WASHINGTON (June 12, 2013) -- When Congress established the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, the original 10 Rifle Companies were composed heavily of frontiersmen and some of the militia leaders already fighting were veterans of a unit known as Roger's Rangers.

Roger's Rangers were skilled woodsmen who fought for the British during the French and Indian War. They frequently undertook winter raids against French outposts, blended native-American techniques with pioneering skills and operated in terrain where traditional militias were ineffective.

The American ranger tradition actually began back in the early 17th century on the frontier, according to historian Glenn Williams at the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

"They would 'range' between one post and another," said Williams, explaining that the rangers were usually full-time Soldiers drawn from the militia and paid by colonial governments to patrol between frontier posts and "look for Indian signs" to provide early warning of hostile Indian intent.

In 1675, Benjamin Church of Massachusetts established a unit that mixed frontiersmen with friendly Indians to carry out raids against hostile native Americans. Some consider his memoirs -- published in 1716 by his son -- the first American military manual.

When the French and Indian War began, Capt. Robert Rogers of New Hampshire recruited frontiersmen in 1755 for companies that could support the British army by conducting long-range patrols through the wilderness in all weather and difficult terrain to gather intelligence, take prisoners, or conduct raids.

The Rangers also attacked the villages of hostile Indians such as the Abenakis, in retribution for raids against settlements. Later Rogers moved the Rangers west to capture Fort Detroit for the British, along with a number of other French posts on the Great Lakes.

When the American Revolution broke out in 1775, some colonial militia units were led by veterans of Rogers' Rangers. One of these was John Stark.

John Stark commanded the 1st New Hampshire Militia at the outbreak of the American Revolution. His unit was involved in the Battle of Bunker Hill before it became part of the Continental Army.

Stark gained fame during the Battle of Bennington, in 1777, by enveloping a British infantry force that included Indians, Torries and Hessians. The American victory across the New York border from Bennington, Vt., was one of the most strategic in the early years of the Revolution, according to CMH historians.

Page last updated Thu June 13th, 2013 at 12:01