On the morning of January 21st, 1757, Robert Rogers and seventy-six of his officers and Rangers ambushed a column of French supply sleds headed from Fort Carillon towards Fort St. Frederic at Crown Point. Rogers’ Rangers successfully ambushed the front of the column. At the rear, French officers sent word to Fort Carillon, with a soldier riding a sleigh horse, cut from its harness. On hearing the news, Captain de Lusignan, the commandant at Carillon, sent out 100 French regulars, Canadians, and Native warriors to ambush Rogers’ Rangers on their escape back to Fort Edward. By mid-day, Rogers’ men were surrounded and in a fire-fight lasting five and one- half hours. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the day closed with nearly total defeat. News of the attack was recorded in the Journal of Louis Antoine de Bougainville which noted “the English seized the opportunity to retire in disorder leaving food, snowshoes, and 42 dead, 3 of them officers on the field of battle. Our people made 8 prisoners…” The publication Boston News Letter, printed on February 2nd, 1757, recorded Rogers’ account of the Battle and “A List of the Killed, Wounded and Taken.”
After a successful ambush on the morning of January 21st, 1757 Robert Rogers chose to halt, so that men and guns could dry out. Despite about two feet of snow on the ground, there were rain showers through the day.
Capt Robert Roger’s Company.
Capt. Robert Rogers, wounded in the Hand and Head.
Samuel Martin, badly wounded in the Belly and Hip.
Thomas Burnside, wounded thrugh the Hand.
Serj. James Henry, missing.
William Mirrice[Morris], missing.
Hugh Morrison, taken Prisoner.
Thomas Stinson, killed
Captain Spikeman’s Company.
Lieutenant Kennedy, killed.
Thomas Brown, killed.
Robert Avery, killed.
Samuel Fisk, killed.
Serjeant Morre, wounded slightly in the Arm.
John Catull, wounded in the Mouth.
Mr. Baker, of the 44th Regiment, killed.
Mr. Gardner, in my Company, killed.
Through the eyes of the reader, these names on a printed page were the aftermath of five and one- half hours of fighting. However, for many of the individuals whose names were printed on that page, the five and one-half hours of the battle were merely the beginning. Thomas Brown, a seventeen year-old Ranger from Charlestown, Massachusetts, was one of the unlucky captives. During the battle, Brown was the first Ranger to be shot, right through the body. His second wound came one hour into the battle, when he was shot in the knee, and crawled to the rear of his fellow rangers for cover. Shortly after, near the end of the battle, Brown took his last hit directly through the shoulder. By night fall, Rogers escaped with any men he could, leaving the wounded behind. For the wounded, this was the real fight for their lives. Ranger Thomas Brown survived to write about the immediate aftermath.
Roger’s Rangers themselves were ambushed by the French, who waited for them as the Rangers attempted to return south on the same path they used that morning. Fighting for the high ground, Rogers’ rangers managed to hold out for five and one-half hours.
Capt. Spikeman, one Baker and myself[Thomas Brown], all very badly wounded… All hope of Escape now vanish’d; we were so wounded that we could not travel; I could but just walk the others could scarce move; we therefore concluded to surrender ourselves to the French…
At the moment that these Rangers gave up hope, Brown noticed “an Indian coming towards us.” Instinctively, Brown crawled away from the fire to be out of site. However, with the others unable to move, Brown witnessed the horrifying attack.
Capt. Spikeman, who was not able to resist, and stripp’d and scalp’d him alive; Baker, who was lying by the Captain, pull’d out his Knife to stab himself, which the Indian prevented and carried him away…But not being far from Capt. Spikeman, he saw me and beg’d me for God’s sake! to give him a Tomahawk, that he might put an End to his Life! I refus’d him, and exhorted him as well as I could to pray for Mercy, as he could not live many Minutes in that deplorable Condition… He desired me to let his Wife know (if I lived to get home) the dreadful Death he died.
With some hope of getting away now, Thomas Brown began his journey back towards Fort Edward. He decided to follow the snowshoe path left by the rest of the Rangers. Although the path was guarded by French sentries, he was able to successfully sneak around them. The cold coupled with his wounds made escape problematic.
…the Snow and Cold put my Feet into such Pain, as I had no Shoes, that I could not go on; I therefore sat down by a Brook, and wrapt my Feet in my Blanket. But my Body being cold by sitting still, I got up, and crawl’d along in this miserable Condition the Remainder of the Night.
