Sunday, September 2, 2018

Episode 060: Securing Lake Champlain

Last week, we left Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen in control of Fort Ticonderoga, fighting with each other, and neither really knowing what to do next.  Fort Ticonderoga sits at the southern tip of Lake Champlain.  British troops in Montreal or Quebec could move down the St. Lawrence River, then down the Richelieu River to arrive at the Lake for an assault to retake Ticonderoga.

Raid on St. Jean

Arnold and Allen were both men who did not like to sit on their laurels.  They quickly decided that the best defense was a good offense, that they needed to control all of Lake Champlain in order to prevent an attack on Ticonderoga.  They also did not want British troops threatening the settlement on the eastern banks of the Lake, where most of the Green Mountain Boys lived.  They needed to act before the British under Gen. Carleton in Quebec could arrange any sort of counter attack.

Within days of the capture of Ticonderoga on May 10, the patriots secured a decent sized ship named the Betsy which they promptly renamed the Liberty.  The sloop had belonged to a well known Tory named Richard Skene.

Both Arnold and Allen claim credit for its capture.  Neither of them were personally involved, but troops under both of their commands were present at the seizure.  By May 14, four days after the capture of Ticonderoga, Arnold had 100 soldiers under his command.  These were the volunteer militia from Western Massachusetts that his Captains had been recruiting for him while he rushed ahead to join Allen.  More men were arriving each day, while Allen’s force was shrinking.  The Green Mountain Boys left to go home with their booty, having considered their mission accomplished.  A week out, Allen still had a larger command than Arnold, but both knew Arnold would soon surpass his men in numbers.

For the moment, Allen remained in command of Fort Ticonderoga while Arnold took command of the Liberty, which made sense.  Arnold had spent years as captain of various merchant vessels, while Allen and his men had no experience on the water.  Arnold mounted four cannon on the ship as well as six swivel guns, selected a crew of about 35 men and set sail northward up Lake Champlain.  Both men knew it was best to separate their commands to avoid continued fighting over who was in charge.

The George became the Enterprise
(artist's conception) (from The Sextant)
At the northern tip of the Lake, Actually just past the lake up the Richelieu River, the British had an outpost at St. Jean.  Some documents referred to this as St. John’s. However, since there is another St. John in Nova Scotia, I try to avoid confusion by using the alternate name of St. Jean. This was about 25 miles north of the Canadian border.  At the Outpost, the British maintained a much larger sloop of war the George, with 12 cannons and 10 swivel guns.  It was not big by British Navy standards, but it dominated anything else on Lake Champlain.

On the morning of May 16, Arnold sailed the Liberty north toward St. Jean, arriving at the northern tip of the lake late on the evening of the 17th.  Because winds were against them, and to maintain the element of surprise, Arnold’s crew anchored the Liberty at the northern end of the Lake and rowed long boats up the Richelieu River to St. Jean that night.

Early on the morning of the 18th, Arnold’s men surprised the 15 man garrison at St. Jean, capturing them without any loss of life.  The garrison had heard about the attacks at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, but were still unprepared for the raid.   After capturing the garrison, Arnold’s men rushed the shipyard, surprising the seven man crew of the George. They also captured several batteaux, which are basically small flat bottom boats used for transporting supplies.  Because they did not have enough men, they destroyed the batteaux that they could not take with them.

Arnold renamed the George the Enterprise, and transferred his command to the larger ship, leaving the Liberty with a subordinate. After interrogating his British prisoners, Arnold learned that a contingent of several hundred regulars was moving on St. Jean from Fort Chambly and Montreal.  Without enough men to defend St. Jean from so large a force, Arnold decided it best to take his new fleet, his prisoners, and several field cannon, and retreat south.  By noon, he was back on Lake Champlain heading south back to Ticonderoga.

Fort St. Jean, 1775 (from Wikimedia)
Allen, however, was not content to leave all the action to Arnold.  He took a contingent of about 100 men in smaller rowboats and headed north up the Lake toward St. Jean.  Arnold, who was returning from his raid aboard the Enterprise, met with Allen’s logboats out on the northern part of the open lake.

The commanders met aboard the Enterprise and toasted Arnold’s success.  Allen then said he intended to continue his advance on St. Jean where his men would fend off any enemy force and then organize an invasion of Montreal.

