Previous: May 15 - May 17
Thursday, May 18:
Major Charles Preston of the 26th Foot has his men up at an early hour and on the road to Saint-Jean. Ethan Allen had set up an ambush along this road with his Green Mountain Boys, but the British do not walk into a trap. The Green Mountain Boys are mostly asleep. The British open fire upon seeing men in the woods, and amid the rattle of musketry and grape shot, Allen’s men flee to their boats and head upstream. In their haste, however, three men are left behind. As all the British boats have been taken or destroyed, there is no pursuit.
John Brown is in Philadelphia where he meets with the delegates to the Continental Congress and tells them about the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. He is rewarded for bringing this valuable information. George Washington, a delegate from Virginia, contributes 1 guinea.
Brown alarms the delegates by alleging that the Governor of the Province of Quebec, Guy Carleton, is preparing for war. He warns that the British government “means to form an army in Canada, composed of British Regulars, French, and Indians, to attack the colonies...” Afterwards, the Continental Congress passes a resolution that portrays the Green Mountain Boys as would-be victims of British aggression:
“Whereas, there is indubitable evidence that a design is formed by the British Ministry of making a cruel invasion from the Province of Quebec upon these colonies, for the purpose of destroying our lives and liberties, and some steps have actually been taken to carry the said design into execution: and whereas several inhabitants of the northern colonies, residing in the vicinity of Ticonderoga, immediately exposed to incursions, impelled by a just regard for the defense and preservation of themselves and their countrymen from such imminent danger and calamities, have taken possession of that post in which was lodged a quantity of cannon and military stores that would certainly have been used in the intended invasion of these colonies...”
There is some question as to who should take responsibility for the captured lake forts. Neither Connecticut nor Massachusetts wishes to have on this role [cf. May 16 and 17], and New York has been little more than a well wisher to the efforts of its sister colonies [cf. May 2, May 5, and May 12]. The Continental Congress nudges New York along the path toward war by requesting that it take the lead in removing the cannon from Ticonderoga and in establishing “a strong post” to defend them. Like other military measures taken by the colonies to date, these steps are justified by “the overruling law of self-preservation.”
Sunday, May 19:
It is one month since the battle of Lexington and Concord. In Quebec, Governor Guy Carleton receives a letter from Lieutenant-General Thomas Gage describing that battle and requesting him to send the 7th Foot and some companies of Canadians and Indians to Crown Point. Tomorrow Carleton will be shocked when he learns from Moses Hazen of the loss of Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point and Benedict Arnold’s successful raid on Saint-Jean.
Arnold's flotilla on Lake Champlain ensures that the British cannot quickly recapture the lake forts. However, Arnold is concerned that in time the British will transport bateaus to Saint-Jean and challenge him for mastery of the lake. Captain Eleazer Oswald records that “It is Colonel Arnold's present design that the sloop Enterprise, as she is called, and the schooner Liberty, shall cruise on the lake, and defend our frontiers.”
Arnold ships return to Fort Ticonderoga, where more men of his still-forming regiment await him. Feeling triumphant, he dispatches word to Connecticut and Massachusetts of his success and his intention to begin sending cannon to New England. Arnold does not know yet that his efforts have received little notice nor that the decision has already been made to replace him [cf. May 17]. In the weeks ahead, Arnold will struggle hard, but without success, to retain his command. By his count, 86 guns were taken at Ticonderoga, and 111 at Crown Point. A large proportion are deemed “useless,” but the serviceable guns include big 24-pounder cannon and 13-inch howitzers. Because of command difficulties and various setbacks, it will not be until March of 1776 that the guns from the lake forts will have a decisive impact around Boston.
In the short-term, the capture of the lake forts is seen as another example of British weakness and growing American strength. Such incidents have made the public increasingly bellicose. Only a short time ago, the Ticonderoga expedition was seen as potentially undermining the Americans' claim to moral superiority, and its organizers distanced themselves from the potential fallout [cf. April 27 and April 28]. Now the capture is embraced by the Continental Congress. The changing mood is well expressed in a letter Congressional delegate Benjamin Franklin will write on the 23rd: “…as Britain has begun to use force, it seems absolutely necessary that we should be prepared to repel force by force, which I think, united, we are well able to do. It is a true old saying, that make yourselves sheep and the wolves will eat you; to which I may add another, God helps them that help themselves.”