A book Review
Wren, Christopher S. Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.
Today, a group of Vermont’s earliest English setters, euphemistically named the Green Mountain Boys, evoke romanticized images of poor, hardworking frontier farmers standing up to wealthy, aristocratic landlords inappropriately seeking to wrest control over their lands. In an engaging, breezy narrative, former New York Times reporter, Christopher Wren tells the story of a notorious Green Mountain Boy leader Ethan Allen and the group’s contributions to the American Revolution and their extralegal impact the founding of Vermont.
As Wren principally cites thoroughly interpreted and well-mined primary sources and the existing body of secondary source scholarship, historians seeking to extend their knowledge of Vermont’s breakaway from the jurisdiction of New York and its Revolutionary Era events will be disappointed. Critically, the book lacks proper footnotes and substantiation for the author’s interpretations. At times, Wren oversimplifies, does not critically analyze sources and draws conclusions not well supported by the historical record.
However, unique among many previous books Wren places a British Loyalist, Justus Sherwood central to his account. A prominent pre-Revolution leader of the Green Mountain Boys and pre-war friend of Ethan Allen, Sherwood chose to remain loyal to the British Empire. Sherwood’s motivations are not clear. However, he successfully recruited a fervent minority to aggressively fight against his previous comrades to keep the Vermont settlements in the British Empire. Depicting loyalists among the American populous provides a more realistic view of the uncertain and dangerous times facing those on the front lines between British Canada and the rebelling colonies.
Contrary to many authors, Wren does not exalt Ethan Allen and demonstrates that his political influence waned as the revolution progressed. By the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Allen had become a minor contributor to the formation of the first state added to the original thirteen colonies. Wren is in the mainstream of modern scholarship by concluding that Allen and his inner circle were principally concerned with obtaining clear titles to their disputed lands with allegiance to the revolutionary cause a distant secondary concern.
If readers are not familiar with Revolutionary activities in Vermont, I recommend this book as an easy to digest introduction. The narrative weaves a clearly stated story of complicated and hard to interpret events. However, I do not recommend citing Wren’s book as an authoritative source. It describes but unfortunately does not extend the scholarship record and in some cases oversimplifies critical events.