Battle Bay: Skirmish Between Rangers and French Occurred Near Site of Re-Enactment
When re-enactors gather at Bolton Landing’s Rogers Park on June 16 for Bolton Landing: Crossroads of the French & Indian War,” they will be camped just across the bay from one of the more obscure incidents of the French and Indian War: a skirmish between Rangers led by Robert Rogers and Israel Putnam and a party of French and Indians. As late as the 1890s, visitors such as Charles Dudley Warner, Mark Twain’s friend and collaborator, were being shown entrenchments at the north end of Green Island. These were the remains of breastworks believed to have been constructed in November of 1755.
In 1891, the Lake George Mirror published an account of the skirmish written in the 1850s, which we re-print below.
“Green Island” may embrace some sixty acres in its area; it is quite flat, and in form somewhat like an open fan, narrowing towards its northern extremity. Between the island and the west main shore, is a beautiful bay, connecting itself with the broader expanse of water, and to the south by a very narrow strait. There falls into this bay a fine stream of water which comes crawling down from the west, through a gorge which in its primitive condition must have been exceedingly wild. There rises abruptly from this stream on the north, a lofty hill sloping gradually towards the lake. The view from the highest point on this hill is one of the finest in the region; the eye taking in the splendid picture of the lake and its surroundings, from the head of “North West Bay” to the southern terminus of the main body. I have a reason for being thus particular with regard to the topography of this particular section, which will soon appear.
I should have mentioned one other thing: At the northeast and most abrupt curve of the bay I have mentioned, another smaller stream falls into it; it is observable that the soil of this section of the shore, is clay. Let the reader note this.
To these features in the topography of the region, let a few facts of another class now be added.
Near the north end of “Green Island” and on its west side is a formation which is evidently artificial, and designed for defense. It was originally a high breast-work and would have constituted an excellent protection for a large body of men, in case of an attack from the west. On the main shore, and in different places from 200 to 300 yards from the water have been found various relics indicating an old encampment, or a battle ground. These have been hatchets of French manufacture, a bayonet, etc.
I now propose to show that the locality I have indicated was the scene of a battle or skirmish between a party led by Rogers and Putnam, and the French and Indians, on the 1st day of November, 1755. In the “Documentary History of New York,” Vol. IV, page 272, is the report of Captain Rogers, in relation to operations and a skirmish somewhere down the lake, on its western shore. From this quaint but authentic document some very important facts may be gathered which seem to me to leave no ground for doubting that the scene of this skirmish has been indicated.
Rogers – whose report is also signed by Israel Putnam and Noah Grant – informs us that he left the head of the lake on the 29th of October, and that on the night of the 31st he “made a discovery of a number of fires situated upon a point of land on the west side of the lake.”
Rogers seems to have had with him four bateaux, and for the purposes of careful observation would proceed slowly, so he would naturally be found in the neighborhood of “Green Island” on the night of the 31st. He goes on to say, ” we landed and secured our bateaux upon the same side of the lake about a mile and a half from their encampment.” Suppose Rogers to have camped near what was formerly known as McGee’s Point, and he would then have about a mile and a half between him and the point which completes the formation of the bay. This point is on the farm now owned by Rev.Mr. Goodman of Caldwell. In the evening, Rogers despatched three spies to reconnoiter the enemy’s camp. Capt. Fletcher, one of the spies, at length returned “and made report that there were four tents and sundry small fires on said point.” The “point” here spoken of must have been either the point on Goodman’s farm or another of high projection north of the mouth of the larger stream which falls into the bay. It might be suggested as in favor of the last, that the relics which have been found were nearer this than the other point. Other considerations, however, lead to a different conclusion. The relics can easily be accounted for as Rogers tells us the enemy showed themselves “on each side of the shore” and that he “gave them each a broadside which put them to the bush.” He tells us also the “divers” of the enemy were killed.
