Historians rethink mythology of the Allens

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(Host) Vermont historians say they’ve revised the way they view key figures in the state’s early history.

Speaking Thursday night on VPR’s Switchboard program, author Michael Sherman said that for many years, historians thought the Green Mountain Boys were a homegrown band of rebels. The group was instrumental in fighting for Vermont’s independence in the late 1700s.

Sherman says new research shows the Green Mountain Boys had more members than originally thought – and that many were experienced veterans of similar battles elsewhere:

(Sherman) “It turns out they had been involved in land wars in New York, it turns out they had been involved in a new evangelical faith and it really means that you have to rethink the social composition of this revolution. And it was these kinds of discoveries here and there that we felt called for a new history.”

(Host) The Green Mountain Boys were led by Ethan Allen. Allen and his brother Ira have become larger than life over the years. But Kevin Graffagnino of the Vermont Historical Society says a somewhat less heroic and more human picture of the Allens has emerged in recent years:

(Graffagnino) “I think that it’s safe to say that the 2004 vision of the Allens is considerably more complex. That we find instances in their careers where they were in fact brave, heroic, altruistic – doing magnificent things we would approve in any generation. But there were also times in their careers where they were acting out of self-interest. Where they were behaving like normal human beings, in different reasons, different motivations in their careers.”

(Host) Graffagnino says while he fought to win recognition for Vermont as a state, Ethan Allen also considered a British offer to make Vermont a province of Canada. Historians say it’s difficult to tell how serious Allen took the offer, or whether it was simply used as a ploy to get the attention of the U.S. Congress.

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