Bateaux and 'Battoe Men':
An American Colonial Response to the Problem of Logistics in Mountain Warfare
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Considerable care was taken in loading Bateaux. Barrels were laid on their
sides and cushioned on a bed of "fashens" [fascines], or loose brush
that was placed in the bottom of the batteau. Captain Moneypenny recorded in
his orderly book: "Care to be taken that none of the barrells put in the
boats stand on their heads."(27) Additional protection was offered by placing the cargo
under a water-proof covering. In 1755, seventy-three "Painted Canvases
for Covering Provisions & Ammunition" were listed among William Johnson's
Bateaux supplies.(28) In the Abercromby
expedition of 1758, "oil cloths" were specified.(29) In 1776, the Commissary General in Canada directed
that "no cask should come here larger than a barrel which are calculated
for our Carts and Bateaux." Thus it appears that Bateaux were developed
to carry loads of specific size calculated in multiples of barrels. When used
solely as a troop carrier and possibly with a few individual provisions, it
was possible to carry thirty-two to forty men in a batteau.(30)
Two Bateaux, assumed to be from the Abercromby flotilla of
1758, were recovered from the south end of Lake George in 1962
and are now in the collections of the Adirondack Museum in Blue
Mountain Lake, New York, and the New York State Museum in Albany,
New York. Dennis M. Lewis, whose research report was commissioned
by the State Museum, described the archeological remains of the
Two Bateaux of the French and Indian War period ...measure 32 feet in length
by four feet across the beam. They were of caravel construction [in which] the
hull planking is laid one on top of the other with the edge on one plank butting
against the edge of the plank below it [although] some Bateaux may have been
built using lapstrake construction ...characterized by the narrow overlapping
of the side planks. The side planks were attached to knees, which in turn were
attached to the bottom. It appears that most Bateaux were iron fastened.
The Lake George Bateaux ...retain their original bottoms, stern, stern piece,
some knees, and a little side planking. Four planks made up the thirty-two foot
bottom. Each plank is a little over one foot wide and they are layed side by
side. Cleats run across these planks between the knees and are nailed to the
bottom planks. The stem and stern piece have a bevel cut on each side to facilitate
the nailing of the side planks. The side planks are also nailed to the knees.(31)
The 1776 Admiralty plan specifies the materials to be used in
the construction of a thirty-foot batteau. "All the wood
will be soft except for an oak six inch plank on the bottom and
the stem and stern pieces, which are also to be of oak. The
bottom plank were to be one inch thick, the sides one and one
half inches, and the knees two inches thick." The plan also
shows nine thwarts [seats] "that scale out at being eight
inches wide, two feet three inches apart and two feet off the
Because of their relatively crude construction, the
vessels' seams required constant caulking in order to keep
them water-tight. Caulking with oakum was a frequent fatigue duty
for soldiers on campaign. In the endless effort to keep seams
water-tight, Bateaux were frequently filled with water, or even
sunk, when circumstances permitted, so that their planks would
swell to close the seams.(33)
The very simplicity of the Bateaux permitted them to be built in large numbers
by unskilled or semi-skilled workers and to be readily maintained and repaired
or replaced in the field with relative ease.(34)Lewis
concluded: "In the context of the eighteenth century transportation system
that functioned along the [Hudson] Champlain waterway the batteau was an ideal
water craft ...capable of carrying large quantities of men and supplies through
the roadless wilderness with a minimum of problems."(35)
To man the thousands of Bateaux constructed during the last great colonial
war, the British created a "Battoe Service," usually referred to,
after its creator and commander, as "Bradstreet's Battoemen."
