Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 1

February 2, 2011

After the fall of Fort William Henry Montcalm did not advance on Fort Edward. His forces had been severely reduced by the abandonment of his First Nation allies and the Canadians who had returned to their provincial farms. He would have had to use too many of  his regulars just to drag his heavy artillery down the fourteen mile portage. In short, he no longer had the resources.  After burning the conquered fort and levelling the ground it stood on he retreated to winter at Fort Carillon or, as the English called it, Ticonderoga.

In 1758 the British went on the offensive. After a failed attempt the previous year to take Fort Louisburg the British fleet arrived with Generals Wolfe Amherst, Lawrence and 12,000 men. The fleet of thirty-nine ships doubled the number of fighting men.

The French stronghold was garrisoned with 3,000 regulars plus a few hundred armed citizens. First Nation support waned after Fort William Henry. The warriors that filled the Acadian forests stayed home. All that could be raised was a small band of Micmac. In the harbour there were five ships, seven frigates and another 3,000 men. The fort held out for nearly two months until it fell July 27, 1758.

In the meantime General Abercrombie with an army of 15,000 arrived at Lake George intent on taking Ticonderoga. Abercrombie was a general only because of his connections. As a military strategist he was un-inventive and single-minded. However, he plodded forward toward Ticonderoga and Montcalm.

The French fort was under garrisoned and under supplied. Vaudreuil was slow to fulfill Montcalm’s requests. He had not quite 3,500 regulars, no Canadians, no warriors and only ten days worth of supplies. But he did have his extraordinary military prowess.

After a series of military blunders by the British over two days Abercrombie lost 2,000 men trying to breach Montcalm’s improvised barricades in front of the fort. Montcalm on the other hand lost only a little more than 300.

The next night the French general sent out a sortie to reconnoiter and they attacked the main British force in the dark of night. Not knowing the strength of the French attack they panicked. As they fled through the bogs the soft mud pulled the shoes right off their feet. It was a spectacular victory for Montcalm and a bitter defeat for Abercrombie.

Colonel Bradstreet who was with Abercrombie begged him for 2,000 of the 13,000 troops he had left to move north and take Fort Frontenac. It was on the north shore of Lake Ontario a French stronghold that kept the great lake under French control. Abercrombie, anxious for some semblance of a victory granted him his request. 

But again Vaudreuil was lax. He had let the garrison fall to below 100 men. The fort’s commandant received word of Bradstreet’s advancement so he sent word to the governor to send reinforcements as quickly as possible. Vaudreuil sent one man to survey the situation and report back. Not only did he just send one man it was a one-armed man!

The woods of Eastern-Ontario was filled with Mississauga villages but they stood idly by and watched events unfold. Normally their warriors were quick to come to the aid of their French “father” Onontio but after Montcalm’s betrayal at Fort William Henry they were strangely disinterested.

Bradstreet arrived to take the fort without a shot. The commandant was waiting for him with a white flag. This unbelievable victory not only gave the British command of the lake but effectively cut the French colony in two.

The previous year the British colony’s frontier was racked with raiding parties by the Ohio First Nations. Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa and Wyandotte warriors attacked settlers along the frontier with impunity. They burned farmsteads while killing or capturing pioneers. All that year they looted and ravished the countryside from Pennsylvania to Virginia. The provincials were terror-stricken.

 William Pit, the new British Secretary of State, could see the source of all the First Nation malice, Fort Duquesne, should be put out of commission. In the spring of 1758 plans were being drawn up to do just that!

NEXT WEEK:  Fort Duquesne – An Encore 1758 Part 2

Fort William Henry 1757 Part 1

December 5, 2010

It’s been two weeks since my last post. Sorry but I’ll probably be late again. December is a busy month with Christmas coming up fast and the other day we had a minor disaster here. The hose on the dishwasher broke and flooded the kitchen, down the hallway, two closets and part of the master bedroom. Everything is carpet but the kitchen. Oh well, it gives me incentive to redo the flooring anyway, something I was wanting to do for a while now.

When we last left our story Braddock was defeated, Dieskau was on his way from France with six battalions of French regulars and the Marquis de Vaudreuil the new governor. As soon as Vaudreuil replaced Duquesne as the governor-general he made a plan to attack Fort Oswego. This was a British trading post on the south shore of Lake Ontario in the midst of Iroquois territory.

