Robert Rogers was a colonial American frontiersman. Rogers served in the British army during both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. During the French and Indian War Rogers raised and commanded the famous Rogers’ Rangers.
There is no known authentic portrait of Robert Rogers. This is an artist’s interpretation.
Robert Rogers was born to James and Mary McFatridge Rogers on November 7, 1731, in Methuen, a small town in northeastern Massachusetts. At that time, the town served as a staging point for Ulster-Scots settlers bound for the untamed wilderness of New Hampshire.
In 1739, when Rogers was eight years old, his family relocated to the Great Meadow district of New Hampshire near present-day Concord, where James, an Irish immigrant, founded a settlement on 2,190 acres of land, which he called Munterloney after a hilly place in Derry, Ireland. Rogers referred to this childhood residence as “Mountalona”. It was later renamed Dunbarton, New Hampshire.
In 1740 the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748) broke out in Europe and in 1744 the war spread to North America where it was known as King George’s War (1744–1748). During Rogers’ 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 Rogers became involved with a gang of counterfeiters. He was indicted but the case was never brought to trial.
An artist’s interpretation of what Rogers may have looked like.
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 including Braddock’s. Encouraged by the French victories, American Indians launched a series of attacks along the colonial frontier with the intent of driving the British inhabitants into the sea.
Rogers 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 Lake George and Lake Champlain regions of New York. They frequently 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 mountainous terrain.
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 as Robert Rogers’ 28 “Rules of Ranging.” The Queen’s York Rangers of the Canadian Army, the U.S. Army Rangers and the 1st Battalion 119th Field Artillery 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 Army 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 Colonel John Winslow.
In 1756, Rogers arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and, using the authority invested in him by Colonel Winslow, began to muster soldiers for the British Crown. It 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 St. John’s Lodge in Portsmouth received him with two degrees. In 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, for a total of four, one of which he commanded.
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.
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, Major General William Shirley, Colonel William Haviland, and Major General James Abercromby. At the time, the British could do little more than fight defensive campaigns around Lake Champlain, Crown Point, Ticonderoga and the upper Hudson. 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 part.
On 21 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 Country. After taking casualties, Rogers’ force retreated.
After British forces surrendered Fort William Henry in August 1757, the Rangers were stationed on Rogers Island near Fort Edward. This allowed the Rangers to train and operate with more freedom than the regular British forces.
On March 13, 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 wounded.
On July 7, 1758, Rogers’ Rangers took part in the Battle of Carillon.
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 Major.
In 1759, 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 October 3, 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 abandoned Fort 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 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 significantly diminished.
Robert Monckton was Rogers’ superior officer during the western campaign.
Quebec fell in 1759 to be followed by Montreal in 1760. 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.
On November 29, 1760, Rogers received the submission of the French posts on the Great Lakes. 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.
No longer 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 and slaves, 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.
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 Thomas Gage, remarked that if the army had put him on whole pay, they could have prevented his later unfit employment (Gage’s terms).
On 7 May 1763, Pontiac’s Rebellion erupted in Michigan. Chief Pontiac — 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 Jeffrey Amherst. Rogers then accompanied Captain James Dalyell with a relief force to Fort Detroit. 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, about 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 run, 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 England.
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.
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 of America (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. Following 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.
Upon his 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 Gage, a bitter rival of Amherst who despised colonials. As a loyal friend of Amherst and a colonial, Rogers was doubly hated by Gage.
Sir Thomas Gage bitterly disliked Rogers due to his close friendship with Jeffrey Amherst, Gage’s rival.
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 in 1793.
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 Indians troubled Gage, as he and many other British officers in America had come to regard the Indians as treacherous vermin.
Gage hired spies to intercept Rogers’ mail and suborned his subordinates. Unfortunately, Rogers offended his private secretary, Nathaniel Potter, 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.
Field Marshal Jeffrey Amherst was a close friend of Rogers and was instrumental in vindicating him of Gage’s charges of treason.
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 England 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.
Because of his legal troubles in England, 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 George Washington 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 Congress. 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 himself.
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 England, Rogers returned in 1779 to raise the King’s Rangers in Nova Scotia, Canada, for General Sir Henry Clinton. 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 England. 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 country.
- Rogers’ heroics in the French and Indian War and his later life are depicted in the novel Northwest Passage (1936) by Kenneth Roberts. The novel inspired a movie of the same title (1940), starring Spencer Tracy as Major Rogers.
- In the 1958-1959 television season, NBC aired Northwest Passage, a fictionalized half-hour series about Rogers and men seeking the Northwest Passage during the French and Indian War. Keith Larsen (1924–2006) played the title role, with Buddy Ebsen, later of CBS’s The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones, as Sergeant Hunk Marriner.
- On May 30, 2005, a statue of Rogers was unveiled during a ceremony on Rogers Island in the Hudson River, 40 miles north of Albany, New York. This is near to the site where Rogers penned his “Rules of Ranging.”
- 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 “Robert Rogers’ 28 “Rules of Ranging”.”
- P. 13, Brumwell, Stephen. White Devil: a True Story of War, Savagery, and Vengeance in Colonial America. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2005. Print.
-  Shadow Warriors
- Drummond, Josiah (1903). “The Two James Rogers”. Manchester Historic Association Collections. III. Manchester Historic Association (N.H.). pp. 97–106. http://books.google.com/?id=mzQTAAAAYAAJ&printsec=toc&dq=%22the+two+james+rogers%22
-  Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
-  Burt Garfield Loescher, History Of Rogers Rangers, Heritage Books
- Timothy J. Todish, The Annotated and Illustrated Journals of Major Robert Rogers; 2002, Purple Mountain Press.
- John F. Ross “Wilderness Ordeal,” American Heritage, Summer 2009.
- Mary Cochrane Rogers, Battle of the Snowshoes.
- New York State, The Battle on Snowshoes, March 1758
- Rogers, Robert (1765). A concise account of North America. Internet Archive. http://www.archive.org/details/aconciseaccount00rogeuoft
- 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: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051299/
- USA Today piece on the opening of the memorial
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- Robert Rogers the Ranger
- Biography from U-S-history.com
- Rogers’ Rangers
- Major Robert Rogers of the Rangers
- Biography from acidus.com
- The early campaign
- A Battle Fought on Snow Shoes
- The attack on Saint-Francis
- The Tarnished Tale of Robert Rogers
- Washington Post book review
- Robert Rogers Estimate of the Fur Trade in the District of Michilimackinac
- Descendants of James Rogers, Father of the Rangers. Contains descendants of Robert Rogers, James Rogers, Samuel Rogers and his other siblings.