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Last updated: February 2, 2014

 

A Brief Biography of Col. Seth Warner

Seth Warner was born May 6, 17431 in Roxbury, Connecticut2.  He was the fourth of 10 children to Benjamin Warner, M.D. and his wife, Silence Hurd.  Little is known about Seth Warner outside of his military service and opposition to New York State’s claims over the New Hampshire Grant lands.  It appears that Warner did not keep journals, write a book, or make any significant public speeches during his lifetime.  There are no known surviving sketches or portraits, and any personal letters or records he kept were most likely destroyed when his family homestead burned down in 1859; Seth Warner’s life story must be pieced together from state and town archives, military records, and surviving correspondence.

Perhaps the most extended narrative about Warner is contained in Daniel Chipman’s 1848 book, Memoir of Col. Seth Warner.3  Daniel Chipman’s father, John, served in Warner’s Regiment throughout the American War for Independence and it is likely the younger Chipman’s descriptions of Colonel Warner are the most timely and correct.  Despite being considered a lesser-known figure in the War, Warner played significant roles in several pivotal events in the American Revolution and early Vermont history.  He crossed paths with many notable figures, including Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen, Horatio Gates, Philip Schuyler, John Stark, George Washington, John Burgoyne, & Simon Frasier.

Reported to be more than six feet tall, which is generally a head taller than the average man’s height of the time, erect and well proportioned with nut brown hair and blue eyes, Warner became known for his skill in hunting and botany, his energy, sound judgment, and manly bearing.  In 1763, he moved with his extended family to Bennington, Vermont, then in the New Hampshire Grants. The senior Warner had purchased ten shares of land in Sandgate Township from Ephraim Cowen and twenty-year-old Seth received two of these shares.  In 1765, Benjamin bought additional property for the family homestead: “Trackt or Percal of Land in Bennington in the Province of Newhampshire Namely the southwest Quarter of the original Right of Land No thirty seven soposed To Be seventy Four acres Be the same More or Less75 acres” for twenty pounds.

About that time, Seth married Esther Hurd and began his family.  He fathered three children -- Asahel (Israel), Abigail, and Seth Jr.  As time would reveal, he was not home for much of his offspring’s childhoods and he died when the oldest was only 16.

It appears shortly after marrying, Warner had made a name for himself as surveyor.  Bennington town records show Seth was chosen as a highway surveyor in 1766.  An undated town meeting lists Warner as chosen again to survey the town’s highways.  In 1767 he was appointed one of 5 Haywords for the township.  Finally on March 28, 1770 Warner, Stephen Fay, and Samuell Stafford were appointed to lay out 64 equal land plots in Bennington.  Clearly by this time, Seth had become a prominent member of the community.

Between 1763 and 1775, New York and inhabitants of the Grants fought over jurisdiction, property rights, and taxes.  Warner was one of several outspoken leaders, including Ethan and Ira Allen, Remember Baker, and Robert Cochran.  Warner and Ethan Allen were popularly elected as leaders of a local group of men formed to resist New York authority over the Grant Lands.  Known locally as the “Green Mountain Boys,” their exploits became famous, or infamous, depending on which side of the issue one sided.  In New York, Governor Tyron offered a £20 reward for Warner, Allen, and their cousin Remember Baker in 1771.  It grew to £50 in 1774 and doubled to £100 in 1775.  He was a hero in the Grants and an outlaw in New York.  Although he lived outside the settlement of Bennington only a mile from the New York line and made many trips to Albany and the surrounding areas, the Yorkers never succeeded in capturing him. 

It is unclear if Warner had any prior military experience.  The Center of Military History indicates Warner served with Major Roger’s Rangers during the Seven Years War, but no evidence substantiates this claim; he does not appear in published lists of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, or enlisted men. Nonetheless, throughout his military career, Seth rose to meet many difficult challenges and situations demonstrating excellent military understanding.  Period military manuals describe withdrawing a smaller force and remaining intact in the face of a stronger one is one of the most dangerous and demanding situations for a military commander.  Warner executed this no less than three times during his career.  He was involved in the planning of several instrumental engagements and by several period accounts, ably led his men in the field.

