Origins of Gorham's Rangers

John Gorham was the commander of the original "Gorham’s Indian Rangers of the Deep Woods ". He was to command from it’s beginnings in 1744, until his death in 1751, at which time his brother Joseph would succeed him. A native of Yarmouth, Massachusetts, John Gorham entered the military of Massachusetts in 1741. Little is known of him until his appearance in 1744 at Annapolis Royal with his Indian Rangers of the Deep Woods. A shipmaster since his youth, he now becomes a frontiersman. An effective combination in wilderness warfare!

The first company was made up of 50 men, mostly full blood Mohawk Indians combined with a few borderlanders from Massachusetts. From this humble beginning, the rangers would expand to three companies. Gorham would be granted in 1747 a commission as a regular from King George II. Now that Gorham held the King’s commission, his company would become part of the royal forces. His men would receive the same pay as line troops. Gorham had achieved the honor that Rogers would try for, but fail.

From 1747 to 1749 Gorham’s Rangers, which they were now known as, were the main defense of Nova Scotia. They were supported by two armed sloops, both owned by Captain Gorham. The Anson, Captain John Beare, and the 70 ton Warren, Captain Jonathan Davies. Periodically, units of Independent Auxiliaries are mentioned as operating under Gorham’s command. Apparently these were short-term ranger units, raised either in New England or locally. Gorham’s tactics were aggressive: operating by water or across country with equal energy, he rapidly extended the perimeter of English authority and cowed the Indian tribes and French settlers. Though the war had in theory ended in 1748, in Nova Scotia this meant merely that the regular troops on both sides seldom intervened in the constant bushwhacking.

In June of 1749, a large group of English settlers arrived in Nova Scotia, under the guidance of a new governor, Colonel Edward Cornwallis. The Lords of Trade and Plantation in London had finally concluded that the only way to hold Nova Scotia was to settle it with Englishmen!

Cornwallis soon established a new city at Halifax, some of Gorham’s Rangers assisting in the clearing of the area and the erection of defensive works. He then began negotiations with the French-dominated tribes at the mouth of the St John river. The tribes came in happily, stayed drunk on English rum, accepted presents with both hands, wore war paint while negotiating, and held a war dance on board Cornwallis’ flagship by way of a fare well ceremony.

Hostilities picked up almost at once. Lieutenant Joseph Gorham and a detail, covering a hay-cutting party at Canso, were captured by Indians, but were shortly released by the French commander at Louisbourg. Subsequent events were rougher: hair was lifted: and His Majesty’s Council for Nova Scotia put a bounty of ten guineas on each Indian prisoner or scalp ( raised to fifty pounds sterling in June 1750 ). A company of English Rangers was formed under a Captain William Clapham from volunteers among the settlers. Another volunteer ranger company of unknown origins was raised under a Captain Francis Bartelo, who had pleased the Governor.

John Gorham was a member of the Nova Scotia Council. On June 13, 1751 he launched the 10-gun brig Osborne, the first ship ever built at Halifax. In the meantime, the Indian fighting around Chignecto became really rough, with Rangers matching the Micmacs in brutality. On one occasion, eleven Rangers disappeared without a trace; on an other, the Rangers brought in 25 scalps, some of which apparently had a blondish cast, for bounty. Eventually, the Rangers got the upper hand. In late spring or summer of 1751, Cornwallis reduced Bartelo’s and Clapham’s ranger companies, leaving only Gorham’s.

John Gorham sailed for England during the summer of 1751 on the Osborne, loaded with pine masts for the Royal Navy Yard at Portsmouth. Sometime in December he died in London of smallpox. His Brother and Lieutenant, Joseph Gorham, succeeded him in the captaincy of Gorham’s Rangers.

Several facts stand out in a backward look at the early days of Gorham’s Rangers. Made up originally of Indians and half-breeds, the most tricky, dangerous, and unstable type of recruits, it was none-the-less an orderly and effective unit. This speaks volumes for Gorham’s courage, woodsmanship, and personal character. Sir William Johnson made much of his ability ( well reinforced by presents ) to blarney the Mohawk into cooperation. Gorham made soldiers of them, after the earlier example of Captain Church. Gorham left no known set of tactical instructions; his actions, however, show a style of irregular warfare afterwards employed by Rogers, with constant stress on aggressiveness, surprise, and mobility. Gorham’s Rangers appear alternately as skilled woodsmen and as marine commandos; there is nothing in Roger’s history like Gorham amphibious assault up the creek and across the beach against Chignecto.

