The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter I
Part VI

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

In 1745 Massachusetts carried through her audacious enterprise against Louisbourg, her irresistible militiamen storming fortifications which, in the opinion of an English soldier, they had as much chance of taking as "the devils might have in storming Heaven." It was a striking manifestation of the strong purpose that lay in the American colonist.

War was now on in grim earnest between the two European peoples in North America. This was emphasized to New Yorkers in November of that year, when a force of 500 French and Indians from Crown Point paddled over lake Champlain, crossed the Fort Anne Mountains to Fort Edward, where a trading post then stood on the sit of the old Fort Nicholson. Thence they went along the military road built in 1709 by Peter Schuyler, and on the 28th of the month pounced suddenly upon the settlement at Saratoga. They blotted it out, killing thirty of the inhabitants, including Philip Schuyler. Even then, however, it seemed as though New York politicians had not yet fully learned the danger that lay in the parsimonious doling out of public money for defenses. New France had spent many millions in building Louisbourg, but New York appropriated only $150 to rebuild Saratoga fort. After it had been built, it was found to be too weak to be of any use, so it was burned, and the place abandoned.

France sent "an armada" for forty warships across the Atlantic in 1746 to retake Louisbourg, but it met disaster; and another fleet which set said in 1747 was intercepted and destroyed off Cape Finisterre. Another effort ended in utter disaster near France, Admiral Hawke engaging the fleet near Belle Isle, and sinking all but two of the French ships of the line. England thus had almost cleared the seas of enemy ships, and so could plan greater American operations. She promised to cooperate with the American colonies in a great expedition against Canada; but owing to reverses on land-in Europe and Asia--these plans had to be modified.

The American colonists were keenly disappointed that the stupendous preparations they had made for the invasion of Canada should come to naught without a blow being struck. The colonies north of Virginia had mobilized the 8,000 militia troops asked for by England. Pennsylvania, thanks to the influence of Benjamin Franklin, had raised 12,000 men. New York had offered a bounty of £6 to every man who would enlist in her militia force. This was soon increased by "40s. and a blanket." Altogether, New York had 1.600 men in the field, and in addition had impressed mechanics for war work. However, by the time the impatient militiamen were advised that the invasion had been abandoned, morale had reached such a low level--through neglect to pay and properly feed the soldiers regularly--that "the men were barely restrained from open mutiny." Morale would have been quickly restored had they been permitted to advance on Canada. At all events, New Englanders bitterly resented the restoration of Louisbourg to Canada to capture which they had risked so much. But this was called fro by the terms of the Treaty of Aix la Chapelle, which was signed in April, 1748, on the basis of mutual restoration o conquests. Nevertheless, it seems that "both in India and in the Low Countries peace came inopportunely for France." Therefore, England's ministers were probably satisfied to get out of their troubles on the ante-bellum status.

There was comparative peace for a few years on both hemispheres, but in reality the peace was "a mere pause in the struggle." The Family Compact of the Bourbon houses of France and Spain still held, though both nations had signed a treaty of peace with England. The English ministers were soon to see that the War of the Austrian succession had really widened into a "world-wide duel which was to settle the destinies of mankind." France was openly claiming the valleys of the Ohio and the Mississippi, and "mooting the great question whether the fortunes of the New World were to be moulded by Frenchmen or Englishmen." In fact, the war had scarcely ended in 1748 before the aggressive trading of Englishmen in the Ohio Valley brought the French Governor, Galisoniére, to a decision to assert French sovereignty at once. As early as 1720 New York had had as many as "forty young men engaged in traffic with the red men," and Pennsylvanians and Virginians had been going westward beyond the Susquehanna even twenty years earlier. After the council of 1744 had opened the Ohio Valley to the English, the Pennsylvania fur traders--the Lowreys, Galbraiths, Pattersons, Harrises, Fraziers, Croghan and others--began to extend their operations considerably, their trading reaching even to the Mississippi. Some of the Albany traders were just as venturesome. The fact that France protested would not be likely to intimidate them. In venturing at all into the French zone they recognized that they virtually carried their lives in their hands, for if the Indians were on friendly terms with the French they might be expected to be hostile to the English. Nevertheless, the British traders had been tapping French sources for decades, so even such ceremonies a those of Céleron (who was sent by governor Galissoniére into the Ohio Valley in 1749 "to formally take possession in the name of the King of France, and bury leaden plated there and there testifying to that fact") would not deter them.

