Seth Pomeroy: The Forgotten General
On the morning of June 16, 1775 the exhausted colonel was
home in Northampton, Massachusetts receiving a much needed
respite. It would not last long. An urgent messenger arrived from Boston that
morning with a message from Israel Putnam indicating that the colonial forces
were going to take control of the heights around Charlestown.
The colonel knew what this meant: a battle would result from
such a provocation by the militia. He also knew what he had to do. Immediately
preparing a horse for the trip, the sixty nine year old soldier started at noon
for the extensive journey to Boston. Riding hard and pushing his horse he
traveled through the Massachusetts countryside towards Boston. Briefly stopping
twice to obtain a fresh horse and rest his achy bones, he rode all throughout
the night and into the morning. He had covered three quarters of Massachusetts
on horseback in about twenty four hours, dwarfing the
ride made by Paul Revere. Getting closer to Boston he could hear the cannon
fire and finally arrived on scene at two in the afternoon.
Relieved the British soldiers had not attacked yet, he took
stock of the situation but made sure to give possession of his horse to one of
his assistants. Grateful for the task it had accomplished he told the man that
the horse was, "too valuable an animal to be shot." Upon reaching the
fortifications on Breed's Hill the troops gave a shout of welcome and delight,
a man of his experience and reputation emboldened the nervous militia. Israel
Putnam, surprised to see his comrade, embraced him and exclaimed, "You here
Pomeroy? God! I believe a cannon would wake you up if you slept in the grave!"
The colonel denied repeated requests to take general
command, he had arrived to assist in the battle and he planned on doing just
that, he would not accept any authority at this late stage. The long trip had
worn him out and he took up his position on the rail fence at the base of the
hill with Colonel Stark and the militia from New Hampshire, Connecticut and
Massachusetts. He stood shoulder to shoulder with the militia behind the fence
as they waited for the approaching British columns. Using his homemade, thirty
year old musket, he fired into the approaching British infantry.
Helping direct the volleys toward the oncoming British line
he was instrumental in the elimination of multiple officers, adding to the
confusion in the British ranks. Despite having vast experience and commanding
troops at various forts and battles he stood with the militia and fought by
their side. The men surrounding him were farmers, merchants and laborers. The
colonel was primarily a blacksmith but also performed other assorted tasks. In
the heat of the battle, the colonel stood with the rank and file of the colonies.
He did not think he was any better than them but rather they shared one common
trait: their united sense of duty. He was in many ways the typical New England
militia officer but his service and character would distinguish him among his
peers. He was Seth Pomeroy.
Why study the life of Seth Pomeroy beyond the innate
interest of learning about another colonial figure in the eighteenth century?
While his personal story is interesting, his tale is better understood in the
context of his time. Pomeroy lived in the decades preceding the American
Revolution. He was part of a group of men who were instrumental in influencing
the events of the early United States but who did not live to see the dream of
independence become a reality. The
morals and values espoused by men like Pomeroy would influence the founding
fathers. If men of Pomeroy's age were the forgotten generation, then he is
their forgotten general.
Seth Pomeroy was born on May 20, 1706 in the town of
Northampton, Massachusetts. The Pomeroy surname dated back to the time of
William of Normandy, when a Pomeroy knight fought for William at the Battle of
Hastings. Seth Pomeroy's father was Ebenezer Pomeroy, a major in the militia,
and his mother was Sarah King. His grandfather, Medad Pomeroy, and grandmother,
Experience Woodward, were the first family to move into Northampton. Medad was
a blacksmith, gunsmith and armorer and his son and
grandson would follow in that same practice.
The family tradition and cultural norm of the time dictated
that Seth was a member of the local militia from a young age. Throughout his
life he would embrace adventure but never seek it out in a reckless fashion as many young people tend to do. At the age of twenty four he traveled down to New York and he would later
travel to Connecticut with his wife when such long trips were rare.