Arnold thought this was folly.  He told Allen that he believed hundreds of regulars were advancing on St. Jean and might already be there.  Allen, however, decided to proceed.  Arnold could not stop him, and probably would be secretly happy to see him fail.

Allen’s men made camp about a mile south of St. Jean, sending out scouts to assess the situation.  The Scouts reported about 200 British regulars advancing on the town.  Not ready to engage in a night battle against a superior force, Allen pitched camp for the night, only to have the British wake them up near dawn with cannon fire.  The Regulars had seen that St. Jean had been plundered, and advanced south, finding Allen’s men.

Outnumbered, outgunned, and caught by surprise, Allen’s men jumped into their boats and rowed away before the British could reach them.  No one was killed or wounded.  They evacuated so quickly that they left three men behind. The British captured one.  The other two walked back through the woods over the next few days.

It took Allen’s force two days to row back to Ticonderoga where Arnold essentially said “I told you so.”  Arnold then turned his attention to the making a closer inventory of artillery at the forts, improving fort defenses in case of a British attack, and making sure his ships were ready for battle as well.

With their ships captured, the British did not attempt to move down the Lake, but remained at the north end.  Most of the Green Mountain Boys had returned home by now.  Allen now turned to the local Mohawks to join the cause.  They expressed sympathy, but said they were bound not to get involved as members of the Iroquois Confederacy.  The Iroquois were nominally neutral, but still had a heavy pro-British bias.  Allen’s command was by this time almost completely gone, while Arnold continued to receive reinforcements from Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Although they heard rumors of a British attack, with Indian assistance, nothing ever materialized. The British regulars pulled back from St. Jean and awaited further orders and reinforcements before attempting to advance down Lake Champlain.

The Battle of PR

Following the capture of Ticonderoga, Allen sent Captain John Brown to Philadelphia with a report to the Continental Congress. Allen also wrote letters to the Massachusetts and Connecticut Provincial Congresses.  In each report, he said that he commanded the expedition, with Col. James Easton as his second in command and Captain Brown next in line.  His account completely ignored Arnold and gave him no credit for anything.

Arnold wrote a report for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, claiming he and Allen had joint command, but that Allen had no commission and had no ability to command troops as a professional soldier.

Region around Lake Champlain (from Wikimedia)
Despite the differing accounts of who did what, officials in Congress and in New England all received word of the capture within days.  Congress was not sure this was a good thing.  New York delegates were not completely on board with the war yet and were not happy about New Englanders, particularly Allen, invading New York and capturing British property there.

No one seemed sure who was in charge at Ticonderoga, who should be in charge, or what anyone should do next.  Arnold and Allen both received contradictory instructions over the next few weeks, both praising their action and calling for them to give back everything they had just captured.  Some moderates wanted everything returned to the British.  Others wanted it turned over to New York.  They also fought over whether Arnold, Allen, or some other officer should take command of the situation.

Arnold and Allen both thought they should get reinforcements so that they could take Montreal and eventually Quebec before Britain sent reinforcements from England.  That way, they could deny the British a launching point from which they could move down the Hudson River to New York thus cutting off New England from the rest of the colonies.

At the end of May Congress sent instructions that the army should pull back to the south end of the Lake, leaving all the patriot towns along the east coast, the homes of the Green Mountain Boys, undefended against a British assault.  Congress further instructed the men to keep an accounting off all arms and supplies they had captured so that they could be returned to the British, or reimbursed after they had reestablished peace.  Congress also said they were not to attack any other British garrisons that were not taking provocative actions.  Finally they had to turn over all their captured ships and cannon to New York.

Now, you have to remember, as we discussed about twenty episodes ago, that Allen and the Green Mountain Boys had essentially been at war with New York for years over the ownership of their land in the Grants.  You might as well have asked them to hand it back to the British.

Because Arnold had invaded Canada without orders and captured British prisoners and equipment there, many moderates saw him as a dangerous loose cannon, who was making it harder to make peace with Britain.  The fact that all the other officers making reports, Allen, Easton, Brown, and Mott all belittled, ignored or condemned Arnold’s actions, civilian leaders in Congress and New England began to develop a poor opinion of this new officer.

