Will the REAL Robert Rogers please stand up?

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It’s my pleasure to present the following guest post on the real Robert Rogers and Queen’s American Rangers of 1776 written by Todd Braisted, a foremost scholar of American Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. If you’ve seen TURN and haven’t yet cracked open a history book to find out more about Rogers, you might be surprised at some of the facts that follow!  -RS

TURN01 - Rogers2Robert Rogers of 1776

One of the main characters in the premiere episodes of TURN has been Robert Rogers, leader of the Queen’s Rangers. Rogers is a fascinating and colorful figure of America’s military past. Born in Massachusetts in 1731 and raised in New Hampshire, his exploits in leading a corps of rangers for British military service during the French & Indian War (1754-1763) became the stuff of legend. Rogers’ “Rules of Ranging,” a manual of (then) unconventional military tactics for guerrilla warfare on the colonial frontier, are still used today (in an updated form, of course) by the modern United States Army Rangers.

But the Robert Rogers who joined the British on Staten Island in the summer of 1776 was a very different person from the famous ranger of ten or twenty years earlier. In 1767, he had been arrested by British Commander in Chief Thomas Gage and tried for a supposedly treasonous plot with the French. After being acquitted, he eventually went to England, returning to America only in 1775, after the breaking out of hostilities at Lexington and Concord.

As an eminently famous (or perhaps infamous) British officer upon half-pay, Rogers was mistrusted by the Americans. When found at Perth Amboy in New Jersey, he was placed under arrest and sent to George Washington in New York City. Rogers claimed he was simply heading to Congress in Philadelphia with recommendations for him to offer his services. Washington eventually sent Rogers on his way, under escort of an officer bearing a letter from Washington recommending that Rogers was not to be trusted.

Robert Rogers 1
A contemporary artist’s interpretation of Robert Rogers in his prime. Despite this print’s publication date of 1776, this famous image probably bears little resemblance of what Rogers looked like — especially during the Revolutionary War.

Washington’s concern was well founded. Rogers gave his escort the slip and joined the British Army under Lieutenant General William Howe on Staten Island, where he made a tender of his services. Howe immediately accepted Rogers’ offer, authorizing him in early August 1776 to raise a battalion of rangers, believing they “may be very usefully employed in obtaining intelligence and otherwise Facilitating the operations now carrying on in America,” and making the American-born officer a lieutenant colonel. (Why the show calls him a major and he himself has a Scottish accent can only be answered by the producers…)

Rogers immediately set about issuing warrants to would-be officers who were expected to raise the men for the corps in order to receive their commissions. The gentlemen he issued warrants to were an interesting set of characters, which is putting it mildly. Normally, officers were indeed “gentlemen,” drawn from at least the middle class of society. Those of other Provincial (i.e. Loyalist) units were most often farmers, meaning they owned land, typically worked by others. Rogers’ crew was different. The officers of the new Queen’s American Rangers (as the corps was officially known) were not well received by either the British or the Inspector General of Provincial Forces, Alexander Innes, who later wrote of them: “Mr. Rogers had introduced into this Corps a number of persons very improper to hold any Commission, and their Conduct in a Thousand instances was so flagrant, that I could not hesitate to tell the General [Howe,] that until a thorough reformation took place, he could expect no service from that battalion…”

So what sort of men were these that had so riled up the Inspector? Again, in Innes’ words: “…many of these Officers recommended by Lieut. Colo. Rogers had been bred Mechanecks [mechanics] others had kept Publick Houses [inn keepers,] and One or Two had even kept Bawdy Houses in the City of New York.” (Yes, that means what you think it means.) One Captain Daniel Frazer, formerly a private soldier and tailor in the British 46th Regiment, was “an illiterate, low-bred fellow. Another, Captain John Eagles of Westchester County, New York, was “still more illiterate and low bred than Frazer…”

Rogers' Rangers, Private c. 1756, by Don Troiani. A meticulously-researched depiction of a ranger from the French & Indian War era. The Queen's Rangers of 1776 would not have worn similar outfits.
Rogers’ Rangers, Private c. 1758, by Don Troiani. A meticulously-researched depiction of a ranger from the French & Indian War era. This style of uniform was 20 years out of date in 1776.