In his adolescence he would grow to reach six feet tall and
in his adulthood he would have a lean yet muscular build. Not only would he
become an expert smith he also become an accurate shot with the same weapons he
would create. He became a skilled hunter and in one day killed a bear, dear and
wolf. He spent much of his childhood learning the trades of his paternal
descendants. As a blacksmith, armorer and gunsmith Seth Pomeroy was asked to
accomplish a wide variety of tasks. He would commonly mend broken chains,
rings, spikes and hooks as well making nails, bells, plows
and axes among other various farming equipment. He charged the most money for
shoeing a horse or an ox and even pulled the occasional tooth. Like many of the
time period, he was a man of many talents. 
He was well known as the most
competent gunsmith in western Massachusetts receiving requests not only from
farmers and militiamen but also from the local Native American tribes. During
his life Pomeroy would interact with the Native American population throughout
New England. During his military career he would be both friend and foe with
Native American warriors. One descendant of Seth Pomeroy once described his relationship
with Native Americans during peacetime, "He was the Indians' friend, and they sought him to settle their
difficulties, and always found a welcome at his house."
King George's War
Pomeroy would see his first combat in King George's War.
King George's War is the name given to the military operations in North America
during the War of the Austrian Succession. King George's War lasted from 1744
to 1748 and saw the British fighting against the allied forces of France and
Spain. In 1744 Pomeroy was thirty eight years old with
a growing family.
On January 23,
1743, a year before the official start of hostilities between England and
France brought war to the continent, Pomeroy was commissioned as a Captain of a
company of snowshoe men. Governor William Shirley had the idea of fitting out militia men with snowshoes to be ready at a moments notice
to pursue and defend against Native American raids. During the winter, the
Native Americans would conduct hit and run raids on defenseless villages and
towns and disappear into the woods using snowshoes. Shirley created ten
companies of fifty men each to compose the snowshoe militia. The snowshoe
company never was officially organized and on August 31, 1743 Pomeroy received
a commission as an ensign in the militia: his career as a militia officer had
Once war had officially commenced the colonists looked to
target one of the French possessions that had caused them the most
consternation: the fortress at Louisbourg. Started in 1720, it took twenty
years to complete and being the only French naval station on the eastern coast
was seen as a French threat to English shipping in the Newfoundland area. Stone walls thirty feet high surrounded the fort with 250
cannons lining its ramparts. The opportunity to attack presented itself when
the French foolishly released English prisoners who had been held within the
fort. Their intelligence along with the colonial patriotism sweeping New
England led to the attack.
Despite having a wife and seven kids at home, one of whom was only nine months old, Pomeroy wanted to be part of
the mission. In fact, Pomeroy was part of the expedition force that would
attempt to take Louisbourg. Troops and supplies from Connecticut, Massachusetts
and New Hampshire combined with ships and provisions from Rhode Island, New
York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were to make the voyage. Overall command
would go to Sir William Pepperell. Lacking any contingent from the regular
British military, it was an ambitious mission which
consisted entirely of colonial forces.
Remarkably, it is a mission that would end with the French
surrender of the fortress. Throughout his journey Pomeroy would keep a journal
of events in a pocket sized parchment covered book measuring 3.5 inches by 6
inches. His eyewitness account has added to the historic understanding of the
siege of Louisbourg. Pomeroy would primarily be occupied with engineering
matters, which for him meant helping ready cannons and guns. As was his
occupation in Northampton he used his knowledge of armaments to a great degree
in his military life. After a relatively easy landing by the English troops two
miles from the fortress, Pomeroy was ordered to supervise about twenty smiths
in cleaning and repairing the cannon touch holes the
French had attempted to spike. 
Pomeroy wrote of the conditions that often led to more
deaths than fighting in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Disease and
sickness spread throughout military camps unabated in many instances and the
siege at Louisbourg was no different. As the English troops neared the fortress
much of the army became sick. Pomeroy himself reported that the water near
their camp was unsanitary and the terrain was marshy and damp.
