Freethought of the Day

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There are 1 entries for this date: Col. Ethan Allen
Col. Ethan Allen

Col. Ethan Allen

On this date in 1738, Ethan Allen was born in Litchfield, Conn., the eldest of eight children. Allen was the author of the first rationalist book published in America, titled Reason, the Only Oracle of Man: Or, a Compendious System of Natural Religion (1784). The New England Revolutionary War soldier critiqued Calvinist theology while promoting a deistic philosophy. 

He married Mary Brownson, five years his senior, in 1762. They had a daughter, Loraine, the next year and bought a small farm which they developed into an ironworks. The marriage was unhappy as Mary was rigidly religious and barely literate. They had four more children; only two survived to adulthood. In 1770 Allen was named colonel of the "Green Mountain Boys" in Vermont and after the Revolutionary War became a member of the Vermont Legislature. Before the war he formed a land-speculation company with three of his brothers.

Reason, the Only Oracle of Man was a typical Allen polemic but its target was religious, not political. Specifically targeting Christianity, it attacked the bible, established churches and the priesthood. In it he wrote, "In those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue." Allen espoused a mixture of deism, Spinoza's naturalist views and precursors of transcendentalism, with man acting as a free agent within the natural world.

Mary Allen died in 1783 of consumption, followed several months later by Loraine's death. In 1784 he married Frances "Fanny" Montresor Brush Buchanan, a widow. They had three children, the last a son born several months after Allen's death at age 51 in 1789 of what was thought to be a cerebral hemorrhage. His two sons went on to graduate from West Point.

"In the circle of my acquaintance, (which has not been small), I have generally been denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism make me one; and as to being a Deist, I know not, strictly speaking, whether I am one or not, for I have never read their writings ..."

—Ethan Allen, "Reason, the Only Oracle of Man" (1784)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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