The Beaver War 1763 – Part 3

March 29, 2011

The fall of Fort Michilimackinac was a stunning success. Late spring 1763 provided other spectacular military successes for the First Nation alliance. Most of the western British forts fell under First Nation assault.  The others were put under siege.

Fort Sandusky was the first to fall. Ottawa and Wyandotte warriors were let into the fort on the pretense of friendship then opened fire on the garrison of 15 killing them all but Commandant Ensign Pawlee who was given to one of their widows to replace a husband killed in battle.  

Fort Venango capitulated much in the same way a Michilimackinac. The western Seneca, who were also known to Sir William Johnson as the Chenussios and to the Americans as the Mingos entered the fort in the guise of friendship but once inside turned on the garrison. After killing all the British soldiers there they made the commandant write the reasons down for the attack in a dispatch.

The dispatch he wrote stated that there were two reasons for the war. First, for the past two years the scarcity of powder and its price, when it was available, as well as the cost of other necessities was far too high. When they complained about this they were ill-treated and never redressed. Second, When the British began to take over the posts from the French they began to increase their military presence which made them believe the British had designs of possessing all of their lands.

The dispatch was given to a party of warriors heading toward Fort Pitt in order to have it fall into the hands of the British. The commandant of Venango was then put to death and the fort was destroyed. The Seneca also took Fort LeBoeuf and its 16 men.

The fort at P’resqu Isle was commanded by Ensign John Christie and had 27 defenders. They lined the inside of their long two-story blockhouse to reinforce it,  and laid in casks of drinking water. The only door was on the first floor leading inside the fort. The only openings in the walls were long slits for their muskets and the floor between the two stories was perforated so if forced to the second floor they could shoot down upon any intruders. They abandoned the fort, locked themselves inside the blockhouse and prepared for a siege. 

The Seneca, supported by some Ottawa, Chippewa and Wyandotte warriors, shot flaming arrows at the roof of the blockhouse. The soldiers worked tirelessly tearing off the burning shingles dousing the roof with their drinking water. Meanwhile, some of them dug a tunnel to the well inside the fort which was under the First Nations’ control. They carried buckets of water back through the tunnel to replace their drinking water. The work was so laborious that they decided to surrender on the second day of the siege. On the 22nd of June they were taken prisoner and divided up between the four First Nations. 

The Detroit Potawatomi arrived Fort St. Joseph saying they had come to visit their relatives. They informed the commandant, Ensign Schlosser, that they wished to come into the fort to which him a good morning. They seized Schlosser and attacked the fort. Their numbers were so great that they slaughtered all but three of the garrison in about two minutes. A Mr. Winston and a Mr. Hambough hid in the house a Frenchman named Louison Chivalie for four days before being discovered. They were taken prisoner and Hambough and a Mr. Chim were sent south to Illinois but Winston was kept at St. Joseph.

Fort Miami on the Miami River suffered the same fate as the other forts in the region. It was attacked  on the 27th of May by the Miami and some Delaware. Fort Miami’s commandant, Ensign Holmes, had a Miami mistress but she betrayed him by luring him outside the fort and into a trap where he was killed. They then attacked the fort killing half the garrison. The other half was taken prisoner and shipped down the Wabash River to Fort Ouiatinon to be added to the prisoners there. Not one was killed at Ouiatinon as the whole garrison of 20 men surrendered after their commandant, Lieutenant Edward Jenkins, was also lured outside the fort where he was seized and threatened with death if the garrison did not surrender. Then all the prisoners were taken to Fort Chartre on the Mississippi River. This fort was still in French hands under the command of J. Neyeon de Villiere.

The forts that were closer in proximity to the colonies were better able to withstand the First Nation onslaught. Forts Ligonier and Bedford were able uito hold out against the siege tactics of the First Nations. The Delaware, who had joined the alliance in full, took over the siege from the Seneca and the Chippewa. They had even less luck.

Fort Pitt was commanded by a Swiss soldier of fortune who had joined the British army. Captain Simeon Ecuer had taken the words of General Amherst literally. Amherst, in responding to the upheaval, had said to Colonel Bouquet in June “that blankets should be infected with small pox and given to the Indians as presents.”  Ecuer did just that. Small pox raged through the Delaware villages that summer.

If you happened to be English “Indian County” was not the place to be in the summer of 1763. Just before the fall of Fort Miami five Frenchmen, Miny Chain, Jacques Godfrey and Messrs. Beauban, Chavin and Labadee were with a band of Ottawa and Chippewa warriors at the mouth of the Miami River. They spotted John Welch, a trader from Fort Miami, on his way to Detroit with two boats loaded down with pelts.

