Skip to main content
Select Source:

Rogers, Robert (1731-1795)

Robert Rogers (1731-1795)

Sources

Frontier soldier

Background. The strange career of Robert Rogers is ample proof that some skills and attitudes that produce success in war, such as aggressive ambition, great daring, trickery, and contempt for rules, may be just the reverse of what is needed for success in peacetime. Born in Methuen, Massachusetts, Rogers grew up on the New Hampshire frontier, hunting, trapping, trading, and occasionally smuggling. In the summer of 1755 he joined the New Hampshire militia to escape trial as a counterfeiter. In August and September of that year he distinguished himself in the failed attempt by William Johnson to capture the French fort at Crown Point.

Ranger Leader. In March 1756 Gov. William Shirley of Massachusetts made Rogers a captain commanding a company of men charged with the task of raiding deep into French territory to attack outposts, disrupt communications, ambush supply trains, spread terror among the Indian tribes allied with the French and bring back information on French movements and plans. Operating from Fort William Henry in upstate New York, Rogers made himself thoroughly familiar with all the terrain around Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga, coming close enough to draw plans of the fortifications and, in one instance, carry off a sentry who had challenged him. He was a natural leader, one whose woodcraft and smuggling experience were useful to his mission. Moving quickly, burdened by only the minimum of food and arms, using waterways by night and resting by day, his rangers were soon enough of a problem for the French to offer a reward to anyone who could kill or capture Rogers. In January 1757 his force of 68 rangers was ambushed near Fort Ticonderoga by nearly 200 French. Rogers was wounded and lost 20 men, but in return killed and wounded more than 37 French. Promoted to a major in 1758, Rogers commanded nine companies of rangers, and British officers were often sent to him to learn the art of wilderness warfare. In addition to leading raids deep into French territory, Rogers and his rangers scouted for several British regular armies, notably at the assault on Fort Ticonderoga in 1758, the advance on Crown Point in 1759, and the attack on Montreal in 1760. In September 1759 he raided into Canada to destroy the Abenaki stronghold at St. Francis, and he and his rangers suffered extraordinary hardships in escaping from large bodies of pursuers.

Disgrace and Obscurity. In 1761 Rogers married a clergymans daughter, Elizabeth Browne of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but found he had no taste for everyday life in a peaceful, well-established community. Instead, he went south to command a military unit fighting against Cherokees in South Carolina, then commanded a company of New Yorkers in Pontiacs rebellion. After a visit to England, where he published his journals and was acclaimed as a hero, he returned to North America to a command at the fur trading post at Fort Michilimackinac on Lake Michigan. His sloppy business practices and involvement in smuggling and other shady schemes led to his arrest and trial for treasonous dealings with the French. Though acquitted, he found it difficult to secure another post and returned to England where he wangled a commission as colonel of a British regiment but soon found himself imprisoned for debt. After his brother paid his creditors, he got out of prison and came back to North America, where he tried to sell his services to both the colonials and the British in 1775. George Washington had him arrested as a spy in 1776, but he escaped and raised a Loyalist regiment of rangers for the British. He lost his command to his brother because of his drunkenness and dishonesty. After his wife divorced him, he returned to London in 1780 and lived fifteen more years in poverty, dying in a boardinghouse.

Sources

John R. Cuneo, Robert Rogers of the Rangers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959);

Robert Rogers, The Journals of Major Robert Rogers (New York: Corinth Books, 1961).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rogers, Robert (1731-1795)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rogers, Robert (1731-1795)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rogers-robert-1731-1795

"Rogers, Robert (1731-1795)." American Eras. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rogers-robert-1731-1795

Robert Rogers

Robert Rogers

The colonial American Robert Rogers (1731-1795) was a frontiersman and army officer in the French and Indian War. Later he was extremely successful as a ranger, raider, and reconnaissance officer.

Robert Rogers was born in Methuen, Mass., on Nov. 18, 1731. He grew up in Dunbarton, N.H. Though formal education was slight in a frontier town like Dunbarton, his childhood in field and forest was ideal preparation for his career as a ranger officer.