Like their contemporary sister organization, "Rogers' Rangers," the batteaumen have yet to be the subject of a scholarly study. It remains unclear
even whether they were soldiers or civilians. First authorized in 1755 by Sir
William Shirley, the batteaumen were raised and commanded by Captain (later
Lt. Col.) John Bradstreet(36)and were responsible for the construction and
operation of the thousands of Bateaux that moved the supplies, equipment, and
men of the British and colonial forces up and down the Hudson/Champlain and
Mohawk River corridors.(37)
Shirley made an excellent appointment when he designated Lt. Col. John Bradstreet
to be in charge of the difficult and often dangerous task of keeping supplies
moving from Schenectady to Oswego. Bradstreet was given command of a corps of
2,000 fighting batteaumen organized in forty companies. He was to supervise
the construction of hundreds of batteau's and whaleboats for the army's
use, the employment of wagons and sledges for moving bulky supplies over the
several portages, and the clearing of any obstructions from the shallow waterways.(38)
Douglas Edward Leach points out that two of Bradstreet's companies were
made up of Nantucket whalers and others were drawn from the coastal towns above
Boston.(39) However Shirley's references to the "Albany
Men" suggests that a substantial portion of the batteaumen came from that
The bateau-men, apparently largely drawn from the Albany, Schenectady, and
Mohawk River area, were a breed apart. Their "grousing, strikes ...desertions...unquenchable
thirsts ...insatiable appetites" and "willingness to rifle any cargo" made them, to say the least, rather difficult to command. Not surprisingly,
many British officers found them impossible to work with; but Bradstreet developed
an excellent rapport with them, no doubt at least in part because of his own
reckless disposition and Nova Scotia frontier background.(41)
The creation of the Bateaux Service, like that of other
irregular military organizations, was a response to a specific
need. In the spring of 1756, Shirley found the post at Oswego on
Lake Ontario to be at the end of a long, tenuous supply line.
Indeed, the isolated garrison had barely survived the winter.
On March 17, 1756 Governor Shirley placed all the bateau-men
involved in Oswego's provisioning under the command of
Lieutenant Colonel Bradstreet. He was authorized to assume
control over all aspects of the transportation of men and
provisions from the construction of bateaux through to the
delivery of goods to Oswego was placed directly in his
Shirley authorized Bradstreet to "engage" 2,000 batteaumen to be
organized in 50 man "companies," although it is unclear whether they
were hired as civilians or recruited as soldiers. Bradstreet was ordered to
proceed "as soon as may be with Two Hundred Whaleboats and the Same Number
of Battoes all loaded with provisions and store" for the relief of Oswego.
Bradstreet undertook his new responsibilities with his usual energy. On 6 April
1756 he reported to Shirley "I have this day got of the remainder of the
two hundred whaleboats and many battoos and I shall get the rest and myself
gone in three days."(43) True to his
word, Bradstreet reported on 9 April that he had left Albany and was moving
toward Oswego which the convoy finally reached on 16 May.(44)
Bradstreet could not delay long at Oswego. By the morning of
18 May he was on his way back to Schenectady where he immediately
set about organizing the next convoy. To sustain the garrison at
Oswego a continuous flow of provisions, tools, and weapons as
well as supplies and equipment for the British vessels on Lake
Ontario was required. On 1 July, Bradstreet led 600 bateaux into
Oswego loaded "with Provisions for the Garrison and Guns and
Rigging for the Vessels."(45)
The Bateaux Service had successfully opened the supply line
to Fort Oswego. Meanwhile, however, a French force of unknown
size had commenced operations south of Lake Ontario designed to
isolate the post again. "Bradstreet's Batteaumen" would add a hard-fought victory to their reputation for
delivering the goods.
On 3 July 1756, Bradstreet again left Oswego for Schenectady
with 350 Bateaux and about 1,000 batteaumen. Eight miles from
the post the convoy fell into an ambush. The French and Indian
force, consisting of about 180 French marines, 450 Canadian
militia, and 100 Indians, lay in wait on the north side of the
Oswego river. Allowing the first few Bateaux to pass unmolested,
they struck the advance body of the convoy which included
Bradstreet and about 300 Batteaumen.(46)
Bradstreet and his batteaumen recovered quickly from the
initial surprise. Bradstreet himself, with six men, occupied a
small island and from it beat back three attempts by the French
to cross the river. His stubborn defense covered the remaining
batteaumen, giving them time to get ashore on the south side of
the river where hasty defensive positions were organized.
Bradstreet then withdrew to the safety of the south shore. There
he was informed that the French were attempting to flank him by
crossing the river about a mile upstream. Hurriedly collecting
some 250 batteaumen, Bradstreet hastened to the threatened point,
hoping to prevent the French crossing, only to find about 400
French and Indians had already crossed.