The warriors hid in the forest while Chain beckoned Welsh and his party to shore. When they landed they were taken prisoner and their goods divided up. Chain and Godfrey took their prisoners to Fort Miami to be added to the prisoners there. The other three returned with their share, including Welch, to Detroit. When they arrived the Ottawa seized their plunder, killed Welch, and took the goods saying that all plunder belonged to the First Nations.

King Beaver, Shingas and four other friendly Delaware chiefs came to an English trader named Colhoun who was at their town of Tuscarora. They informed him of the British forts falling like autumn leaves. They also told him that a trader named Hugh Crawford and a boy were taken prisoner at the mouth of the Miami but six others were killed. Five English traders were also killed at Salt Lick Town on Salt Springs Creek. They warned him to remove himself and his men to a safer place as they saw tracks of a large war party heading their way. 

Later they send Daniel, one of their chiefs, and two others to escort them safely to Fort Pitt. But these three were not friendly Delaware, but had joined the alliance. They refused to let them bring their weapons with them saying the three were sufficient to escort them safely. The next day as they were crossing Beaver Creek they were attacked by a war party. The three Delaware disappeared immediately and of Colhoun’s party of fourteen only Colhoun and two others escaped. Although they became lost they were eventually able to make it to Fort Pitt.

NEXT WEEK:  The Beaver War 1763 – Part 4


The Beaver War 1763 – Part 2

March 21, 2011

When the British had taken control of Fort Michilimackinac its new commandant Captain George Etherington sent dispatches throughout the territory commanding all French settlers to report to the fort. He wanted them to swear allegiance to the British Crown and for this he promised to take into consideration all of their needs as well as any complaints. The British would treat them as well as the French governor had.

Among the French in the area was Augustin de Langlade and his son Charles. This was the same Charles Langlade who had been at Pickawillany, Braddock’s rout and Fort William Henry. Etherington knew well of him so when the Langlades swore allegiance to the British he gave them command of the trading post at La Baye or Green Bay, Wisconsin.

At the end of the Frog Month the principle Ojibwa war chief Mineweweh and another chief named Madjeckewiss or Bad Bird gathered 400 Ojibwa warriors at Michilimackinac. Mineweweh had devised a strategem to take the fort as part of the Beaver War. They had feigned friendship with the British and offered to put on an exhibition baggataway or lacrosse on the Queen’s birthday. On June 2, 1763 they all gathered outside the fort for the spectacle. The captain and his second in command joined the Ojibwa spectators but the gates to the fort were left closed. Most of the spectators were Ojibwa women dressed in their long shawls. Little did Etherington realize that their colorful shawls concealed weapons for the warriors.

The game of lacrosse as played by the Ojibwa was a wild affair. There were little rules and the number of players on the field was only limited to the number of young men available. The ball would be struck by one side toward the opponent’s goal which was a line drawn at the end of the field. The players were struck with the sticks more than the ball so there was plenty of confusion accompanied with the din of loud whooping and yelling. With all the excitement it made for an engrossing spectator sport. 

The game began and several times the ball was thrown over the stockade and inside the fort where the garrison would toss the ball back over the wall and onto the playing field. Finally the captain ordered the gates opened so the players could retrieve the ball themselves. The next time the ball was thrown into the fort the players all rushed to the spectators, took hold of their weapons and then rushed into the fort. The soldiers were shocked and slow to act. The massacre was on!

Captain Etherington and his aide Lieutenant Leslie was captured immediately. The garrison  of 90 soldiers fell quickly suffering 70 killed and the other 20 taken prisoner. Etherington and Leslie were to be burned at the stake so a few days later the wood was prepared and the two were lashed to the poles.

Charles Langlade was at Michilimackinac at the time of the attack  to purchase supplies for the post at Green Bay. He was not only very influential with the Ojibwa but he was also an Ottawa war chief. Of course he was not taken prisoner but it all happened so fast that he was of little help to Etherington.

He had warned the commandant earlier, and several times, that he had heard rumours of treachery by the Ojibwa from his Ottawa friends at L’Arbre Croche. They were not in favor of the Beaver War, not because they liked the British so much as they were angry that Mineweweh had not invited them to take part in the surprise attack. Etherington dismissed Langlade’s warnings because he had called in Matchikuis, a chief of the Michilimackinac Ottawa, to ask him about the rumours. Of course he denied everything. Finally the captain ordered Langlade not to bring it up again calling the rumours ” the twaddle of old women”.