Céleron's route from Montreal had been up the St. Lawrence to Fort Frontenac, thence across Lake Ontario and on to Lake Erie, past Fort Niagara, thence through the forest to Chautauqua Lake and the site of Jamestown; thence through the forest again to the Alleghany River. He travelled more than 3,000 miles between the Niagara and Ohio rivers, going as far south as West Virginia. Here and there he buried his leaden plates, to prove French possession. They read as follows:

A token of a renewal of possession heretofore take of the aforesaid River Ohio, of all the streams that fall into it, and all the lands on both sides of the source of the aforesaid streams, as the preceding kings of France have enjoyed, or ought to have enjoyed it, and which they have upheld by force of arms and by treaties, notably those of Ryswick, Utrecht, and Aix la Chappelle.

Along this route during the lull in the storm, after 1748,. The French Governors-General, Gallisoniére, Jonqaire, and Du Quesne, posted their traders. It is said that by the year 1754, "the French had upward of sixty posts west of the Alleghenies." They looked upon the mountain range as the western limit of the English--an impassable barrier naturally dividing the two European peoples. The French did not immediately follow Céleron's route by building forts and taking military possession, but they were certainly policing the Ohio Valley vigorously. Some English traders were captured in the Ohio Valley and taken to Niagara, thence on to Quebec as prisoners. The Ohio Valley was vital to the French. They saw that if the English from Virginia or Pennsylvania settled the Ohio Valley the French of Louisiana would be cut off from Canada. This danger was pointed out in a "Minute of Instructions" handed to the Marquis Du Quesne in April, 1752, when he succeeded Jonqaire as Governor-General of Canada. The Minute, in part reads

The river Ohio, otherwise called the Beautiful River, and its tributaries belong indisputably to France, by virtue of its discovery of Sieur de la Salle; of the trading posts the French have had there since, and of the possession which is so much the more unquestionable as it constitutes the most frequent communication from Canada to Louisiana. It is only within a few years that the English have undertaken to trade there; and now the pretend to exclude us from it. . . . . . .Meanwhile 'tis of the greatest importance to arrest the progress of the pretensions and expeditions of the English in that quarter. Should they succeed there they would cut off the communication between the two colonies of Canada and Louisiana, and would be in a position to trouble them, and to ruin both the one and the other, independent of the advantages they would at once experience in their trade to the prejudice of ours.

In 1751 Jonqaire had formally notified governor Clinton, of New York, of the Céleron expedition and had also warned him that English traders apprehended on the Beautiful (Ohio) River thereafter "would be treated without any delicacy." The French attitude was that their right to the territory had been established by the treaties of Utrecht and Aix-la-Chappelle. In Article X of the former is the provision that "the subjects of France, inhabitants of Canada and elsewhere, should not disturb or molest in any manner whatever the five Indian Nations, which are subject to Great Britain, not its other American allies." The treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle had affirmed this provision. Nevertheless, as we have seen, the French have disregarded this provision by penetrating unquestioned Iroquois territory in New York; and Céleron had disregarded the treaties along part of his route. The treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle had also stipulated "that neither Crown should make any new Settlement in any part of the continent which is controverted between them, until the same shall be settled by commissionaires.: Nevertheless, the English had designs on the Ohio Valley. It is true that this was then Iroquois territory; but at the same time La Salle passed through it the land had belonged to one of the enemies of the Iroquois. Hence, the latter, having gained it only by subsequent conquest, had no right to the Ohio Valley, and therefore could not cede it to the English, inasmuch as it already belonged to France by right of discovery. Needless to say, the English thought differently--especially the canny Scot, Dinwiddie, who was Governor of Virginia.

