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Haldimand Affair

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Haldimand Affair

Ira Allen was the principal negotiator representing the Vermont Republic

The Haldimand Affair (also called the Haldimand or Vermont Negotiations) was a series of negotiations conducted in the early 1780s (late in the American Revolutionary War) between Frederick Haldimand, then serving as governor of the British Province of Quebec, his agents, and several people representing, or claiming to represent, the independent Vermont Republic. Those involved in the negotiations on Vermont's side included Ethan Allen, his brother Ira, Joseph Fay, and Thomas Chittenden, the governor of Vermont.

Although the ostensible subject of the negotiations was agreements for the exchange of prisoners, the underlying purpose of the negotiations included the possible establishment of British authority over the Vermont territory, whose residents had been engaged in a long-running dispute with New York over jurisdiction of the territory. The secret nature of the negotiations, which excluded significant portions of Vermont's political power structure, led to accusations of treason against some of the negotiators, notably Ethan Allen, when they became more widely known.


In 1749, [2] New York refused to honor the grants issued by Wentworth, who had persisted in issuing grants even after he had agreed to stop issuing them in light of the territorial dispute. Holders of the Wentworth grants, in order to validate their claims, were effectively required to repurchase their grants at higher prices from New York, a situation to which the land-rich and cash-poor grantees objected.

Following a pro-forma rejection of the Wentworth grants in 1770 by New York's Supreme Court (which included members who held competing New York grants for some of the territory), the area's settlers, led by American Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775. General Frederick Haldimand, in command of British military forces in New York City during some of this time, refused to become involved in the dispute.[3]

Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys prisoner of war by the British until May 1778, when he was exchanged for a British officer. During much of this time he lived in New York City on parole, and was, by his own account, approached in late 1776 by a British officer with an offer to join the British side.[4]

The Wentworth grantholders, led by Ira Allen and Thomas Chittenden, declared independence from New York, establishing the Vermont Republic in July 1777.[5] While there was significant anti-New York sentiment in the territory, there was also significant popular support for the Continental Congress, and the republic's founders regularly petitioned the Congress for admission as the fourteenth state. However, New York and New Hampshire's representatives expressed reservations over its admission until the competing land claims and jurisdictional issues could be resolved, and effectively blocked any actions by Congress.

First contact

In 1779, Lord Secretary of State for the Colonies, instructed General Sir Henry Clinton, the military commander-in-chief in North America, and Haldimand, then serving as governor of Quebec, to open negotiations with the Vermonters over the possibility of establishing Vermont as a separate British province.[6] By 1780 these instructions included detailed offers to convey, including military commissions to Ethan Allen and Thomas Chittenden.[7]

The first documented communication was a letter sent to Ethan Allen in March 1780 by Beverley Robinson, a noted New York Loyalist. Robinson claimed to have heard that many Vermonters still harbored Loyalist sympathies, and suggested that the British would support Loyalist regiments raised in the territory.[7] Because of difficulties in infiltrating an agent into Vermont, Allen did not receive the letter until July.[8] On consultation with the Vermont council, Allen made no response to the letter.

Congress took up the subject of the territorial dispute in June, but decided to defer discussion until September due to other pressing concerns.[7] (While Congress did discuss the issue at length that September, it again postponed taking any sort of action.[9]) Thomas Chittenden wrote to Congress' president in July, specifically denying that Congress had the right to adjudicate their claims, and reserving the right of the Vermont administration to negotiate with the British.[10] In August, Chittenden wrote a letter to Haldimand, offering a truce and parley terms to discuss the exchange of prisoners. Haldimand accepted this offer, and appointed Justus Sherwood, a Loyalist from Vermont who eventually became his spy chief, as his principal negotiator.[11]

Sherwood in Vermont

On September 26, Major Christopher Carleton left Quebec on a raiding expedition into the upper Hudson River valley, causing some alarm in Vermont.[12] Fears in the republic were heightened further by a British raid into its territory in October. Sherwood and a small company of men also left Quebec; these headed up Lake Champlain for Skenesboro (present-day Whitehall, New York). They were eventually met by Vermont militia, and Sherwood was taken to Castleton. There he met openly with Vermont officials to formally discuss prisoner exchanges and arrange a truce, but he also had a private meeting with Ethan Allen.[13] In this meeting Sherwood made offers of allegiance to the Crown. According to Sherwood's report, Allen countered by demanding that Vermont be made a separate province with its own military command, and insisted that negotiations on the subject remain secret and end if Vermont is recognized by Congress as a state.[14]

