Bateaux and 'Battoe Men':
Joseph F. Meany Jr., Ph.D.
An American Colonial Response to the Problem of Logistics in Mountain Warfare
New York State Museum
Mountains, and the strategic corridors through them, were the central geographic
conditions of colonial North America. The great mountain chain that rises just
south of the Saint Lawrence River and parallels the Atlantic seaboard - combining
the White and Green Mountains of New England, the Adirondack, Helderberg, and
Catskill Mountains of New York, and the Alleghenies and Great Smokies of the
Middle Atlantic and Southern colonies - comprised an impenetrable physical barrier
a thousand miles in length that separated the coastal plain from the continental
interior. This barrier, known collectively as the Appalachian mountain chain,
was passable at water level in only two places where river corridors permitted
transit to the lands beyond. As the late Edward Hamilton observed, "These
two corridors were to become the great strategic routes of North America, the
easy routes for trade and, practically speaking, the only ones for military
Most important in the colonial period was the north-south
corridor formed by the Hudson and Champlain valleys. Extending
from tidewater on the Atlantic, it intersected the mountain
barrier and continued into the heart of French Canada, to
tidewater on the Saint Lawrence. Although the mountains sometimes
pressed up to the water's edge, nowhere along their length
did the lakes and rivers themselves reach an elevation of more
than two hundred feet above sea level. The few barriers to
travel, shallows and portage places, "were minor in view of
the immense strategic importance of this vital
From the Richelieu River, the narrow waters of Lake Champlain
ran southward between the mountains for a hundred miles without
obstruction. Just west of Lake Champlain and its tributary, Lake
George, the Hudson River passes within sixteen miles of the
Champlain/Saint Lawrence watershed, then flows southward, "stretching almost like a tightened string," through
the Catskills until reaching the Atlantic Ocean at New York
The second strategic corridor ran east to west from the Hudson
River to the Great Lakes, extending from the confluence of the
Mohawk and Hudson Rivers westward to Wood Creek and thence via
Lake Oneida and the Oswego River to Lake Ontario. Beyond lay the
Niagara River, Lake Erie, the Ohio Valley, and the vast
Because these strategic river corridors were located within
its boundaries, the Province of New York became a principal
theater of colonial warfare. The Iroquois Indians knew it as the "Warpath of Nations," while Chancellor James Kent
referred to New York as the "Flanders of America,"
doomed by its geography to be a continuous cockpit of conflict.
Indeed, from 1689 to 1815, New York was the central stage upon
which were fought four colonial wars (King William's War
1689-1698, Queen Anne's War 1702-1713, King George's War
1744-1748, and the French and Indian War 1754-1763), the American
Revolutionary War (1775-1783), and a second war (1812-1815)
against the former colonial power.(5)
The European colonial powers, France and Great Britain, and
subsequently the revolutionary Americans and the fledgling United
States, sought to control the strategic river corridors by
constructing forts at portages, narrows, and other "choke
points." Examples include: Forts Crown Point and Carillon
(Ticonderoga) on Lake Champlain, Forts George and William Henry
on Lake George and Fort Edward on the Hudson River at the
"Great Carrying Place," Fort Stanwix at the
"Oneida Carry," Fort Ontario on the Oswego River, and
Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario.(6)
None of these were places of great strength by European
standards. Most of the rather primitive fortifications could be
reduced with relative ease provided the attacking force could
reach the fortified place with the requisite troops, artillery,
and supplies.(7) Thus the
critical factor in all the colonial campaigns was logistics. The
solution, in an environment of mountains, primeval forests, and
the virtual absence of road-net, lay on the river corridors
themselves and on the indigenous colonial water-craft called the
The batteau was a flat-bottom, double-ended, shallow-draft, all-purpose cargo
boat.(8) First appearing in the records
as early as King William's War, by the eighteenth century Bateaux were
the most common and most important cargo carrier found on the inland waters
of colonial North America. The names, from the French batteau, "boat," and Bateaux, "boats," were commonly rendered
in English as "battoe" and "battoes." Thousands of Bateaux
were constructed by British, French, and American forces and used in the river
corridors of New York in all the colonial wars, the American Revolutionary War,
and the War of 1812.
