Sunday, April 30, 2023

ARP271 Advancing on Detroit

 In the fall of 1780, most forces on both sides of the struggle were settling into winter quarters.  The Americans were preparing for another winter in Morristown, New Jersey.  The French were still in Newport, Rhode Island, not having gone anywhere since their arrival in America.  The loyalists, who I discussed last time in their raids on New York, had returned back to Canada for the winter. The British southern army under Cornwallis had pulled out of North Carolina to take a defensive posture in South Carolina.

One man, however, opted to take one additional action that fall.  Colonel Augustin Mottin de la Balme was determined to take Detroit.

Augustin Mottin de la Balme

While there were a handful of French officers who received commission as generals in the Continental army, there were also dozens of officers who traveled to America to accept lesser commissions.  Agustin Mottin de La Balme was one of these men.

La Balme was born in France to a family that could trace its ancestry back to nobility.  But somewhere along the way, one of his ancestors had been unfortunate enough not to be born first, so the family title passed to an older brother, and Mottin did not inherit any title of nobility.  In his youth, he was simply known as Augustin Mottin.  His father worked as a tanner, a respectable profession, but absolutely not nobility.  Even so, his family background would get him a commission as an officer in the French Army.  As such Mottin sought a military career beginning in 1757 when the Seven Years War began.

Illustration from Mottin's
book on Horsemanship
Mottin’s introduction to war was the Battle of Minden, a major land battle where the British and Prussians defeated the French.  It was the same battle where Lafayette’s father was killed and where General Sackville, later known as Lord Germain ended his military career by a failure to follow orders.  Sackvlle’s failure allowed much of the French army, including the 21 year old Lieutenant Mottin, to escape capture or death.

Mottin later served in the Gendarmerie, which was a military company responsible for law enforcement among civilians.  When the French Army seized a town the Gendarmerie would maintain law and order until a civilian force could be set up.  By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of captain in the cavalry and also served as a quartermaster.  A few years later, he received another promotion to major. 

In 1773, as part of the French Army’s efforts to cut costs, it began to reduce the size of its army.  Mottin, by this time in his mid-30s, accepted a retirement offer. He spent some time writing two different books on horsemanship and cavalry tactics.  It was also around that time that he added “de La Balme” to his name at this time.  Presumably, La Balme was his hometown, a small village in eastern France, between Lyon and Geneva Switzerland.

When Silas Deane came to Paris after the Revolution began, Le Balme was one of the first French officers to meet with him about the possibility of a commission in the new Continental Army.  Deane wrote La Balme a letter of recommendation in 1776, but La Balme could not find a way to leave France and make his way to America.  After Benjamin Franklin arrived in late 1776, La Balme also received a letter of introduction from him, recommending him to Congress as a capable cavalry officer who might be helpful in establishing a Continental Cavalry.

In February of 1777, La Balme, pretending to be a doctor, managed to secure passage on a ship leaving Bordeaux for America with two other French officers.  He made it to Philadelphia where, in May, the Continental Congress commissioned him a lieutenant colonel of cavalry in the Continental Army.  La Balme remained in Philadelphia, lobbying members of Congress and trying to promote himself.  By July, he received a promotion to full colonel and the title of inspector general of cavalry.

Gen. Casimir Pulaski

It’s not clear if La Balme ever really took up his position with the army, or if he participated in any way in the Philadelphia Campaign where General Howe’s British Army pushed up from Maryland into Philadelphia.  After the battle of Brandywine in September of that year, Congress granted another officer, Casimir Pulaski, command of the Continental Cavalry based on his performance at Brandywine.  Upset at being passed over, La Balme submitted his resignation to Congress.

Over the next winter, the Continental Army was trying to survive at Valley Forge, while Congress was focused on what became known as the Conway Cabal, that is whether to replace General Washington with the Hero of Saratoga, Horatio Gates.  After Gates became the new head of the Board of War, La Balme approached Gates with a proposal to invade Canada.  Gates liked the idea, but ultimately gave command of the project to General Lafayette.  The plan later fell apart because Congress did not have the men or resources to launch the invasion.

In February of 1778, Congress finally accepted the resignation that La Balme had submitted in October saying it had “no further occasion for his services.”  Losing his military commission did not seem to deter La Balme from his attempts to make a name for himself.  He received approval from General Gates to take part in operations around Albany, New York.  After France signed a Treaty of Alliance with America, La Balme was convinced that he could rally the French-Canadians to the American cause. He tried his luck at writing, issuing several leaflets written in French, German, and English, calling for volunteers among the French Quebecois.

By 1779 he was in Boston.  His new goal was to establish contact with the Indians in what is today Maine and to enlist their support of the cause based on their prior alliances with the King of France before the French and Indian War.  He moved to Machias, and seemed to be making some progress with the local tribes.  But when the British launched their Penobscot Expedition in July, things fell apart.  La Balme attempted to bring a force of Indian warriors to Penobscot. He ended up in a skirmish with British or loyalist forces and was defeated.  La Balme was apparently captured in the skirmish.  It’s not clear if he later escaped or was exchanged.

In the spring of 1780 Le Balme was frustrated that he had been unable to accomplish anything after three years in America.  He wrote to General Washington asking for a certificate of service, but Washington refused, saying he did not have any record of La Balme actually serving in his position as inspector general of cavalry.  La Balme did manage to get back his letters of recommendation from Congress, but really didn't have much else going for him.

He still could not give up on efforts to rouse French Canadians to overthrow the British in Canada.  By June of 1780, he was in Pittsburgh, trying to recruit volunteers for an effort to take Canada via the western frontier.

Detroit Offensive

La Balme realized that he could not recruit an army large enough to conquer Canada.  But he believed that the French Canadians would be willing to rise up if a French leader such as himself could make a credible attempt to organize an overthrow.  La Balme spent much of the summer trying to recruit a small cadre of men who would serve as the core of such a force.  