Arnold and Allen still did not trust each other and badmouthed one another at every opportunity.  But both men agreed that they were not going go give up their vital occupation of the Forts and the Lake based on idiotic political directives from civilians who clearly did not understand what was going on.

Congress takes Charge

Allen continued to hold command at Fort Ticonderoga while Arnold assumed command of Lake Champlain, patrolling it with his new fleet.  Fortunately for both men, the decision to ignore Congress’ initial order to pull back did not hurt them.  By the time they received the orders, Congress reversed itself and decided that they should hold onto the forts and control the Lake.

Lake Champlain May 1775 (from
With Massachusetts putting all of its resources into the Siege of Boston, Congress asked New York to provide food and supplies for the forces in and around Lake Champlain.  It also requested that Connecticut supply more troops to secure the region from any potential attack.

Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull agreed with the assessments that they needed reinforcements at Ticonderoga.  But he did not want to leave Arnold or Allen in charge of anything.  Instead, he sent 1000 troops under the command of Col. Benjamin Hinman.

Hinman, a veteran of Connecticut militia during the French and Indian War, had experience in theater.  He participated in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Quebec during against the French twenty years earlier.  One of his junior officers during the War was Maj. Israel Putnam, now serving as a General outside of Boston.  His experience and political connections inspired far more confidence in political leaders than the unknown Arnold.

Although Arnold was from Connecticut and started as a Connecticut militia Captain.  Massachusetts had given him his Colonelcy and authorized his command at Ticonderoga.  Now Massachusetts wanted other colonies to deal with Ticonderoga so that Massachusetts could focus its men, money, and resources on Boston.  They only wanted Ticonderoga to send them the cannons they had been promised in the first place.

Fighting for Command

Massachusetts dispatched its own Colonel, William Henshaw, to evaluate the Massachusetts troops at Lake Champlain and to determine whether Arnold should remain in command or be discharged.  They sent Arnold a copy of these orders.  Rather than travelling to Ticonderoga, Henshaw went to Connecticut, where he conferred with Gov. Trumbull and learned that Hinman was on his way to Ticonderoga with 1000 troops.  Henshaw then sent written orders to Arnold that Hinman would take command of Ticonderoga.

That order only caused more confusion.  Arnold was no longer in Ticonderoga. He was commanding a fleet on Lake Champlain.  Arnold chose to interpret the order as meaning Hinman was in charge of the Fort, but Arnold continued to be commander of the Lake Champlain region.

William Henshaw
(from Find-a-Grave)
Arnold is to be forgiven for interpreting orders in his favor.  He seemed to receive new orders every day.  First the Massachusetts Committee of Safety ordered him to return with the promised artillery.  Then they ordered him to take orders from Henshaw, which meant turning over command to Hinman, then they sent him a message saying how much they admired what he had done and begging him not to leave his command.  Arnold simply continued his work on the Lake, shoring up defenses and doing what he thought best.

When Hinman arrived at Ticonderoga in early June, Allen and Easton turned over the Fort to his command.  They then went up river to Arnold’s command at Crown Point.  Allen attempted to claim command from Arnold.  Arnold, however, refused.  Allen had no commission or authorization to take command.  The troops at Crown Point were loyal to Arnold and Allen realized he had to back down.  If that had been the end of the matter, it probably would not have been a big deal to anyone.

The following morning though, Allen and Easton tried to leave camp when a sentry demanded to see their pass.  Indignant, the officers demanded they be allowed to leave.  Instead the sentry sent them back to Arnold to get a pass.  Now, with everyone in particularly bad mood, the conversation grew heated.  Arnold blamed Easton for bad mouthing him in Massachusetts.  He grabbed Easton by his lapels and dared him to draw a sword or pistol.  When the surprised Easton demurred, Arnold kicked and assaulted the officer, telling him to get out of Crown Point and stay out.  The officers who had always disliked Arnold now grew to hate him.

Arnold continued to push for more reinforcements and approval for an invasion of Canada.  Allen returned to Ticonderoga to push for his own command of an invasion of Canada.

About a week later, Col. Hinman came to Crown Point to meet Arnold.  Hinman demanded that Arnold turn over command, but Arnold refused saying Hinman had nothing that authorized the Connecticut Colonel to take command away from a Massachusetts Colonel.  Hinman simply returned to Ticonderoga and requested further orders on how to handle the Arnold situation.

