The Rout of Braddock 1755 – Part 1

October 29, 2010

Washington led his demoralized militia back to Virgina and the French returned to Fort Duquesne. They burned Gist’s settlement and the storehouse at Redstone Creek along the way. This left no British flag flying west of the Alleghenies. The First Nations returned to their respective territories to prepare for their fall hunt.

The following spring the British came to the aid of the embattled Virginian Militia. They sent two companies of 500 crack regulars each along with General Edward Braddock as their commander. Braddock was a seasoned general fresh from the battlefields of Europe. He had the reputation of being a stern disciplinarian and master tactician. An enlistment of four hundred more men bolstered his army to 1,400 soldiers.

France wasn’t about to sit on their laurels. When the heard of the British movement they began making plans to counter the move. Eighteen war ships were being fitted to sail to America. They would carry six battalions of French regulars, 3,000 men in all, along with Baron Ludwig Dieskau and Marquis de Vaudreuil. Dieskau was a German born General in the French army with a reputation equal to Braddock. Vaudreuil was the son of the former governor of New France by the same name and was to replace the ailing Duquesne. The clouds of war loomed menacing on the horizon.

In the meantime Duquesne received a direct order from the King to bestow upon Sieur Charles Langlade a commission of ensign unattached to serve the troops maintained in Canada. This was the same Langlade that had such spectacular success at Pickawillany. Duquesne then asked Langlade to raise a war party of First Nations to aid in the defence of Fort Duquesne.

Ensign Langlade left Michilimackinac in the spring of 1755 with a party of Saulteaux Ojibway warriors. He picked up more Ojibway fighters at Saginaw and headed toward Detroit. Even more Saulteax Ojibway joined him from the St. Clair region. Leading war chiefs at the time were Wasson or Catfish from Saginaw, Animikeence or Little Thunder from Aamjiwnaang (Lower Lake Huron) and Sekahos or Hunter from the Thames River/Swan Creek region. 

The newly commissioned ensign finally arrived at his old friend Pontiac’s village which was on the Detroit River opposite Fort Ponchartrain. A war council was called with the Wyandotte’s leading chief Sastaretsi, Pontiac and the other Ojibwa war chiefs in attendance. The conclusion was unanimous; they must come to their French ‘father’s’ aid.

Langlade left Detroit with a war party of 637 Ojibway, Ottawa and Wyandotte warriors including war chiefs. However the vast majority were Ojibway. The impressive war party made their way to the southern shore of Lake Erie by way of the Bass Islands. They turned east and skirted the shore until they arrived at Presque Isle where the short portage led to the head of French Creek and Fort Le Boeuf.

French Creek was a small waterway that emptied into the Allegheny River at the Indian Town of Venago. There was an old Indian trail that skirted along the east side of the creek but at this time of the year it was quite navigable in their light bark canoes. Once they reached Venago they headed down the Allegheny to the confluence of the Monongahela and Fort Duquesne. Langlade had been travelling for about a month but was still fresh and ready for battle. They set up their camps on the west side of the Allegheny directly across for the Fort and awaited instructions.

NEXT WEEK:  The Rout of Braddock 1755 – Part 2

Great Meadows and Fort Necessity 1754 Part 2

October 19, 2010

The First Nations were just as concerned as the French about a British presence in their territory. They could see that the French were mainly interested in trade building only trading posts and a few forts scattered throughout their territories. There was only minimal clearing done around the posts for purposes of sustainability. The hunting grounds were left intact so First Nations were able to benefit from trade while maintaining their culture.

On the other hand the British were interested in expansion by homesteading thereby clearing First Nations’ hunting grounds so there was no way left to support their communities. This made British expansion a dangerous proposition for all First Nation communities. So, in the spring of 1754 the council of the St. Clair Saulteaux decided to send a party of ten warriors to the Ohio to survey the situation. They would no doubt have been led by their war chief Little Thunder.

Meanwhile the French were on the move as well. Duquesne replaced St. Pierre as commandant of Fort Le Boeuf with his lieutenant, Sieur de Contrecoeur. He arrived a Fort Le Boeuf with 500 soldiers, a mix of Canadians and regulars. This bolstered the French presence in the area to 1400 men.

At the same time Dinwiddie formed the Virginia Regiment of 300 men under the aristocrat Joshua Fry with Washington second in command. Fry kept half the regiment, all raw recruits, in Virginia shaping them up to march.

