Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



THE battle of Lake George was the only success which English arms were to have over those of France in this part of the war. Meantime the braves of the Six Nations looked on anxiously at the struggle between the rival European powers. Indians appreciate promptness, courage, and, above all things, success. But they were destined to be disappointed in their English allies. The English generals in charge of the campaign for 1756 were weak and cowardly. While General Abercrombie was jealously disputing the rights and the courage of the colonial militia, and quartering his regular troops in midsummer upon the disgusted inhabitants of Albany, the Marquis de Montcalm was preparing to take Fort Oswego, an important frontier post. Colonel Bradstreet with three hundred men, impatient of the delay, had thrown provisions and stores into the threatened fort. On his return Bradstreet heard that the enemy designed to entrap him, and took every precaution to keep his men together. As they were passing up the Oswego in boats they were suddenly attacked by a force of nine hundred French and Indians. The brave colonel, with but twelve men, landed on an island. Here he forced party after party of the enemy to retreat from the attack while his boatmen were landing. Seeing some four hundred of the French forces crossing a ford with the intention of surrounding him, Colonel Bradstreet, leaving some of his men to guard the boats, marched directly up to the enemy where they had ambushed in a swamp, dislodged and routed them. He now hurried to Albany to represent to the general the necessity for reinforcing the garrison at Oswego. Sir William Johnson also warned Abercrombie that he could no longer restrain the Six Nations if the English soldiers remained in idleness and Fort Oswego were taken. Still the general waited for the Viceroy Loudoun, and Loudoun waited for nobody knows what.

Montcalm laid siege to Fort Oswego in August. On a commanding hill upon the opposite side of the river stood Fort Ontario. Montcalm first attacked this. The garrison, after using up their ammunition, spiked their cannons and retired to the main fort. Heedless of a report that the deserted fort was mined, the French rushed to the spot, where they poured a hot fire upon the garrison of Fort Oswego. The commanding officer was killed with a cannon-ball. Montcalm soon made a breach in the walls, and was preparing to storm the fort when the discouraged garrison of about sixteen hundred men surrendered. The Indian allies of the French had lost some of their braves. They craved revenge. As ever in such cases, they were ready to fall upon the prisoners. Instantly Montcalm ordered out a file of soldiers to defend the helpless garrison. Six Indians were shot down before they learned the mettle of their commander. The victorious general planted a cross and the arms of France within the fort. This fort had been an eyesore to the Indians of the Six Nations, who dreaded more and more the encroachments of white men. Montcalm most wisely destroyed it, to the delight of the Iroquois.

Meantime General Webb, on his way to Fort Oswego, hearing the news, was seized with panic, and, after hastily building a barricade in the road of the enemy, fled to Albany, while the enemy were barricading themselves for fear of him. The Earl of Loudoun himself did not know what the French might do " flushed with success." He quartered his troops for the winter upon the New Yorkers, in spite of their objections.

The Six Nations no longer wavered. They sent deputations to Canada, and made peace with the governor. There was now no barrier of friendly Indians between the English settlements and the savage allies of the French. Numerous murders occurred on the frontier. In such warfare the defenceless settlements must suffer for the cowardice or mismanagement of the leaders.

The Delaware Indians had long been women under the iron hand of the Iroquois. This is illustrated in the story of the famous " walking purchase" in Pennsylvania. One of those fraudulent transactions by which land was taken from the Indians, and which frequently did much harm, was the raking up in 1737 of an old and forgotten Indian deed to land deemed by the distance a man could walk in a day. Men were trained for the walk, a smooth road was laid for them, and an immense tract of land was inclosed by the walk. The Delaware Indians were summoned to move from their homes and fields of half-grown grain. They refused. The proprietors were at first at a loss what to do, but they thought of the Six Nations. They sent for the Iroquois. Some of their chiefs came down to Philadelphia, where they were well bribed and given a false account of the transaction. Proud doubtless of their power, they soon settled the matter.

