Inventing Ethan Allen

John J. Duffy and H. Nicholas Muller

Since 1969, Ethan Allen has been the subject of three biographical studies, all of which indulge in sustaining and revitalizing the image of Allen as a physically imposing Vermont yeoman, a defender of the rights of Americans, an eloquent military hero, and a master of many guises, from rough frontiersman to gentleman philosopher. Seeking the authentic Ethan Allen, the authors of this volume ask: How did that Ethan Allen secure his place in popular culture? As they observe, this spectacular persona leaves little room for a more accurate assessment of Allen as a self-interested land speculator, rebellious mob leader, inexperienced militia officer, and truth-challenged man who would steer Vermont into the British Empire. Drawing extensively from the correspondence in Ethan Allen and his Kin and a wide range of historical, political, and cultural sources, Duffy and Muller analyze the factors that led to Ethan Allen’s two-hundred-year-old status as the most famous figure in Vermont’s past. Placing facts against myths, the authors reveal how Allen acquired and retained his iconic image, how the much-repeated legends composed after his death coincide with his life, why recollections of him are synonymous with the story of Vermont, and why some Vermonters still assign to Allen their own cherished and idealized values.

Cover Image of Inventing Ethan Allen
Paper: $29.95 | E-book: $27.99
ISBN-13: 9781611685541
Pages: 304 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: June 3, 2014


  • Now come two venerable historians with yet another portrait - not just of the man in all his complexity, but of his evolving, grandiose reputation and how it served the purposes of the writers, their society, and the state that became invested in a conflation of history and legend.Inventing Ethan Allen, by John J. Duffy and Nicholas Muller III, published by the University of New England, takes a hard look at what is known about Ethan Allen, from the documentary record, and what was written speculatively about him. Ultimately, they argue, it was a 19th-century "confection" that elevated him to heroic, bigger-than-life status and that helped make him the namesake of everything from a furniture company to a think tank.

    Burlington Free Press
  • With solid research Duffy and Muller convince readers that many facts were lost in the fictional depiction of Allen. . . .This study contributes immensely to our understanding of the cult of the Vermont hero and heroes in general.

    Journal of American History
  • What? Ethan Allen wasn’t everything we’ve come to believe? Duffy and Muller make the eye-opening case that the Hero of Ticonderoga, the defender of the New Hampshire Grants, and the patriot whose name and image adorn ships, statues, highways, and stores is as much legend as fact. Great Jehovah!

    James H. Douglas
    former governor of Vermont
  • This is a good book overall, and should appeal to anyone interested in America’s struggle for independence or Vermont history.

  • Inventing Ethan Allen describes in detail the shifting historical images of Vermont’s most famous revolutionary hero. The story Duffy and Muller tell is both complex and entertaining, involving Allen’s own self-promotion, several biographers, the founders of the Vermont Historical Society, state politicians, professional as well as amateur historians, sculptors, and entrepreneurs fond of exploiting Ethan’s fame. The book also gives straightforward summaries of what we know and don’t know about Allen’s life. A must-read for anyone interested in how Vermonters relate to their past.

    Jere Daniell
    professor of history emeritus, Dartmouth College

About the Author

JOHN J. DUFFY is emeritus professor of English and  Humanities, Vermont State Colleges. H. NICHOLAS MULLER III has served as president of Colby-Sawyer College and dean and professor of history at the University of Vermont. Both have published widely on Vermont topics, including a co-authored monograph, An Anxious Democracy:Aspects of the 1830s.

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