Meanwhile, Washington took the other half and made his way to the Ohio Company’s storehouse at Wills creek where he set up a base camp. From there they sent a small expedition of 40 backwoodsmen led by a Captain Trent over the Alleghenies to build a fort at a spot Washington had observed the previous fall. It was at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers where they form the Ohio. It was indeed a strategic site as a fort there would command the Ohio country.

When they arrived they immediately started work on a small fort which the British had planned to garrison with the newly formed Virgina Regiment. But Contrecoeur moved against them with a force of 500 soldiers ousting the small band of Virginians and destroying their half completed fort. He then proceeded to build a much larger, stronger one which he named Fort Duquesne after his Governor. This fort would later become Fort Pitt and is today’s Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

Ensign Jumonville de Villiers was sent out of the newly constructed fort as a courier carrying a letter to give to any Englishmen he might encounter ordering them to vacate French territory. He had a contingent of 20 soldiers with him and orders to evict the English by force if they did not comply with the orders of the letter.

At the same time Washington was on the Youghiogany, a branch of the Monongahela, with 40 men. The Half King  joined him with 12 Mingo warriors. The Mingoes led him to Jumonville’s camp where they took the French by surprise. There was gunfire and the French were bested. The Virginian contingent killed ten Frenchmen including the young ensign. The took the rest as prisoners. The Half King boasted that it was he that dispatched Jumonville by splitting his head open with his tomahawk.

The incident sparked an international crisis. The French were outraged claiming that Washington opened fire on French soldiers who were only on a courier mission. They said that Jumonville was under a white flag shouting he only had a letter to deliver when they were cut down. Of course the British denied this.

Coulon de Villiers, the brother of Jumonville, rushed from Montreal to Fort Duquesne to find 500 Frenchmen and eleven First Nation warriors there awaiting their marching orders. The eleven warriors were different from the 400 he had brought with him from Canada. He described them as people from the falls of the lake or Lake Indians. They were the Saulteaux from Aamjiwnaang or the St. Clair region. Coulon was given the opportunity of avenging his brother’s death by leading the 500 French regulars, the Saulteaux from Aamjiwnaang along with a few of the Ohio warriors as well as Mohawk, Wyandotte, Abenaki and Algonquin from Quebec, Nipissing from Superior country and Ottawa from Detroit on a mission to oust the British from Ohio country.

Washington had fallen back to a huge open prairie called Great Meadows where he hastily constructed a rather flimsy entrenchment he named Fort Necessity. He was expecting a French attack and chose this spot to make his stand because its openness made it not so susceptible to the forest style warfare First Nations were so famous for. He also called for reinforcements from Fry who he thought was still in Virginia but he had died leaving Washington first in command. Three companies did finally arrive on July 1st. A company of British Regulars under Captain also arrived from South Carolina bolstering the garrison to 400 plus the Half King’s forty warriors.

Coulon de Villiers arrived on the 4th of July in a driving rain and took up position on a ridge in front of Fort Necessity and began firing down on Washington’s entrenchment. This made Fort Necessity’s position less than desirable because their three canons could not be fired uphill.

Coulon’s warrior allies kept to the edge of the Forest open as warfare was not their first choice of battle. They took pot shots on the fort all day long. After nine hours of pouring rain the French soldiers were soaked to the bone. The Virginians were hunkered down in a sea of mud.

Coulon called for a parlay to discuss terms of surrender. Washington had no choice but to agree because what little powder he had left was wet and his guns were useless. The French wrote out the terms of surrender but Washington could read no French.

Washington relied on a Dutchman Captain in his militia named Vanbraam to act as his interpreter. One clause of the surrender document read l’assassinat du Sieur de Jumonville, which Vanbraam translated as the death of Sieur de Jumonville. Washington signed the document and was allowed to return with his men unarmed to Virgina. He later disputed that he was an assassin blaming Vanbraam for the mistranslation.

The whole mission was an assorted affair. The Half King left Great Meadows in disgust saying that the French had acted as cowards and the English as fools. The other First Nation warriors fell back to Fort Duquesne where more of their own joined them in ever-increasing numbers. The young upstart Washington had killed a French ensign on a courier mission along with ten other soldiers and signed a document he could not read thereby starting the French and Indian War!

