Westminster, our nearest neighboring town on the south, has a wealth of history of which only fragments have been gathered as yet, but if its different important events occurring there could be gathered into one volume it would rank among the most important towns in Vermont. It being the county seat during the greater part of the period when Vermont was an independent republic; the first blood of the Revolution having been shed there; it having the location of the first printing press and first newspaper in Vermont, are important points of its history, but it was also the location of one of the most sudden, noted and romantic marriages occurring in the state in those early days, one of the contracting parties being no less a personage than General Ethan Allen.
Delving into authorities, and studying the various traditions still held as reliable by present residents, who are descendants of those hardy settlers of a century and a half ago, has resulted in a fairly accurate account of this occurrence. Allen’s activities, in connection with the Green Mountain Boys on both sides of the mountain, called him often into Westminster, as well as other towns on the east side. His residence was in Arlington, on the west side, and he was a widower.
One day Frances Buchanan, widow of Captain Buchanan of New York City, and her mother, Mrs. Wall, arrived in Westminster. Mrs. Buchanan was a domineering woman and early attracted the attention of the townspeople, to whom a bearing as imperious as hers was something new. During one of his frequent visits to Westminster, General Allen formed an acquaintance with Mrs. Buchanan, which subsequently ripened into a warm, and for a time singularly intermittent friendship. She was pleased with the originality of his views and conversation, flattered at her ability to arrest the attention of a man whom all feared, but few loved, and imagined that she could find more sympathy in the companionship of his strong, active nature, than in the society of the plodding people by whom she was surrounded. Mrs. Buchanan found herself, on some occasions, irresistibly attracted toward the man, while at other times, his rough manner would render him equally repulsive to her.
Aware of the feeling with which she regarded the general, and hoping to influence her to effect an alliance with a man in whom boundless ambition was at all times apparent, save when overshadowed by passions as violent as they were unrebuked, John Norton, the tavern keeper at Westminster, said to her one day, “Fanny, if you should marry Gen. Allen, you will be the queen of a new state.” “Yes,” she snapped back, “if I should marry the devil, I should be the queen of hell.” Her aversion to the leading man of the state disappeared at length, and she consented to become his wife. The circumstances attendant upon the marriage, which occurred previous to 1784, were characteristic of the man, who cared but little for “forms of government,” or for the social customs of life.
Gen. Stephen R. Bradley had built a convenient dwelling house in Westminster, the same still standing there, and during the sessions of Court, the Supreme Judges were his guests. Mrs. Wall and the handsome Mrs. Buchanan also had rooms there. Gen. Allen was a frequent visitor.
One morning, while Gen. Bradley and his guests, the Supreme Judges, were at breakfast, Gen. Allen appeared at the gate with sleigh, horse and driver. He was invited to enter and break his fast. He replied that he had eaten at Norton’s Tavern, and that, while the others were engaged, he would step into Mrs. Wall’s apartment and see the ladies. He entered the apartment without ceremony and found Mrs. Buchanan in a morning gown. After a little conversation, he said to her, “I am here to be married, now is the time, for I am on my way to Arlington.” “Very well,” she replied, “but give me time to put on my Joseph.”
Meanwhile, the judges and their host had finished their breakfast and were smoking their long pipes. While they were thus engaged, the couple came in and Gen. Allen, walking up to his old friend, Chief Justice Moses Robinson, addressed him: “Judge, this young woman and myself have concluded to marry each other and to have you perform the ceremony.” The surprised judge asked him when. “Now,” replied Allen, “for myself, I have no great opinion of such formality and, from what I can discover, she thinks as little of it as I do. But as a decent respect for the opinions of mankind seems to require it you will proceed.” The Judge asked him if he had given the matter serious consideration.
“Certainly,” replied Allen, “but,” glancing at Mrs. Buchanan, “I do not think it requires much consideration.” The ceremony then proceeded, until the judge inquired of the General whether he promised to live, with Frances “agreeable to the laws of God.” “Stop! Stop!” cried Allen at this point. Then pausing and looking out of the window, the pantheist exclaimed, “The law of God as written in the great book of nature! Yes! Go on! “
The judge continued, and when he had finished, the trunk and guitar case of Mrs. Allen were placed in the sleigh, the parties took their leave, and were driven to the general’s home in Arlington.
General Allen died Feb. 12, 1798, and his widow subsequently married Dr. Jabez Penniman of Burlington.
Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.