Who were the men who served in the Snowshoe Companies ?

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Recent research points away from the theory that between 1689 and 1763 the provincial soldiers of New England were drawn increasingly from the outcasts and downtrodden in society, forced to serve by economic pressures or by the government through the press. The evidence seems to indicate that provincial service attracted the same soldiers throughout the French wars. First, they were volunteers, with only a relatively small percentage of pressed or hired men. Second, they came from one of four major groups: 1. Single men of established families, including young men serving with their fathers or on their own, or older men, bachelors or widowers, all usually seeking some adventure or a change of pace; 2. Those young men recently married or about to be, seeking independence from parents, or simply a better start for their new families; 3. Older men with children approaching the age of independence who needed to be provided for; 4. The downtrodden and destitute did obviously perform military service as well, men who volunteered because they had nowhere else to turn. Absent from the list are middle-aged men with large families on whom the economic pressures of maintaining the farm or trade descended the hardest.

The one exception to this picture is involvement in extended service. Here the contrast with regular service is quite startling, and the image of the New England soldier closely resembles the stereotype. When performing patrols, raids, expeditions and even garrison duty at frontier forts in time of war, the four groups enumerated above composed the forces involved. But the lonely vigils at garrison houses, at provincial forts between conflicts, at Port Royal after 1710 and Louisbourg after October, 1745 were left to the outcasts and downtrodden, to the pressed and hired men.

Anathema to New England men, extended military service was avoided if at all possible. Provincial commanders on the frontier put their pressed and hired men in the garrison houses, keeping their more reliable volunteers for patrols and raiding, and only a desperate or a pressed man would garrison a fort during peacetime. A survey of company rolls taken in September and November at Louisbourg reveals that, with the exception of officers, it was overwhelmingly the single men and those names without records who remained behind.

With the exception of the small number of pressed and hired men, the typical provincial soldier did not separate "military service from the responsibilities of citizenship," but undoubtedly weighed the obligation to community and province along with the economic advantages when deciding to enlist. Only extended tours made men balk, revealing the weakness of the New England military system, and thrusting those "expendable" members of society into the forefront of provincial service.

An inquiry into the men who performed active military service from Dover, New Hampshire in 1745 reinforces the theory that provincials were not drawn principally from the disadvantaged in New England society. Fifty-one men have been identified as enlisting for the Louisbourg campaign from the New Hampshire community, and, while they were away, forty more spent a week in August patrolling the woods north of Rochester. Although the type of service was quite different, the former an expedition involving a sea voyage and a minimum of three to four months away from home, the latter a short, local patrol, the profile of the men who served in both was exactly the same. Of the ninety-one soldiers from Dover, seventeen are obscure, simply names on the roll. No records exist and their family names are not recognized as prominent in the town records, and indeed, probably represent the down and outers of Dover society. Of the fifty-one whose ages are known, only one was under twenty. Twenty-six fell between 20-29, six were 30-39 and eighteen were forty or over, including two men who were fifty-nine when they went to Louisbourg.

Of the twenty-seven men whose marital status could be discovered, eight were single, and with one exception, those who were married had either been married less than eight years, or more than seventeen. The middle range of years married, eight to seventeen, was missing from both companies (The one exception to the missing middle range was Sergeant Benjamin Libby who had been married eleven years when he went to Louisbourg. He was also fifty-two and was the only married man from Dover to remain at Louisbourg over the winter. A marriage at forty-one suggests a second wife, but no record exists of a first marriage.). Coupled with the low number of men in their thirties this figure is suggestive, but only suggestive. The sampling is too small to be conclusive of anything. But as a randomly chosen test, the men from Dover, New Hampshire seem to resemble more the soldiers described above.

We have to remember that these people were not desk jockeys like us. We let our bodies go to rack and ruin because we don’t use them. I am not sure age was as much a factor as experience, determination and physical fitness. Johnson Harmon was 45 and Jeremiah Moulton 38 or 39 when they led the raid on Norridgewock in 1725. Moulton was at least 58 when he commanded a regiment at Louisbourg. As for the specifics about the men from York in Harmon’s Snowshoe Company, I have not dug into the town records to determine where they lived. We do have the names of those in the Snowshoe Company who volunteered for Louisbourg: Sgt Joseph Webber, Joseph Cole, Hugh Holman, Noah Penass, Joshua Ramsdell, Daniel Young, Moses Samoss, John Gary, Paul Roach and John Wells. John Harmon had to be 60. He was listed as a lieutenant in the town militia in 1724 (but he did not go to Louisbourg).