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Robert Rogers was a popularly acclaimed military leader during the French and Indian War, who institutionalized many frontier-style practices of warfare and whose forces are regarded by some as the model for later ranger activities.
Rogers was born in Methuen, Massachusetts, but spent his formative years on the frontier in New Hampshire. He served briefly as a scout in King George’s War, but made his mark later in the final North American conflict between France and Britain. In 1756, Rogers formed a group that came to be known as Rogers’ Rangers — a 600-man contingent of green-clad frontiersmen who had been personally recruited by the charismatic leader. Rogers was not the originator of many of the fighting tactics he popularized, but he did systematize the process. In Rogers’ Ranging Rules, he set down more than two dozen no-nonsense rules for frontier warfare. He insisted on the intensive training of his soldiers, including exposure to live-fire exercises. The result of his efforts was the creation of a highly mobile force that could sustain itself for long periods by living off the land.
In 1758, Rogers was given command of all colonial ranger forces in North America. His second-in-command was John Stark, later the hero of Bennington. The rangers' unconventional nature was demonstrated in the “battle on snowshoes” (1758), when Rogers’ forces struck an unsuspecting enemy near Lake George by conveying themselves across snow and ice on snowshoes, skates and sleds; most armies of the day simply closed down operations during the cold weather months and devoted their energies to planning the next spring's offensive.
The Rangers staged their most celebrated exploit in 1759. The fierce Abenaki (Abnaki) Indians in the St. Francis River basin, now southeastern Québec and New Brunswick, had launched devastating attacks against English settlements to the south. Hundreds of lives had been lost and public furor was further aroused by the tribe’s attack on a British army retreating under a white flag of truce. Rogers assembled 200 rangers, then struck deep into enemy territory, surprised the Abenaki, killed many of them and destroyed their village. Later that same year, Rogers served with James Wolfe at Québec and in the following year with Jeffrey Amherst at Montreal; the latter dispatched the rangers to the Great Lakes area to secure French forts there in late 1760. The surrender of Fort Detroit made Rogers a hero in England and America. During Pontiac’s Rebellion, Rogers was again assigned to the Detroit frontier.
In 1765, Rogers traveled to England, where he was warmly received. He used this time of relative leisure to write about his exploits and even pen a forgettable play. George III refused to back a grand exploratory venture for the Mississippi Valley, but did name Rogers commander of Fort Michilimackinac. While at that post, Rogers indulged his passion for finding a Northwest Passage by sending Jonathan Carver on an expedition, the nature of which has never been fully understood. Some have speculated that Rogers was actually interested in setting up an independent republic. Suspicions grew and he was later arrested and charged with treason. Following acquittal, Rogers lived in England until the eve of the War for Independence. He returned to America and offered his services to George Washington, who had deep reservations about Rogers’ loyalties and had him arrested. Rogers managed to escape confinement and devoted his energies to the formation of Loyalist ranger groups in the New York City area, none of which was noted for distinguished service. He departed for England in 1780, where he lived out his life in obscurity.
The ranger units formed by Rogers continued their duties on the frontier from the end of the French and Indian War to the outbreak of the War for Independence, when most of the forces joined the Patriot side and provided badly needed leadership.
See French and Indian War Timeline.
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