However, he had to postpone that plan because Colonel William Johnson had been assigned by the British to attack Crown Point on Lake Champlain. Johnson had already started making preparations at the foot of Lac du S. Sacrament for his advance on Crown Point. He had widened the 15 mile portage from the Fort Lyman on the Hudson River to the lake. When he arrived he renamed it Lake George and immediately busied himself constructing a camp from which to launch his attack. Fort Lyman would later become Fort Edward and Johnson’s campsite is where the war’s most famous Fort would be built, Fort William Henry.

Johnson didn’t really concern himself with French movements to his north. Dieskau arrived at Crown Point in the fall to reinforce the French presence there with 3,573 men made up of French soldiers, Canadians and First Nations. Dieskau made the first move. His force moved down Lake Champlain to the headwaters of Wood Creek where a short portage brought them out at the midway point of the new road Johnson had just cut. He had a choice to make. He could either move south and take out Fort Lyman or north and take out Johnson’s campsite. First Nation warriors never like to attack a position that was fortified with heavy artillery so he chose to move north.

Dieskau didn’t realise that Johnson had moved three cannons to the lake and fortified his campsite with a breastwork made of logs. Dieskau attacked but was surprised by cannon fire. They were repelled time and time again. The two adversaries fought more or less to a draw but the Baron was wounded twice and taken prisoner by the Provincials. The French withdrew leaderless.

1755 had not been a good year for the British so although Lake George had not been a military victory the capture and imprisonment of Baron Dieskau gave the skirmish the air of one. Great celebrations were held in New York and Colonel Johnson was received as a great war hero. The British lavished the colonel with rewards including making him a baronet, 5,000 pounds stirling and installing him as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Some good news at last for the English.

The following year Dieskau was replaced with a new general, the Marquis de Montcalm. He and Vaudreuil did not get along. However, they did agree on one thing. Fort Oswego should be the first campaign of 1756. Montcalm had brought two more crack regiments with him from France and he was anxious use them.

Fort Oswego was built at the mouth of the Chouagen River later to be renamed the Oswego River. It was fortified by a stockade and had two out buildings defended by earthen ramparts. It was really just a trading post so was no bastion of defence. Just as the attack started the post’s commandant Colonel Mercer was cut in half by a cannon ball. The British forces defending Oswego quickly became disheartened and surrendered. Casualties were light. The British reported 50 killed and the French even less. However, 1,600 prisoners of war were taken and the plunder was exceeding for the “Praying Indians” that were with Montcalm. The news of the French victory spread through First Nation territories like wildfire.

Montcalm, Vaudreuil and the Intendant Bigot received chief after chief representing some forty First Nations. All wanted to see the great French war chief who had the reputation of being so tall his head bumped the clouds. In actuality Montcalm was a relatively short man. This caused one great war chief to state that a man’s eminence is determined by his deeds not his physical stature.

Meanwhile the British had rebuilt Fort Lyman and renamed it Fort Edward. They also build Fort William Henry at the foot of Lake George. This was where British activity was the greatest. This was where the British presented the most danger. Montcalm prepared to move into the Lake Champlain area and meet the British head on.

NEXT WEEK:  Fort William Henry 1757 – Part 2

The Rout of Braddock 1755 – Part 2

November 7, 2010

A council was held in the Fort with the French commander Sieur de Contrecoeur. He had three captains under him, Beaujeu, Dumas and Ligneris. The commandant came up with a plan. Beaujeu would have command of the force that was to repel the British with Dumas second in command. They would meet them on the road ambushing them at the ford where the road crossed the Monongahela. Langlade and the war chiefs objected. The spot was not to their liking. The terrain was two wide and open to conduct the type of warfare they were best at. They were ignored, the plan was set and the council concluded. Returning to their camps across the Alleghany the Ojibwa and their native allies prepared for war in their usual way.

War dances were danced and war songs were sung. These were interspersed with long harangues by war chiefs and seasoned warriors containing previous great deeds done in battle. These speeches always ended with a tremendous strike a the war post with a war club or tomahawk and loud shouts of war whoops. This spectacle never ceased to send a chill through their European allies. On this occasion it was the French who watched from Fort Duquesne’s ramparts along with a young English colonial who had been captured three days before.