Quebec Governor Frederick Haldimand

While this was going on, word reached Haldimand of the exposure of Benedict Arnold's plot to surrender West Point, the latter's flight to British protection in New York City, and the hanging of Arnold's British co-conspirator, Major John André.[15] As a precaution, Haldimand ordered Carleton, who was preparing to leave Fort Ticonderoga for Quebec, to remain there until Sherwood's safety could be assured.[16] Sherwood returned safely to Quebec in late November.[17]

Following these meetings, Allen rode Bennington to report to Chittenden and the Vermont legislature. His report to the latter apparently raised more questions than it answered, and suspicious legislators demanded more information. Allen angrily resigned his general's commission and stormed out of the session.[18] While the legislature was able to mollify Allen, Chittenden assigned Allen's brother Ira and Joseph Fay to lead further negotiations with the British. These two met with Sherwood and George Smyth, a Loyalist doctor who had fled north from Albany. Mutually distrustful, with the British wary over the safety of their agents in light of André's hanging, they only agreed that the Vermont representatives were to meet with Haldimand that winter.[19] No such meeting took place. Chittenden wrote to the governors of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, suggesting a united defense against British threats if they relinquished claims to Vermont territory. Massachusetts, with only weak claims to that territory, agreed to give up any claims when Vermont was granted statehood. New York Governor [20] The New York Senate, however, expressed concern over the fact that Vermont might ally itself with the British in Quebec, and voted, to the shock of Governor Clinton, to send commissioners to Vermont to negotiate the release of its claims. Clinton, threatening to dissolve the legislature, insisted that the idea be dropped; it was.[21]

New Hampshire's response to Vermont's proposals was complicated by the desire of communities on either side of the Connecticut River to belong to the same state, either Vermont or New Hampshire. A convention of these communities meeting in Charlestown, New Hampshire in January 1781 voted on one day to join New Hampshire, and the next, following diplomatic concessions by Ira Allen, to join with Vermont.[22]

Evasions and acquisitions

In February 1781 Beverley Robinson, having received no response from Ethan Allen to his first letter, sent a second letter, in which he enclosed a copy of the first.[23] Shortly thereafter, Allen's friend Seth Warner, who still held a colonel's commission in the Continental Army, spoke with him about the ongoing negotiation and his concern that about their potentially treasonous character.[24] In response to ongoing suspicions, Allen sent these letters to Congress, noting that he had never responded to them. Congress, preoccupied with the war, did not deal substantively with the dispute in early 1781.[25]

Also in February 1781, Lord Germain wrote a letter addressed to Haldimand, in which he seemed to assume the alliance was a done (or nearly done) deal, and suggested that Haldimand propose joint British-Vermont actions. This letter was carried aboard a British packet ship that was captured by the French. The letter was delivered to Benjamin Franklin in Paris; he forwarded it to Congress, where it arrived in July. Haldimand, on the other hand, was somewhat pessimistic about the whole affair, writing to Germain that "Ethan Allen is endeavoring to deceive both the Congress and us".[26] When the letter was read in Congress on July 31, it caused an uproar and cries of treason.[27]

The often-delayed plan for British and Vermont representatives finally took place in May 1781. The details of this meeting, which ran from May 7 to 25 and took place at the British fort on Ile-aux-Noix, are primarily recounted from the writings of Justus Sherwood.[28] He found Ira Allen, the principal negotiator for Vermont to be evasive and extremely wary. Allen refused to sign any sort of preliminary agreement, claiming that, although Vermont's leaders were disposed toward the idea, the populace was not, and it would have to be convinced first.[14][27] On May 11, Sherwood wrote, "My opinion corroborates with the Major's that Mr. Allen's errand here is to prolong the time and if possible to alarm Congress into a compliance with their demands."[27] He also felt that Vermont's large landowners (which included the Allens and Chittenden) might be looking more to their own interests than to those of the people of Vermont.[29] The meeting ended with an oral agreement in which the British promised to not conduct further hostilities against Vermont, while the Vermont authorities would prepare the people for reunion, and try to convince the assembly to appoint commissioners to negotiate an alliance when it met in June.[30]

The promises Allen made were never fulfilled, as the Vermont assembly appointed no commissioners. To annoy its neighbors, it voted in the June meeting to extend its borders to the east and west, by adopting New Hampshire towns along the Connecticut River, and some New York towns east of the Hudson.[31] These territories became bargaining chips for Vermont's negotiations with Congress. To delay matters with the British, Ira Allen wrote to Haldimand in July, indicating that Vermont was sending representatives to negotiate with Congress, and that public opinion in Vermont would be more favorable once Congress rejected their terms or deferred discussions again. Chittenden also wrote to Haldimand in July, indicating that George Washington was unwilling to release back to him British prisoners that had been captured in Vermont.[32] Justus Sherwood met with Joseph Fay for two weeks in July, with a fruitless outcome that did nothing to relieve British concerns that Vermont's delays were intentional.[33]

