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Robert Rogers

Rogers, Robert, 1731–95, American frontiersman, b. Methuen, Mass. As a child he moved with his family to the New Hampshire frontier. In King George's War (1744–48) he served briefly as a scout. In the last of the French and Indian Wars he was appointed (1758) major in command of all rangers. Rogers led (1759) his men in a daring expedition that resulted in the destruction of the Native Americans of the Saint Francis branch of the Abnaki. In 1760 he was sent to receive the submission of the French posts on the Great Lakes, and in 1763 he served on the expedition to defend Fort Detroit, which was threatened by Pontiac's Rebellion.

His many exploits made him a popular hero, but his participation in illicit trade with the Native Americans brought him into official disgrace. He went (1765) to England to obtain pay for his service. There he was much feted, and his Journals and A Concise Account of North America were published in 1765. He also wrote a crude play, Ponteach (1766), important primarily as an early American drama.

Successful in securing an appointment as commander of the post at Mackinac, he returned to the Northwest. His career there has been the subject of much speculation and discussion. Rogers, who was ambitious to find the Northwest Passage, sent out the mysterious expedition of Jonathan Carver to the Northwest, quarreled with his associates, was accused of plotting to set up an independent state, and was arrested on charges of treasonable dealings with the French. Brought to Montreal in chains and court-martialed, he was acquitted of all charges.

In 1769 he went to England, but he returned in 1775 to America and played such an equivocal role at the beginning of the American Revolution that he was imprisoned as a Loyalist spy. He escaped and openly joined the Loyalists, but his record in the war was anything but distinguished. In 1780 he returned to England, dying there in 1795 in obscurity.

See his play, Ponteach, ed. with a biographical account by A. Nevins (1914, repr. 1973); his journals, ed. by F. B. Hough (1883, repr. 1966); biography by J. R. Cuneo (1959).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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