The French hoped that the smallpox epidemic which prostrated the Ohio valley tribes during the winter of 1751-52, would dispose of their difficulties. "'Twere desirable," wrote M. de Longueuil, in April 1752, "that it should breakout and spread, generally, throughout the localities inhabited by our rebels. It would be fully as good as an army." But it did not; and the English traders continued to bother the French. So another more visible means than Céleron's of asserting the authority of France was adopted by Du Quesne. The result was that within five year of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle France had gone far toward making good her claim to the Ohio Valley by encircling the English colonies with a cordon of blockhouses and forts extending from the St. Lawrence to the Ohio. Fort Presentation was built at Ogdensburg; Fort Niagara was strengthened; Fort Quesgu' Isle came into view in 1753 at what became Erie, Pennsylvania. The Virginians retaliated by beginning the erection of a fort at the forks of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, where Pittsburgh was eventually to stand; but only the French were to profit by it for some time.

The situation of New York was by no means enviable. New York began to be uneasy in realizing that she was surrounded by forts and threatened, "in case of conflict, with invasion from all sides except the southeast, where a naval attack was conceivable." In the absence of formal declarations of war, peace, of course, was officially the existing state; but even men of short vision could see clearly that a state of war was fast approaching.

It seemed quite likely, indeed, that England herself would bring war--not upon the French, but upon her own people in the Province of New York, or at least that she would seriously consider ways of disciplining her refractory province--if only to demonstrate \what other contentious independently-inclined colonies might expect from an exasperated motherland. In September, 1750, Admiral Clinton, Governor of New York, had had to abandon all hope of getting from the New York Assembly a five years' revenue grant,. And be content with yearly appropriations, each appropriation being restricted to specific approved purposes and named public servants. The Governor was to have no leeway; no blanket appropriations; his authority was to be constantly hedged about by the lack of funds. He had reprimanded the Assemblymen; had pointed out that the "imported garrison at Oswego" had for two years been supported 'by Advance on Pubic Credit"--to wit, by colonel William Johnson, and these private resources had been exhausted. He had taken occasion to acquaint the Assembly that "there is a power able to punish you, and that will punish you, if you provoke that power to do it by your own misbehavior; otherwise you must thing yourselves independent of the crown of Great Britain." This did not change the course of the New York legislators. In 1751, Clinton recommended the King's ministers to "make a good example for all America by regulating the government of New York." He appealed to the home government because he was convinced that "the remedy must come from a more powerful authority than any in America." Still, the only action that England took was to send out another Governor.

At that moment England seemed more inclined to run away from her American perplexities than to solve them. It is true that she chartered the Ohio Company in 1749, and in the chartering served notice, as it were, upon the world and particularly upon France, that it was her intention in the near future to occupy the Ohio lands which had been ceded to her by the Iroquois; but she made little effort to assert her authority. The Ohio Company, it seems, originated more in the aggressiveness and commercial enterprise of some Americans--Virginians and Pennsylvanians--than in the farsightedness of English ministers. The task of resisting the encroachments of the French from Canada had to be borne by Americans of the bordering colonies, with the burden resting more heavily upon Virginia, at the outset.

A more than usually shrewd adviser of the Crown is said to have been convinced that the French of Canada constituted "the only check that could keep her colonies in awe," that if the threat were to pass from American, England's colonies would "answer by striking off all dependence." There seems no real justification in American actions for such a thought, however. Even twenty-five years later, when revolution was rampant, only a small percentage of the colonists favored absolute independence. Still, England's hold upon American was, as will be seen, loosened only when she made an especial effort to tighten that hold. As some one wittily remarked: "Mr. Grenville lost America because he read the American dispatches, which none of his predecessors ever did."