NEXT WEEK:  The Rout of Braddock 1755

Great Meadows and Fort Necessity 1754 Part 1

October 11, 2010

By the mid 18th century the Ohio valley was a hotbed of activity. The population was made up of many First Nations villages and towns. They included many Delaware, Shawnee, Miami and Wyandotte communities with a few roaming Ottawa and Iroquois bands. The English called the Iroquois in the area Mingoes. British traders had set up trading houses at the larger First Nations’ towns. But the English had more in mind than just trade with the First Nations. They wanted their land for settlement. 

They had signed the Treaty of Albany with the Iroquois in 1722 that marked out a line dividing their territory with the colony of Virgina.  That line basically followed the Blue Ridge mountains. However, Virginian settlers soon began crossing the Blue Ridge and squatting on First Nations’ territory. Many paid with their lives and by the 1740’s the Iroquois were so frustrated with their allies, the British, that they were ready to declare all out war on Virgina. In 1743 the British paid the Iroquois 100 pounds stirling for any territory claimed by them in the Shenandoah Valley. The following year under the treaty of Lancaster the Iroquois sold the British all of the Shenandoah Valley for 200 pounds of gold. At the Treaty of Logstown in 1752 the Iroquois recognized English trading rights in all of their territory southeast of the Ohio River.

The French saw the Ohio River Valley as French territory by way of discovery by La Salle and by way of French presence in the territory for a hundred years previous. They saw all this British activity as a violation of the treaty of Utrecht, which at best gave the British only the right to trade with First Nations in their own territory. The British crown complained to the French court in Paris, but this was a long process.

Lieutenant-Governor Dinwiddie of Virgina believed the Ohio Territory belonged to the Colonies under Virgina’s original charter. The boundaries in the charter were more than vague so he extended the northern border to at least include the Ohio River and its tributaries. On top of all the activity around trade the English wanted this territory for settlement. In order to facilitate this settlement the Ohio Company was formed. It was an association given a grant of 500,000 acres in the Ohio Valley by the British crown providing they could establish 100 families, build a fort and maintain a garrison there within seven years.

The French were not about to sit idly by and let the British take over the territory. Officially the British Crown complained to the French Court at Paris. Unofficially the French were about to take action to reassert their ownership of the territory that gave them unfettered access from Quebec to Louisiana. Duquesne, governor of New France, ordered a French presence in the territory backed by a series of French forts.

The French landed an expedition at P’resqu Isle, today’s Erie, Pennsylvania, on the south shore of Lake Erie. It had a fine natural harbor so they build a fort here then cleared a roadway of only a few leagues to Riviere Aux Boeufs today called French Creek. They built another fort here calling it Fort Le Boeuf.

The First Nations of the territory saw an opportunity to play one European nation against the other. Although they had a trading alliance with the British they had always been more fully allied with the French. They all went out of their way to help the French move the large amount of heavy supplies to garrison two forts. The only ally the British had in the area that was fully committed to them were the Mingoes. Shortly after Fort Le Boeuf was built a Mingo chief named the Half King arrived and ordered the French to leave the territory. But the French were arrogant and haughty laughing the Half King out of the fort. He was mortified and full of rage against the French. They had made an enemy that were sure to hear from again.

In the fall of 1753  Legardeur de St. Pierre arrived  to command Fort Le Boeuf. He had just settled in expecting a long and monotonous winter when a stranger arrived on horseback along with the fall rains mixed with wet snow. He was tall, young and brash a mere youth of 21 years. He was accompanied by a much older man, several others with the pack horses backed by the Half King and several warriors. He carried a letter from Dinwiddie introducing him and containing orders for the French to leave British territory immediately. His name was George Washington.

St. Pierre afforded the young Virginian Major every courtesy and after studying the document he had presented he replied by letter to Dinwiddie that he would forward his correspondence to Duquesne for consideration. In the meantime he could only remain at his post and follow the orders of his general.

Washington struggled through extreme winter conditions to return to Virgina. He finally arrived at Williamsburg by mid January and gave his report to Dinwiddie. It not only included St. Pierre’s letter of response but the information given him by some French soldiers at a French outpost at the mouth of French Creek that the French had every intention of taking the country by force and nothing would deter them.

NEXT WEEK: Great Meadows and Fort Necessity 1754 Part 2