Local suspicions and further evasion

When the Vermont assembly met in August, rumors were swirling about the negotiations, and the assembly insisted on seeing papers relating to them. In response, Ira Allen produced letters that had been exchanged concerning the prisoner exchanges that were the cover for the meetings.[34] Around the same time, Allen extracted from the council the following statement: "[Allen] had used his best policy by feigning or endeavoring to make them [the British] believe that the State of Vermont had a desire to negotiate a treaty of peace with Great Britain -- thereby to prevent the immediate invasion [of Vermont] [...] We [...] think it a necessary political maneuver to save the frontiers of this state."[35]

Congress also took up the subject of Vermont statehood in August 1781. On August 21 it approved a proposal in which statehood for Vermont would be considered if Vermont relinquished all of its claims east of the Connecticut River and west of the western border of Massachusetts.[36]

In September Justus Sherwood met again with Joseph Fay and Ira Allen at Skenesboro (present-day Whitehall, New York). Allen suggested that as the makeup of the Vermont assembly had changed, it would take some time to adjust. He suggested to Sherwood that Haldimand prepare a proclamation announcing Vermont's new status.[37] The proclamation would be presented to the Vermont assembly after it had discussed and rejected the latest offer from Congress.[38] Sherwood suggested that a lack of definite action the part of the assembly might lead to British military action.[39] This threat was followed up with the movement of British troops under the command of Barry St. Leger to occupy Fort Ticonderoga in October, timed to coincide with the next meeting of the assembly, but sent with the expectation that they would be welcomed into Vermont.[40] Sherwood reported after the meeting his opinion that as much as one third of the Vermont population was unhappy with the rule of Chittenden and the Allens, and was in favor of a change of government.[37]


When St. Leger arrived at Ticonderoga, Vermont militia under [45]

The assembly considered the offer put forward by Congress, and rejected it on October 16, although it agreed to consider negotiations over its boundaries.[46] Pro-British factions in Vermont had not done well in the election, and news of a French naval victory on the Chesapeake had dampened Loyalist sentiment.[46] By mid-November news of Cornwallis' surrender of his army at Yorktown arrived,[47] and St. Leger returned to Quebec.[48] Haldimand, who was of the opinion that the negotiations were conducted in good faith,[47] and some of the Vermonters continued to correspond through the winter, but with the British in a weak position, and Vermont in a position that appeared strong, nothing of substance came of the exchange.[49]

Agreements and complications

In 1782 the fractious nature of Vermont's internal politics became a problem for the republic's quest for statehood. The southeast corner of the republic (present-day Brattleboro and the surrounding area) harbored strong political support for rejoining New York. In January, the "east side Yorkers" made another in a series of petitions to Governor Clinton and the Congress, complaining in part about the ongoing "intrigue with Canada".[50] This led Clinton to call a special meeting of the New York assembly to discuss the "dangerous intercourse" going on between Vermont and the British, in which they decided to forward papers on the matter to Congress, and move to enforce the state's authority over the territory.[51]

Governor Chittenden also received a letter from George Washington in January. Washington wrote that he was supportive of statehood for Vermont, as long as it adhered to its original boundaries. He also indicated his opinion that its statehood was a virtual certainty, with only details to be negotiated. When Vermont's assembly had the letter read in February, it agreed to accept the boundaries proposed by Congress in August 1781.[52] In response, Congress voted on March 1 to consider Vermont's statehood if, within thirty days, Vermont returned full control over the towns it previously claimed to New York and New Hampshire authority.[53] This Vermont did, notifying Congress on March 31 that it had done so. Congress then began consideration of a statehood resolution, but tabled it without further action on April 17.[54] They may have been influenced by the publication that month of correspondence between Haldimand and Sir Henry Clinton on the matter by a New York newspaper.[55] Publication of the letters led Governor Clinton to comment negatively on the "traitorous correspondence between the leaders of the New Hampshire Grants and the enemy".[55]

In spite of this negative publicity, New York's assembly in April passed a bill pardoning the New Hampshire grantees of offenses they may have committed, and recognizing, without requiring additional payment, the New Hampshire grants and those issued later by the Vermont Republic.[55] This appeared to clear the significant legal roadblocks to Vermont's statehood, but the east side Yorkers continued to be a persistent problem, with Governor Clinton almost encouraging them to engage in acts of resistance against the Vermont administration,[56] even issuing commissions for New York judicial positions covering the affected area.[57] The situation got bad enough that Ethan Allen, in some secrecy, raised 250 men and marched on the town of Guilford, which was the epicenter of Yorker activity. This resulted in the arrest, trial, and banishment of the Yorker ringleaders in October 1782, and the seizure of some of their property.[58] This prompted Congress to demand that Vermont compensate the affected individuals.[59]

All during this time, there continued to be correspondence with Governor Haldimand in Quebec, particularly by Ethan Allen. In June he wrote to Haldimand, "I shall do everything in my power to render this state a British province", and made additional scathing commentary on the Congress.[60][61] However, the ongoing peace negotiations to end the revolutionary war put a damper on the communications, which finally ended in late 1783.


