How to Use
Reading 2: The Americans
Most of the residents in New Hampshire supported independence, though for the men of the Hampshire Grants independence from New York was often at least as important as independence from Great Britain. The farmers from the Grants were among the first to rally to the call to arms when hostilities between the British and the colonists erupted at Concord and Lexington. In 1775, a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys joined Benedict Arnold and Patriots from Massachusetts in a successful attack on the British at Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain. By June 1777, the newly declared state of Vermont was preparing to select delegates to the Continental Congress. When Burgoyne captured Ticonderoga in July, Vermont appealed to New Hampshire for assistance in stopping the British invasion. John Langdon, presiding officer of the legislature and a rich man, offered critical help:
I have $3000 in hard money; my plate I will pledge for as much more. I have seventy hogsheads of Tobago rum, which shall be sold for the most they will bring. These are at the service of the State. If we succeed, I shall be remunerated; if not, they will be of no use to me. We can raise a brigade; and our friend Stark who so nobly sustained the honor of our arms at Bunker's hill may safely be entrusted with the command, and we will check Burgoyne. ¹
Lt. Gen. John Stark had fought with the Continental Army at Bunker Hill, in Canada, and at the Battle of Trenton, but resigned when he was passed over for promotion. He agreed to take command of the New Hampshire militia on condition that he operate independently, outside the authority of the Continental Congress. Within six days, almost 1500 men signed up. Stark was difficult, but his experience was needed.
At Bennington, Stark commanded approximately 2,200 militiamen who had assembled to oppose Burgoyne's advance. Some 1400 came from New Hampshire, 600 from Vermont, about 40 from New York, and the balance came from Massachusetts and Connecticut. The volunteers were mostly farmers and townspeople. There was no time for lengthy training and no money for uniforms or expensive weapons. The volunteers left their businesses or farms wearing their usual clothes and often carrying their own guns. A British soldier captured at Bennington described the appearance of the colonial militia:
Each had a wooden flask of rum hung on his neck. They were all in bare shirts, had nothing on their bodies but a shirt, vest, long linen trousers which extended to the shoe, no stockings--powder horn, bullet bag, rum flask, and musket.²
The volunteers were unpracticed in military discipline, but Stark knew how to lead them. When the Battle of Bennington began, he calmed his nervous soldiers, facing cannon for the first time, by joking that: "The rascals know I'm an officer; they're firing a salute in my honor." Later, as the battle rose in fury, he is supposed to have told his troops: "There stand the redcoats; today they are ours, or Molly Stark sleeps this night a widow."³
Questions for Reading 2
1. What is meant when it says, "for the men of the Hampshire Grants independence from New York was often at least as important as independence from Great Britain?" If needed, refer to Reading 1.
2. Who were the main groups fighting on the American side? How many men were in each group? Why were they fighting? Who were their leaders? Make a chart comparing the information about American forces to the information presented in Reading 1 about the British forces. Based on this information, which group do you think was better prepared for battle? Explain your answer.
3. Why do you think John Langdon offered to give up so much of his fortune for the Rebel cause? Can you figure out what "plate" is? What do you think he meant when he said his plate would "be of no use to me" if they failed?
4. What qualities made John Stark a good choice to lead the American troops at the Battle of Bennington?
Reading 2 was compiled from Richard Greenwood, "Bennington Battlefield" (Rensselaer County, New York) National Historic Landmark documentation, Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1975 and from Philip Lord, Jr., compiler, War Over Walloomscoick: Land Use and Settlement Patterns on the Bennington Battlefield-1777 (Albany: The State Education Department, 1989).
¹"Souvenir Program: One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Bennington" (Wallomsac, NY: State of New York Cooperating with the State of Vermont, 1927), 7.