The commencement and progress of the battle seems to have been very nearly as follows. Upon the report of Fletcher, he was dispatched with six men and a bateau to the head of the lake for a reinforcement; Rogers meantime taking another bateau and five men and in his own words, ” went within twenty-five rods of their fires. Discovered a small fort, with several log camps within the fort, which I judged to contain about one-fourth of an acre. Said fort being open towards the water, the rest picketed.” Putnam, it seems, was one of the spies first sent out with Fletcher and who, with his comrade, did not return till 10 o’clock the next morning, and then reported that the enemy’s sentries were posted twenty rods from their fires, and that he actually approached within a rod of one of them, who discovered him and fired upon him, and that in attempting to return the fire he “fell into a clay-pit and wet his gun, and made the best retreat he was able, etc.” Let it be remembered that clay abounds in the neighborhood of Goodman’s Point, and from the adventure of Putnam, it seems probable that the frail French work called a fortress by Rogers, was there.
After Putnam’s return to the camp from his dangerous reconnaissance of the enemy’s position, “there was a discovery made of two Frenchmen upon a hill, a small distance, who called to us. Said hill overlooked our ambush, etc.” The elevation back of the former residence of Judge Pratt, and present residence of the Widow Anderson, suggests at once the position of the two Frenchmen; or, the still loftier elevation north of the stream which has been already described.
The Frenchmen very soon disappeared, and two canoes appeared, “and went and lay in the lake about 40 rods distance from each other.”
Rogers then, under the apprehension that a party on land was moving to take him in the rear, and that he was likely to be placed between two fires, proceeded at once to attack the canoes with two bateaux containing six men and a wall-piece each; one commanded by himself, and the other by Lieutenant Grant. The party in the canoes seem to have been pretty roughly handled and retreated towards the shore, where Putnam and the rest of the party awaited them, and when they came within ranged poured in a fatal volley upon them, “killing their cockswain and by our wall pieces, etc., killed divers of them,” as Rogers says.
At this juncture, however, Putnam is attacked in the rear by a party on shore, and barely escapes with his life, having only time to shove off his bateau and leap into it with his comrades, seeking security by pushing out of the range of the enemy’s fire into the bay. The report tells us that “the enemy shot through his blanket in divers places, and through the bateau.” It was not the only hairbreadth escape of that remarkable man.
The two bateaux united, now pursued the canoes “with constant fire upon them, ’til we came within 80 rods of their fires; discovered a number of men upon each side of the shore within about 40 rods of us gave each a broadside, which put them to the bush, and gave us a clear passage homewards, and after we got fairly into the lake, lay upon our oars and inquired after the circumstances of the party – found none killed, but one wounded, which gave joy to all of us, after so long an engagement, which I judge was near two hours.”
It is evident from this account that the conflict, and with the two canoes, began well toward the south side of the bay, and in the neighborhood of the strait separating “Green Island” from the main shore, and terminated near the north side of the bay and in front of what is know as “Goodman’s Landing.” The canoes retreated when attacked by Rogers and Grant in the direction of the French encampment, which I am now satisfied, was on Goodman’s Point. Rogers and Grant pursue with the two bateaux, until they approach within 80 rods of the enemy’s fires. Putnam and his six men on shore, meantime, had fired upon the canoes, and themselves been driven to the water by a party of the enemy on shore. Joining Rogers and Grant, and pressing on in the pursuit, the battle was brought to a close by the appearance of two bodies of the enemy at different points on the shore of the bay, the “broadsides” of Rogers by which he says he “put them to bush” and his escape to the broader lake.
We are now able to account for the artificial formation on the north end of “Green Island.” Rogers had two wall-pieces with him. He had despatched Capt. Fletcher on the night of the 31st to the head of the lake for a reinforcement. After the skirmish which has been described and Rogers had drawn off, the French in anticipation of his return, and a renewal of the attack had posted a party on “Green Island” directly opposite their works on “Goodman’s Point,” so that by having another party secreted near the strait at the south, when once Rogers was fairly in the bay he would be easily destroyed.
The party posted on the north end of “Green Island” threw up the breast-work which may still be seen. This, from its contiguity to the fort on the mainland, was the more important point.
Having thus determined the scene of an incident in the military annals of Horicon, I have only to ask the tourist and antiquarian to examine it, and to claim the privilege of bestowing a name upon the bay of which so much has been said. Let it be called Battle Bay.