Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley: The St. Leger Expedition of 1777

Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley: The St. Leger Expedition of 1777

Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley: The St. Leger Expedition of 1777

Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley: The St. Leger Expedition of 1777


In the summer of 1777, while the British and the Americans were engaged in the bitter American Revolution, a massive campaign was launched from Canada into New York State.

Brigadier Barry St. Leger led a crucial expedition from Lake Ontario into the Mohawk Valley. The goal was to travel by waterways to join Lieutenant General John Burgoyne in the siege of Albany. But Leger encountered obstacles along the way. While laying siege to Fort Stanwix, Leger received word that Benedict Arnold was leading a massive relief column that was headed their way. Leger and his men retreated, and despite a later attempt to carry on, were never able to help Burgoyne. The Americans then destroyed the British-held Fort Ticonderoga, marking the end of the campaign.

The results of the failed St. Leger expedition were historic. Not only was the loss of Fort Ticonderoga was a major blow to the British war effort, but the campaign also brought about the disillusionment of the Iroquois Confederacy, and saw the founding of the infamous Butler's Rangers and the first major campaign of Sir John Johnson's King's Royal Regiment.


On a winter’s day in England in 1776, Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne met with Guy Johnson, an exiled colonel of Indian Affairs from the Mohawk Valley. During their discussion, the germ of an idea for an expedition to the Mohawk Valley was first planted.

Smooth, handsome, urbane John Burgoyne was home on leave from America, ostensibly to occupy his seat in Parliament, but in reality to promote his chances for a senior command. By the by, he was enjoying the company of his wife and his love of the theatre — he was also a dramatist — while indulging his distaste for American winters. Never one to doubt his gifts, the ambitious general had observed the debacle at Bunker’s Hill and the stalemate at Boston and returned home convinced that only a firm, deft hand (such as his own) could end the rebellion. An accomplished writer, Burgoyne penned a treatise entitled “Reflections upon the War in America,” in which he promoted the concept of dividing the rebelling colonies in half by mounting simultaneous expeditions from the north and south. This idea was not original, but Burgoyne could justly claim the credit for committing it to paper in great detail.

By February of 1776, his efforts had brought him promotion to lieutenant-general and an appointment as second-in-command to Captain-General Guy Carleton, the military commander and Governorin-Chief of Quebec. Before leaving England, Burgoyne somehow heard of Johnson’s whereabouts and arranged a meeting to discuss affairs in Quebec and neighbouring New York province.

Fleshy, gruff, irascible Colonel Guy Johnson was in England to obtain confirmation of his position as Superintendent of Northern Indian Affairs, a role he had inherited from his uncle and father-in-law, the famous Sir William Johnson. The previous June, while at Guy Park, his luxurious Mohawk Valley estate, he received intelligence that a party of New Englanders was going to kill him to prevent his marshalling the Indians against the rebellion. Johnson gathered together 250 Indian Department . . .

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