Beginning service as a scout in King George's War (1744-1748), Rogers reentered service as a ranger officer when the French and Indian War (1755-1763) broke out, possibly because he was involved in alleged counterfeiting of the easily imitated colonial currency. Eventually, he commanded nine ranger companies and was promoted to major. He was in charge of reconnaissance, active in raiding around Lake Champlain, especially at Crown Point and Ticonderoga, and led the force that destroyed the St. Francis Indians (named after the Indian Village of St. Francis, northeast of Montreal), longtime terrors of the New England frontier. He was at the surrender of Montreal in 1760, which ended the French regime in Canada.

After the capitulation, Rogers led a party as far as Detroit to receive the surrender of the French garrison there and to persuade the Native Americans that they must hence-forward look to the British as their "fathers." The popular hero was not completely successful. The Native Americans attacked in Pontiac's Conspiracy, and Rogers was with the British troops that moved to relieve Detroit, fighting in the defeat at Bloody Run and commanding the men who covered the British withdrawal to Detroit again.

After brief service in the South and a trip to England, Rogers became commandant at the northwestern Mackinac post. Here he was accused of illegal trading with the Native Americans and other offenses, including treason; but a court-martial triumphantly acquitted him. Rogers had been unfortunate in business; the exact nature of his business is not clear, but it certainly included ventures in Native American trading. He also had difficulty with vouchers for expenses incurred during his Native American fighting, so that his debts eventually reached £13,000. When he returned to England in 1769, he was thrown into debtors' prison but was released with the aid of his brother James.

Returning to America in 1775 as a half-pay British lieutenant colonel, Rogers showed patriot sympathies, which may have been feigned. George Washington distrusted him, and Rogers eventually joined the service of the British with no great distinction. He died in poverty in London on May 18, 1795.

Further Reading

Rogers's Journals are the best source for his military exploits. Rogers's Ponteach (1914) contains a biography by the editor, Allan Nevins. An excellent biography is John R. Cuneo, Robert Rogers of the Rangers (1959). The second volume of the 1937 edition of Kenneth Roberts, Northwest Passage, contains documents and a lengthy bibliography.

Additional Sources

Cuneo, John R., Robert Rogers of the rangers, Ticonderoga, N.Y.: Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 1988.

Rogers, Robert, Reminiscences of the French War: with Robert Rogers' journal and a memoir of General Star, Freedom, N.H.: Freedom Historical Society, 1988. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Robert Rogers." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Robert Rogers." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/robert-rogers

"Robert Rogers." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/robert-rogers

Rogers, Robert

Robert Rogers, 1731–95, American frontiersman, b. Methuen, Mass. As a child he moved with his family to the New Hampshire frontier. In King George's War (1744–48) he served briefly as a scout. In the last of the French and Indian Wars he was appointed (1758) major in command of all rangers. Rogers led (1759) his men in a daring expedition that resulted in the destruction of the Native Americans of the Saint Francis branch of the Abnaki. In 1760 he was sent to receive the submission of the French posts on the Great Lakes, and in 1763 he served on the expedition to defend Fort Detroit, which was threatened by Pontiac's Rebellion.

His many exploits made him a popular hero, but his participation in illicit trade with the Native Americans brought him into official disgrace. He went (1765) to England to obtain pay for his service. There he was much feted, and his Journals and A Concise Account of North America were published in 1765. He also wrote a crude play, Ponteach (1766), important primarily as an early American drama.

Successful in securing an appointment as commander of the post at Mackinac, he returned to the Northwest. His career there has been the subject of much speculation and discussion. Rogers, who was ambitious to find the Northwest Passage, sent out the mysterious expedition of Jonathan Carver to the Northwest, quarreled with his associates, was accused of plotting to set up an independent state, and was arrested on charges of treasonable dealings with the French. Brought to Montreal in chains and court-martialed, he was acquitted of all charges.

In 1769 he went to England, but he returned in 1775 to America and played such an equivocal role at the beginning of the American Revolution that he was imprisoned as a Loyalist spy. He escaped and openly joined the Loyalists, but his record in the war was anything but distinguished. In 1780 he returned to England, dying there in 1795 in obscurity.

See his play, Ponteach, ed. with a biographical account by A. Nevins (1914, repr. 1973); his journals, ed. by F. B. Hough (1883, repr. 1966); biography by J. R. Cuneo (1959).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rogers, Robert." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rogers, Robert." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rogers-robert

"Rogers, Robert." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rogers-robert

Rogers, Robert

Rogers, Robert. See Rangers, U.S. Army.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rogers, Robert." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rogers, Robert." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rogers-robert

"Rogers, Robert." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rogers-robert