The New England colonies learned early on that to defend the frontier against native war parties it was crucial to meet them on their own terms. This meant having scouting parties ranging the woods in all times of the year. In Queen Anne’s War the government of Massachusetts ordered frontier towns to have snowshoes available, and they also established “snowshoe companies.” Snowshoe Companies were men living on the frontier who could be called into service at short notice, soldiers the government had reason to trust. The officers of the snowshoe companies had provincial commissions. This system saved the government money. Instead of getting soldiers from the more settled areas and posting them on the frontier for months at a time (and pay them for the whole time), they could call on frontiersmen (and thus be already on the front) with experience, and only pay them for the actual time in the field.
The men selected for Snowshoe companies provided the backbone of offensive raiding parties sent out by the provincial governments. Offensive raids can be viewed in rather simple terms – they were either intelligence gathering probes or search and destroy missions. In the former case, the most common method of gathering intelligence concerning the Eastern Indian tribes were small companies of soldiers sent on deep probes into Indian territory. Provincial soldiers scouted the lands of the Penacook Indians around Lake Winnipesaukee, the Pequawkets at the head of the Saco, and the Norridgewocks on the Kennebec. They sought signs of large Indian parties on the move, evidence of planting activities, and the location of fishing and hunting areas. The purpose of the search and destroy missions was threefold: to disrupt the economy of the Eastern Indians; to intimidate the raiding parties with the presence of provincial soldiers on their invasion routes; and to destroy warriors through ambush and battle. The commanders of these raids were apprised of these goals through simple but explicit instructions. In 1725 Captain Samuel Willard in 1725 was ordered to scout to Pequawket and then down the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers. Willard was to, “Kill, Take and Destroy to the utmost of your power all the Enemy Indians you can meet in your March, and Search for their Corn, destroying all you can find.”
The ability to conduct such raids had been honed through the years, building mostly on the experience of Benjamin Church and the example of the Indians themselves. For Europeans, the prospect of navigating through the woods, and surviving for weeks at a time far from any settlement was daunting. Difficulties in the procurement of provisions could create serious problems for long range scouts. Food and replacement clothing had to be gathered and prepared, and then transported by the soldiers, usually in knapsacks (“snapsacks“). Smaller scouts could also hunt as they marched, and, like their French and Indian counterparts, New England soldiers became adept at procuring game. A company under John White and Seth Wyman, which left Lancaster, Massachusetts in July, 1725 and scouted in New Hampshire for about a month, augmented their stores with several bears and a black moose. They also killed “divers Rattle snakes, which pestered us very much in our march.” Earlier that same year a scout under the command of John Lovewell reportedly “were well entertained with Moose, Bear, and Deer; together with Salmon Trout, some of which were three feet long, and weighed twelve pounds apiece.”
Because of the physical demands placed on offensive scouts, officers employed only the best soldiers available to them. In 1695 Major Charles Frost of Kittery informed the Bay government that the raiding party he had dispatched up the coast of Maine “are well fixt with armes: and are the best of all souldiers,” and Johnson Harmon, returning from a scout up the Saco river in 1723, reported that “the 120 men that I have the Honour to Command [are] most of them Old Experienced Souldiers.” Benjamin Church recommended that soldiers employed on raids “be men of good reason and sense … for bad men are but a clog and hinderance to an army, being a trouble and vexation to good commanders, and so many mouths to devour the country’s provision, and a hinderance to all good action.”
Offensive scouts varied greatly in size, from a handful of men to large companies numbering several hundred. But all operated on the march, or at least were supposed to operate, in a similar manner. As the main party followed a trail or a river, smaller scouts would be constantly detached to investigate signs of enemy activity and to prevent ambush. The provincial governments often explicitly ordered that raiding parties and probes “take special care to avoid danger by ambusments, of being drawn under any disadvantage by the enemy in your marches, keeping out scouts and a forlorn hope before your main body.” The journal of a scout led by Captain John Cagon in September 1722, provides an excellent example of how scouts were conducted. The purpose of the scout was to probe for signs of enemy activity on the Merrimack and up into the Penacook and Pequawket regions. Leaving Dunstable, Massachusetts on September 18, the scout travelled in canoes up the Merrimack river. On the 19th they overturned a canoe losing two cooking kettles and one gun, although “with much difficulty” they managed to recover the weapon. On the 20th they continued up the river, sending scouts along each bank to look for sign and possible ambush.