Three days before the young Pennsylvanian James Smith was captured by three warriors, two Delaware and one Mohawk from Caughnawaga. His companion was killed and scalped but he was brought back to the fort a prisoner. He was only 18 years of age. When they neared the fort they gave the victory cry, a long halloo for each scalp or prisoner taken. Hundreds of warriors responded by pouring out of their wigwams shouting and screeching and firing their guns in the air. The French responded to the celebration likewise by firing off their guns including cannon from inside the fort. Smith was awed by the din and thought they must number in the thousands. What was about to come surprised him even more.

A great number of warriors began to form two columns. They were all whooping and yelling and carrying sticks. All were prepared for war with faces and bodies painted in various pigments of red, black, yellow and blue wearing nothing but breechcloths. It was a fearsome sight for the young man to behold.

One of the Delaware warriors who captured him spoke a little English and told him he must run between the two columns from one end to the other. He said to run fast, the faster the better as they were going to beat him. A shove from his advisor started him racing receiving blows all the way. As he neared the end one blow knocked him down. He tried to get up but someone threw sand in his eyes so he could not see where he was going. Beaten down again he took the warriors blows until he was rendered unconscious. Young James regained consciousness inside the fort being attended to by the post physician.    

Smith was interrogated by the war chiefs after receiving medical attention. Then the Delaware warrior who spoke English came to see him. He asked his captor why the warriors treated him so badly thinking he had offended them in some way. But he was told that he did not offend but it was just an old custom they had…like saying, how do you do? Smith then asked if he would be permitted to stay with the French and was told he would not but after he recovered he must live with the Delaware and become one of them. When he could get out of bed he made his way around with the aid of a crutch.

Meanwhile, General Braddock and his army had left Williamsburg following the road cut by the Virginians the year before. They were an impressive sight to behold. A long column of British regulars, 1,750 in all, dressed in bright red tunics, white helmets and sashes with steel bayonets flashing in the sun. They were followed by 450 Virgina Militia dressed in blue. Interspersed in the column were cannon and howitzers, 600 pack horses and 175 wagons carrying supplies and tools. All of this to supply the newly conquered fort and more.

The colonies were hemmed in by mountain ranges which made expansion impossible. But the British had ambitions to do just that and they had a plan. Braddock was to take Fort Duquesne and quickly move on to Fort Niagara. Sir William Johnson was to take Crown Point. William Shirley Sr., Governor of Massachusetts, was made a Major General and was to take Fort Beausejour. This all on the pretense that the French had invaded British territory. It seemed impossible that the plan should fail. The colonies had yet to see an army the size of Braddock’s and the English had population figures on their side. The total white population of New France, from Quebec to Louisiana, was just under 80,000. The British on the other hand had a population of 1.6 million including 200,000 slaves.

So Braddock headed for Fort Duquesne with his superior army and his arrogance intact. He had little respect for the colonial militia and even less for First Nation warriors. Benjamin Franklin, who was the postmaster of Pennsylvania at the time, came to see him at Williamsburg. He spent five days with Braddock and warned him of the forest warfare practiced by the First Nations suggesting that he should consider new battle tactics. Braddock replied “These savages may, indeed, be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia, but upon the King’s regular and disciplined troops, sir, it is impossible that they should make an impression.” Braddock was about to get the shock of his life! 

NEXT WEEK:  The Rout of Braddock 1755 – Part 3

Langlade Captures Pickawillany-1752

September 17, 2010

In the 1720’s Augustin Mouet de Langlade, a French trader living at Michilimackinac, married Domitilde, an Ottawa woman who was a sister of an important chief named Nissowaquet. The French called Nissowaquet La Fourche meaning The Fork. They had a son who was baptized Charles Michel Mouet de Langlade in May of 1729.

 Because of a dream Nissowaquet believed his young nephew had a protecting spirit so he convinced his parents to let ten year-old Charles accompany him to Tennessee on a war party against the Chickasaw. On two previous raids they were repelled by their foes. They were successful on this particular sortie in that a treaty was made between the two when the confrontation ended in a stalemate. This adventure earned him the name Aukewingeketawso meaning Defender of his Country. So Charles Langlade became enthralled with military service at a very young age.

