The French claimed the immense territory west of the Alleghanies by the right of discovery; the English also claimed it by virtue of a treaty with the Iroquois. As the latter never owned it, and as all the consideration paid was a little bad whiskey, their claim was of even less consequence than that of the French.
Between these rival claimants for his lands, the Indian, their real owner, was entirely overlooked. "You and the French," said one of them to an Englishman, "are like the two edges of a pair of shears, and we are the cloth which is cut to pieces between them." Another of the puzzled natives, seeing that the French claimed all on one side of the Ohio, and the English all on the other side, in his amazement inquired, "Where then are the lands of the Indian?" Between their "fathers," the French, and their "brothers," the English, the poor savages were unceremoniously "shared" out of the whole country.
As yet there was not a single English settlement in all this region. Delawares, Shawnees, Mingoes, and a few Iroquois were found about the Ohio and its branches. With these a lucrative traffic was carried on by Pennsylvania traders, who exchanged blankets, gaudy-colored cloth, trinkets, powder, shot, and rum for valuable furs and peltry. To participate in this trade, and to gain a foothold in this desirable region, the Ohio Company was formed in 1749, and surveys and settlements begun.
A skilfully distributed series of posts upon the lakes and streams between her settlements in the valley of the St. Lawrence and the mouth of the Mississippi, secured the ascendency of France in the interior of the country, and barred the way to English settlement. Missions and trading-houses were scattered at points favorable to trade and navigation, and Fort Frontenac, at the head of the St. Lawrence, Fort Frederick, at Crown Point, and a fort at Niagara covered the Canadian and menaced the English frontier.
At Detroit the passage from Lake Erie to the north was guarded, and at St. Mary's hostile access to Lake Superior was barred. Michilimackinac secured the mouth of Lake Michigan, forts at Green Bay and St. Joseph protected the two routes to the Mississippi by the rivers Wisconsin and Illinois, while those on the Wabash and the Maumee gave France the control of trade from Lake Erie to Ohio. French settlements were found at Kaskaskia and Cahokia, in Illinois, and a few small stockades were seen on the Mississippi.
France had labored long and diligently to conciliate the Indians. Her agents had lived among them, studying their language, adopting their customs, flattering their prejudices, and warning them against the English. When a party of chiefs visited a French fort, they were received with the firing of cannon and rolling of drums, were entertained at the tables of the officers, and presented with decorations, medals, and uniforms. Many of the French took to themselves Indian wives. From these unions sprung a race of half-breeds, who were of great service to the French.
Perceiving that their Indian trade was about to be wrested from them, and their communication between Canada and Louisiana broken, the French, in the spring of 1753, crossed Lake Erie and fortified Presque Isle (now Erie, Pennsylvania). Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, at once sent a message to the intruders, requiring them to remove from British territory.
Dinwiddie's messenger was George Washington, then only twenty-one years of age, but already adjutant-general of the Virginia militia. As a surveyor he had learned something of frontier life and of the ways of the Indians.
Among the many difficulties that the young envoy had to contend with while in the performance of his mission, there was one, he tells us, that caused him more anxiety than all the rest. Tanacharison, or the half-king, chief sachem of the Mingo-Iroquois, was friendly to the English, and with two other chiefs voluntarily accompanied Washington to the French commandant's quarters at Fort he Bœuf, on French Creek (now Waterford, Pennsylvania).
Here every blandishment and every artifice was practised upon these chiefs by the French officers to gain them over. Rum was not the least of these, and, the business of the mission accomplished, delay after delay took place in spite of Washington's frequent remonstrances. Gifts were also made to the chiefs, and at the last moment a present of guns was offered as an inducement for them to remain. Another precious day was lost, but next morning, when they had received their guns and were being plied with liquor, Washington reminded the half-king that his royal word was pledged to depart, and pressed him so closely that, exerting unwonted resolution and self-control, the chief turned his back upon the seductive fluid and embarked.
