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February 10, 2011



Thankee, Mr. P.

Curiously enough, this very morning I arrived with Rogers again at Ft. Detroit in Parkman's Conspiracy of Pontiac. Fortunately, bad grammar was not among our travelling companions.

Have you a copy of Rogers' own journal? I have never sat down and slogged all the way through mine, but instead read select passages as a companion to Parkman's footnotes.

Mr. P

Thank you, Robbo.

Over a series of lunch breaks I read Parkman's Conspiracy back when I was at J. Walter Thompson. My office overlooked Hart Plaza, the site of Fort Detroit.

The Journal? These days I don't go in much for reading primary sources; it's too much like work. I prefer to have someone else sort through the sources, assemble a readable narrative, and then let me take it out of the library and savage it on a blog.

Speaking of primary sources, early on in Ross' book we read that Rogers served with a Lieutenant Grant--direct ancestor of Ulysses. This Grant dies early on (and offstage), but it prompted me to go back and re-read the opening pages of Grant's Personal Memoirs, right from the first edition Mrs. P bought me for our first Christmas. That first sentence always gets me: "My family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct and collateral." I was wondering if he would mention his ancestor's service with Rogers, but he doesn't.

I still have about 125 pages to go. Unfortunately, judging from the chapter titles, the story gets grimmer and grimmer...

Old Dominion Tory

If you're still keen on the overall topic after reading this book, Mr. Peperium, then I heartily recommend "White Savage," a biography of Sir William Johnson.


"White Savage" is, indeed, a good book, although I think the author tries to play up the "Irish and Indians can relate because they're both oppressed peoples" line a bit too much, at least early on.

Yeah, Rogers goes off the deep end later in life. I recall that he spent at least some time in the service of a pasha or dey, or some such leader.

Mr. P

Thanks for the recommendation, ODT. Good to get together again with you two, talking about the stuff that really matters--at least to us.

Just this morning, as I sprint to the finish of War on the Run (tripping over but now ignoring those little verbal eccentricities that mar an otherwise admirable book) I'm getting the picture of a William Johnson who, allied with an equally nasty Thomas Gage, are trying to stand in the way of what Ross depicts as Roger's genuine attempts to get Britain and the Indians together for mutual economic benefits. Furs and rum and such. A different side of the Johnson I've met through Parkman and Fred Anderson. By the way--you guys know that Anderson is due out with a new installment of the Oxford History of the United States--the volume dealing with colonial history? It's co-authored and still in process, but it is one book I think will make it into the permanent collection.

Does Rogers eventually enlist under the banner of a pasha? Hmmm. John Paul Jones did much the same thing--and was much the same kind of character as Rogers.

Apropos of nothing: Another criticism I want to make of Ross is his habit of chronological confusion. A standard way of writing a chapter of history is to break in in media res as it were, at the height of a battle, the crisis of a negotiation, or some such thing like that, then backtrack to tell the tale of how the battle or negotiation got that way. Then, once your narrative has caught up with the crisis point at which you started, to take the event to it's conclusion and start a new chapter. This Ross does often, but for the life of me he doesn't do it well. I was (I am) forever backtracking, flipping pages, wondering where I got off the rails. Annoying. But as I say, the story itself is great and the book is still very good.

Rogers even writes--or rather, co-authors--a play about Pontiac that gets produced in London. It's panned by critics--Ross says that Roger's hand is only evident at the beginning and that from there it degenerates into standard melodrama, but sill--the last thing one would expect from a kid from rural--or rather, wilderness--New Hampshire.

And Robbo, according to Ross the journals rank up there with Grant's Memoirs as read-worthy, both for content and style. Maybe I will dip into them--after all, I'm sure the St. Louis Library has 'em.

Mr. P

Another question for the panel:

Ross dates Gage's animosity towards Rogers from the day at Carillon in the summer of 1758 when, after the death of Lord Howe, command devolved upon Gage.

Ross says that for several hours Gage was nowhere to be found--or, more precisely, he says that the record makes no mention of him. I don't remember anything like that in anything else I've read. I'm not saying it isn't so, just that I don't recall any personal failure of nerve or courage on Gage's part at Carillon--just the overall failure of the assault.

If true it makes sense. Folks always fear people who supposedly "know something" about their past and will usually try any means to discredit the source before the dreaded revelation comes to light. On the other hand, they make the mistake of assuming everyone is as petty as they are. Just because they wouldn't hesitate to spill the dirt doesn't mean others would.

I admit that some of my sympathy for Thomas Gage--born of the fact that he was dealing with an impossible colonial situation and that his American wife stayed on this side when he went home--has waned a bit.

Also, Ross' charge surprises me because Gage, being a major player in the next phase of the colonial story, is one of those characters to whom I would have payed particular attention. I'll rifle through my Anderson and Parkman in the mean time and see what I can see.


See, now THIS is truly blog-worthy stuff.

Parkman includes a couple of scenes from Rogers' play about Pontiac in his appendices.