Their initial goal would be to take the frontier town of Detroit.  The Americans had made several attempts to take Detroit, but each time were turned back, mostly due to the efforts of hostile Indian tribes, still allied with Britain, and mostly not wanting any outsiders marching through their territory.

George Rogers Clark

La Balme began his efforts along the frontier, including Vincennes, Cahokia, and Kaskaskia.  These were towns primarily inhabited by French speaking trappers and traders.  The region had been under contention, but by 1780 was solidly under Virginia’s control thanks mostly to the leadership of George Rogers Clark and his men.

It does not appear that La Balme attempted to recruit Clark or his men as part of his effort.  The French officer saw the frontiersmen as undisciplined.  He also recognized that the Indians between Vincennes and Detroit were already pretty hostile to the Americans, so bringing them into the campaign would probably only increase the chances that they all would be massacred by the local tribes.

Instead, La Balme focused on raising support among the French-speaking population.  Since the Virginians had secured the region, the French locals had not been particularly happy with American rule.  The Americans stole their property and broke into their homes.  Soldiers forced the citizens to accept worthless Continental dollars in exchange for their goods.  Many French locals ended up losing their lands to Virginians, often moving across the Mississippi into Spanish territory.

La Balme’s recruiting efforts tried to benefit from these hard feelings.  He at least implied that his efforts would eventually restore French control of the region.  Although La Balme had corresponded with the French Minister, Luzerne in Philadelphia, there is no evidence that France had any expectations of reasserting any French control of the region.  Even so, many locals were willing to take the chance.

As part of  his efforts La Balme partnered with Godefroy de Linctot, a local trader who was well connected with several local tribes, spoke several tribal languages, and maintained an ongoing grudge against British rule.  Linctot did hold a commission from Virginia, but like La Balme, seemed much more interested in returning French rule to the region than American rule.

Their words found a willing audience among many French speaking locals.  Richard Winston, a Virginia officer stationed at Kaskaskia noted that the locals received La Balme as “the Hebrews would have received the Messiah.”  Many of the town leaders provided La Balme with money and supplies for his expedition to Detroit.  The vague promises of returning French authority, and the more immediate promise of taking plunder from Kekionga and Detroit encouraged a few dozen locals to join the effort.

Among his promises, Le Balme said he would capture Charles Beaubien and take him to Fort Pitt for trial. Beaubien was another French-speaking Canadian, but one who had definitively backed British rule.  He served as the British agent for the Miami Indians in Ohio.  Beaubien had married into the tribe and had led several Indian raids against settlements along the Ohio River.  Beaubien had led a force of Miami to support British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton when he led a force from Detroit to attack Vincennes and other towns in 1778.  Linctot was convinced that if they could take out Beaubien, the Miami would drop the British alliance and would support their efforts.  

Cover page from Mottin's
book on cavalry tactics
In the fall of 1780 La Balme and about one hundred French-speaking volunteers left Kaskaskia headed for British-controlled Kekionga, or modern day Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The expedition managed to travel nearly 300 miles without encountering much opposition.  However, the expedition also appeared to be disorganized.  This led to some division within the ranks.  On October 20, when the boats reached Fort Ouiatanon on the Wabash river in modern-day Indiana, about 40 of the men left the expedition and returned home.

The remaining force of about 60 men pushed on to Kekionga, arriving four days later.  La Balme expected Linctot to meet up with him there with a force of Indian allies.  The party paused there, waiting for Linctot’s arrival.  Fortunately, for the expedition, they also had not encountered any hostile Miami Indians thus far.  Kekionga was a sizable town for the Miami, but most of the warriors were not there.  Speculation was that they were away on a hunting party, Kekionga was a key to control of the region, as it controlled an important portage between the Wabash and Maumee Rivers.  It was a key link to trade or to moving military forces between the St. Lawrence in Canada and the Mississippi River.

Le Balme and his men spent nearly two weeks in Kekionga, waiting for Indian reinforcements under Linctot.  They found Baubein’s house, but he and his family were long gone.  They looted his house, finding a large quantity of arms, blankets, and clothing, as well as a great many horses. Much of these supplies were probably meant to be gifts for the Miami or other local tribes friendly to the British cause.  Several French-speaking locals at Kekionga also joined up with Le Balme’s forces.

With no sign of his allies, or the enemy, Le Balme packed up his expedition in early November and prepared for the nearly 300 mile march to Detroit.  After a day’s march, the expedition camped at a site a few miles northwest of Kekionga.

While the expedition had not yet encountered any hostile Miami, the locals were well aware of the expedition by that time.  Many women and children had likely fled Kekionga when the expedition arrived and word quickly spread among local tribal leaders.

Little Turtle

Among those who heard of the invaders was a local Miami Indian named Little Turtle (or Michikinikwa).  In 1780 Little Turtle was in his late twenties.  We don’t know much about his early life, although it is believed that he was born and raised in the area near Kekionga. By some accounts, his father was a Miami Chief, but his mother was a Mahican.  As a result, Little Turtle could not inherit his father’s position as a tribal chief.

Chief Little Turtle
The Miami had a well earned reputation of defending their lands pretty ferociously.  They had fought for decades against the Iroquois, who were unable to dominate them.  They were generally allied with the British, perhaps thanks to Baubien, but probably also because the British had not really made any attempts to impose on their territory.

There is no good record of the engagement, but Little Turtle assembled a force of local Miami to confront the expedition that had looted Kekionga as it was moving toward Detroit.  Little Turtle led the attack.  By some accounts a man named Paccanne, who was Beaubien’s brother in law also participated.  Paccanne ran a local trading post that La Balme’s expedition might have attacked. 

The Miami war party led by Little Turtle caught up with La Balme’s men, leading to an intense battle.  The Miami apparently got the upper hand.  They killed at least thirty members of the expedition, including La Balme.  The Miami suffered only five deaths.  

For the French survivors, death might have been preferable. By some accounts three of them were burned at the stake.  Some were scalped while still alive.  One had his hands and feet cut off before being killed with a tomahawk to the face.  Only four prisoners were released to warn the rest of the French against any further attempts to move into Miami territory.