For some years after 1748 England looked more apprehensively toward the East than toward the West. Robert Clive, however, foiled every effort of the French in southern India. Still, France was very active diplomatically at home, and the balance of power in Europe seemed likely to change dangerously for England. Her ministers were force d to concentrate upon the home situation, leaving the colonists in America to handle their won situation alone. It seemed that the latter should be quite capable of doing so. If the English ministers thought at all in measures of population, they ought to have been of comparatively easy mind as to English colonies in the West. was not the population of any one of the major English colonies greater than the whole American strength of the French? Massachusetts, for instance, then had a white population of 450.000; New York in 1755 had a white population of 83,223. The thirteen English colonies showed a total count of more than 2,000,000 inhabitants, where as, the French in all American did not exceed 100,000. So England might, without much apprehension, leave the American colonists to meet the colonial danger alone, while she gave her thoughts to the European situation. It seems, however, that the English ministers did not guard even the English situation very well. In fact, they did very little.

In 1756, when faced by an actual declaration of war by France, it is said the England could muster in the homeland on a few thousand trained soldiers notwithstanding that in America she had been in a state of war for two years, with the certainly of worse coming. How lightly the burden of empire seemed to be resting upon the King's ministers.

In their incompetence we see the reason. The listlessness of the King's ministers had produced an alarming lethargy in the people. Fortunately for the English-speaking world, one specialist of government was to be found capable of bringing England back to herself, and of reviving the nation. In the time of England's greatest need William Pitt was at hand ready and able to take the wheel and steady the ship of state when it seemed quite likely that England's feebly-working rudder would become disabled altogether in the angry waves that were dashing over her.

Not only in England, however, was a great man discovered in that national crisis. America also brought forth a man--a leader as great as Pitt, though of a far different Anglo-Saxon type, George Washington was not the counterpart of William Pitt, but both shone in their respective spheres, and both were needed to carry the Anglo-Saxon race on to dominant place among the nations of the world. Washington brought American affairs to a head in 1754, when he led a small colonial force into the Ohio Valley to dispute France's right to the region. blood was shed in a successful engagement he fought near Great Meadows, Pennsylvania. Only ten Frenchmen were killed; yet their coagulating blood sealed the fate of the world. When Washington gave the command "Fire!" in this skirmish against a small detachment of French soldiers, he gave, as Voltaire phrased it, "the signal that set Europe in a blaze."--a blaze which was to scorch every one of England's enemies, "cripple the commerce of her rival, ruin France in two continents, and blight her as a colonial power." As Parkman, the American historian, sums up Washington's fifteen minutes of fighting near Great Meadows, on May 28, 1754, the Virginian's decisive military action "opened the gate of the Great West and of the Far East at the same moment," "gave England the control of the seas and the mastery of north American and of India, made her the first of commercial nations, and prepared that vast colonial system that has planted new England's in every quarter of the globe." Parkman further found that Washington not only benefited the British empire, but also the republic that was to pass from embryo into a precarious infancy and ultimately to vigorous nationality under his fostering guidance and inspiring personality. In Parkman's opinion, Washington's initial action ushered in a war which "while it made England what she is, supplied to the United States the indispensable condition of their greatness, if not to their national existence." Hence, it seems that if Pitt be held up as the man who firmly set the basis for the ultimate great British Empire, Americans might logically claim a part in that great achievement for this won "First Citizen."

Success did not at once follow the engagement at Great Meadows. Indeed, France quickly retaliated, and Washington was soon penned in striving to stave off overwhelming French and Indian forces. On July 4, 1754, with his surrender of Fort Necessity, Washington's expedition came to a disastrous end. The defeated Virginian marched out of Fort Necessity without humiliation their drums were beating, their colors flying; yet their departure carried a significance startling enough. It meant that the flag of France now flew defiantly over an unbroken stretch of interior waterways--from the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi. It meant also that the English might expect trouble from Indians who had hitherto been at least neutral.