I cannot recall reading anything about Gage losing his nerve when Howe was killed. But I do recollect that there was a good deal of confusion as teh Brits moved from their landing at the foot of Lake George toward Carillon. The road was very narrow and while the regulars were making their way up it, I believe Gage was out trying to beat a path through the woods with his light infantry.

I'm also surprised about the assertion re Johnson, who always struck me as having a true gift for understanding the Indians and considerable sympathy for them. (Indeed, he kept screaming at Amherst to treat them with more respect prior to Pontiac's irruption.) It was Johnson who single-handedly kept most of the Iroquois (apart from the Senecas) from joining the rebellion.

Exciting news about Anderson's new book.

Old Dominion Tory

If Ross is saying that Lord Howe was killed during the main assault on Fort Carillon on July 8, he is mistaken. Howe was killed during a skirmish with a French force near the shore of Lake George a couple of days before.
As to Gage's role in the main assault on Fort Carillon, as I recall, he commanded a regiment of light infantry that, along with Rogers' Rangers, was charged with beating back the French pickets, and he was wounded, leading his men. Perhaps the wound was severe enough to demand that he left the battlefield, and that this accounts for his alleged absence from the records (whatever records Ross is using). Whatever favorable characteristics Thomas Gage lacked, as evidenced by his conduct at Braddock's defeat and Fort Carillon, courage wasn't one of them.
Finally, Mrs. Gage did not stay in the United States after the war. She left for England some time before the evacutation of British forces in March 1776. Perhaps, the General wanted to protect her from any vicious gossip.


Because, like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, my memory contains much which is apochryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, I went back and double-checked my comments about Rogers' later exploits. At the beginning of Chapter VI of The Conspiracy of Pontiac, Parkman gives a character sketch and brief biography of Rogers. As far as character goes, while admiring Rogers' woodcraft and his active mind, Parkman is critical of "[Rogers'] vain, restless and grasping spirit, and more than doubtful honesty." Parkman then goes on to note that Rogers was later court-martialed for surrendering Michillimackinac to the Spanish and that after that Rogers went to the Barbary States, entering the service of the Dey of Algiers, "under whose banner" he fought two battles. When he came back to America at the outbreak of the Revolution, nobody (including Washington) trusted him, believing him to be a British spy. Of course, Rogers then went and got himself a colonel's commission from the Crown and spent the war in relative obscurity, getting booted out when it was all over.

Mr. P

Gentlemen, there is much good stuff here to react to and comment on; as you say, Robbo, this is blog-worthy--but I gotta go to bed. ODT, I was abbreviating for the sake of time and space--Ross is clear about when Howe was killed, blaming him (not unjustly) for unnecessary exposure to hostile fire. But stay tuned, as tomorrow I will post my final say on Ross and his book. And get back to these fine observations, too.

Old Dominion Tory

Exciting news about Anderson's book, indeed. As with your collection, Mr. Peperium, that one will have a place in the ODT "permanent collection".
Admittedly, without reading this book, I am starting to get the idea that Ross fell into a trap that bedevils many biographers: he takes his subject's word on everything. And, perhaps, too, he is projecting on to Rogers his own thinking, his own preferences, about the relationship between the British and the Indians (much as David Hackett Fischer did with Samuel Champlain in his book "Champlain's Dream.")
From what I have read, there were few men more attuned to the delicacies of dealing with the Indians than William Johnson (*SIGH* If only he had gone into the service of France.). As to Thomas Gage, I cannot help but admire his abilities as a soldier. Yes, he was pranged by many for his peformance at Braddock's Defeat, but he demonstrated a praiseworthy intellectual flexibility in adopting the light infantry tactics. Moreover, he showed some organizational spark in raising and training his unit, too.
Perhaps, Ross believes that, if they crossed his subject (hero?), then something must be wrong with these men. I don't know, but I now have my suspicions.
I now await Mr. Peperium's final thoughts.


ODT - The French didn't need Johnson. Their bench was packed with skillful diplomats, from Frontenac on down.

What makes Johnson (and a few others like George Croghan) stand out was the relative rarity of their type on the Brit side.

Old Dominion Tory

One more point: As to Lord Howe's death, please allow me to raise an eyebrow to Ross's assertion that Lord Howe needlessly exposed himself to enemy fire.
When all is said and done, even though he was a brigadier, on the day of the skirmish, Howe essentially was acting as a regimental officer, not a general. Furthermore, in the type of warfare in which he was engaged ("on the run," to borrow a phrase), with the size of the units involved, and in that era, front-line (literally) leadership was the norm.
Furthermore, at least as Howe's men experienced it, the battle was a "meeting engagement," one in which two forces essentially collide. Those often can get quite messy in any conditions, and, in the woods of North America, I am sure that they were exceptionally so.

Old Dominion Tory

Good point, Robbo, on the high level of diplomatic skills and the good number of skilled diplomats on the French side. I suppose I was just being greedy.
As you say, Johnson's abilities as a diplomat and a leader stand out among the British and the Americans of the time.

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