About a week later, word of the battle reached Detroit.  The military commander there, Captain Arent Schuyler de Peyster, made a note of the report: 

A detachment of Canadians from the Illinois and Post Vincennes arrive [at Kekionga] about 10 days ago, and enter the village, took the horses, destroyed the horned cattle, and plundered a store I allowed to be kept there for the convenience of the Indians, soon after assembled and attacked the Canadians, led by a French colonel.

According to the British account, the La Balme Expedition had initiated the attack:  “The Miami resisting the fire of the enemy, had five of their party killed, being, however, more resolute than savages are in general, they beat off the enemy, killed 30.”

Arent DePeyster
With that the La Balme Expedition, and La Balme’s life, came to an abrupt end. Following the battle, the Miami returned Beaubien’s looted supplies to his house at Kekionga.

The results of the unsuccessful expedition were not very significant.  The small British outpost in Detroit was on higher alert.  The British rounded up some French in reaction to the incursion.  They suspected these Frenchmen could be potentially treasonous and sent them to Montreal.  Detroit’s military commander De Peyster, ordered all French traders in the region, other than Beaubien, to move to Detroit so that they could not assist in any future expeditions.  De Peyster also sent British rangers to maintain control of the portage at Kekionga.

For the French in Vincennes, the loss was a disaster.  Many leading citizens had joined the expedition and never returned.  Many of them had also carried legal documents with them, planning to go to Philadelphia to assert legal claims against Virginians who had taken their land.  With the loss of these documents, many of the Virginia squatters were able to obtain title to the disputed land.

The Miami even more solidly allied themselves with the British, offering sanctuary to anyone who suffered from treatment by the French or the Americans to their south and west.  The Miami also planned an attack on Vincennes, seeking approval from the British and also some assistance for the attack.  The British approved the attack, but did not provide any assistance.  The Miami never followed through on their attack, but their actions did deter any further French or American attempts to move into Indiana during the remainder of the war.

Next week: We return to the south, where the Swamp Fox, Col. Francis Marion, continues to frustrate British efforts to rule South Carolina.

- - -

Next Episode 272 Chasing the Swamp Fox

Previous Episode 270 Stone Arabia & Klock's Field 

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Further Reading


Augustin de la Balme

Mottin De La Balme, Augustin

Birzer, Bradley J. “French Imperial Remnants on the Middle Ground: The Strange Case of August de La Balme and Charles Beaubien.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-), vol. 93, no. 2, 2000, pp. 132–54. JSTOR, also available here:

“To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 23 April 1777,” (introducing the arrival of La Balme in America) Founders Online, National Archives,

“From Benjamin Franklin to John Hancock, 20 January 1777,” (recommending La Balme) Founders Online, National Archives,

“To George Washington from August 1780 from Mottin de La Balme, 5 March 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives,

Sterner, Eric Augustin Mottin De La Balme’s Disastrous Detroit Campaign, Autumn 1780 Sept. 15, 2020:

La Balme's Defeat:

La Balme’s Massacre Site:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Little Turtle: Chief of the Miami, Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County Indiana, 1954.

Burton, Clarence "Augustine Mottin de La Balme" Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1909, pp. 104-134.

Mottin, de la Balme Élémens de tactique pour la cavalerie, Paris: Chez Jombert, fils aîné, Ruault, 1776. 

Potterf, Rex M. Little Turtle: 1752-1812, Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society, 1960. 

Young, Calvin M. Little Turtle (Me-she-kin-no-quah): the great chief of the Miami Indian nation, Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County, 1917 (1956 reprint).

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Carter, Harvey L. The Life and Times of Little Turtle: First Sagamore of the Wabash, Univ. of Ill. Press, 1986. 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

ARP270 Stone Arabia & Klock's Field

Last week, we covered the British capture and destruction of Fort Ann and Fort George, as well as the raid on Ballston, near Albany.  Those actions were primarily designed to distract from another ongoing raid taking place further to the south.

John Johnson

Sir John Johnson, along with Mohawk Chief and British Captain Joseph Brant, and Seneca Chief Cornplanter, led a combined force of around 1000 men.  They were a mix of Indians, Loyalists and some British regulars.  Among them were some German Jaegers and Butler’s Rangers.  They also brought with them two small mortars and a brass three-pound cannon.

Klock's Field
Some estimates put the total number at only 800, some go as high as 1500.  It may be that the group started off with more but that part of the group broke off before they engaged in any combat.  According to some stories, a large group of Indians left the raiding party and went home after some unspecified dispute.

Johnson was the son of William Johnson, who had been the British Indian agent for decades before the Revolution.  He lived in upstate New York and grew up living along the Mohawk River. As a teenager, he moved to Philadelphia to continue his education. He saw his first military service during the French and Indian War when at age 13, he accompanied his father to the fight the French at Lake George.  During Pontiac’s Rebellion, Johnson led an expedition into the Ohio country.  

In the mid-60’s, Johnson embarked on a grand tour of Europe.  While in London, the King knighted him Sir John.  His father died just before the Revolution began. Johnson inherited expansive estates in New York, over 200,000 acres, along with his father’s baronetcy and as Indian agent for the Iroquois.  

John Johnson
Since he remained loyal to the King, Johnson had to flee New York for Canada to avoid arrest by the patriots.  He received a commission as a lieutenant colonel and recruited the King’s Royal regiment of New York.  He participated in the 1777 siege of Fort Stanwix under General Barry St. Leger, and was probably the highest ranking loyalist refugee in Canada from New York.

In 1779 Governor Haldimand tasked Johnson with putting together a force to challenge the Sullivan Expedition in New York.  By the time Johnson assembled his force in late September, the expedition had already run its course.  Haldimand, however, did not blame Johnson for any delays.  He had managed to assemble his force in a matter of weeks.  It was the British who feared an American attack on Niagara that delayed any counter-offensive into New York. 