New York had found it difficult to hold the Iroquois to their allegiance. Had it not been for the great influence of Colonel William Johnson among the Mohawks it is doubtful whether the Iroquois confederacy could have been held loyal. On June 14, 1754, delegates of all the new England colonies, as well as of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland met at Albany and held council with the chiefs of the Iroquois Nations. A fatal mistake was made in entirely ignoring the Shawnee and Delaware Indians, who were the key tribes of the disturbed area. They had been dominated by the Iroquois, but now, in the presence of the victorious French, they were prepared to assert themselves. They declared that they were :no longer women, but Men." This was ominous, for Indian cooperation was the key to success. Had the French from Fort Duquesne not been accompanied buy 400 Indians they probably would not have defeated Washington at Fort Necessity. The English, too, were to find in the next year that the lack of cooperation by Ohio Indians was to cost England the day at Braddock field, just as the French were to find that the defection of their Indian allies was to cost them Fort Dequesne in 1758. Still, those were events of the future, and the colonial leaders thought they were doing right in centering on the Iroquois. The Albany council did not close until July 11, but the Iroquois then departed promising to cooperate with the English against the French.

Another significant understanding was that reached by the colonies themselves. On the very day, the fateful fourth of July, that Washington evacuated Fort necessity, the delegates in session at Albany agreed upon the plan of union proposed by Benjamin Franklin. It "resembled a project suggested by William Penn as early as 1697. The draft was reported by a committee of one from each colony, on which William Smith represented New York, but the form and substance were the work of Franklin." Two of the New York delegates, Governor DeLancey and Joseph Murray, opposed the plan, by the way. "Beyond adoption by this congress, this plan of union received no further approval. This authorities at Whitehall were alarmed by it; not a single colony favored putting it into operation." Still, it served "a valuable purpose in pointing out the possibilities of the future." In fact, no written form of union was necessary, for the common danger in reality united the English of America. The French were active in Maine; they had burned Hoosick in Massachusetts; they were holding the sword over New York from Crown Point; Pennsylvania was open, with excited discontented Indians just beyond her borders and, indeed, within them; and Virginia was already much involved. For their own preservation the English colonies must hold together though a federal congress seated at Philadelphia could not meet the practical need of the moment -for a colonial union of offensives against the common enemy.

Washington successfully brought his command over the seventy miles between Fort Necessity and Wills Creek; soon afterwards he resigned his commission, retiring to his Mount Vernon estate. New of his defeat had reached England in August, 1754. At one preparations were made by the English ministers to counter the French threat, but in the frantic endeavor to prevent war with France these preparations had to be somewhat veiled. The Governor of Virginia made plans to erect a fort at Wills Creek. This was done during the winter by Colonel Innis. It was named Fort Cumberland. Meanwhile preparations for considerable operations in 1755 were proceeding. England was not the only country that was preparing. France followed the dispatch of Braddock's force, which landed at Alexandria in February, 1755, by sending 4,000 men to Canada under Baron Dieskau. The French arrived in May, and soon began to gather at Crown Point in New York.

A conference of colonial Governors was held at Alexandria, Virginia, in April, 1755, Governor De Lancey, of New York, attending. In council with General Braddock, military plans were discussed. It was agreed that the centre of the military operations of that year should be in New York. General Shirley was to move against Forts Niagara and Frontenac; colonel William Johnson was to advance upon Crown Point; and General Braddock was to take command of what seemed to be the most urgent of the movements--the expedition against Fort Duquesne. It was not felt for a moment that the English general, possessing such a strong force of English regulars, would fail to oust the French from the Ohio Valley. The great danger points were in New York, it seemed--in the older centres of French influence. But by the time Braddock expected to have swept through the Ohio Valley and reached Niagara, Shirley expected to have reached that point also. Colonel William Johnson was to head 4,000 men in an attack on Crown Point. These movements were to be coordinated, and an independent Massachusetts force of 3,000, under John Winslow, with a few hundred regular under Colonel Monckton, was to attack French forts at the head of the Bay of Fundy. Only the last expedition was fully successful, the other being affected by the disaster which befell Braddock.

