The Green Mountain Boys

by Daniel Pierce Thompson
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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2670

First published: 1839

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Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical romance

Time of work: 1775-1776

Locale: Vermont

Principal Characters:

Captain Charles Warrington, a Vermont patriot

Lieutenant Selden, later Edward Hendee, his friend

Ethan Allen, the leader of the Green Mountain Boys

Alma Hendee, the beloved of Warrington

Captain Hendee, her father

Jessy Reed, the daughter of a British officer

Pete Jones, a Green Mountain Boy

Jacob Sherwood, a Tory

Bill Darrow, Sherwood's confederate

Neshobee, a loyal Indian

The Story

In the troubled times that preceded the Revolutionary War, the Vermont settlements were in armed dispute between the authorities of New York and the settlers who held their titles under the New Hampshire Grants. Many of the Green Mountain Boys, as the borderers called themselves, had been outlawed for their defiance of the New York Assembly. Among them was a young landowner named Captain Charles Warrington.

Early in April, 1775, Warrington and four of the Green Mountain Boys arrived at Lake Dunmore on their way to aid some wronged settlers of the region. Colonel Reed, a British officer holding a patent purchased in Albany, had built a log fort on the lower falls of Otter Creek and evicted the settlers living nearby. He had then returned to Canada, leaving the fort garrisoned by a detachment of former Highlanders under Sergeant Donald McIntosh. One attack on the fort had been repulsed; Warrington and his friends were planning a second attempt.

While the men were preparing to camp for the night, they learned that a band of New Yorkers led by Munroe, a York sheriff, was in pursuit. Neshobee, a friendly Indian, brought the warning, sent by Mrs. Ann Story, a widow who was resisting eviction from her half-cleared farm. Forewarned, Warrington and his men arranged an ambush for the Yorkers and took the attackers by surprise. They doused Munroe and several others in the lake. Munroe's guide was Jacob Sherwood, a settler who pretended sympathy with his neighbors in the Grants but who was secretly in the employ of New York land-jobbers. Captured by Pete Jones, one of the Green Mountain Boys, Sherwood was treated to a beech-sealing—a beating with beech rods—before he was released.

The Green Mountain Boys then separated. Warrington and his friend Selden went to Mrs. Story's cabin, which they found empty. Warrington, unable to sleep, was wandering near the cabin when he heard muffled singing. Because the voice resembled that of a woman whom he thought far from the wilderness, he investigated further, to find that the singing apparently came from underground. Mystified, he returned to the cabin and went to sleep. The next morning, Mrs. Story and her children appeared from the forest. Questioned, she admitted that a recent guest had departed, and she showed Warrington an underground chamber fashioned from a cave, a refuge in which her family and the guest had spent the night. To Warrington's questions she replied cryptically that the hedge was too high for him to leap at that time.

Later in the morning, Munroe and his men appeared at the cabin and almost succeeded in trapping Warrington and Selden, who were hidden inside. Mrs. Story confronted them with her rifle, but the tongue-lashing she gave the sheriff was even more effective in putting that discomfited officer to rout. Before Warrington's departure, Mrs. Story made him promise that he would not harm the family whom Neshobee served.

His force increased by other settlers from the Grants, Warrington attacked Reed's fort, but McIntosh, warned by Sherwood, was ready to resist the onslaught from behind log barricades blocking the approach to the fort. While reconnoitering, Warrington and Selden discovered that the only two occupants were Jessy Reed, the colonel's daughter, and Zilpah, her half-Indian servant. Climbing over the stockade, they were able to threaten the defenders from the rear. McIntosh asked permission to surrender formally, and Warrington allowed the sergeant and his men to depart under parole for holdings owned by Colonel Reed on the New York side of Lake Champlain. Jessy Reed preferred to go to the home of some friends, the daughters of Colonel Skene, at Skenesboro, and Selden was delegated to convey her there safely. On the way, impressed by her charms, he told her something about himself. He knew neither his name nor his birthplace. Several families had fostered him until at last a benevolent British nobleman had provided for his education abroad. Tiring of Europe, he had returned to the colonies and had drifted into the Grants, where he joined Warrington in his resistance to the harsh decrees of New York officials.

Warrington, after reestablishing the settlers along Otter Creek and sending a party in pursuit of a York surveyor reported in the neighborhood, traveled southward to the region opposite Crown Point. His own lands lay there in the shadow of Snake Mountain, and he was surprised to find that a part of the wilderness tract had been replaced by well-tilled fields. While he stood looking across Lake Champlain, he heard a woman scream. In a clearing nearby, a girl was being annoyed by a soldier from the opposite fort. The man fled when Warrington appeared, and Warrington found himself face-to-face with Alma Hendee, who addressed him as Mr. Howard. She told him also that her father held these lands under a York title and that she and her parent lived in daily dread of an attack by Warrington and his band of border ruffians.