Even as the expedition reached the middle of June, Pomeroy
commented, "The nights are very cold; a frost some nights & ice of
considerable thickness." The pleasant
days were never as hot as in New England and as for Pomeroy himself, he
remained healthy in the beginning of the expedition except for a bad headache
that lasted six days but finally broke. It would be a harbinger of what was to
come for him. 
As the colonial lines crept closer to the fort, Pomeroy took
command of the troops in the trenches near the west gate in the afternoon of
June 4. Overnight the French fired cannons and charged the trench with
projectiles consisting of a mix of bolts, nails and other small, dangerous
pieces of iron. Some of the projectiles very nearly hit Pomeroy in the head.
Another cannonade also nearly took Pomeroy's life as the shots exploded all
around him. That night a French deserter left the city and surrendered to
Pomeroy. The Frenchmen would give important intelligence to the English
commanders. Pomeroy was relieved by another regiment
the next morning. He had survived his first brush with death but he would be
tested again. 
Pomeroy followed whatever orders were given to him with
speed and efficiency. Besides plying his trade as a smith and commanding troops
in the trenches he also helped move the sick and injured to a new hospital tent
that was being set up a half mile from its original location. After the fort
capitulated he was one of the officers in charge of guarding the camps
ammunition stores. 
The French surrendered the mighty fort on June 17. Following
the surrender the weather changed dramatically. What had been relatively clear
skies and cool weather for the weeks preceding capitulation turned into
consistent cloud cover and rain.
The change in weather also changed the experience of
Pomeroy. He would fall very ill, something that was to be repeated in his life.
The horrid conditions of the eighteenth century combined with his overexertion
in executing his duties led him to succumb to sickness. On June 26 he started
to become ill and in the next few days he was not eating and his conditioned
worsened. He was dehydrated, feverish and was stricken with diarrhea and a
constant headache. Only adding to his illness, the rain seeped through the tent
making his bed moist and rendering it difficult to sleep. He was bled and the fever
broke. His bed was transported to private quarters to speed recovery.
By July 3 he would start to feel better but he still
remained frail with a weak appetite. His spirits were lifted when the ships
started back for Boston but even that didn't agree with him. He was sea sick the entire first day on board and did not eat for
Despite his ailments Pomeroy remained optimistic, a trait he
would carry throughout his life. Overjoyed to have taken the fort, he was
relieved to be on his way home. Unlike
many men of the time period, Pomeroy would not have been a natural seaman. His
calling was to remain on land. Although on the voyage home he went fishing and
observed whales following the ship, he rejoiced upon seeing land at Cape Ann in
Massachusetts Bay. 
After he had arrived home Pomeroy reflected upon the siege
in his journal. His thoughts have helped historians understand the battle and
give us a first hand account of what the officers on the ground thought. Among
the many obvious reasons for victory he wrote a good deal about the weather.
For the period before surrender the weather held up rather well and very few
inclement days were recorded. However, once the French capitulated the weather
turned to a constant downpour of rain and heavy winds. 
It is after Louisbourg that we witness the first indication
of the esteem in which Pomeroy was held. Already well known in western
Massachusetts he gained additional notoriety following the siege at
Louisbourg. He was one of the
pallbearers at a Lieutenant's funeral and even Governor Shirley had written,
"Major Pomroy's having served in the late expedition, & behaved well (by
all that ever I could hear)." He demonstrated calmness under fire and was
respected by the rank and file of the militia. His desire for victory did not
go unnoticed either. He was not an idle participant and during the siege he had
wished to "Date a letter from Louisbourg." Besides helping transport the
hospital, he was genuinely concerned for the welfare of the men once commenting,
"3 men wounded but I hope not mortal." His concern for the soldiers was
reciprocated by their respect. 
