Thursday, December 8, 2016

An Opportunity for Revenge - The Loyalist Evacuation Mission of 1780

In 1780, Loyalist units based in Canada launched a daring rescue mission into New York.  For these loyalists, participation in the 1780 operation was more than opportunity to get away from the boredom of garrison duty.  Instead, this activity represented an opportunity of revenge for the failures of Saratoga.  

In March, 1780, Ensign Walter Sutherland of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York returned from a scout to Johnstown, New York.  In his report to Governor Frederick Haldimand, Sutherland disclosed that New York rebels intended to force all military age men, including Loyalists, into units stationed along the Canadian border.  Those who refused would be arrested, their homes destroyed and their property confiscated. Horrified, Haldimand ordered Loyalist Sir John Johnson to organize a relief force to evacuate all military age loyalist men and their families from the Johnstown area.

Governor Sir Frederick Haldimand
In preparation for the raid, British military officials ordered three separate detachments to assemble.  The first consisted of thirty four men and two officers from the 29th, 34th and 53rd regiments.  The second was composed of an officer and twenty men from the Hesse Hanau Jaegers. The final detachment was composed of Loyalists.  One hundred and sixty-one men were from the King’s Royal Regiment were recruited for the mission, while an additional fifty men were drafted from the Loyal American Volunteers, Queen’s Loyal Rangers and King’s Loyal Americans.  

On April 13, 1780, the detachments assembled at Ile-aux-Noix.  Upon arrival, the entire raiding party, composed of over two hundred and fifty men and officers, was placed under the command of Sir John Johnson and Captain Thomas Scott of the 53rd Regiment.

The troops were transported by water from Ile-aux-Noix down Lake Champlain to Crown Point.  Once on land, the soldiers travelled south-west, skirting around Schroon Lake.  On May 21, 1780, the raiders attacked Kingsborough Patent, located north of Johnstown, and rescued one hundred forty three loyalists, including women and children, and thirty slaves.  Johnson then led his troops into Johnstown, burned several buildings, rescued dozens of loyalists and captured twenty-seven rebels.  Afterwards, the raiders burned one hundred and twenty barns, mills and houses located in a four mile arc south of Johnstown.

Belt Plate of King's Royal Regiment of New York

New York authorities rushed to stop the raids and dispatched over eight hundred Continental troops and militia to intercept Johnson and his men.  A second force of nine hundred rebels was raised in the Hampshire Grants and ordered west towards Johnstown.  Over the next four days, the raiders, their prisoners and loyalist refugees were doggedly pursued by the Americans and forced to continuously change direction as they withdrew towards Crown Point.  However, Johnson successfully reached the ruined fort and escaped by water just as two thousand rebel troops and militia arrived at the shoreline of Lake Champlain.  Fortunately, the rebels were unable to pursue and were forced to watch helplessly as their prey escaped north to Canada.  

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