(7 November 1731 – 18 May 1795) was
an American colonial frontiersman
. Rogers served in the British army
during both the French and Indian
and the American
. During the French and Indian War Rogers raised and
commanded the famous Rogers'
Rogers was born to James and Mary McFatridge Rogers on 7 November
1731, in Methuen, a small town in northeastern Massachusetts.
There is no known authentic portrait
of Robert Rogers; this is an artist's interpretation.
At that time, the town served as a staging
point for Ulster-Scots
for the untamed wilderness of New Hampshire.
when Robert was eight years old, his family relocated to the Great
Meadow district of New Hampshire near present Concord, where James,
an Irish immigrant, founded a settlement on acres of land, which he
called Munterloney after a hilly place in Derry,
Robert referred to this childhood residence as
"Mountalona." It was later renamed Dunbarton, New
In 1740 the War of the
(1740-1748) broke out in Europe and in 1744
the war spread to North America where it was known as King George's War
Robert's youth (1746) he saw service in the New Hampshire militia
as a private in Captain Daniel Ladd's Scouting Company and in 1747,
also as a private, Ebenezer Eastman's Scouting Company both times
guarding the New Hampshire frontier.
In 1754 Robert became involved with a gang of counterfeiters. He
was indicted but the case was never brought to trial.
French and Indian War
In 1755, war engulfed the colonies, spreading also to Europe.
Britain and France declared war on each other. The British in
America suffered a string of defeats similar to that of Braddock.
Encouraged by the French victories, American Indians launched a
series of savage attacks along the colonial frontier with the
intent of driving the British inhabitants into the sea.
Rogers and the Rangers
raised and commanded the famous Rogers'
Rangers that fought for the British during the French
and Indian War. This militia unit operated primarily in the
George and Lake Champlain regions of New York.
undertook winter raids against French towns and military
emplacements, traveling on crude snowshoes and across frozen
rivers. Never fully respected by the British regulars, Rogers'
Rangers were one of the few non-Indian forces able to operate in
the inhospitable region due to the harsh winter conditions and
Rogers evidenced an unusual talent for commanding his unit in
conditions that the regular armies of the day were unaccustomed to
working in. He took the initiative in mustering, equipping and
commanding ranger units. He wrote an early guide for commanding
such units is Robert Rogers' 28
"Rules of Ranging"
. The Queen's
of the Canadian Army, the U.S. Army
and the 1st Battalion 119th Field
all claim Rogers as their founder, and "Rogers' Rules of Ranging
" are still
quoted on the last page of the U.S. Army's Ranger handbook.
As he was personally responsible for paying his soldiers, Rogers
went deeply into debt and took loans to ensure his soldiers were
paid properly after their regular pay was raided during transport.
He was never compensated by the British
or government, though he had reason to believe he should
have had his expenses reimbursed.
The war broke out in the midst of Robert Rogers' counterfeiting
trial. The colonial government decided it needed experienced
frontiersmen more than it needed to punish counterfeiters; hence,
the charges against Rogers were dismissed. Upon his release, Rogers
was appropriated in 1755 as an official recruiter for the renowned
Rogers arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and, using the authority invested in him by Colonel
Winslow, began to muster soldiers for the British Crown.
was probably during this time that the recruits enlisted by him
began to be called "Rogers' Rangers" by the local populace.
Due to attacks by Americans Indians along the frontier, Rogers'
recruitment drive was well supported by the frightened and angry
provincials. The masons of
Lodge in Portsmouth received him with two degrees.
Portsmouth, he also met his future wife, Elizabeth Browne, the
youngest daughter of Reverend Arthur Browne (Anglican
). By the end of 1756, Rogers had raised
three more companies of rangers, totaling four, one of which he
Robert's brothers — James
Richard and possibly John — all served in Rogers' Rangers
. Richard died of small
pox in 1757 at Fort
William Henry; his corpse was later disinterred and mutilated by
hostile natives. James
would later assume Robert's post in the King's Rangers
at the end of the American
Revolutionary War. It is not known what became of John, but it
is suspected that he remained in the south after Robert's 1762
visit to Charleston, South Carolina.