Bradstreet attacked without hesitation, driving the enemy back to the river
where "the Battoemen having now a fair View of them, took them down fast;
and here it was that the Enemy sustained their greatest loss."(47) Pursuing the French across the river, the batteaumen
found the entire French party had withdrawn "in the utmost Haste and Confusion,
for they had left behind their Packs, Blankets and Provisions."(48) British casualties in the three-hour engagement
were twenty men killed and twenty-four wounded, mostly in the opening fusillade.
Bradstreet estimated the number of French and Indian dead at over one hundred,
though the French commander, Captain de Villiers, reported "we lost in
this affair a colony officer, six Canadians and colony soldiers and one Indian."(49)
In reporting the action, Hugh Gaine, editor of the New York
Mercury, remarked on the wisdom "of taking large numbers of
Battoemen into the service," and praised Bradstreet's
"active, brave and Circumspect
Bradstreet's biographer concluded:
Dispite the nature of the surprise attack, Bradstreet's
bateaux convoy had not been cut to ribbons but had remained
intact...The action proved that given leadership such as that
offered by Bradstreet, the bateau-men were capable of
withstanding...attacks...in the face of sizable enemy
Despite this triumph, however, General James Abercromby,
concerned with the spiraling cost of logistics, mandated
reduction in the size of the Bateaux Service by ordering the
discharge of 400 batteaumen. The frustrated Bradstreet lacked "even the money necessary to pay the bateau-men" and so
was forced to petition Lord Loudoun, the new British
Commander-in-Chief, "for an additional ,9,000 sterling since
the recently granted sum of ,4,800 New York currency, was not
sufficient to meet the wages and other expenses of the
During the last half of 1756 the batteaumen were paid off and
disbanded. By 4 December when the last companies were paid off,
the Bateaux Service had cost ,77,666/6/3 New York Currency, a
substantial expense. Bradstreet wrote to his agent, Charles
Gould, in London that although "the Battoe service" had
won "the approbation & satisfaction of all," his
appointment as bateaux commander would terminate in December with
the final disbanding of the last remaining Bateaux
Bradstreet was down but not out. One year later, in December
1757, with his eye on British offensive plans for 1758,
Bradstreet proposed the reconstitution of the Bateaux Service on
a scale twice that of the previous establishment.
Bradstreet argued that the mountainous and forested "nature of this country," made the movement of men and
supplies "by Water and through woods" essential. He
urged "that the Crown during the War, establish and keep up
four thousand Chosen and well regulated Men accustom'd to the
Woods and management of all kinds of Boats to be form'd into
Companys." The batteaumen were to be recruited by the
various colonies "in their several proportions from New
Hampshire to Pensilvania." Experienced batteaumen would be
induced to enlist by a pay scale for "Private Men" that
offered "six pence per Day over and above what a Common
Soldier receives." Non-commissioned officers were to receive
proportionally greater remuneration. Bradstreet believed that the
extra money was necessary because of the added responsibilities
expected to be shouldered by the batteaumen. They would be
expected to maintain the logistical system of the army and to
transport regular and provincial troops and their supplies
through the mountainous wilderness despite the "formadable
and distructive" opposition of the French and their Indian
allies. To Bradstreet the inflated pay scale, while seemingly
"extravagant and unnecessary," was rather an
"oeconomy and a necessary and prudent
As for the officers to command such special forces, Bradstreet also had specific
recommendations. They must be "Natives of this Country in General from
the Peoples apprehensions and fears of Serving under European Officers"
and "well acquainted with the woods, the nature of the Indians and the
management of Boats."(55) As his biographer has observed, "Bradstreet had
...deliberately fitted his background, abilities and past actions with what
appeared to be the new British military needs in North America."(56)
On 27 December 1757, Bradstreet was named Deputy
Quartermaster-General for North America and was promoted to the
rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. "His expertise with the
bateau-men, his organizational abilities in terms of provisioning
the forces, constructing boats, and arranging troop transports
had proved his worth."(57)
Bradstreet and his batteaumen played a significant role in the
campaign of 1758 from the very beginning. Despite myriad
difficulties, 250 bateaux were constructed at Albany before the
end of March and Bradstreet confidently promised an additional
1,200 completions by mid-May. By 22 May 1758, he had delivered,
as promised, 1,500 Bateaux. This means that Bradstreet was
supervising the completion of 120 Bateaux per week at Albany
during the two month period April-May 1758, a remarkable
Sluggish recruitment of batteaumen needed to man the new boats
was belatedly stimulated by Abercromby's reluctant acceptance
of the higher pay scale suggested by Bradstreet. Although never
recruited up to full strength, the reconstituted Bateaux Service
accomplished considerable feats during the campaign of 1758.
