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Allen Family Papers

Identifier: mss-062

Scope and Content Note

The Allen Family Papers consist of twenty-nine document boxes of original and photocopied manuscripts. The collection includes correspondence, legal papers, financial accounts, personal diaries and journals, government documents, land records and other types of materials. The chronological span of the collection reaches from 1730 to 1870, with the majority of the papers dating from the final quarter of the eighteenth century.

The Allen Papers offer documentation for a wide range of family activities on Connecticut, Vermont, Canada and elsewhere. Among the historical highlights are manuscripts pertaining to speculation in Susquehannah, Vermont and Canadian land titles, the opposition to New York authority on the Grants in the 1770's, Vermont's years as an independent republic, military affairs on the northern frontier during the American Revolution, the Haldimand Negotiations, the establishment of trade routes in the Champlain Valley, the founding of the University of Vermont, and the intrigues of Levi and Ira Allen in Europe during the 1780's and 1790's. While the names of Levi and Ira Allen predominate in the papers, the collection also contains a good deal of material relating to many other members of the family, both famous and obscure.

The arrangement of the papers is chronological, with undated pieces at the back. For the years through 1805, each item has its own folder and brief description, headed by the names of the principal Allen involved. After 1805, when most of the papers are land and financial documents of Ira Hayden Allen's affairs in Irasburg, Vermont, only the few manuscripts of some greater than ordinary significance (largely items pertaining to Ira Allen's last years) carry individual descriptions. Accompanying the papers are two loose leaf volumes of typescripts of the Levi Allen papers, and a box of cards describing most of the Ira Allen photostats that were in the collection in 1939 when the Historic Records Survey prepared its Calander of the Ira Allen Papers in the Wilbur Library of the University of Vermont. (Montpelier, 1939).

Since 1939, the University has added new manuscripts to its Ira Allen holdings and consolidated all of its Allen Family papers into one collection. This new inventory is an attempt to compile an exhaustive listing of all the Allen manuscripts in the Wilbur Collection. Given this size and scope of the Allen collection, the inventory should offer a useful overview of the part that this prominent family played in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century history of northern New England.

Researchers working on the Allens should be aware of at least two other valuable collections of Allen manuscripts. The Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier has a number of important Ethan and Ira Allen letters, as well as a small assortment of other family papers. On a larger scale, the Stevens Papers in the New York State Library (Manuscripts and Special Collections Division) in Albany include a major collection of the manuscripts of Ethan, Ira, Levi and Heman (1779-1852) Allen. Many of the photostats in the Wilbur Collection's Allen Family Papers originated in Albany in the 1920's, as a part of the research that James B. Wilbur conducted for his two-volume biography of Ira Allen. Considered as a whole, the collections in Albany, Burlington and Montpelier constitute an unusually complete record of the activities of two generations of the Allen family.

J.Kevin Graffagnino Curator, Wilbur Collection


  • 1730-1870



Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

During the state's formative period, no family's played a more prominent role in Vermont's political and economic affairs than the Allens. Land speculators, soldiers, propagandists, statesmen and would-be empire-builders, the Allens and their associates exerted a powerful influence over the course of events on the New Hampshire Grants. For twenty-five years, from the 1760's into the 1790's, the Allen brothers: Ethan, Heman, Heber, Levi, Zimri and Ira, often directed and occasionally dominated Vermont history. Like many frontier leaders, the Allens watched their power fade as Vermont's sociopolitical networks stabilized in the late eighteenth century, but without their considerable talents and efforts in the earlier era it is unlikely that Vermont would have survived the protracted struggles for control of the territory between the upper Connecticut and Hudson rivers.

While there were nearly a dozen notable Allens from two generations in early Vermont, the five best represented in this collection are:

Ethan Allen: Born on January 21, 1738 (n.s. January 10, 1737 o.s) in Litchfield, Connecticut, Ethan was the eldest of the Allen brothers and the first to emigrate northward to the New Hampshire Grants. A leader of the settlers claiming title under grants issued by New Hampshire, Allen helped organize the Green Mountain Boys in 1770 to oppose New York authority and invested heavily with his brothers in New Hampshire titles to lands in the Champlain Valley. In May of 1775 Allen teamed with Benedict Arnold in the famous capture of Fort Ticonderoga, but became a prisoner of war four months later when the American attack on Montreal failed. A British prisoner for over two years, Allen returned to Vermont in May 1778, resuming his campaigns against the Yorkers and attempting to convince the Continental Congress to recognize Vermont's claim to independence. Content for the most part to leave practical politics to his brother Ira and others, Ethan did participate to some extent in the secret Haldimand Negotiations of 1780-1783 but had little effect on Vermont's course after the Revolution. The publication in 1784 of Reason the Only Oracle of Man, a "radical" deistic combination of religion and philosophy, brought renewed notoriety, but Allen devoted most of his attention in the 1780's to managing his tangled financial affairs. He settled in Burlington in 1787 and died there on February 12, 1789.

