Today, the Vermont Sesquicentennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when Colonel Allen, without the promised support, had to surrender on September 25, 1775.
From Ethan Allen’s book, A Narrative of Col. Ethan Allen’s Captivity:
I passed through all the parishes on the river Sorrel, to a parish at the mouth of the same, which is called by the same name, preaching politics; and went from thence across the Sorrel to the river St. Lawrence, and up the river through the parishes to Longueil, and so far met with good success as an itinerant.
In this round, my guard were Canadians, my interpreter, and some few attendants excepted.
On the morning of the 24th day of September, I set out with my guard of about eighty men, from Longueil, to go to La Prairie; from whence I determined to go to Gen. Montgomery’s camp; but had not advanced two miles before I met with Major Brown, who has since been advanced to the rank of a Colonel, who desired me to halt, saying that he had something of importance to communicate to me and my confidants.
Upon which I halted the party, and went into an house, and took a private room with him and several of my associates, where Col. Brown proposed that, “Provided I would return to Longueil, and procure some canoes, so as to cross the river St. Lawrence a little north of Montreal, he would cross it a little to the south of the town, with near two hundred men, as he had boats sufficient; and that we would make ourselves masters of Montreal.”
This plan was readily approved by me and those in council; and in consequence of which I returned to Longueil, collected a few canoes, and added about thirty English Americans to my party, and crossed the river in the night of the 24th, agreeable to the before proposed plan.
My whole party, at this time, consisted of about one hundred and ten men, near eighty of whom were Canadians.
We were the most of the night crossing the river, as we had so few canoes that they had to pass and re-pass three times, to carry my party across.
Soon after daybreak, I set a guard between me and the town, with special orders to let no person whatever pass or re-pass them, and another guard on the other end of the road, with like directions.
In the meantime, I reconnoitered the best ground to make a defense, expecting Col. Brown’s party was landed on the other side of the town, he having, the day before, agreed to give three huzzas with his men early in the morning, which signal I was to return, that we might each know that both parties were landed.
But the sun, by this time, being near two hours high, and the sign failing, I began to conclude myself to be in a premunire, and would have crossed the river back again, but I knew the enemy would have discovered such an attempt; and, as there could not more than one third part of my troops cross at one time, the other two thirds would of course fall into their hands.
This I could not reconcile to my own feelings as a man, much less as an officer.
I therefore concluded to maintain the ground, if possible, and all to fare alike. In consequence of this resolution, I dispatched two messengers, one to La Prairie, to Col. Brown, and the other to L’Assomption, a French settlement, to Mr. Walker, who was in our interest, requesting their speedy assistance, giving them, at the same time, to understand my critical situation.
In the meantime, sundry persons came to my guards, pretending to be friends, but were by them taken prisoners and brought to me.
These I ordered to confinement, till their friendship could be farther confirmed ; for I was jealous they were spies, as they proved to be afterwards.
One of the principal of them making his escape, exposed the weakness of my party, which was the final cause of my misfortune; for I have been since informed that Mr. Walker, agreeable to my desire, exerted himself, and had raised a considerable number of men for my assistance, which brought him into difficulty afterwards; but, upon hearing of my misfortune, he disbanded them again.
The town of Montreal was in a great tumult.
Gen. Carlton and the royal party, made every preparation to go on board their vessels of force, as I was afterwards informed, but the spy, escaping from my guard to the town, occasioned an alteration in their policy, and emboldened Gen. Carlton to send the force, which he had there collected, out against me.
I had previously chosen my ground, but when I saw the number of the enemy, as they sallied out of the town, I perceived it would be a day of trouble, if not of rebuke; but I had no chance to flee, as Montreal was situated on an island, and the river St. Lawrence cut off my communication to Gen. Montgomery’s camp.
I encouraged my soldiery to bravely defend themselves, that we should soon have help, and that we should be able to keep the ground, if no more.
This, and much more, I affirmed with, the greatest seeming assurance, and which in reality I thought to be in some degree probable.
The enemy consisted of not more than forty regular troops, together with a mixed multitude, chiefly Canadians, with a number of English who lived in the town, and some Indians; in all, to the number of near five hundred.
The reader will notice that most of my party were Canadians; indeed it was a motley parcel of soldiery which composed both parties.
However, the enemy began the attack from wood-piles, ditches, buildings, and such like places, at a considerable distance, and I returned the fire from a situation more than equally advantageous.
The attack began between two and three of the clock in the afternoon, just before which I ordered a volunteer, by the name of Richard Young, with a detachment of nine men as a flank guard, which, under the cover of the bank of the river, could not only annoy the enemy, but at the same time, serve as a flank guard to the left of the main body.
The fire continued for some time on both sides; and I was confident that such a remote method of attack could not carry the ground, provided it should be continued ’till night.
But near half the body of the enemy began to flank round to my right; upon which I ordered a volunteer, by the name of John Dugan, who had lived many years in Canada, and understood the French language, to detach about fifty of the Canadians, and post himself at an advantageous ditch, which was on my right, to prevent my being surrounded.
He advanced with the detachment, but, instead of occupying the post, made his escape, as did likewise Mr. Young upon the left, with their detachments.
