Company of Select Marksmen

Company of Select Marksmen2021-08-10T11:11:11-04:00

In May of 1776, Governor Guy Carleton directed that each company of each regiment in Canada should provide two men to Captain Fraser of the 34th Regt. to form an elite company of skirmishers. Capt. Fraser was directed to choose the best shots from each company and to secure the army’s most accurate weapons.

This company was often called the “Company of Select Marksmen,” but was also known as “Captain Fraser’s Company of British Rangers,” or the “British Rangers,” and on several occasions, the “Company of Volunteers.” It almost certainly had a proportion of riflemen. It is possible that Pennsylvania rifles captured at Quebec and French military rifles in the armory there were provided to The Company. In addition, Lt. Col. Simon Fraser of the 24th had arranged for the first fifty German-made “Tower” or “P76” rifles made for the British Army to be shipped with his forces from Ireland. Some or all of them very likely were used by the Company of Select Marksmen. The ratio of rifles to muskets is unlikely to ever have been higher than one to two.

The Company was intended to provide support to the Natives. Native warriors, despite their many merits, lacked the discipline to stand in the face of close range volley fire (a Native would say that they were too smart…). British officers in the Seven Years War noted that Natives and Rangers were too often dispersed by small, well-led bodies of formed troops with European discipline. Captain Fraser, whom Burgoyne once praised as “The finest Leader of Light Troops in North America”, attempted to form a unit that could fight as the Natives fought yet, if required, stand and trade volleys in the European manner. The unique rifle and “marksmen” element of the company was an early antecedent of the famous elite British light infantry corps of the early nineteenth century.

The Company of Select Marksmen served with distinction at Valcour Island and Ticonderoga in Carleton’s victorious sweep down the valley in 1776. During Burgoyne’s ’77 campaign they served at almost every important action, including Ticonderoga, Hubbardton, Bennington, Freeman’s Farm (where they drove Morgan and his Rifles from the woods in front of the 24th Foot) and Bemis Heights. Assigned to carry Burgoyne’s secret papers to safety, Fraser, with the Company of Select Marksmen and the remaining Natives, cut their way through the encircling Rebel army and escaped.

Fraser and his Company survived the encirclements and disasters at both Bennington and Saratoga. They rescued their Native allies at Ticonderoga in 1776 from a Rebel trap, and sprang one of their own on the New England Militia in early September 1777, In this action, perhaps the Company’s classic battle, The Company of Select Marksmen acted as bait for a much larger column of Rebel Militia, who pursued them for several miles. At last, in an open field surrounded by woods, the apparently desperate Marksmen stood and exchanged fire with the oncoming Rebels. At point blank range, the Company held three hundred militiamen for several minutes until, with a yell, almost 100 Iroquois and Ojibwa warriors burst from the woods, fell on the rebel flanks and dispersed them.

After the disasters of the Burgoyne Expedition, Governor Carleton and Governor Haldimand ordered the various survivors and garrisons amalgamated in companies in 1778. The historical record is scanty, but following several names suggest that Fraser’s Marksmen were amalgamated with recovering wounded from the 34th’s Light Company (badly shot up at Hubbardton) to rebuild it. This company fought with distinction throughout the rest of the war, being distinguished for their gallantry in 1781 in the Mohawk Valley. They served throughout the war as guides and scouts on raids, and occasionally as couriers. Many of them clearly learned Native languages, and a surprising number chose to settle in the new world at the end of the War. Many of the former Marksmen settled in what is now Prince Edward County, Ontario, where some of their farms can still be seen today.

The above information was noted by Gavin Watt, and was taken from The History page  (no longer available) features a transcription of the history of the Company of Select Marksmen taken from the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research.



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