Ticonderoga, New York, American Capture of
Ticonderoga, New York, American Capture of
TICONDEROGA, NEW YORK, AMERICAN CAPTURE OF. 10 May 1775. Captured by the Americans. The idea of capturing this strategically located post and its deposit of military stores appeared obvious to many of the Patriot leaders in April 1775. The old French works were occupied by a small British garrison under Captain William Delaplace. Early in 1775 this officer reported suspicious activity around his isolated post to General Gage, assuming that there might be an attempt from the settlers in the New Hampshire Grants to steal some of his ammunition. He promised Gage that he would take "every necessary precaution to frustrate their designs." Still, as the leader of the Green Mountain Boys, Ethan Allen, discovered, Delaplace remained completely unaware of the worsening relations between the colonists and Britain. Governor Guy Carleton in Canada planned to reinforce the fort in the months ahead but made no effort to inform Delaplace about the war that broke out in Massachusetts on 19 April.
ALLEN AND ARNOLD
In Hartford, Samuel H. Parsons, Silas Deane, and others organized an expedition that was a private enterprise but that had the tacit approval of the Connecticut assembly. After sending a proposal to Ethan Allen at Bennington to gather some Green Mountain Boys for the operation, the first of the Connecticut group left Hartford on 28 April and were followed the next day by others. About twenty Connecticut men were joined in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, by James Easton and John Brown, who had assembled about fifty Massachusetts volunteers. At Castleton on 7 May, they joined one hundred Green Mountain Boys raised by Allen, with another one hundred on the way. The next day they chose a Committee of War, chaired by Edward Mott of the Hartford Committee of Safety, elected Ethan Allen commander, and drew up their plan of attack. Allen, who had stationed guards on all the roads leading to the fort to keep information of the war from filtering through to Delaplace, sent Noah Phelps inside, pretending to be a hunter in need of a haircut and shave. Phelps reported that, incredibly, the British still had no idea that they were at war. If alerted, they could put up a stiff resistance, being well supplied with munitions and artillery. On 9 May, Allen moved with the main body to Hand's Cove, a point on Lake Champlain's east shore just over a mile from Fort Ticonderoga (at modern Orwell, New York, then called Shoreham.) Allen sent Samuel Herrick with a thirty-man detachment to Skenesboro to seize Colonel Philip Skene and a large schooner for use in the crossing to Fort Ticonderoga. Asa Douglass was sent to Crown Point to hire that garrison's boats for use in the attack.
Meanwhile, Captain Benedict Arnold had persuaded the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to let him lead an expedition against Ticonderoga, receiving authorization on 3 May to raise up to four hundred men. Three days later, however, he learned of Allen's undertaking and rushed to Castleton, accompanied by only a servant, arriving the evening of 9 May. He immediately claimed command of the operation. Colonels Allen and Easton asked the assembled men for their judgment, which was that they would go home rather than accept Arnold's command. Allen soothed Arnold's injured pride by offering to let the captain march at his side at the head of the column. Arnold, who added only himself to the unit's strength, accepted.
Shortly before the dawn of 10 May, nearly three hundred men were at Hand's Cove waiting for boats. Two scows finally arrived, one brought by two boys who had heard of the operation and the other brought by Asa Douglass. Realizing the importance of surprise, Allen decided not to wait any longer for the boats from Skenesboro, packed eighty-five men into the available boats, and headed for the opposite bank. Squalls of wind and rain had made the two-mile crossing hazardous but probably benefited the attackers by covering their noise.
The Green Mountain Boys rushed up the path from the cove below the fort, with Allen and Arnold quick stepping at their head in a race to be first to the narrow covered way with a small gate leading into the fort. Allen won. A British sentry's musket misfired as he sought to shoot Allen, who knocked him aside and then hit a second sentry with the flat of his sword. The huge Allen grabbed this sentry and forced him to act as a guide to the officers' quarters as his men swarmed into the fort behind him. As his men ran for the barracks, Allen banged on the commandant's door, shouting, "Come out of there, you damned British rat!" Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham, who had arrived twelve days previously with the advance element of a twenty-man reinforcement Carleton was sending to Delaplace from Canada, appeared at the door wearing his coat and carrying his breeches.
Thinking Feltham was Captain Delaplace, Allen called on him to surrender the fort. When the lieutenant demanded to know by what authority he had entered the king's fort, Allen responded, "In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress." At this point Delaplace, who had taken the time to dress fully, appeared and, seeing his sleepy and unarmed soldiers being herded out of their barracks, surrendered the fort. Allen immediately sent Seth Warner and Levi Allen with one hundred men to capture Crown Point.
Prisoners consisted of two officers and forty-eight men, many of them invalids, as well as twenty-four women and children. Captured matériel at Ticonderoga and Crown Point included at least seventy-eight serviceable cannon out of more than two hundred taken, six mortars, three howitzers, thousands of cannon balls, thirty thousand flints, some twenty casks and powder, and other stores.
In a small schooner and several bateaux captured at Skenesboro, Arnold led a successful raid to St. Johns, Canada, on 17 May. Allen followed and made an ill-advised and unsuccessful attempt to hold this last post against British reinforcements from nearby Chambly.
When Congress learned 18 May that Ticonderoga had been taken, it ordered the fort abandoned and all the military stores carefully inventoried and evacuated to the south end of Lake George. An absolute refusal from Allen, followed by protests from New York and New England, forced Congress to pass a resolution on 31 May that Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point be held. Arnold considered himself in command of these two places, creating enormous difficulties for the rebels. A Massachusetts committee, however, arrived to inform him that he was to be second in command to Colonel Benjamin Hinman, who had been sent with fourteen hundred Connecticut men to garrison the captured posts. Arnold resigned his Massachusetts commission and left the service with his first of a succession of grievances.
Bellesiles, Michael. Revolutionary Outlaws: Ethan Allen and the Struggle for Independence on the Early American Frontier. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993.
Martin, James K. Benedict Arnold: Revolutionary Hero. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
revised by Michael Bellesiles