On June 8, 1776, New York’s Capt. Joseph McCracken presented to the Albany Committee of Correspondence a payroll of men “employed in the taking of Ticonderoga” along with an account of expenses and disbursements. After the required certifications, the committee recommended that it be paid. Questions remain as to why Albany County paid these Charlotte County men more than a year after their role in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775.
Albany County had provided their own specially recruited provincial companies to aid in the defense of the fort right after it was captured. McCracken’s Charlotte County troops who were in the field before Albany’s Provincials, appear to have been an independent company rather than part of a specific regiment or force. Presuming there is no evidence to the contrary, this would mean that McCracken’s men were the first New York soldiers in the war and that he was the first captain.
McCracken is one of the many little-known personalities of the American Revolution. He appears to have spent his life in Salem, New York, which is located southeast of Lake George. It was then part of Charlotte County and is now located in Washington County.
A leading citizen in the county, he first stepped onto the stage early in May 1775 as a member of their Committee of Safety which elected two delegates to a convention being held in New York City. Wanting to be part of the action, McCracken was soon recruiting his company of volunteers in Salem and the surrounding area.
McCracken himself was among the signatories of a June 10 letter sent to Congress from Crown Point by a number of officers from New York, the Hampshire grants, and Connecticut. This letter reported on the status of the war in the forward areas where they were pressing the advantage down Lake Chaplain and the Richelieu River to objectives north.
We, whose names are prefixed above, do in council approve of and nominate Colonel Ethan Allen, Captain Seth Warner, and Captain Remember Bakar, to meet you in Congress, to consult and have your advice upon this move, which we have understood that you have approved; we are now in possession of Ticonderoga and Crown Point. And this day, at five o’clock, our armed sloop and schooners arrived here and furnished us with intelligence, that about three hundred of the Regular forces were at St. John’s, fortifying and intrenching upon the Grants, near this place. We think it might be practicable, in case of emergency, to raise about five hundred men, in case (as they are poor) of encouragement
Shortly after the letter was sent to Congress, McCracken received a warrant from the New York Provincial Congress to recruit a company of soldiers for the Continental army in Charlotte County. Since he already had an active company, this warrant could be easily met. He now commanded the seventh of ten companies in Col. Goose Van Schaick’s 2nd New York Battalion.
Apparently, McCracken either did not recruit enough men or some of his old company did not join him in the 2nd New York, because he was recruiting thru July. On August 1, Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery noted that “I have advanced some cash to two Captains of the Albany Regt who have good character & are not able to go on without a little assistance in the recruiting service (Benedict & McCracken).”
Four days later, McCracken was south of Charlotte County in White Creek when he went over the chain of command and sent a brief memo to Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler.
I have recevd orders from General Montgomery to March to Albany with all the men belonging to my Company the 15th Insnt—But a part of them is now at Crown Point I imagine it will be more Convenient for them to Stay there. Therefore, [I] Desire you will let [me] know by the Bearer whither I must come to Crown Point with those men I have [here] or order those men at Crown Point to meet [me] at Albany on the Day appointed.
Schuyler did not exactly answer McCracken’s concerns, but depending on how his company was equipped, he did tell McCracken where he should go:
Your letter of the 5th has been received—if you have Tents and Kettles for your Company you will Immediately march them to this post—If you have not those Articles, you will Directly repair to Albany / Leaving your Company / and apply to General Montgomery or Col. Van Schaick for them, when you have got them you will march your men to Ticonderoga By order of the General Head Quarters Ticonderoga 8 August 1775.
McCracken stayed in command of his men for the duration of the campaign. With minimal outside information, tracking the service of his men is the best way to learn of McCracken’s service. The only wrinkle to this strategy is that there is no known muster roll for McCracken’s company in 1775. This makes it difficult to learn who these men were. Luckily, a number of them lived long enough to file for federal pensions with some form of accounting of their service. Short of looking at all the pensioners, it took the latest digital searches, cross references from federal pensioners and other sources, plus a bit of networking, to find them.
The first account is that of then-thirteen-year-old Richard Sharp, who briefly served as a waiter to one of the company lieutenants. Sharp noted in a typically worded deposition that he joined up in August 1775 and “marched with said company from Albany to Ticonderoga from thence to Crown Point–from thence to St. Johns from thence La Praire from thence to Longale [Longueil], from thence to Montreall and was there when that place was taken.” What is demonstrated by this deposition is that McCracken, who had been at Crown Point on June 10, would return to there in late August.
