ROBERT ROGERS–THE CONTROVERSY CONTINUES.
In the spring of 2005, a statue of Major Robert Rogers was unveiled
and dedicated at Fort Edward in upstate New York, the home
base of Rogers’
Rangers during the French and Indian War. The event caused disagreement
among historians and re-enactors and focused public attention on
a two-hundred-fifty-year old controversy: Should Rogers be honored
as one of America’s first heroes or remembered as a traitor?
I gathered background information for Beneath The
Surface, the second in my Lake George Mystery
Series, I found a wealth of material on this man who
played such a significant role in the English defeat of the French
in the battles which raged across New York and Canada in the
Rogers grew up on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire frontier where
he developed skills in hunting, tracking and wilderness survival
at an early age. When he was recruited by the British in 1755
to fight in the French and Indian War, known in Europe as the
Seven Years War, he organized a small company of scouts and initiated
a new style of warfare. This corps of woodsmen, called Rogers’ Rangers,
employed tactics learned from the Indians. Their strategies – harass,
ambush and attack from hiding –
proved so successful in wilderness fighting that other companies
were recruited. In 1758, the British placed Rogers in charge of
all colonial Ranger companies.
World custom called for soldiers to stand in formation in their
brightly colored uniforms and fire at the enemy. The Rangers,
dressed in buckskins dyed green to blend with the forest setting,
moved quickly and stealthfully, fired their muskets from behind
trees and rocks and lived off the land whenever possible, often
without fires or shelter.
Orders Rogers is said to have given his men two hundred
fifty years ago at Fort Edward are still used in much the same
form today by United States Special Forces, including the Green
Berets. Although some historians question their exact origin,
these rules of engagement offer practical, straightforward
advice, such as: Don’t forget nothing. Have your musket
clean as a whistle… Tell the truth about what you see
and what you do. Never take a chance you don’t have to.
And there are many more.
1757, fierce fighting raged up and down Lake George from the
French-controlled Fort Carillion (Ticonderoga) at the northern
end to Fort William Henry, manned by the English, at the southern
end. Once the lake was frozen, the Rangers, quick to adapt to
their environment, used skates and snowshoes to harass and attack
the French in a deadly game of hide and seek.
has it that during the Second Battle on Snowshoes in 1758, one
of the Rangers’ most famous engagements, Rogers retreated
from a large company of French to the edge of a steep cliff,
still known as Rogers’
Rock. He then put his snowshoes on backwards and descended to the
lake by another route, leaving the French thoroughly puzzled. Although
the tale makes a colorful footnote to the area’s history,
the story has been discredited.
Rangers are also remembered for their battle with the Abenaki
St Francis Indians, immortalized by Kenneth Roberts in Northwest
Passage. After the Indians had killed many colonists
and attacked a retreating British unit under a flag of truce,
Rogers led a force of Rangers to destroy their village located
midway between Montreal and Quebec. The raid was successful,
but the return home through miles of swamp almost wiped out the
Rogers and his men fought in General Wolfe’s expedition
against Quebec, in the Montreal campaign and in Pontiac’s
War around the Great Lakes.
the close of hostilities, Rogers was given command of the northwest
post of Fort Michilimackinac, located on Mackinac Island on the
northern edge of Lake Michigan. Mackinac Island, preserved as
it was in the last century, today offers tourists an unforgettable
trip back in time. Although the island’s residents celebrate
Rogers’ exploits, his assignment there ended in disgrace
when he was removed in irons and sent to England on charges of
was eventually acquitted of the charges against him, but his
reputation was such that Washington refused him a commission
during the Revolution. Rogers, hurt and angry, accepted a commission
from the British and fought against the Americans – the
reason for the present day controversy about honoring him. After
the Revolution, the man the Indians called Wobi Mandanondo,
the White Devil, returned to England, spent time in debtors’
prison and died in 1795 in a South London slum.
years ago as scientists and genealogists learned more about DNA,
a New England newspaper reported a bizarre request. A group,
convinced that Rogers had secretly returned to this country shortly
before his death, sought permission to douse for his DNA in a
Rogers family cemetery in New Hampshire. Although the request
wasn’t granted, it was one more example of the controversy
which continues to surround this man.