Frances Allen Biography | Women of the Revolution


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      Of the men of strong energy of thought or action, who arrested public attention during the momentous period of the Revolution, there is scarcely one who assimilates at all to the zealous and erratic, yet firm and indomitable Ethan Allen. He had been schooled in the fierce conflicts in which New Hampshire on the one side, and New York on the other, contended for legal jurisdiction and sovereignty over the present area of Vermont; and his bold character had fitted him when the people refused to submit to either, to, be the functionary of popular will, in administering justice without law, and maintaining independence without a government. He possessed traits in common with William Tell, Wat Tyler, and Brennus, the conqueror of Rome; but was in himself unique and original, acting and thinking on the spur of occasion, as few other men have ever done. His views of theology were as curious as those of politics; yet he had fixed points for both; and when the contest of 1775 drew on, he boldly grasped his sword, and by a sudden movement summoned Ticonderoga to surrender, “in the name of God and the Continental Congress.” Here, then, were the two points of his faith, which led him forward in a series of bold and masterly movements and adventures; in which he was indeed but the exponent of the feelings and views of a bold, hardy, Tyrolese-like yeomanry, who had settled on the sides of the Green Mountains, and glowed with an unquenchable love of civil liberty. The result was that they cast off effectually both the authority of New Hampshire and New York, and coming patriotically to the rescue of the United Colonies, at a time of “bitter need,” secured their own independence, and gave the name of Vermont to the pages of future history. In all this Ethan Allen was the leader; and it is upon him, more than any other individual, that we are to look as the founder of that patriotic State.

      Whom such a man married – who became the counsellor and companion of his secret and private hours, it may be interesting to inquire! The results of such an inquiry are indeed as unique and original as the rest of the traits of his life, and show a curious correspondence, acting by reverse affinities, in the mysterious chain of the marriage tie.

      The wild and adventurous character of Allen’s early life prevented him from forming a youthful attachment; and he had enacted his most daring scenes before he appears to have thought of it. It was owing to the curiosity and interest arising from the domestic recital of one of these daring adventures of the Green Mountain hero, that an acquaintance was brought about, which resulted in an attachment between two individuals from the antipodes of American society – the one a bold, rough, free-spoken democrat, and stickler for the utmost degree of power in the people; the other a well educated and refined young lady of high aristocratic feelings, the daughter of a British field-officer who had served with distinction in the ante-revolutionary French wars, and the grand-daughter of a proud veteran British artillerist, who had also served with reputation under the Duke of Marlborough, and came to America after the treaty of Utrecht, with the most extravagantly exalted notions, not only of the part he had borne in the field, but of the glorious reign of Queen Anne, under whose banners he had served. Miss Fanny Brush, who was destined to be the wife of the bold Vermonter, was the daughter of Colonel Brush of the British army, whose military acts at Boston just before the Revolution, gave notoriety to his name. This officer had served under General Bradstreet, commanding at Albany, at whose mansion he became acquainted with, and married Miss Elizabeth Calcraft, the daughter of James Calcraft, a retired veteran of the army of Queen Anne, who enjoyed in a high degree the friendship and confidence of the British general. After the death of Colonel Brush, Mrs. Brush, by whom he had but a single child, married Mr. Edward Wall, and removed with him to the township of Westminster, in Vermont. The position chosen by him for his residence, was one of the most beautiful and picturesque in that section of the fertile valley of the Connecticut. The settlement in that town is one of the oldest and best cultivated in the State; and the society of that portion of the new district, which had originally been settled as part of the “New Hampshire grants,” excelled, as it preceded others, in comforts and refinement. Such was at least the wealth and position of Mr. Wall, that he spared no expense in the education of his daughter, Miss Brush, who was sent to the capital of New England to complete her accomplishments. She was in her eighteenth year when Ethan Allen, liberated from the Tower of London, returned to his native State, with the fame of his daring deeds not a little exalted by reports of his sayings and doings beyond the water. Among other reports which probably had very little foundation, it was said that he had bit off a tenpenny nail while in the Tower of London. “I should like,” said Miss Brush, one evening, in a mixed company in her father’s parlor, “above all things to see this Mr. Allen, of whom we hear such incredible things.”