Instead, Johnson spent the winter of 1779-80 planning for raids the following year.  Johnson led a successful raid in the spring, including his home of Johnstown, in an attempt to rescue loyalists still in New York, who the patriots had threatened to arrest and send to Albany. I discussed these spring raids back in Episode 250.

Over the summer of 1780 Johnson worked to recruit a second battalion of the King’s Royal Regiment from among the loyalist refugees in Montreal.  One purpose of his fall raid was to wipe out the Oneida crops and villages in New York.  Unlike most of the Iroquois, the Oneida had mostly sided with the patriots.

Johnson assembled his force under great secrecy. Even several of his top officers were left in the dark.  He left Montreal for Carlton Island on September 11, where he would assemble his army.  He would connect, not only with his other loyalist and regular soldiers, but also with the native soldiers under Joseph Brant and Cornplanter.  

Part of the plan was that Colonel Christopher Carleton would lead his forces near Lake George to distract the patriot armies near Albany, raids I discussed in my last episode.  At the same time, Johnson would take his large force to destroy the towns and crops about 70 miles further to the west.

Delays, mostly due to illness, delayed the departure from Carleton Island until October 6. By that time, Carleton had already begun his raid.  It would take Johnson another eleven days to reach his targets in the Schoharie Valley.

Middle Fort

The raiders’ primary goal was to destroy the food reserves from the fall harvests, not only of the Oneida, but for all the patriot communities that remained in the region.  They would also destroy the houses, barns, and any other infrastructure that they could.

The raiders made no secret of their plans.  They informed local Tories in the region to be prepared to join them, offering bounties and a share of seized property to those who provided assistance.  Of course, word leaked to patriot leaders, who did their best to prepare to defend against the attacks.

The British forces moved down the Charlotte River, an eastern branch of the Susquehanna River.  They entered the Schoharie Valley in Upstate New York, where they faced three small forts to contest their attack.  

By this time the region was used to the many raids that swept across the region.  Most of the forts were simply houses that had been reinforced to defend against smaller raids.  Usually, if the locals could make it inside the forts, the raiders would bypass them and focus on the property outside the forts..  The three unnamed forts were simply referenced as the upper fort, the middle fort, and the lower fort.

By late on October 16, the British camped within a few miles of the forts. The following morning, they bypassed the upper fort, and moved toward the middle fort, which seemed to be the most vulnerable of the three.  They arrived at the fort just before daylight. The upper fort, which had detected the enemy, fired a signal gun to warn the other two forts of the enemy’s approach.

Middle Fort

The Middle fort was under the command of a Continental officer, Major Melancthon Wooley.  His garrison consisted of about 150 Continental soldiers and about 50 militia who had rallied to the fort upon receiving word of the imminent attack.  The enemy outnumbered them by about five-to-one, and had the cannon and mortars to launch a deadly attack.

Woolsey had sent out a reconnaissance force of about 40 men, who discovered the enemy’s approach and retreated back to the fort.  When he saw the size of the force and the artillery arrayed against him, Major Woolsey was inclined to surrender.  He had only limited ammunition and could not hold out for very long. 

Colonel Johnson sent out a messenger, an officer from the Tory regiment Butler’s Rangers, under a flag of truce to demand the fort’s surrender.  Before the messenger got within speaking distance, a rifle ball whizzed over his head, forcing the party to retreat. Captain Timothy Murphy had fired over their heads to prevent the British from giving terms to his commander, Major Woolsey.

Murphy was a long time veteran of the war.  He had enlisted in a Pennsylvania Regiment in June of 1775.  He was one of the very few regiments from outside of New England to participate in the Siege of Boston that year.  After the battle of Long Island, he was promoted to sergeant and also fought at the battles of Trenton and Princeton.  

His abilities as a sharpshooter allowed him to transfer into the rifle corps under Daniel Morgan.  He fought in the campaign that forced the British surrender at Saratoga.  By some accounts, he is the man who killed General Simon Frasier at Bemis Heights.  He then transferred back to spend the winter at Valley Forge.  In July of 1778, General Washington ordered Murphy’s company of riflemen to the New York frontier.  He was stationed in the Schoharie Valley ,and later participated in the Sullivan Campaign to wipe out the Iroquois villages that were providing cover to Tory raiding parties.  

In 1779, Murphy’s enlistment in the Continental Army ended.  He stayed in the Schoharie Valley and continued the fight as a militia officer.  He also married a local woman, Peggy Feeck who was with him at the Middle Fort.

In the spring of 1780, Murphy and another man were ambushed and taken prisoner by Indians.  They managed to free themselves and kill their captors.  As he faced capture once again at the Middle Fort, Murphy was determined not to surrender.  That is why he fired on the flag of truce without orders from Major Woolsey.

Timothy Murphy
After the British flag of truce withdrew, the British began firing on the fort again. The Americans returned fire, but with little effect on either side.  Colonel Johnson then sent another messenger forward, again under a flag of truce to demand the fort’s surrender.  Once again, Murphy fired over their heads, forcing them to withdraw and continue the siege.

His commander, Major Woolsey, was determined to receive the surrender terms and ordered Murphy not to fire again. Murphy retorted “I’ll die before they have me prisoner.” Woolsey ordered someone to raise a white flag of surrender for the fort, but Murphy threatened to shoot any man who tried to do it.  When the British attempted to approach for a third time under a flag of truce, Murphy fired again.

Woolsey threatened to shoot Murphy on the spot, or have him arrested, but none of the men in the garrison were willing to try it.  Frustrated that he could not command the garrison and surrender, Woolsey retreated to the basement of the stone house inside the fort and prepared for it to be overrun by the British.  When second-in-command Colonel Peter Vrooman went to find Woolsey, the Colonel complained that the garrison would not obey his commands, and he told Vrooman to take command and prepare for the British attack.