The state flag of Vermont

With the end of the war, the subject of Vermont's statehood remained stalemated in spite of the basic agreement on boundaries. The urge for statehood subsided for a time in Vermont, as it was not burdened by the debts of the war. (In fact, the Vermont government profited from the sale of the lands seized from Loyalists.) The subject was finally raised again in 1789 when the new United States Congress on February 9, and signed the passed legislation on February 18, making Vermont the first new state to join the Union formed by the original thirteen. Vermont celebrated its statehood in Rutland on March 8, 1791.[63]


  1. ^ Wardner, p. 13
  2. ^ Wardner, p. 49
  3. ^ Kingsford, p. 75.
  4. ^ Hall, pp. 164-167.
  5. ^ Wardner, p. 443.
  6. ^ Kingsford, p. 76.
  7. ^ a b c Kingsford, p. 77.
  8. ^ Hall, p. 168.
  9. ^ Hemenway, p. 941.
  10. ^ Kingsford, pp. 77-78.
  11. ^ Fryer, pp. 277-278.
  12. ^ Van de Water, p. 259
  13. ^ Kingsford, p. 78
  14. ^ a b Hall, p. 171
  15. ^ Fingerhut, p. 279
  16. ^ Fingerhut, p. 210
  17. ^ Fryer, p. 280
  18. ^ Van de Water, p. 260
  19. ^ Van de Water, p. 262
  20. ^ Van de Water, p. 263
  21. ^ Van de Water, p. 265
  22. ^ Van de Water, pp. 263-264
  23. ^ Kingsford, p. 84
  24. ^ Van de Water, p. 266
  25. ^ Kingsford, p. 86
  26. ^ Van de Water, p. 267
  27. ^ a b c Van de Water, p. 269
  28. ^ Kingsford, pp. 87-91
  29. ^ Kingsford, p. 87
  30. ^ Van de Water, p. 270
  31. ^ Hemenway, p. 942
  32. ^ Kingsford, p. 94
  33. ^ Van de Water, p. 278
  34. ^ Kingsford, pp. 96-97
  35. ^ Van de Water, p. 275
  36. ^ Kingsford, pp. 98-101
  37. ^ a b Kingsford, p. 99
  38. ^ Kingsford, p. 100
  39. ^ Van de Water, p. 281
  40. ^ Van de Water, pp. 281-283
  41. ^ Van de Water, p. 283
  42. ^ Van de Water, pp. 283-284
  43. ^ Van de Water, p. 284
  44. ^ Van de Water, p. 285
  45. ^ Van de Water, p. 286
  46. ^ a b Kingsford, p. 101
  47. ^ a b Kingsford, p. 102
  48. ^ Van de Water, p. 287
  49. ^ Van de Water, p. 296
  50. ^ Van de Water, p. 292
  51. ^ Kingsford, p. 103
  52. ^ Fingerhut, p. 212
  53. ^ Van de Water, p. 293
  54. ^ Van de Water, p. 294
  55. ^ a b c Van de Water, p. 295
  56. ^ Van de Water, p. 299
  57. ^ Van de Water, p. 301
  58. ^ Van de Water, pp. 303-307
  59. ^ Kingsford, p. 106
  60. ^ Fingerhut, pp. 212-213
  61. ^ Van de Water, p. 297
  62. ^ Van de Water, p. 336
  63. ^ Van de Water, p. 337

Further reading

  • Bemis, S.F. "Relations between the Vermont Separatists and Great Britain, 1789–1791" American Historical Review (1916) 21#3 pp 547-560. doi: 10.1086/ahr/21.3.547 online
  • Fingerhut, Eugene R, Tiedemann, Joseph S. The other New York: the American Revolution beyond New York City, 1763-1787
  • Fryer, Mary Beacock: King's men: the soldier founders of Ontario
  • Hall, Henry. Ethan Allen: the Robin Hood of Vermont
  • Hemenway, Abby Maria (ed). , Volume 2Vermont Historical Gazetteer
  • Kingsford, History of Canada, Volume 7
  • McIlwraith, Jean Newton: Sir Frederick Haldimand
  • Van de Water, Frederic. The Reluctant Republic, New York: John Day, 1941.
  • Wardner, Henry Steele. The birthplace of Vermont: A history of Windsor to 1781
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