While returning from this delicate and difficult mission, Washington had several narrow escapes. Once his treacherous Indian guide suddenly turned round, when about fifteen paces ahead, levelled his gun, and fired at, but missed him. Pursuing and overtaking the savage, Gist, his companion, would have put him to death, but Washington humanely prevented him. They then let him go, taking the precaution, however, to travel all that night to remove from so dangerous a locality.
When they reached the Alleghany River, they constructed a raft, and endeavored to cross the stream by propelling it with setting-poles. Soon the raft became jammed between cakes of floating ice, and they were in imminent peril. Washington, bearing his whole force against the pole, endeavored to stay the raft, but the rapid current jerked him into deep water, and he only saved himself from being swept away and drowned by catching hold of the raft. This they were obliged to abandon, and passed the night on an island, exposed to extreme cold. The hands and feet of Mr. Gist were frozen, but next morning they succeeded in passing over the ice, and before night were in comfortable quarters.
Before reaching Williamsburg, where he delivered to Governor Dinwiddie the reply of the French commandant declining to evacuate his post, Washington found an opportunity for the exercise of his talent for diplomacy.
At the mouth of the Youghiogheny River dwelt a female sachem, Queen Aliquippa, whose sovereign dignity had been aggrieved because the party, while on their way to the Ohio, had neglected to pay their respects to her. Aware of the importance of conciliating the Indians at this critical period, Washington resolved to pay a ceremonious visit to this native princess. Her anger was readily appeased by the present of his old watch-coat, and her good graces were completely secured by a bottle of rum, which, he intimates, "appeared to be peculiarly acceptable to her majesty."
Early in the following year Fort Duquesne was erected by the French, at the confluence of the Monongahela and the Alleghany, where Pittsburg now stands. After a brief campaign for its recovery, the Virginia troops under Washington were obliged to withdraw from the disputed territory, and leave the French in full possession. At the close of the year, in the whole Mississippi valley no other standard floated but that of France.
At the Congress held at Albany during this year, memorable for the plan of Benjamin Franklin for the union of the colonies, deputies from the Six Nations were present. There was much dissatisfaction among them, and the Indians boldly reproached the English with their inaction and the slowness of their preparations. "Look at the French," said a Mohawk chief. "They are men, they are fortifying everywhere; it is but one step from Canada hither, and they may easily come and turn you out-of-doors."
War having been determined upon, the French were to be attacked on all sides at once. Three armies raised in the provinces were to advance upon Acadia, Crown Point, and Niagara, while General Braddock, commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America, with two British regiments and a provincial force, was to dislodge the French from Fort Duquesne. The expedition intended for Niagara never reached its destination; that for the expulsion of the French Neutrals from Acadia was successful. This event is the subject of Longfellow's beautiful poem, "Evangeline."
Braddock, who was to lead the expedition against Fort Duquesne, was not a fortunate selection. Though brave, he was arrogant, obstinate, and a bigot to military rules, and knew nothing of Indian warfare. He despised the colonial troops, because they had to some extent adopted the Indian mode of fighting. Worse than all, he could learn nothing.
At Fredericktown, where he halted for carriages, Benjamin Franklin, who was a daily guest at the general's table, mentioned that the Indians were dexterous in planning and executing ambuscades, and that during his march his long, slender line would be exposed to flank attacks and be cut like a thread, the pieces of which would be too far apart to support each other. "He smiled at my ignorance," says Franklin, "and replied, 'The savages may be formidable to your raw American militia; upon the king's regular and disciplined troops it is impossible they should make any impression. After taking Fort Duquesne I am to proceed to Niagara, and, having taken that, to Frontenac. Duquesne can hardly detain me above three or four days, and then I see nothing that can obstruct my march to Niagara.'" With such blind confidence and fatal prejudice did Braddock delude himself throughout this eventful expedition.
Braddock's forces numbered about two thousand, one-half of whom were provincials. Two companies of these from New York were under Captain Horatio Gates, afterwards the conqueror of Burgoyne at Saratoga. Here also was the gallant Hugh Mercer, who afterwards fell gloriously at Princeton, and one of the wagons was owned and driven by Daniel Morgan, the famous leader of the rifle regiment during the Revolutionary War, and the victor at the Cowpens.