Lacking formal training or not, Warner was second in command of the Green Mountain Boys at the capture of Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775 (excluding Benedict Arnold who, while having legitimate orders from the Massachusetts Committees, was largely ridiculed by the Boys when they could not ignore him).  He commanded the rear guard of the force and was not involved in the initial assault.  However, two days later, he and a small detachment took the important but dilapidated post of Crown Point further up Lake Champlain effectively closing off the lake from the north.  Many of the 113 captured artillery pieces from the two fortifications were eventually moved to Dorchester Heights near Boston as part of Henry Knox’s “noble train of artillery” during the winter of 1775-76.  The taking of Ticonderoga was a landmark event in both Warner’s life and U.S. History; the Green Mountain Boys and their leaders quickly became famous the width and breadth of the colonies.

In 1775, the growing unrest in eastern Massachusetts eclipsed the conflict over the Grants.  The Continental Congress began ordering regiments be raised and fitted for duty in reaction to British activities in Boston, Lexington, and Concord.  Based on Warner’s, Allen’s, and the Boys’ successes at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, the Continental Congress the recommended to the Colony of New York on June 27th, 1775 that it raise “…those styled the Green Mountain Boys” as a regiment of infantry, which New York agreed to in principle on July 4, 1775.  The Assembly of the New Hampshire Grants voted Seth Warner to rank of Lt. Colonel in the Regiment in a 41 to 5 vote, effectively shut out Ethan Allen and made Seth the de-facto commander of the Regiment.  The vote came as a shock to not only Allen, but also the Continental Congress who had already allotted monies in Allen’s name.  It has been mentioned by historians that Warner was elected in lieu of Allen because of Allen’s well-known impatience and fiery disposition.  Warner, by contrast, was repeatedly cited for his quiet, unassuming, and direct style, which would repeatedly bear itself out over his military career.  The New York legislature protested several times against his commission because of Warner’s past confrontations with New York officials, however, Congress refused to revoke it and New York eventually concurred with the New Hampshire Grant Assembly. Warner was officially recognized as the Commander of the Regiment. 

Several sources incorrectly indicate that Seth Warner was involved at the Battle on Breed’s Hill (popularly known as Bunker Hill).  Warner and Ethan Allen departed Crown Point, NY on June 10th 1775, carrying a letter from the officers garrisoning that place seeking payment for their efforts.  The Vermont pair arrived in Philadelphia on or about June 20th to present their case to the Continental Congress.   On the 23rd of June, Congress received their petition and shortly thereafter, voted the recommendation to raise the regiment of infantry.  Carrying a letter from John Hancock containing the resolves, Warner and Allen returned to New York arriving July 1, 1775.  Warner would not have been available to fight in Boston on June 17th.  Connecticut military rolls of the time list a Seth Warner from Saybrook, CT, which is most likely the source of confusion.

During a visit to the New York Legislature during the summer of 1775 on Regiment business, it appears Warner was initiated, passed, and raised as a first degree Mason.  He is listed as the ninety-sixth signer on the By-Laws of the old Union Lodge No. 1 (now Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3), the oldest in the New York outside of New York City.  This appears to be one of the many times during the war that Warner’s popularity in the Grants called him away from his Regiment for political and recruiting duties. 

Later that year, Warner and his regiment were assigned to Brigadier General Richard Montgomery’s wing in the invasion to capture Montreal, Canada.  They participated in the siege of St. John’s, Quebec, and defeated Sir Guy Carleton, who attempted its relief at the Battle of Longeuil on October 30, 1775.  Warner and his regiment were discharged in November 1775.  On January 6, 1776, Warner’s Regiment was recalled to active duty and sent to support Benedict Arnold’s siege of Quebec.  The siege was disastrous and eventually the army was forced to retreat. During the retreat from Quebec in May 1776, Warner commanded the rear guard for the Northern Army and successfully evacuated hundreds of sick & wounded men to Ile aux Noix, Crown Point, and Ticonderoga. 

On July 5th, 1776, the Continental Congress re-authorized Warner’s Regiment as 1 of 5 Extra-Continental Regiments (including the 1st and 2nd Canadian Regiments, the German Battalion, and the Rifle Regiment).  Because the Regiment was not specifically attached to a state (the New Hampshire Grants had not yet become Vermont), or one of multiple regiments, the Regiment was able to retain the name of its Commanding Officer.  Commissioned as a full Colonel, the Regiment was officially designated Warner’s Extra-Continental Regiment.  Again, the New York legislature protested against his commission several times, however, Congress refused to revoke it.

