Military Wiki
Burke's Rangers
Active 1747–1762
Country Great Britain
Allegiance British Crown
Branch Provincial Irregulars; British Army Ranger
Type Reconnaissance
Role Reconnaissance
Size One Company
Garrison/HQ Fort William Henry

King George's War French and Indian War

John Burk
French and Indian War
Part of the Seven Years' War
French and Indian War.png
LocationNorth America
Result British Victory; Treaty of Paris
France cedes New France to Great Britain, retaining Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and transfers Louisiana to Spain

 Kingdom of Great Britain

  • British America

Iroquois Confederacy Catawba

Cherokee (before 1758)

 Kingdom of France

  •  New France

Wabanaki Confederacy

  • Abenaki
  • Mi'kmaq

Caughnawaga Mohawk

Commanders and leaders
Jeffery Amherst
Edward Braddock
James Wolfe
Earl of Loudoun
James Abercrombie
Edward Boscawen
George Washington
John Forbes
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm
Marquis de Vaudreuil
Baron Dieskau (POW)
François-Marie de Lignery
Chevalier de Lévis (POW)
Joseph de Jumonville
Marquis Duquesne
Daniel Lienard de Beaujeu
42,000 regulars and militia (peak strength, 1758) 10,000 regulars (troupes de la terre and troupes de la marine, peak strength, 1757)

Burke's Rangers was a company of colonial volunteers organized and led by John Burke before and during the French and Indian War. Maj. Burke was widely noted for skill and daring in Indian warfare, and frequently served in campaigns against the Indians. Burke was initially commissioned as an Ensign by Governor William Shirley and subsequently commissioned a Lieutenant, then a Captain. Toward the close of the French and Indian war, in 1760, he was commissioned a Major by Gov. Thomas Pownall.[1]


At the close of King Philip's War the Massachusetts provincial government sought to defend its borders by settling groups of veterans on Indian lands. This was seen as an inexpensive deterrent to French aggression, a way to shore up English claims to contested ground, a good defensive strategy in the face of ongoing Indian resistance to British expansion, and a reward to the veterans of the war.

Bernardston, Massachusetts, initially known as Falls Fight Township.[2] was a frontier settlement created by and for the families of soldiers who had fought in King Phillips War specifically in the Battle of Turner's Falls a major engagement under Captain Turner in 1676.[3] Major John Burke was an early settler of the town, his father was one of the veterans granted land in Falls Fight.

In November, 1734, the following was presented to the General Court of Massachusetts[4]

"A petition of Samuel Hunt, of Billerica, for himself and other survivors of the officers and soldiers that belonged to the company of Capt. Turner, and the representatives of them that are dead, shewing that the said company in 1676 engaged the Indian enemy at a place above Deerfield, and destroyed above three hundred of them, and, therefore, praying that this court would grant them a tract of land above Deerfield suitable to make a township."

The petition was granted and the proprietors of the new township began recruiting 60 families to settle in the town. John Burke, Samuel Connable, Lieut. Ebenezer Sheldon, and Deacon Sheldon, built the first four houses, in 1738. They were of hewn logs, with port-holes in the walls for defence against the Indians.

Pre-war Period in the Contested Borderlands[]

At his own expense, Burke built a stockade fort that stood "six rods on each side" (6 rods being about 100 feet). The stockade walls stood 12 feet high behind which the inhabitants in the vicinity repaired every night during the periods of intercultural frontier violence. The fort contained eight homes, protecting the settlement during attacks beginning in 1745 and later the French and Indian War.

In 1746 an attack was made on this fort by members of the Wabanaki Confederacy who were attempting to drive out invading colonists. The stockade was located on their traditional lands. Although there were only two men in the fort besides Maj. Burke, the Indians were driven off.

In 1747, Eliakim Sheldon, son of Lieut. Ebenezer Sheldon, was shot while he was walking near his father's house, and about the same time a band of Indians attempted to destroy Deacon Elisha Sheldon's house on Huckle Hill, but were routed by Lieut. Ebenezer Sheldon, who appeared on the scene with aid just in time. Lieut. Sheldon was famous for his violent inclinations towards Native Americans, earning him the sobriquet the "Old Indian-Hunter".

Burke was commissioned an "Ensign of company of Volunteers raised for His Majestie's service for the defence of the western frontier" on March 1, 1747. He was commissioned by the Royal Governor of Mass. William Shirley who played a prominent role in the defense of the American colonies during the war. Burk's volunteers began playing a defensive role in the Deerfield-Falltown region.

French and Indian War[]

Montcalm trying to stop Native Americans from attacking British soldiers and civilians as they leave Fort William Henry. Wood engraving by Alfred Bobbett after a painting of Felix Octavius Carr Darley. Published between 1870 and 1880.

Burke and his company played an active role in the war.

During the French and Indian War of 1755, the people of Falls Fight township suffered greatly as a result of the town being established on land still claimed by the Wabanaki Confederacy. Indians attacked the town. A number of settler families moved from the frontier community to the safety of larger colonial towns. The militia from the township, led by then Ensign Burke, was called to service.

