The Captivity of Peter and Squire Ferris

Fort Chambly where Peter and Squire Ferris were held for a time.

Fort Chambly, at the foot of the Chambly rapids on the Richelieu River in Quebec, Canada, where Peter and Squire Ferris were held for a time. Photo by Michael Pollard.

From the recollections of Squire Ferris, here is the tale of the captivity of Peter Ferris and his son, Squire, by the British during the American Revolution. Squire Ferris sought a government pension for his part in these events for many years. There are a few other tales from their fellow captives but Squire has provided the most “comprehensive”. It is possible that age and a desire for a pension may have colored his memories. It does, however, make for an interesting and exciting tale and the bones of the story are fact.


History of Lake Champlain

The weary American crews, struggling against a southerly wind, rowed for their lives. On the morning of October 13, 1776, near Split Rock Mountain, the fresh British fleet caught up with the vessels that were straggling at the end of the American line. The British surrounded the row galley Washington, which was forced to surrender after taking several broadsides. The British pressed on in a running gun battle that threatened the row galley Congress and four lagging gunboats.

Arnold, who was commanding Congress, ordered his men to run the five vessels aground in Ferris Bay, near Panton, Vermont. He and his marines ascended the bank and blew up the ships with their flags still flying to deny them to the British. Arnold, the ships’ crews, and the local residents of Panton narrowly escaped overland to Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence.

History of the Town of Shoreham, Vermont

The British fleet arrived at the mouth of the bay before the explosion of Arnold’s vessels and fired upon his men on the shore and upon the house of Mr Ferris which stood near the shore. Some grape shot and several cannon shot struck Mr Ferris’s house. Mr Ferris and his family returned with Arnold to Ticonderoga from whence they afterwards went for a short time for safety to Schaghticooke in the State of New York. All Mr Ferris’s moveable property at Panton was either taken or destroyed by the British. His cattle, horses and hogs were shot and his other property carried off. His orchard trees were cut down, his fences burnt and nothing left undestroyed but his house and barn .

After some weeks had elapsed Mr Ferris returned to the remains of his property and endeavored to repair his injuries so as possible. He had restored his fences to preserve a crop of winter grain sowed the previous autumn and had got in his spring when in the month of June following the army of General Burgoyne came up the lake. A considerable portion of the army by General Fraser landed at Mr Ferris’s farm encamped there for the night and utterly destroyed them all. Two horses were turned into his meadows and grain fields and were wholly ruined. Gen Fraser had the civility to promise but that promise yet waits for its fulfilment.

In the autumn of 1776 Mr Ferris and his son Squire Ferris assisted in the escape of Joseph Everest and Phincas Spalding from the British schooner Maria, of sixteen guns, then lying at anchor off Arnold’s Bay. These two men were Americans who had been seized in Panton and Addison and made prisoners for favoring the American cause. Both were taken from the schooner in a dark night and conveyed on shore in a small canoe. Squire Ferris, the son, was also of a small party in the winter of 1776-1777 who seized upon two Englishmen supposed to be spies near the mouth of Otter Creek and delivered them into the hands of Gen St Clair at Ticonderoga.


History of the Town of Shoreham, Vermont

Of the two hundred and forty four prisoners taken in the neighborhood of Lake Champlain in November 1778 and carried to Canada in the schooners Maria and Carleton only forty eight were known to have returned The elder Ferris died in the year 1811 at the age of ninety two and of the other forty seven, Squire Ferris of Vergennes, his son and follow prisoner, is supposed to be the only survivor Several of these prisoners received pensions from the general Government but Squire Ferris their companion in sufferings though poor and needy and though an applicant for many years has never received the bounty of his country.

The Tale:

History of the Town of Middlebury: In the Country of Addison

, Vermont

In the year 1778 the British made a general capture of all the Americans they could reach on the shores of Lake Champlain who were known to be friendly to the revolutionary cause. In November of that year Mr Ferris and his son started upon a deer hunt on the west side of the lake. When near the mouth of Putnam’s Creek about six miles south of Crown Point they were seized by a body of British soldiers and Tories commanded by Colonel Carleton and carried on board the schooner Maria then lying at Crown Point near the mouth of Bulwagga Bay.