Arnold Resigns

The members of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress seemed to decide they had no idea what was really going on out there on Lake Champlain.  They sent a three man delegation to to to Ticonderoga and figure out the best solution.  The delegation first met with Col. Hinman and was upset to hear that Arnold had refused to accept his command.  They then traveled to Crown Point to confront Arnold directly.  Arnold demanded to see their authorization.  Upon reading it, he decided it was now clear that Hinman was replacing him as theater commander

The delegation said that they were there to evaluate Arnold’s conduct and that if they deemed him worthy, he could continue to serve under Col Hinman.  Arnold was not going to turn over his command to some officer who just showed up after Arnold had conquered the whole region.  Instead, he opted to resign his commission and leave.

Benedict Arnold
(from Wikimedia)
The soldiers under his command grew concerned. Arnold still owed them a great deal of back pay.  When they asked him about it, Arnold basically told them not my problem - talk to your new commander.  The men took Arnold hostage aboard the Enterprise and sent their demands to Hinman and the delegation now at Ticonderoga.   The delegation defused the situation by paying off the men’s back pay, dismissing those who wanted to go home and reenlisting those who would continue.  No one on the scene blamed Arnold for the mutiny.  But that did not stop Col. Mott from publishing a report blaming Arnold for the mutiny and falsely accusing the mutineers of firing on the Massachusetts delegation.  No one took the report seriously, but it indicates how much just about every other officer who had served with or near Arnold now considered him an enemy.

To add further insult to Arnold, they offered command to his enemy Col. Easton and promoted John Brown to Major under Easton’s command.  Arnold’s other great frustration as he prepared to leave was over money.  Massachusetts had permitted him to borrow on credit for the supplies necessary to complete his mission.  The delegation refused to pay off his debts.  Arnold had to send for personal funds from home to pay off his debts then beg Congress to repay him.

Although Arnold had enemies, there were others who were impressed with his accomplishments.  Philip Schuyler of New York was one of them.  Schuyler had recently received a commission as Major General in the new Continental Army and took command of all forces in New York.  In early July, Arnold headed to Albany to see if he could find a command under Schuyler. The general requested that he be appointed Deputy Adjutant General.

The two men seemed to hit it off.  Then news arrived for Arnold that his wife had died back in Connecticut.  His three sons, ages 3-7 were now in the care of his sister.  Arnold decided to return home to settle affairs with his family.  He would then have to settle his financial affairs with officials in Cambridge and also meet the new Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington.

- - -

Next Episode 61 Battle of Chelsea Creek

Previous Episode 59: Taking Fort Ticonderoga

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Further Reading:

Web sites: 

Fort Ticonderoga Blog:

Ethan Allen Takes Fort Ticonderoga:

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum: Revolutionary War,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Allen, Ethan A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's Captivity, Burlington: H. Johnson & Co, 1838 (First written in 1779).

Arnold, Benedict Benedict Arnold's regimental memorandum book, Philadelphia: Collins 1884.

Bascom, Robert O. The Ticonderoga expedition of 1775; list of men with Ethan Allen, 1910

Chipman, Daniel Memoir of Seth Warner, Middlebury: L.W. Clark, 1848 (Also in this same volume is The Life of Ethan Allen by Jared Sparks).

Hill, George C. Benedict Arnold: A Biography, Boston: E.O. Libby & Co. 1858.

Lincoln, William (ed) The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the early history of the American revolution, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1838.

Mott, Edward Papers relating to the expedition to Ticonderoga, April and May, 1775, 1860.

Trumbull, J. Hammond The origin of the expedition against Ticonderoga, in 1775: a paper read before the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford: Reprint from Hartford Courant, 1869.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Hatch, Robert Thrust for Canada, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

Martin, James Benedict Arnold: Revolutionary Hero, New York: NYU Press, 1997.

Nelson, James L. Benedict Arnold's Navy, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Randall, Willard Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, New York: William Morrow & Co., 1990.

Randall, Willard Ethan Allen: His Life and Times, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1992.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael,
    Thanks so much for the yime and effort to put this together. I want to make sure you'rw aware that about two months ago I stopped receiving emails when each new episode became available. Maybe that has something to do with the decline. Please continue. Best regards,
    Eddie Diaz