Born November 7, 1731 Methuen, Massachusetts
Died May 18, 1795 London, England
American wilderness fighter, scout, and leader of Rogers' Rangers
Robert Rogers was one of the most exciting figures to emerge during the French and Indian War (1754-63; known in Europe as the Seven Years' War). A rugged outdoorsman from the New Hampshire frontier, Rogers recruited other men like himself and formed companies of wilderness fighters known as Rogers' Rangers. The rangers provided valuable service to the British Army as scouts and raiders. In fact, they helped the British side in much the same way that Indian (Native American) allies helped the French side. Once the war ended, Rogers added to his fame by publishing his journals (see box), which are full of exciting tales about his wartime adventures.
Becomes a rugged frontiersman
Robert Rogers was born on November 7, 1731, in Methuen, Massachusetts Bay Colony. The son of James and Mary Rogers, Robert grew up on his family's farm near modern-day Concord, New Hampshire. During his youth, the area where he lived consisted mostly of wilderness, with a few small farms and villages scattered throughout. Since Rogers was needed to work on the farm, he received little formal education. As he grew older, he spent all his spare time in the wilderness—hunting, exploring, and trading with the Indians who lived there. By the time the French and Indian War broke out, Rogers had developed into a rugged frontiersman.
The French and Indian War began in 1754 in North America, where both Great Britain and France had established colonies (permanent settlements of citizens who maintain ties to the mother country). The British colonies, known as America, stretched along the Atlantic Ocean from present-day Maine to Georgia. The French colonies, known as New France, included eastern Canada, parts of the Great Lakes region, and the Mississippi River basin.
Both the British and the French hoped to expand their land holdings into the Ohio Country, a vast wilderness that lay between their colonies and offered access to valuable natural resources and important river travel routes. But the Ohio Country was controlled by the Iroquois Confederacy, a powerful alliance of six Indian nations whose members had lived on the land for generations. As Iroquois influence started to decline in the mid-1700s, however, the British and French began fighting to claim the Ohio Country and take control of North America. Once Great Britain and France officially declared war in 1756, the conflict spread to Europe and around the world.
In the early years of the French and Indian War, the French formed alliances with many Indian nations. The French and their Indian allies worked together to hand the British and their American colonists a series of defeats. Part of the reason for the French success was that they learned some of the Indians' methods of wilderness fighting. For example, they often hid in the woods and launched sneak attacks. In contrast, the British soldiers wore bright red uniforms and were trained to stand and fight in formation.
Leads wilderness fighters known as Rogers' Rangers
Rogers joined the army in 1755 and became a captain in the forces led by William Johnson (1715-1774; see entry). In September of that year, Johnson led thirty-five hundred colonial troops and Indian warriors on a mission to attack Fort St. Frédéric, a French stronghold located on Lake Champlain in northern New York. Rogers used his wilderness experience and outdoor skills to scout enemy forces and gather information. He was also able to recruit and train other New Hampshire frontiersmen to perform this valuable service for Johnson's army. Although Johnson's forces did not capture Fort St. Frédéric, they did defeat the French and their Indian allies in the Battle of Lake George. This was the first important British victory of the war, and it also stopped the French from advancing further into New York.
In recognition of Rogers' talents, Johnson gave him command of his own unit of wilderness fighters—known as Rogers' Rangers—in 1756. Two years later, Rogers was promoted to the rank of major and placed in charge of nine ranger companies. The rangers were tough and hardy outdoorsmen who adopted the Indians' methods of wilderness warfare. For example, they learned skills like tracking, camouflage, signaling, and ambush.
Rogers came up with a detailed list of rules to guide the behavior of his rangers. The rangers wore dark green uniforms and black hats with a feather in them. They usually moved at night, under cover of darkness. They traveled across lakes in canoes or on ice skates, and they moved silently through the woods wearing moccasins or snowshoes. When they saw enemy forces, Rogers would give a hand signal that meant "tree all," and the rangers would disappear into the underbrush. Each ranger fought alongside a partner, so that one could shoot while the other reloaded his weapon. When the fighting became too intense, the rangers would scatter into the woods and regroup at a meeting place miles away.
Rogers' Rangers help the British war effort
Throughout the course of the war, Rogers' Rangers fought in a number of battles. In the early spring of 1758, for example, they scouted enemy forces near Fort Carillon. This French stronghold, known as Ticonderoga by the British, was located on Lake George in New York. British leaders were planning a major expedition against the fort that summer and sent Rogers and 180 rangers to gather information. But the French and their Indian allies knew the rangers were coming and set a trap for them. The rangers came upon a small group of Indians in the woods and started to chase them, when they suddenly ran into more than 500 Canadian and Indian forces. Rogers and his men made a fighting retreat, but dozens of rangers were killed or captured. Rogers himself escaped by sliding down a steep hill into the icy waters of the lake. Only 54 rangers made it back to their headquarters at Fort Edward.
