A Few Lawless Vagabondsis an account of the three-way relationship between Ethan Allen, the Republic of Vermont (1777–1791) and the British in Canada during the American Revolution, a work of political and military history. Ethan Allen was a prime mover in the establishment of the Republic (though he was a captive of the British, 1775–1778), then led the fight to maintain its independence from the “predatory states” of New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts; from the American Continental Congress; and from British attacks on the new state. In order to defend Vermont’s independence, Ethan Allen engaged in secret, unlawful negotiations with the British in Canada, aimed at turning Vermont into a “separate Government under the Crown.”
The attempts of the Allen family to maintain Vermont’s independence from its neighbors were successful: Vermont became the 14th State in 1791. A Few Lawless Vagabonds is the first systematic attempt, using archival sources, to show that the Allens were utterly serious in their aim to turn Vermont into a Crown colony, a project which came close to success late in 1781. The Ethan Allen that emerges is not as a warrior hero of the American Revolution but as a successful Vermont nationalist who is justly celebrated as the principal founder of the State of Vermont, a rare combination of patriot and betrayer of the public trust. The British leaders who were Ethan’s opposite numbers emerge in turn as thoroughly capable military officers and diplomatic negotiators: Sir Henry Clinton, Sir Guy Carleton and Sir Frederick Haldimand.