Every day they continued this same pattern, the main body on the river in canoes with flanking scouts on each bank. Cagon also sent out small parties to investigate rivers and likely routes of travel for enemy raiding parties. For example, on the 22nd they camped at the mouth of the Contoocook river where the returning scouts reported they had heard Indians “hallowing” nearby. The next morning Cagon sent out three parties; one of seven men up the Contoocook, another seven to the “Wenopessocket” river, and two men sent “about the mountains.” All the scouts reported finding no sign. That night they heard a gunshot up the Contoocook, and, quickly seizing their weapons, left camp to investigate but found nothing. Cagon spent the next day camped at the Contoocook as well, sending scouts up the rivers again with the same negative results. The rest of Cagon’s scout , which took him across Lake Winnepesauki, continued with the same procedures.
Essentially, what we are portraying is a certain kind of provincial soldier, a man living on the frontier, a veteran of many raids and patrols, the kind of soldier Robert Rogers learned his techniques from (No, he didn’t make them up. He participated in patrols and raids on the New Hampshire frontier during King George’s War). We will be portraying these veteran provincial soldiers from the frontier of New England (the provincial version of modern LRP). Let me reiterate, we are provincial soldiers, but in portraying snowshoe men we will be veterans from the frontier.
As we needed an identity, and as 1995 Louisbourg event was the impetus for forming, we chose John Harmon’s Snowshoe Company of York, Maine. Johnson Harmon, his younger brother, John, and Jeremiah Moulton, all of York, were active militarily throughout the early 18th century. All were alive when the Indians struck York in 1692. The Harmon’s were young boys, and Moulton about 6. The Harmon garrison was one of five to survive the 1692 raid. Johnson and Jeremiah were active during Queen Anne’s War. Jeremiah Moulton is listed as a sergeant, and I believe made Lt. By the end of the war. Johnson Harmon helped repulse “fifty canoos” of Indians at Winter Harbor (Biddeford). Johnson was captured in 1710 and spent time in Quebec. In the summer of 1711 Harmon was allowed to return to effect an exchange with an Ensign Beauvenire de Vercheres captured at Haverhill in 1708.
“Capt. Harmon who was now in Kennebeck, went up the river with a detachment of thirty-four men, and seeing some fires, went ashore in the night, where he came on eleven canoes. The Indians were lying around the fire, and so wearied, by much dancing the day before, upon the success that they had, that they stumbled over them, as they lay asleep. Reports were various as to the number of Indians that were then slain; some say eighteen; others not so many; however, they brought away fifteen guns; and at a little distance, found the hand of an Englishman laid on the stump of a tree, and his body mangled after a barbarous manner; having his tongue, nose, and private parts cut off. They brought away the body and gave it a decent burial. It was found to be the body of Moses Eaton of Salisbury”
“Penhallow’s Indian Wars, p. 87, (originally published 1726) Kraus Reprint 1969, NY
Dummer’s War found the Harmon’s and Moulton in their prime, leading many scouts and patrols. Johnson and Jeremiah were both captains in the raid on Norridgewock in 1724. Jeremiah led the attack on the actual village while Johnson swept through the cornfields. Johnson was promoted Lt. Col. for his part. By 1745, Johnson Harmon was 70 years old and yet still applied to take part in the Louisbourg Expedition. John Harmon, at age 65, commanded the Snowshoe Company in York, and Jeremiah Moulton commanded a regiment at the siege. A letter survives written to William Pepperrell by Dr. Alexander Bulman of York, Maine, February 4, 1745 in which Bulman says, “I tho’t it might not be agreeable to let you know that agreeable to the late proclamation, this day several companies of the town were called together, (except one), and there was considerable readiness in many to enlist; and as I was informed 17 of Capt. Harmon’s snowshoe men have already entered their names enlisted.”….