The Truth Behind the Battle on Snowshoes
By George C. Singer
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
The Battle on Snowshoes would appear to need no retelling. Captain (later Major) Robert Rogers with 176 Rangers and 8 volunteers from a British Regiment, left Fort Edward on 10 March, 1758 on what proved to be a momentous “scout.” Traveling on snowshoes and creepers down frozen Lake George, their instructions were to reconnoiter Carillon (Fort Ticonderoga) the southern most French outpost in the northeast.
The French lookout on Mount Pelee, or Bald Mountain, had spotted the advancing column and alerted Montcalm’s troops at Fort Carillon, fatally compromising Rogers’ plan.
On the morning of the 13th his little force came ashore somewhere near the present Rogers Rock Campsite. Moving along Trout Brook where it flows through what is now the Ticonderoga Country Club, the Rangers ambushed the French advance guard, only to be ambushed in turn by the main French party. The battle turned into a rout. As dusk came on, it was every man for himself. About 45 survivors made it back to Fort Edward. The two British officers surrendered after wandering in the frozen woods for five days and were later exchanged
Francis Parkman’s account of the incident in Montcalm and Wolfe stands unchallenged. Important details were added by Gary Zaboly in American History magazine in 1979 and by Bob Bearor in his 1997 book.
The several versions of Rogers’ miraculous escape came out of the storyteller’s imagination. There is no mention of it in Rogers’ own Journal which includes a detailed summary of the action.
The earliest account appears to be that of one of General Burgoyne’s officers. Lieut. James Hadden of the Royal regiment of artillery had been detached with 30 men and an artillery train to sail up Lake George and capture Fort George at the head of the Lake. His diary entry for 27 July, 1777 states: “We passed Roger’s Rock famous for his descending a part of it with his Detachment (during the last war) where it appears almost perpendicular. This was his only alternative to falling into the hands of a superior Corps of Savages in the French Interest. It happened during the winter which no doubt facilitated his descent by flakes of snow &c collected on the Rock as in its present state one wou’d doubt the fact if not so well authenticated.”
Mary Cochrane Rogers, Rogers’ great-great-granddaughter, wrote in 1917 that he glided down the sheer face on snow shoes over 1000’ to the Lake. Several 19th century accounts recognizing the impossibility of schussing the slide, invented the explanation that Rogers snow shoed to the top, reversed his snowshoes, carefully retraced his steps and scrambled down a nearby ravine.
Nevertheless, it was “Rogers’ Rock” in 1776 and it was the same on Sauthier’s famous chorological map published in London in 1779.
But the name was current earlier. Only eight years after the battle, in a land grant petition dated 16 September, 1766, William Friend, retired Sergeant of the Royal Regiment of Foot, petitioned King George “to locate 200 acres on the west side of Lake George on a point of land south of a place called Rogers’s Rock.” Friend’s petition was finally granted in 1771, and he gave his name to Friend’s Point.
Then there was James Scott, retired Private in His Majesty’s 44th Regiment of Foot, Sept 1, 1766 from Ticonderoga, “fifty acres to be situated on a certain point of land on the west side of Lake George about two miles to the southward of a certain rock called Rodger’s Leep.”
The grant closest to home was George Robertson’s, retired Private of the 22nd regiment of foot. Writing from Crown Point on September 21, 1766, he petitioned for “fifty acres of land to be situated on a certain piece of land lying on the NORTH SIDE (author’s emphasis) of Rogers’s Rock.” The historic Rogers Rock Club Casino is probably sitting on the land that Private Robinson got as a reward for military service in the French & Indian War.
Eight years after an inconsequential engagement, no part of which took place on Rogers’ Rock, the name is already being used in official land grant documents. Such is the power of legend.