I soon perceived that the enemy was in possession of the ground, which Dugan should have occupied.
At this time I had but about forty five men with me; some of whom were wounded; the enemy kept closing round me, nor was it in my power to prevent it; by which means, my situation, which was advantageous in the first part of the attack, ceased to be so in the last.
And, being almost entirely surrounded with such, vast unequal numbers, I ordered a retreat, but found that those of the enemy, who were of the country, and their Indians, could run as fast as my men, though the regulars could not.
Thus I retreated near a mile, and some of the enemy, with the savages, kept flanking me, and others crowded hard in the rear.
In fine, I expected, in a very short time, to try the world of spirits: for I was apprehensive that no quarter would be given to me, and therefore had determined to sell my life as dear as I could.
One of the enemy’s officers, boldly pressing in the rear, discharged his fusee at me; the ball whistled near me, as did many others that day.
I returned the salute, and missed him, as running had put us both out of breath; for I conclude we were not frighted.
I then saluted him with my tongue in a harsh manner, and told him that, inasmuch as his numbers were so far superior to mine, I would surrender, provided I could be treated with honor, and be assured of good quarter for myself and the men who were with me; and he answered I should.
Another officer, coming up directly after, confirmed the treaty; upon which I agreed to surrender with my party, which then consisted of thirty-one effective men, and seven wounded.
I ordered them to ground their arms, which they did. The officer I capitulated with, then directed me and my party to advance towards him, which was done.
I handed him my sword, and in half a minute after, a savage, part of whose head was shaved, being almost naked and painted, with feathers intermixed with the hair of the other side of his head, came running to me with an incredible swiftness.
He seemed to advance with more than mortal speed; as he approached near me, his hellish visage was beyond all description.
Snakes’ eyes appear innocent in comparison of his; his features extorted; malice, death, murder, and the wrath of devils and damned spirits are the emblems of his countenance ; and, in less than twelve feet of me, presented his firelock.
At the instant of his present, I twitched the officer, to whom I gave my sword, between me and the savage ; but he flew round with great fury, trying to single me out to shoot me without killing the officer.
But by this time I was near as nimble as he, keeping the officer in such a position that his danger was my defense; but in less than half a minute, I was attacked by just such another imp of hell.
Then I made the officer fly around with incredible velocity, for a few seconds of time, when I perceived a Canadian, who had lost one eye, as appeared afterwards, taking my part against the savages; and in an instant an Irishman came to my assistance with a fixed bayonet, and drove away the fiends, swearing by Jasus he would kill them.
This tragic scene composed my mind. The escaping from so awful a death, made even imprisonment happy; the more so as my conquerors on the field treated me with great civility and politeness.
The regular officers said that they were very happy to see Col. Allen.
I answered them, that I should rather chose to have seen them at Gen. Montgomery’s camp.
The gentlemen replied, that they gave full credit to what I said, and, as I walked to the town, which was, as I should guess, more than two miles, a British officer walking at my right hand, and one of the French noblesse at my left.
The latter of which, in the action, had his eyebrow carried away by a glancing shot, but was nevertheless very merry and facetious, and no abuse was offered me till I came to the barrack-yard, at Montreal, where I met general Prescott, who asked me my name, which I told him.
He then asked me, whether I was that Col. Allen, who took Ticonderoga.
I told him I was the very man.
Then he shook his cane over my head, calling many hard names, among which he frequently used the word rebel, and put himself in a great rage.
I told him he would do well not to cane me, for I was not accustomed to it, and shook my fist at him, telling him that was the beetle of mortality for him, if he offered to strike.
Upon which Capt. McCloud of the British, pulled him by the skirt, and whispered to him, as he afterwards told me, to this import; that it was inconsistent with his honor to strike a prisoner.
He then ordered a sergeant’s command with fixed bayonets to come forward, and kill thirteen Canadians, which were included in the treaty aforesaid.
It cut me to the heart to see the Canadians in so hard a case, in consequence of their having been true to me; they were wringing their hands, saying their prayers, as I concluded, and expected immediate death.
I therefore stepped between the executioners and the Canadians, opened my clothes, and told Gen. Prescott to thrust his bayonet into my breast, for I was the sole cause of the Canadians taking up arms.
The guard, in the meantime, rolling their eyeballs from the General to me, as though impatiently waiting his dread commands to sheath their bayonets in my heart.
I could however plainly discern, that he was in a suspense and quandary about the matter.
This gave me additional hopes of succeeding; for my design was not to die, but save the Canadians by a finesse.
The general stood a minute, when he made me the following reply; “I will not execute you now; but you shall grace a halter at Tyburn, God damn you.”
I remember I disdained his mentioning such a place; I was, notwithstanding, a little pleased with the expression, as it significantly conveyed to me the idea of postponing the present appearance of death.
Besides his sentence was by no means final, as to “gracing a halter,” although I had anxiety about it after I landed in England, as the reader will find in the course of this history.
Gen. Prescott then ordered one of his officers to take me on board the Gaspee schooner of war, and confine me, hands and feet, in irons, which was done the same afternoon I was taken.
The Vermont Sesquicentennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image, circa 1858, of Ethan Allen in the Provost Prison.