Abercromby's army and attendant supplies were transported
north on the Hudson River to Fort Edward, portaged to the
entrenched camp at Lake George, and launched, in 900 Bateaux and
135 whaleboats, against Fort Carillon. Following Abercromby's
disastrous frontal assault on the French lines, the army, with
all its artillery and hundreds of wounded, was successfully moved
back to the south end of the lake.(59)
Authorized to conduct a strike against Fort Frontenac
[Caderaqui], Bradstreet's expedition with all its supplies
were transported west on the Mohawk River, portaged across the
Oneida Carry, and launched across Lake Ontario by a force of 300
batteaumen reinforced by drafts out of one of the Massachusetts
Bay provincial regiments.(60)
The early months of 1759 saw Bradstreet back in Albany, involved again in preparations
for the coming spring campaign and "the tasks he knew so well - bateaux
building, procuring bateau-men, carpenters, wagoners & ox team drivers."(61)
Yet charges of corruption and profiteering plagued Bradstreet's administration
of the Quartermaster's Department and the Bateaux Service. "Rumors
abounded concerning Bradstreet being in cahoots with some of the shady traders,
boatbuilders, wagoners and bateaumen with whom he contracted the business of
Bradstreet encountered other problems as well. In the spring
of 1760, the British army's preparations for its final
campaign were hampered by the large number of civilians moving
westward "in order to Trade with the Indians." Wages
commanded by batteaumen were so extravagant that they threatened
to "induce & carry off every good Battoe Man upon the
Mohawk River which is evidently to the great prejudice of His
Majesty's Service."(63) Moreover, even the regimental sutlers were
tempting batteaumen as they loaded "their Battoes one half
with Indian goods."(64) Logistic support for Amherst's final pincers movement against
the last French stronghold at Montreal was handicapped by the
lack of skilled batteaumen.(65)
With the end of hostilities, Bradstreet, like Robert Rogers of
the Rangers, found himself wrestling with a long "paper
trail" of accounts and expenditures related to the Bateaux
Service that now had to be justified to the parsimonious
peacetime administration of General Thomas Gage.(66) Despite a brief revival during the
northwest Indian insurrection of 1763-1765, the days of the
Bateaux Service, like those of the rangers, were over.
During the eighteenth century, the American colonies developed
both a technological and a "human resource" solution to
the overriding problem of logistics in a mountainous wilderness:
the widespread employment of a simple, crudely constructed,
easily replaced, indigenous, cargo-carrying water-craft, and the
recruitment of an equally hardy corps of fighting boatmen to
operate them. Together the Bateaux and the "battoe
men" permitted the successful exploitation of the strategic
river corridors of New York as "avenues of empire" through the barrier mountain chain.
Back to Page 1 of "Bateaux and
Bibliography for page 2
26.. David Holden, "Journal of Sergeant
Holden, 1760," Proceedings, Massachusetts Historical
Society, Vol. XXIV (1889), 387-409.
27.. Moneypenny, "Orderly Book," 3
July 1758, and Goodrich, "Journal," Bulletin, Fort
Ticonderoga Museum, Vol. XII, No. 6 (Oct. 1970), 438, Vol. XIV,
No. 1 (Summer 1981), 51. This implies a technique quite different
from the haphazardly loaded American batteau depicted in Arthur
Shilstone's watercolor from the cover of the December 1987
28.. Johnson Papers, Vol. I, J.
Wheelwright's List of Supplies, pp. 571-574, cited in Lewis,
29.. Moneypenny, "Orderly Book," 23
June 1758, Bulletin, Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Vol. XII, No. 5
(Dec. 1969), 354, cited in Lewis, "Batteaux," 8.