They were the first prisoners taken in the great attempt of the British to sweep the shores of the lake of those inhabitants who were friendly to the republican cause. On the same night detachments from this vessel burnt nearly all the houses along the lake from Bridgeport to Ferrisburgh making prisoners of the male inhabitants and leaving the women and children to suffering and starvation. Mr Ferris’s house and all his other buildings were burnt. Forty persons were brought on board the next day and within a few days the number reckoned two hundred and forty-four, part of which were put on board the schooner Carleton, of sixteen guns, which then lay at the mouth of Great Otter Creek. The forces which came out in the Maria and Carleton were originally destined for an attack upon Rutland but their object having become known by the escape of an American prisoner Lieut Benjamin Everest that project was abandoned and they were employed in desolating the country and stripping it of its inhabitants.

The vessels proceeded with their prisoners to St Johns, from thence they were marched to Sorel and it was the intention of the captors to have continued their march down the St Lawrence to Quebec. At Sorel they crossed the St Lawrence and soon after a heavy snow storm came on which making it impossible to continue the march. Trains were seized in all directions and on these they were driven to Quebec. Here they were confined in prison. Soon after some of them having contrived to escape they were divided and about one hundred of them were sent down the river one hundred miles and employed in getting out timber for building barracks. Mr Ferris and his son were sent among this number in the month of January 1779.

In the spring following, nine of the prisoners among whom were Mr Ferris and his son, seized a batteau in the night in which they crossed to the west side of the river where it was fifteen miles wide. On landing they set the batteau adrift, separated into two parties and made the best of their way up the river. They had brought provisions with them and avoiding the settlements and traveling only in the night. The party with which the two Ferrises remained arrived opposite the Three Rivers on the fourth day. They crossed in the night but were discovered and retaken. The remainder of the party did not get so far having been retaken by a body of Indians in the neighborhood of Quebec.

The party of the Ferrises were put into jail at Three Rivers where they remained eighteen months. During this time they made one attempt to escape but were discovered and were then placed in a dungeon for seventy two days. At this time the father and son were separated.

Squire Ferris, the son, describes the dungeon where he was confined as an apartment eight feet by ten and so low that he could not stand up in it. The one occupied by his father adjoined it and was of the same character. The only light was admitted by a small hole about eight by ten inches in size which was crossed by iron grates. The hole which admitted this light was level with the ground and the water from the eaves of the jail poured through it into the dungeon whenever it rained. The straw given them to sleep on was frequently wet in this way and the confined air, dampness and filth not to be avoided made their sufferings of the severest kind.

While they were confined here another place was prepared for them to which they were transferred after the dungeon suffering of seventy two days. This place was opposite the guard room, and upon being removed to it they were told “you damned rebels you can’t get out of this.”

Here the father and son were again put together in the same room. The place was not however so impregnable as was supposed for in about six weeks the prisoners made an excavation under the wall in the night and made their escape. There were six prisoners in the room at this time.

Upon escaping the parties separated, Mr Ferris and his son remaining together. They went up the river nearly opposite Sorel where two days afterwards they crossed the St Lawrence in a canoe and took to the woods. Their design was to reach New Hampshire but having lost their way in the woods they struck the Missisque River (Missisquoi River) down which they went a few miles and were again retaken by a British guard who was with a party getting out timber and by them were carried again prisoners to St Johns.

They were taken twenty one days after their escape and had been nineteen days in the woods, during all which time they had only a four pound loaf of wheat bread, one pound of salt beef and some tea for food. They made their tea in a tin quart cup and produced fire by a flint and the blade of a jack knife. For four days before they were retaken they had nothing for food but tea and were so weak they could hardly walk.

The forces at St Johns were then commanded by Col St. Leger, a brutal drunkard who ordered the prisoners to be ironed together and put them in a dungeon for fourteen days. At the end of which time, and ironed hand in hand to each other, they were sent to Chamblee and from there by the rivers Sorel and St Lawrence to Quebec. At Quebec they were returned to their old prison in which they remained until June 1782 when they were brought from thence to Whitehall and there exchanged for British prisoners. From their capture to their exchange was three years and eight months.

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