British leaders also ordered Rogers and his rangers to conduct numerous raids against French forts and Indian villages. They made one of their most famous raids against the St. Francis Abenaki Indians in 1759. The Abenaki lived near the St. Lawrence River, between Montreal and Quebec. They were responsible for a series of bloody attacks that killed an estimated six hundred American colonists. Rogers and his rangers made a dangerous three-hundred-mile journey through enemy territory to attack the Abenaki. They killed up to two hundred Indians and burned the village to the ground.
Later in 1759, Rogers took part in the successful British attack on Fort St. Frédéric. The following year—just a few days after the French surrendered at Montreal—Rogers accepted the surrender of Fort Detroit to end the French and Indian War in North America. By this time, Rogers was famous throughout Great Britain and the American colonies. Stories of his courage and daring had made him a hero. In 1761, he married Elizabeth Browne, the daughter of a minister. Later that year, he took a company of rangers to South Carolina to help put down a Cherokee Indian uprising. In 1763, he fought in several battles against Indians during a large-scale rebellion led by an Ottawa chief named Pontiac (c. 1720-1769; see entry).
Struggles with debts and illegal dealings
Once peace returned to North America, Rogers found himself without a way to earn a living. His debts mounted, and he got into trouble for trading illegally with Indians. In 1765, he moved to England in hopes of cashing in on his fame. During his years there, he published Reminiscences of the French War, a lively account of his wilderness battles that was drawn from his journals. He also published his views of the American colonies in A Concise Account of North America. Finally, he wrote Ponteach, or the Savages of America: A Tragedy, which was one of the first plays written by a native New Englander.
British leaders rewarded Rogers for his service by giving him command of Fort Michilimackinac, located in a remote region of Michigan. Rogers and his wife returned to North America in 1767 and lived at this remote outpost on Lake Huron for two years. During this time, Rogers again found himself in trouble for trading illegally with the Indians. He returned to England in 1769 and struggled to make a living. Failure to pay his debts eventually landed him in prison, but his brother arranged his release.
Rogers returned to America in 1775, hoping to join the colonial army and fight in the American Revolution. But General George Washington (1732-1799; see entry) did not trust Rogers and refused to offer him a command. Rogers was put in prison as a suspected spy for the British the following year, but he escaped. He then openly supported the British side and recruited a company of wilderness fighters known as the Queen's American Rangers. He lost his command after suffering a defeat near White Plains, New York.
Rogers was divorced in 1778, and a short time later he was banished from New Hampshire. He fled to England in 1780, where he lived his last years in hardship and poverty. He died in a London boarding house on May 18, 1795. The rules that Rogers established for the conduct of his rangers are still studied and used today (in a modernized form) by the elite U.S. Army Rangers, known as the Green Berets.
For More Information
Cuneo, John R. Robert Rogers of the Rangers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959. Reprint, Ticonderoga, NY: Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 1998.
Dictionary of American Biography. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
"Robert Rogers." History Detroit: 1701-2001. http://www.historydetroit.com/people/robert_rogers.asp (accessed January 30, 2003).
"Rogers' Rangers." Digital History Ltd.: The Gateway to the Past. http://digitalhistory.org/rogers.html (accessed January 30, 2003).
Rogers, Robert. Reminiscences of the French War: With Robert Rogers' Journal and a Memoir of General Stark. 3d ed. Freedom, NH: Freedom Historical Society, 1988.
James Fenimore Cooper, Author of Last of the Mohicans
American author James Fenimore Cooper lived most of his life in the nineteenth century, but his most famous novel—The Last of the Mohicans—was set a century earlier, at the height of the French and Indian War.
Born September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey, Cooper was raised in wealthy surroundings. He spent most of his childhood in Cooperstown, New York, a settlement founded by his father, the prominent William Cooper (1754-1809). Here, William Cooper—a judge, real estate investor, and member of the U.S. House of Representatives—built a large family mansion to house his thirteen children. James and his brothers could often be found roaming the forests that surrounded the village, and it was these boyhood adventures that fueled Cooper's lifelong love for the outdoors.
Cooper was a reckless youth, and his wild behavior convinced Yale University administrators to expel him from the school in 1805. He then served for six years as a Merchant Marine (a sailor on a commercial ship) and as a sailor in the U.S. Navy before beginning a business career. In 1820, he began a long and successful writing career by publishing his first novel, titled Precaution. Over the next three decades, he wrote numerous novels, volumes of military history, and books of social criticism that made him one of the world's leading literary figures. The most famous of these works were his Leatherstocking Tales. These five novels—The Pioneers (1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1841)—told the story of a brave eighteenth-century frontiersman named Natty Bumppo, who was nicknamed Leather-stocking because of his clothing.