John Blander, another of McCracken’s company veterans, described the action in a bit more detail. He explained that they
first went to Albany and after being inspected he marched to Troy then to Skenesborough then to Ticonderoga from there to the Island of Noah there he stayed till General Montgomery and his two aids came, then he marched to St Johns then to Lapraries then to Long Gale [Longueil], then he had a battle with the Indians, then to Montreal, heard the General was killed while [he was] sick with the mumps he kept his head quarters at Long Gale [Longueil] then returned to Fort George where he was discharged after being out more than eleven months in actual service.
The details of Blander’s account are augmented by James Henderson, who appears to have joined McCracken’s company at the same time as Richard Sharp. Henderson’s unusually lengthy and more detailed account described that:
He joined the Regiment at Albany where Maj. Gansevoort had command of the Regiment—He remained at Albany about two weeks & marched to the northward, as was said, to guard the frontier—The first stop that we made was at Fort Edward, where we remained three or four days & from there we went to White Hall—where we staid about two days & marched to Ticonderoga & remained there & at Crown Point (some of the time at one place & the rest of the time at the other) about ten weeks—While we were out at the two latter places, two large gun boats were built & some timber was collected & what was called a [cheval de frise] was built across Lake Champlain—He was engaged in this work—Genl Schuyler had command of the forces until Genl Montgomery arrived, which was in August of the same year… From Ticonderoga he went with the army to Isle au noix about one hundred miles, where he remained until about the middle of September following
Lt. Col. Rudolphus Ritzema, who commanded the 1st New York Regiment on the campaign, noted in his personal journal that while they were at Isle la Motte, Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler joined the army early in the morning of September 4. By “about Noon the whole Army embarked” and by “evening the Boats being formed into one Line landed in a regular Manner without any opposition on the Isle au Noix.” On the 6th, lacking any artillery except the guns in the boats, the army was to “embark for St Johns—About 3 of the Clock P.M. we landed within a mile & an half of St Johns Fort under the Command of General Montgomery, General Schuyler being unwell remained with a Guard in his Batteau.” After the attack failed, the army regrouped and returned to Isle aux Noix. On the 10th, they “went from Isle au Noix with General Montgomery with 800 Men towards St Johns and landed about 8 o’clock P.M. at the Upper Breast Work unmolested.” The second attempt to take St. Jean was underway.
On September 11, a number of the officers, including McCracken, requested a council of war with Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery. At that meeting
It was unanimously agreed that the detachment should proceed as before ordered, and that the remainder should take post at the other breastwork, in order to divert the attention of the enemy, but that the Troops should declare whether they were willing to march. On being asked, they all declared they were, and accordingly orders were given to embark; the remainder to proceed as advised by the council of war.
Things had not been going well during the siege of St. Jean and the army was bogged down. This council of war appears to have been the catalyst that got the campaign moving in a positive direction again, even if it meant withdrawing back to Isle aux Noix.
The day after the council of war, September 13, McCracken was ordered to sit as a member of a general court martial board at Isle aux Noix “for the trial of such persons as may be brought before them.” It is, however, unclear if McCracken ever served on that board. James Henderson continued with his deposition describing what happened to McCracken’s company after the council of war and the active role McCracken took:
Here the army was directed into several parts & that portion of it that he belonged to & which was commanded by Capt. McCracken went down the river Sorel through the woods—We crossed the river a little before Fort Chambly & left one half of our men (one hundred) to guard that Fort—The day following we went up the river on the north side of it in order to meet Col. Warner’s Regiment in pursuance of a previous arrangement—About three miles north of St. Johns & near where we expected to meet Col. Warner, we took the Baggage wagons carrying provisions, clothing etc. to the enemy—These were secured—It was quiet in the evening—The [illeg] remaining forty men of our number went on (leaving the remainder to guard the Baggage wagons & property that we had taken) in order to meet Col. Warner—Instead of meeting him we met the enemy about 250 strong with two field pieces—Our party was attacked & fired upon by the enemy & we fired in return, three or four rounds & finding that our chance was an urgent one, Capt. McCracken gave orders for every man to take care of himself & we fled into the woods—We had nine men wounded several killed & two of the wounded taken prisoners—In about half an hour Col. Warner with his Regiment arrived & drove the enemy back into Fort St. Johns
In a report written from their camp at St. Jean on September 19, Montgomery described to Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler the rescue of Maj. John Brown’s command (of which McCracken and his men were a part) and raved about the capture of the wagons that were headed to the besieged troops in the town and fort of St. Jean:
Yesterday morning I marched, with five hundred men, to the north side of St. John’s, where we found a party of the King’s Troops, with fieldpieces; this party had beaten off Major Brown a few hours before, who had imprudently thrown himself in their way, depending on our more early arrival, which, through the dilatoriness of our young Troops, could not be sooner effected.
