J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Remembering Robert Rogers

In today’s Boston Globe, Michael Kenney reviews War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America's First Frontier, by John F. Ross. The reviewer admits:

Rogers has been a heroic figure for this reader since first encountering him some 60 years ago in Kenneth Roberts’s classic 1937 novel, Northwest Passage.
Roberts’s story indeed reinvigorated Rogers’s legacy in America. Or, as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography says:
The considerable Rogers cult that has been in evidence in the United States during the last generation probably owes a good deal to K. L. Roberts’ popular historical novel...
After all, American culture doesn’t usually admire Loyalist officers. Especially one apparently involved in capturing another national hero—in this case, Nathan Hale. (Whether Hale deserves his prominence in American lore is another question.)

Both Roberts’s novel and Ross’s new book focus on Rogers’s part in the British Empire’s wars against the French and some Native American nations during the 1750s and 1760s. That means they can describe the high points of the man’s life and avoid the iffy decades that followed till his death in 1795.

Many accounts of Rogers’s career note that he began to drink heavily, which must have contributed to his erratic behavior. But he was courting trouble even in his early twenties, when he was arrested in New Hampshire for leading a counterfeiting ring. He never seems to have done well playing by the rules. The mid-century frontier wars may simply have created the environment in which Robert Rogers flourished.

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