All five of Cooper's Leatherstocking books explored European settlers' brave struggles to develop the North American continent, as well as the unfortunate destruction of nature that accompanies such development. The most famous of the Leatherstocking tales is Last of the Mohicans, which describes Bumppo's adventures as a scout for the British during the French and Indian War. The novel follows Bumppo—nicknamed Hawkeye at this point in his life—as he and his noble Mohican Indian friends, Chingachook and Uncas, try to save the Munro sisters from the evil Magua and his fellow Iroquois warriors. Last of the Mohicans is marred by several historical inaccuracies, but it is also an exciting adventure tale that was hugely popular with critics and readers alike. Today, it remains the most widely read of Cooper's many stories, and Natty Bumppo continues to rank as "a character of genuine mythic proportions," according to the Times Educational Supplement (January 16, 1987, p. 32).
Later in his career, Cooper wrote works ranging from social criticism to nautical adventures about pirates and marooned sailors. These writings never achieved the popularity of his Natty Bumppo books, however. In the late 1840s, liver problems took a heavy toll on Cooper's health, and he died on September 14, 1851, just one day shy of his sixty-second birthday.
Source: Encyclopedia of World Biography. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center . Detroit: Gale, 2002.
Excerpt from Rogers's Journal
The following passages are from Robert Rogers's account of the disastrous 1758 scouting mission against Fort Carillon, which took the lives of over one hundred rangers.
March 10, 1758. I was ordered by Col. [William] Haviland [the British commander of Fort Edward] to the neighbour-hood of Ticonderoga [site of a French fort on Lake George], not with 400 men, as was at first given out, but with 180, officers included.… I acknowledge that I entered upon this service, with this small detachment [group] of brave men, with no small uneasiness of mind. We had every reason to believe that [a colonial soldier who had recently been taken prisoner by the French] had informed the enemy of our intended expedition, and the force to be employed.…
[Rogers and his men left Fort Edward that day and started across the frozen surface of Lake George. When they neared Ticonderoga on March 13, they began moving through the woods on snowshoes.] On our left, at a small distance, we were flanked by a rivulet [stream], and by a steep mountain on the right. Our main body kept close under the mountain, that the advanced guard might better observe the brook, on the ice of which they might travel, as the snow was now four feet deep, which made the travelling very bad even with snow shoes. In this manner we proceeded a mile and a half, when our advance informed us that the enemy were in sight; and soon after, that his force consisted of ninety-six, chiefly Indians. We immediately threw down our knapsacks and prepared for battle, supposing that the whole of the enemy's force were approaching on our left, upon the ice of the rivulet.… We gave them the first fire, which killed more than forty and put the remainder to flight [caused them to retreat], in which one half of my men pursued, and cut down several more of them with their hatchets and cutlasses [short swords]. I now imagined they were totally defeated.… [But] the party we had routed was only the advanced guard of six hundred Canadians and Indians, who were now coming up to attack the Rangers. The latter now retreated to their own ground, which was gained at the expense of fifty men killed. There they were drawn up in good order, and fought with such intrepidity [courage], keeping up a constant and well directed fire, as caused the French, though [outnumbering the rangers by] seven to one in number, to retreat a second time. We however being in no condition to pursue, they rallied again, recovered their lost ground, and made a desperate attack upon our front, and wings.…
[The enemy continued attacking and pushed the rangers up the mountain-side.] A constant fire continued for an hour and a half, from the commencement [start] of the attack, during which time we lost eight officers and one hundred privates killed upon the spot. After doing all that brave men could do, the Rangers were compelled to break, each man looking out for himself.…
[After spending two nights in the cold, the surviving rangers arrived back at Fort Edward on March 15.] I will not pretend to say what would have been the result of this unfortunate expedition, had our numbers been four hundred strong, as was contemplated [considered]; but it is due to those brave officers and men who accompanied me, most of whom are now no more, to declare that every man in his respective station [rank or position], behaved with uncommon resolution and coolness; nor do I recollect an instance, during the action, in which the prudence [judgment] or good conduct of one of them could be questioned.
Source: Rogers, Robert. Reminiscences of the French War: With Robert Rogers' Journal and a Memoir of General Stark. 3d ed. Freedom, NH: Freedom Historical Society, 1988.
Rogers, Robert (1731-1795)
Robert Rogers (1731-1795)
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 clergyman’s 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 Pontiac’s 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.
Robert Rogers, The Journals of Major Robert Rogers (New York: Corinth Books, 1961).
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.
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.
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. □