong and intellectual boy who, after the death of his father and thus the end of his education, quickly becomes a man, entrepreneur, and especially a leader.
His leadership is on full display, not so much in being the leader of the unit that captured Fort Ticonderoga at the beginning of the Revolutionary war, but in his single minded desire to save the New Hampshire Grants (the state of Vermont) from the well to do New York and British Hierarchy.
Ethan Allen is also shown to us as a great thinker and writer. When we think of Revolutionary era writers we think Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, or Thomas Jefferson. What we fail to realize is how much these men were influenced by the writing and actions of Ethan Allen. And while one might have a distaste for Allen’s writings on religion and his rejection of established religion, Randall’s portrait of a world ensconced in a twisted theology makes Ethan’s deistic, and some might say atheistic, proclamations quite understandable.
While this biography will especially be enjoyed by American Revolution Enthusiasts, I think most individuals interested in the real lives of other people will find Ethan Allen to be a fascinating study. Though shown as a man with flaws he was, to say the least, a man of vision and action who stood up for what he thought was right, and he knew how to motivate others to do so. In an era when men of principle are increasingly hard to find the story of Ethan Allen is refreshing, thought provoking, and enjoyable.