Creation of "Rangers"[]

Massachusetts began in to pursue a policy of raising and deploying its forces on an ongoing basis each year, without waiting for requests of defenseless towns and almost abandoned garrisons. Such was the course the colony pursued in the year 1757. In addition to the colony's garrison troops, "one hundred men were employed on the eastern frontier, and forty-five under a captain and lieutenant, on the west side of Connecticut river, to Range the woods north of Falltown." The latter company — known as Rangers — under the command of Capt. John Burk, were stationed at Hinsdale's fort, on the east bank of the Connecticut. Burke began recruiting his company in the winter of 1756. The initial group of forty-five men included four Stockbridge Mahicans on its muster rolls—who were quickly reassigned to the British Army's ranger corps assigned to front line combat duty. Burke received his Captain's commission on March 30, by which time he had seventy men enrolled in his company.[5] They made frequent marches through the neighboring country for the purpose of discovering concealed Indians. Their course was sometimes along the main stream of West river, and again by its south or west branches. Not infrequently they ascended to the top of West river mountain, there to watch for the smoke of the enemy's camp fires. Orders were given to the Commissary General to provide these "rangers" with snow-shoes and moccasins, the better to enable them to perform their difficult tasks.[6]

In the winter of 1756-7 the Rangers under Burke was stationed at the fort at Hinsdale, Massachusetts. There were no enemy attacks on the fort until April 20 when a party of about 70 Indians and French appeared. They captured four men and brought them back to Canada. Only two of the four prisoners survived to return.[7]

Crown Point Expedition[]

On April 11, 1755 Ephraim Williams of Deerfield sent a letter to John Burke offering him the position of Captain-Lieutenant in his regiment for the expedition against Crown Point. He desired that "only good men be enlisted" and asked that the names of the men selected be sent immediately.

Marching north into French territory, in August 1755 the overall commander of the British forces, William Johnson, renamed Lac du Saint-Sacrement to Lake George in honour of his king.[8] On 8 September 1755, Johnson's forces held their ground in the Battle of Lake George. Johnson was wounded by a ball that was to remain in his hip or thigh for the rest of his life.[9] Hendrick Theyanoguin, Johnson's Mohawk ally, was killed in the battle, and Baron Dieskau, the French commander, was captured.[10]

Among the inhabitants of Bernardston who joined Burke's Rangers were Caleb Chapin and his two sons, Joel and Hezekiah. They were with Col. Ephraim Williams at the Battle of Lake George in September 1755, where Caleb Chapin was killed. He was wounded in the thick of battle while fighting by the side of his sons, and when he fell they sought to carry him away, but he commanded them to save themselves and leave him to die. They left him accordingly where he fell, and when, after the fight, they returned in search of him, they found him dead, with a tomahawk buried in his brain. This tomahawk is still preserved in the cabinet of the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester. Colonel Williams was killed in the battle as well, his body was hidden in the woods by the survivors to save it from desecration.

The battle brought an end to the expedition against Crown Point, and the soldiers built Fort William Henry at Lake George to strengthen British defenses.[11]

Burke was at the surrender of Fort William Henry in August 1757, his company part of Colonel Frye's provincial regiment. According to local lore, he survived the subsequent massacre with only his breeches and his silver watch.

In 1758, as Rogers' Rangers expanded from a company to a corps of 1,500 men, many provincial soldiers, including some from Burke's company joined Roger's Rangers. In April of 1758, Major Rogers commissioned a former corporal from Burke's company, Joseph Wait after he had fought with distinction in the Battle on Snowshoes in March.[12][13] Wait later became a captain in the corps.

Post war[]

Maj. John Burke, one of the first settlers in the Falls Fight township, and for many years an important man in the affairs of Bernardston, kept a tavern in 1763 in the centre of the town, just south of where Weatherhead's saw-mill stood. The sign which used to swing in front of Maj. Burk's tavern is still preserved among the curious relics owned by the Pocomptuck Valley Association at Deerfield, Mass.

See also[]


  1. Note: Not all historians of the era agree with the interpretation presented here of this so-called "Burke's Rangers". Creative license seems to have been taken in naming the company 'rangers.' It was never identified as such during the period. Burke was a local militia commander, led frontier patrols around Fort Hinsdale and was later the commander of a provincial infantry company in 1757 (not the same as militia), that was at Fort William Henry during the capitulation and subsequent "massacre." But no period accounts describe Burke's company as anything other than a standard infantry unit in Frye's regiment.
  3. U Mass
  4. Louis H. Everts, "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II", 1879.
  6. History of Eastern Vermont, From its Earliest Settlement to the Close of the Eighteenth Century .By BENJAMIN H. HALL.: New york : Appleton 1858 page 85
  7. The History of Keene, New Hampshire
  8. O'Toole, 135.
  9. Hamilton, 165; Flexner, 124; O'Toole, 142.
  10. O'Toole, 142–43.
  11. O'Toole, 146, 151.
  12. White Devil
  13. Wait's service


Further reading[]

  • Eckert, Allan W. Wilderness Empire. Bantam Books, 1994, originally published 1969. ISBN 0-553-26488-5. Second volume in a series of historical narratives, with emphasis on Sir William Johnson. Academic historians often regard Eckert's books, which are written in the style of novels, to be unreliable, as they contain things like dialogue that is clearly fictional.
  • Parkman, Francis. Montcalm and Wolfe: The French and Indian War. Originally published 1884. New York: Da Capo, 1984. ISBN 0-306-81077-8.

External links[]

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