Early in the American Revolution, a small team of rivals thirsting for glory captured Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York. Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys competed for credit with Benedict Arnold and his two militias from Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Both Arnold and Allen jockeyed for command of the expedition at a time when no Continental Army existed. George Washington was still just a delegate to the Second Continental Congress.
Soon after the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, Gen. Erastus Wolcott and others from the Connecticut Committee of Correspondence sent a letter to the provincial Congress of Massachusetts Bay. They pleaded for the colonies to get along and not to quarrel over credit for the captured fort. The letter underscores the fragility of the colonies’ alliance and the uncertainties with which they fought the war.
The Race to Fort Ticonderoga
Arnold was a captain in the Connecticut militia when the war broke out. He marched to Boston with his company to help out in the siege.
Arnold knew the condition of Fort Ticonderoga. He suggested to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety that it send a force to capture it. The committee then gave him a commission as colonel, horses, gunpowder, ammunition and 100 pounds. It also gave him authority to recruit up to 400 men for the secret mission.
Only the secret got out. Arnold had also mentioned the vulnerability of Fort Ticonderoga to Connecticut militiamen. The Connecticut Committee of Correspondence decided to pay for its capture and to recruit militia for the operation.
Meanwhile, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys also wanted to capture Fort Ticonderoga. On May 6, Arnold was on the border of Massachusetts and what was then the New Hampshire Grants (Vermont). He learned Allen had marched 50 miles ahead of him. Arnold also found out a Connecticut militia was on its way.
Co-Command at Fort Ticonderoga
Benedict Arnold wasn’t about to let anyone else grab all the glory. He rode his horse so furiously to Bennington that the animal had to be destroyed.
After a quarrel over who should lead the assault on the fort, Allen and Arnold agreed to co-command. At dawn on May 10, Fort Ticonderoga fell to 100 Green Mountain Boys, 40 Massachusetts men raised and 20 men from Connecticut.
It was a cakewalk. The only sentry on duty fled. Then the Americans roused the sleeping British soldiers at gunpoint. Only one person received an injury, an American by a bayonet.
Allen and Arnold had rushed up to the officers’ quarters to demand surrender. The commander’s assistant demanded to know under what authority they captured Fort Ticonderoga.
Allen famously answered, “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!”
Capt. William Delaplace, the fort’s commander, emerged from his bedroom and surrendered his sword.
Though only 48 men and 15 women and children defended the fort, its capture had strategic importance. It cut off communications between the northern and southern units of the British Army. The capture also created a staging ground for the invasion of Quebec. Finally, and unforeseen at the time, it provided artillery that Henry Knox would haul to Boston to force the British evacuation.
‘You can have it’
Six days after the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, Connecticut general Erastus Wolcott sent a letter from Hartford to the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts.
In the letter, Wolcott noted the Connecticut Committee of Correspondence sent an express rider with the news to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The committee also sent a rider to the Committee of Correspondence in Albany asking for help in holding down Fort Ticonderoga.
Wolcott then acknowledged a question about who had the right to command and hold the Fort Ticonderoga. He suggested Massachusetts handle he fort, as it had more available men and Connecticut had so much on its plate.
In the letter, he wrote,
We consider all the Colonies, and the New-England Colonies especially, as brethren united together in one joint interest, and pursuing the same general design, and that whatever expedition in furtherance of the grand designs may be undertaken by any one of the Colonies, or body of men in either of them, ought to be considered as undertaken for the joint benefit of the whole confederate Colonies, and the expenses of the enterprise, and cost of maintaining and defending the same, is to be borne by all in proportion to their abilities.
“We hope all will wish to put out a helping hand, and mutually afford each other all necessary assistance against our common enemy,” he wrote. He hoped New York and Connecticut would help, but Massachusetts shouldn’t count on it.
Wolcott signed the letter along with William Williams, Samuel Bishop and Samuel H. Parsons, all members of Connecticut’s Committee of Correspondence.
This story about Fort Ticonderoga was updated in 2022. Image of Fort Ticonderoga By User:Americasroof – Author’s own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1131154. Fort Ticonderoga today By Mwanner – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6967864.