I think that most military historians would agree that Rogers Rangers were among the best of American elite fighting outfits. The Army Rangers and the Green Berets all claim descent from Robert Rogers’ guerilla-style fighters.
During the French and Indians War (1754-1763), Rogers Rangers were doing much of what the Navy SEALs are bravely doing today, but without modern weapons, helicopters or telecommunications. Go to Google and type in “The Battle on Snowshoes.” No one can read about that 1757 battle without being impressed by the selfless courage of those 18th-century warriors.
Of this small, select and stealth group of frontier fighters were eight soldiers with a connection to Old Nutfield. Robert Rogers himself is believed to have lived in Londonderry as a boy and his parents are buried in East Derry’s Foresthill Cemetery.
Among Rogers’ officers were the four Stark brothers — John, William, Samuel and Archibald. John is, of course, the one who coined our state’s motto “Live free or die.” Other locals were James McNeil and John McDuffy. I don’t know how many enlisted men came from here, but I’m sure there were many.
As in all wars, the officers are usually better remembered then the privates, corporals and sergeants. There is however one non-officer in Rogers Rangers who is remembered today; he is Sergeant Beauboin of Old Nutfield.
His story begins in the 1750s when Capt. William Stark, born in 1724 in Londonderry, was patrolling in the forest-wilderness of the extreme north, near the present day’s New Hampshire/ Quebec boarder. Canada in those days was part of France and frequently send raiding parties to harass the peaceful inhabitants of the British colonies in New England.
While hunting in the trackless backwoods, Will Stark came upon a French army officer who was unmercifully whipping his young dog. Stark stepped in to prevent this abuse and immediately the Frenchman turned and began to use his whip on Stark. The duel between the two men was very short lived. Even though the Frenchman was much larger, he was quickly put on the ground by the Londonderry native. Some reports say Stark killed the Frenchman; others say he just left him as a bloody mess on the ground.
Regardless of the outcome of the fight, William Stark walked away with the Frenchman’s pup. I guess the dog realized that Stark was his rescuer and immediately began to bond with him. The pooch was a wolf hybrid and Stark knew he would soon grow up to be sizable and fierce animal, perfect to serve as a war dog with the Rangers. The British army in the Americas had been using mastiffs for years.
In honor of the canine’s French heritage, Stark named the pup Beau de Bien. In English, it translates word for word as “handsome of goodness,” but the Rev. Dr. Deborah Roof of the First Parish Church believes that colloquially it means “Spoil of War.”
When Stark brought the dog back to the Ranger camp, his fellow soldiers found it difficult to say Beau de Bien and soon he was being called simply Beaubien or Bo Bo.
Soon, the dog was earning his keep with the Rangers. He was an excellent sentry at night; when on patrol, Beaubien could lead lost men back to camp and could sniff out snipers. The dog’s talents as a war dog soon impressed all the men, from Maj. Robert Rogers on down to the lowest private. No one objected when Capt. William Stark announced that in honor of jobs well done, he was giving the dog the official rank of sergeant. In addition, Will Stark declared that Sgt. Beaubien would be given the same food rations as the rest of the soldiers ... and would also be paid a full sergeant’s pay.
Throughout the rest of the war, it was a two-“man” band of brothers, Capt. William Stark and Sgt. Beaubien. After the siege of Louisbourg in 1758, the dog called “The Sergeant,” acting as a bloodhound, helped flush out seven horses and 20 men. At the battle on Snow Shoes, at Crown Point and St. Frances, the two fought side by side, comrades in arms. In Benjamin West’s dramatic, but probably inaccurate, painting which depicts the 1759 death of Gen. Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham, some sources report that it is Will Stark in the center of the tableau. While West didn’t include Beauboin in his composition, I honestly feel that Bo Bo really was there — and that West was probably a cat lover.
The brave dog did survive the war. The respected historian George Waldo Brown in his 1906 book “With Roger’s Rangers” wrote that Beaubien “was a prime favorite with all the Rangers, and the importance with which his services were considered is shown by the fact that his master drew for him the rations and pay allowed the men. He lived to a ripe old age, and though he was never heard to boast of his deeds, he was always looked upon as a hero.” If you go on your computer today, you can buy for not too high a price a fine color print of Stark and Beaubien by the famous artist John Buxton or a small statue of the two.
Right now, the New Hampshire Legislature is debating a bill to honor military and other service dogs with an annual statewide day of tribute. Derry Rep. John O’Connor testified at the hearing, mentioning that Sgt. Beaubien is an example of why the bill should become law. And when this canine tribute day comes around each year, let’s pause and remember Sgt. Beaubien, our first native born war dog and the first to be given an actual rank and pay. That’s another first for Old Nutfield.
Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry. His office hours at the Municipal Center are Mondays from 8 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry libraries.