History of the American Nation, Volume 2

Author: William James Jackman

Chapter 22: 1755-1757
French and Indian War—Continued

The French Acadians; Their Simple Manners, Industry, and Good Morals—Expulsion from Their Homes, and Mournful Exile—Expedition Against Crown Point—Baron Dieskau—English Defeated—Death of Colonel Williams—Attack on Johnson’s Camp Repulsed—Death of Dieskau—Williams College—Indian Ravages on the Frontiers of Virginia and Pennsylvania—Kittanning Destroyed—Lord Loudon Commander-in-Chief—His Tardiness and Arbitrary Measures—Montcalm Acts With Energy; Captures Fort Ontario, then Fort William Henry—Exhausted Condition of Canada.

In the meantime other expeditions were undertaken against the French. For this purpose Massachusetts alone raised eight thousand soldiers, almost one-fifth part of her able-bodied men. A portion of Acadia or Nova Scotia was still in the hands of the French. It consisted of the isthmus on the northern part, which was defended by two insignificant forts. For forty years, since the peace of Utrecht, the peninsula had been under British rule, and now the whole territory was completely subdued. These forts, with scarcely any resistance, fell into the hands of the English. Sixteen years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth this French colony was established on the Peninsula of Acadia. It was the oldest permanent French settlement in North America. For one hundred and fifty years the Acadians had been gradually clearing and improving their lands, and enjoying the comforts of rural life. At first their chief sources of wealth had been the fisheries and the fur-trade; but these had gradually given way to agriculture. Their social intercourse was governed by a high tone of morals. Their differences, but few in number, were settled by the arbitration of their old men. Seldom did they go with complaints to their English rulers. Early marriages were encouraged, and when a young man came of age, his neighbors built him a house, and aided him for one year, and the wife’s friends aided her with gifts. Their fields were fertile, and industry made them productive. Their meadows, which now were covered with flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, they had, by means of dikes, redeemed from the great flow of the tide. Their little cottages dotted the landscape. In their domestic industry each family provided for its own wants, and clothed its members with cloth and linen made from the wool of their flocks, or from the flax of their fields.

As Catholics, they were happy in the exercise of their religion; though they belonged to the diocese of Quebec, they were not brought into close relation with the people of Canada. They knew but little of what was passing beyond the limits of their own neighborhood. Independent of the world, they had its comforts, but not its luxuries. They now numbered about seventeen thousand inhabitants, and up to this time their English rulers had left them undisturbed in their seclusion.

A dark cloud was hanging over this scene of rural simplicity and comfort. As they were excused from bearing arms against France by the terms of their surrender, the Acadians were known as "French neutrals"; neither had they been required to take the usual oaths of allegiance; they had promised submission to English authority, to be neutral in times of war with France, and it was understood they were to enjoy their religion. This oath was one which, as good Frenchmen and good Catholics, they could not take; it required them to bear arms against their own brethren in Canada, and it might involve the interests of their religion. "Better," urged the priests, "surrender your meadows to the sea and your houses to the flames, than at the peril of your souls take the oath of allegiance to the British government." But it was now to be exacted. "They possess the best and largest tract of land in this province," writes Lawrence, Lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, to Lord Halifax; "if they refuse the oaths, it would be much better that they were away." This "largest and best tract" seems to have been coveted by their English rulers; they undoubtedly were suspicious of the Acadians as Catholics, and it is true some of their more ardent young men belonged, as volunteers, to the garrisons of the recently captured forts; but as this simple-minded people had neither the will nor the power to aid the enemies of England, we cannot suppose that this suspicion alone induced the British to visit upon them a severity so unparalleled. The question of allegiance was, however, to be pressed to the utmost; if they refused to take the oath, the titles to their lands were to be null and void. The haughty conduct of the British officers sent to enforce these orders was to them a harbinger of sorrow. Their property was wantonly taken for the public service, and "they not to be bargained with for payment;" if they did not bring wood at the proper time, "the soldiers might take their houses for fuel." Their guns were taken, and their boats seized, under the pretence that they intended to carry provisions to the French. The English insisted upon treating this people, so faithful to their country and their religion, as lawless rebels. Wearied by these oppressions, their deputies promised allegiance; they declared that their conscience would not permit them to rebel against their rulers, and they humbly asked that their arms and boats might be restored. "The memorial is highly arrogant, insidious, and insulting," said the haughty Lawrence; "guns do not belong to you by law, for you are Roman Catholics." After consultation with the people, the deputies offered to swear unconditionally. Then they were told, as they had once refused, now they should not be permitted to swear.