30.. Holden, "Journal," Proceedings
of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. XXIV (1889),
387-409, "Samuel Jenks, His Journal of the Campaign of
1760," Ibid., 2nd Series, Vol. V (1890), 352-391, cited in
Lewis, "Batteaux," 8.
31.. Lewis, "Batteaux," 10-11.
Greater technical detail on these vessels are contained in a
series of articles by John Gardiner: 1.) "Relics of
'Ghost Fleet' are Small Craft Bonanza," 2.)
"Bateaus Played Key Role in American History," 3.)
"Famous Boat Type in Transitional State," 4.)
"Construction Details of Old Bateaux Show Basic Design with
Variations," 5.) "Old Sketch Provides Clue to Bateau
Shape," 6.) "Bateau 'Reconstructed' From
Remains, Drawings," National Fisherman combined with Maine
Coast Fisherman, Oct. 1966, Apr.-Aug. 1967.
On one of the remaining "Batteaux clusters" at the
south end of Lake George, see Atlantic Alliance Lake George
Bateaux Research Team (Unpublished Field Report), "Bateau
Prime, Wiawaka Site," (Lake George, NY: Atlantic Alliance
for Maritime Heritage, 1987) as well as the video tape produced
during the September 1987 Underwater Archeology Workshop during
which Bateaux in the Wiawaka cluster were photographed as they
lie on the bottom of Lake George.
32.. Lewis, "Batteaux," citing
Admiralty Plan, Naval Docs., Vol. VI, p. 319.
33.. Lewis, "Batteaux," 11, citing
Goodrich, "Journal," 47 and Jenks, "Journal," 365.
34.. "State of the Battoes on Hudson River
and Lake George," submitted by Lieut. Col. John Bradstreet
to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Amherst on 31 Dec. 1758, which reported 870
such craft in the Hudson/Champlain corridor, 1,084 in the Mohawk
River and 1,500 additional craft to be constructed for the spring
35.. Lewis, "Batteaux," 12.
36.. John Bradstreet, 1714-1774, Lieut. Col.,
60th Regt. of Foot, and Deputy Quarter-Master General for North
America. Bradstreet was born at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in
1714, the son of Lieut. Edward Bradstreet of Philipps' Regt.
and Agathe de la Tour, a daughter of one of the first families of
Bradstreet was commissioned an ensign in his father's
regiment from 23 Aug. 1735. During years of garrison duty, he was
able to capitalize on his French connections. His biographer,
William Godfrey, points to evidence that he owned interest in a
coasting schooner and was regularly engaged in clandestine and
illegal trade with the French port of Louisbourg on Cape Breton
At the outbreak of King George's War, Bradstreet was
assigned to the garrison at Canso where he was captured at the
surrender of that post in May of 1744. Taken to Louisbourg, he
was sent in his schooner to Boston under flag of truce to
negotiate the exchange of the Canso prisoners. In Boston he met
Gov. William Shirley. "His arguments as to the vulnerability
of Louisbourg were so forcible that Pepperell described him as
the 'first projector of the expedition' that resulted in
the capture of the stronghold in 1746." The ambitious
Bradstreet sought command of the expedition and "maintained
that he would have had the chief command had he been a native New
Englander." Stanley M. Pargellis, "John
Bradstreet," Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. II,
In the event, Bradstreet was only able to obtain Shirley's
commission as executive officer in Pepperell's provincial
regiment, a post that he converted into the role of
Pepperell's chief military advisor during the siege.
Bradstreet was left at Louisbourg as military governor, a post he
held until the city was returned to the French in 1749. During
his tenure, Bradstreet was criticized for corruption and illicit
trading. His hopes for reward in the wake of the Louisbourg
triumph were also doomed to failure. Although praised by both
Gov. Shirley and Gen. Pepperell, Bradstreet was able to obtain
only a captaincy in the 51st Regt. of Foot (Pepperell's). He
was also named Lieut. Gov. of the outpost of Saint John's,
Newfoundland, where he remained until 1754, bitter and
The renewal of war in 1754 offered renewed hope for "a
driving personal ambition which was his dominating
characteristic." [DAB, Vol. II, 578] Also renewed was his
relationship with Sir William Shirley, his first patron. In early
1755, Bradstreet was ordered to Oswego with two companies of the
51st to reinforce the exposed garrison, a detachment of the New
York Independent Companies, and to supervise the construction of
boats on Lake Ontario intended for Shirley's campaign against
37.. Sir William Shirley, The Correspondence of
William Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts and Military Commander
in America, 1731-1760. Edited by Henry Lincoln, (2 vols.; New
York, NY: National Society of Colonial Dames of America, 1912),
Vol. II, pp. 419-422, 442-445, 567-571.