- For more details on this topic, see
Battle on Snowshoes ,
Battle on Snowshoes and Battle of
From 1755 to 1758, Rogers and his rangers served under a series of
unsuccessful British commanders operating over the northern
accesses to the British colonies: Major General William Johnson
General William Shirley
, and Major General
time, the British could do little more than fight defensive
campaigns around Lake
Point, Ticonderoga and the upper Hudson. However, the British were victorious in
Scotia (Acadia), from which they transported the French Acadians to Louisiana.
During this time, the rangers proved indispensable; they grew
gradually to twelve companies as well as several additional
contingents of natives who had pledged their allegiance to the
British cause. The rangers were kept organizationally distinct from
British regulars. Rogers was their acting commandant, as well as
the direct commander of his own company. Rogers routinely gave
advice to his British superiors, which was ignored for the most
January 1757, at the First
Battle of the Snowshoes, Rogers' Rangers ambushed and captured
seven Frenchmen near Fort Carillon but then encountered a hundred French and Canadian
militia and Ottawa Indians from the Ohio
After taking casualties, Rogers' force
British forces surrendered Fort William
Henry in August 1757, the Rangers were stationed on
Rogers Island near Fort
This allowed the Rangers to train and
operate with more freedom than the regular British forces.
On 13 March 1758, at the Second
Battle of the Snowshoes
, Rogers' Rangers ambushed a French and
Indian column and, in turn, were ambushed by enemy forces. The
Rangers lost 125 men in this encounter, as well as eight men
wounded, with 52 surviving. Rogers estimated 100 killed and nearly
100 wounded of the French-Indian forces; however, the French listed
casualties as total of ten Indians killed and seventeen
On 7 July
1758, Rogers' Rangers took part in the Battle of
In 1758, Abercromby recognized Rogers' accomplishments by promoting
him to Major
, with the equally famous John Stark
as his second-in-command. Rogers now
held two ranks appropriate to his double role: Captain and
the tide of the war turned and the British advanced on the city of Quebec. Major General Jeffrey Amherst, the
newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of British
forces in North America, had a brilliant and definitive idea:
He dispatched Rogers and his rangers on an expedition far behind
enemy lines to the west against the Abenakis
at Saint-Francis in Quebec, a staging
base for native raids into New England.
Rogers led a force
of two-hundred rangers from Crown Point
New York, deep into French territory to Saint-Francis.
At this time, the natives near Saint-Francis had given up their
aboriginal way of life and were living in a town next to a French
mission. Rogers burned the town and claimed to have killed 200-the actual number
was 30 killed and 5 captured. Following the 3
October 1759 attack and successful destruction of Saint-Francis,
Rogers' force ran out of food during their retreat back through the
rugged wilderness of northern Vermont. Once the Rangers reached a safe location
along the Connecticut River at the
Wentworth, Rogers left
them encamped, and returned a few days later with food, and relief
forces from Fort at
Number 4 now Charlestown, New Hampshire, the nearest British town.
The destruction of Saint-Francis by Rogers was a major
psychological victory: The colonists no longer felt that they were
helpless. The unfortunate residents of Saint-Francis — a combined
group of Abenakis and others — understood that they were no longer
beyond reach. Abenaki raids along the frontier did not cease, but
River in MassachusettsImage:Plaine_abraham_quebec.jpg|Plains of
Abraham in Quebec
Quebec fell in 1759
to be followed by Montreal in 1760.
- For more details on this topic, see
Fort Detroit or Fort
Native activity against colonials
in the east ceased. Rogers' service there was over. General Amherst
transferred him to Brigadier General Robert Monckton, commanding at Fort
Pitt (formerly Fort Duquesne). Following Amherst's advice, Monckton sent
the rangers to capture Detroit, far to the north, which they did.
November 1760, Rogers received the submission of the French posts
on the Great
It was the final act of his command.
Shortly thereafter, his rangers were disbanded. Monckton offered
Rogers command of a company of regulars in South
Carolina but, after
visiting the place, Rogers chose instead to command another company
in New York.