Despite this, the new corps recruited hundreds of men, many of them Loyalists from New York and Connecticut, but others amongst deserters and prisoners of the Continental Army. Contrary to their portrayal in TURN, however, the new corps looked nothing in appearance to the Ranger corps of the previous war (meaning: no bonnets). Indeed, the Queen’s Rangers of 1776 had no uniforms whatsoever, serving in the clothes they had on their backs when they enlisted. The British had been slow to realize they would need clothing, arms and accoutrements for thousands of American recruits once the war shifted to New York. With the first shipments of uniforms not arriving until the end of March 1777, the Rangers, as all other Loyalists raised in the area at the time, pretty much looked like the troops they were fighting.

Rogers only led his men in one battle, and it was not against Benjamin Tallmadge and his dragoons. On 20 October 1776, Rogers led his corps into Mamaroneck, Westchester County, New York, where they immediately became the target of 750 Continental and militia troops led by Colonel John Haslet of Delaware. The next night, the Continentals overwhelmed Captain Eagles’ Company of the Rangers, but the rest of the corps under Rogers managed to repulse the attack. Unknown to anyone at the time, Rogers had pretty much fought his one and only battle of the American Revolution.

Dismayed by Rogers and his officers, Inspector General Innes, with the consent of Sir William Howe, removed the old ranger officer from his corps in January 1777 and put it under the command of Major Christopher French of the British 22nd Regiment.  Of the 33 officers under Rogers’ command, Innes and Howe on 30 March 1777 summarily removed all but 6 of them without benefit of trial. They would be replaced by proper gentlemen. Meanwhile, Robert Rogers would crawl into a bottle, at times taking leave of reality, and sinking into a financial abyss. In 1779, he would convince a new British commander in chief, Sir Henry Clinton, to allow him to raise a new corps, the King’s American Rangers, but that is a story for another time.
TURN01 - Rogers4Interestingly, Rogers’ one historical anecdote of 1776 that involved spies has been conspicuously absent from TURN – his alleged involvement in the capture of that most famous of Rebel spies, Nathan Hale. Since the show does not appear to be keeping to any particular historical timeline, perhaps that will be discussed in a future episode.

And no, Robert Rogers did not have a beard.

 

———————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Todd W. Braisted is an author and researcher of Loyalist military studies. His primary focus is on Loyalist military personnel, infrastructure and campaigns throughout North America. Since 1979, Braisted has amassed and transcribed over 40,000 pages of Loyalist and related material from archives and private collections around the world. He has authored numerous journal articles and books, as well as appearing as a guest historian on episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? (CBC) and History Detectives (PBS). He is the creator of the Online Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies (royalprovincial.com), the largest website dedicated to the subject.  Braisted is a Fellow in the Company of Military Historians, Honorary Vice President of the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada, and a past-president of the Bergen County Historical Society.

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38 thoughts on “Will the REAL Robert Rogers please stand up?

    Douglas Conroy said:
    April 16, 2014 at 9:29 am

    At last, an accurate picture of Rogers; now we only need an accurate picture of Simcoe, who in fact had a successful career, most notably as the leader of the Queen’s Rangers beginning in 1777, and some years later as the first Lieut. Gov. of Uoper Canada– and hardly the villain painted in the first two episodes, which have shown little regard for historical accuracy, chronological or otherwise.

      njvolunteer said:
      April 16, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      John Graves Simcoe was indeed a fascinating person and we will discuss him here very soon.

      Stephen McDonald said:
      January 6, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Are you really getting an accurate picture of Rogers? There has been so much bias and hyperbole from American historians and “history writers” that I doubt anything they write about concerning any officer who fought for the British side. There has been too many years of the good-old US BS.

