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How Ethan Allen Got Married to a Loyalist

Ethan Allen got married a second time in a bizarre ceremony after a whirlwind courtship to a woman half his age.

Frances Montresor, by John Singleton Copley.

Frances Montresor, by John Singleton Copley.

At least that’s how the witness, a two-year-old at the time, told the story.

In 1789, Ethan Allen was 46, a flamboyant Revolutionary War hero whose wife had died six months earlier, leaving him with three children. He was not easy to live with. He drank heavily and was often away from home. His first marriage, to Mary Brownson, had not been happy.  She was nearly illiterate and a scold. She was also deeply religious, while he opposed organized religion and wrote an attack on Christianity called Reason: the Only Oracle of Man.

When a rich, beautiful, well-educated young Loyalist widow fell for him, they were married almost immediately.

How Ethan Allen Got Married

After the American Revolution ended, Frances Montresor Buchanan was boarding in the home of Stephen Bradley in Westminster, Vt., where she had inherited large tracts of land. With her imperious manner and New York wardrobe, she was the talk of the town.

Ethan Allen apparently met her at a party at Bradley’s house during the February session of the Vermont Legislature. And there Bradley’s son, William Czar Bradley, picked up the story and made a legend out of it.

She was told if she married General Allen, she would be the queen of a new state. She replied, “If I should marry the devil, I’d be the queen of hell.”

Ethan Allen sculpture by Larkin Goldsmith Mead

Ethan Allen sculpture by Larkin Goldsmith Mead

In February 1784, Frances Montresor Buchanan was standing on a chair arranging china on a shelf when Ethan Allen walked into the room. She told him people didn’t make calls that early in the morning. He said he was on his way to Sunderland. And, he added, “If we are to be married, now is the time.” She put a decanter back on the shelf, stepped off the shelf and said, “Fine,” but she needed her coat.

A group of judges happened to be eating breakfast in the Bradley house, so Allen asked Judge Moses Robinson to perform the ceremony.

Said Allen, “For myself I have no great opinion of such formality, and from what I can discover, she thinks as little of it as I do. But as a decent respect for the opinions of mankind seems to require it, you will proceed.” Moses replied, “General, this is an important matter. Have you given it serious consideration?”

“Certainly,” Allen replied and looked at his beautiful bride. “But I do not think it requires much consideration.”

The judge started the ceremony until he asked Ethan Allen whether he promised to live with his wife, ‘agreeable to the laws of God.’ Allen stopped the wedding and looked out the window. “The law of God as written in the great book of nature?” he said. “Yes. Go on.”

They were pronounced man and wife, Fanny’s trunk and guitar case were put in the sleigh, she was wrapped in a bear rug and the newlyweds drove off over the mountains.

Frances Allen

Little is known about Frances Allen before she married the hero of Ticonderoga, and even afterward there is some question. Was she a girlish tease, a brainy, liberated woman or a shrewish stepmother? Who was her father? What was her real name?

Her daughter Fanny Allen (who became a Catholic nun) recorded her maiden name as Montresor, her tombstone names her Montezuma, while an 1858 family history calls her Frances Montuzan, daughter of a British colonel killed in the French and Indian War. She was believed to be the illegitimate daughter of Anna Schookraft (or Schoolcraft) and John Montresor, a British military engineer and womanizer.

She was born Feb. 4, 1760, according to Ethan Allen. She grew up in New York City, well-educated with interests in botany and music.

She was adopted by an Irish Loyalist, Crean Brush, who had large landholdings in New York and the New York Grants. How that happened is another question. Brush either married her mother or married her aunt after her mother died.

At 16, she had married a British army officer, John Buchanan, who was killed in action. According to legend, she could barely tolerate him but he doted on her. When Crean Brush died, he left part of his estate to his adopted daughter.

Much of her share of the Brush estate was conveyed to Ethan Allen two months after their marriage. They had three children, and historians say their marriage was a happy one, though short. Allen died five years later, on Feb. 12, 1789.

With thanks to A Treasury of New England Folklore, The Stories, Legends, Tall Tales, Traditions, Ballads and Songs of the Yankee People, edited by B.A. Botkin.

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