Ethan Allen got married to his second wife in a bizarre ceremony after a whirlwind courtship to a woman half his age.
At least that’s how the witness, a two-year-old at the time, told the story.
In 1789, the flamboyant Revolutionary War hero was a 46-year-old widower with three children. Ethan Allen was not easy to live with. He drank heavily and often stayed away from home. He also hadn’t been happy with his first wife, Mary Brownson, an illiterate scold. While she fully embraced Christianity, he opposed it, even writing an attack on it called Reason: the Only Oracle of Man.
Then a rich, beautiful, well-educated young Loyalist widow fell for him six months after his wife died. They married almost immediately.
How Ethan Allen Got Married
After the American Revolution ended, Frances Montresor Buchanan boarded in the home of Stephen Bradley in Westminster, Vt. She chose Westminster because she had inherited large tracts of land there. With her imperious manner and New York wardrobe, she made quite a splash in town.
When Ethan Allen came to town, people began to speculate about a match between the two prominent single people.
Her friends said 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 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.
In February 1784, Frances Montresor Buchanan stood 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.”
The judge pronounced them man and wife. They put Fanny’s trunk and guitar case were in the sleigh, she wrapped herself in a bear rug and the newlyweds drove off over the mountains.
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. But 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.
Who Was Frances Montresor?
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.
An Irish Loyalist, Crean Brush, had come into her life. He had large landholdings in New York and the New York Grants. He adopted Fanny, but 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 died in battle. According to legend, she could barely tolerate him but he doted on her. And then 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 they had a happy, though short, marriage. Ethan Allen died five years after their wedding, on Feb. 12, 1789. Their daughter, Fanny, became New England’s first Catholic nun.
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. This story about the second marriage of Ethan Allen was updated in 2021.