      Norm Woodward said:
      November 4, 2017 at 8:50 pm

      Spencer Tracy was the real Robert Rogers. Also Robert Young and Walter Brennan was part of his unit.
      .

    jegrenier said:
    April 16, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Nicely done, thank you. I can’t stomach watching this disaster of a show. It’s really sad that people are going to “get their history” about these very complex and important men (Rogers, Simcoe, Loyalists, Revolutionaries, Hale (?), etc) from this slop of a TV show. As always, reality was much more interesting than fiction. AMC should have stayed with zombies and drunken-philandering ad execs.

      Stephen McDonald said:
      January 6, 2017 at 10:09 am

      Visual pablum for a gullible and uneducated public. I’d suggest we concentrate on rebuilding the education system in the USA. Last place among the G7 nations…

    Sherry Corrado said:
    April 16, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Its Hollywood nothing is factual. In taking over the QR that my late husband had for years that program turned my stomach. Looking at all his research and such that program was horrible. Just another “Fill the seats” program like the Patriot. Sad, when our country can use it the most, tell the story right and factual.

    Sherri said:
    April 16, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you for another informative installment. I must say, I enjoy this blog much more than the show. This should be the “dual screen experience”. 🙂

    S.M.Grenier said:
    April 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Sophia M. Grenier and commented:
    This hits the nail on the head.

    […] was by now the lieutenant colonel commandant of the Queen’s American Rangers, the same corps raised by Robert Rogers in 1776. Without being detected, Simcoe had his men used hand grenades (something much rarer in the […]

    […] of TURN have increasingly mentioned topics that are appropriate for mid to late 1776, including: the creation of the Queen’s American Rangers under Robert Rogers, the fall of Forts Washington and Lee, and the capture of General Charles Lee — and in the […]

    […] and controversial motivations in the future. For now, we’ll just say he was not interrogated by Robert Rogers. (Nor did John André, who at this point in time was finishing up a long stint as an American […]

    […] more commonly, clandestinely behind the lines. One such individual, as we have seen on TURN, was Robert Rogers, whose Queen’s Rangers became one of the first Provincial regiments raised in the New York City […]

    Andrew said:
    July 8, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    The show is based off fictional books that use and bend the facts based off of factual people. Lets not all be history snobs and enjoy and actually good show.

      njvolunteer said:
      July 17, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      Hello Andrew. Thank you for your note. There are fan sites for the show where people can go and discuss the plots, characters, etc., with no critical analysis of the actual facts. AMC promotes the show’s “authenticity” when clearly that is not a real concern. We simply provide some facts behind the actual episodes. We believe some people actually wish to learn about these events. If others choose to just enjoy the entertainment value, that’s fine. We are probably not the site for them. And that’s fine.

      Norm Woodward said:
      November 4, 2017 at 8:42 pm

      I agree, its entertaining and nobody really can see the past, if someone were alive today that was in that period I would not believe everything they would tell me. Love any kind of history even if its not totally correct.
      .

    Conservative Jones said:
    July 12, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Forgive my lack of knowledge, but why does the US Army Rangers (present day) honor Robert Rogers when his allegiance was with the British? Thanks

      RLTW said:
      April 7, 2017 at 9:53 am

      The modern Army Rangers don’t specifically honor or pay homage to Robert Rogers. But they do continue to teach and operate by the principles that were implemented by him, with a few updates. If it works, don’t fix it.
      RLTW

      Mary J Eldridge (My Mother was a Woodhull distantly related to Abraham) said:
      April 7, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      His Ranger Manual was written for the French & Indian War,when he was the true hero!

    njvolunteer said:
    July 17, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    I will not presume to speak for the United States Military, but if I were to guess… While the history of the United States starts on July 4th, 1776, America’s history begins over 150 years before that. Colonials participated in all the conflicts prior to the Revolution. In the French & Indian War, when Rogers wrote his Rangers manual, 50,000 Americans fought for the British against the French & Indians. IMHO, I believe the US Army Rangers are simply honoring American Rangers from the last war where America was united, in a figurative sense, before the Revolution. If Rogers had never served in that war and was simply a Loyalist officer from the Revolution, I imagine they would take no notice of him.