Warrington did not reveal his true name. Several years before, while traveling as Mr. Howard, he had gone on a mission to New York and there had met Captain Hendee and his daughter. The family had disappeared mysteriously, and he had uncovered no trace of them. A short time later, when he called at the Hendee cabin, he learned more of their story. The Captain had been compelled to leave New York suddenly because of pressing debts. Years before, Jacob Sherwood's father had mismanaged an estate belonging to the Captain. He had also persuaded Gilbert Hendee, the Captain's brother, to make a will naming Sherwood the legatee if Captain Hendee's small son, Edward, should die before reaching his majority. Edward Hendee had disappeared soon afterward; it was believed that he had been killed or stolen by Indians. Jacob Sherwood, after his father had acquired Gilbert Hendee's estate, became solicitous for the welfare of Alma and her father. After he had established them in the Grants, he became, with the Captain's permission, Alma's suitor. Neshobee was the Hendees' servant. Mrs. Story's cryptic remark and her request were clear to Warrington at last.

While Warrington was calling on the Hendees, another visitor arrived who was a tall, commanding-looking man who gave his name as Smith. He brought word that the Americans and British had fought at Lexington and that American blood had been shed. Before Warrington and Smith could make their departure, some soldiers from Crown Point entered the cabin. They were led by Bill Darrow, who had molested Alma in the forest. Darrow, Sherwood's confederate, had recognized Warrington and intended to make him a prisoner. Because the presence of Smith hindered his plan, Darrow tried to make the big man drunk. Late that night, Smith and Warrington went to the barn to sleep. Smith then revealed that he had been pouring his drinks into his boots; he was sober. Warrington called him Ethan Allen. He was the leader of the Green Mountain Boys, a greater prize than Warrington if the soldiers had known it.

Alma, by that time aware of Warrington's identity, sent Neshobee to the barn with the guns the men had been forced to leave behind. While the soldiers were still carousing, the two men slipped away into the forest.

The Green Mountain Boys held a rendezvous at the middle falls of Otter Creek. Selden and Pete Jones arrived with Squire Prouty, a York justice of the peace. Another prisoner brought in was the York surveyor. The prisoners were sentenced to lash each other. Prouty was allowed to return to his home, but the surveyor was sent back across the New York line.

Ethan Allen summoned the Green Mountain Boys to another meeting near Middlebury. There he reminded them of the wrongs the settlers had suffered and disclosed his secret project, the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. When the men gathered for a muster at Castleton, a dispute arose between Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, who had arrived with a force of men under his command. Warrington settled the difficulties between the two men, and Ethan Allen was named leader of the expedition.

Taken by surprise, Fort Ticonderoga fell, but Warrington was not present at the assault; he had been delayed while obtaining boats for the militia. When Ethan Allen offered him the command for an attack on Crown Point, Warrington said that Selden ought to be the leader, as Miss Reed was still at Skenesboro.

The Hendees, aroused by cannonading across the lake, saw several bateaux filled with armed men bearing down on the fortress at Crown Point. Through her father's spyglass, Alma saw the gates of the fort thrown open after a brief parley and the British flag slowly lowered. A short time later, Neshobee brought word that Warrington was in command of the garrison. Alma, who had heard from Mrs. Story an account of Warrington's bravery and Sherwood's duplicity, was in sympathy with the Green Mountain Boys, but when Warrington sent her a note asking her to elope with him, she refused for her father's sake. Pete Jones brought her a letter from Jessy Reed as well, in which Miss Reed said that she was once more Selden's prisoner.

When Warrington renewed his visits to the Hendee cabin, the Captain gladly received him. Jacob Sherwood, whose treachery had been revealed, was ordered from the house when he next appeared. Meanwhile, Jacob's father had died, conscience stricken, after willing back the Hendee property to the Captain. While the will was still in the possession of the Sherwood attorney, Jacob Sherwood burned some incriminating papers of his father. Darrow reported to him that a young officer at Crown Point bore a striking resemblance to the lost Edward Hendee.

Burgoyne marched his troops from Canada, and Jacob Sherwood recruited a band of Tories and Indians to harass settlers in the Grants. The Hendees, accompanied by Jessy Reed, fled, only to be betrayed by their treacherous guide. Captured, they were taken to the Tory camp, where Sherwood tried to force Alma into marriage. Neshobee, eluding the guards, carried word of the Hendees' plight to Warrington, who was several miles away with the rear guard of St. Clair's army. Selden was dispatched to effect their rescue.