Hewing their way through the wilderness with great difficulty, the advanced division of one thousand two hundred men were within seven miles of Fort Duquesne at noon on the 9th of July. Washington, who was serving as an aide-de-camp to Braddock, often afterwards said, that "the finest spectacle he had ever beheld was the display of the British troops on this eventful morning." They were in full uniform and marched with bayonets fixed, colors flying, and drums and fifes beating and playing, in the most perfect order, not dreaming of any obstacle to an easy conquest.
A detachment of three hundred and fifty men, under Lieutenant-colonel Thomas Gage, afterwards conspicuous as the British commander-in-chief at Boston, at the beginning of the Revolution, attended by a working party of two hundred and fifty, advanced cautiously towards the fort. There were no scouts or rangers in the advance, or on the flanks, to beat up the woods and ravines, but the army marched "as if in review in St. James's Park."
Contrecœur, the French commandant, informed of the approach of Braddock with an overwhelming force, was about to abandon the fort, when Captain de Beaujeu proposed to head a party of French and Indians, and waylay the English while on the march. The plan was adopted, and Beanjeu's party posted themselves in the woods and ravines in Braddock's line of march towards the fort.
It was one o'clock when Gage, with his advance guard, reached this locality. Suddenly a heavy volley was poured into his ranks from the dense woods in his front No enemy was to be seen, but the soldiers were more dismayed by the yells than by the rifles of the concealed savages. They fired in return, but at random, while the enemy, from behind trees and rocks and thickets, kept up their rapid and destructive volleys. Beaujeu, the French leader, was killed at the first return fire.
Braddock hastened to the relief of Gage, but his panic-stricken soldiers fell back in confusion upon the artillery, huddling together in the road, like a flock of sheep, and communicated their fright to the whole army. They fled in terror across the river, throwing away their arms, and did not stop till they reached Philadelphia. The general tried in vain to rally his troops. Himself and officers were in the thickest of the fight, and exhibited indomitable courage. Washington ventured to suggest the Indian mode of warfare, each man firing for himself without orders, but Braddock would not listen to him. For three hours he tried to form his men in regular columns and platoons, while his concealed enemy, with sure aim, was slaying his brave soldiers by scores. At length he received a wound which disabled him, and terminated his life three days afterwards.
"Who would have thought it?" was the dying general's ejaculation that night. Just before he expired he again broke the silence he had kept, with the remark, "We shall better know how to deal with them another time."
The slaughter of officers was terrible. Out of eighty-six, sixty-three were killed and wounded. Secretary Shirley and Sir Peter Halket were killed—Colonels Burton, St. Clair, and Orne, Lieutenant-colonel Gage, Major Sparks, and Brigade-major Halket wounded. Of the privates, seven hundred and fourteen were killed and wounded. The loss of the enemy was trifling.
Every mounted officer except Washington was slain before Braddock fell, and the whole duty of distributing orders devolved upon the youthful colonel. Contrary to orders, his Virginians fought in their own way, and thus saved the remnant of the army.
This is a memorable event in our history. It has been characterized "as the most extraordinary victory ever gained, and the farthest flight ever made." "It gave the Americans," says Franklin, "the first suspicion that their exalted ideas of the prowess of British regular troops had not been well founded." That opinion, once received as gospel throughout the provinces, had received a fatal blow.
This defeat was the signal for the Western Indians to assail the exposed settlements; and the frontier of Pennsylvania and Virginia was soon a scene of bloody devastation. Most of the Indians engaged in these ravages were Delawares and Shawnees, whom the French had at last gained over. The old half-king refused to listen to them; "the defeat," said he, "was due to the pride and ignorance of that great general that came from England. He is now dead, but he was a bad man when he was alive. He looked upon us as dogs, and would never hear anything that we said to him. We often tried to advise him, and tell him of the danger he was in with his soldiers, but he never appeared pleased with us, and that was the reason a great many of our warriors left him."