A calamity, as unexpected as it was dreadful, was at hand. By proclamation, "the old men, and young men, as well as all lads over ten years of age," were called upon to assemble, on a certain day, the fifth of September, at certain posts in their respective districts, to hear the "wishes of the king." The call was obeyed. At Grand Pre alone more than four hundred unsuspecting and unarmed men and boys came together. They were gathered into the church, its doors were closed, and Winslow, the commander, announced to them the decision of the British government. They were to be banished forever from their native province; from the fields they had cultivated, from the pleasant homes where they had spent their youth. They might not emigrate to lands offered them among friends in Canada, lest they should add strength to the French. They were to be driven forth as beggars among their enemies, a people of a strange language and of a different religion. They were retained as prisoners, till the ships which were to bear them away were ready. As soon as possible, their wives and little children were also seized. On the day of embarkation, the young men and boys were first ordered on board the ship; as their parents and friends were not allowed to go with them, they refused, fearing that if thus separated, they might never meet again—a thought they could not bear. But resistance and entreaties were useless; driven by the bayonets, they were marched from the church to the ship, which was a mile distant; their way was lined with weeping friends, mothers, and sisters, who prayed for blessings on their heads, and they themselves wept and prayed and mournfully chanted psalms as they passed along. Then in the same manner the fathers were driven on board another ship. The wives and children were left behind; these were kept for weeks near the sea without proper shelter or food, shivering in December’s cold, till ships could come to take them away. "The soldiers hate them, and if they can but find pretext will kill them." Thus wrote an English officer who was engaged in this work of cruelty.

In some places the object of the proclamation was suspected, and the men and youth did not assemble. In the vicinity of Annapolis some fled to the woods, with their wives and children, some went to Canada, while others threw themselves upon the hospitality of the Indians, from whom they received a hearty welcome. That these poor people, who had fled to the woods, might be compelled by starvation and exposure to give themselves up, orders were issued to lay waste their homes, and the whole country was made a desolation, from the village and its church, to the peasant’s cottage and barn. "For successive evenings the cattle assembled round the smouldering ruins, as if in anxious expectation of the return of their masters; while all night long the faithful watch dogs howled over the scene of desolation, and mourned alike the hand that had fed, and the house that had sheltered them."

Seven thousand of these poor people were transported and cast helpless on the shores of the English colonies, from New Hampshire to Georgia. Families were separated never to meet again. From time to time, for many years afterward, advertisements in the newspapers of the colonies told the tale of sorrow. Now they inquired for a lost wife or husband, now brothers and sisters inquired for each other; parents for their children, and children for their parents. When any in after years attempted to return they were driven off. Some of those taken to Georgia could endure their banishment no longer. They obtained boats, and coasted along the shore toward home; but, alas! when almost at the end of their perilous voyage, they were ordered away. Some wandered to Louisiana, where lands on the river above New Orleans, still known as the Acadian coast, were assigned to them.

This work of wanton cruelty was done by men, who unblushingly congratulated the approving king that the work of desolation had been so effectively accomplished—a work, which, for its treachery and cowardly cruelty, deserves the reprobation of every human breast. "I know not that the annals of the human race keep the record of sorrows so wantonly inflicted, so bitter and so perennial, as fell upon the French inhabitants of Acadia. The hand of the English official seemed under a spell with regard to them, and was never uplifted but to curse them."