Langlade had left Michilimackinac the day it fell but returned with some of the Ottawa warriors from L’Arbre Croche just in time to save the two officers from the fire. When he took charge of the two officers he rebuked Etherington saying if he had listened to the “old women’s stories” he would not be in the humiliating position he was in with most of his garrison wiped out. Then he negotiated with Mineweweh for their safety and all twenty-two prisoners were sent under an armed guard of L’Arbre Croche Ottawa to Montreal. Fort Michilimackinac was left in Mineweweh’s hands.

NEXT WEEK:  The Beaver War 1763 – Part 3


The Beaver War 1763 – Part 1

March 15, 2011

I must apologize for being MIA the last few weeks. Tax season is upon us and I do tax returns at this time of year. Also, I hit a sort of writer’s block which happens from time to time and I need to take a break and let my tank fill up again. Now, to get back to 1760’s Great Lakes, we left the First Nations in the precarious position of having to deal with the arrogance of the British and the threat of starvation.

There was an Ottawa chief from Detroit that had gained prominence among the various First Nations of the Great Lakes. He earned their respect by his actions during the French and Indian War. He was at Braddock’s defeat as well as other victories attributed to Montcalm. Pontiac was also among the war chiefs gathered at Fort William Henry.

In the fall of 1761 Captain Rogers of New Hampshire was sent with two hundred rangers to take possession of Fort Detroit. While camped at the present site of Cleveland, Ohio he was met by Pontiac and a few of his warriors. Pontiac asked him for what reason was he in his country. Rogers replied that he was there to take possession of Fort Detroit for the British. He told Pontiac that the French had ceded all of North America to the British and that they now had supreme command of all the territories. Pontiac, although dismayed, expressed a desire for peace then returned to his village near Detroit.

Rogers arrived at Detroit, struck the Fleur de Lei and replaced it with the Union Jack. That winter was a particularly hard one for the First Nations living in the area. The following summer the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Wyandotte and Seneca were invited by Pontiac to a council held on the Ecourse River just south of Detroit. Some Chippewa from the Michilimackinac area also attended as well as two Frenchmen who were travelling with them dressed in native garb. (When the area came under the sway of the British the Ojibwa became known as the Chippewa and the name Saulteaux fell out of use.) Pontiac stood in the center of the gathering and began to speak.

“It is important for us, my brothers that we exterminate from our land this nation which only seeks to kill us. You see, as well as I do, that we cannot longer get our supplies as we had them from our brothers, the French. The English sell us merchandise twice dearer than the French sold them to us, and their wares [are worth] nothing. Hardly have we bought a blanket, or something else to cover us, than we must think of having another of the kind. When we want to start for our winter quarters they will give us no credit, as our brothers, the French, did. When I go to the English chief to tell him that some of our brothers are dead, instead of weeping for the dead, as our brothers, the French, used to do he makes fun of me and of you. When I ask him for something for our sick, he refuses, and tells me that he has no need of us. You can well see by that he seeks our ruin…”

War belts were sent out to the various Miami nations living along the  Wabash River, the nations living in Ohio country as well as the Six Nations. Luc de La Corne had been propagating the rumour among the western nations that a French fleet would arrive soon to retake the country. This rumour was bolstered by Spanish and French disturbances in the New Orleans area. Most First Nations answered the call to arms, but not all. There were some chiefs who sought to deal with the British in a more peaceful manner.

Wabbicommicot, a major Mississauga chief from the Toronto area warned the British that an attack was coming the following spring. He also influenced most of the Mississauga warriors not to join Pontiac. One Miami chief had also warned the British by giving a war belt to an Ensign Robert Holmes which had been sent to him by the Shawnee. All of the unrest failed to faze Amherst. He answered it by restricting the amount of ammunition British traders could sell to the natives. He said they had plenty of ammunition which was not true. This only increased the threat of starvation.

A stratagem was devised by which plans to attack the various British western forts were assigned to individual nations. Fort Michilimackinac was appointed to the Chippewa war chief Minweweh while the Illinois were to destroy Fort St. Joseph. The forts south and east of Lake Erie were alloted to Iroquois, Ohio and Wabash nations. Fort Detroit was to be Pontiac’s prize along with the Detroit and Lake Nations. The individual assaults were coordinated to happen on or about the 15th day of the Frog month or the 7th of May 1763. 

 NEXT WEEK:  The Beaver War 1763 – Part 2