Braddock's defeat alarmed the whole country and paralyzed the expedition against Niagara. General Johnson, however, was sent against Crown Point with three thousand four hundred men, mostly New Englanders.
William Johnson was a young Irishman, who carne to America in 1731, to take charge of a large tract of land in the Mohawk Valley, belonging to his uncle, Sir Peter Warren. Embarking in the fur trade, he learned the Indian language, and acquired so much influence over them by his native talent that, in 1754, the British Government made him its superintendent of Indian Affairs in the colonies. Appreciating the Indian character, he paid the utmost deference to them, received their delegations with great ceremony, listened to them patiently, answered them carefully, and made them liberal and judicious presents. His influence over the Iroquois enabled him to hold them to the English interest in spite of the efforts of the French and the other Indian nations. The Mohawks even adopted him into their tribe and made him a sachem. Johnson Hall, his residence, a well-constructed building of wood and stone, is still standing at Johnstown, New York.
Soon after Johnson entered upon his duties as superintendent, he received from England some richly-embroidered suits of clothes. The Mohawk chief, Hendrick, was present when they were received, and took such a fancy to them that he told Johnson, not long afterwards, that he had dreamed that Johnson had given him one of his new suits. Johnson could not refuse, and Hendrick took the embroidered scarlet uniform to show to his countrymen.
Johnson's turn came next. He was too shrewd to neglect a good opportunity, and meeting the sachem one day he told him that he, too, had dreamed a dream. Hendrick desired to know what it was. The Englishman then told him that he had dreamed that Hendrick presented him with a certain tract of land, which the described—a tract containing five hundred acres of the most valuable land in the Mohawk valley. "It is yours," said the chief, shaking his head, "but I will never dream with you again."
After building Fort Edward, and opening a road from the Hudson to Lake George, Johnson remained a long time inactive on its southern shore, fancying himself in perfect security, and neglecting to fortify his camp. From this state of torpor he was suddenly and rudely aroused by the tidings that a French army had landed at South Bay, and, rapidly advancing in his rear, threatened Fort Edward. The French were commanded by Baron Dieskan, an old veteran, a pupil of the celebrated soldier, Marshal Saxe. He had with him two hundred French regulars, six hundred Canadians, and six hundred Indians.
"Boldness wins" was Dieskan's motto. His plan was to capture Fort Edward and then to fall upon Albany. There was only one obstacle to the success of this excellent plan, but that was sufficient for its defeat. The Indians were afraid of cannon, and did not like to attack forts, so they urged the French leader to march against Johnson instead, and he was reluctantly persuaded to change his plan.
Johnson saw that something must be done without delay. One thousand men were immediately sent, under Colonel Ephraim Williams, to relieve Fort Edward. Two hundred warriors of the Six Nations went also, led by the gray-haired sachem Hendrick. Before leaving Albany, Williams made a will, by which he left the bequest to found the free-school that is now Williams College.
It was at first proposed to send a smaller force, but Hendrick's opinion being asked, he shrewdly replied, "If they are to fight, they are too few, if they are to be killed, they are too many." To the plan of separating them into three parties his reply was equally convincing. Taking three sticks, he said, "Put them together and you cannot break them; take them one by one and you can break them easily."
Hendrick was then sixty-five years old; his hair was white, and he was regarded by his warriors with the deepest veneration. Before marching, he mounted a gun-carriage and harangued his warriors in a strain of powerful and effective eloquence. One who heard it said, that although he did not understand a word of the language, such was the animation of the speaker, the fire of his eye, the force of his gestures, the strength of his expressions, the apparent propriety of the inflections of his voice, and the naturalness of his whole manner, that he himself was more deeply affected by this speech than with any other he had ever heard.
Advised by his scouts of the march of this detachment, Dieskau placed his men in ambush at Rocky Brook, four miles from Johnson's camp. There was a swamp on one side of the road, and a low ridge on the other; in addition to these advantages, tall trees and thick underbrush made it an excellent place for an ambush.