The enemy, after an ill directed fire for some minutes, retired with precipitation; and lucky for them they did; for had we known their situation, which the thickness of the woods prevented our finding out till it was too late, there would not a man of them have returned. . . . P.S. On the 17th, at night, Major Brown intercepted eight carts, going to the Fort, laden with rum and gun carriages for the vessels; those things were hid in the woods, and were not recovered by the enemy on Brown’s discomfiture.
Col. Timothy Bedel of the New Hampshire Rangers sent an after-action report to New Hampshire’s Committee of Safety. He noted that there were two sets of wagons captured and that the first set of eight wagons were actually captured on September 12:
Our men are all in good spirits. We arrived at the Isle-aux-Noix the 10th, and the next day we came within a mile and a half of the enemy, who saluted us with shells; no damage was done. We lay upon our arms all night, and in the morning I was detached with a party of four hundred men to re-enforce Major Brown, who had taken eight wagons from the enemy, loaded with stores. Before we could get up to him he was engaged, and obliged to retreat, but saved his booty. They upon our approach saluted us very warm with grape shot; we did not lose one man; what the enemy lost I cannot tell, but we found some blood on the round; they retreated to the fort, and we kept possession of the ground, and we have a considerable intrenchment. Major Brown has took twelve wagons more, loaded with wine, rum, pork, &c. 
Henderson’s pension deposition continues with a description of what happened to him and McCracken’s company, including personally receiving a slight wound in the previous action:
The day before this, our main army had laid siege to St. Johns on the south—He [Henderson] was wounded in the skirmish in the thigh—a flesh wound mainly—He remained in the woods one night & the next day united with the main army & remained there about a week, when a regiment was sent around, on the opposite side of the Fort to join Col. Warner—He went with them under the command of Col. Butler—Col. Warner’s Regiment was ordered down to La Prairie, a few days afterwards & he went with it under the command of Capt. McCracken—He remained there with the Regiment about three weeks & was ordered nine miles down the River St. Lawrence to a place called [Longueil]—Here we remained until after the taking of St. Johns & until [our] main army arrived at La Prairie
Lt. John Fassett Jr. of the Green Mountain Boys noted in his diary that McCracken’s company of Yorkers had been held back in La Prairie:
Resolved to go to Longail which was nine miles, with all the men we had at Laprairie except Capt’n McCracken’s Company for we heard the Regulars and Canadians were going there to take it, and we see a number of boats going that way.
Major Henry Livingston Jr. of the 3rd New York Regiment maintained a personal journal during his time on campaign. In his entry for October 26, he noted the movement of the troops between La Prairie and Longuiel, including McCracken and his company:
Before day an express arrived from Col’o Warner who lay with his Regiment of Green Mountain Boys in number abt 300 & 4 or 5 companies of the 2d Battalion at Lonquiel, that a large body of Regulars & Canadians were marching towards his post from Sorrell & desiring me to send him all the assistance I could. Early in the morning Cap’t Dubois with his company, Cap’t McCracken of 2d Battn & his Company & one Lt. Barnum of Col’o Warners Reg’t making in all 92 privates besides officers marched to Longieuil. But when they came there they found that Col Warner had been imposed upon & that there was not any truth in the whole affair. Cap’t Dubois return’d but the others all stay’d at Lonquiel.
About this time a British force commanded by Gen. Sir Guy Carleton was approaching to relieve the besieged fort at St. Jean. James Henderson picks up the final portion of his pension deposition from when McCracken’s company was among the troops ordered down the St. Lawrence River to Longueil. It included a brief mention of McCracken’s company being a part of the troops that stopped Carleton’s relief force, as well as the taking of Montreal:
While we were at [Longueil], the enemy about 800 in number attempted to cross the river in boats & we prevented them from landing & killed a number of them—We were ordered to remain there, until we received orders to cross the River in order to take Montreal—We received our orders & went across the River & found the enemy had gone & evacuated the city—We remained at Montreal one week & then crossed the river & started for home by permission of our officers on the 19th or 20th of November—He arrived at home at Salem on the 19th or 20th of December making a little [illeg] of seven months after his enlistment.