    Steven Alexander said:
    May 10, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    I stumbled across this website after catching up on Turn. I like it a lot. But above you say Rodgers was a LTC, and in that Turn has it wrong. The historical picture right beside that states he’s a MAJ. So I’m confused.

      njvolunteer said:
      May 11, 2016 at 9:22 am

      Hello Steven. Robert Rogers was a major in the French & Indian War. When he joined General Howe in August 1776, he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel. The illustration you reference, although period, does not reflect Rogers’ appearance or rank during the Revolution.

    Mary Eldridge said:
    May 11, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    Does Rargers stay on American side until end of Rev war?

      njvolunteer said:
      May 12, 2016 at 9:41 am

      Hi Mary. I imagine you meant to ask if Rogers remained on the British side until the end. The answer to that would be yes, Rogers remained a Loyalist until the end. In 1779 Rogers left New York City for Quebec and the following year from thence to Nova Scotia, in the hopes of raising his new regiment for the British. Nothing Rogers did bears any resemblance to what is being portrayed now on the show.

    John Brooks said:
    May 18, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Thanks for an insightful look at Rogers. I am enjoying the tv show and looking up the real history. If not for this show, and my son insisting I listen to a hip-hop musical about Hamilton, I would not look for the history of the Revolution. I’m an amateur Civil War guy…. very amateur.
    John

    nootropics said:
    May 20, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Great info Appreciate it!

      Jim said:
      June 3, 2016 at 6:09 am

      What is great about TURN is the fact that It is making me research history. Yes, the characters are misrepresented, but I am learning so much by looking into the contradictions. Great entertainment for me! Never liked history until TURN came along!

    ARt Matson said:
    June 8, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Jim,if you would like history to come alive, find some of Kenneth Roberts novels. Northwest Passage, French andindian war,Arundel,Rabble in arms & others about the revolutionary war.HEwrote them in the 1930s Art

    Avi G said:
    July 14, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    Why the Scottish accent ? This is TV . The Scottish thing makes him more interesting. They were going for a “Scotty” a la James Doohan kind of thing with a Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot) “I pigged out at the buffet” kind of look. And what’s with those Queen’s Rangers hats that Simcoe’s group was wearing? The crescent on those big green hats? Did that mean that they used the hats as a portable outhouse? No wonder they kind of smelled bad. And why does Caleb Brewster look like a comical figure? sort of like a young version of Festus from Gunsmoke. Just saying, And honestly, the real Anna Stone had 9 kids; I’m sure no one would have been paying much attention to her back in the late 1770’s pushing 40 without Revlon, Jenny Craig and tummy tucks by Dr. Greenblatt of Beverly Hills and Syosset. (no way she could even remotely have resembled Heather Lind.)

    Glenn Crawford said:
    August 5, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    Robert Rogers was an incredibly brave man during the French and Indian Wars when his Rangers successfully fought an enemy that could decimate a force of regulars (eg Braddock massacre). Rogers’ efforts (not least preventing the route of regulars marching to the relief of Fort Pitt during the Pontiac uprising) were rewarded by his appointment to govern the frontier fort of Mickelmackinac. General Gage had Rogers put in irons for treason (trading with Indians outside confines of fort – common practice in hitherto French territory), but Rogers was acquitted.

    Rogers was dogged by debt following the ambush of a party transporting the money to pay his Rangers at Fort William Henry. The ambush was witnessed from ramparts, but the C.O. would not let Rogers pursue the attackers. It was practice at the time for Officers to be responsible for paying their men and a number of Rangers successfully sued Rogers for what was owed to them.

    The 1939 film “Northwest Passage” with Spencer Tracy focuses on Rogers raid on the infamous St Francis Indian settlement. As a History student at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth I received permission from Professor Peter Thomas to make Robert Rogers the subject of my dissertation. In addition to the studies by J.R. Cuneo and B.G. Loescher I was able to read Rogers Journals.