The British attackers, however, had no plans for a lengthy siege, and had no desire to storm the fort.  After attempting for several hours to compel the fort’s surrender, Colonel Johnson simply moved on, making a nominal attack on the Lower Fort and continuing his rampage of burning the homes and crops of locals who had not committed to the loyalist cause.  Colonel Johnson later reported burning 600,000 bushels of grain.  The Americans also noted the destruction of 200 buildings, including several churches.

In the end the garrison suffered only one killed and two wounded, one of whom later died from his wounds.

Stone Arabia

As Colonel Johnson continued his raid across the Mohawk Valley, he deployed about one hundred loyalists and Indians across the river to the north shore.  Colonel John Brown, who was in command of Fort Paris nearby, learned about this smaller party that was apart from the main force, and attacked them with about 400 militia.

Brown was also an experienced officer. I’ve mentioned him in several past episodes.  Brown was a militia officer when the war began, and was part of the group led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold that captured Fort Ticonderoga in 1775.  Brown had also participated in the Quebec campaign.  Despite an active war record, Brown is probably best remembered as a critic of Benedict Arnold.  Years before Arnold’s treason, Brown declared that Arnold had an overwhelming obsession with money and that “to get enough of it, he would sacrifice his country.”  Back in Episode 162, I recounted Brown’s attempt to goad Arnold into a duel. At the time, Arnold was being considered for promotion to brigadier general and ignored the challenge since it might upset his chances.

When Arnold received the promotion, Brown resigned his commission from the Continental Army in disgust.  Brown continued to serve as a militia officer.  During the Saratoga campaign, Brown led the raid on Fort Ticonderoga, by that time behind British lines.

In 1780, Brown was serving in New York under the command of Militia General Robert Van Rensselaer. Van Rensselaer was not really a military man.  He was from a wealthy and influential family.  The Van Rensselaer’s had been wealthy Dutch merchants in the region for  generations.  He also had ancestors from the Livingston and Schuyler families.  His older sister, Catherine was the wife of General Philip Schuyler.

Robert was a committed patriot, having served in the New York Provincial Congress in 1775, and as a legislator in the New York State assembly since its founding in 1777.  Despite the lack of any military experience, he received a commission as a colonel in the state militia in 1775.  Several months before the fall action began in 1780, he received a promotion to brigadier general, again with almost no military experience.

Van Rensselaer ordered Brown to take command of Fort Paris, near Stone Arabia, after receiving word of Johnson’s imminent attack in the area.  Brown had command of 250-300 men at Fort Paris.  He managed to get that number up to nearly 400 with the addition of local militia and set out after the smaller party of loyalists believed to be near the village of Stone Arabia.

On the morning of October 19, Colonel Brown led his force in search of the smaller force of loyalists who had deployed to destroy local crops and buildings.  He encountered the enemy near Stone Arabia and almost immediately charged forward to attack.  As it turned out, Brown did not encounter a force of 100 loyalists but the entire army of about 900.  The larger enemy force quickly turned both of the American flanks and nearly surrounded them.  

Brown remained conspicuous on his horse, trying to rally the men.  He was shot and killed.  Between 30 and 45 others were also killed in the attack.  Local stories later reported that the Tories scalped and mutilated the bodies of the dead, and stripped them of their clothing.

The survivors scattered and tried to hide from the enemy.  Some took refuge in a nearby farmhouse.  Indians who were with the Tories set the house on fire and burned the occupants.  Some of the force managed to return to Fort Paris.  A few made it to nearby Fort Keyser, which the enemy considered attacking, but then moved on, thinking it too well defended.

Klock’s Field

Some of the Americans who fled the battle moved south and encountered the larger force of New York Militia under General Van Rensselaer.  The general was leading a larger force from Albany.  After joining up with more local militia and a company of Oneida warriors, Van Rensselaer had a force of about 1500 men.

After learning from the survivors that Colonel Brown had been killed, Van Rensselaer moved his force in pursuit of the enemy.  His army halted however, to contend with a small guard of about 40 loyalists preventing them from fording a river. Eventually, the enemy pulled back in the face of superior numbers.

As the army attempted to ford a river, Van Rensselaer rode off to Fort Plain, where he had an early dinner with Governor George Clinton.  Many of his officers were critical of the fact that General Van Rensselaer had left his army during this critical time and delayed the advance on the enemy.  The head of the Oneida detachment, Lieutenant Colonel Louis Atayataronghta of the Continental Army, accused Van Rensselaer of being a Tory for his dereliction of duty.

Van Rensselaer divided his force into three columns to march north in search of the enemy.  The British under Johnson learned of the approaching enemy.  Having already fought a battle against Colonel Brown’s forces that morning, they prepared for a second battle that afternoon.  Johnson deployed his forces in a defensive position on a peninsula created by a bend in the river, near an area known as Klock’s Field.

One of the American columns began an attack across an open field against British regulars directly under the command of Colonel Johnson.  Another column, which included the Oneida Indians, attacked a loyalist force consisting of Hessian Jaegers and Mohawk warriors under Joseph Brant.  Since the battle began late in the day, the fighting before dusk only lasted less than an hour.  After dark, General Van Rensselaer ordered an end to the fighting and to prepare to renew the attack in the morning.  He then withdrew several miles back to Fox’s Fort.

The following morning, the Americans had found that the British had withdrawn, leaving burning campfires.  Some of the soldiers wanted to pursue, but their leaders wanted to wait until Van Rensselaer caught up with them. Otherwise, their smaller force might run into a larger ambush and suffer a fate similar to Colonel Brown.  After waiting some time, they learned that the main force under Van Rensselaer was not advancing toward them, but was already on its way back to Albany.  The British forces under Johnson continued to withdraw back to Niagara, burning crops and houses as they went.

Technically the battle was considered an American victory because they held the field.  But the British forces being permitted to escape after a destructive raid upset many locals. Later backlash against Van Rensselaer’s tentative advance and speedy retreat leveled charges that he must be a secret tory.  He faced a court martial several months later, but was acquitted.