Ritzema’s October 31 journal entry confirmed Henderson’s estimate of 800 men in Carleton’s relief force and nailed down the date of this little-known skirmish that pitted elements of the Green Mountain Boys and the 2nd New York against Carleton’s relief force.
An Express from Colonel Warner at Longue Isle with lntelligence that he had the Day before repulsed Governor Carleton, who had made an Attempt to land on this side with 800 Men in order to raise the Siege of St Johns—The Governor it is said lost 20 Men killed & 50 wounded—two Indians & two Canadian Merchants taken prisoners—The Governor retreated to Montreal. 
James Moor, a corporal in McCracken’s company, glossed over most of the details of the company’s movements in his pension deposition of 1832. He did, however, make a couple of interesting asides despite getting the regimental number wrong:
That he enlisted early in the spring of 1775 in New Salem Township in the State of New York, in the first Regiment of New York forces under Captain Joseph McCracken, in the Regiment commanded by Col. Vanscaick was immediately marched to Crown Point & took possession of it to keep the British out of that place. In the summer of that year the Regiment to which deponent belonged marched into Canada, where he served under Captain McCracken in the Capacity of a Corporal. That his company was constituted a Company of Rangers, and acted as such traversing the Country watching the movements of the enemy the ballance of that season until very cold weather & were in a number of skirmishes, in Canada during that time. General Montgomery believing the company had underwent such fatigue, that it was unfit to send to Quebec, the Company was therefore discharged.
Moor’s important description that McCracken’s company “constituted a Company of Rangers” suggests that a group of rangers (a platoon, squad, or other subset) was created within the company, or that the entire company acted as rangers. Either way, this is not specifically proven by any other known research. It is clear that the company, because of working with the Green Mountain Boys (who were essentially rangers), certainly had inspiration. In addition, when the New York troops were reorganized in mid-November, according to Moor, the company was allowed to disband and go home because they were basically worn out. This confirms James Henderson’s deposition statement that the company “started for home by the permission of our officers.”
Despite this opportunity, not all of McCracken’s men went home. Andrew McNutt must have enlisted in another company after McCracken’s was disbanded, because “he was in the Storming of Quebec by General Montgomery.”James Dole, who was probably a sergeant or corporal with McCracken, made note in an 1818 federal pension application deposition that:
his term of enlistment being expired he with others whose time of enlistment was also expired at the special solicitation of General Montgomery again enlisted in a company commanded by Captain Theodore Woodbridge for six months in a Regt raised by General Wooster in Montreal and called General Woosters regiment in which company he followed General Montgomery to Quebec where he remained until the time for which he last inlisted for was expired, when he again inlisted under the said Captain Woodbridge for the term of one year in a regiment commanded by Col. Samuel Elmore.”
The “others” with Dole, who enlisted in Woodbridge’s company of Wooster’s provisional regiment, were eight men who had also served in McCracken’s company. They would all continue serving in Canada until the spring of 1776.
McCracken himself “reengaged” in the army on November 20 as a captain commanding a new company in an unspecified regiment.Little did he know what fate awaited him in a few years, but that is a story for another day.
Meeting Minutes, June 8, 1776, Minutes of the Albany Committee of Correspondence 1775–1778 (Albany, NY, The University of the State of New York, 1923), 1:438. There were no specifics given regarding this payroll.
Entry for John Visscher, New York in the Revolution, Berthold Fernow, ed., previously published as Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Co., 1853–1887), 15:253, (Documents Relating). It has long been believed, and noted in this source, that John Visscher had raised the first company of New York soldiers in the war, when, based on this payroll, it was Joseph McCracken. Visscher’s company was recruited as part of the initial defense force, where McCracken’s was part of the first offensive action of the war.
Warrants Issued by the Provincial Congress: Charlotte County, June 29, 1775, Calendar of Historical Manuscripts Relating to the War of the Revolution, in the Office of the Secretary of State (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1898), 1:106.
Richard Montgomery to Philip Schuyler, August 1, 1775, Philip Schuyler Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library (Philip Schuyler Papers), Digital Collections accessed March 11, 2021. digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/f5677180-47a6-0134-70b2-00505686a51c#/?uuid=c5cbe690-47a7-0134-11c7-00505686a51c. The 2nd New York was often alternatively called “the Albany regiment” in 1775.
Philip Schuyler to Joseph McCracken, August 8, 1775, Orderly Book of Philip John Schuyler, June 28, 1775 –April 18, 1776, Huntington Digital Library, mssHM 663, 92, Letter 230. hdl.huntington.org/digital/collection/p15150coll7/id/23863, accessed March 16, 2021. Thank you to Justin Clement for pointing me to this orderly book.
