The Pictorial Field-Book
of The Revolution
by Benson J. Lossing
Chapter Seven Part Two
We left the metropolis of the lake for Plattsburgh about noon. On our left, as we emerged from the harbor, were the Four Brothers, small islands swarming with water.fowl, and the bald point of Rock Dumler, a solitary spike rising, shrubless and bare, about twenty feet above the water. Before us spread out the two Heros (North and South), green islands, which belonged to the Allen family during the Revolution. The first landing-place below Burlington is Port Kent, on the west side of the lake, ten miles distant. A little below is Port Jackson, nearly west of the south end of Valcour's Island. This is an interesting portion of the lake to the American tourist, for it is the place where our first naval battle with Great Britain was fought. This event took place October the 11th, 1776. The American flotilla was commanded by Benedict Arnold, and thc English vessels by Captain Pringle, accompanied by Governor Carleton. In order to a lucid understanding of the position of affairs at that time, we must consider for a moment the connecting chain of events from the autumn of 1775, when General Schuyler was at Ticonderoga and Crown Point preparing to invade Canada, to the meeting of the belligerents in question.
The forces under Generals Schuyler and Montgomery proceeded to execute the will of (September 10, 1775.) Congress, and in September appeared before St. John's, at the Sorel. Finding the fort, as, they supposed, too strong for assault, they returned to and fortified Isle Aux Noix. Schuyler went back to Ticonderoga and hastened forward re-enforcements, but was unable to return on account of sickness. Montgomery succeeded him in command. He captured Fort St. John's and Fort Chambly, and entered Montreal in triumph. He then pushed on to Quebec, when he was joined by a force under Arnold, and early in December laid siege to that city. After besieging it unsuccessfully for three weeks, the Americans (December 31, 1775.) commenced an assault. Montgomery was killed, the Americans were repulsed, and many of them made prisoners. Arnold was wounded. He became the chief in command, and kept the remnant of the republican army together in the vicinity of Quebec, until the arrival of General Wooster early in the spring and General Thomas (1776.) in May. General Carleton soon afterward received re-enforcements from England, and by the middle of June the Americans, after retreating from post to post, were driven out of Canada.
Not doubting that Carleton would follow up his successes by providing water craft upon the lake, to attempt the capture of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, a council of officers, under General Gates, who in June was appointed to the command of the Northern army, resolved to abandon the latter post and concentrate all their forces at the former. Accordingly,
1 This sketch was made from the pilot's room of the steam-boat just after leaving Port Jackson. On the left is a point of the main land, and on the right is seen a portion of Valcour's Island. The high ground in the Vermont shore.
General Sullivan, who was at Crown Point, withdrew with his forces .to Ticonderoga, and active measures for offensive and defensive operations were there adopted. Materials for constructing vessels, as well as skillful artisans, were scarce. The latter had to be obtained from the sea-ports; yet such was the zeal of the Americans, that by the middle of August a small squadron, consisting of one sloop, three schooners, and five gondolas, was in readiness and rendezvoused at Crown Point under Arnold, who received the command of it from General Gates. The sloop carried twelve guns, one schooner the same number, the others eight, and the gondolas three each. Toward the close of the month Arnold sailed downdown the lake, under positive instructions from Gates not to pass beyond Isle Aux Tetes, near what is now called Rouse's Point, and to act only on the defensive. He halted at Wind.mill Point, four miles above Isle Aux Tetes, to reconnoiter, and anchored his vessels across the lake, to prevent any boats of the enemy from passing up.
As soon as Carleton was advised of the movements of the Americans at Ticonderoga, he sent seven hundred men from Quebec to St. John's, to construct a fleet, and in the course of a few weeks several strong vessels were finished and armed for duty. A radeau called the Thunderer (a kind of flat-bottomed vessel carrying heavy guns), and twenty-four gunboats, armed each with a field piece or carriage gun, were added to the fleet. Forty boats with provisions accompanied the expedition.
Convinced that his position was dangerous, for the British and Indians were collecting on the shores, Arnold fell back about ten miles to Isle La Motte, where he need not fear an attack from the main land. Here his fleet was considerably increased, and consisted of three schooners, two sloops, three galleys, eight gondolas, and twenty-one gun-boats. Ignorant of the real strength of the armament which he knew Carleton was preparing at St. John's, and unwilling to engage a superior force on the broad lake, Arnold withdrew his fleet still further back, and anchored it across the narrow channel between Valcour's Island and the western shore.
Early on the morning of the (1776.) 11th of October the British fleet appeared off Cumberland Head, moving up the lake, and in a short time it swept around the southern point of Valcour's Island. The enemy's force was formidable, for the vessels were manned by seven hundred chosen seamen. Captain Pringle was commodore, and made the Inflexible his flagship. Among the young officers in the fleet was Edward Pellew, afterward Admiral Viscount Exmouth, one of the most distinguished of England's naval commanders. The action began about twelve o'clock, by the attack of the Carleton upon the American schooner Royal Savage and three galleys. The latter, in attempting to return to the line, grounded,
EXPLANATION OF THE MAP.-A, American fleet under Arnold; B, 21 gun-boats; C, schooner Carleton, 12 six pounders; D, ship Inflexible, 18 twelve pounders; E, anchorage of the British fleet during the night, to cut off the Americans' retreat; F, radeau Thunderer, 6 twenty.four pounders and 12 six pounders; G, gondola Loyal Convert, 7 nine pounders; H, schooner Maria, 14 six pounders, with General Carleton on hoard; I, the place where the American schooner Royal Savage, of 8 six pounders and 4 four pounders, was burned. This plan is copied from Brassier's Survey of Lake Champlain, edition of 1779.
and was burned, but her men were saved. Arnold was on board the Congress galley, and conducted matters with a great deal of bravery and skill. About one o'clock the engagement became general, c.nd the American vessels, particularly the Congress, suffered severely. It was hulled twelve times, received seven shots between wind and water, the main-mast was shattered in two places, the rigging cut to pieces, and many of the crew were killed or wounded. Arnold pointed almost every gun on his vessel with his own hands,(1) and with voice and gesture cheered on his men. In the mean while the enemy landed a large body of Indians upon the island, who kept up an incessant fire of musketry, but with little effect. The battle continued between four and five hours, and the Americans lost, in killed and wounded, about sixty men.
Night closed upon the scene, and neither party were victors. The two fleets anchored within a few hundred yards of each other. Arnold held a council with his officers, and it was determined to retire during the night to Crown Point, for the superiority of the vessels, and the number and discipline of the men composing the British force, rendered another engagement extremely hazardous. Anticipating such a movement on the part of the Americans, the British commander anchored his vessels in a line extending across from the island to the main land. A chilly north wind had been blowing all the afternoon, and about sunset dark clouds overcast the sky. It was at the time of new moon, and, therefore, the night was very dark, and favored the design of Arnold. About ten o'clock he weighed anchor, and with the stiff north wind sailed with his whole flotilla, unobserved, through the enemy's lines. Arnold, with his crippled galley, brought up the rear. It was a bold movement. At daybreak the English watch on deck looked with straining eyes for their expected prey, but the Americans were then at Schuyler's Island, ten miles south, busily engaged in stopping leaks and repairing sails. The British weighed anchor and gave chase. Toward evening the wind changed to the south, and greatly retarded the progress of both fleets during the night. Early on the morning of the 13th the enemy's vessels were observed under full sail, and (October 1776.) rapidly gaining upon the Americans. The Congress galley (Arnold's" flag-ship") and the Washington, with four gondolas, were behind, and in a short time the British vessels Cadeton, Inflexible, and Maria were alongside, pouring a destructive fire upon them, The Washington soon struck, and General Waterbury the commander, and his men, were made prisoners.(2) The whole force of the
1 Sparks's Life of Arnold.
2 Among the prisoners was Joseph Bettys, afterward the notorious outlaw and bitter Tory, better known as "Joe Bettys." He was a native of Saratoga county, and joined the Whigs on the breaking out of the Revolution. While a captive in Canada, after the battle on Lake Champlain, he was induced to join the royal standard, and was made an ensign. He became notorious as a spy, and, having been caught by the Americans, he was at one time conducted to the gallows. At the instance of his aged parents, Washington granted him a reprieve on condition of his thoroughly reforming. But he immediately joined the enemy again, and for a long time his cold-blooded murders, his plunder and incendiarism made him the terror of
attack now fell upon the Congress, but Arnold maintained his ground with. unflinching resolution for four hours. The galley was at length reduced almost to a wreck, and surrounded by seven sail of the enemy. Longer resistance was vain, and the intrepid Arnold ran the galley and four gondolas into a small creek on the east side of the lake, about ten miles below Crown Point, and not far from Panton. He ordered the marines to set fire to them as soon as they were grounded, leap into the water and wade ashore with their muskets, and form in such a manner upon the beach as to guard the burning vessels from the approach of the enemy. Arnold remained in his galley till driven off by the fire, and was the last man that reached the shore. He kept the flags flying, and remained upon the spot until his little flotilla was consumed, and then, with the small remnant of his brave soldiers, marched off through the woods toward Chimney Point, and reached Crown Point in safety. The rapidity of his march saved him from an Indian ambush that waylaid his path an hour after he passed by. Two schooners, two galleys, one sloop, and one gondola, the remnant of his fleet, were at Crown Point, and General Waterbury and most of his men arrived there on parole the next day, when all embarked and sailed to Ticonderoga. General Carleton took possession of Crown Point, and for a few days threatened Ticonderoga, (October 14, 1776.) but the season was so far advanced that he prudently withdrew, and sailed down the lake to go into winter-quarters in Canada. (1) The whole American loss in the two actions was between eighty and ninety, and that of the enemy about forty.
Although the republicans were defeated, and the expedition was disastrous in every particular, yet such were the skill, bravery, and obstinate resistance of Arnold and his men against a vastly superior force, the event was hailed as ominous of great achievements on the part of the patriots when such fearful odds should not exist. Arnold's popularity, so justly gained at Quebec, was greatly increased, and the country rang with his praises. Sparks justly observes, respecting Arnold's conduct in the engagement on the 13th, that "there are few instances on record of more deliberate courage and gallantry than were displayed by him from the beginning to the end of this action."
We arrived at Plattsburgh at about two o'clock in the afternoon. The day was excessively warm, and I felt more like lounging than rambling. In fact, the spot has no Revolutionary history worth mentioning, for its existence as a lonely settlement in the wilderness is only coeval with that of our independence. Count Vredenburgh, a German nobleman, who married a lady of the household of the queen of George II. of England, obtained a grant for thirty thousand acres of land on Cumberland Bay, and just before the Revolution he settled there. When the war broke out he sent his family to Montreal, and soon afterward his splendid mansion, which stood where the Plattsburgh Hotel now is, and his mills, three miles distant, were burned. He had remained to look after his property, and it is supposed that he was murdered for his riches, and his house plundered and destroyed. In 1783 some Canadian and Nova Scotia refugees, under Lieutenant (afterward Major-general) Mooers,(2) who were stationed on the Hudson near Newburgh, left Fishkill Landing in a boat, and, proceeding by the way of Lakes George and Champlain, landed and commenced the first permanent settlement in that neighborhood, within seven or eight miles of the present village of Plattsburgh. Judge Zephaniah Platt and others formed a company, after the war, to purchase military land-warrants, and they located their lands on Cumberland Bay, and organized the town of Plattsburgh in 1785. Such is its only connection with the history
the whole region in the neighborhood of Albany. At last
he was captured (1782), and was executed as a spy and traitor, at Albany.
1 It is related that while Carleton was at Ticonderoga, Arnold ventured in the neighborhood in a small boat. He was seen and chased by young Pellew (afterward Lord Exmouth), and so rapidly did his pursuers gain upon him, that he ran his boat ashore and leaped on land, leaving his stock and buckle behind him. It is said that the stock and buckle are still in possession of the Pellew family.-See Ostler's Life of Admiral Viscount Exmouth.
2 Benjamin Mooers served as a lieutenant and adjutant in the Revolution. He commanded the militia in the battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. For thirty years he was county treasurer, and often represented his County in the Assembly and Senate of New York. He died in February, 1838.
of our Revolution. It is a conspicuous point, however, in the history of our war with Great Britain commenced in 1812, for it is memorable as the place where one of the severest engagements of that contest took place, on the 11th of September, 1814, between the combined naval and military forces of the Americans and British. General Macomb commanded the land, and Commodore M'Donough the naval forces of the former, and General Prevost and Commodore Downie(1) those of the latter. The engagements on the land and water were simultaneous, and for some time the issue was doubtful. The Americans, however, were successful. When the flag of the British commodore's ship was struck, the enemy on land, disheartened and confused, retreated across the Saranac, and the carnage ceased. The loss of the Americans was about one hundred and fifty; that of the enemy, in killed, wounded, prisoners, and deserters, more than one thousand.
I passed a considerable portion of the afternoon with General St. John B. L. Skinner, who was a volunteer under Macomb in the battle. He was a member of a company of young men and boys of the village, who, after the military had gone out on the Chazy road, organized and offered their services to the commander-in-chief. They were accepted, and the brave youths were immediately armed with rifles and ordered to the headquarters of General Mooers. Only three of the company were over eighteen years old, and not one of them was killed, though for a long time they were exposed to a hot fire while occupying a mill upon the Saranac and keeping the enemy at bay. General Skinner's beautiful mansion and gardens are upon the lake shore, and from an upper piazza we had a fine view of the whole scene of the naval engagement, from Cumberland Head on the north to Valcour's Island on the south, including in the far distance eastward the blue lines of the northern range of the Green Mountains. The bay in which the battle occurred is magnificent, fringed with deep forests and waving grain-fields. A substantial stone break-water defends the harbor from the rude waves which an easterly wind rolls in, and the village is very pleasantly situated upon a gravelly plain on each side of the Saranac River.
A short distance from the village of Plattsburgh are the remains of the
cantonments and breast-works occupied by Macomb and his forces; and to the
kind courtesy of General Skinner, who accompanied me to these relics of
the war, I am indebted for many interesting details in relation to that
memorable battle.(2) But as these have no necessary connection with our
subject, on account of their remoteness from the time of the Revolution,
I will bid adieu to Plattsburgh, for the evening is far gone, the lights
of the" Burlington" are sparkling upon the waters near Valcour's
Island, and the coachman at the hotel front is hurrying us with his loud"
All aboard !"
It was nearly midnight when we passed the light on Cumberland Head,(3)and we reached
1 Commodore Downie was slain in the battle and buried at
Plattsburgh. His sister-in-law, Mary Downie, erected a plain monument to
his memory over his remains.
2 General S. mentioned one or two circumstances connected with the naval engagement worth recording. He says that, when the fleet of the enemy rounded Cumberland Head, M'Donough assembled his men on board his ship (Saratoga) on the quarter-deck. He then knelt, and, in humble, fervent supplication, commended himself, his men, and his cause to the Lord of Hosts. When he arose, the serenity of faith was upon his countenance, and seemed to shed its influence over his men. A curious incident occurred on his ship during the engagement. The hen-coop was shot away, and a cock, released from prison, flew into the rigging, and, flapping his wings, crowed out a lusty defiance to the enemy's guns. There he remained, flapping his wings and crowing, until the engagement ceased. The seamen regarded the event as encouraging, and fought like tigers while the cock cheered them on. A notice of a relic of Washington, in the possession of General S., may not be inappropriate here. It is a pouch and puff-ball, for hair-powder, which belonged to the chief several years. It is made of buckskin, and is about twelve inches long. The puff is made of cotton yarn. Mr. Gray, who was a number of years sheriff of Clinton county, readily recognized it as the one used by himself in powdering Washington's hair, when he was a boy and attached to the general in the capacity of body servant. When La Fayette was at Burlington, in 1824, Mr. Gray went up to see him. and the veteran remembered him as the" boy Gray" in Washington's military family.
3 On this point is situated the farm presented to Commodore M'Donough by the Legislature of Vermont. The point is connected with Grand Island, or North Hero (the largest island in the lake), by a ferry.
Rouse's Point, the last landing-place on the lake within" the States," between one and two III the morning, where we remained until daylight, for the channel here, down, the outlet of the lake, is so narrow and sinuous that the navigation is difficult in the night. On a low point a little northward of the landing the United States government commenced building a tort in 1815, and, after expending about two hundred thousand dollars, it was discovered that the ground was British soil. The work was abandoned, and so remained until the conclusion of the treaty formed by Daniel Webster and Lord Ashburton in 1842, when the territorial line was run a little north of the fort. It is now in course of completion.
The morning on which we left Rouse's Point was clear and calm. A slight (August 8, 1848.) mist lay upon the water, and over the flat shores of the Richelieu or Sorel River, which we had entered, a thin vapor, like a gauze veil, was spread out. We watched with interest for the line of separation between the territories. It was about four o'clock in the morning when we crossed it, twenty-three miles south of St. John's, and so became "foreigners." A broad stripe like a meadow-swathe, running east and west, cut in the dwarf forest upon either side, denotes the landmark of dominion, and by a single revolution of the paddlewheel we passed from the waters of our republic to those of the British realm. In less than au hour we were at the landing-place on Isle Aux Noix, a small low island in the Sorel, strongly fortified by the British as one of their most important outposts in the direction of the United States. This island is all clustered with historic associations. While the fussy custom-house officer and his attendants are boarding our boat, let us look into the mirror of retrospection.
When the French settlement at Chimney Point was broken up on the approach of General Amherst, in 1759, the people fled down the lake, and, landing upon this island, fortified it. The walnut and hazel abounded there, and they gave it a name significant of this fact. Commanding, as it does, completely the outlet of Lake Champlain, the importance of Its position, in a military view, was at once appreciated. But the French held possession only a few months, for in the spring of 1760 they were driven from it by Amherst III his march toward Montreal. After the treaty of Paris in 1763, the necessity for a garrison upon Isle Aux Noix no longer existed, and the fortifications were allowed to crumble into ruins.
In the autumn of 1775 the island was occupied by the Americans, under General Schuyler. With a considerable force, destined to invade Canada, he sailed down the lake and appeared before St. John's. Informed that the garrison there was too strong for (September 6, 1775.) him, he returned to Isle Aux Noix and fortified it. From this post he sent out a declaration among the Canadians, by Colonel Allen and Major Brown, assuring them that the Americans intended to act only against the British forts, and not to interfere with the people or their religion.
1 The sketch was made from the pilot's room of the steam-boat, about half a mile above the island, lookIng east-northeast. The landing is a little beyond the trees on the right, where sentinels are stationed The island is small, and wholly occupied by the military works. A broad fen extends some distance from the northern side, and the wild ducks that gather there afford fine amusement for sportsmen during the hunting season.
Early in October the Americans, under General Montgomery (Schuyler being ill), left the island and proceeded to St. John's, whence they marched victoriously to Quebec. From that time until the close of the Revolution no permanent garrison was established there, but the island was the halting-place for the troops of both parties when passing up and down the lake. It was the principal scene of the negotiations between some of the leading men of Vermont and British officers, which were so adroitly managed by the former as to keep an English army of ten thousand men quite inactive on our northern frontier for about three years.(1) The British strongly fortified it in 1813, and it has been constantly garrisoned since.
We arrived at St. John's, on the Richelieu or Sorel River, between six and seven o'clock in the morning, where our luggage was overhauled by the custom-house officer, who was received on board at Isle Aux Noix. The operation was neither long nor vexatious, and seemed to be rather a matter of legal form than induced by a desire or expectation of detecting contraband articles. In fact, the polite government functionary seemed to have great faith in mere assertions, and to rely more upon physiognomy than personal inspection of the luggage for assurance that her majesty's revenue laws were inviolate. He looked every trunk-owner full in the face when he queried about the nature of his baggage, and only two persons were obliged to produce their keys for his satisfaction. Our trunk was of prodigious size and weight, and made him very properly suspicious of the truth of my allegations that its contents were only articles for personal use. A descendant of Abraham at my elbow, with nothing but a rotund bandana handkerchief, appeared to be my scape-goat on the occasion, for while the officer was making him untie its hard knots, he ordered my luggage to pass. I was told that the word of a poor Jew is never believed by the uncircumcised Gentile who "sits at the receipt of customs;" but in this instance his incredulity was rebuked, for the Israelite's bundle contained nothing but a tolerably clean shirt, a cravat, and a small Hebrew Bible. At eight I
1 In 1779-80 the partial dismemberment of Vermont and its
connection with New York and New Hampshire produced great bitterness of
feeling, and the Legislature of the former demanded of Congress the entire
separation of that state from the other states, and its admission into the
confederacy upon a basis of perfect equality. The disputes ran high, and
the British entertained hopes that Vermont would be so far alienated from
the rebel cause, by the injustice of Congress, as to be induced to return
to its allegiance to the British crown. Accordingly, in the spring of 1780,
Colonel Beverly Robinson wrote to Ethan Allen from New York, making overtures
to that effect. The letter was not answered, and in February, 1781, he wrote
another, inclosing a copy of the first. These letters were shown to Governor
Chittenden and a few others, and they concluded to make use of the circumstances
for the benefit of Vermont. Allen sent both letters to Congress, and at
the same time wrote to that body, urging the justice of the demand of his
state. He closed his letter by saying, "I am as resolutely determined
to defend the independence of Vermont as Congress is that of the United
States; and, rather than fail, I will retire with the hardy Green Mountain
Boys into the desolate caverns of the mountains and wage war with human
nature at large."* In the mean while, some British scouting parties
had captured some Vermonters, and Governor Chittenden sent Ira Allen and
others to negotiate with Colonel Dundas for an exchange of prisoners. They
met upon Isle Aux Noix, and there Dundas, under the direction of General
Haldimand, made verbal overtures similar to the written ones of Robinson
to Ethan Allen. The proposals of the British officers were received by Allen
with apparent favor. Haldimand and Dundas were delighted with their skill
in diplomacy, and readily acceded to the proposition of Allen not to allow
hostilities on the Vermont frontier until after the next session of its
Legislature. The British force, consisting of about ten thousand men, was
thus kept inactive. These negotiations with the enemy excited the suspicion
of the Whigs and the fears of Congress ; yet with such consummate skill
did Allen managed the affair, that when he reported the result of his mission
to the Legislature of Vermont, where British emissaries as well as ardent
Whigs were in waiting, he satisfied both parties. Soon afterward a letter
from Lord George Germain to Sir Henry Clinton was intercepted and sent to
Congress. It contained so much evidence of the treasonable designs of the
leading men in Vermont, that Congress felt more disposed to accede to the
demands of that state, and thus retain her in the Union. Peace soon afterward
ensued, and Vermont was one of the United States included in the treaty.
How far the designs of the Aliens, of Chittenden, the Fays, and others,
were really treasonable, or were measures of policy to bring Congress to
terms, and prevent hostilities upon their weak frontier, can not be certainly
determined. The probabilities are in favor of the ruse rather than
the treason. At any rate, they should have the benefit of a doubt, and a
verdict of acquittal of all wrong intentions.
*A convention, held at Westminster on the 15th of January, 1777, declared "That the district and territory comprehending and usually known by the name and description of the New Hampshire Grants of right ought to be and is declared forever hereafter to be a free and independent jurisdiction or state, to be forever hereafter called, known, and distinguished by the name of New Connecticut, alias VERMONT."-See Slades State Papers, p. 70.
o'clock my companion and our luggage proceeded by rail-road by way of La Prairie to Montreal, while I prepared to journey to the same city in a light wagon by way of Chambly and Longueuil.
St. John's is pleasantly situated upon the western side of the Sorel, at the termination of steam-boat navigation on Lake Champlain, and near the head of Chambly Rapids. It has always been a place of considerable importance as a frontier town since the Revolution, although its growth has been slow, the population now amounting to not quite four thousand. The country on both sides of the river here is perfectly flat, and there is no (1848.) place whence the town may be seen to advantage. A little south of the village, and directly upon the shore, is a strong military establishment, garrisoned, when we visited it, by three companies of Highland infantry. Accompanied by an intelligent young gentleman of the village as guide, I visited all the points of historic interest in the vicinity. We crossed the deep, sluggish river in a light zinc shallop, and from the middle of the stream we obtained a fine view of the long bridge(2) which connects St. John's with St. Athenaise on the opposite shore, where the steep roof and lofty glittering spire of the French church towered above the trees.(3) After visiting the remains of Montgomery's block-house, we recrossed the river and rambled among the high mounds which compose the ruins of old Fort St. John's. They occupy a broad area in the open fields behind the present military works. The embankments, covered with a rich green sward, averaged about twelve feet in height, and the whole were surrounded by a ditch with considerable water in it. We lingered half an hour to view a drill of the garrison, and then returned to the village to prepare for a pleasant ride to Chambly, twelve miles distant.
Military works were thrown up at St. John's by the French, under Montcalm, in 1758, and these were enlarged and strengthened by Governor Carleton at the beginning of our Revolution. Here, as we have seen, the first organized American flotilla, under Arnold, made a regular assault upon British vessels and fortifications, and aroused Sir Guy Carleton to a sense of the imminent danger of Montreal and Quebec. Here too was the scene of the first regular siege of a British fort by the rebellious colonists. In September, (September 6.) 1775 , the Americans, as we have already noticed, sales down the Richelieu and appeared before St. John's. They were fired upon by the English garrison when about two miles distant, but without effect. They landed within about a mile and a half of the fort, and, while marching slowly toward the outworks, a small party of Indians attacked them and produced some confusion. In the evening General Schuyler was informed, by a man who appeared to be friendly and intelligent, that, with the exception of only fifty men retained in Montreal by General Carleton, the whole regular British force in Canada was in the garrison at St. John's; that this and the fort at Chambly were strongly fortified and well supplied; that one hundred Indians were in the fort at St. John's, and that another large body, under Colonel John Johnson, was hovering near; that a sixteen gun vessel was
1 This view is taken from the eastern side of the river,
near the remains of a block-house erected by Montgomery when he besieged
the fort in 1775. On the right is seen the fort, which incloses the magazine;
in the center is the building occupied by the officers, on either side of
which are the barracks of the soldiers, The large building on the left is
the hospital, and the smaller one still further left is the dead-house.
Thc river here is about a quarter of a mile wide. The present military works
are upon the site of those of the Revolution.
2 It was built by the Honorable Robert Jones, the proprietor, and is called Jones's Bridge.
3 This spacious church was not finished. The old one, a small wooden structure, was undisturbed within the new one, and was used for worship until the completion of the exterior of the present edifice.
about ready to weigh anchor at St. John's; and that not a single Canadian could be induced to join the insurgent standard. The informer was doubtless an enemy to the Americans, for his assertions were afterward proved to be untrue. General Schuyler, however, gave credence to them, and returned with his troops to Isle Aux Noix, where illness obliged him to leave the army in charge of Montgomery, and retire to the healthier post of Ticonderoga. Thence he soon went to Albany, and, his health being partially restored, he was active ill forwarding re-enforcements to Isle Aux Noix.
Montgomery, with more impetuosity and less caution than Schuyler, determined to push forward at once, for the season was near when military operations there would be difficult. About this time a small train of artillery and a re-enforcement arrived, and he made vigorous preparations to invade Canada. Before leaving the island, a chevaux-de-frise was thrown across the channel to intercept the progress of Carleton's vessels up the lake. On the seventeenth (September, 1775.) his whole force was landed on the west side of the Richelieu. On the eighteenth he led a corps of five hundred men, in person, to the north side of the fort, where the village now is. There he met a detachment from the garrison, which had just repulsed and pursued a small party of Americans under Major Brown, and a short skirmish ensued. Two field pieces and the whole detachment would doubtless have been trophies for the Americans had they been true to themselves; but here that insubordination which gave Montgomery so much trouble was strongly manifested, and caution, secrecy, and concert of action were out of the question.(1) Montgomery pushed on a little further north-west, and, at the junction of the roads running respectively to Montreal and Chambly, formed an entrenched camp of three hundred men to cut off supplies for the enemy from the interior, and then hastened lack to his camp to bring up his artillery to bear upon the walls of the fort. The supplies for a siege were very meager. The artillery was too light, the mortars were defective, the ammunition scarce, and the artillerists unpracticed in their duties. The ground was wet and swampy, and in many places closely studded with trees. In a day or two disease began to appear among the troops, and, in consequence of their privations, disaffection was working mischief in the army. To escape these unfavorable circumstances, Montgomery proposed to move to the northwest side of the fort, where the ground was firm and water wholesome, and commence preparations for an assault. But the troops, unused to military restraint, and judging for themselves that an attack would be unsuccessful, refused to second the plan of their leader. Unable to punish them or convince them of their error, Montgomery yielded to the pressure of circumstances, and so far gratified the mutinous regiments as to call a council of war. It resulted, as was expected, in a decision against his plan. Disorder continually reigned in the American camp. Irregular firing occurred almost daily, and the enemy threw some bombs, but it was a waste of ammunition by both parties. At length the proposed plan of Montgomery was adopted, and the camp was moved (October 7, 1775.) to the higher ground northwest of the fort, where breast-works were thrown up. While the main army was thus circumvallating St. John's, but, for want of ammunition and heavy guns, unable to breach the walls, small detachments of Americans, who were joined by many friendly Canadians, were active in the vicinity. One, under Ethan Allen, attempted the capture of Montreal. Of this foolish expedition I shall hereafter write.
But another, and a successful one, was undertaken, which hastened the termination of the siege of St. John's. Carleton, supposing that the fort at Chambly, twelve miles northward, could not be reached by the Americans unless the one at St. John's was captured, had neglected to arm it, and kept but a feeble garrison there. Montgomery was informed of this by Canadian scouts, and immediately sent Colonel Bedell of New Hampshire, Major Brown of Massachusetts, and Major Livingston of New York, with detachments, to capture the fort. The method of attack was planned by Canadians familiar with the place. Artillery was placed upon bateaux, and during a dark night was conveyed past the fort at St. John's to the head of Chambly Rapids, where it was mounted on carriages and taken to the
1 Montgomery's dispatch to General Schuyler.
was a most important event, for it furnished Montgomery with means to carryon the siege of St. John's vigorously.(2) The large quantity of ammunition that was captured was sent immediately to the besiegers, who, by vigorous exertions, erected a strong battery within two hundred and fifty yards of the fort. A strong block-house was also erected before it, en the opposite side of the river. The former was mounted with four guns and six mortars, and the latter had one gun and two mortars. (October 30.)
While these preparations were in progress, Carleton, informed of the capture of Fort Chambly, left Montreal with a re-enforcement for the garrison at St. John's. He embarked upon the St. Lawrence in bateaux and flat-boats, and attempted to land at Longueuil, a mile and a half below the city. Colonel Seth Warner, with three hundred Green Mountain Boys, was on the alert in the neighborhood, and lay in covert near the spot where Carleton was about to land. He allowed the boats to get very near the shore, when he opened a terrible storm of grape-shot upon them from a four pound cannon, which drove them across the river precipitately and in great confusion. The tidings of this event reached Montgomery toward evening, and Colonel Warner soon afterward came in with several (November 1, 1775.) prisoners captured from one of Carleton's boats that reached the shore. The commander-in-chief immediately sent a flag and letter to Major Preston, the commandant of the garrison, by one of Warner's prisoners, informing him of the defeat of Carleton, and demanding a surrender of the fortress to prevent further effusion of blood. Hostilities ceased for the night, and in the morning Preston asked for a delay of four days before he should make proposals to surrender. The request was denied and the demand renewed. There was no alternative, and the garrison surrendered prisoners of war. The siege had continued six weeks, and the bravery and perseverance of the British troops were such, that Montgomery granted them honorable terms. They marched out of the fort with the honors of war, and the troops
1 This is a view of the south and west sides of the fort,
looking toward the river. It stands directly upon the Richelieu, at the
foot of the Chambly Rapids, and at the head of the navigation of the river
up from the St. Lawrence. It is strongly built of stone, and, as seen in
the picture, is in a state of excellent preservation.
2 The spoils taken at Chambly were 6 tons of powder; 80 barrels of flour; a large quantity of rice, butter, and peas; 134 barrels of pork; 300 swivel shot; 1 box of musket shot; 6364 musket cartridges ; 150 stand of French arms; 3 royal mortars; 61 shells; 500 hand grenades; 83 royal fusileer's muskets with accouterments; and rigging for 3 vessels. The prisoners consisted of 1 major, 2 captains, 3 lieutenants, captain of a schooner, a commissary and surgeon, and 83 privates. The colors of the seventh regiment of British regulars were there, and were captured. These were sent to the Continental Congress, and were the first trophies of the kind which that body received. There were a great number of women and children in the fort, and these were allowed to accompany the prisoners, who were sent with their baggage to Connecticut.
grounded their arms on the plain near by. The officers were allowed to keep their side-arms, and their fire-arms were reserved for them. Canadian gentlemen and others at St. John's were conspired a part of the garrison. The whole number of troops amounted to about five hundred regulars and one hundred Canadian volunteers.(1) The Continental troops took possession of the fort, and Montgomery proposed to push on to Montreal.
Insubordination again raised its hydra-head in the American camp. The cold season was near at hand, and the raw troops, unused to privations of the field, yearned for home, and refused, at first, to be led further away. But the kind temper, patriotic zeal, and winning eloquence of Montgomery, and a promise on his part that, Montreal in his possession, no further service would be exacted from them, won them to obedience, and all but a small garrison for the fort pressed onward toward the city.(2) The fort at St. John's remained in possession of the Americans until the latter part of May, 1776, when they were completely driven out of Canada. Arnold and Sullivan, with their detachments, were the last to leave that province. The former remained in Montreal until the last moment of safety, and then pressed on to St. John's, with the enemy close at his heels. Two days before, he had ordered the encampment closed there, and a vessel upon
the stocks to be taken apart and sent to Ticonderoga. Sullivan, who was stationed at the mouth of the Sorel, also retreated to St. John's. The commanders wished to defend the fort against the pursuing enemy, but the troops absolutely refused to serve longer, and they all embarked, and sailed up the lake to Isle Aux Noix. When every loaded boat had left the shore, Arnold and Wilkinson, his aid, rode back two miles and discovered the enemy in rapid march under Burgoyne. They reconnoitered them a few moments, and then galloped back,
1 The spoils of victory were 17 brass ordnance, from two
to twenty-four pounders; 2 eight-inch howitzers; 7 mortars; 22 iron ordnance,
from three to nine pounders; a considerable quantity of shot and small shells;
800 stand of arms, and a small quantity of naval stores. The ammunition
and provisions were in considerable, for the stock of each was nearly exhausted.
2 Armstrong's Life of Montgomery.
stripped and shot their horses, set fire to the works at St. John's, pushed off from shore in a small boat, and overtook the flotilla before they reached Isle Aux Noix. Having no vessels with which to pursue the Americans, Burgoyne rested at St. John's. In the course of the autumn he returned to England.
Early in the summer of 1777 St. John's was the theater of active preparations, on the part of the British, for the memorable campaign which terminated in the capture of Burgoyne and his whole army at Saratoga. This campaign was planned chiefly by Lord George Germain, the Secretary of War, and Burgoyne, with the approval of the king and the full sanction of the Council. Burgoyne was made commander of the expedition, and arrived at Quebec on the 6th of May. Carleton gave him his cordial co-operation, (1777.) and St. John's was the place of general rendezvous for all the regulars, provincials, and volunteers. On the 1st of June an army of six thousand men was collected there, and, embarking in boats, sailed up the lake to Cumberland Head, where it halted to await the arrival of ammunition and stores. These collected, the whole armament moved up the lake to the north of the Bouquet, where, as already narrated, a council was held with the Indian tribes. As the rest of the story of that campaign, so disastrous to British power in America, has been told in preceding chapters, we will return to St. John's, and pass on to Chambly. I left St. John's about eleven o'clock in a light wagon, accompanied by the young man who acted as guide among the old milItary remains. There is but little in the appearance of St. John's to distinguish it from a large village in the States, but the moment we emerged into the country I felt that I was in a strange land. The road traverses the line of the Chambly Canal, which runs parallel with the Richelieu or Sorel River. The farm-houses are thickly planted by the roadside; so thickly that all the way from St. John's to Chambly and Longueuil we seemed to be in a village suburb. The farms are diminutive compared with ours, averaging from fifteen to forty acres each, and hence the great number of dwellings and out-houses. They are generally small, and built of hewn logs or stone. Most of the dwellings and out-houses are whitewashed with lime, even the roofs, which gives them a very neat appearance, and forms a beautiful contrast in the landscape to the green foliage which embowers them. I was told that each. house contains a consecrated broom. When a new dwelling is erected, a broom is tabooed by the priest and hung up in the dwelling by the owner, where it remains untouched, a sort of Lares or household god. Many of them have a cross erected near, as a talisman to guard the dwelling from evil. They are generally dedicated to St. Peter, the chief patron saint of the rural French Canadians. A box, with a glass door, inclosing an image of the saint, a crucifix, or some other significant object, is placed upon or within the body of the cross, and the whole is usually surmounted by a cock. A singular choice for a crest, for it is a fowl identified with St. Peter's weakness and shame.
It was in the time of hay harvest, and men, women, and children were abroad gathering the crops. As among the peasantry of Europe and the blacks of our Southern States, the women labor regularly in. the fields. They are tidily habited in thin. stuff of cotton or worsted, generally dyed blue, and all of domestic manufacture. Their costume is graceful, and, sitting loosely, gives full play to the muscles, and contributes to the high health which every where abounds in the rural districts of this region. Their broad-rimmed straw hats, like the Mexican. sombrero, afford ample protection against the hot sun. These also are home-made, and the manufacture of them for our markets, during the long Canadian winters, affords quite a cash revenue to most of the families. These simple people are generally
uneducated, and superstition is a strong feature in their religious character. They are honest, kind-hearted, and industrious, have few wants, live frugally, and, in their way, seem to enjoy a large share of earthly happiness.
The Richelieu has either a swift current or noisy rapids nearly the whole distance between St. John's and Chambly. The stream is broad, and in many places deep, for it is the outlet for the whole volume of the waters of Lake Champlain into the St. Lawrence. In some places the foaming rapids produce a picturesque effect to the eye and ear, and vary the pleasure of the otherwise rather monotonous journey between the two villages.
Chambly is an old town, at the foot of the rapids, and bears evidence of thrift. A Frenchman bearing that name built a small wood fort there, which was afterward replaced by the solid stone structure pictured on page 171. The latter retained the name of the original fort, as also does the village. It is a military station at present, and, being at the head of the navigation of the Richelieu or Sorel from the St. Lawrence, has a commanding position. The river here, at the foot of the falls, expands into a circular basin about a mile and a half in diameter. The old fort is dismantled and ungarrisoned, and is now used only for a (1848.) store-house.