Heman Allen: Born at Cornwall, Connecticut on October 14, 1740, Heman Allen was reportedly the most capable and dependable of the six Allen brothers. A merchant at Salisbury from the mid-1760's until the end of his life, Allen also played a major role in his family's New Hampshire Grants land speculations and in the formation of the new state of Vermont. He served as a delegate to most of the early Vermont conventions of 1775-1777 and represented the settlers holding New Hampshire titles before Congress in 1776. Active in the Canadian campaign of 1775-1776, Allen also fought at the Battle of Bennington in August of 1777; there he either was wounded or suffered from heatstroke, according thereafter and Heman Allen died in Salisbury on May 18, 1778, at the age of thirty-seven.

Levi Allen: Merchant, land speculator, Indian trader, patriot, Loyalist and sometime philosopher, Levi Allen was born on January 16, 1746 at Cornwall, Connecticut. A Merchant in Salisbury in partnership with his brother Heman from 1766 to 1772, Allen expanded his financial operations in the 1770;s to included heavy speculation in Susquehannah and northwestern Vermont lands. Levi fought for the American cause in the early years of the Revolution, but by 1779 he had switched sides and become an ardent loyalist. After the Revolution he speculated unsuccessfully in East Florida and Carolina lands and in 1783 returned to Vermont to resume operations there and in Lower Canada. In conjunction with his brother Ira, Allen sought to establish a trade route between Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River in the 1780's, and worked actively to keep Vermont from entering the Union in order to capitalize on hoped-for trade concessions from Great Britain. Levi increased his speculation in Canadian lands in the 1790's, but proved unable to keep his vast and potentially valuable holdings there and in Vermont free from debts and ruinous lawsuits. With the collapse of his grandiose schemes in the late 1790's, Levi found himself beset on all sides by creditors, and he dies in debtors prison in Burlington on December 16, 1801.

Ira Allen: Ira Allen, the youngest of the six Allen brothers, was born at Cornwall, Connecticut on May 1, 1751. Allen made his first visit to the New Hampshire Grants at nineteen and in the winter of 1772-1773 formed the Onion River Company with his brothers Ethan, Zimri and Heman and his cousin Remember Baker to buy New Hampshire titles to land along the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. Active in the opposition to New York authority over the Grants, Ira helped direct the drive for Vermont's independence and served as both State Treasurer and Surveyor General from 1778 to 1787. He also proved to be Vermont's most effective propagandist, behind-the-scenes negotiator and at-large representative in the 1770's and 1780's. A leader in the Haldimand Negotiations, Allen worked throughout the 1780's and 1790's to secure trade concessions from the British authorities in Canada that would ensure the value of his enormous land holdings in northwestern Vermont. A trip to England in 1795 to obtain backing for a Lake Champlain-Richelieu River ship canal was unsuccessful, and Allen proceeded to France, where he bought 20,000 muskets and other munitions, ostensibly for the Vermont Militia. However, the British seized the guns from the ship Olive Branch in November of 1796, claiming they were intended to arm an insurrection in Canada, and Allen spent the next four years in British courts and French prisons in an attempt to regain possession. When he finally returned to Vermont early in 1801 Allen found his guns rusted beyond repair and his Vermont affairs in total disarray. Unable to satisfy his creditors, Allen fled to Philadelphia in 1803; there he spent the remainder of his life in unavailing efforts to rebuild his financial empire and obtain damages from Great Britain in the Olive Branch matter. Ira Allen died in Philadelphia of "retrocedent gout" on January 15,1814 at the age of sixty-two.

Ira Hayden Allen: The eldest child of Ira and Jerusha Enos Allen, Ira Hayden Allen was born at Colchester, Vermont on February 16, 1790. He attended the University of Vermont for two years, dropping out because of deteriorating eyesight, and in 1814 moved from Colchester to Irasburg, Vermont. Ira Allen had given the entire town to his wife as a wedding present in 1790, and the son's careful management of his mother's previously neglected property there ensured the prosperity of both town and family after 1814. In addition to holding many Irasburg town offices, Allen also pursuaded an unspectacular but respectable career as a leader in Orleans County politics and legal circles; clerk of the county court, 1816-1835; five time member of the Governor's Council; member of the Vermont Council of Censores in 1848; and founder and longtime president of the Orleans County Bank. Less brilliant than his famous father and uncles, Allen none the less acquired the wealth that eluded them, as well as a reputation as an "eminently trustworthy and scrupulously just" individual. Ira Hayden Allen died in Irasburg on April 22, 1866


12.0 Linear feet (29 boxes)

Language of Materials



Correspondence, deeds, land surveys, legal records, bills, receipts, and military and other papers, relating to political affairs in Vermont, military affairs in Vermont, Canada, France, New York, and Pennsylvania, Allen’s land dealings, American Revolution, Haldimand negotiations (1780-83), Directory of the French Republic (1795-99), Napoleon Bonaparte, Allen’s trip to France for arms for Vermont in the 1790’s, and his imprisonment in England.

Physical Location

Silver Special Collections, Billings Library.

Inventory of the Allen Family Papers mss.062
Finding aid prepared by J. Kevin Graffagnino
1981 July
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)