|Following the history of Coventry from this point on, one becomes inextricably entwined with the twisting fortunes of Ira Allen. While the land itself was yet to receive its first permanent settler, the next 10 years would see the decline of Ira Allen's political life in Vermont, and the dissolution of his fortune, of which the Coventry lands were one part.|
By 1791 Ira Allen had become the richest landlord in Vermont and one of the richest landlords
in all of New England.
There are two views as to how he came to his wealthy status. One says
that he was an unscrupulous businessman, who abused his public positions as treasurer and
surveyor-general to enrich himself at the expense of others and the State of Vermont. The other
view is that Allen was a New England businessman who knew how to wheel and deal like all the rest.
His selfless leadership of the Vermont rebellion required much personal and monetary
sacrifice. It was only fair that he get repaid for his services to the state during the rebellion.
And if the primary mode of exchange for Vermont was land grants, so be it.
In any case in 1791, Allen took advantage of the market forces at work and acquired most of the township of Coventry purchasing them at the tax vendue in Burlington from the collector, sheriff Stephen Pearl. Buel obviously hung on to his land down in Buel's Gore where he eventually settled 7 years later. But he quitclaimed his interest to 49 rights in the 2 northern Coventry land tracts and Allen became the sole proprietor. Allen also owned all the rights in Duncansboro (Newport Town) and Irasburgh, as well as land in Albany, Barton and Brownington. In February of 1792, John Kelly, a wealthy New Yorker with Vermont landholdings saw the handwriting on the wall for Allen, and alluding to his upcoming financial difficulties offered to purchase a few of Allen's holdings including Coventry. Allen refused, but found himself in even deeper financial difficulties the following year when he mortgaged all of his Coventry holdings to go on bond for 3500 pounds to finance an ultimately unsuccessful New York business venture of his nephew John Finch with Zenos Bradley.
James Whitelaw's 1793 plan of Coventry (1)
Allen pressed on nonetheless and hired Whitelaw to do the survey of Coventry and Irasburg lots which was completed
in 1793. With visions of a bright future for the area, Allen took out an advertisement in
the Vermont Gazette in January 1794 to entice prospective settlers. He offered lands in Coventry
and Irasburg contiguous to
Lake Memphremagog which he would lease free for four years and after that starting at 4 cents
an acre, increasing one penny annually to a maximum of nine cents an acre. He planned to build
a sawmill and gristmill "near the Irasburg line" (2) that summer and to have the mill staffed with
someone to be available to prospective settlers. It doesn't appear that Allen ever made good
on his promise to begin developing Coventry, and by the following summer, Allen was busy with
The summer of 1795 found Ira Allen pursuing other projects than the industrial development of Coventry. From 1795 to 1801, Allen was travelling abroad in Europe on a number of errands, including getting the British to build a canal on the Richelieu River and fomenting a rebellion in Canada. He spent more than a year in a French prison during this time. It was while overseas that Allen's fortunes crumbled. Whether from unscrupulous Vermont politicians and land speculators, or from bad business sense and timing, Ira Allen lost it all.
In March of 1798 while in London, Allen managed to sell the 2,000 acres of Coventry Gore to Samuel Bayard of Philadelphia for 1,600 pounds sterling. Bayard was a lawyer in London at the time prosecuting the British government under the Jay Treaty. Allen was in and out of British courts and French prisons and was in desparate need of funds to keep himself afloat. Four months later in July the first United States direct land tax was assessed. A federal tax of 2/7 of one percent was levied on all land in the United States. Writing from The Temple prison in Paris France, in October of 1798, to his wife Jerusha in an attempt to apprise her of all of his land holdings Allen explicitly states that he yet owns "fifty Rights in Coventry". It was the U.S. Land Tax which would be Allen's undoing. Apparently unable to make the tax payments, Coventry went up for sale at a tax vendue in May of 1801. The purchaser was one Jabez G. Fitch of Vergennes.
1. Surveyor General's Papers, Vol.2 pg.129, Vermont State Archives, Secretary of State Office, Montpelier, VT.
2. Vermont Gazetter, No.32, Vol XI, Fri Jan 3, 1794
- Index to Ira Allen Papers, Bailey-Howe Library, Special Collection, University of Vermont
- History Of Coventry, Pliny White, Irasburgh, 1859
- Ethan Allen & His Kin Correspondence 1772-1819, ed. by John Duffy, Univ. Press of New England, Hannover, N.H, 1998
- Ira Allen Founder of Vermont, James Wilbur, Houghton-Miflin, Boston, 1928