 Sixteen years later Augustin Langlade purchased a position for his son in the French colonial regulars as a cadet. He was 21 years old. Although he served in the French military he wore the dress of an Ottawa warrior. Over the next two years he gained much influence with the Ottawa side of his heritage.

 In 1752 he was visiting the village of Memeskia an important Miami chief on the Great Miami or Rocky River. It was situated at the mouth of Laramie Creek and had the considerable population of 8,000 and was a hub of English trading activity. The French called Memeskia la Demoiselle or Your Lady but the English called him Old Britain.

Memeskia was pro-British and held the French in great disdain. What Langlade was doing in Ohio country is not known but probably he was spying for the French. At any rate Old Britain insulted him in some way and Langlade left the country in a huff. When he got to Detroit he angrily related the incident to his friend Pontiac an important Detroit Ottawa war chief. Both became enraged so they convinced Little Thunder and his Saulteux Ojibwa to allow Langlade passage through their territory to exact his revenge.

 Detroit commandant Celoron couldn’t be happier. At last his First Nation allies were on board to help him fulfill his orders to clear the English traders out French territory and return the Miami to the French fold. Langlade returned from Michilimackinac with 250 Ottawa and Ojibwa warriors bent on restoring his good name. However, he could not convince Little Thunder and the St. Clair Ojibwa to join them so they carried on alone picking up a contingent of French regulars at Detroit.

 On the morning of June 21st they arrived at Pickawillany, the name the English called Memeskia’s village. Most of the warriors there were away on their summer hunt but the women were in the cornfields and eight traders were in the outbuildings .

The Ottawa and their allies came upon them suddenly. They surprised the women taking them prisoner. Three traders were besieged in a house and they surrendered immediately but the Miami warriors fought on. A truce was called in the afternoon with all but two traders being handed over. The Miami kept these two hidden. The women were released. Memeskia’s widow and son had escaped, however, la Demoiselle’s fate was an Ottawa cooking pot. They partook in the old custom of eating a defeated foe whose qualities of leadership and bravery could be had by literal consumption. They also killed one of the traders who was wounded and ate his heart. When the expedition returned to Detroit they had plunder worth 3,000 British pounds sterling and five English traders who were arrested and put in prison .

 Governor du Quesne was elated. Although the French officially denounced the above mentioned custom as an atrocity du Quesne wrote to the French minister in Paris asking for an annual pension of 200 livres for Langlade saying that he would be highly pleased with it and it would have great effect in the country. He also reported that the Miami had come back to the French alliance greatly diminishing the English influence in French territory.

 NEXT WEEK: Great Meadows and Fort Neccessity-1754

A Rising Star Among the Ojibwa

September 10, 2010

By 1750 the Saulteax Ojibway living in the St. Clair region had expanded. The Ojibwa from Swan Creek expanded across Lake St. Clair and up the Thames River. They had established a village near present day London and one at the mouth of Kettle Creek on Lake Erie.

The Ojibway living at the mouth of the Black River, at the foot of Lake Huron, had expanded both east and west. They had established villages on Bear Creek as well as the mouth of the Au Sable River in Ontario. They also expanded west establishing villages at Nepessing Lake and along the Flint River in Michigan. Animikeence or Little Thunder was their leading war chief at this time.

Under the Treaty of Utrecht the English claimed they had gained the right to trade with the First Nation allies of the French from the upper lakes. Although the French contested this point if was a certain fact that it did not give them the right to set up trading posts in Ohio country. However, they did just that.

British traders moved into the Ohio Valley setting up posts along it as well as its tributaries. They did this under the pretense that it was Iroquois land and as sovereign over the Iroquois they had the right to expand into this new territory. The French claimed it as part of New France, discovered by La Salle and there had been a French presence there for decades.

None of this was really true. Ohio country was First Nations lands belonging to the Miami, Delaware and Shawnee nations. The French didn’t really discover the territory as it was never lost nor were the British ever the Iroquois’ sovereigns. Be this as it may the French forged ahead with a plan to oust the English.

Monsieur Celoron, major commandant at Detroit was to take a detachment of French soldiers supported by a large force of First Nation allies and clear the region of English traders. The idea was to arrest the traders, confiscate their goods and make the Miami understand that although they could go to Albany to trade with the English under no certain terms could they allow the English to establish themselves in French territory.

