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His Own Wild People


Published December 2, 2007 at 11:53 p.m.

For years I had a regular fare which entailed my spending hours at the Wake Robin retirement community in Shelburne. It's an enjoyable place to spend time. The grounds are beautiful and maintained with care by folks who care about their jobs. They have a small, but well-stocked library named in honor of a long-time resident, Jean Conner, who used to be the head librarian for the state of New York. Jean, I'm proud to say, is a chum of mine. She's a poetess, a late bloomer, who had her first book published, A Cartography of Peace, when she was well into her eighties. Her poetry thrills me. Jean is the cat's pajamas.

In the spacious hallway outside the main gathering room, I once discovered a series of historical books written by Washington Irving in 1855. (The edition I found at Wake Robin was a later edition, published in 1899.) In the volume entitled, The Life of George Washington, I read about an episode concerning the rivalry between Benedict Arnold and our own Ethan Allen.

Early in the Revolutionary War, one of the first significant victories for our side was the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. It was a joint mission co-led by Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, and a troop led by Benedict Arnold. (Before Arnold went bad, his very name personifying treason, he was one of the Continental Army's top military commanders.) Here is Irving's description of the action when Allen and his men overtook the Fort and confronted the British commander, a Captain Delaplace, in his quarters in the middle of the night:

The commandant appeared at his door half-dressed, the frightened face of his pretty wife peering over his shoulder. He gazed at Allen in bewildered astonishment. "By whose authority do you act?" exclaimed he. "In the name of the great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress!" replied Allen, with a great flourish of his sword, and an oath which we do not care to subjoin.

That's the way to capture a fort!

After the Fort was safely in the hands of our guys, the issue arose as to who would now be in command. Both Allen and Arnold claimed that honor. Both had an argument. Allen claimed command on the authority of the Committee from the Connecticut Assembly, which had originated the raid on the Fort. Arnold claimed it on the strength of his instructions from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. Arnold wrote this letter to the Massachusetts Committee pressing his case:

"Colonel Allen," wrote Arnold, "is a proper man to head his own wild people, but entirely unacquainted with military service, and as I am the only person who has been legally authorized to take possession of this place, I am determined to insist on my right and shall keep it at every hazard, until I have further notice.

So there was Benedict Arnold, traitor-in-waiting, disrespecting Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, and, by extension, all the people of Vermont.

But, looked at another way, maybe we still are the "wild people" he spoke of so disparagingly. As a 21st Century Vermonter, I'm down with that. How about you?



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