The Johnson Expedition managed to inflict a great deal of property damage.  There are also a great many accounts among the patriots of atrocities committed, not only by Indians, but also the loyalists who were former neighbors in New York.  Numerous stories of the murder of women and children, taking scalps and mutilating bodies.  Even if some of the stories were exaggerated, the raids only increased the bitter sentiments on both sides of this increasingly brutal struggle.

Next time: we head out west again to look at Colonel Augustin de la Balme’s attempt to capture Detroit.

- - -

Next Episode 271 Advance on Detroit 

 Contact me via email at

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Further Reading


History of Mohawk Valley, Johnson's Great Raid:

Schoharie Valley, Timeline 1780:

Harrington. Hugh T. "The Myth of Rifleman Timothy Murphy" Journal of the American Revolution, March 25, 2013:

Bollen, Norman J. How Fort Plain Became Fort Rensselaer:

Aikey, Michael "Ballston Raid of 1780: Military Operation or a Time to Settle Old Scores" Journal of the American Revolution, Dec. 6, 2017:

Richmond, James E. "War on the Middleline: The October 1780 British Raid on Ballston" Journal of the American Revolution, July 25, 2016:

Three Rivers: Hudson-Mohawk-Schoharie:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Howe, Archibald M. Colonel John Brown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Boston, W. B. Clarke Co. 1908: 

Roof, Garret L. Colonel John Brown: His Services in the Revolutionary War, Battle of Stone Arabia, Utica, N.Y. : Ellis H. Roberts & Co. 1884. 

Simms, Jeptha Root History of Schoharie County, Albany : Munsell & Tanne, 1845. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Berry, A. J. A Time of Terror, Trafford Publishing, 2005 (borrow on 

Berry, A.J. Fort Plain & Fort Plank: The Two Fort Plain Forts, Fort Plain Museum, 2013.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

ARP269 Ballston Raid

Over the course of 1780, most of the large-scale fighting took place in the Carolinas where the British still contended to govern, and where the hope of loyalists rising to supplement their ranks still gave leadership the incentive to commit resources there.

Yet, despite the loss of Burgoyne’s army and the devastating attacks on native settlements during the Sullivan Campaign many loyalists from upstate New York still contended for control of that region.  We last left this fight back in Episode 250 when raids under Mohawk leader Joseph Brandt and loyalists under John Johnson wrought havoc in the area through the spring and summer of 1780.  Despite the inability to capture any territory, these raids continued into the fall and winter.

A year earlier, in 1779, the Americans had hit Iroquois settlements, successfully forcing them to retreat into Canada.  The Americans had burned their homes and food for the winter.  In the fall of 1780, the British planned to do the same to the Americans living there.  They launched a series of raids designed to burn the homes and destroy the crops of rebels in the region, just before harvest time.

Haldimand’s Strategy

The Governor of Canada in 1780 was General Frederick Haldimand.  I’ve given background on Haldimand before, way back in Episode 62, when he was leaving Boston in 1775, and also in Episode 197 when he returned to Quebec as its new governor.  

Frederick Haldimand

Despite his qualifications, Haldimand got the job almost by default.  Secretary of State Lord Germain hated his predecessor, Governor Guy Carleton, and wanted him out.  As a military leader, Carleton’s obvious successor would have been General John Burgoyne, that is until Burgoyne surrendered an army at Saratoga. Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton, who was also a military officer, might also have been a good choice, but Hamilton had spent the last couple of years as a POW in Virginia, and showed no signs of being able to return to Canada anytime soon.

By comparison Haldimand was an ideal candidate for the job.  He had served as acting Governor of Quebec before the war.  He had combat experience over this same region from his time in the French and Indian War and was a senior lieutenant general.  He spoke English, French, and German, all of which were important.  Canada had a large English and French speaking population at this time, and half of the army stationed in Canada were German-speaking Brunswickers.

Despite all this, the major obstacle to Haldimand’s appointment was his birth.  Haldimand had been born and raised in Switzerland, from a Prussian family who had lived there for several generations.  He had gotten his start in the Prussian Army, and served in the Dutch Army for a while.  The British recruited him just before the start of the French and Indian War as part of an effort to get experienced officers who could raise regiments among the German-speaking population in Pennsylvania.

In addition to being of foreign birth, Haldimand had no friends or family with political influence in London.  That was the fastest way for officers to rise through the ranks.  Despite this lack of connection, Haldimand had risen to major general by 1772.  That, however, created a new problem in 1775.  As London was getting ready to recall General Thomas Gage, his second in command in Boston, General Haldimand, was the next in line of seniority, ahead of Generals Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne.  

London did not want a foreigner in command of North American Forces, and giving that job to a less senior general would be an insult to Haldimand.  So the same ship that carried Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne to Boston, also carried a message recalling Haldimand to London.  So for the next several years, London officials kept one of their most senior British generals with the most experience in North America, hanging around London with little to do.

While the war was raging in New York in 1776, Haldimand took a few months on vacation to visit his home town in Switzerland.  By 1777, with Secretary Germain finally getting General Carleton to resign as governor and military commander of Quebec, he offered the job to Haldimand.  Thanks to weather and other problems, Haldimand did not arrive in Quebec until late 1778.

The problem for Haldimand was now that he wasn’t sure what to do in Quebec.  Germain even apologized to Haldimand for not being able to give him any specific expectations of his new job.  After Burgoyne’s fiasco at Saratoga, strategists had given up on the idea of creating a link between Quebec and New York that would cut off New England.  They were now thinking more defensively - holding Quebec against any new invasions from the south.  Remember that the Continental Congress, about this time, was making plans to have General Lafayette lead an invasion that would motivate the French inhabitants to rise up and overthrow British rule.  Even though the Americans did not have the resources to put together their planned invasion, they were very interested in the idea, and the British very much feared it.