"You ought to be taken by the hair of the head and shaken soundly till you recover your senses," said they to the poor Delawares. " How came you to take upon you to sell land at all? We conquered you. We made women of you; you know you are women, and can no more sell land than women. This land you claim is gone down your throats; you have been furnished with clothes, meat and drink by the goods paid you for it, and now you want it again, like children as you are. What makes you sell land in the dark ? Did you ever tell us you had sold this land ? Did we ever receive any part, even the value of a pipeshank, from you for it. We charge you to remove instantly; we don't give you the liberty to think about it ? You are women. Take the advice of a wise man and remove immediately. You may return to the other side of the Delaware, where you came from; but we do not know whether, considering how you have demeaned yourselves, you will be permitted to live there ; or whether you have not swallowed that land down your throats as well as the land on this side. We therefore assign you two places to go, either to Wyoming or Shamokin. We shall then have you more under our eye, and shall see how you behave. Don't deliberate, but take this belt of wampum and go at once." The Delawares had obeyed this hard order. But is it surprising that when at last they threw off the Iroquois yoke and became men and warriors, it was to retaliate on the frontier settlements of Pennsylvania ?

The campaign of 1757 was no more calculated to impress the Indians with awe of the English than that of the previous year. Montcalm with a force of ten thousand, including two thousand Indians, laid siege to Fort William Henry, at the head of Lake George. Monro, the commandant of the fort, had but a little over two thousand men. General Webb was lying at Fort Edward, fourteen miles away, with reinforcements, but in abject terror of the enemy. Montcalm summoned Monro to surrender, but was answered with defiance. He opened his artillery with telling effect upon the English, but Monro sent express after express to Webb for aid and bravely held out, sure that he would get help at last. The cowardly Webb, though he had a force of four thousand and power to call upon the militia of the neighborhood, did not move. He refused to let General Johnson go to the rescue, and at last sent an express with exaggerated accounts of the French forces, and advising Monro to surrender. Montcalm captured the messenger, but after reading the message he sent it in to Monro. Still the brave commander held out until the greater part of his guns had burst and his ammunition gone. When he surrendered, it was with the honors of war. Montcalm, fearful of the temper of his treacherous Indians, refused to give them any liquor, and warned the English not to do so. The English, however, disregarded his warning, thinking to propitiate the Indians. In the morning, when the English garrison set out on their road to Fort Edward, the maddened savages were there with threatening looks. A massacre began, and the English fled, dropping their baggage, arms, and clothes upon the road. The massacre was greatly exaggerated in the partisan accounts of the day, but the Indians improved what time they had. The instant Montcalm and his officers heard of it they rushed to the rescue, risking their own lives to save those of their prisoners. They begged and threatened the savage allies. French soldiers got prisoners into their tents and stood guard over them. Those who had not escaped or been tomahawked were re-clothed and sent to Fort Edward in safety. Fort William Henry was razed to the ground and the French retreated, leaving Lake George again a solitude.

Loudoun was at Halifax with ten thousand men, intending to take Louisburg, a strongly fortified town of Nova Scotia, the walls of which were thirty feet high, and which was surrounded by a ditch eighty feet wide. But Loudoun spent his time in making a parade-ground and a vegetable garden. Meantime the enemy was reinforced, and, finding that the French had one more ship than himself, Loudoun sailed back to New York. He next talked of defending the continent by encamping on Long Island.

Meantime the Indians of the Six Nations saw in the cause of France the winning side. Wily French agents were busy among them. It was whispered in their ears that the French were fighting merely to drive the Englishman from the land of which the Indian was so jealous. This was confirmed by the destruction of the obnoxious forts of Oswego and William Henry. Sir William Johnson had his hands full trying to influence and restrain the Indians, and at the same time to prevent Lord Loudoun from making open war on the Six Nations. The Indians still entertained a friendly feeling toward Sir William. The Mohawks were yet under his influence, and doubtless the boy Brant held strongly to the cause of his friend, as he always in after-life took sides with the Johnson family.

But when at length a band of Canadians and Indians fell upon the German settlement on the Mohawk and massacred the inhabitants, the whole valley of the Mohawk was thrown into consternation. The Six Nations were no longer a barrier to the incursions of the enemy.

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