Tuesday, May 9:
The town of Falmouth, Massachusetts (in what is today Maine), has had a tense relationship with a British vessel, the Canso (or Canceaux) stationed in its harbor. The town has been organizing on behalf of the American cause while the vessel has been suppressing rebellious activity. Neither side, however, wants to be initiate open warfare. Matters come to a head when one Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Thompson and a band of some 50 men arrive in town with the purpose of capturing the vessel – especially its valuable supply of gunpowder and cannon. Thompson’s men unexpectedly chance upon the vessel’s captain while he is walking on the beach, and capture him and two of his companions.
British forces in Newport and New York chose prudence over action in the face of colonial belligerence [cf. events of April 20, April 23, April 25, May 6]. This incident, however, is too serious to ignore. The lieutenant left in charge of the Canso threatens to “fire on the town” if the men are not released. To emphasize his point, he fires two cannon loaded with blank charges. A townsman would write, “You can hardly conceive the consternation, confusion, and uproar that immediately ensued. Our women, were, I believe, every one of them in tears, or praying, or screaming; precipitately leaving their houses… and carrying their children… Some persons bed-rid, or in childbed, were hastily removed, with no small danger of their lives.”
A few townsmen suggest trying to rescue the prisoners, but the consensus is “to observe a strict neutrality.” Instead, they rely on persuasion. At first, Thompson “appeared inflexible, and even furious” in response to their appeals, but by the end of the day he is “much cooled” and he paroles the prisoners.
There is no sign of a cooling off among the American forces gathering in the New Hampshire Grants. In Castleton, Benedict Arnold has tried to take command of the planned attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Connecticut did not officially sanction its own expedition, whereas Arnold has orders from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. Thus, Arnold claims, he alone is acting under a legal authority. When Arnold learns that Ethan Allen is in Shoreham, making final preparations for the attack, he sets off in search of him, hoping that he will cede his command.
According to Edward Mott, “When Col. Arnold went after Col. Allen, the whole party followed him for fear he should prevail on Col. Allen to resign the command.” Much to Mott's consternation, the men “left all the provisions, so that I with Capt. Phelps and Babcock was obliged leave the party that I was with, and go with the pack horses with the provisions...”
Epaphras Bull was one of the Connecticut men that went after Arnold. He records in his journal what happens next: “7 o’clock arrived at Shoreham within ½ mile of the lake [Champlain] where we had more intelligence of the security of the fort. Some disputes have arisen on account of Captain Arnold’s taking any command. [We] have however agreed that he take the left hand of Colonel Allen.”
In other words, Allen and Arnold, probably after a heated discussion, agree to hold a kind of joint command.
After this tenuous agreement is reached, Bull jots into his journal “½ after 11 [i.e., 11:30 PM] we are now marching on to the lake being ½ mile.”
To the south, Samuel Herrick’s men succeed in capturing Major Skene but they are unable to bring his schooner up to Shoreham for the planned rendezvous. Likewise, the boats from Crown Point fail to appear.
Wednesday, May 10:
Ethan Allen and his men have obtained a local boat and use it to begin crossing Lake Champlain to Fort Ticonderoga. According to Epaphras Bull:
“About 40 of us got into the first boat and went over within 80 rods of the fort where we waited for the bateau to return and fetch more. They returned in about 1 ½ hours with 2 boats when we proceeded to attack the fort which we reached in a few minutes.”
According to Ethan Allen, “the day began to dawn, and I found myself under a necessity to attack the fort.” Allen now has about 85 men on the western shore, including Benedict Arnold and James Easton. Seth Warner is on the eastern shore with the remainder of the force. Edward Mott is further to the east, in charge of the pack horses. It is now about 4 AM.
Silently, the men march in the dark towards the fort's main gate. They are disappointed to find it shut. However, a small wicker gate to one side has been left open and a part of the men rush through this opening, while others commence scaling the wall of the fort on either side of the main gate. As they enter the fort, the men shout “no quarter, no quarter,” and make an “Indian war-whoop.”
Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold are the first two men through the wicker gate. On the other side, an alarmed British sentry levels his musket at Allen and pulls the trigger. The musket "snaps," but there is no discharge. Moments later, a second sentry also attempts to fire, but his musket likewise fails to ignite. Later the Americans would later discover that the fort's supply of gunpowder has been damaged. One of the sentries manages to prick a Green Mountain Boy with his bayonet, but he is promptly felled by a glancing blow from Allen's sword.
Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham of the 26th Foot is awakened by the commotion. He would later write, "I ran undressed to knock at Captain [William] Delaplace’s door and to receive his orders or wake him.” When Feltham found the door locked, he put on his waistcoat and coat and then made his way through a backdoor into the captain’s room. He then “asked Captain Delaplace, who was now just up, what I should do, and offered to force my way if possible to our men. On opening this door, the bottom of the stairs was filled with the rioters… From the top of the stairs I endeavored to make them hear me, but it was impossible.”