On the night of July 5th, 1777, the Northern Army evacuated Ticonderoga under pressure by British General John Burgoyne.  For the third time in his career, Warner was part of the rear guard.  He was given command at the hamlet of Hubbardton, VT and the assignment of holding off Burgoyne’s forces until the main body of the American Northern Army could escape and regroup in the southwestern corner of the Grants.  The advance elements of Burgoyne’s forces under Simon Frasier engaged the American rear guard comprised of Warner’s Regiment, the 11th Massachusetts and 2nd New Hampshire Regiments early on the morning on July 7, 1777.  Arguably, his most significant mistake of the day was to send 200 of his Regiment to escort two families from their homes to safer locations away from the impending ravages of war.  The order to march the rear-guard was delayed until the detachment returned and gave the approaching British forward elements a chance to overrun the depleted American force.  Under pressure from Frasier’s grenadiers and by General Reidesel’s re-enforcements, Warner executed an orderly withdrawal of his remaining forces under heavy fire.  Although many historians describe the battle as a loss because the British forces held the field at the end of the day, Warner accomplished his assignment of delaying Burgoyne while protecting the withdrawing army delivered substantial losses to the elite British Advance Guard.  Evidence strongly suggests that Warner’s leadership was excellent and had the Brunswick reinforcements not arrived; his forces would have held the field victoriously. 

Following the engagement at Hubbardton, Warner and his remaining Green Mountain Boys had little time to lick their wounds.  General Schuyler placed Herrick’s (Militia) Regiment of Rangers, as well as a regiment of militia from Berkshire County Massachusetts under Warner’s command to gather and protect forage and cattle in the Grant lands.  Schuyler correctly surmised Burgoyne would make significant efforts to re-supply his army from the surrounding towns and farms in his long march Albany, NY.  Warner probably made several trips to his homestead near Bennington in mid-July through mid-August to visit his family. 

By August 18th, General John Stark consulted Warner in a council of war to plan moves against an approaching Hessian/Brunswick force near Bennington.  The two had served together during the Montreal campaign and they are described as having similar temperaments.  Perhaps more importantly, Warner was intimately familiar with the area.  Warner again lived up to his reputation as a strong battlefield commander and the first phase of the battle was a huge success.  The remainder of his Regiment arrived from Manchester in time to repel German re-enforcements, which likely would have turned the battle against the American forces.

Three sons of the Warner family fought at the engagement:  in addition to Seth who commanded an entire wing, John was the Captain of Herrick’s Rangers 4th Company and was responsible for securing the German redoubt dominating a steep hill.  Daniel served in Captain Robinson’s Company of militia and tragically, is believed to have been killed during the action as one of the 20 American casualties.   

Following the battle, Warner and the Regiment moved northwest to harass and disable Burgoyne’s supply line.  The morning of September 18, 1777, a force of 1,400 lead by Cols. Browne and Warner, (under General Benjamin Lincoln’s overall command) attacked Mount Independence, Fort Ticonderoga, and the portage connecting Lakes George and Champlain.  A series of engagements continued through September 21st when the Americans were finally forced to retreat under pressure by Brunswicker re-enforcements, but not before Warner’s forces destroyed wagons and bateaux necessary to maintain the British supply line from Canada.  

Although it is unclear and unlikely that Warner’s Regiment fought in the battles at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights (popularly known as the first and second battles of Saratoga, NY), Warner is specifically mentioned as one of the Brigadiers in General Gates’ letters, well as a letter from Colonel Spect's (second in command of the Brunswick troops during the Burgoyne Campaign) journal substantiating his presence at the surrender of Burgoyne’s Expeditionary Force.  

In March of 1778, the Vermont legislature named him Brigadier General of the state militia in addition to his duties as Commander of his Continental Regiment.  Almost two hundred years later in 1975, the Connecticut Legislature posthumously named Warner a General in the Connecticut Militia.