Following the Louisbourg expedition Pomeroy was commissioned
a major on February 24, 1744. For the rest of King George's War he was tasked
with relieving frontier garrisons and assisting in the defense against Native
American raids. He was scheduled to be part of an intercolonial attempt to
conquer Canada, but the mission was aborted before it materialized. In February
of 1747 personal tragedy struck him as his wife gave birth to their eighth
child, a stillborn.
At one point he was in command of Fort Massachusetts and led
scouting expeditions searching for Native Americans. The war ended quietly for
him and when news of peace reached the colonies he went home to return to
civilian life. To the anger of many colonials, the fortress at Louisbourg was
returned to French possession in exchange for land in India in the Treaty of
The French and Indian War
By the time Pomeroy had reached the age of forty eight he had eight children, the youngest of whom was
five. He would be called upon once again by his colony to participate in
another attack on a French fort. France and England were once again engaged in
a war that would eventually become global and include almost all major European
powers. Known as the Seven Years' War, the North American theater
of operations is commonly referred to as the French and Indian War. Lasting
from 1754 to 1763 it would dramatically change the balance of power in North
America and have a lasting impact on Seth Pomeroy's life.
The plan was to attack the French fort at Crown Point at the
southern edge of Lake Champlain in upstate New York. A combined force of over
4,000 men from New England and New York commanded by General William Johnson
were to travel up the Hudson River, march overland fifteen miles to Lake George
and then down Lake George to Lake Champlain where Crown Point was located.
Pomeroy was commissioned a lieutenant colonel on March 29, 1755 and joined some
of his old comrades from the Louisbourg mission. Pomeroy's younger brother,
Daniel, would also be part of the force as a lieutenant. Seth Pomeroy would
keep a journal in the same pocket sized book he took to Louisbourg. 
Pomeroy would play a more vital role in the Crown Point
expedition than in Louisbourg. He continued his task of fixing and repairing
armaments of all types and oversaw the digging of trenches as a line of
defense. On the route north he was often sent out in the command of relief
columns of about 400 men to aid troops who were under Native American ambush.
Often false alarms, he fought in minor skirmishes which
amounted to little relative action.
Regarding the Native Americans, which Pomeroy had dealt with
on many occasions, he remained reasonably skeptical. Despite spending a good
amount of his military career pursuing and defending against Native Americans
he recognized they could be a valuable ally. As was the case on both sides of
the battle, the British carried a Native American contingent with them on the
Crown Point mission. General William Johnson was famous for his warm relations
with Native Americans and used his relationship with them to augment the number
of able men.
Pomeroy had experienced enough of frontier life to know not
to fully trust them though he said of there presence, "we have now about 200
Indians with us they seem to be engaged in our interest but time only will
prove there sincerity & know whether they will fight for us or not." 
As the British approached from the south, the French were
not idle. Alerted to the movements of the British they were advancing down Lake
Champlain towards Lake George. On September 8, General Johnson sent a force of
1,000 troops from Colonel Ephram Williams' Massachusetts Regiment and
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Whiting's Connecticut Regiment along with 200 Mohawks
to aid the troops at Fort George who he believed to be under attack. Pomeroy
was a Lieutenant Colonel in Williams' Regiment and marched out with the troops
at eight o'clock that morning. Little did anyone know they would be walking
into a trap. 
The Battle of Lake George was a three part
engagement and Pomeroy was in the heart of the first phase known as the "The
Bloody Morning Scout". The 1,000 man relief column was
ambushed by a combined force of French and Native Americans. Colonel Williams
had failed to put out advance or flanking scouts and so the ambush remained
undetected. When the first shots rang out against the advancing British line,
Colonel Williams and the head Native American, Chief Hendrick, were dead.
Pomeroy found himself in the middle of an ambush and with Colonel Williams
dead, the commanding officer of the Massachusetts militia.
Pomeroy's force was overmatched and caught by surprise. He
led them in an orderly and brave retreat back to the British camp. In his
journal he describes his view of the battle. After the initial surprise attack,
the troops in the rear made a break for the camp they had just departed but the
"others being over matched were obliged to fight upon a retreat & a very
handsome retreat they made by continuing there fire & then retreating a
little & then rise and give them a brisk fire."
