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Ethan Allen, Maverick

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Ethan Allen @ Montpelier
Ethan Allen @ Montpelier
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Ethan Allen, a reckless hero of the American Revolution, was just as reckless in attacking Christianity, which he called "superstition" in an unruly book.

A New England resident, Allen actually rebelled before the Revolution. A 1770 dispute over land grants threatened settlers with loss of their farms. They raised a defense regiment called the Green Mountain Boys, with Allen its colonel. The British governor of New York declared him an outlaw and put a price on his head. The settlers held the governor's forces at bay.

When the Revolution broke out, the Green Mountain Boys joined the action and overwhelmed the British garrison at Fort Ticonderoga. Then Allen made a foolhardy attempt to capture Montreal, but was captured himself and sent to Eng­ land as a prisoner. Later, he was released.

Allen was a freethinker. At his wedding, the ritual required him to pledge "to live with Fanny Buchanan agreeable to the laws of God." Allen halted the ceremony in protest. Only after it was specified that his pledge meant the god of nature, as envisioned by Deists, did he proceed.

Before the war, Allen had worked with a fellow skeptic, Dr. Thomas Young, in drafting a book. But Young died, leaving the work unfinished. After the war, Allen revised the manuscript and published it under his name alone as Reason, the Only Oracle of Man. It was a scathing assault on Calvinist Christianity. The clergy seethed in anger. One minister published a verse rebuke:

"Behold, inspired from Vermont dens,

The seer of Antichrist descends

To feed new mobs with hell-born manna

In gentle lands of Susquehanna."

When on his deathbed Allen was told by a minister, "General, I fear the angels are waiting for you," the old soldier replied: "Waiting, are they? Waiting, are they? Well, goddam 'em, let 'em wait."

Allen's comments on religion:

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)

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