Monday, May 15:
Benedict Arnold’s expedition departs Crown Point for Saint-Jean. The winds continue to be unfavorable, so Arnold packs himself and 30 men into the bateau and they row hard down the lake. They spend the night at Split Rock, some 15 miles to the north, but far short of their destination. The Liberty is slow to follow, but at least it has the good fortune to intercept a mail boat traveling from Canada. On board is Ensign Joseph Moland of the 26th Foot, who is carrying a document listing all of the British troops in Canada. There are 717 to be exact: far more than the Americans can quickly muster.
James Easton is travelling through Massachusetts to bring word of the taking of Fort Ticonderoga to the Provincial Congress. While en route, he “met several hundred men… on their way to Ticonderoga.” These are very likely men that have responded to Arnold’s call to arms. Whether by design or not, Easton discourages many of these men from continuing onward when he tells them that the fort has already fallen.
Tuesday, May 16:
Benedict Arnold’s command enjoys a favorable wind for a good part of the day. The Liberty makes especially good time and overtakes Arnold in the bateau. The two vessels reach Point Au Fer before becoming becalmed. Arnold is still nearly 30 miles from Saint-Jean, but he is determined to press on as quickly as possible. According to one of his captains, “We immediately armed our two boats, manned them with thirty-five men, and determined, by dint of rowing, to fetch St. John' s, and take the place and the King' s sloop by surprise at break of day.”
The Connecticut Committee of Correspondence writes to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress after learning that expeditions from the two colonies, while successful in taking Ticonderoga, came into conflict “about the right to command and hold this important pass.” The Committee feigns ignorance about the origins of the Connecticut expedition, writing that it was “set on foot by some individuals of this colony, in a secret manner.” At least two of the conspirators (Samuel Parsons and Samuel Bishop) are on the committee. Wishing to mend relations, they add, “We consider all the Colonies, and the New-England Colonies especially, as brethren united together in one joint interest, and pursuing the same general design… This is not a time for the Colonies to contend about precedency, but we hope all will wish to put out a helping hand, and mutually afford each other all necessary assistance against our common enemy.”
The Committee is happy to pass off responsibility for the fort to Massachusetts, noting “Some parts of your Province are more conveniently situated to furnish men, etc., for maintaining our possession. We doubt not you will exert yourselves to secure every advantage which may arise from this successful attempt, in which we hope the city and county of Albany, and the colony of Connecticut will co-operate with you, but of this we cannot assure you, as our calls are very many.”
Wednesday, May 17:
Benedict Arnold’s party spend the night “rowing hard” down Canada’s Richelieu River and at sunrise pull into “a small creek” on the western shore [see Note 1]. From there, one man is dispatched to reconnoiter the fort while his comrades wait impatiently amid “numberless swarms of gnats and mosquitoes.” When the man returns he reports that the guards “were unapprised of our coming, though they had heard of the taking of Ticonderoga and Crown Point.” After the canoe arrived with word of the American presence on the lakes, the British commander at Saint-Jean rode to Montreal to obtain reinforcements. The commander is expected back at any time, but for the moment, the outpost is without an officer. Arnold would write, “it seemed to be a mere interposition of Providence that we arrived at so fortunate an hour.”
Arnold’s men then row down to the fort and land a short distance from the barracks. According to Captain Eleazer Oswald, “the men [British soldiers] had their arms, but upon our briskly marching up in their faces, they retired within the barracks, left their arms, and resigned themselves into our hands.” Arnold’s men then proceed to take the sloop, nine other boats, and the military stores on site. In all, Arnold’s men take 1 sergeant and 12 men of the 26th regiment and 7 other men that are with the sloop [see Note 2]. While this is taking place, Arnold meets Moses Hazen, a retired British infantry who has extensive land holdings in the area. Arnold tells him of the capture of the lake forts and brags that he has “command of five hundred men, that volunteers to the amount of fifteen hundred followed him, but he did not wait for them all.”
Arnold has too few men to carry off all of the boats, and so five of the bateaus are destroyed. His expedition sets sail under a favorable wind just 2 hours after their arrival. Arnold sails aboard the sloop, which he renames Enterprise [see Note 3].
About six miles from Saint-Jean, Arnold’s men encounters Ethan Allen’s party. According to Allen, “When I met him [Arnold] with my party… he saluted me with a discharge of cannon, which I returned with a volley of small arms. This being repeated three times, I went on board the [captured] sloop with my party, where several loyal Congress healths were drank.” Allen announces that his men will continue to Saint-Jean, despite the successful conclusion of Arnold’s raid, and that they would “maintain the ground.” Arnold regards this is as “a wild, impracticable scheme,” but Allen remains determined. Arnold then supplies Allen’s men with provisions, “his men being in a starving condition.”
Allen’s men arrive at Saint-Jean that evening. At about 8pm, Joseph Bindon rides into his camp. Bindon is a Montreal merchant that is sympathetic to the American cause. He tells Allen that Major Charles Preston of the 26th Foot is leading a force of 140 men from Montreal to secure Saint-Jean. Allen requests through Bindon that the Montreal merchants supply his men with food, ammunition, and liquor. Allen also sets an ambush in the woods along the road leading to the fort. However, there is no confrontation: Preston camps for the night in the woods some distance away.
In Massachusetts, James Easton “brings the glorious news of the taking of [Ticonderoga] by the American forces without the loss of a man” to the Provincial Congress. He gives the Congress letters by Edward Mott and Ethan Allen written shortly afterwards and he is invited also to state his version of events. Easton elevates himself to a starring role. He claims that after entering the fort, “The commanding officer soon came forth; Colonel Easton clapped him upon the shoulder, told him he was his prisoner, and demanded, in the name of America, an instant surrender of the fort, with all its contents, to the American forces.”
The several accounts that the Provincial Congress receives either do not mention Benedict Arnold or refer to him in only the most scathing terms. Edward Mott's letter complains “Arnold refuses to give up his command, which causes much difficulty; said Arnold not having enlisted one man, neither do we know that he has or could do it… we think that said Arnold' s farther procedure in this matter highly inexpedient…”
Arnold wrote the Massachusetts Committee of Safety on May 10th and 11th. The first letter has disappeared. The second letter will not arrive for another 5 days. With this one-sided version of events, the Provincial Congress decides to divest itself of Arnold. The Congress writes the Connecticut Assembly and extends to them “congratulations… on the reduction of that important fortress, Ticonderoga.” The Congress is “of opinion, that the advantageous situation of that fortress makes it highly expedient that it should be repaired, and properly garrisoned.” They also “should be extremely glad if all the battery cannon, especially brass cannon, which can be spared from that place, or procured from Crown Point… may be forwarded this way, with all possible expedition…” The Congress suggests that Arnold should be responsible for bringing the cannon to Massachusetts, which will end the command controversy while allowing all parties to save face. Like Connecticut, Massachusetts believes that “our common danger ought to unite us in the strongest bonds of unity and affection.”
Note 1: Possibly what was then known as the Petite-Rivière-du-Nord and today is called Rivière Bernier. This small river is about a mile from the fort.
Note 2: According to Arnold's May 19th letter to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. Guy Carleton (through Moses Hazen) claimed that 1 sergeant and 10 men were taken, and Eleazer Oswald claimed that Arnold took 14 prisoners.
Note 3: The first of a number of famous vessels by that name in American history [wikipedia].