Straight into the trap between the lines of the concealed enemy marched the Mohawks, their chief, Hendrick, on horseback at their head. An Indian suddenly sprang in front of him. "Whence come you?" he asked. "From the Mohawks," answered Hendrick; "whence come you?" "From Montreal," was the reply, and instantly a shot was fired, contrary to the orders of Dieskau, who told his men to keep quiet until the English were completely within the French lines. A heavy fire in front and on both flanks was then poured upon the advancing troops with fatal effect. Hendrick and Colonel Williams fell, and the Mohawks fled. Under the skilful leadership of Lieutenant-colonel Whiting, the New England militia fought bravely and retreated in good order.
Meantime the noise of the battle was heard at Johnson's camp, and the skilful woodsmen of New England rapidly felled trees winch, with the wagons and heavy baggage, formed a hasty breastwork. A few cannon were hauled from the shore of the lake and quickly put in position. A reinforcement of three hundred men was sent to help the retreating troops, and a stand was made at a little sheet of water since called Bloody Brook. Among the French who fell here was the Chevalier Legardeur de St. Pierre, who commanded the Indians. He was the officer to whom Washington delivered his letters from Governor Dinwiddie, at Fort Le Bœuf.
Dieskau pursued the retreating English vigorously, hoping to enter their camp at the same time with them. When within one hundred rods of it he halted, and placed the Indians and Canadians upon his flanks, advancing to the attack of the English centre with his regular troops. He kept up a fire by platoons, but at too great a distance to do much mischief, the Canadians and Indians who had scattered to cover at the sight of Johnson's cannon firing from their shelter. Johnson's artillery played on them in return, and the musketry from the camp cut up the French, who stood their ground manfully.
After maintaining the attack bravely for four hours, the baron, who had been three times wounded, attempted to retreat. The French fled in all directions, and were hotly pursued. The fugitives were met by Captain McGinnis, with two hundred New Hampshire men from Fort Edward, who had heard the firing and hastened to the scene of action. The French were severely handled, but the brave McGinnis was killed.
Dieskau, wounded and helpless, was found leaning against the stump of a tree. As the soldier who discovered him approached, he put his hand in his pocket to draw out his watch, as a bribe to the soldier to allow him to escape. Supposing that he was drawing a pistol, the latter gave him a severe wound in the hip with a musket-ball. The baron was afterwards exchanged and returned to France.
Johnson was slightly wounded in the early part of the fight, which was successfully conducted by General Lyman, his second in command. Johnson, however, reaped all the rewards. He was made a baronet, received the thanks of Parliament, and a gratuity of £5000. His military incapacity was evident from his not following up his victory.
Walpole, New Hampshire, on the banks of the Connecticut, was settled in 1719. Colonel Benjamin Bellows and John Kilburn were among its earliest inhabitants. Though far beyond any other white settlement in that region, it escaped Indian attack until the beginning of the Old French War, in 1755.
Captain Philip, a Pequawket sachem, pretending to trade, had lately visited as a spy all the principal settlements on the river. The inhabitants hearing rumors of coming war prepared to meet it. They carried their arms with them into the fields where they toiled, and took with them also their faithful dogs, whose growling gave them early notice of the presence of Indians.
About noon one day in August, Colonel Bellows, with thirty men, while returning from the mill, each man with a bag of meal upon his back, was made aware by his dogs that there were Indians about. He ordered his men to throw down their sacks, and stove cautiously forward to a slight eminence in front over which their path lay, and there to conceal themselves by crouching among the tall ferns, of which there was at that place a thick growth.
Crawling to the top of thus eminence, Bellows discovered a large number of Indians lying on the ground or hiding behind trees, waiting for him to enter the trap. Returning to his men he gave them his orders in a whisper, and then, still concealed by the ferns, they all moved noiselessly forward. When close to the enemy, at a given signal each man sprang to his feet, and giving a tremendous yell, dropped again as suddenly into his place. In an instant every Indian started up, yelling and firing, but hitting nobody. The stratagem had succeeded. Bellows and his men had a fair shot, and such was its effect that Philip and his warriors fled with precipitation. The victors regained their garrison, not a man having been hit.