The plan failed miserably. The Saulteax refused to endorse it saying that because of the close proximity of the Miami many had intermarried and they would have no part in a war against their relatives. Little Thunder also refused to allow French allies from further north to pass through their territory to support Celoron.

Celoron pushed ahead entering Miami territory with a few French regulars and a few First Nation warriors. They had a little success in removing a few English traders and their goods but in the process killed two Miami people. These murders only served to stir up the First Nations who were trading with the English and setting them against the French. 

 Meanwhile, Monsieur de Lajonquiere, Governor of Canada, had instructions from France to encourage the Five Nations to destroy the English post at Oswego. He was to convince them that an English post on their territory was an affront to their sovereignty. To accomplish this he went too far by giving the impression that France accepted the Onondaga’s contention that Ohio belonged to the Iroquois and that the French should not establish themselves there without their permission. He did this at solemn council which also included the Christian Iroquois from Quebec as well as the Abenaki of St. Francis and the Ottawa of Michilimackinac.  

In 1752 de Lajonquiere was replaced by Ange du Quesne as Governor. The French minister wrote to du Quesne with orders from the king. He was to make sure the territory was cleared of English traders and their goods confiscated without causing a war with any of the First Nations, no easy feat with Little Thunder and the Saulteax standing in the way.  He was also ordered to do all in his power to destroy the impression of First Nations sovereignty over land and to prevent any consequences that might arise due to de Lajonquiere’s error in judgement.

NEXT WEEK: Langlade Captures Pickawillany 1752

St. Pierre to the Rescue!

August 29, 2010

Things had truly gotten out-of-hand at the upper posts. This was especially true of Michilimackinac. So the governor had the voyageurs called in and ordered to trade only from that post. This had the effect of increasing the manpower to over 100 which seemed to be an adequate defence for the fort. But to keep them there over the winter he had to provide them with food and supplies. To this end he ordered 10 cargo canoes loaded with 30,000 lbs of goods to make the trip from Montreal to Michilimackinac.

The governor also commissioned a Lieutenant St. Pierre to take charge of 12 well armed canoes and settle the peace in the upper country. He was to operate out of Michilimackinac travelling to the post at the Green Bay with presents in order to sound out the First Nations there. They had seemed favourable to the French but if they were not then he was to do all in his power to win them over.  

When St. Pierre arrived at Michilimackinac a council was called. He advised the chiefs at this council the object of his mission which was to restore the peace which they had so unworthily broken. He also demanded that they bring the murderers of the Frenchmen to him for his disposal. If they did not deliver these murderers to him that he would go and look for them himself!

The next day several chiefs who were at the council came to him and said they would turn the men responsible over to him but asked that he spare their lives. He said he could not say what their fate would be as this was up to the governor alone to determine.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa contingent who had gone to Montreal in the spring was led by a chief named Pindalouan. They were now anxious to return home because of the lateness of the season. The governor informed them of the sad state of affairs at Michilimackinac and they were genuinely surprised. This made them even more anxious explaining they would put things in order when they arrived home.

Monsieur de Vercheres and the 30 cargo canoes arrived at Michilimackinac in October and they had with them a prisoner they had captured along the way. Vercheres reported that they came across five canoes they thought had been the ones that attacked the French and pursued them. They beached their canoes and fled into the woods but the Frenchmen caught one. He had on him some French goods and a scalp so they asked him where he had gotten them. He replied that he was given them as a present by some warriors at Green Bay. He consistently claimed he was not guilty of attacking the French. Two Ottawa canoes arrived from Montreal and claimed this prisoner saying that he was of the family of Koquois, a chief very loyal to the French and a friend of de Vercheres. So de Vercheres released him to the Ottawa stressing the great favour he was doing them.

By October the nations around Michilimackinac had become very quiet. The two Saulteax warriors who had joined in on the attack on the French earlier returned their portion of the booty to prove their innocence. They still claimed that upon seeing their people firing on a canoe they had joined in to help not knowing the circumstances. The commandant accepted this explanation.