Feltham, awkwardly, is only partially dressed, holding his breeches in one hand. However, he makes the most of the situation. Upon “making a signal not to come up the stairs, they stopped and proclaimed silence among themselves.” Feltham then peppered them with questions, hoping to detain them “till our people fired, which I must certainly own I thought would have been the case.” He asked them, “by what authority they entered his Majesty’s fort, who were the leaders, what [was] their intent, etc., etc., I was informed by one Ethan Allen and one Benedict Arnold that they had a joint command, Arnold informing me he came from instructions received from the Congress at Cambridge, which he afterwards showed me. Mr. Allen told me his orders were from the province of Connecticut and that he must have immediate possession of the fort and all the effects of George the Third (those were his words).”
Feltham was assumed to be the fort’s commander and Ethan Allen held “a drawn sword over my head and numbers of his followers’ firelocks [were] presented at me.” Allen said if the fort was not surrendered, or “a single gun fired… neither man, woman, or child should be left alive in the fort.” Benedict Arnold then interjected “in a genteel manner.”
When the Americans discovered that Feltham was not the commander, Arnold dissuaded the Green Mountain Boys from storming Captain Delaplace’s room. Then, “Captain Delaplace now being dressed came out,” and surrendered.
By this time, most, if not all, of the rank and file have already been captured. Most were sleeping when the Americans stormed the fort. The Americans place these men in one room, with one guard allotted to each captured soldier.
Boats continue to make the long passage back-and-forth across the lake, and by 10 AM, there are around 240 Americans in the fort [see Note 1]. Curiously, one of the boats arriving that morning is British, rather than American. Lieutenant Arthur Wadman arrives from Canada; he was supposed to have relieved Lieutenant Feltham. Now both men are captives.
Benedict Arnold carefully studies the captured fort and finds it to be "in a most ruinous condition and not worth repairing." Edward Mott, recently arrived with provisions, agrees. He calls it “a fort of broken walls and gates, and but few cannon in order, and very much out of repair.” Meanwhile, Allen dispatches a party of about 50 men, led by Seth Warner, to capture Crown Point.
The volunteers take little interest in these military matters, and instead begin to plunder the fort, especially its stores of liquor. Soon they pass around “the flowing bowl.” Arnold is appalled and orders the men to stop. When they refuse to listen to him, he insists to the other officers that he should be placed in sole command. According to Mott, the volunteers “declared they would go right home, for they would not be commanded by Arnold.”
Mott then writes out orders giving sole command of the fort to Ethan Allen. He does this, he claims, “from the power and authority to us given by the Colony of Connecticut.” Arnold is sidelined and some of the volunteers threaten to kill him.
Arnold writes to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety about the capture of the fort and his current predicament. It's not known to whom Arnold entrusts this letter, but it is not to be delivered [see Note 2]. Meanwhile, Easton composes a scathing letter about Arnold to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which will be received.
By the close of the day, Warner's expedition to Crown Point is called off, either because of insufficient men or headwinds. Allen orders Epaphras Bull to lead the British rank and file into captivity in Connecticut. The British officers and their families will be sent away later.
Far to the south, a party of delegates arrives in Philadelphia for the start of the second Continental Congress. The delegates hail from New England, New York, and New Jersey, but they are traveling together. Among them is Silas Deane, who writes to his wife that the entourage was met “about six miles on this side [of] the city by about two hundred of the principal gentlemen, on horseback, with their swords drawn… Thence began a most lengthy procession; half the gentlemen on horseback, in the van; next to them, ten men on horseback, with bayonets fixed; then [John] Hancock and [Samuel] Adams, then Payne [Robert Treat Paine], next Mr. [John] De Hart, next Col. [William] Floyd and Mr. [Simon] Boerum, in a phaeton, with two most elegant white English horses ; then your humble servant and Col. [Eliphalet] Dyer; then Father [Thomas] Cushing and John Adams; Mr. [Roger] Sherman next ; then Mr. [Philip] Livingston… Our rear closed with the remainder of the gentlemen on horseback, with swords drawn, and then the carriages from the city. At about two miles distance, we were met by a company on foot, and then by a company of riflemen… Thus rolling and gathering like a snow-ball, we approached the city, which was full of people, and the crowd as great as at New York; the bells all ringing, and the air rent with shouts and huzzas. My little bay horses were put in such a fright that I was in fear of killing several of the spectators; however, no harm was done, and after much fatigue we were landed at the New City Tavern.”
Once in town Deane learns that the other colonies have also taken up arms, and he optimistically projects “that on the whole, America has now more than one hundred thousand ready to take the field.” Unfortunately, for Deane this means that “The drum and fife are hourly sounding in every street, and my brainpan is this moment echoing to the beat, parading under my window.”
Note 1: There is considerable variance on this count among the sources. Allen claimed 230, James Easton 240, and Feltham 300.
Note 2: Or so it would seem. I could find no evidence of its receipt in Peter Force's American Archives or the records of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.