“This Sudden Expedition”: The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga – 246 Years Later

On this date in 1775, an early victory was secured for the American cause along the western shore of Lake Champlain in New York. Led by Colonel Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen, over eighty men surprised and overwhelmed Fort Ticonderoga’s garrison, capturing the strategic stronghold and much needed supplies and cannon for the Americans. On May 22, the Pennsylvania Packet reported on the news received from the north:

On Wednesday evening last arrived here, John Brown, Esq; from Ticonderoga, express to the General Congress, from whom we learn, that on the beginning of this instant, a company of about fifty men, from Connecticut, and the western part of Massachusetts, and joined by upwards of one hundred from Bennington, in New-York government, and the adjacent towns, proceeded to the eastern side of Lake Champlain, and on the night before the 11th current, crossed the Lake, with 85 men, (not being able to obtain craft to transport the rest,) and about daybreak invested the fort, whose gate, contrary to expectation, they found shut, but the wicker open, through which, with the Indian war whoop, all that could, entered one by one, others scaling the wall on both sides of the gate, and instantly secured and disarmed the sentries, and pressed into the parade, where they formed the hollow square;  but immediately quitting that order, they rushed into the several barracks on three sides of the fort, and seized on the garrison [commanded by Captain William Delaplace], consisting of two officers, and upwards of forty privates, whom they brought out, disarmed, put under guard, and have since sent prisoners to Hartford, in Connecticut. All this was performed in about ten minutes, without the loss of a life, or a drop of blood on our side, and but very little on that of the King’s troops.

In the fort were found about thirty barrels of flour, a few barrels of pork, seventy odd chests of leaden ball, computed at three hundred tons, about ten barrels of powder in bad condition, near two hundred pieces of ordnances of all sizes, from eighteen pounders downwards, at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, which last place, being held only by a corporal and eight men, falls of course into our hands.

By this sudden expedition, planned by some principal persons in the four neighboring colonies, that important pass is now in the hands of the Americans, where we trust the wisdom of the Grand Continental Congress, will take effectual measures to secure it….

The story of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga is as confusing as it is epic. Arnold, a Connecticut man, held a colonel’s commission to take the fort from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, but he rode ahead to be part of the action without the men he was ordered to raise for the expedition; and Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys of the Hampshire Grants were anti-New York and in search of their own glory after being asked to join a separately organized assault on the fort by Colonel Edward Mott sanctioned by Connecticut.

Ethan Allen demands the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga in this dramatized illustration. NYPL

The irony of all of this is that each plan formulated by those involved was done entirely without the advice or consent of New York, the very colony whose boundaries the fort was within. This occurred all during the commencement of the Second Continental Congress when New York was still weary of escalating hostilities with the King. Regardless of the awkward and unconcerted circumstances, it is undeniable that the fort’s capture helped secure victory for the Americans during the siege of Boston when fifty-eight pieces of ordnance were transported to assist General Washington in driving the British out of the city. Whether or not Allen heroically demanded Capt. Delaplace to surrender, “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!” as is remembered (he almost definitely did not), is an entirely different question.

A Connecticut Response to the Coercive Acts

On December 16, 1773, Bostonians dumped 340 chests holding 92,000 pounds or 46 tons of East India Company tea into the harbor. Due to the distance news had to travel across the Atlantic Ocean and then for the gears of government to crank a response, it was not until March of 1774 that Lord Frederick North, his administration, and Parliament passed the Coercive Acts.

The Coercive or Intolerable Acts as they were referred to in the American colonies were actually four acts in total, including the Boston Port Act, which closed the port to all commerce, the Massachusetts Government Act, restricting town meetings and changed the governor’s council to an appointed body, the Administration of Justice Act, which gave immunity to British officials from prosecution in Massachusetts, and lastly the Quartering Act, ordering colonists to house British troops when demanded.

Side note: A fifth act, the Quebec Act extended freedom of worship to Canadian Catholics and this decree was looped into the Intolerable Acts by the colonists.

Understandably the response in Massachusetts was one of defiance, protest, and angst and the acts are credited with promoting momentum toward independence. What was not truly appreciated by the British government was the outcry from other colonies.

On this date in 1774, the town of Farmington, Connecticut showed what the passage of the Coercive Acts meant. On May 19, a handbill, a small printed advertisement or notice, was distributed around the town inviting the inhabitants to a gathering to honor “the immortal Goddess of Liberty.”

Northwest View of Farmington from Round Hill – John Warner Barber, 1836
Continue reading “A Connecticut Response to the Coercive Acts”

The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre

Part One

Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold

After turning coat, Benedict Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the British army as part of the deal that he made in order to betray his country.

In August 1781, George Washington decided to shift forces in order to attack the army of Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis in Virginia. Washington began pulling troops from the New York area. Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief in America, realized on September 2 that Washington’s tactics had deceived him, leaving him unable to mobilize quickly enough to help Cornwallis. Further, there was still a significant force of Continentals facing him in front of New York, and Clinton did not feel that he could detach troops to reinforce Cornwallis as a result.

Sir Henry ClintonInstead, Clinton decided to launch a raid into Connecticut in the hope of forcing Washington to respond. Clinton intended that this be a raid, but he also recognized that New London could be used as a permanent base of operations into the interior of New England. Clinton appointed Arnold to command the raid because he was from Connecticut and knew the terrain.

Arnold commanded about 1,700 British solders, divided into two battalions. Lt. Col. Edmund Eyre commanded a battalion consisting of the 40th and 54th Regiments of Foot and Cortland Skinner’s New Jersey Volunteers, a Loyalist unit. Arnold himself commanded the other battalion, made up of the 38th Regiment of Foot and various Loyalist units, including the Loyal American Regiment and Arnold’s American Legion. Arnold also had about 100 Hessian Jägers, and three six-pound guns. This was a formidable force anchored by the three Regular regiments. Continue reading “The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre”