I asked myself, just what was Whitcomb’s Rangers all about? What did they do, where were they headquartered, and what campaigns did they participate in?
Why should it matter in a genealogy project?
I’ll start by explaining why I should take the time to learn about the Rangers when my main interest is genealogy. Actually I prefer the term family history to genealogy. No matter which term is used, the end result is to learn about the people I am investigating. Knowing what a person was doing at a specific time and place can turn dead ends into new leads. New leads hopefully provide additional information and additional information is the goal of research. So I make an effort to learn as much as I can about the times, places, and circumstances of the people I research.
In this case there is an additional purpose in exploring what a Whitcomb Ranger did and where he did it. I am trying to determine if Edward Marden had an Indian wife. I know there was a Ranger company raised at Newbury on the Connecticut River made up of Native Americans. I wonder if these Rangers interacted with each other?
Colin Calloway writes about the Indian Ranger Company on page 216 of “The Western Abenakis of Vermont, 1600-1800”, where he says the company was formed 1-May-1780 at Newbury consisting of 17 from the St. Francis tribe led by Capt. John Vincent. Calloway also provides a partial transcription of a letter the following year from General Bayley to General Washington along with the payroll for these Indian Rangers. It says “a much larger number [of Abenaki] has been here at times but are rambling in the woods …”. So here I have confirmation there were friendly and neutral Abenaki disbursed throughout the region but not concentrated at a village site or town.
Gordon Day confirms with the statement “The exact location of the Cowassucks in 1775 is not clear, but the evidence makes it appear that the bulk of them were on the upper Connecticut with a focus on the Upper Cowas at Lancaster, New Hampshire.” and in December of 1776 Jacob Bayley “informed the Indians that they could bring their beaver to trade at Upper Cowas, which suggests that the Indians were living and hunting upriver at least north of Newbury (Bayley 1871; Hemenway 1868-1891 2:936).” (The Identity Of The Saint Francis Indians, 1981, pg. 53-54).
I started searching for Whitcomb’s Rangers by Googling and here is a list of the most interesting results. I recommend descendants read this material to get a sense of what Edward Marden experienced during his years as a Ranger.
The Reenactor’s Manuel – History Section of particular interest
I’ve done a bit of reenacting, so as soon as I realized there was a Whitcomb’s Rangers reenacting group I contacted them. It took a while to hear back but the wait was worth it. The group historian, Mike Barbieri, shared an entire chapter from his master’s thesis (‘infamous Skulkers:’ Continental Rangers in Vermont During the American Revolution, 1999) with me and followed up by answering a number of specific questions I had asked.
Very little had been written about Whitcomb and his men before this reenacting group formed in the 1970s. They started researching the Ranger Company. Much of the information in the above links is the result of Mike’s dedication to uncovering the story of Whitcomb’s Rangers.
Here is a brief summary of what I learned.
The Rangers were originally headquartered at Fort Ticonderoga and served in the Lake Champlain region as scouts. They participated in the retreat from the fort in July of 1777 with Edward specifically mentioning that he was in the Battle of Fort Ann. This battle was a delaying action intended to slow the British advance long enough for others (including civilians) to evacuate the region. The rangers continued to scout in the region around Lake Champlain and north to Montreal. Whitcomb is said to be the one to spot the British Army advancing on Saratoga and some of the Rangers participated in the opening Battle of Saratoga.
Ranger Headquarters moved from New York to Rutland, Vermont in 1778, but the general duties of the Rangers did not change. They were tasked with scouting and spying on the British in Canada.
In early 1779 headquarters for the Rangers moved again, this time over to Haverhill on the Connecticut River under the command of Col. Timothy Bedel.
Their duties continued to include scouting and spying. In additional, they assisting in the construction of the Bayley-Hazen Military Road from Newbury, VT towards Montreal and building forts in along the new road to protect the frontier settlements. During the summer of 1779, the road was extended through the wilderness areas that would become the towns of Cabot, Walden, Hardwick, Greensboro, Craftsbury, Albany, and Lowell, VT.
The Rangers remained at Haverhill until the U.S. Military was restructured at the end of 1780 and Whitcomb’s Rangers were disbanded. Several petitions were sent to Gen. Washington asking him to reconsider the orders but they had no affect. Men like Edward who had enlisted for the duration of the war were transferred to Dearborn’s New Hampshire Regiment of the Continental Line for the remained of the war.
Does any one have interesting stories from other Ranger Companies?
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