After Neshobee's escape, Sherwood hurried his captives away from the camp. From a cliff, the prisoners watched the battle of Hubbardton. During the engagement, Selden and his men appeared and routed Sherwood's guards. With Sherwood and his band in close pursuit, the fugitives, accompanied by Selden and Pete Jones, made their way to Mrs. Story's clearing. The women were sent to the underground chamber, while the men prepared to defend the cabin. When the attackers set fire to the logs, those inside the cabin retreated through an underground passage to the cave. Unable to force the entrance to the chamber, Sherwood ordered his men to dig out the defenders. At Captain Hendee's suggestion, a mine was rigged from some casks of powder stored in the cave, and as a last desperate measure of resistance, the attackers were blown up. Sherwood escaped. Darrow, horribly mutilated by the blast, revealed that Selden was Edward Hendee, whom Darrow, on orders from the older Sherwood, had kidnaped and abandoned years before. As the guilty man lay dying, Warrington and a cavalry troop arrived on the scene. The soldiers escorted the fugitives to a place of safety in one of the older settlements.

After the battle of Bennington, the company reassembled at Captain Hendee's for a double wedding, the marriage of Alma and Warrington and that of Edward Hendee and Jessy Reed, whose father had sent word of his consent. Pete Jones, carried away by the spirit of the occasion, proposed to Alma's maid, Ruth, and was coyly accepted. Ethan Allen decided that still one more marriage would be in order. Bluffly, he persuaded Zilpah to accept the faithful Neshobee. Then, having done all that man could do, he asked the parson to do his duty.

Warrington and Edward Hendee returned to Vermont at the war's end to lead long lives of service to their state. Pete Jones and his wife prospered on their farm, and Neshobee and Zilpah remained with Captain Hendee for many years. Jacob Sherwood finally found refuge in a Tory colony in Canada, where he died in poverty and disgrace.

Critical Evaluation:

A homespun product, THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS is as native to its time and place as the granite ledges and sugar orchards of New England. Daniel Pierce Thompson, lawyer, editor, and judge, had spent his boyhood on a farm near Montpelier, Vermont, and his knowledge of frontier life was as extensive as Cooper's. A writer by accident rather than by choice, he presented in his half dozen novels a romantic yet truthful record of the early history of his state.

Of his books, THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS is the best and the most popular. Printed first on a small newspaper press, it ran through more than fifty editions by 1860. Because the story deals with Ethan Allen and the struggle of his Green Mountain Boys for liberty, the book has become the classic novel of Vermont. Thompson never strayed too far from facts or local scenery. In this novel, Captain Warrington is Seth Warner under a fictional disguise made necessary by the plot. Selden and Captain Hendee are also recognizable as real persons. Mrs. Story, Munroe, Skene, Reed, McIntosh, Benedict Arnold, and Ethan Allen appear under their own names, familiar figures in the early annals of the state.

Thompson celebrates the independence of the early settlers of Vermont. His historical romance is very much a folk epic, complete with larger-than-life characters, humorous peasant types, and a series of loosely connected adventures that dramatize the birth of a regional consciousness. If at times the plotting seems too contrived, readers must remember that the principal purpose of the book is not to tell a story but to embody the spirit of a group. In its humble and often sentimental way, THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS is a rural ILIAD: like Homer's heroes, Warrington (Seth Warner) and Ethan Allen outwit and outfight their lordly enemies.

Although the story alludes to the national struggle of the American Revolution and places its heroes in the service of the American cause, Thompson was not concerned primarily with the Revolution itself. In his introduction, he stresses the heroic independence of the few thousand Vermont settlers who successfully repelled the efforts of land grabbers from New York, a province possessing perhaps fifty times the population and resources of Vermont. The Green Mountain Boys form their defensive forces against New York, not Great Britain. It so happens that the New York authorities identify largely with the Tory cause when war breaks out. It was fortunate for the budding United States that the Green Mountain Boys turned out to be on its side.

Because it honors the rights of the little man, the independent yeoman, THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS occupies an important and early place in the egalitarian tradition at the heart of the American novel, a tradition that includes HUCKLEBERRY FINN and THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

The most stirring moment of Thompson's work is Ethan Allen's plea to the Vermonters to join him in the attack against the British at Ticonderoga. He convinces them of the justice of the cause by reminding them that the prize of the struggle will be Vermont's representation in a National Congress, where she will forever have the support of the entire United States against the predatory claims of her old enemy, New York.

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