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History is closer than you think

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We live surprisingly close to history; we need only look for ties to the past.

Living where I do, I can walk the properties granted Benedict Arnold’s sons after the American Revolution and the cemetery where they and their descendents rest.

More than 230 years separate the Revolution and us, but in a way I can reach back to 1779 when Daniel Robertson assumed command at Fort Oswegatchie. Robertson, then in his mid-40s, was a veteran of the French and Indian War.

As an ensign in the 42nd Regiment, Robertson participated in the September 1760 capture of Montreal. Fortune served him well. The 27-year-old married a 19-year-old widow Marie-Louise Réaume and entered into a wealthy Canadian family.

Duty soon had him off to the capture of Martinique, the siege of Havana and the Pontiac War. He returned to Montreal in 1763.

The well-connected Robertson purchased land along Lake Champlain and became an honored member of the grand jury. He favored a more democratic government and signed petitions in 1773 and 1774 requesting a legislative assembly.

Nonetheless, at the outbreak of the American Revolution he accepted the rank of major in the Montreal militia. Within weeks, he was appointed captain-lieutenant of the 1st Battalion Royal Highland Immigrants, 84th Regiment, and marched his company to Fort St. Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) to defend against Continental soldiers led by General Richard Montgomery. Nov. 3, 1775 the fort capitulated and Robertson was a prisoner off to Connecticut. Exchanged in early 1777, he rejoined his regiment.

Marie-Louise had died in 1773, leaving Robertson with sole care of a son and three daughters.

When they came of age, the young women married well. His son was commissioned an ensign in the 84th under his father when Robertson took command of Fort Oswegatchie in September 1779.

From Fort Oswegatchie, Robertson directed Indian and ranger raids into the Mohawk Valley.

Oswegatchie processed many raids. July 1777, Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger of the 34th Regiment passed with his ill-fated expedition to Fort Stanwix. Mannheim, a settlement northeast of Little Falls, was attacked and prisoners taken in 1778.

Retaliating for an earlier assault, a raid out of Oswegatchie struck Fort Stanwix in June 1779. Prisoners and scalps were taken.

In September 1780, a party from Oswegatchie burned houses and barns in the vicinity of Fort Dayton.

The following year, a destructive foray to Canada Creek burned buildings, slaughtered horses and cows, and killed a farmer, his son and two militiamen.

Robertson commanded a June 1782 attack into the Mohawk Valley, reportedly several hundred strong. This is in the novel and movie Drums Along The Mohawk. Robertson burned Ellice’s Mill, perhaps another and a number of homes.

Prior to the mill attack, which resulted in death or capture of Americans, advance parties had killed or captured American scouts. After burning the mill, the raiders besieged Fort Herkimer.

According to questionable local lore, the siege was abandoned because the noise of horns and beaten pots from a distant wedding party was thought to be an advancing American army. Robertson’s incursion may have coincided with two dozen raiding Indians also out of Oswegatchie.

On return, Robertson was ordered to Fort Michilimackinac to rein in Indian Department spending and complete the fortifications. Departing Oswegatchie Aug. 13, 1782, with his son, he took command Sept. 18.

To shorten the story, Robertson returned to Montreal from Michilimackinac in summer 1787.

Ensconced in Montreal society he did well. November 1790 Robertson was promoted major and February 1793 to a captaincy in the 60th Foot, Royal American Regiment, followed in six months with advancement to lieutenant colonel and to colonel in January 1798. His promotions, aside from captain, were separate preferments within the army.

By 1806 Robertson accumulated more than 5,000 acres, amassed from grants for himself and his children and purchased from disbanded soldiers, in Chatham Township on the Lower Canada (Quebec) side of the Ottawa River. In 1797 he surveyed 285 lots. By 1804, 43 families totaling 170 people had settled.

He was appointed justice of the peace in 1799 and school commissioner in 1805. By 1808 he was colonel of the Argenteuil militia.

Although financial difficulties reduced his wealth, his remaining 3,000 acres were purchased from his estate. Robertson’s two granddaughters did best by his will.

On April 13, 1810, at age 77, he was buried with military honors at Montreal’s Scotch Presbyterian Church.

Above I wrote I could reach back to Daniel Robertson. Why? I own a small portion of his grant in Brownsburg-Chatham, Argenteuil County, Quebec.

Michael Whittaker resides in Bishop’s Mills, Ontario, and is a former member of the Fort La Presentation Association Board of Directors. He currently serves on the association’s marketing committee. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the association.

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