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Chapter 38

ENLISTING OF TROOPS IN THE EAST--CAMP AT BOSTON--GENERAL ARTEMAS WARD-- SCHEME TO SURPRISE TICONDEROGA--NEW HAMPSHIRE GRANTS--ETHAN ALLEN AND THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS--BENEDICT ARNOLD--AFFAIR OF TICONDEROGA AND CROWN POINT--A DASH AT ST. JOHN'S.


At the eastward, the march of the Revolution went on with accelerated speed. Thirty thousand men had been deemed necessary for the defence of the country. The provincial Congress of Massachusetts resolved to raise thirteen thousand six hundred, as its quota. Circular letters, also, were issued by the committee of safety, urging the towns to enlist troops with all speed, and calling for military aid from the other New England provinces.

Their appeals were promptly answered. Bodies of militia, and parties of volunteers from New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut, hastened to join the minute men of Massachusetts in forming a camp in the neighborhood of Boston. With the troops of Connecticut, came Israel Putnam; having recently raised a regiment in that province, and received from its Assembly the commission of brigadier-general. Some of his old comrades in French and Indian warfare, had hastened to join his standard. Such were two of his captains, Durkee and Knowlton. The latter, who was his especial favorite, had fought by his side when a mere boy.

The command of the camp was given to General Artemas Ward, already mentioned. He was a native of Shrewsbury, in Massachusetts, and a veteran of the seven years' war--having served as lieutenant-colonel under Abercrombie. He had, likewise, been a member of the legislative bodies, and had recently been made, by the provincial Congress of Massachusetts, commander-in-chief of its forces.

As affairs were now drawing to a crisis, and war was considered inevitable, some bold spirits in Connecticut conceived a project for the outset. This was the surprisal of the old forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, already famous in the French war. Their situation on Lake Champlain gave them the command of the main route to Canada; so that the possession of them would be all-important in case of hostilities. They were feebly garrisoned and negligently guarded, and abundantly furnished with artillery and military stores, so much needed by the patriot army.

This scheme was set on foot in the purlieus, as it were, of the provincial Legislature of Connecticut, then in session. It was not openly sanctioned by that body, but secretly favored, and money lent from the treasury to those engaged in it. A committee was appointed, also, to accompany them to the frontier, aid them in raising troops, and exercise over them, a degree of superintendence and control.

Sixteen men were thus enlisted in Connecticut, a greater number in Massachusetts, but the greatest accession of force, was from what was called the "New Hampshire Grants." This was a region having the Connecticut River on one side, and Lake Champlain and the Hudson River on the other--being, in fact, the country forming the present State of Vermont. It had long been a disputed territory, claimed by New York and New Hampshire. George II. had decided in favor of New York; but the Governor of New Hampshire had made grants of between one and two hundred townships in it, whence it had acquired the name of the New Hampshire Grants. The settlers on those grants resisted the attempts of New York to eject them, and formed themselves into an association, called "The Green Mountain Boys." Resolute, strong-handed fellows they were, with Ethan Allen at their head, a native of Connecticut, but brought up among the Green Mountains. He and his lieutenants, Seth Warner and Remember Baker, were outlawed by the Legislature of New York, and rewards offered for their apprehension. They and their associates armed themselves, set New York at defiance, and swore they would be the death of any one who should attempt their arrest.

Thus Ethan Allen was becoming a kind of Robin Hood among the mountains, when the present crisis changed the relative position of things as if by magic. Boundary feuds were forgotten amid the great questions of colonial rights. Ethan Allen at once stepped forward, a patriot, and volunteered with his Green Mountain Boys to serve in the popular cause. He was well fitted for the enterprise in question, by his experience as a frontier champion, his robustness of mind and body, and his fearless spirit. He had a kind of rough eloquence, also, that was very effective with his followers. "His style," says one, who knew him personally, "was a singular compound of local barbarisms, scriptural phrases, and oriental wildness; and though unclassic, and sometimes ungrammatical, was highly animated and forcible." Washington, in one of his letters, says there was "an original something in him which commanded admiration."

Thus reinforced, the party, now two hundred and seventy strong, pushed forward to Castleton, a place within a few miles of the head of Lake Champlain. Here a council of war was held on the 2d of May. Ethan Allen was placed at the head of the expedition, with James Easton and Seth Warner as second and third in command. Detachments were sent off to Skenesborough (now Whitehall), and another place on the lake, with orders to seize all the boats they could find and bring them to Shoreham, opposite Ticonderoga, whither Allen prepared to proceed with the main body.