Ongoing demands to fill the rolls of his Regiment and failing health limited his presence with his men.  Warner was officially listed as ill from November 1777 through February 1779.  He did make visits however, with his garrisons stationed from Albany to Fort George.  In the autumn of 1780, Warner and a small detachment were ambushed near the infamous Bloody Pond of the Seven Years War.  It is reported he was wounded in the arm while Regimental Adjutant, Benjamin Hopkins was killed.  Warner rode on to Glens Falls, NY suffering from exhaustion and loss of blood.  Warner remained with the army until 1781 when his Regiment was officially disbanded as part of the restructuring of the Continental Army.  In poor health and financial debt, he returned with his family to a 51-acre plot in Roxbury, Connecticut.

Never much of a businessman, Warner did not participate in the land speculation, which made many of the early Vermont leaders wealthy.  The proprietors of several towns voted him land as a reward for his services, but most of those properties went to pay taxes; he never benefited from it.  Like so many of the war’s military leaders, neglect of his affairs and financial demands during his military career so depleted his resources that in 1786, his wife applied to Congress for dispensation, though it was hardly in a position to grant anything.  A year later, she petitioned the Vermont General Assembly for land in payment of her late husband’s service.  Although the Assembly made a decision in four days, it took four years for a charter of just under 2,000 acres in Essex County (VT) to be granted.  The land, now known as Warner’s Grant, was largely rocky and mountainous making it worthless.  Hester does not appear to have ever occupied it and it remains unoccupied today. 

Long bed-ridden from what has been suspected as arthritis and tuberculosis, Seth Warner died in his home on December 26, 1784, age 41.  Esther was left to raise their children Israel, age 16, Abigail, age 10, and Seth Jr., age 7.  It is reported that an honor guard of 30 men watched over the Colonel during his final days.  He did not live to see his beloved Vermont achieve statehood. 

There is a published report in an 1864 edition of Harper’s Magazine that George Washington visited the widow Warner’s Roxbury home in 1789 and paid the balance of the property mortgage.  While Washington certainly knew Warner through their correspondence and Warner had visited Washington’s Headquarters, the anecdote is a romantic ending to the tragic loss of Col. Warner at an early age and “salvation” of his surviving family members; it is not likely to be true.

Warner was originally buried in the Old Burring Ground before being removed to Roxbury’s Center Green in Oct. 1858, where a monument marks his grave.  The original headstone reads:

In Memory of Colonel Seth Warner, Esq.,
Who Departed This Life December 26th,
A.D. 1784. In the Forty-Second Year of His Age

Triumphant leader at our armies' head,
Whose martial glory struck a panic dread,
Thy warlike deeds engraven on this stone,
Tell future ages what a hero's done,
Full sixteen battles he did fight,
for to procure his country's right.
Oh! this brave hero, he did fall,
By death, who ever conquers all.
When this you see, remember me.

Recently, the town of Roxbury has named part of its recreation trails after Warner in remembrance of its native son and his achievements. 

Although no statue or marker at the state capitol in Montpelier commemorates Warner’s contributions to Vermont’s history, a statue of Warner guards the Bennington Battle Monument.  Erected in 1910, an idealized Warner is depicted in the uniform of a Continental regiment and the monument is dedicated to “an able statesman and soldier.”  There is another statue dedicated to Col Warner in the center of Manchester, VT.  In 1933, the Vermont Legislature named Vermont Route 30 between Middlebury and Manchester the Seth Warner Memorial Highway.  A small hiking shelter just off the Appalachian Trail near Bennington and Pownal, Vermont bears his name as does a US Army 128 foot tug boat.

 

1May 17 according to the Gregorian calendar.
2Roxbury was part of Woodbury in Litchfield County at the time. 
3 This book was republished in 1858 under the title The Life of Col. Seth Warner, with an Account of the Controversy between New York and Vermont, from 1763 to 1775, by Daniel Chipman.

 

References:

Seth Warner.  James E. Peterson.  Middlebury:  Dunmore House, 2001.
Saratoga:  Turning point of America’s revolutionary war.  Richard M. Ketchum. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.
The Centennial History of the Battle of Bennington.  George E. Littlefield.  Boston:  1877.
Journal of Du Roi The Elder.  Lieutenant and Adjutant, in the Service of the Duke of Brunswick, 1776-1778.  Translated from the Original German Manuscript in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.  By Charlotte S. J. Epping.  Americana Germanica No. 15.  D. Appleton & Co., Agents, New York 1911.
Memoir of Colonel Seth Warner.   Daniel Chipman.  L.W. Clark, Middlebury. 1848.
Bennington, VT Town Records