That unit was soon disbanded, however, and
Rogers was forced into retirement at half-pay.
preoccupied with military affairs, Rogers returned to New England
to marry Elizabeth Browne in June, 1761, and set up housekeeping
with her in Concord, New Hampshire.
Like many New Englanders, they had indentured servants
including a native lad captured at Saint-Francis.
Some historians claim the state of Rogers' finances at this time is
not compatible with what he and others professed it to be later.
Rogers received large grants of land in southern New Hampshire in
compensation for his services. He sold much of it at a profit and
was able to purchase and maintain slaves. He did deed much of his
land to his wife's family, which served to support her later. These
facts are not compatible with the image of the debt-ridden soldier
struggling to pay the salaries he had advanced his men at his own
In peacetime, Robert was a restless spirit. The colonists were in
the process of quelling native operations piecemeal. Late in 1761,
he accepted command of a company of mercenaries for the purpose of
pacifying the Cherokees
in North Carolina,
after which he returned home.
On 10 February 1763, the French
and Indian War
came to an end with the Treaty of Paris
(also known as the
Treaty of 1763
). Rogers found himself once more a soldier
of fortune, still on half-pay. Later his worst enemy, General
, remarked that if the army
had put him on whole pay, they could have prevented his later unfit
employment (Gage's terms).
- For more details on this topic, see
Siege of Fort Detroit and
On 7 May
1763, Pontiac's Rebellion
erupted in Michigan. Chief Pontiac
The main theater of operations during
— with a force of 300 warriors — attempted to capture Fort Detroit
by surprise. However, the British
commander was aware of Pontiac's plan and his garrison was armed
and ready. Undaunted, Pontiac withdrew and laid siege to the fort.
Eventually more than 900 Indian warriors from a half-dozen tribes
joined the siege of Fort Detroit.
Upon hearing this news, Rogers offered his services to General
Rogers then accompanied Captain James
with a relief force to Fort
. Their ill-fated mission was terminated at
the Battle of
Bloody Run on 31 July 1763.
In an attempt to break Pontiac's
siege of Fort Detroit
250 British troops led by Dalyell and Rogers attempted a surprise
attack on Pontiac's encampment. However, Pontiac was ready —
supposedly alerted by French settlers — and defeated the British at
Parent's Creek two miles north of the fort. The creek, or
, was said to have run red with the blood of the 20
dead and 34 wounded British soldiers and was henceforth known as
Bloody Run. Captain James Dalyell was one of those killed.
Soon after these events, Pontiac's rebellion collapsed and Chief Pontiac
himself faded away into
obscurity and death. Surprisingly, Rogers would later memorialize
Pontiac and his rebellion in a stage play during his sojourn in
Post-war success and failure
Rogers had brought total dedication to his position as commander of
the rangers. As was often the custom in the British and American
armies, he had spent his own money to equip the rangers when needed
and consequently had gone into debt. In 1764, he was faced with the
problem of repaying his creditors.
To recoup his finances, Robert engaged briefly in a business
venture with the fur trader, John Askin
near Detroit. After it failed, he hoped to win the money by
gambling, with the result that he was totally ruined. His creditors
put him in prison for debt in New York, but he escaped.
Author in Britain
In 1765, Rogers voyaged to England to obtain pay for his service
and capitalize on his fame. His journals and A Concise Account
of North America
were published. Immediately thereafter, he
wrote a stage play, Ponteach
[Pontiac]: or the Savages
(1766), significant as an early American drama and
for its sympathetic portrayal of Americans Indians. He enjoyed some
moderate success with his publications (though Ponteach was
condemned by the critics) and attracted royal attention.
an audience with King George III, to whom he
proposed to undertake an expedition to find the Northwest Passage, Robert Rogers was
bestowed an appointment as governor of Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Michigan) with a charter to look for the passage, and
returned to North America.
return to America, Rogers moved with his wife to the fur-trading
outpost of Fort
Michilimackinac and began his duties as royal governor.