Hoping this time for better success, Philip next appeared with two hundred warriors before John Kilburn's house. Kilburn and his son, a Mr. Peck and his son, who were in the field reaping, had just time to reach and enter the house as they approached. In the house were the four men and Kilburn's wife and daughter. Philip was an old acquaintance here, and, coming as near the house as he could find a tree for shelter, called out to the Kilburns,
"Old John! young John! come out here! we give you good quarter!"
Philip is said to have been large in stature, and was a redoubtable warrior, but Kilburn, who well understood Indian warfare, was not in the least frightened. In a voice of thunder he shouted back the defiance,
"Begone, you black rascals! begone, or we'll quarter you!"
Philip then returned to his warriors, who, with fierce yells and whoops, began a furious onset, and in a few minutes the roof of the house was perforated with bullet-holes. There were loop-holes, as in all garrison-houses, through which the inmates could fire, and they had a number of extra guns in the house. These Kilburn's wife and daughter helped to load, and also busied themselves in casting bullets. When one gun became too much heated it was replaced by another, so that there was no cessation in the firing. When their lead grew scarce blankets were suspended from the roof to catch the balls of the enemy, and these were soon returned to their owners. Thus some of the Indians fell by their own bullets.
So incessant was the fire kept up by these few stout defenders of the garrison, that the Indians supposed they had been deceived as to their number. After keeping up the attack until night, and losing many of their warriors, they finally drew off, greatly crestfallen at their discomfiture. One of the garrison—Mr. Peck—was wounded by a bullet that came into one of the loop-holes and struck him in the hip. The Indian loss was never known. Before retiring they wreaked their vengeance on the settlement by killing all the cattle and destroying all the grain and hay belonging to it.
A signal act of retaliation on the perfidious tribes of the Ohio took place in the following year. Shingis and Captain Jacobs were the leaders of the hostile bands of Delawares that had desolated the Pennsylvania border. With their booty and their prisoners they had returned to their village at Kittanning, an Indian town forty miles from Fort Duquesne. Jacobs was a daring fellow, and scoffed at palisaded forts. "I can take any fort," said he, "that will catch fire."
A party of two hundred and eighty Pennsylvanians, under Colonel John Armstrong, undertook to destroy this savage nest. The brave Dr. Hugh Mercer, who at twenty-three had shared in the defeat of the Pretender at Culloden, and who had been a witness of savage atrocity at the defeat of Braddock, and who afterwards fell gloriously at Princeton, commanded one of the companies.
After a long march, conducted with great rapidity and secrecy, over mountains and through forests, they reached the Allegheny, arriving at Kittanning one moonlight night. Whoops and yells and the noise of a drum guided them to the Indian village. The warriors were celebrating their exploits with the triumphant scalp-dance. Armstrong and his men lay quiet until the din ceased and the moon went down. When all was still he roused his men. One party attacked some Indians who slept in a cornfield, while another advanced upon the houses.
Though taken by surprise, the Indians fought bravely, inspired by the warwhoop of their leader, Jacobs. The women and children fled to the woods. Several of the assailants were killed and wounded. Mercer received a wound in the arm, and was taken to the rear. From his house, which had loop-holes, Jacobs and his warriors made havoc among the whites. At length the wigwams were set on fire. Jacobs, who could speak English, was called upon to surrender.
"I and my warriors are men," he answered, "and we will all fight while life remains."
When told that he should be well used if he would surrender, but if not he would be burned, he replied,
"I can eat fire. I will kill four or five before I die."
