History of Rogers' Rangers
Rogers' Rangers, the Green Berets of Colonial America, are recognized as one of the finest fighting forces the world has ever known. These green-clad frontiersmen served as the eyes and ears of the British army during the French and Indian War, and played an integral role in England's conquest of New France.
The unit started as the scouting company of Blanchard's New Hampshire Provincial Regiment. It was organized by Robert Rogers, a Scotch-Irish farmer and woodsman who was in trouble with the law because of his involvement with a group of counterfeiters. At the time, it was customary for Provincial units to have a group of rangers for scouting purposes, but Rogers' band soon earned special attention because of the extreme daring and skill they exhibited in frontier warfare.
Major General (later Sir) William Johnson and other British officers soon recognized the potential of this unit, and in March 1756 Rogers was ordered to raise a second company that would serve with his already existing company, independent of any regiment. They were to be established by a special order of the Crown. They were to be established by a special order of the Crown. Rogers was commissioned Captain-Commandant, and a new type of fighting force was born.
Rogers' Rangers acted as an effective counterforce against the French-Canadian irregulars and Indians. While Regulars from France and England engaged in classic European style fighting, the Rangers played a deadly game of hide and seek with their foes.
As the Rangers' glory grew, so did their numbers. The force swelled to ten full companies, including two of Stockbridge Indians, which were commanded by their own Indian Officers. Promising members of other regiments often served as cadets in the Rangers, learning Rogers' methods and then going back to instruct their own units.
Most of the battle honors of Rogers' Rangers are not well known pitched battles, but rather short, intense conflicts noteworthy for their savagery and skillful deployment.
These smaller engagements included the "First Battle on Snowshoes," the "Second Battle on Snowshoes," also known as the Battle of Rogers' Rock, and the raid on the Abenaki Village of St. Francis with its heroic but tragic return to the English settlements. This raid was memorably chronicled by Kenneth Roberts in the novel NORTHWEST PASSAGE and by King Vidor in the film of the same name.
However, the Rangers did not shun the major battles of the war. Rangers served with distinction at Louisbourg, the siege of Fort William Henry, Abercromby's disastrous assault on Ticonderoga, and again in Amherst's triumphant campaign of 1759. In the Campaign of 1760, Rogers and his Rangers were in the vanguard of Haviland's army, the only one in the three pronged move on Montreal to meet any significant French resistance. Prior to leading the main army out of Crown Point in August, the Rangers defeated a superior French force at Point Au Fer, and single-handedly captured Fort St. Therese, a vital link in the communication and supply line between Fort Saint Jean and the French forces at Isle Aux Noix.
In 1760, Amherst selected Rogers for the honor of receiving the surrender of the western French posts—Detroit, Michilimackinac, Ouiatenon, and others. This was the first British expedition into the French held Great Lakes region in almost a hundred years. It would have been a challenge at any time, but winter was drawing near, adding the dimension of a race to an already difficult task. Although not all of the posts were reached before the winter of 1760-61 set in, the mission is still regarded as a success.
As Rogers' Ranger Companies returned from the West and elsewhere, (some had even been sent to help in the capture of the French West Indies), they were disbanded. Rogers was again authorized to raise Ranger Companies during the Cherokee War and Pontiac's Uprising. During the Siege of Detroit, Rogers and his Rangers gained glory for their courageous covering of the disastrous British retreat from the Battle of Bloody Run.
In 1767, while he was Commandant at Ft. Michilimackinac, Rogers sent out his unsuccessful expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. Virtually forgotten today, Rogers' greatest success was in ending a century old war between the Chippewa and the Sioux, thus making vast new areas safe for British traders. Unfortunately, he acted in technical violation of his orders by giving generous gifts to the Indians. These orders would have been impossible to comply with and still do his job satisfactorily. Certain Eastern political forces, (notably Sir William Johnson), were unhappy with his conduct--quite possibly because of his success in dealing with the Western Indians.
Rogers was arrested on charges of treason for alleged dealings with the French in Louisiana. He was carried in irons to Montreal for trial. The charges proved to be groundless, but although he was found innocent, he was not restored to his command. He sailed to England, where he attempted to obtain government assistance in settling his financial troubles. He spent some time in debtors' prison and turned to alcohol to escape from his problems.
In the Revolution, he first offered his assistance to the Colonies, but was turned down, perhaps because of the time he had spent in England. He then went over to the Crown, first forming Rogers' Queen's Rangers, then Rogers' King's Rangers. Unfortunately, by the 1770's Rogers was but a shadow of his former self, and his units were pale imitations of their French & Indian War counterpart.
The most significant accomplishment of troops under Rogers' command during the Revolution was the dubious distinction of having captured the spy Nathan Hale. The Queen's Rangers only existed for seven months under Rogers' direct command, during which time they had great difficulty reaching full strength because many of their recruits were captured before they could reach their unit. Later, a reorganized and revitalized Queen's Rangers, under Colonel John Graves Simcoe, became one of the most respected units to serve the British cause during the war. Rogers' King's Rangers was primarily a garrison force, although one company did engage in several successful scouting missions.
A few of Rogers' French War comrades also joined the British cause. His brother James, John Shepherd, and Stephen Holland were among those few. The majority of the former Rangers remained loyal to their native land and provided the Continental Army with some of its best leaders. Among them were John Stark, the hero of Bunker Hill and Bennington, Moses Hazen, commander of the Second Canadian Regiment (Congress' Own), the Brewer brothers, Jonathan and David, and Ebeneezer Webster, Daniel's father.
After the Revolution, many of Rogers' old French War Rangers played an integral part in the founding of the original United States. At the same time, James Rogers and the majority of the Queen's Rangers emigrated to Canada, where they played significant roles in the early days of Upper Canada. Thus, in the words of Ranger historian Burt Garfield Loescher, the rich heritage of Rogers' Rangers has been preserved in the history of two great nations:
"They won Canada from France so that the American Colonies might be free to win their independence from England, and then strove to defend Canada from American occupation so that two great countries might be born..."