    Rogers was treated shamefully by the British – he lacked the means to sue Gage and I understand Washington remarked Rogers was the only man he was afraid off.

    It is 30 years ago since I did my research on Rogers and my conclusion then and indeed now is that he deserved better. Numerous statues exist in London of war heroes – there should be one for Rogers.

    Mary Lou McGuire said:
    September 19, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Is there any way to find out the names of the men that were part of the Rangers?

      njvolunteer said:
      January 6, 2017 at 11:28 am

      Hello Mary Lou. Thank you for your note. I have indexed the names of over 1,000 men who served in the Rangers. Many of the earliest recruits are not known however due to a lack of records. Is there someone in particular you were looking for, perhaps I can help?

    Stephen McDonald said:
    January 6, 2017 at 10:02 am

    Perhaps there is a misconception concerning the quality of officers recruited by Rogers. Yes, some may have been suspect, however some were quality officers.

    For example, Captain John Lyon was given a commission by Rogers in 1776. He was a farmer from Redding Connecticut who recruited 22 men from that area. He was a devout Loyalist, who was one of the founders of the Redding Loyalist Association and one of the signers of the Redding Resolves which was a public loyalist statement pledging Loyalty to the King and opposition to the Rebels. Captain Lyon took this document to New York where it was published by Rivington. Captain Lyon and his family later evacuated to Canada in 1783.

    So, the point I am making is that Rogers recruited many quality officers. Rather then “sensationalist writing” I’d prefer to see objective writing.

      njvolunteer said:
      January 6, 2017 at 11:19 am

      Thank you for your note Stephen. Lyon however was not a commissioned officer in the Queen’s Rangers. Rogers issued warrants to recruit to many people, but only the commander in chief of the Army in America, Sir William Howe, could commission officers. Those dismissed nu Howe were the commissioned officers, and all warrants were ordered to be called in (discontinued.)

        Stephen McDonald said:
        January 6, 2017 at 12:21 pm

        I think you may be incorrect. After the war Lyon submitted a claim for compensation to the Crown (termed Loyalist Claims) in which he stated that he was commissioned as a Captain. This was verified by the following witnesses who certified his claim: Major Upham, King’s American Dragoons; Captain Ephraim Sanford, Queen’s Rangers; Captain Vanderbourgh; Major Charles McNeal; Captain Jean Bunnil; Dr. Nehemiah Clark; among others.

          njvolunteer said:
          January 6, 2017 at 2:22 pm

          Audit Office claims were used to get money. Why would anyone exaggerate facts doing that? I have the list, submitted by Rogers in March 1777, of all the commissioned officers in the Rangers being dismissed in March 1777, and a second list of all those who he had issued warrants to. Both are in Treasury Solicitor at The National Archives in England. If you have an actual commission for Lyon, please, by all means post it. Then again, I am a product of the American education system, so perhaps I just don’t understand what I’m reading…

    Frank Fedarko said:
    August 13, 2017 at 1:21 am

    As for Rogers’ involvement in capturing Nathan Hale, it was mentioned in passing during a conversation between Ben Talmadge and John Andre on a carriage ride to the latter’ execution in the last episode of TURN season 3. Washington’s rejection of Roger’s tender of military service was also shown in an episode during season 1 or 2.

    I have been wondering whether it’s as viewer feedback or write’s intent that morphed the character of John Simcoe season 4. The villain he had been was suggested to have been converted to more the man of historical record by the mercy of Ave Woodhull and Edmund Hewlett, both of whom did not kill Simcoe when they had the chance. Whether fan-pressured correction of history or plot device, I thought the producers neatly corrected their earlier misrepresentation. Better late than not at all!

    K Vanfossan said:
    October 1, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    By the end of Season 4, I was waiting,(and hoping) to see either Abe Woodhull or more likely, Caleb Brewster, kill Simcoe in as brutal a fashion as befitted such a character! I was disappointed that history (?) denied us that. However, since discovering this site, I’ve learned so much about the real people depicted in “TURN”.

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