Understanding these outdated memoirs can be difficult, but with the right support material, they can be extremely valuable. Sadly, these men, for the most part, had to be in indigent circumstances in order to file.
Deposition of Richard Sharp, October 2, 1832, R.9426, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900, Record Group 15 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives Microfilm Publications, M804), Roll 2158 (Pensions). web.archive.org/web/20190324042200/revwarny.com/sharprichard.pdf. Thank you to Justin Clement for proving these sources. Sharp went on to say in this deposition that he went to Quebec with McCracken, but this is an outlier as McCracken did not lead a company there. He may have enlisted in another company, but this is only speculation.
Signed Deposition of James Henderson, June 7, 1832, S.16148, Pensions, Roll 1251 (Henderson Deposition). This pension deposition is so illegible and faded as to be nearly unreadable. Colonel Butler has not yet been identified. With Col. Goose van Schaick left in charge in Albany and Lt. Col. Peter Yates in command at Ft. George, Maj. Peter Gansevoort was the field commander of the 2nd New York until he gets sick at Montreal.
Entries for September 4-10, 1775, “Journal of [Lt.] Col. Rudolphus Ritzema of the First New York Regiment, August 8 1775 to March 30 1776, from the original in the Collection of the New York Historical Society,” Magazine of American History With Notes and Queries, 1(1877): 99 (Journal of Ritzema).
Entry for September 12, 1775, Orderly Book (1775 June 5-October 6) for an Expedition Against Canada, Jonas Prentice and John McPherson, Library of Congress, MSS63024. Transcription of the manuscript by the late Joseph A. Galizia.
Entry for October 15, 1775, Diary of [1st] Lt. John Fassett Jr. during a Trip to Canada and return in Captain Weight Hopkins’ company of Colonel Warner’s regiment from September 1st to December 7th, 1775, under General Montgomery, John Fassett, William Dean Fausett, and Fassett Sinclair Oswald, Foundation for the Preservation & Protection of Green Mountain Boy History (Manchester Center, VT: Thompson, Incorporated, 1991).
Entry for October 26, 1775, Journal of Major Henry Livingston [Jr.] of the Third New York Continental Line August to December 1775, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (Philadelphia, PA, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1898), 22:9-33.
Deposition of James Moor, August 14, 1832, W.4498, Pensions, Roll 1752, web.archive.org/web/20190324044633/revwarny.com/moorjames.pdf. Thank you to Justin Clement for proving these sources. Clearly, Moor meant the second regiment. Goose Van Schaick did not command the First New York regiment until the 3rd establishment of the army in 1777.
Deposition of Andrew McNutt, April 20, 1818, S.42958, Pensions, Roll 1699. Lacking all but a couple of company muster rolls for the 2nd New York after November 15, 1775 and with no other known accounts or records, it is all but impossible to confirm this.
Deposition of James Dole, March 30, 1818, S.43518, Pensions, Roll 829. Payroll of Capt. Theodore Woodbridge’s Company, General Wooster’s Regiment, November 10, 1775 to February 29, 1776, Rolls and Lists of Connecticut Men in the Revolution 1775–1778 (Reprint, 1901; Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1995), 12–13. Doubling as a brigadier general for both the province of Connecticut and the Continental Army, David Wooster had also commanded the 1st Connecticut Regiment in 1775. That regiment had been disbanded at the end of the year. Since he was already in Canada, he was a logical choice to command this new short-lived provisional battalion of Connecticut’s Canadian campaign veterans who desired to stay in Canada and serve until spring. It also included a significant number of New Yorker’s who had shorter term enlistments, like these men from McCracken’s company who wanted to continue to serve.
Payroll of Capt. Theodore Woodbridge’s Company, General Wooster’s Regiment, November 10, 1775 to February 29, 1776, Rolls and Lists of Connecticut Men in the Revolution 1775–1778 (Reprint, 1901; Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1995), 12–13. For details on the service of James Dole, see Philip D. Weaver, “The Hard Service and Sufferings of James Dole,” allthingsliberty.com/2018/02/hard-service-sufferings-james-dole/.
Muster roll, Field, staff, and other officers in Col. Goose Van Schaick’s Battalion of Forces raised in the State of New York, December 17, 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls 1775-1783, National Archives Microfilm Publications, M246, War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Records Group 93, Roll 77, Folder 163. Reengage was another term for reenlisting, though it appears to be used mostly regarding officers, as they were commissioned and not enlisted.