Near it are seen the remains of the battery erected by Bedell, while preparing to storm the fort in 1775. I tarried at Chambly long enough only to reconnoiter and sketch the old fortress and the features of the Beloeil, the only mountain range in view, and then went to an inn to dine, a mile on the road toward Longueuil.
There I learned that a French Canadian, nearly one hundred years old, was living near. Although the sun was declining, and we had seventeen miles' travel before us, I determined to visit the old man
1 This sketch is taken from the southeast angle of old Fort Chambly, showing the rapids in the foreground The mountain is twenty miles distant, near the Sorel. On the highest point of the range the Bishop or Nancy, a French prelate, erected a huge cross in 1843, the pedestal of which was sufficiently large to form a chapel capable of containing fifty persons. In November, 1847, during a severe thundergust, the lightning and wind completely demolished the cross, but spared the pedestal, and that, being white, may be seen at a great distance.
and sound his memory. We met him upon the road, coming toward the inn He had just left his rake in the field, and had on a leather apron and broad-rimmed hat. He was a small, firmly-built man, apparently sixty-five years old. Conversation with him was difficult, for his dialect, professedly French, was far worse than Gascon. Still we managed to understand each other, and I gleaned from him, during our brief interview, the facts that he was born in Quebec in 1752; remembered the storming of the city by the English under Wolfe; removed to Chambly in 1770; was a spectator of the capture of the fort by a detachment from Montgomery's army in 1775; assisted in furnishing stores for Burgoyne's army at St. John's in 1777; and has lived upon and cultivated the same small farm of thirty acres from that time until the present. He was ninety-six years old, and appeared to have stamina sufficient for twenty years more of active life. He seemed to be a simple-hearted creature, ignorant of the world beyond the Richelieu and the adjacent village, and could not comprehend my movements while sketching his honest countenance. He was delighted, however, when he saw the outlines of an old man's face, and knew them to be his own; and when I presented him with a silver coin, he laughed like a pleased child. But when the young man who accompanied me, with intended generosity, offered him a glass of brandy, his eyes sparkled with indignation,a nd in his bad French he uttered an emphatic refusal. He has signed the temperance pledge a year before, and he felt insulted by the seeming attempt to win him from his allegiance. Glorious and convert, and firm old preacher of principle in the very den of the fierce lion, for decanters were at his elbow, and a friendly had proffered the contents to his lips! A vow of total abstinence from intoxicating drinks at the age of ninety-five! For that I pressed the hard hand of Francois Yest with a firmer grasp when I bade him adieu.
We had a pleasant ride from Chambly to Longueuil (seventeen miles) over a plank road. Unlike similar roads in New York, the planks were laid diagonally. They had been in use twelve years, and were but little decayed. The country all the way to the St. Lawrence is flat. The soil, though rather wet, is productive, and almost every rood of it was under cultivation. Here and there were a few groves, but no forests; and a solitary huge bowlder by the road-side, shivered by lightning, was the only rock that I saw between the Richelieu and the St. Lawrence. When within three miles of Longueuil, the glittering domes and spires of Montreal appeared in the distance like gems set in the dark mountain that formed a background beyond. It was five o'clock when we reached Longueuil, a mile and a half below Montreal, on the opposite side of the river. There I parted from the young gentleman whose light wagon had conveyed me from St. John's, and proceeded to Montreal on the steam ferry-boat that connects it with Longueuil. Neither cab nor omnibus was in waiting, and I was obliged to ride a mile in a rickety caleche,(1) drawn
1 The caleche is a two-wheeled vehicle, much used in Lower Canada. It is similar in form to our gig, but, instead of having but one seat, there is one for the driver upon the dash-board. Four can ride comfortably in one of them. Some are made elegantly, with a folding cover to ward off the sun or rain, and they are a pleasant vehicle to ride in. I found them in universal use in the narrow streets of Quebec. Such was the vehicle in use in Canada at the time of our Revolution, and mentioned by the Baroness Reidesel the kind in which she and her children traveled with the British army.
by a representative of Rosinante. The vehicle, horse, driver, and ride altogether made a funny affair. The driver was a little Frenchman, with a jocky-coat and breeches, and a red tasseled skull-cap. All the way he belabored his beast with blows and curses, but the animal's hide and ears seemed impervious. I could think of nothing but a parody on a couplet of the old song, "If I had a donkey," &c. As we wheeled up a narrow court from St. Paul's Street to the Exchange Hotel, a merry laugh of half a furlong's audibility rang out from a group of young ladies upon an upper piazza, and that was my. first evidence that my traveling companion, Miss B-, had arrived safely, as per consignment in the morning to the care of the urbane proprietors of that excellent establishment. She had rambled through the city with pleasant company until thoroughly wearied, so I took an evening stroll alone. The day had been very warm, but the evening was cool. The stars were brilliant, yet it was too dark to see much beyond the dim forms of massy buildings, wrapped in deep shadows. But above, in the far north, a phenomenon seldom exhibited in summer was gorgeously displayed; more so than we often see it in lower latitudes in winter, and I stood an hour in the Place d'Arms, watching the ever changing beauties of the brilliant Aurora Borealis. It is a strange sight, and well might the ignorant and superstitious of other times regard it with fearful wonder. Lomonosov, a native Russian poet, thus refers to the sublime spectacle:
"What fills with dazzling beams the illumined air?
What wakes the flames that light the firmament?
The lightning's flash; there is no thunder there,
And earth and heaven with fiery sheets are blent ;
The winter's night now gleams with brighter, lovelier ray
Than ever yet adorned the golden summer's day.
"Is there some vast, some hidden magazine,
Where the gross darkness flames or fire supplies
Some phosphorous fabric, which the mountains screen,
Whose clouds or light above those mountains rise,
When the winds rattle loud around the foaming sea,
And lift the waves to heaven in thundering revelry?"
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