John Gorham’s service to Nova Scotia covered a period of only seven years. Yet these were critical years in the history of North America. And through them, Captain John Gorham-- with his hair-raising Rangers and the tough crews of his armed sloops--kept Nova Scotia English!


 

The War Years

 


 

By 1758, Joseph Gorham commanded his own company, succeeding at the death of his older brother John. That same year, he distinguished himself at Louisbourg. The next year, his company was one of six ranger companies that Wolfe took to Quebec. By that time, he was frequently referred to as Major Gorham . Obviously the most efficient of the ranger captains with that expedition, he frequently functioned as a task force commander during the rest of the Canadian campaign. His services were duly rewarded. In 1761, he was commissioned a major in the regular British service.

From approximately 1761 ( the dates are variously given ), Gorham is spoken of as commanding The Corps of Rangers, apparently a special unit made up of his own and several other independent ranger companies-- sometimes referred to as being embodied as a regiment of light infantry. The Army lists carried them as the North American Rangers. Accurate information is scanty. In 1761 we know that Gorham wrote Amherst in regard to two ranging companies in Nova Scotia. Many of their officers were unfit for duty because of hard service and wounds. During 1762, part or all of the Nova Scotia Ranging companies were involved in the expedition against Havana. At it’s conclusion, the surviving rangers were drafted into various British regiments. Gorham and his officers returned to America and set about recruiting. The new unit seems to have had a strength of little more than one company, though deserter descriptions still refer to it as His Majesty’s Corps of Rangers. Elements of it, either serving with or drafted into the 17th of Foot, took part in the fighting around Detroit during Pontiac’s Rebellion. The corps was disbanded sometime in 1763-1764. Though Gorham had received extensive land grants in Nova Scotia, he had impoverished himself in the royal service. By 1775, creditors pressed him on all sides, but his services were eventually again remembered--in 1782 he became lieutenant governor of Newfoundland. He died about 1790.


 

The Uniforms of Gorham's Rangers

 

Boston, September 8, 1750

...All Gentlemen Volunteers, and Others, that have a mind to serve his Majesty King George the Second, for a limited time, in the Independent Companies of Rangers now in Nova Scotia, may apply to Lieutenant Alexander Callender, at Mr. Jonas Leonard’s, at the Sign of the Lamb at the South End of Boston, where they shall be kindly entertained, enter into present pay and have good Quarters, and when they join their respective Companies at Halifax, shall be completely clothed in blue Broadcloth, received Arms, Accoutrements, Provisions, and all other Things necessary for a Gentleman Ranger.

The first description of the uniform of Gorham’s Rangers after the 1750 Boston advertisement appears in the Loudoun papers where an entry for January 15-30, 1757, states, The Irregulars in Nova Scotia are Payed on the Regular Troops are clothed by the Board of Trade and have Leather Caps. They have powder horns in place of Cartridge Boxes. Recruiting advertisements for that year offer merely a new good full suit of Cloths with no mention of uniforms. Captain John Knox, in Nova Scotia, noted that the rangers wore ordinary clothing cut short.

In May 1759, however, Captain John Knox entered in his journal: The rangers have got a new uniform clothing, the ground is of black ratteen of frize, lapelled and cuffed in blue, here follows a description of their dress; a waistcoat with sleeves; a short jacket without sleeves; only armholes and wings to the shoulders (in like manner as the Grenadiers and drummers of the army) white metal buttons, canvas drawers, with a blue skirt or petticoat of stuff, made with a waistband and one button; this open before and does not quite extend to their knees, a pair of leggings of the same color with their coat, which reach up to the middle of the thighs (without flaps) and from the calf of the leg downward they button like spatter dashes; with this active dress they wear blue bonnets, and I think, in great measure resemble our Highlanders.

Two years later, in 1761, five members of Major Gorham’s Company of Rangers deserted from Ft. Frederick. The above Persons, said the deserter description printed in the Boston News-Letter, were clothed in the uniform of the company, viz. coats red turned up with brown, with brown capes and brown insides, which may be worn either side out; waistcoats of brown color; linen drawers; leather jockey-caps, with oak leaf or branch painted on the left side... This uniform, would be adaptable to either field or garrison duty. The survival of leather caps mentioned by Loudon earlier is interesting.

Another possible uniform is mentioned in the newspaper description of a sergeant deserter in 1763: Had on when he went away a red coat, waistcoat, and breeches, with silver vellum buttonholes to the coat and waistcoat. This sounds as if the rangers had been getting very regulation about their dress, though privates deserting during the same period wore non-descript civilian clothing.


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