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When we celebrate the Fourth of July this year, we should remember the contributions made by Vermonters in the fight for independence.
In his History of Vermont, Walter Crockett made reference to Ethan Allen and the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. Crockett wrote, “The first surrender of a British fortress in the long struggle for American independence was made to Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, and in the history of the military affairs of the United State the capture of Ticonderoga hedged the list as the first important aggressive movement in the Revolutionary War.
“The news of its capture by a little band of untrained farmers was evidence to the mother country that the rebellion was a serious matter. The tidings of Allen’s victory cheered every patriot's heart, and its importance and encouragement to those who sought to throw off the yoke of British oppression could not be overestimated. To the general public, it seemed that if Ticonderoga could be taken, all things were possible.”
Charles Jellison, in Ethan Allen: Frontier Rebel, wrote that Ticonderoga, “Must be considered a major military victory, for it drastically altered the power potential in the northern colonies and may very well have meant the difference between success and failure for the Revolutionary cause.” Jellison went on to say that Ticonderoga has often been considered one of the truly decisive strokes of the Revolution. It delayed and complicated British efforts to drive a wedge between New England and other colonies.
Edward Hamilton in his recent book, Fort Ticonderoga: Key to a Continent, wrote: “Allen’s seizure of the fort was a most daring and courageous act, the first really overt military act of the Revolution. Lexington and Concord had been defensive measures against a British offensive, but here at Ticonderoga the patriots determinedly and with planned intent seized a possession of the British King. This was revolt.”
In the winter of 1775-76, George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, found himself short of military equipment needed to drive the British out of Boston. Henry Knox, colonel of the artillery, suggested to Washington that captured military supplies from Crown Point and Ticonderoga could be transported to Boston. Washington, in a letter to Knox, wrote the following: “You're to immediately examine into the state of the artillery of this army, and take an account of the cannon, mortars, shells, lead and ammunition that are wanting. The want to them is so great that no trouble or expense must be spared to obtain.” In December of 1775, Knox removed heavy military equipment from Ticonderoga. He floated the supplies on Lake George, and then transported the equipment by land with 42 sleds and 81 yoke of oxen. When these supplies reached Boston in March of 1776, the British decided to evacuate and Washington’s military strategy prevailed.
The following excerpt was printed in Earle Newton’s The Vermont Story: “Fort Ticonderoga's immortal guns go to General George Washington ... in the winter of 1776 ... over hundreds of miles of roadless, trackless, snow-clad mountains and valleys, through thick forest, over ice-covered lakes and rivers … on sledges pulled by oxen … in the charge of General Knox and his artillery men in their red-trim regimentals, who deliver the guns at Dorchester Heights. There, roaring down at the enemy, they drive him out of Boston Town.”
The next year, in 1777, Vermonters fought with valor at the Battle of Bennington. Edward Conant said that the battle led to the British surrender of Saratoga, often referred to as one of the decisive battles in the history of the world.
Washington was impressed by the fighting qualities of Vermonters and was of great assistance to our joining the Union. When we celebrate the Fourth of July this year, we should remember the role of Vermonters in a revolution that changed the course of history.
On January 15, 1777, Vermont declared its independence from Great Britain and New York: “Whereas the Honorable the Continental Congress did, on the 4th day of July last, declare the United Colonies in America to be free and independent of the crown of Great Britain; which declaration we most cordially acquiesce in: And whereas by the said declaration the arbitrary acts of the crown are null and void, in America, consequently a right remains to the people of said Grants to form a government best suited to secure their property, well being and happiness.”
Vermont's Declaration, influenced by the American Declaration, stated, “That we will, at all times hereafter, consider ourselves as a free and independent state … and the people … have an inherent right of ruling.” The Vermont Declaration went on to support the War of Independence.
While Vermont fought with great valor to win American independence, she was not admitted into the Union until 1791, 14 years later, to become the 14th state.
The American Declaration of Independence proved a great example for Vermont to follow.
Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee and the Senate Education Committee. He teaches government history at Johnson State College.