Home Irregulars Ethan Allen and the Tale from the Outhouse

Ethan Allen and the Tale from the Outhouse

by
15 comments

On Sept. 25, 1775, the British captured Ethan Allen while he ran a fool’s errand to Canada.

Fresh from his stunning capture of Fort Ticonderoga, Ethan Allen thought he could capture Montreal. He led an invasion into Canada with a small band of his Green Mountain Boys, but he timed the mission badly and didn’t think it through.

Ethan Allen capturing Fort Ticonderoga

Ethan Allen capturing Fort Ticonderoga

The British seized Allen and held him on a series of prison ships, then moved him to England. As an officer of the Continental Army he would have been executed, but the British feared reprisals.

So the British held Allen for two years in England, then sent him back to America as part of a prisoner exchange.

Ethan Allen Returns to England

Abraham Lincoln loved to tell a story about what happened to Allen after the war.  Though it may never have happened, it’s characteristic of Allen, who courted controversy in life. He was brash, crude and daring.

british-tortured-ethan-allen

Ethan Allen

Allen opposed organized religion and wrote an attack on Christianity called Reason: the Only Oracle of Man. He married a Loyalist only a few weeks after meeting her and only six months after his first wife died.

Ironically, Ethan Allen’s daughter Fanny converted to Catholicism and became New England’s first nun.

Here is the story as Lincoln liked to tell it.

Ethan Allen returned to England after the war, and the British made fun of him. One day they put a picture of George Washington in an outhouse where Allen would be sure to see it. He used the outhouse but said nothing about the picture. Then the British asked him about it and Allen said it was a very appropriate place for an Englishman to hang the picture because “nothing will make an Englishman shit so quick as the sight of General Washington.”

Abraham Lincoln

There is little evidence to support the truth of the story, though Lincoln most certainly told it.

This story was updated in 2022. 

15 comments

Jake Cohen. January 21, 2014 - 8:02 am

That’s cool.

Molly Landrigan January 21, 2014 - 1:15 pm

Don’t know if it’s true or not but it’s a great story.

Lt. Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock Views Indians as 'Part of the Great Human Family' - New England Historical Society August 31, 2014 - 10:47 pm

[…] was the grandson of Ethan Allen, the famed Vermont Revolutionary War general, but he struggled with questions of right and wrong […]

Artemus Ward Entertains Abraham Lincoln - New England Historical Society April 26, 2015 - 2:58 pm

[…] is the Artemus Ward story, High-Handed Outrage at Utica, that Abraham Lincoln read to his Cabinet before presenting them the Emancipation […]

Fanny Allen, Daughter of Ethan Allen, Becomes New England’s First Catholic Nun - New England Historical Society September 10, 2015 - 4:59 pm

[…] was born in Sunderland, Vt., on Nov. 13, 1784, the oldest child of Ethan Allen and his second wife, Frances Montresor Brush Buchanan Allen. As a girl, she was a religious skeptic […]

In 1790, the Deal for Vermont Statehood Finally Emerged - New England Historical Society October 28, 2015 - 6:58 am

[…] Hampshire on one side and New York on the other. In between were the irascible Allen boys, Ira and Ethan (with their Onion River Land Company), and Thomas Chittenden, Vermont’s first governor (and […]

A Tour of New England’s Uncommon Town Commons - New England Historical Society May 15, 2016 - 7:24 am

[…] center of the farming community. On the route to nearby Crown Point you’ll travel the roads where Ethan Allen and Eli Roberts fled an attempt by British soldiers to capture him in 1772 and cross the path […]

Taking A Stand On The Can, Ctd – Echic 16 May 23, 2016 - 8:56 am

[…] Another passes along an apocryphal story: […]

The Frustrating Loyalist Life of the Other Samuel Adams - New England Historical Society September 28, 2016 - 7:01 am

[…] Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys enforced the New Hampshire grants through the 1760s, sending New Yorkers packing. All the while, the town was gradually splitting, its members choosing sides between loyalists and revolutionaries. […]

The Much-Maligned, Little-Mourned Crean Brush - New England Historical Society April 25, 2017 - 10:25 am

[…] Brush had a nemesis, it was Vermont patriot Ethan Allen. Brush helped draft the Bloody Acts of 1774 that offered a reward to anyone who would kill or […]

Six Places Where A Gallows Once Stood - New England Historical Society July 14, 2018 - 7:33 am

[…] then Ethan Allen arrived, mounted a stump and spoke. "You shall see somebody hung at all events, for if Redding is […]

A Presidential Wind - Defending The Truth Political Forum July 16, 2018 - 1:56 pm

[…] […]

How Ethan Allen Got Married to a Loyalist - New England Historical Society February 12, 2019 - 8:24 am

[…] 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. […]

George Washington: ‘Horrible Slaveowner’ or Unsung Hero of Abolition? August 11, 2020 - 4:01 pm

[…] would be a cheap shot to refer Englishman Oliver to the story that Abraham Lincoln used to tell about how, after the American Revolution, Ethan Allen visited a […]

“The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret” | Bacon's Rebellion September 6, 2020 - 8:00 pm

[…] would be a cheap shot to refer Englishman Oliver to the story that Abraham Lincoln used to tell about Ethan Allen visiting England just after the American […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!