The expedition against Crown Point, on Lake Champlain, had been intrusted to General William Johnson. His troops were drawn precipitately from Massachusetts and Connecticut; a regiment from New Hampshire joined them at Albany. At the head of boat navigation on the Hudson, a fort was built which, in honor of their commander, whom they reverenced as "a brave and virtuous man," the soldiers named Fort Lyman. But when Johnson assumed the command he ungenerously changed the name to Fort Edward. Leaving a garrison in this fort, Johnson moved with about five thousand men to the head of Lake George, and there formed a camp, intending to descend into Lake Champlain. Hendrick, the celebrated Mohawk chief, with his warriors, were among these troops. Israel Putnam, too, was there, as a captain, and John Stark as a lieutenant, each taking lessons in warfare.

The French were not idle; the district of Montreal made the most strenuous exertions to meet the invading foe. All the men who were able to bear arms were called into active service; so that to gather in the harvest, their places were supplied by men from other districts. The energetic Baron Dieskau resolved, by a bold attack, to terrify the invaders. Taking with him two hundred regulars, and about twelve hundred Canadians and Indians, he set out to capture Fort Edward; but as he drew near, the Indians heard that it was defended by cannon, which they greatly dreaded, and they refused to advance. He now changed his plan, and resolved to attack Johnson’s camp, which was supposed to be without cannon.

Meantime scouts had reported to Johnson, that they had seen roads made through the woods in the direction of Fort Edward. Not knowing the movements of Dieskau, a detachment of a thousand men, under Colonel Ephraim Williams, of Massachusetts, and two hundred Mohawks, under Hendrick, marched to relieve that post. The French had information of their approach, and placed themselves in ambush. They were concealed among the thick bushes of a swamp, on the one side, and rocks and trees on the other. The English recklessly marched into the defile. They were vigorously attacked, and thrown into confusion. Hendrick was almost instantly killed, and in a short time Williams fell also. The detachment commenced to retreat, occasionally halting to check their pursuers. The firing was heard in the camp; as the sound drew nearer and nearer, it was evident the detachment was retreating. The drums beat to arms, trees were hastily felled and thrown together to form a breastwork, upon which were placed a few cannon, just arrived from the Hudson. Scarcely were these preparations made, when the panting fugitives appeared in sight, hotly pursued by the French and Indians. Intending to enter the camp with the fugitives, Dieskau urged forward his men with the greatest impetuosity. The moment the fugitives were past the muzzles of the cannon, they opened with a tremendous shower of grape, which scattered the terrified Indians and checked the Canadians, but the regulars pushed on. A determined contest ensued, which lasted five hours, until the regulars were nearly all slain, while the Indians and Canadians did but little execution; they remained at a respectful distance among the trees. At length the enemy began to retreat, and the Americans leaped over the breastwork and pursued them with great vigor. That same evening, after the pursuit had ceased, as the French were retreating, they were suddenly attacked with great spirit by the New Hampshire regiment, which was on its way from Fort Edward. They were so panic-stricken by this new assault, that they abandoned everything, and fled for their lives.

Dieskau had been wounded once or twice at the commencement of the battle, but he never left his post; two of his soldiers generously attempted to carry him out of danger, but when in the act one of them received his death wound; he urged the other to flee. In the midst of flying bullets he calmly seated himself on the stump of a neighboring tree. He was taken prisoner, kindly treated, and sent to England, where he died.

Johnson was slightly wounded at the commencement of the battle, and prudently retired from danger. To General Lyman belongs the honor of the victory, yet Johnson, in his report of the battle, did not even mention his name. Johnson, for his exertions on that day, was made a baronet, and received from royal favor a gift of twenty-five thousand dollars. He had friends at court, but Lyman was unknown.

Colonel Ephraim Williams, who fell in this battle, while passing through Albany had taken the precaution to make his will, in which he bequeathed property to found a free school in western Massachusetts. That school has since grown into Williams College—a monument more honorable than one of granite, one fraught with blessings to future generations.