As military governor, Haldimand took a firm hand, arresting several newspaper editors and others who propagated what Haldimand called “a licentious spirit.” But the local inhabitants proved to be a minor concern.  Haldimand was more concerned with preventing an invasion from the south.  Remember that at this time the Quebec territory extended all the way down to what is today Kentucky.  The Americans had occupied a good portion of that disputed territory thanks to George Rogers Clark.

Haldimand could not worry about that.  He focused more on the region around Lake Champlain, which might serve as an invasion point from New York.  Soon after his arrival in 1778, Haldimand approved several raids into New York, mostly designed to liberate loyalists who were under house arrest so they could join forces in Quebec.  Haldimand had many loyalists, as well as Iroquois, who wanted to bring the war back to New York and retake their homes.  He was still dealing with the refugees from the Sullivan Campaign in late 1779.  

Haldimand had never gotten the reinforcements that Germain had promised him.  He had nowhere near the manpower needed to take and hold parts of New York.  But the British were quite capable of continuing their raids into New York.

Launching another offensive raid into New York accomplished several things.  It would keep the Americans from having a safe platform from which to launch a new invasion into Quebec.  It would deny food being grown there that would help feel the Continental and French armies.  It would give the loyalist and Iroquois refugees an opportunity for some payback, perhaps even a chance of eventually regaining some of their land.  This is what the loyalists constantly requested of Haldimand.

The British had already launched raids into New York over the spring and summer of 1780.  They now prepared for a fall offensive..  

Fort Ann 

Major Christopher Carleton, the nephew of General Guy Carleton, had remained in Canada after his uncle’s departure.  I last mentioned him back in Episode 202 when Carleton led several relatively uneventful raids through northern New York.  Major Carleton led a force of British Regulars, down from St. John’s in Canada, leaving on September 28, 1780.  

Fort Ann (Replica)
The assembled force included about 650 British regulars and another 200 or so loyalists.  The invasion force filled eight ships and 26 smaller bateaux, reaching Valcour Island on October 2.   As they moved down lake Champlain, several parties of Indians joined them, expanding the force to almost 1000 men.

By October 6, the fleet reached Crown Point where the unoccupied ruins of a fort remained.  There, the loyalists under Captain John Munro separated from the main force, and will get to Munro’s expedition shortly.  The rest of the force under Carleton continued to move south, passing the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga, also now unoccupied by either side.  His fleet sailed down South Bay.  When the ships could go no further, the group disembarked and continued overland.

By October 9th, his force of about 650 men reached the rebel-occupied Fort Ann.  The massive force of regulars, along with field cannon came as a surprise to the small garrison at Fort Ann.

The American commander, Captain Adiel Sherwood, was in charge of the 74 militia officers and men at the fort.  The garrison had almost no rations or ammunition to face any sort of siege.  Sherwood later reported that they only had rations for three or four days, and only four rounds of ammunition per man.  Given the overwhelming force against them, there was no prospect of a defense.

Major Carleton sent forward a flag of truce, and offered little in the way of surrender terms. They would be taken as prisoners of war back to Quebec and that any women and children at the fort would be released unmolested to go to their homes,  Sherwood surrendered the fort without a shot fired.  The British moved through the region, burning or pillaging whatever they could find.

Fort George

The British column continued to move south toward Fort Edward.  At Kingsbury, they ran into a couple of locals on horseback.  The men escaped capture and rode to Fort Edward to warn the garrison.  Instead of continuing south, the column turned Northwest and headed overland to Fort George, at the southern tip of Lake George.  Like Fort Ann, the garrison at Fort George was rather small, and lacked sufficient food or ammunition for any sort of siege. 

Fort George Ruins
The garrison consisted of Continentals from Colonel Seth Warner’s Regiment, many former Green Mountain Boys.  Colonel Warner was away recovering from a wound he had received a month earlier.  The second in command Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Safford was also away, trying to chase down the regiment’s paymaster, after he had escaped arrest for embezzlement: selling the regiment’s new uniforms.  Third in command should have been Major Gideon Brownson, but he was already a prisoner of war in Canada. So command of Fort George fell to Captain John Chipman.

Captain Chipman had been focusing on several British ships on Lake George, north of the fort. He was preparing for an attack, but regardless of any preparation, he lacked the men, ammunition and rations to resist an attack of any size.

Chipman sent a rider to nearby Fort Edward to request additional food.  The rider did not make it to Fort Edward, as he spotted a group of about 30 or 40 hostile Indians, who chased him back to Fort George.  Desperate for food, Chipman ordered a detail under the command of Captain Thomas Sill to go out and clear the road between Fort George and Fort Edward of any hostile war parties.  

Sill’s detail, which left the fort on October 11 came into contact with the advance of Major Carleton’s British regulars and also had to make a quick escape.  Sill then organized his small detail and launched an attack on the pursuing enemy.  Sill’s force of 47 officers and men soon realized they were facing not only a small Indian War party, but a fairly large force of British regulars, probably close to 200 men.  The Continentals soon found themselves surrounded.  Unwilling to surrender, Sill ordered a bayonet charge, with the hope of pushing through the enemy line and returning to Fort George.

The fight was a desperate one.  Captain Sill and eighteen other men were killed in the fighting.  Another 14 were wounded or captured.  Another 14 managed to get through the lines and escape.

The British force then approached Fort George and began to form a line of battle.  The American fired from their one canon, but did not manage to hit the enemy.  Carleton sent a flag of truce, calling for the fort’s surrender.  Half of the garrison had been lost under Captain Sill.  As a result, Chipman only had about 40 soldiers in the fort. Lacking enough food or ammunition to hold out even for a day or two, Captain Chipman surrendered the fort.

Carleton offered terms similar to those he gave at Fort Ann.  The garrison would be taken as prisoners of war, and not massacred or otherwise attacked.  Prisoners could keep a knapsack full of personal items. Women and children would be permitted to return home with their baggage.  Officers could keep their servants.  Indians would not enter the fort until after the British took possession.  For some reason, Carleton added to the terms that one junior officer, Ensign Bonnet was permitted parole and allowed to return home with his family.  My guess is that this was a young man not really of prime fighting age.

