Robert Rogers gave Americans their first hero and a symbol of British American tenacity to dominate the new world. His derring-do, military skills, and expertise in irregular warfare played a big role in capitulation of the French and native tribes. However, the great leader lost his glory as he turned against those who view in him a source of inspiration. His fall from grace was complete as a Loyalist when he sided with the British and took up arm against the colonies during the War of Independence. Robert controversial actions robbed him of his fame and the hero died in obscurity and poverty. Nevertheless, to honor his memory, in my books The Rule of Ranging, Robert Rogers and his brothers are the hard-charging, ass-kicking, genuine Rangers who were the progenitors of our freedom.
Early Life and Rogers’ Rangers
Robert was born in 1731 in Massachusetts’s Methuen, a northeastern town close to the then frontiers and a staging point for Ulster-Scots settlers destined to settle in New Hampshire. His family moved to the Great Meadow district along with other settlers and established a farm at present-day Dunbarton in Merrimack County of New Hampshire.
Rogers joined the colonial militia in 1746 and served as a private defending the frontier under Captain Daniel Ladd during the King George’s War. In 1754, he was indicted for being associated with a gang of counterfeiters, but the trial was called off and he was reinstated to his militia position as the British made frantic efforts to hold the military ground against the French in 1755. The ill-fated Braddock’s expedition and a series of defeats resulted in continued French and Indian attacks on the British American colonies.
As an official recruiter, Rogers was directed by Colonel John Winslow to assemble an army in Portsmouth. Locals supported his drive and eagerly join the ranks that swelled to four companies by 1756 and fondly called “Rogers’ Rangers.”
The Guerrilla Hero: Rogers’ Rise to Fame
Rogers’ Rangers, a militia unit, fought alongside the British regulars and other colonial forces against the French and their Indian allies around the Lake George and Lake Champlain. An expert in irregular warfare, he led his men to carry out daunting raids deep into French and Indian territories despite inhospitable terrain and adverse conditions. The mobile and unpredictable nature of these daring guerrilla attacks put the French on the back foot and constant ambushes restricted the movement of native tribes.
For three years until 1758, Rogers and his Rangers were the only hope for the British colonies as their regular forces were on the defensive after a string of reverses. The unusual talent in commanding squads and able to operate without geographical and equipment limitations earned Rogers instant fame. He recruited, equipped, and trained his Rangers to strike enemy hard without restrained by snow-capped mountains, frozen rivers, rugged topography, or impregnable forts. Their success led many to join the Rangers that eventually became 12-company strong.
The British commander allowed Rogers to stay and operate from Fort Edward. He made a Major in 1758 for his crucial role in neutralizing the French in the second Battle of the Snowshoes and during the capture of Fort Carillon. In 1759, Rogers’ Rangers sneaked behind the enemy lines deep into their territory and carried out irregular warfare attacking the French and Indians opening the road for Major General Jeffrey Amherst’s advance on Quebec and fall of Montreal.
He destroyed the Abenaki post at Saint-Francis, a big morale booster for the British forces. In November 1760, the French manning Fort Detroit surrendered to Rogers.
The fall from Grace
In 1761, Rogers’ unit was disbanded and he was made a pensioner. A few months later he came out of retirement and led a colonial army of irregulars against the Cherokees in North Carolina. He was the part of Captain James Dalyell’s ill-fated mission to Fort Detroit during the Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763. He went to England two years later following failed business attempts to obtain pay for his services. King George III sent him back as the royal governor of Michilimackinac.
In 1767, Rogers was arrested on treason charges based on his correspondence with the French. Though he was exonerated, he stayed in England until 1775. George Washington refused him a command and detained thinking him of a possible spy. The former guerrilla leader escaped and joined the English ranks against the colonies seeking independence. However, drunken and licentious behavior caused him to retire soon, and he spent his last years in England until his death in 1795.
(Image credits: Rogers Recon by Pamela Patrick White)