During Rogers' absence, Amherst had been replaced as commander of
the British forces in America by Sir Thomas
, a bitter rival of Amherst who despised colonials. As a
loyal friend of Amherst and a colonial, Rogers was doubly hated by
As an aristocrat and political intriguer, Gage viewed Rogers as a
provincial upstart who — due to his friendship with Amherst — posed
a threat to his newly-acquired power. At the time, Rogers was still
a half-pay captain in the British army and, to some degree, under
Gage's military jurisdiction. However, Gage could not challenge
Rogers — the king's appointee — unless he could find a good reason
as the king would countermand any legal process in order to save
his favorites. Knowing this, Gage actively set about finding an
immutable justification to remove Rogers as royal governor in a way
that would forestall royal intervention.
Unaware of Gage's plotting, Rogers continued performing his
administrative duties with considerable zest. He dispatched
expeditions to search for the fabled Northwest Passage
under Jonathan Carver
and James Tute, but they
were unsuccessful and the path to the Pacific Ocean remained
undiscovered until the expedition led by Alexander MacKenzie
Perceiving a need for unity and a stronger government, Rogers
negotiated with the Indians, parlayed with the French and developed
a plan for a province in Michigan to be administered by a governor
and Privy Council reporting to the king. This plan was supported by
George III, but had little chance of being adopted, since
Parliament had no intention of increasing the king's power.
Meanwhile, Gage used every opportunity to defame Rogers, portraying
him as an opportunist who had gotten rich on the war only to gamble
his money away as a profligate. How many of these allegations were
true and how much Gage believed them to be true are difficult to
say. Gage apparently saw Rogers as of questionable loyalty —
certainly he was not loyal to Gage — and therefore needed watching.
Rogers' dealings with the American Indian
Gage, as he and many other British officers in America had come to
regard the Indians as treacherous vermin.
Arrest for treason
Gage hired spies to intercept Rogers' mail and suborned his
subordinates. Unfortunately, Rogers offended his private secretary,
, and Potter gave
Gage the excuse he needed. Potter swore in an affidavit that Rogers
said he would offer his province to the French if the British
government failed to approve his plan of governance.
Potter's claims are questionable. The French were not in any
position to receive Rogers, with a British governor sitting in
Montreal. Nevertheless, on the strength of Potter's affidavit,
Rogers was arrested in 1767, charged with treason and taken to
Montreal in chains for trial. This trial was postponed until 1768.
Elizabeth, carrying their first and only
child, went home to Portsmouth.
This son became a lawyer in Portsmouth and
had a family that has descended to modern times.
Gage sent Rogers to Montreal to stand trial but, once there, Rogers
was among friends of Amherst. Due to Amherst's influence, Rogers
was acquitted of all charges and the verdict was sent to King
George III for approval. The king approved, but could not call Gage
a liar openly. Instead, he made a note that there was reason to
think Rogers might have been treasonous.
Returning to Michigan under the power of Gage was unthinkable;
hence, Rogers went to Britain in 1769 to petition again for debt
relief. However, the king had done all he would for Rogers and was
preoccupied by the issue of the dissatisfied colonies. Rogers went
again to debtor's prison and tried suing Gage for false
imprisonment. Gage settled out of court by offering Rogers the
half-pay of a Major in return for dropping the suit.
American Revolutionary War
Because of his legal troubles in Britain, Robert Rogers missed the
major events in the disaffected colonies. When he heard that
revolution was likely to break out, he returned to America in 1775.
The Americans were as out of touch with Rogers as he was with them.
Looking upon him as the noted ranger leader, and expecting him to
behave as one, they were at a total loss to explain his drunken and
licentious behavior. At that time, Rogers was perhaps suffering
from the alcoholism that blighted his later life and led to the
loss of his family, land, money and friends.
Exactly what transpired between the revolutionary leaders and
Rogers is unclear. Rogers was arrested by the local Committee of
Safety as a possible spy and released on parole that he would not
serve against the colonies. He was offered a commission in the
Revolutionary Army by the Continental Congress
, but declined on
the grounds that he was a British officer. He later wrote to
asking for a
command, but instead Washington had him arrested.