      This saying reached the ears of Allen, who soon after paid a visit to the house of Mr. Wall, and was introduced to Miss Brush. There was mutually an agreeable surprise. Both were manifestly pleased with the tone of thought and conversation, which ran on with a natural flow, and developed traits of kindred sympathies of intellect and feeling. It was late in the evening before Mr. Allen rose. He had not failed to observe the interest his conversation had excited in Miss Brush. “And now,” said he, as he stood erect before her, and was about to depart – “and now, Miss Brush, allow me to ask, how do you like this Mr. Allen ?”

      This was the initiative to an offer which resulted in the marriage of the parties. Mrs. Allen was a woman of more than the ordinary intellectual endowment; bold, striking, and original in her conceptions, and of singular facility and clearness in her expression. She was educated from early life to disbelieve in the capacity or general intelligence of the masses for efficient self-government. All her prejudices were nurtured in favor of the British Constitution as developed by Magna Charta, and administered by a king and ministers responsible to the nation; which form of government she believed to be above all comparison the best in the world. Yet, in spite of all these deeply-rooted prejudices, with a grasp of thought that could look at and examine questions of inherent right, on their original basis – with the abiding principles of the Christian faith to serve as a guide in judging of human duty in governments, and with the daily recurring practical examples of the conflicts of opinion between the Colonies and the mother country, which the American Revolution presented, she saw and acknowledged the wrongs inflicted on the Colonies, the justice of that cause in which they had, at length, banded for a higher measure of liberty, and the growing capacity of the people to maintain those rights, both by the sword and the pen. She was thus made an intellectual convert to the doctrines of the Revolution, and became a most useful and capable counsellor to Allen in the subsequent critical periods of his life. Her mind was, indeed, a counterpart, in its boldness and originality, to that of her husband, whose intuitive mode of reaching conclusions enabled him to put into the shape of acts, what it might have sorely puzzled him sometimes to reason out; and what, indeed, if he could have reasoned ever so well, his bold and fiery zeal, and crushing rapidity of action, put him out of all temper to submit to the slow process of ratiocination. He also felt the happy influences of manners, opinions, and sentiments at once dignified and frank, yet mild and persuasive.

      We have no means of access to Mrs. Allen’s correspondence, which it is hoped some member of the family will give to the public. It is known that Allen did not confine his notions of human freedom and right, to questions of government only, in which he devoted himself so effectually during the struggle for independence; but that, mistaking the great theory of a substitute for the lost type of righteousness in man, he as boldly attacked the doctrines of revelation, as he had done the divine right of kings, in the person of George Ill, and the Guelph family. We have no copy of his writings on this head to refer to, and only allude to them for the purpose of denoting the meliorating effects of Mrs. Allen’s opinions, superior reading, and influence on his mind. For he is believed to have relinquished these dangerous anti-Christian views prior to his death. One of his daughters, who inherited a disquisitive and metaphysical mind, and intellectual vigor, from her parents, joined a convent of nuns at the city of Montreal, in which she became an eminent example of charity in her order, and devoted her life to the most inflexible obedience to her vows.

      Ethan Allen was many years his wife’s senior. After his death, she married Dr. Penniman, of Colchester, Vermont, where she resided during the latter years of her life. By this marriage she had several children, and her descendants of the names Allen and Penniman are numerous in that State. It was during her residence here, in the year 1814, that the writer of this sketch became personally acquainted with her. She visited his residence at Lake Dunmore, during that winter. She was then, perhaps, a lady past fifty years of age, of an erect figure, middle size, with an energetic step, and a marked intellectual physiognomy. Her animated eyes assumed their full expression, in speaking of her grand-father Calcraft, whose true name she said had been changed among the Palatine Germans of Queen Anne; whom she pronounced “a loyal Briton;” and whose military services under the Duke of Marlborough she appeared to hold in lively remembrance.

      In writing this sketch, the author has neither time to refer to Mrs. Allen’s relatives in Vermont for details to fill out the picture which is here attempted, nor even to refer to his own notes, made many years ago, when his memory of events, and of conversations with her was fresh. This tribute may, at least, excite some other hand to do full justice to her character and memory.

      Man is not born atone to act, or be the sole asserter of man’s liberty But so God shares the gifts of head and heart, And crowns blest woman with a hero’s part.”

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