38.. Douglas Edward Leach, Arms for Empire: A
Military History of the British Colonies in North America,
1607-1763 (The Macmillan Wars of the United States; New York, NY:
The Macmillan Company, 1973), p. 381.
39.. Sir William Shirley, The Conduct of Maj.
Gen. Shirley, Late General and Commander-in-Chief of His
Majesty's Forces in North America, Briefly Stated (London,
1758), cited by Leach, Arms for Empire, Note 78, pp. 409-410.
40.. Minutes of a Council of War held at
Oswego, Sept. 18, 1755, Shirley Correspondence, Vol. II, pp.
264-268, Leach, Arms for Empire, p. 69.
41.. William G. Godfrey, Pursuit of Profit and
Preferment in Colonial North America: John Bradstreet's Quest
(Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1982), Note
51, p. 76. Also the same author's "John Bradstreet: An
Irregular Regular, 1714-1774," Unpublished Ph.D.
Dissertation: Dept. of History, Queen's University, Kingston,
Ontario, 1979 and Charles R. Canedy III, "An Entrepreneurial
History of the New York Frontier, 1739-1776," Unpublished
Ph.D. Dissertation: Dept. of History, Case Western Reserve
University, 1967, pp. 42-43, 96.
42.. Godfrey, Bradstreet, pp. 76-78.
43.. Letter of John Bradstreet to Sir William
Shirley, 6 April 1756, Bradstreet MSS., cited by Godfrey,
Bradstreet, p. 77.
44.. Letter of John Bradstreet to Sir William
Johnson, 9 April 1756, Johnson Papers, Vol. IX, pp. 423-424.
45.. Patrick Mackeller, "A Journal of the
Transactions at Oswego from the 16th of May to the 14th of August
1756," in Stanley M. Pargellis, Ed., Military Affairs in
North America, 1748-1765: Selected Documents from the Cumberland
Papers in Windsor Castle (New York, NY: D. Appleton-Century
Company, 1936), pp. 187-189, 200.
46.. Godfrey, Bradstreet, p. 79.
47.. Mackellar, "Journal," Military
Affairs, p. 200.
49.. Bougainville, Journal, p. 6, Godfrey,
Bradstreet, pp. 79-80.
50.. New York Mercury, 26 July, 2 Aug.
51.. Godfrey, Bradstreet, p. 80.
52.. Johnson Papers, Vol. IX, Minutes of a
Council of War held at Albany, July 16, 1756, p. 486, Memorial of
John Bradstreet to Lord Loudoun, dated 7 Aug. 1756, Henry E.
Huntington Library, Loudoun Papers, LO 1536, and an "Account
of Money paid by John Bradstreet to the Several Companies of
Batteau-Men," cited in Godfrey, Bradstreet, pp. 82, 90.
53.. Godfrey, Bradstreet, pp. 90-91.
54.. John Bradstreet, "Proposal for
raising local troops," 3 December 1757, Loudoun Papers, LO
56.. Godfrey, Bradstreet, pp. 106-107.
58.. Ibid., pp. 116-118.
59.. Joseph F. Meany Jr., "Merchant and
Redcoat: The Papers of John Gordon Macomb, 1757-1760," Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Dept. of History, Fordham
University, 1989, Headnotes VIII, IX, X.
60.. Ibid., Headnote XII.
61.. Godfrey, Bradstreet, p. 143.
62.. Canedy, "Entrepreneural
History," p. 321, Godfrey, Bradstreet, p. 151.
63.. John Bradstreet to Jeffrey Amherst, 4 Feb.
1760, cited by Godfrey, Bradstreet, p. 153.
64.. Ibid., p. 153.
65.. Ibid., p. 155.
66.. Ibid., pp. 166-168, 238-239.
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History
September 19, 2007