After the British had secured the fort, their Indian allies were given leave to plunder the fort on anything of value.  After that, the British burned the fort before departing.  The prisoners were marched up to Ticonderoga, where they were placed aboard ships and taken back to Quebec. Between Fort Ann and Fort George, the British collected 130 prisoners of war.  A few weeks later, Carleton would send a proposal for a prisoner swap, hoping to get back loyalists being held in New York.  However, the Americans would not agree.  Most of the prisoners, at least those who survived, remained in custody until the end of the war.

Ballston Raid

While Major Carleton and his regulars did not plan to go any further, another detachment that had moved out of Canada with Carleton, planned to use the fighting to push further south.  General Haldimand had given authority to Captain John Munro, to raid deeper into New York.  

Captain Munro was a Scotsman who first came to New York as a sergeant in the regular army during the French and Indian War.  He settled in Albany County and became a Justice of the Peace, where he spent much of his pre-Revolution years fighting with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys.

John Munro
In 1775, Munro had accepted a commission in a loyalist militia, something he denied to patriot authorities in order to avoid. By mid-1776 though, the patriots had put out a warrant for his arrest anyway.  After the Battle of Bennington in 1777, they seized all of his land and property.  By this time Munro had left for Canada where he was serving in the King’s Royal Regiment under Sir John Johnson.

Captain Munro, in this attack, was tasked with continuing the raid further south toward Ballston, taking about 200 loyalists and Mohawk warriors to destroy all patriot properties and crops that they came across.

On October 11, the same day that Forge George fell to Carleton, Munro’s detachment was northeast of Saratoga.  The subsequent withdrawal of the regulars and the news that the locals were aware of his presence, gave Munro pause.  He did not want to walk into an ambush.

His force spent several days making its way down old Indian trails to avoid detection on the main roads.  Munro knew there was another force of loyalists to the south under the command of loyalist Colonel John Johnson.  But he had received no word on Johnson’s whereabouts, and Johnson had not yet launched any attack.

Further, Carleton’s raids on Fort Ann and Fort George had riled up local patriots, and Munro began to receive word of larger patriot militia groups gathering to his north, and possibly cutting off any escape route.  He heard rumors that 500 militia had gathered at Saratoga to confront his raiding party.

Another concern was that Munro's men had run out of food, and were exhausting themselves marching through wilderness to avoid main roads.  Munro decided to raid Ballston, an area a few miles to the west of Saratoga.  It was the closest settlement that would probably have food for his men, and would give him an opportunity to score a success before withdrawing back to Canada.

On the night of October 16, Munro’s raiders attacked the homes of several well known patriot militia officers, capturing several of them, including militia Colonel James Gordon. The colonel was a prominent military and political leader, who also served in the State Assembly.  He was specifically targeted for capture.  His next-door neighbor, militia Captain Tyrannus Collins, was also taken prisoner.  Collins received a tomahawk wound while blocking the door so that his son could escape out a window.  But the wound was not mortal, and Collins became a prisoner.

The loyalists focused on destroying homes and crops, avoiding a confrontation with the nearby militia fort where defenders had gathered.  He reported taking thirty prisoners and looting or destroying at least seventeen farms.

Not wanting to push his luck, Munro withdrew by morning, moving into the mountains.  There, his men rested and slaughtered some of their captured animals for food.  It took more than a week for the force to reach Bulwagga Bay, about half way up Lake George, where they were safely back within British lines.

The Munro raid created great alarm, destroying homes only a day’s march from Albany.  Retired General Phillip Schuyler wrote to Governor George Clinton days after the Ballston Raid.  Schuyler commented “the panic that has seized the people is incredible; with all my efforts I cannot prevent numbers from deserting their Habitations.

Upon his return, Munro was concerned that his inability to connect with Johnson’s force made his actions a disappointment to the British leadership.  Although they said they were satisfied with his efforts, they never gave him another independent command.

General Haldimand’s strategy, however, was not for the raids by Carleton and Munro to have much impact by themselves.  They were designed to distract the enemy from the much larger and more destructive raid on the Schoharie Valley of New York that was supposed to be taking place at the same time.  

We’ll have to get to those raids next time, when we cover the battle of Stone Arabia.

- - -

Next Episode 270 Stone Arabia 

 Contact me via email at

 Follow the podcast on Twitter @AmRevPodcast

 Join the Facebook group, American Revolution Podcast 

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T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, pillows, totes, notebooks, wall art, and more.  Get your favorite American Revolution logo today.  Help support this podcast.

American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. You may also donate via Venmo (@Michael-Troy-20), Zelle, or popmoney (send to

Click here to see my Patreon Page
You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option making monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.

An alternative to Patreon is SubscribeStar.  For anyone who has problems with Patreon, you can get the same benefits by subscribing at SubscribeStar.

Help Support this podcast on ""

Visit the American Revolution Podcast Bookshop.  Support local bookstores and this podcast!

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* indicates required

Further Reading


Battle of Lake George 11 October 1780:

Aikey, Michael "Ballston Raid of 1780: Military Operation or a Time to Settle Old Scores" Journal of the American Revolution, Dec. 6, 2017:

Richmond, James E. "War on the Middleline: The October 1780 British Raid on Ballston" Journal of the American Revolution, July 25, 2016:

Gordon, James, and Josephine Mayer. “Documents: The Reminiscences of James Gordon” New York History, vol. 17, no. 3, 1936, pp. 316–33. JSTOR,

“To George Washington from Philip John Schuyler, 31 October 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives,

Three Rivers: Hudson-Mohawk-Schoharie:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

McIlwraith, Jean N. Sir Frederick Haldimand, Toronto: Morang & Co. 1910. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Berry, A. J. A Time of Terror, Trafford Publishing, 2005 (borrow on 

Berry, A.J. Fort Plain & Fort Plank: The Two Fort Plain Forts, Fort Plain Museum, 2013.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.