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 general of the royal forces in Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, was a mild and cautious though a brave man. He would not allow the Indians at his disposal to cross the border, lest they should open war, in their cowardly style, on the frontier settlements. Thus the Iroquois did not play a very important part in the first struggles of the Revolution.

"You will never have cause to blush for your Montgomery," said the American general of that name, as he bade his young wife good-by, on starting for the campaign in Canada. With ill-disciplined troops, composed of New Englanders' and New Yorkers, of whom he said that they were "all generals but not soldiers," Montgomery undertook the siege of St. Johns. Carleton, with great difficulty having gathered together about eight hundred men, attempted to raise the siege. He crossed the St. Lawrence at Montreal, but, as he neared the opposite shore, his forces were fired upon by a detachment of the famous Green Mountain Boys and forced to retreat. After a determined siege of fifty days St. Johns capitulated, and Montgomery took triumphant possession of Montreal. The Canadians were now many of them friendly to the invaders, and the Indians, said Carleton, " chose to be of the strongest side, so that when they were most wanted they vanished." It was at this juncture that Brant sailed for England, and while he was there the tide of success turned.

In dire need of soldiers, money, and artillery, Montgomery still resolved to take Quebec if possible. The detachment sent to meet him at Quebec under Arnold arrived, tattered, starved, and half frozen, after a long wilderness journey. In the depth of winter Montgomery encamped before Quebec. His troops were all enlisted for a short length of time, and if he did anything it must be done before the new year. On the night of the thirtieth of December, under a fierce midwinter storm, the daring enterprise of storming Quebec was undertaken. The men had to hold down their heads to avoid the pelting of the storm, and cover their guns with their coats to keep them dry. They attempted drawing a field-piece on a sled, but that was abandoned. Two feints were made along the line of defence while Montgomery attacked from one quarter, and Arnold from the opposite. Arnold was severely wounded, but his men carried the battery. Montgomery pressed to the attack, but the brave general fell at the cannon's mouth. With the death of Montgomery all hope of success was gone.

The Continental Congress could not yet give up the subjugation of Canada. Reinforcements were sent there only to suffer from want and die of the small-pox. When, at last, an English fleet anchored at Quebec, the only alternative left to the colonial forces was to retreat.

It was about this time that Brant reached Canada, after his return from England. In command of large bodies of Indians, he entered immediately into the service. Carleton ordered him, with six hundred Iroquois, to join a company of regulars in dislodging the Americans from a point of land about forty miles above Montreal, known as The Cedars. The American commander, Bedell, when he saw the English and Indians approaching, deserted under pretence of going for reinforcements. The command was left to Major Butterfield, who seems to have been hardly less cowardly than Bedell. After a brief fight with musketry, he was intimidated by a threat that the Indians would have no mercy if the Americans held out any longer, and surrendered, against the wishes of his men. He had hardly surrendered, when a detachment was sent to his relief by Arnold. Having no intimation of the surrender, the detachment was attacked by Brant when within four miles of The Cedars. A sharp battle ensued ; sometimes the Indians were driven back, and the Americans would attack even more fiercely, then the Indians would rally again, and the Americans, in their turn, would be forced to fall back. But the colonial troops were at last compelled to surrender. The savages murdered several of the prisoners before they could be stopped. Brant immediately exerted himself in every way to prevent a massacre. One of the prisoners, Captain McKinistry, who was wounded, was selected by the Indians to be put to death by torture. Brant would not permit this, but a chief's influence is not very great in such cases, and it was with a good deal of trouble that he prevented it. To soothe the feelings of his disappointed savages, he and some of the British officers made up a purse, with which they bought the Indians an ox to roast instead of Captain McKinistry, who was treated with so much kindness by the young chief that he and Brant became fast friends. In after-years Brant never passed down the Hudson without visiting the captain at his home.

As soon as Arnold heard of the disaster, he marched upon the English and Brant, but he received a threat that if he gave battle the Indians could not be restrained from butchering the prisoners in their power. Arnold secured the exchange of the prisoners, however, promising to release British prisoners in return. The American Congress thought itself justified in neglecting to fulfill this promise, on the ground that the British had committed a breach of faith in allowing the Indians to kill prisoners of war.

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