In short, Rogers behaved neither as a returned countryman nor as a
potential revolutionary. He did not return to New Hampshire to
resume life with Elizabeth. Instead, he wandered the countryside
talking with various persons, both loyalist and revolutionary. He
claimed to have a pass from Congress and often stated contradictory
political views. Perhaps his behavior was not that of a spy, as
Washington concluded, but of a broken man, a shadow of his former
self. When conversing with others, he always seemed to be in or
coming from a tavern, where he drank heavily.
After escaping from Washington's custody and finding revolutionary
ranks firm against him, he offered his services to the British
Army. They also were hoping he would live up to his reputation. In
August 1776, he formed another ranger type unit called the Queen's Rangers
as its Colonel. In September
1776, Rogers assisted in the capture of Nathan Hale
, a spy for the Continental Army
. A contemporary
account of Hale's capture written by Consider Tiffany, a Connecticut shopkeeper and Loyalist, is in the Library of
In Tiffany's account, Rogers did not
believe Hale's cover story (that he was a teacher) and lured him
into his own betrayal by pretending to be a patriot spy
In May 1777, Rogers was forcibly retired on grounds of "poor
health." A return home now was impossible; Hale's execution and
Rogers raising troops against the colonials seemed to confirm
Washington's suspicions. At Washington's prompting, the New
Hampshire legislature passed two decrees regarding Rogers: one a
proscription and the other a divorce from his wife on grounds of
abandonment and infidelity. She could not afford any friendship or
mercy toward Robert now if she expected to remain in New Hampshire.
Later, Elizabeth married an American naval officer John Roche. She
died in 1811.
After a brief sojourn in Britain, Rogers returned in 1779 to raise
the King's Rangers
in Nova Scotia for
. He was unable to keep the position due to his
alcoholism, but his place was taken by his brother, James
. Now, he was of no further use
to the British army. Accidentally snared by an American privateer,
he spent some time in a prison in New York, escaping in 1782. In
1783, he was evacuated with other British troops to Britain. There,
he was unable to earn a living or defeat his disease. He died in
obscurity and debt, what little money he had going to pay an
arrears in rent.
The legacy of Rogers
- John Paul Jones' ship during the
American Revolutionary War was named USS Ranger in honor of Robert Rogers
and his famous rangers. The few early triumphs of the Continental
Navy during the War for Independence were achieved by The
Ranger. Under John Paul Jones' command, this famous ship would
later witness the first salute to the American flag by a foreign
- Rogers is mentioned respectfully in "The Ranger Handbook" which
is given to every soldier in the U.S. Army's Ranger School, and is
referred to in that publication as the originator of ranger tactics
in the American military. The Handbook summarizes Rogers'
principles of irregular warfare as
presented in his famous "Rules of
- Shadow Warriors
-  Dictionary of Canadian Biography
- Burt Garfield Loescher, History Of
Rogers Rangers, Heritage Books
-  Dictionary of Canadian Biography
- Shadow Warriors
- Timothy J. Todish, The Annotated and Illustrated Journals
of Major Robert Rogers; 2002, Purple Mountain Press.
- Mary Cochrane Rogers, Battle of the
- New York State, The Battle on Snowshoes, March
- Katcher, p.98
- Library of Congress article on the capture of Nathanial Hale
- Nathan Hale
- American Revolution - Nathan Hale, American Patriot
during the American Revolution and Revolutionary War
- Washington Post article
- IMDB, Northwest Passage television series:
- USA Today piece on the opening of the
- Washington Post article
- Constance Cappel, The Smallpox Genocide of the Odawa Tribe
at L'Arbre Croche; 2007, Edwin Mellen Press.
- Philip Katcher, Encyclopaedia of British, Provincial, and
German Army Units 1775-1783, 1973, ISBN 0811705420
- John F. Ross, "War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers
and the Conquest of America's First Frontier"; 2009, Bantam.
- Timothy Todish, The Annotated and Illustrated Journals of
Major Robert Rogers; 2002, Purple Mountain Press.