Bateaux were built at various costs to
various specifications. In 1755, Major General William
Johnson paid ,9 pounds each for the construction of large
Bateaux, ,6 pounds ,10 for medium sized Bateaux and ,5
pounds each for small Bateaux.(9) The smaller Bateaux,
sometimes called "Albany Bateaux" or "Albany
boats" were "abt. 24 ft. long" with a beam
measuring only three feet. The larger Bateaux, sometimes
called "Schenectady Bateaux" or "Schenectady
boats," because they were constructed at that village
for use on the Mohawk River and ultimately the Great Lakes,
may have been as large as forty-five feet in length, the
upper limit for colonial Bateaux identified by small craft
historian Howard Chapelle.(10) Bateaux in the thirty foot
range appear to have been the more common. The only extant
plan of a batteau, drawn for the British Admiralty in 1776,
shows a boat 30'4" in length, with a 6'6"
beam and a depth of 2'10".(11)
Oars were the primary means of propulsion for the batteau, although, in open
water, sails or improvised sails were sometimes used, and, in shallow waters,
they were often poled. In 1755, Gerret Lansing, of Albany, supplied "oars
...Large Padles...short Padles and Poles with Iron [tips]" for Bateaux
to be used in the campaign against Crown Point. (12) In 1758, orders for the
expedition against Ticonderoga required "Commanding officers & Regiments
to employ their carpenters in making oars, paddles, & scoops," for
bailing the Bateaux, since "Each boat will be allow'd from Colonel
Bradstreet, only five oars."(13) The New England surgeon, Dr. Caleb Rea,
confirms that there were five oars in his batteau, four apparently for rowing
and one to serve as a rudder.(14)
This apparently typical use of oars as rudders is seen in the
painting of Major General Jeffrey Amherst's army passing the
rapids of the Saint Lawrence in 1760. The artist, Lieutenant
Thomas Davies, an officer with the army, shows several Bateaux
using an oar for a rudder. Most of the Bateaux [probably large
'Schenectady Boats'] have six oars for
rowing.(15) During the
Burgoyne campaign of 1777, British Bateaux were also
"propelled by six oars, [while] a seventh served as a
In open water, Bateaux were sometimes sailed, although they were rarely able
to do more than run before the wind. When the point of sail was downwind, this
technique could reduce the men's labor on the oars considerably. "Lakes
Champlain and George [and the Hudson River] were especially suited to the sailing
of Bateaux as winds are predominately north or south which were the main directions
of travel."(17) Dr. Rea recorded that
during the retreat from Fort Carillon in 1758, "we made Sails of Blankets
and Tents."(18) The following year on
Lake Champlain, General Amherst ordered training in the technique. On 1 October
1759 each of the regular regiments was directed to send a "Serjeant or aproper
person" to the place "where the boats ly, to see a Boat Rigged there
with two Blanketts for Sails, and each Regiment to Rigge 2 Bateaux in the same
Manner." A week later, orders stated that the Bateaux were "to have
their Sails fixed accordingly to the Pateron Collo. Haviland approved of."
From these examples it appears that such "field expedient" sails were
in common use during the French and Indian War.(19)
Numerous contemporary references give evidence of the
load-carrying capacity of colonial Bateaux. In 1755, a
twenty-four foot batteau was reported to "carry 8 barrells
and 5 men." If each barrel was of standard size, four and
two tenths cubic feet, this would yield a total of thirty-two and
eight tenths cubic feet, a substantial payload.(20)
Bougainville recorded in his journal that Bateaux arriving at
Fort Carillon in 1756 each carried three tons. These, of course,
were French or "Montreal" Bateaux, built for use on
the Saint Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.(21)
John Lees, an English merchant living in Quebec, wrote, in
1768, that "The Schenectady Batteaus...hold at most 14 Rum
Barls" and that there was "another kind of
Batteau...which they call a French one and Carries about double
the quanity of the others."(22)
The substantial cargo capacity of large Bateaux built for
Johnson's 1755 campaign is indicated in the specifications
drawn up for transport of the artillery train. Six 18 pounders
were to be transported in "6 Large Strong Battoes." Each of the 18 pounders weighed approximately 4,700 pounds. Thus,
it is apparent that the large British Bateaux were capable of
carrying well over two tons.(23)
Smaller Bateaux were used to transport provisions and troops
during campaigns. During Abercromby's expedition of 1758,
Bateaux were ordered to be loaded with "eight barrels of
flour or six of pork" in addition to crew and
In 1759, Josiah Goodrich recorded in his journal that "Each battoo Will Carry 12 barriels of flower or 9 of poark
When ordered to Load And it is supposed they will have About 20
men or a few more or less."(25)
Sergeant David Holden of the Massachusetts Bay Provincial
Regiment, in 1760, noted "We took Battoes with 7 men to a
boat...Loaded our boats with 30 Barrils of flower. Or 25 of Pork
Pees or Rice," for a voyage up the Hudson River to Fort
Edward. During the advance on Ile-aux-Noix, he recorded that each
batteau was to carry "5 Barrils of flower & 3 of
Pork...as well as [the] number of troops...assigned to the
Continued on Page 2 of "Bateaux
and 'Battoe Men'
1.. Col. Edward P. Hamilton, The French and
Indian Wars ("Mainstream of America; New York, NY: Doubleday
and Company, Inc., 1962), p. 10.