Along with Lieutenant Colonel Whiting of Connecticut,
Pomeroy was the only other officer to make it back to the British camp. The
retreating columns Pomeroy led continued to fire upon the attacking French and
Native Americans. The militia "killed a great numbers of them seen to drop as
pigeons." Pomeroy led the men back into camp, but his job was not over for the
French were pursuing them with "undaunted courage" and planned on attacking the
noted that the "Candaians & Indians took the left wingÉ down along toward
the camp they had the advantage of the ground passing over a hollow &
rising a note within gun shot." They then hid behind trees and logs and laid a
devastating fire upon the camp. On the west side of the camp Pomeroy, with 3 or
4 cannons, stationed himself and his men to repulse the oncoming attackers.
The exchange of fire lasted from noon until five in the
evening and Pomeroy described it as, "the most violent fire perhaps yet ever
was heard of in this country." As evening wore on the British gained the upper
hand. The French General, Baron de Dieskau, was dead and the French broke off
the attack and retreated. 
The casualty numbers for the Battle of Lake George are still
disputed to this day. Pomeroy led a command of 400 men on the day after battle
with the "most melancholy peace of business" of burying 136 dead bodies. Among
the names of those who died at the Battle of Lake George were close friends of
Pomeroy who he had fought with at Louisbourg along with his brother, Lieutenant
Daniel Pomeroy. He wrote a letter to his sister-in-law, Rachel, describing how
Daniel "received a fatal shot through the middle of the head." He offered her a
pray, "I pray to God to have mercy on your poor fatherless children." 
The mission to Crown Point was cancelled and Pomeroy agreed
staying at Lake George was the proper move. "I judge we are better off now
(that is if we make a good fort here) then if we had took Crown Point; for it
is much easier to keep this place then it would be to keep Crown Point." 
The character of Pomeroy truly started to
present itself during and after the battle of Lake George. The loss of
so many officers required promotions of existing officers to take the place of
those lost in battle. Pomeroy would be an obvious choice but General Williams
promoted two other men from another regiment. The men of Northampton had signed
a petition to have Pomeroy made colonel but they were sorely disappointed.
Pomeroy never mentioned it in his journal nor made a formal complaint. It
wasn't until the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, Spence Phips, stepped in
and directed that commissions be issued for promotions within the regiments. At
last, Pomeroy was to succeed Williams as colonel. Pomeroy's integrity and honor
during the whole promotion issue endeared him further to his men and added to
his reputation. 
The troops remained idle as the decision on how to proceed
was discussed among the officers. Colonel Pomeroy continued his duties within camp which included commanding scouting missions and helping
construct fortifications. However on October 13, about a month after the
battle, Pomeroy started to come down with a virus. Each day grew worse as the
weather started to turn colder as autumn progressed. His appetite was weak and
he had a fever which worsened as the days went on. He
tried to rest and let his body fight the infection but to no avail. Finally by
October 19, Pomeroy could no longer withstand the rising fever and asked for
permission to head home to recover. Had the expedition's fate been unknown
Pomeroy may have yet stayed but with the Battle of Lake George over he felt
comfortable leaving. 
Traveling with his nephew, also named Seth, he worked his
way south back towards Northampton. His fever ran very high and for a few days
it looked as if the illness would get the best of him. For ten days he was so
sick he couldn't move and struggled to stay alive as he fought the fever.
Stubbornly, Pomeroy wouldn't let a fever end his life after he had survived the
ambush at Lake George. He eventually recovered and returned home to his wife
and children on October 23. 
Pomeroy remained inactive for most of the remainder of the
war. In 1759 and 1760 he once again saw active duty manning and protecting
frontier forts. He helped in opening up roads to the west for which the
Governor was especially thankful. The end of the French and Indian War saw
Canada change hands from French to British territory. Much of the French threat
in North America was eradicated and so Pomeroy's antagonist in his past
military campaigns was removed.