The more successful operation of a great New Yorker--Sir William Johnson, Indian commissioner among the Iroquois--provide more interesting record. Certainly of all the colonies, New York is the only one that has the right to claim as its own this great English loyalist, this "frontier baron," who did more than any other one man to hold the powerful Iroquois Confederacy to their allegiance during that anxious period. It was mainly because of is influence with the Indians of New York that he was chosen to head the expedition against Crown Point and open the way into Canada.

The forces at his command were to include 2,500 men from Massachusetts and other New England colonies, and 1,000 from his own province. I addition, his influence was to draw 1,000 Iroquois. Second in command to Johnson was a Connecticut officer, Colonel Phineas Lyman. Other officers who were with Johnson in this campaign and subsequently gained notable Revolutionary records include Israel Putnam, John Stark and Seth Pomeroy. Another gallant officer was Colonial Ephraim Williams, "whose name lives in one of the most beautiful of American colleges."

Early in July General Lyman, with 600 new Englanders, reached the carrying-point on the east bank of the Hudson River leading to "Lac St. Sacrament; which was soon to become Lake George. At the portage point referred to the New Englanders built a fort without delay. It was named Fort Lyman, but soon was renamed Fort Edward. During July and august the camp grew, and when Johnson reached it he found that about three-fourths of his force had assembled.

It was a miscellaneous army, an irregular force such as one might expect to draw from the "backwoods." Frontier life was almost common to all colonies at that time; Albany was almost New York's Outpost of Civilization, and the frontier was not very far inland from the Atlantic coast in any English colony. The colonial soldiers were roughly garbed and variously armed; but they were well fitted for the task before them. Some of the men were rough-spoken, others were given to psalm singing. Profane oaths would strike one ear and prayers the other. Men from New England came overflowing with the religious fervor of the Puritan community; and daring adventurous men from the cosmopolitan seaports, or the free and easy life of the frontier, brought with them a carelessness of expression that somewhat belied their true characters. As a while, Johnson's army was made up of strong, honorable colonists, sturdy men, ready to risk their lives in the defense of their colony. According to Parkman, William Smith, whose "History of New York" was the first authoritative work on the province, said that "not a chicken was stolen; by Johnson's miscellaneous army. On the other hand, Colonel Ephraim Williams wrote "We are a wicked profane army, especially the New York and Rhode Island troops. Nothing could be heard among a great part of then but the language of Hell."

Undoubtedly, the personality of their commander had some effect upon the troops. The "frontier baron" was an easy terms with everyone, white or red. Of jovial temperament and carefree Irish optimism, self-reliant and approachable, Johnson's was at once a likable and inspiring personality. As Indian commissioner, he had lived among the Indians for many years. but, as befitted the representative of the Government, he had lived an impressive state. His home was a castle, and a club; it could stand a siege or give hospitality of bed and food and drink to any army of friends. Its master was a born host, who drank flip with the Dutch settlers and Madeira with the royal Governors; he could trade with the instinct of a modern financier of the advanced school; he could preside at Indian councils and use all the devices of Indian oratory."

His Indians added to the miscellaneous array of fighting men that gathered at Fort Lyman; with them Johnson danced the war dance; and with his white fellow-officers he dined on venison and good wine. The spirit of comradeship was strong, and they were all the more likely to prove better fighters by approaching their tasks with lighthearted optimism. Johnson indeed was, as one writer estimated his military value, 'the equivalent of a division."

When he reached Lac St. Sacrament on August 28, he had with him 3,400 men; and colonel Lyman, who had stayed at Fort Edward to await the coming of some delayed units, joined him soon afterwards, swelling his army somewhat.

Lac St. Sacrament now became Lake George, but those who know that beautiful stretch of lake country as it is today cannot easily imagine how different it was in Johnson's day. When Johnson's men encamped near the water the surrounding country was to all intents in its wilderness state. "Not a foot had ever been cleared there or a building of any kind erected." The first task that lay before the soldiers was tree-felling; space for an encampment could not otherwise be had.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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