3.. Ibid., p. 11.
5.. Howard H. Peckham, The Colonial Wars,
1689-1762 (Chicago History of American Civilization; Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press, 1964). Don Higginbotham, The War of
American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies, and
Practice, 1763-1789 (Macmillan Wars of the United States; New
York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1971), and the forthcoming R.A.
Preston and S.F. Wise, The War of 1812 (Macmillan Wars of the
United States; New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 199-).
6.. On Fort Ticonderoga, Stephen H.P. Pell,
Fort Ticonderoga: A Short History Compiled from Contemporary
Sources (Ticonderoga, NY: Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 1985). On Fort
William Henry, Stanley M. Gifford, Fort Wm. Henry: A History
(Lake George, NY: Fort William Henry Association, 1955). On Fort
Stanwix, John F. Luzader, Louis Torres, and Orville W. Carroll,
Fort Stanwix: Construction and Military History, Historic
Furnishing Study, Historic Structure Report (Washington, DC:
National Park Service, 1976). On Fort Niagara, Brian Leigh
Dunnigan, History and Development of Old Fort Niagara
(Youngstown, NY: Old Fort Niagara Association, 1985).
7.. See, for example, Brian Leigh Dunnigan,
Siege - 1759: The Campaign Against Niagara (Youngstown, NY: Old
Fort Niagara Association, 1986).
8.. It was virtually flat-bottomed. Actually a
slight camber, three inches over a length of thirty-four feet in
the case of the Lake George Bateaux, facilitated dragging the
vessel over shallows. See Footnote 28.
9.. "Sundry Acco. of Battows delivered in
an Acct of Major General Johnson," dated 6 Aug. 1755. James
A. Sullivan, Richard E. Day, Alexander C. Flick, et al. (eds.),
Sir William Johnson Papers (14 vols.; Albany, NY: University of
the State of New York, 1921-1965), Vol. I, pp. 839-840.
10.. Howard Chapelle, American Small Sailing
Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction (New York, NY:
W.W. Norton & Co., 1951), p. 34.
11.. William J. Morgan, ed., Naval Documents of
the American Revolution (9 vols.; Washington, DC: U.S. Gov.
Printing Office, 1964-1986), Vol. VI, p. 319.
12.. Johnson Papers, Vol. I, Accounts for
Bateaux, pp. 839-840.
13.. Capt. Alexander Moneypenny, "Orderly
Book," 30 June 1758, Bulletin, Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Vol.
XII, No. 6 (Oct. 1970), 434.
14.. Caleb Rea, The Journal of Dr. Caleb Rea
(1758), Edited by Fabius Maximus Rea (Salem, MA: Essex Institute,
15.. Dennis M. Lewis, "Batteaux on the
Champlain Waterway, 1755-1783," (Unpublished Research
Report: New York State Museum, Div. of Research and Collections,
1983), 3-4. On the Davies painting, R.H. Hubbard, Thomas Davies
c. 1737-1812: An Exhibition Organized by The National Gallery of
Canada (Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada, 1972), No. 13,
The Rapids of the St. Lawrence, 1760, pp. 85-86, and Stephen
Sears' commentary in American Heritage, Vol. XXIX, No. 4
(June/July 1978), 100.
16.. Lewis, "Batteaux," 4.
18.. Rea, Journal, p. 28.
19.. Lewis, "Batteaux," 5.
20.. Lewis, "Batteaux," 6-7.
21.. Louis Antoine de Bougainville, Adventure
in the Wilderness: The American Journal of Louis Antoine de
Bougainville. Translated and edited by Edward P. Hamilton
(Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964), p. 61.
22.. John Lees, Journal of J.L. of Quebec,
Merchant (Detroit, MI: Society of Colonial Wars of the State of
Michigan, 1911), pp. 43-44.
23.. Johnson Papers, Vol. I, Estimate of
Ordnance and Stores, dated New York, April 30th 1755, pp.
24.. Moneypenny, "Orderly Book," 1
July 1758, Bulletin, Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Vol. XII, No. 6
(Oct. 1970), 436.
25.. Josiah Goodrich, "Journal," Bulletin, Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Vol. XIV, No. 1 (Summer 1981),
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
September 19, 2007