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Notes on the Captains of the Vessels in the Battle of
Valcour Island under Brigadier General Benedict Arnold
JAMES ARNOLD, CONGRESS GALLEY
Because he commanded a company of New Hampshire men originating out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire when he was appointed as captain of the Congress in 1776, it is generally believed that James Arnold himself was from Portsmouth. However, the best evidence suggests that the James Arnold who commanded the Congress Galley was born in East Haddam, Connecticut on February 24, 1735. There is no other credible candidate from New Hampshire, Connecticut or Massachusetts to be the James Arnold who was at Valcour Island. James Arnold from Haddam married Mary Brainerd in 1758 and they had five children.
In May of 1776, James Arnold from Haddam was appointed by the General Assembly of Connecticut as a captain of a company in a Connecticut regiment. By the middle of July, he was captain of a company in Colonel Wingate’s New Hampshire Regiment that was assigned to the Northern Army in Ticonderoga. There is no clear indication of how he went from a town in Connecticut to a New Hampshire regiment. James Arnold must have recruited the majority of his company in the Portsmouth area and, in fact, may have been selected as a company commander based on his previous seafaring experience. New Hampshire contributed two captains in Arnold’s fleet and many members of the crews that manned the vessels also came from New Hampshire.
One of the confusing aspects of the battle is that there were two officers on the Congress named Arnold. One was its captain, James Arnold, and the other was the commodore of the fleet, General Benedict Arnold, who started out on the Royal Savage but moved to the Congress at the last minute. In a September 12, 1776 letter from Gates to Arnold, a Captain Arnold is identified as commanding one of the galleys.
In 1777, James Arnold, as Master of the New Hampshire Schooner Mary, obtained a permit to sail to the West Indies. In 1778, he was still Master of the Mary. There is no further record of James Arnold being in the Revolutionary War either in the infantry or the navy.
After the war, James Arnold moved his family to Vermont and died in Arlington, Vermont in 1783, at the age of 48.
ROBERT DAVIS, LEE CUTTER
No contemporary document has been uncovered that relates the first name of the Captain Davis, who was the commander of the Lee Cutter during the late summer and fall of 1776. The Lee joined Arnold’s fleet on September 6, 1776. The first mention of a Captain Robert Davis as the commander of the Lee is in the 2002 book by John R. Bratten. However, no specific source for the first name is given.
Assuming the first name of Robert is correct, the most promising choice is a Robert Davis from Boston who was a second lieutenant in the 15th Continental Infantry in 1776 and captain in the 1st Massachusetts Regiment in 1777 under Colonel Joseph Vose. He resigned from the service on April 1, 1779. That Robert Davis was born in Woodstock, Connecticut on June 24, 1747 and moved to Boston sometime prior to 1773. He was in the Boston Tea Party and the siege of Boston. Robert Davis was a well-known merchant and importer of food, wine and liquor from Orange Street in Boston prior to the war. Being in the same type of importing business as Benedict Arnold before the war, it is likely that they knew each other, which could explain his selection as a captain in Arnold’s squadron.
Robert Davis married Mary Farrington of Dedham on November 12, 1776 and they had six children. He was the brother of Caleb Davis, who was Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1780, and General Amasa Davis. Davis was a member of the Honorable Ancient Artillery Company of Massachusetts in 1786 and became a member of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons in 1777. He died on November 8, 1798 and is buried in Copp’s Hill Cemetery in Boston.
Date this page was last edited: 1/23/2016
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