Back at Detroit the commandant de Longueuil was extremely anxious. Nicholas had been in communication with the Saulteaux and Ottawa and they were about to attack the fort. If that happened then Mikinak, an Ottawa chief from Saginaw, would also declare against them. The Potawatomi were waiting as well to join in the fray. The only people to remain faithful to the French were those under the Ottawa chief Quinousaki.  Almost all the cattle had been lost and if help didn’t soon arrive they would not be able to get the harvest in and they would perish.

But help was on the way. Sieur Dubuisson arrived at Niagara with the convoy from Montreal. While there some of men of the guard got drunk and ill-treated the Grand Chief of the Seneca. He left for Seneca country very dissatisfied and the commandant, Monsieur Duplessis, had to send Sieur Chabert to his town at the Little Rapid with presents to appease him. The convoy spent little time at Niagara chosing instead to press on to Detroit.

The Ottawa and Potawatomi were supposed to attack the French village on Bois Blanc Island just south of Detroit. If they took this village they would effectively be able to block help from arriving. However, 100 men mostly traders from Illinois and other posts to the west arrived and prevented them from doing so.  Dubuisson arrived at Detroit unheeded to find de Longueuil engaged in bringing in the harvest. So all the nations around that post also began to settle down. Peace was being restored to the upper country.

NEXT WEEK: A Rising Star Among the Ojibwa!

More of France’s Allies Revolt!

August 22, 2010

While Nicholas’ warriors were harassing Detroit the Saulteaux Ojibwa from the St. Clair joined in. They had killed and carried off some of the local farmers’ cattle and some of the farms were attacked by “unknown Indians”. This was the work of some of the more brazen young men who were disregarding their chief’s disapproval. All this upheaval made it impossible for the French to get the fall harvest in putting the post in jeopardy.

A party of chiefs and warriors arrived at Montreal to visit the Governor General. Among them were eight Ottawa chiefs and eight other warriors including two Seneca and some Wyandotte from Lorette who had accompanied Sieur Beleatre to Detroit the year before. Four Wyandotte chiefs were also with them including Sastaredzy, the principal chief and Tayachatin another main chief.

In the council with the governor they professed their loyalty and the Wyandotte, who had converted to Christianity, asked for Father La Richardie to return to Detroit to minister to their needs. He was their former missionary and they had the utmost confidence and respect for him. The French saw this as an opportunity to assist in settling things down at Detroit so they jumped at the chance. The governor quickly gave his approval, the priest consented and the deal was done.

Things were bad at Detroit with some of the young warriors getting out of control but they were worse at Michilimackinac. There was total confusion at that post. The Ottawa, Saulteaux Ojibwa and Mississauga were ill-disposed toward the French. The Ottawa of Saginaw had already struck a blow by killing three Frenchmen who were on their way from Detroit to Michilimackinac. The Saulteaux attacked two French canoes at La Cloche, an island in Georgian Bay between present day Little Current and Birch Island. One of the canoes escaped by discarding their cargo and fleeing to Michilimackinac while the other was totally defeated. Another Frenchman was stabbed by the Saulteaux just two leagues from the post at La Grosse Isle. 

The post itself was on high alert. Various warriors had killed all the horses and cattle they could not catch and were continuously hurling insults and threats at the fort. Only a few at a time were allowed inside the post and only under the strictest control. A council was held but ended in recrimination when it was discovered that some of the young warriors had come armed with knives. The French were in a very precarious position as they only had 28 men manning the post. They were relieved a few days later when de Noyelle and a contingent of Frenchmen arrived from Point Chagouamigon on Lake Superior.

At the same time an Ottawa name Nequionamin arrived with alarming news. He reported to the commandant that the Iroquois, the Wyandotte and the Flathead had reached an agreement with the English to attack and destroy all French everywhere. He also reported that the Nations of Detroit were in on the plot. The Ottawa led the revolt, the Potawatomi would cooperate as well as the Mississauga and the Saulteaux of St. Clair. He said the Ottawa of Saginaw had already struck referring to the three they had killed on Lake Huron. They also had sent 70 men to council with the Ottawa of Michilimackinac but they were reluctant because they had a contingent of their village visiting Montreal. He advised the commandant not to let anyone leave the fort and to keep a strict watch. The French needed to gain some control!

NEXT WEEK:  St. Pierre to the Rescue! August 1747