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Never Say Never

To historians, perhaps as much as scientists, proving yourself wrong is often more exciting than being correct.  Often visitors ask about how the cavalry was used in battle around Fort Ticonderoga, to which our answer would be that we haven’t found any evidence of cavalry at Fort Ticonderoga. Typically, we elaborate on this answer to mention many instances of mounted officers as well as large numbers of artillery horses in use during the American Revolution and even the French and Indian War. However, it appears that this explanation is not quite true.

Row boat on Lake Champlain
With woods, wetlands, and few good roads military operations along Lake Champlain were not conducive to cavalry operations.

During Fort Ticonderoga’s military history, the Lake Champlain valley that surrounded the Fort was not conducive to effective cavalry operations. The scattered farms that dotted both the Vermont andNew York sides of theLake did not offer enough open ground to justify the presence of mounted soldiers. Instead the deep forests and many marshlands made horse-powered transport very difficult outside of the few roads between lakeside landings. Beyond this, pasture space to maintain horses around Fort Ticonderogawas limited and of poor quality during summer droughts. Large scale and rapid maneuvers were more easily executed by boat during the great campaigns around this key to the continent. Despite these factors it appears there was one very small cavalry operation atTiconderogain the fall of 1775.

For the purpose of reviewing the debts of the Continental Army, the Continental Congress appointed a smaller committee. This Committee of Claims initiated this small cavalry operation during their meeting in Philadelphiaon October 10th, 1775. General Phillip Schuyler kept a constant stream of correspondence with the Continental Congress as he managed the supply, personnel, and military operations of the Northern Department. From his quarters at Fort Ticonderoga, General Schuyler kept the Committee of Claims abreast of open accounts with merchants, teamsters, contractors, officers, and soldiers. This October 10th meeting found that there were ‘reasonable’ claims for payment within the Northern Department of the Continental Army. These included, “The Account of Du Simitiere, amounting to eight Dollars, for translating the Address of the United Colonies to the Inhabitants of Quebeck.” Among others, payment was authorized for “Christopher Ludwig’ s Account, for sundry expenses in forwarding Powder to Ticonderoga, amounting to 41.2 Dollars.” In order to get this money to Ticonderoga, the committee discussed “On motion, Resolved, That the Money be sent to General Schuyler, under an escort of four of the Light-Horse.” After an hour break the president of this committee summarized their decision: “The President reported that he had dispatched an express to General Schuyler with £6,364, Pennsylvania Currency, in Silver and Gold, ($16,970 2-3,) with an escort of four of the Light-Horse of this City. “

We know that four members of the Philadelphia Light Horse rode all the way to Fort Ticonderoga to deliver this money to General Schuyler. The minutes of the Continental Congress from November 25th, 1775 includes a resolve to pay “Levi Hollingsworth, for expenses of himself and three others, to Ticonderoga and back again, who took with them a sum of money for General Schuyler, the sum of 128 Dollars.” Levi Hollingsworth was a prominent Philadelphia merchant who specialized in flour, as did much of his family.  Like many other wealthy merchants in Philadelphia, Levi Hollingsworth was a member of the Philadelphia Light Horse, a gentleman’s volunteer cavalry troop.  In 1775, and perhaps throughout the war, the Philadelphia Light Horse was the best uniformed and equipped cavalry available to the Continental Congress and Continental Army. Much like any other independent gentlemen’s company, the members of the Philadelphia Light Horse voted on their uniform.

A dark brown short Coat, faced and lined with white, white Vest and Breeches; high topped Boots; round black Hat, bound with silver cord and a buck’s tail; and ARMS a Carbine, a pair of Pistols and Holsters, with flounces of brown cloth trimmed with white; a horseman’s Sword; white belts for the sword and carbine.

Light horse
One of the few known images of the Philadelphia Light Horse. It largely agrees with uniform described in the minutes of the troop.

Every member had to equip themselves accordingly, creating a very fine unit of cavalry. They even purchased a fine yellow silk standard which survives to this day. These gentleman volunteers are best known for being General Washington’s escort during the 1776 and 1777 campaigns. Charles Wilson Peale portrayed two members of the Philadelphia Light Horse in the background of his portrait ofWashington at Princeton, giving us another pictorial source on this unit.

For his part, Levi Hollingsworth is much better known as an important merchant during the early years of the US Army.  During the Revolution, he supplied some foodstuffs to the Continental Army, beginning a very long relationship with military supply. During the early years of the US Army in the 1780s and 90s he expanded his dealings from simply foodstuffs into munitions and arms. During the war of 1812, he served as a very outspoken critic of the war as well as an important merchant to the US Army. Levi Hollingsworth’s correspondence after the American Revolution is very well known, as it was catalogued in the War Department Papers, as well as his own collection of papers later in life. As we delve more into the life of Levi Hollingsworth, we hope to know more about his trip to Ticonderoga than simply that he got there and back to Philadelphia, dressed pretty nicely. Further research may well give the names of the other three horseman and some answers to practical questions of riding up to this Old French Fort. In the best of all possible worlds, we may find a personal account of the trip so that when we portray 1775 again, we may be able to tell this neat story about the one real cavalry operation at Fort Ticonderoga.