The colonies could now live in relative peace and Pomeroy,
along with other men of his time, hoped to live out his life at home with his
wife and children. Unbeknownst to him, the services of Seth
Pomeroy would be called upon by his country again. 
Marriage & Religion
Seth Pomeroy was a devoted member of his militia unit, a
successful blacksmith and experienced soldier but first and foremost he was a
man of faith and family. His letters include repeated references to the divine
providence and its ultimate authority; coupled with Pomeroy's affectionate prose
to his wife he reveals himself to be a man of passion and loyalty to his
religion and family. His prolonged absences from home demonstrated an ability
to suppress personal feelings in the service of his country.
It is little wonder why Seth Pomeroy would have been such a
man of religious fervor. The Great Awakening, a time of religious renewal, took
place in the colonies in the 1730's and 1740's. Not only was Pomeroy a young
adult maturing into a man when this revitalization swept the continent, it began
in his home town, Northampton. The famous
Congregationalist minister, Jonathan Edwards, preached a few miles from
Pomeroy's home and the impact this would have had on Pomeroy and his religious
beliefs is unquestionable. On his expeditions to Louisbourg and Lake George,
Pomeroy was sure to hear a sermon from the military chaplain and repeatedly
dined with the clergy accompanying the camp. 
Allied closely with his religious beliefs is Pomeroy's
devotion to his family and his wife. He married Mary Hunt on December 14, 1732.
They would have nine children together between 1733 and 1749. In order of birth
they are Seth, Quartus, Medad, Lemuel, Martha, Mary, Sarah, a stillborn and
Asahel. He would write his wife letters throughout his military campaigning career.
The letters would range from simple status and location updates ("It is with a
great deal of pleasure & satisfactionÉ I have of acquainting you of my
circumstance & how things fair with me.") to
heartfelt verses demonstrating his ceaseless love for her ("The great distance
of place and length cannot, as long as in the flesh, in the least take off the
edge of my love."). The strength to remain apart under such trying
circumstances derived from their shared religious devotion. 
Continue to page 2 »
N.S. Dodge. "Colonel Seth Pomeroy," The
American Review Volume 7 (1848): 468-469.
Louis Effingham de Forest, The Journals
and Papers of Seth Pomeroy: Sometime General in the Colonial Service (New
Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Company), 1; Dodge, "Colonel Seth
de Forest, Journals
and Papers, 1.
Ibid, 4-5; Dodge, "Colonel Seth Pomeroy," 461, 469.;
Address of George Eltweed Pomeroy, Delivered at the unveiling of the Monument
to General Seth Pomeroy at Peekskill, N.Y. June 17, 1898 by The Sons of the
Revolution of New York, http://noiwillnotbehave.com/seth/ADDRESS.htm.
Address of George Eltweed Pomeroy, June 17, 1898.
de Forest, Journals
and Papers, 10-12.
Howard H. Peckham, The Colonial Wars,
1689-1762 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 99.
de Forest, Journals
and Papers, 23; Peckham, The Colonial
All quotes from Pomeroy's personal journal have had their words altered to
current accepted English spelling.
de Forest, Journals
and Papers, 25,29,41.
Ibid, 47, 74.
Ibid, 59,73; Peckham, Colonial
de Forest, Journals
and Papers, 100; Peckham, Colonial
de Forest, Journals
and Papers, 108-109.
Ibid, 114; Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British
North America, 1754-1766 (New York: Vintage, 2000), 119.
Peckham, Colonial Wars,
150; Anderson, Crucible of War, 119.
de Forest, Journals
and Papers, 114.
Ibid, 114-115; Francis Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe: The French and Indian War (Chapel Hill: Da
Capo, 1995), 174-175.
de Forest, Journals
and Papers, 115, 143.
Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The
Settling of North America (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 344-345.
de Forest, Journals
and Papers, 2, 58, 65.