Johnson, instead of pushing on to take advantage of the victory, loitered in his camp, and finally built and garrisoned a useless wooden fort, which he named William Henry.

As has been mentioned, the retreat of Dunbar left the frontiers of Virginia and Pennsylvania subject to the horrors of savage warfare. Washington was intrusted with their defense, but so few men had he at his command, and they so scattered, as to afford but little protection. The distant settlers of Virginia were driven in, and the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah became almost a desolation. Governor Dinwiddie, as an apology for not furnishing more soldiers, wrote: "We dare not part with any of our white men to any distance, as we must have a watchful eye over our negro slaves." In one of his letters, Washington says: "The supplicating tears of women and moving petitions of the men, melt me into such deadly sorrow, that for the people’s ease, I could offer myself a willing sacrifice to the treacherous enemy."

The village of Kittanning, twenty or thirty miles up the Alleghany, above Fort Duquesne, was the headquarters of a notable Indian chief, known as Captain Jacobs. Incited by the French, he and his bands made many murderous incursions against the settlements of Pennsylvania. His associate was the Delaware chief Shingis. Benjamin Franklin, who had been appointed colonel by the governor, had organized the Pennsylvania militia to protect the frontiers, and after his resignation, Colonel John Armstrong, afterward a major-general in the Revolutionary war, was chosen in his place. He resolved to destroy these Indians and their village. Three hundred Pennsylvanians volunteered for the enterprise. In the latter part of September they set out on horseback across the mountains, and in a few days came into the vicinity of Kittanning, at night. They heard the savages carousing and yelling; they left their horses, approached the village, and arranged the order of attack. The night was warm, the Indians soon began to separate, some to sleep in the corn-fields near by, and some in wigwams. As day began to dawn, the Americans surrounded the party, and, at a given signal, rushed to the attack. The Indians were taken by surprise, but soon the voice of Jacobs was heard loud above the din, cheering on his warriors, and shouting, "We are men, we will not be prisoners." The wigwams were set on fire, and warriors were heard singing their death-song in the midst of the flames. Jacobs attempted to break through the surrounding foe, but his career was cut short by a rifle-ball. This nest of savage murderers was entirely broken up; the survivors went further west, and for a season the frontiers had peace.

Lord Loudon was appointed a sort of viceroy of all the colonies. He sent General Abercrombie as his lieutenant, having suspended Governor Shirley, and ordered him to repair to England. Abercrombie arrived in June, and brought with him several British regiments. It was confidently expected that something important would now be done. These royal gentlemen had an army of seven thousand men at Albany, but, as the Frenchmen had said, they were "slow and dilatory,"—they spent the summer in adjusting the rank of the officers. The soldiers of the colonies, though they had, by their indomitable courage, saved the remnants of the British army on the banks of the Monongahela, though, at Lake George, they had driven the enemy before them, and had defended their soil and maintained the honor of the English name, yet they were not permitted to select their own officers, and if they were appointed by the colonial governors, those of the same rank by royal appointment took the precedence. These were the petty annoyances dictated by little minds, that aided so much in alienating the colonists from the mother country, and in the end leading them to independence.

While the English were thus trifling, Montcalm, the successor of Dieskau, was acting. With five thousand Frenchmen, Canadians, and Indians, he darted across the lake, and suddenly presented himself at the gates of Fort Ontario, at the mouth of the Oswego. He met with a vigorous resistance; not until they had lost all hope of receiving aid, and their brave commander, Colonel Mercer, was killed, did the garrison surrender. An immense amount of military stores fell into the hands of Montcalm; he sent the captured flags to adorn the churches of Canada, and to please the Iroquois, who promised neutrality, he demolished the fort. Though it was known that this important post was threatened, yet no means were taken to relieve it. Thus Loudon planned and counterplanned, accomplished nothing, and then withdrew from his arduous labors into winter quarters. He demanded free quarters for his officers of the citizens of Albany, New York and Philadelphia. As the demand was "contrary to the laws of England and the liberties of America," they refused to accede to it. He threatened to bring his soldiers and compel them to submit to the outrage. The citizens, in their weakness, raised subscriptions to support for the winter those who had wasted the resources of the country. Thus a military chief invaded, not merely the political rights of the people, but the sanctities of their domestic life.