Induced to crawl home, Brown was certainly not able to make it very far; by 11 o’clock the next morning, he was quickly spotted.
I heard the Shouts of Indians behind me, and I suppos’d they saw me; within a few Minutes four came down a Mountain, runing towards me: I threw off my Blanket, and Fear and Dread quickned my Pace for a while; but, by Reason of the Loss of so much Blood from my Wounds, I soon fail’d. When they were within a few Rods of me they cock’d their Guns, and told me to stop; but I refus’d, hoping they would fire and kill me on the Spot; which I chose, rather than the dreadful Death Capt. Spikeman died of.
Yet, they did not shoot. Instead, Brown noted that, “took me by the Neck and kiss’d me… They took some dry Leaves and put them into my Wounds, and then turn’d about and ordered me to follow them.” Once brought to the main body of the enemy, more Natives came to greet him. Thomas Brown knew his only possibility of survival was not by escape, but instead the protection of a Frenchman. Brown recounted:
The Indians ran to meet us, and one of them struck me with a Cutlass a-cross the Side; he cut thro’ my Cloaths, but did not touch my Flesh; others ran against me with their Heads: I ask’d if there was no Interpreter, upon which a Frenchman cry’d, I am one: I ask’d him, if this was the Way they treated their Prisoners, to let them be cut and beat to Pieces by the Indians? He desired me to come to him; but the Indians would not let me, holding me one by one Arm and another by the other: But there arising a Difference between the four Indians that took me, they fell to fighting, which their commanding Officer seeing, he came and took me away and carry’d me to the Interpreter; who drew his Sword, and pointing it to my Breast, charged me to tell the Truth, or he would run me through:
Although Brown was in the hands of a Frenchman, his suffering would continue. The interpreter immediately began interrogating Brown. He then brought him back to the battlefield, showing him the carnage from the day before, most horrifying was “Captain Spikeman, who was laying in the Place I left him; they had cut off his Head, and fix’d it on a Pole.”
Still, Brown’s plight continued. On the journey back towards Fort Carillon, he ran into Gentleman Volunteer Robert Baker.
…we were ordered to march on towards Tionderoga: But Baker replied, he could not walk. An Indian then pushed him forwards; but he could not go, and therefore sat down and cried; whereupon an Indian took him by the Hair, and was going to kill him with his Tomhawk: I was moved with Pity for him, and, as weak as I was, I took his Arms over my Shoulders, and was enabled to get him to the Fort.
Finally after 24 hours of fighting for his life, Thomas Brown made it to a means of “safety.” While the battle is marked just five and one-half hours of fighting and a list of names killed, wounded, or captured, the fight continued well after that for many of these Rangers. The captives were carried to Montreal in March of 1757. The June 6th 1757 publication of the New York Mercury recorded, “Since our last came to Town, one William Morris, a Ranger, who was taken Prisoner by the French, in the Engagement near Ticonderoga, on the 21st of January last.” Even as late as the summer, Rangers were streaming home. The article mentions the means of escape for Morris:
…he found an Opportunity, when the Indians were gone upon a Scout, to make his Escape, with three more, having left Montreal the 7th of May, with about 4 Days Provisions, a Gun, and some Powder and Ball, which he took out of the Indian Hut, as he was left to take Care of their Things, in their Absence; They all arrived safe at Fort William Henry the 18th of May, much fatigued.
The January 21, 1757 Battle on Snowshoes was a disaster for the Rangers. For those captured, their sagas were just beginning.
For individuals like Thomas Brown, this took much longer. In fact, he never gave up the fight. After making a safe transport back to Albany in May of 1758, Brown re-enlisted with the 80th Regiment of Foot, Light Armed Infantry. In this corps, Brown found himself captured again on Lake Champlain. Finally, by November of 1759, Brown was sent back to Crown Point by a flag of Truce. Thomas Brown finally had enough:
After repeated Application to General Amherst I was dismissed, and returned in Peace to my Father’s House the Beginning of January, after having been absent 3 Years and almost 8 Months.
“A plain narrative of the uncommon sufferings, and remarkable deliverance of Thomas Brown, of Charlestown, in New-England;” Boston, Fowle and Draper, 1760; reprinted in The Magazine of History, extra number 4 (1908), page #5.