At this juncture, another adventurous spirit arrived at Castleton. This was BENEDICT ARNOLD, since so sadly renowned. He, too, had conceived the project of surprising Ticonderoga and Crown Point; or, perhaps, had caught the idea from its first agitators in Connecticut,--in the militia of which province he held a captain's commission. He had proposed the scheme to the Massachusetts committee of safety. It had met with their approbation. They had given him a colonel's commission, authorized him to raise a force in Western Massachusetts, not exceeding four hundred men, and furnished him with money and means. Arnold had enlisted but a few officers and men when he heard of the expedition from Connecticut being on the march. He instantly hurried on with one attendant to overtake it, leaving his few recruits to follow, as best they could: in this way he reached Castleton just after the council of war.

Producing the colonel's commission received from the Massachusetts committee of safety, he now aspired to the supreme command. His claims were disregarded by the Green Mountain Boys; they would follow no leader but Ethan Allen. As they formed the majority of the party, Arnold was fain to acquiesce, and serve as a volunteer, with the rank, but not the command of colonel.

The party arrived at Shoreham, opposite Ticonderoga, on the night of the 9th of May. The detachment sent in quest of boats had failed to arrive. There were a few boats at hand, with which the transportation was commenced. It was slow work; the night wore away; day was about to break, and but eighty-three men, with Allen and Arnold, had crossed. Should they wait for the residue, day would dawn, the garrison wake, and their enterprise might fail. Allen drew up his men, addressed them in his own emphatic style, and announced his intention to make a dash at the fort without waiting for more force. "It is a desperate attempt," said he, "and I ask no man to go against his will. I will take the lead, and be the first to advance. You that are willing to follow, poise your firelocks." Not a firelock but was poised.

They mounted the hill briskly, but in silence, guided by a boy from the neighborhood. The day dawned as Allen arrived at a sally port. A sentry pulled trigger on him, but his piece missed fire. He retreated through a covered way. Allen and his men followed. Another sentry thrust at Easton with his bayonet, but was struck down by Allen, and begged for quarter. It was granted on condition of his leading the way instantly to the quarters of the commandant, Captain Delaplace, who was yet in bed. Being arrived there, Allen thundered at the door, and demanded a surrender of the fort. By this time his followers had formed into two lines on the parade-ground, and given three hearty cheers. The commandant appeared at his door half-dressed, "the frightened face of his pretty wife peering over his shoulder." He gazed at Allen in bewildered astonishment. "By whose authority do you act?" exclaimed he. "In the name of the great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress!" replied Allen, with a flourish of his sword, and an oath which we do not care to subjoin.

There was no disputing the point. The garrison, like the commander, had been startled from sleep, and made prisoners as they rushed forth in their confusion. A surrender accordingly took place. The captain, and forty-eight men, which composed his garrison, were sent prisoners to Hartford, in Connecticut. A great supply of military and naval stores, so important in the present crisis, was found in the fortress.

Colonel Seth Warner, who had brought over the residue of the party from Shoreham, was now sent with a detachment against Crown Point, which surrendered on the 12th of May, without firing a gun; the whole garrison being a sergeant and twelve men. Here were taken upward of a hundred cannon.

Arnold now insisted vehemently on his right to command Ticonderoga; being, as he said, the only officer invested with legal authority. His claims had again to yield to the superior popularity of Ethan Allen, to whom the Connecticut committee, which had accompanied the enterprise, gave an instrument in writing, investing him with the command of the fortress, and its dependencies, until he should receive the orders of the Connecticut Assembly, or the Continental Congress. Arnold, while forced to acquiesce, sent a protest, and a statement of his grievances to the Massachusetts Legislature. In the mean time, his chagrin was appeased by a new project. The detachment originally sent to seize upon boats at Skenesborough, arrived with a schooner, and several bateaux. It was immediately concerted between Allen and Arnold to cruise in them down the lake, and surprise St. John's, on the Sorel River, the frontier post of Canada. The schooner was accordingly armed with cannon from the fort. Arnold, who had been a seaman in his youth, took the command of her, while Allen and his Green Mountain Boys embarked in the bateaux.

Arnold outsailed the other craft, and arriving at St. John's, surprised and made prisoners of a sergeant and twelve men; captured a king's sloop of seventy tons, with two brass six-pounders and seven men; took four bateaux, destroyed several others, and then, learning that troops were on the way from Montreal and Chamblee, spread all his sails to a favoring breeze, and swept up the lake with his prizes and prisoners, and some valuable stores, which he had secured.

He had not sailed far when he met Ethan Allen and the bateaux. Salutes were exchanged; cannon on one side, musketry on the other. Allen boarded the sloop; learnt from Arnold the particulars of his success, and determined to push on, take possession of St. John's, and garrison it with one hundred of his Green Mountain Boys. He was foiled in the attempt by the superior force which had arrived; so he returned to his station at Ticonderoga.

Thus a partisan band, unpractised in the art of war, had, by a series of daring exploits, and almost without the loss of a man, won for the patriots the command of Lakes George and Champlain, and thrown open the great highway to Canada.


Washington Irving