Montcalm was undisturbed in making preparations to capture Fort William Henry, before which he appeared, the next year, with a large French and Indian force. The garrison numbered about three thousand men, under Colonel Monroe, a brave officer, who, when summoned to surrender, indignantly refused, and immediately sent to General Webbe, at Fort Edward, fifteen miles distant, for aid. He could have relieved Monroe, for he had four thousand men at his disposal, but when Putnam obtained permission to go to the aid of the fort, and had proceeded some miles with his rangers, Webbe recalled him. Then he sent a letter to Monroe advising him to surrender. This letter fell into the hands of Montcalm, who was on the point of raising the siege, but he now sent the letter to Monroe, with another demand to surrender. The brave veteran would not capitulate, but held out till half his guns were rendered useless. Montcalm was too brave and generous not to appreciate nobleness in others, and he granted him the privilege of marching out with the honors of war. The only pledge he asked, was that the soldiers should not engage in war against the French for eighteen months. They were to retain their private property, and Canadian and Indian prisoners were to be restored.

Montcalm held a council of the Indians, who consented to the terms of the treaty, though they were sadly disappointed in their hopes of plunder. He refused them rum, and thus he could restrain them; but, unfortunately the night after the surrender they obtained it from the English. In the morning they were frantic from the effects of intoxication, and when the garrison were leaving their camp, they fell upon the stragglers. The French officers did all they could to restrain them, and some were even wounded in their exertions to save the English soldiers from savage violence. Montcalm, in his agony, cried, "Kill me, but spare the English; they are under my protection." Instead of an orderly retreat to Fort Edward, it was a flight.

Thus the French, with a population in Canada, not one-twentieth part as great as that of the English colonies, seemed triumphant everywhere. Was it strange that the colonists began to lose their respect for those sent to protect them from their enemies—especially for the officers? They believed the interference of the home government hindered the advancement of their cause, while the majority of the royalist governors seemed to be actuated by no worthier motive than that of promoting their own interests.

Though the French were thus victorious, and possessed the valleys of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi, and apparently all the continent, except a little strip along the Atlantic coast, yet Canada was exhausted. The struggle was virtually over. Her men had been drawn to the battlefield, while their farms were left untilled, and now famine was beginning to press upon the people. Their cattle and sheep were destroyed, and horseflesh was made to supply the place of beef; no aid could come from France, as nearly all intercourse was cut off by the ever-present British cruisers. The French owed their success, not to their strength, but to the imbecility of the English commanders.


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Chicago: William James Jackman, "Chapter 22: 1755-1757 French and Indian War— Continued," History of the American Nation, Volume 2 in William J. Jackman, Jacob H. Patton, and Rossiter Johnson. History of the American Nation, 9 Vols. (Chicago: K. Gaynor, 1911), Pp.609-631 Original Sources, accessed March 1, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8QP1VVM7N4TCN1Z.

MLA: Jackman, William James. "Chapter 22: 1755-1757 French and Indian War— Continued." History of the American Nation, Volume 2, in William J. Jackman, Jacob H. Patton, and Rossiter Johnson. History of the American Nation, 9 Vols. (Chicago: K. Gaynor, 1911), Pp.609-631, Original Sources. 1 Mar. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8QP1VVM7N4TCN1Z.

Harvard: Jackman, WJ, 'Chapter 22: 1755-1757 French and Indian War— Continued' in History of the American Nation, Volume 2. cited in , William J. Jackman, Jacob H. Patton, and Rossiter Johnson. History of the American Nation, 9 Vols. (Chicago: K. Gaynor, 1911), Pp.609-631. Original Sources, retrieved 1 March 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8QP1VVM7N4TCN1Z.