The Ranger lineage predates the very birth of this great nation. The term "Ranger" evolved as far back as thirteenth century England, when it was used to describe a far-ranging forester or borderer. By the seventeenth century, the term emerged to serve as a title for irregular and unique military organizations, such as the "Border Rangers" who defended the troubled border frontier between England and Scotland. The term crossed the Atlantic to the North American continent with England's early settlers.
The first "Ranger" references in the New World began shortly after the start of a war between the Native American Indians and the colonists of the Commonwealth of Virginia on 22 March 1622. Outside of the larger towns and villages, the Commonwealth was populated with a series of isolated plantations and farms owned by titled landowners, each responsible for the defense of his family and his workers. To successfully defend against a surprise Indian attack, advanced warning of a war party's approach was necessary. Consequently, armed men were selected to roam, or "range," the countryside to provide this warning or to search for targets of opportunity.
The designation of "rainger" had taken root and continued to be used during the intermittent Indian wars from 1675 to 1715. The first of these wars, referred to as "King Philip's War," raged throughout much of New England for several years. The challenges facing the colonists were significantly different than those military challenges faced by the regular armies of the Old World. The New World was much more rugged and the enemy significantly different. Toughened by the environment, accustomed to moving great distances by foot, and loath to fight pitched battles, the American Indian employed stealth and reconnaissance to select targets, execute a surprise and devastating attack, and quickly withdraw. Extremely competent in their movements, the Indians also showed themselves to be very adept at displaying their skill in the art of ambush. Cruel and ruthless in their application of force, the American Indian instilled a great deal of fear throughout the colonies.
Employing new methods and tactics, and expanding on the original concept of the individual "rainger," the colonists raised small, organized groups of men who began to move out from the defensive walls of the settlements and into the forests and mountains. These mounted troops traversed or patrolled the frontier, screening between frontier forts and blockhouses. Looking for signs of enemy movement and serving as early warning scouts, these groups would cover the countryside and submit reports that, among other things, would state, "This day, ranged 12 miles." Hence, the name "Ranger" was also attached to them.
Captain Benjamin Church
Captain Benjamin Church, considered by many to be the first American Ranger, commanded one such local company. Raised in 1675 and organized to defend the colonists and to take the war to the Indians, Church's Rangers was manned by colonial volunteers who were daring, aggressive men, attracted to the dangers and hardships of this type of service, and in search of adventure and spoils of war. Additionally, and unlike most other militia organizations, Church incorporated friendly Indian auxiliaries into his independent company, employed for scouting and tracking, and treated as fellow soldiers.
A veteran of previous Indian battles, Church was an innovator who learned quickly from his adversary. The Indians were quick to note that the colonists always moved together as a group and never scattered. Hence, the Indians were able to engage a target-rich environment with little concern of being attacked by any unseen elements. Realizing this, Church developed a mode of operation very similar to that of his enemy. Leading with his own Indian scouts, Church's Rangers would advance through the woods in a loose formation, providing no massed target and allowing for a maneuver element to deploy quickly when engaged, thus demonstrating with great precision the field tactic of encirclement.
The New England colonies were not the only providences needing the services of Ranger-style military organizations. To defend the frontier regions of the thirteenth and final Georgia colony between its border garrisons, a small, mobile Ranger organization was formed in 1734. Although their numbers never grew to more than fifteen officers and one hundred twenty-two men, when they peaked in 1746, the Rangers proved to be an invaluable resource throughout the early years of the Georgia colony and especially against Spanish forces entrenched in Florida. The Georgia Rangers remained in service patrolling and securing the Ceded Lands until 6 March 1776, when they were disbanded for the final time.
One of the first Ranger companies enlisted primarily to support the British Army was Gorham's Ranger Company. Raised and organized in 1747, Gorham's company was composed of frontiersmen, hunters, mixed-bloods, and Indians. Identified by the British Army as "Independent Companies of Rangers," this unit scouted and raided along the frontier borders on behalf of the British Army. Ultimately, Captain John Gorham went on to raise six companies that served on the periphery of the new colonies and in Quebec, Canada. Following his death in 1751, Gorham's brother, Joseph, would continue to command the organization until 1759.
Rogers' Rangers: 1755 - 1763
Commencing in 1754 and lasting until 1763, the French and Indian War on the North American continent served as part of a larger conflict called the Seven Years' War in Europe. The British, having seen how successful Ranger units were against this new and unorthodox style of warfare, began recruiting American frontiersmen to form similar units to serve as auxiliaries of their Regular army. The impact of the war upon British infantry techniques and tactics was tremendous. Impressed by the successful combination of loose-knit Indian fighting and disciplined light-fighting skills, the British Army sought to incorporate these style units within their organizational structure.
The Ranger unit that eventually would leave its indelible mark on American military history and lineage of the United States Army Ranger was originally formed as the Ranger Company of the New Hampshire Provincial Regiment under the command of Robert Rogers. Rogers would not only win lasting renown as a Ranger leader but he would also be immortalized in American literature as the main character of Kenneth Roberts' classic novel, Northwest Passage.
In February 1755, Governor Wentworth of New Hampshire awarded Rogers the captaincy of the 1st Company of Colonel Blanchard's New Hampshire Regiment for having raised twenty-four recruits within one month. Rogers' company was composed of approximately fifty men. The men were skilled and accomplished in defending themselves and their homes against Indian raids. They were well trained in the ways of the woods, having gained considerable experience from trapping beaver to hunting and pursuing Indians. Over time, as a function of these skills, they came to be known as Rogers' Rangers, the Ranging Company of the Regiment. Gifted as a leader, Rogers set out to make a name for himself and his soldiers.
All Ranger history content © JD Lock. Used with permission.
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