The American Revolutionary War did not just ‘happen’. It was not a singular event, nor were the battles that took place the sum of the war. The foundation of the greatest country to have ever existed on the planet was born of many struggles, many years in the making. It came as a result of men and women yearning to be left alone by centralized government and bureaucracies that inevitably ruin prosperity. Over and over across the American colonies, the people simply aimed to govern themselves, peaceably. The history of the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont is an example of these struggles for freedom. They persevered in obtaining this freedom locally and then came to the aid of the rest of the colonies becoming one of the most renowned militia units of the war.
Similar to many militia units of the mid to late 1700’s, the Green Mountain Boys were initially put together to support settlers and land speculators settling the mountainous region of what would become the northeast United States in the state of Vermont. Likely, the main purpose was to defend the settlers from native American attacks or possibly French presence near Canada since British troops were not always nearby.
However, the spartan militia very quickly became instrumental in defending the territory from incursions by the colonial government of New York. New Hampshire had granted land to Vermont territory settlers in the western part of its colonial borders but New York tried to assert control there after a British court verdict in New York’s favor. The Green Mountain Boys ensured that New York’s attempt to control this area of modern day Vermont were thwarted and they often used forceful tactics to get the job done. By the early 1770’s the Green Mountain Boys were essentially the governmental authority of the Vermont area and initiated independence efforts from New York.
Under the leadership of Ethan Allen, the Green Mountain Boys earned a reputation for being trustworthy and more importantly, effective. For many militias of the day, this was not always the case. Their fame was ignited with their unwavering loyalty to their home place of Vermont and inflamed when the cries for independence from Britain became a reality in 1775. About a month after the events of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the Green Mountain Boys aided other colonial forces in successfully taking Fort Ticonderoga from the British on May 10, 1775 and then a few other British forts shortly thereafter. And they didn’t stop at forts – they also took a British ship in Lake Champlain. The capture of these forts, the ship and the multitude of cannon and ammunition was essential in shutting off British war capacity from the north. The cannon and ammunition were hauled to Boston and their presence helped force the British from Boston in early 1776.
This fierce spirit of freedom embodied by the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont was so strong, Vermont declared itself an independent nation in January of 1777. By this time, leadership of the Green Mountain Boys had changed but their passion for independence had not. Under the command of Seth Warner, Ethan Allen’s cousin, the militia unit was a significant factor in the Battle of Bennington, a major American victory in the revolutionary war.
The Green Mountain Boys’ flag was a simple one – the green representing the lush forests and green hills from whence they came and the thirteen stars arrayed in a more natural fashion represented the American colonies. But their story is more than their flag. Their legacy is more than their story. We celebrate them today by remembering that standing up to tyranny and defending our rights to self-government are the duty of a free people.