As the smoke and flames approached, some of the warriors sung their death-song. Finally they were driven out by the flames. Some escaped and some were shot. Among the latter was Captain Jacobs, the fire-eater, and his gigantic son, who is said to have been seven feet in height. Thirty or forty warriors were slain, and their stronghold was a smoking ruin. Eleven white prisoners were recaptured. Mercer, severely wounded and separated from his companions, tracked his long, painful, and solitary way through the wilderness to Fort Cumberland by the stars, arriving there sick, weary, and half-famished. He lived for fourteen days on two dried clams and a rattlesnake, with a few berries. For this important service Armstrong was rewarded by the corporation of Philadelphia with a vote of thanks, a medal, and a piece of plate.
One of the ablest of the soldiers of France—Louis Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm—now took the direction of Canadian affairs. He was quick to perceive the situation and prompt to act. The works at Ticonderoga and Niagara were immediately strengthened. Fort Oswego was captured, with its garrison of one thousand six hundred men, and an immense quantity of stores and war material was taken or destroyed. France had now entire control of Lake Ontario.
Montcalm made every effort to induce the Indians to join him in an attack on the English at Lake George. A grand council was held at Niagara, at which the Iroquois gave belts to the Hurons, Ottawas, and other allies of the French, as a token of their intention to join the enemies of the English, and a belt was given in return, which was covered with vermilion—an invitation to war.
At another congress held at Montreal, thirty-three nations were represented, including chiefs from Acadia to Lake Superior. "We will try our father's hatchet on the English, to see if it cuts well," said a Seneca chief. Montcalm sang the war-song with them every day of the council, and as a successful leader was highly popular with them. The tribes assembled at Fort St. John, on the River Sorel. Their missionaries came with them, and the masses and hymns of the church alternated with the fantastic dances and the unearthly yells of the savage horde.
During the following summer Montcalm advanced upon Fort William Henry, a work erected by Sir William Johnson after the battle of Lake George, upon its southern shore. It commanded the lake, and was an important protection to the British frontier. In it was Colonel Monro, a brave old soldier, with a garrison of five hundred men. Two thousand provincial militia were encamped outside. At. the head of eight thousand French, Canadians, and Indians, Montcalm crossed Lake George in a fleet of bateaux, preceded by swarms of Indian canoes. The lake covered with boats, the banners and the music, the brilliant uniforms of the French and the picturesque costume of the Indians, moving over its placid surface under a brilliant July sun, altogether made a striking and brilliant, as well as unusual, spectacle in this solitary haunt of nature.
It was not altogether a pleasant sight to the defenders of the fort, who were taken completely by surprise. Those encamped outside hastily burned their tents and hurried within the walls. A summons to surrender was answered by a brave defiance. Montcalm then invested the fort, and battered it with his artillery. The Indians were highly delighted with the cannon firing, and were nearly beside themselves at the noise made by the big guns.
For five days the veteran Monro maintained a stout defence, expecting reinforcements front General Webb, who was at Fort Edward, only fifteen miles distant, with five thousand men. Instead of marching to his assistance, the cowardly Webb sent him a letter advising him to yield. Unluckily, this letter was intercepted by Montcalm, who at once forwarded it to Monro. That obstinate old soldier, however, persisted in the defence until most of his cannon had burst and his ammunition was spent. He then surrendered upon honorable terms. Montcalm demolished the fort, carried off the artillery and munitions of war, and returned to Canada in triumph.
In spite of the exertions of the French officers, some of the prisoners were killed, and many of them were stripped and plundered by the savages. The latter could never understand the humanity shown to prisoners by civilized nations, and as they were drawn to the fight by the hope of plunder, their rage and cupidity were excited on seeing the prisoners taking away their arms and baggage under the escort of French soldiers.
While the expedition under General Forbes was on its way to capture Fort Duquesne, Major Grant, with eight hundred picked men, some of them Highlanders, others Virginians in Indian garb, under Major Lewis, were sent forward without the knowledge of Forbes by Colonel Bouquet, who was in the advance. This officer attempted a most brilliant achievement—no less than the capture of the fort with his own men before the arrival of the main force.
This ambitious but poorly-managed affair came to grief. Grant's object seems to have been to provoke an action by bravado. He was closely watched by the enemy, who permitted him to advance unmolested. On the morning after his arrival he marshalled his regulars in battle-array, and sent an engineer with a covering party to take a plan of the works, in full view of the garrison.
