A true soldier of fortune, Robert Rogers was born in Metheun, Massachusetts, and grew up on the New Hampshire frontier. Six feet tall and gifted with great physical endurance, he became known for his skill in the woods.
When the French and Indian War began in 1754, Rogers worked as a recruiting officer. In 1756, he became captain of an independent company of rangers. “Rogers’s Rangers” soon became famous for their exploits against the Abenaki Indians, who were allied with the French.
In October 1759, Rogers led his men on their most daring mission. They crossed the border into French Canada and nearly destroyed the Abenaki settlement of St. Francis on the south side of the St. Lawrence River. At the age of 29, Rogers had become the most celebrated fighter in the American colonies.
In 1761, Rogers married Elizabeth Browne of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. For the next four years, Rogers continued to battle Indians on the frontier. In 1765, he resigned his commission and went to England. There, he published his memoirs and produced a play about his adventures in the colonies. His writings show that he was a sharp and sympathetic observer of the American Indians.
Rogers returned to America and served as commandant of Fort Michilimackinac, between Lakes Michigan and Huron from 1766 to 1768. However, he was dismissed from that post after being accused of treason for dealing with the French. He was tried and acquitted; he then returned to London, seeking to revive his fortunes.
Things went from bad to worse. Plagued by financial problems throughout his life, Rogers was soon thrown into London’s debtors’ prison. He remained there for 22 months, and emerged from jail a man broken both in health and spirit.
Rogers returned to North America in 1775, just at the start of the American Revolution. After a brief reunion in Portsmouth, his wife sent him away and began divorce proceedings. He never saw her or their son again.
General George Washington distrusted Rogers and had him briefly imprisoned as a spy for the British. This turned Rogers into a true Loyalist. He joined the British side and became commander of the Queen’s American Rangers, a regiment of Tories. He was defeated at White Plains, New York in 1776 and was removed from command in 1777.
Rogers fled to England in 1780. He spent more time in debtors’ prisons and died alone in a lodging house in London. It was a tragic end for a brave, military hero and frontier adventurer.