8. Ethan Allen Arrives in Town
The affairs of the settlers on the New Hampshire Grants in the fall of 1769 seemed now to be approaching a crisis. Actions of ejectment had been commenced which were soon expected to be brought to trial, and on their result depended the titles to their farms, at least so far as the courts of New York could determine the title. Although they had little confidence in the tribunals of that province, they resolved to appear and make the best defense in their power.
About this time, Ethan Allen, afterwards so distinguished in the annals of the Hampshire Grants, came to this territory. He was an athletic man, of strong intellect, and though without much early education, of considerable general information. He was bold, inclining to rashness — had great confidence in his own powers both of body and mind — and having a more extensive acquaintance in New England and New York than most of the settlers, his aid was deemed valuable in the important controversy in which they were engaged.
He could write a letter or an argument in strong and intelligible, if not in accurate and polished language, and could address a multitude and maybe a court if occasion required, with skill and effect. His qualifications for usefulness were soon put in requisition by his employment as an agent in defending the suits against the settlers, which were shortly expected to be tried at Albany.
Ethan Allen traveled to New Hampshire and obtained copies of Governor Wentworth's commission and instructions from the King, under which the grants to the settlers had been made. He next went to Connecticut and engaged the services of Mr. Ingersol, an eminent counselor of that day. In June 1770 these gentlemen, with the defendants, appeared before the courts at Albany and attended the trial against Josiah Carpenter of Shaftsbury.
The counsel produced to the court the papers before mentioned, and also the charter of the township of Shaftsbury, and the defendant's deed from the original proprietors. These papers were at once rejected by the court as having no weight in the case; because they presupposed that the boundary of New Hampshire might reach westward of the Connecticut River, a point not to be admitted as possible by any New York court or jury. The verdict was, of course, given for the plaintiff.
Indeed, the whole process was a piece of idle formality. It was the theoretical and practical doctrine of the New York government that all of Governor Wentworth's grants were illegal; and many of the judges and lawyers were personally interested in the subsequent New York patents, so that a decision adverse to their declared opinions of the law, and to their private interests, was not to be expected. Two other cases were tried with like results.
Because all the cases of ejectment stood precisely on the same footing, the decision in these cases was deemed a precedent for all the rest; and the defendants perceived that it was useless to contend and therefore further abandoned all defense. Sundry other cases were brought up and decided against the occupants, without opposition.
The defendants and their friends did not, however, contemplate that the matter was to end in Albany. It is related that after Allen retired from court, two or three gentlemen interested in the New York grants called upon him, one of whom was the King's attorney general for the colony, and advised him to go home and persuade his friends in the Green Mountains to make the best terms they could with their new landlords, intimating that their cause was now desperate, and reminding him of the proverb that "might often prevails against right."
Neither admiring the delicacy of this sentiment nor intimidated by the threat it held out, Allen replied, "The gods of the vallies are not the gods of the hills!" This laconic figure of speech he left to be interpreted by his visitors, adding only, when an explanation was asked by John Tabor Kempe, the King's attorney, that if he would accompany Allen to Bennington the sense should be made clear.
The suits being thus determined, Allen and his friends returned and reported the particulars to the settlers. The news spread from habitation to habitation, and created a loud murmur of discontent among the people. Seeing, as they thought, the door of justice shut against them, and having tried in vain all practicable means of securing their rights, they resolved to appeal to the last arbiter of disputes.
The inhabitants of Bennington immediately assembled, and came to a formal determination to defend their property by force, and to unite in resisting all encroachments upon the lands occupied by persons holding titles under the warrants granted by the governor of New Hampshire. This bold step was promptly taken, and with a determination to adhere to it at any hazard, and without regard to consequences. In this resolution they were supported by the settlers in the other towns of the county, who soon came to the same determination.