Not a gun was fired from the fort; and the British commander mistaking this for fear neglected all precaution. Suddenly the garrison sallied forth, and at the same moment Grant's flanks were attacked by Indians hidden in ambush. After delivering a destructive fire, they rushed upon the confused highlanders with tomahawk and scalping-knife, increasing their panic by frightful yells. The contest was kept up for a while, but the panic was irretrievable. It was almost a Braddock affair over again.
At the first sound of the conflict, Major Lewis, who with his Virginians was in the rear guarding the baggage, hastened with most of his men to the scene of action. He fought hand to hand with an Indian brave, whom he laid dead at his feet, but was surrounded by others, and saved his life only by surrendering to a French officer. Giant also was captured, and the entire detachment was routed with dreadful carnage.
Captain Bullitt, with fifty Virginians, had been left to guard the baggage. Rallying a few of the fugitives, he made a stand behind a barricade of baggage-wagons. It was the work of a moment, for the pursuing savages having plundered the fallen were close upon them. Bullitt opened a destructive fire upon there, which checked them for a time. They were again pressing forward in still greater force, when Bullitt deceived the Indians by a clever stratagem. Advancing towards them with his men, he held out a signal of surrender. When within eight yards of the foe, they suddenly levelled their guns, poured in a most effective volley, and then charged with the bayonet. The Indians fled in dismay, and Bullitt took advantage of their flight to retreat with all speed, collecting the wounded and the fugitives as he proceeded. Three hundred of Grant's party were killed or taken in this bloody battle. For his skill and bravery in saving the remnant of the detachment, Bullitt was rewarded with a major's commission.
An ingenious stratagem was hit upon by Allan Macpherson, one of the Highlanders captured in this battle. He had witnessed the horrible tortures inflicted upon some of his comrades by the savages, and thought of a plan by which to escape so terrible a fate. He told the Indians through an interpreter that he could make a medicine that would render the skin proof against all kinds of weapons, and offered to prove its efficacy upon himself.
The Indians eagerly consented, and gathering a quantity of herbs he made a mixture which he applied to his neck; then laying his head on a block he challenged them to strike. One of the strongest warriors came forward and dealt him a tremendous blow. Not until they saw the Highlander's head roll from the block did the savages suspect the trick he had played them; and it is said that they were so pleased at his cunning that they gave up their design of torturing the rest of his companions.
The recent successes of the English forces in Canada, particularly the capture and destruction of Fort Frontenac by Colonel Bradstreet, left the garrison of Fort Duquesne without hope of succor, and on the near approach of Forbes's army the place was set on fire and abandoned. It was rebuilt by the English, who changed its name to Fort Pitt. The name of Pittsburg, which it now bears, designates one of the busiest and most populous cities of the interior.
The reduction of this fortress ended the troubles and dangers of the western frontier, and terminated the French control of the Ohio. The Indians, as usual, yielded to the strongest, and treaties of peace were concluded with all the tribes between the Ohio and the lakes.
The Hurons, the Abenakis, and other Canada Indians who had fought for the French, were, at the close of the war, regarded as a conquered people. The hostility of the remote western tribes who had also been allies of the French ceased, but for a short time only.
For four years (1755-58) the English had met with almost constant defeat. Their generals had displayed neither vigor nor ability. The campaign of 1759 was glorious and decisive. Pitt, afterwards Earl of Chatham, succeeded in infusing some of his own heroic spirit and efficiency into the military and naval service of Great Britain. Prideaux was sent against Niagara; Amherst at the same time advanced upon Ticonderoga and Crown Point; and Wolfe attacked Quebec, the vital point. All these important objects were successfully accomplished, and with the fall of Montreal, Canada, with all its dependencies, was surrendered to the British Crown.
The Story of the "Old French War"
This story of the "Old French War" is featured in the book entitled the Indian History for Young Folks by FrancIs F. Drake and was published by Harper Brothers in New York and London in 1919.