Montcalm and Wolfe

Author: Francis Parkman

Chapter 10

1755, 1756

Shirley. Border War

The capture of Niagara was to finish the work of the summer. This alone would have gained for England the control of the valley of the Ohio, and made Braddock’s expedition superfluous. One marvels at the short-sightedness, the dissensions, the apathy which had left this key of the interior so long in the hands of France without an effort to wrest it from her. To master Niagara would be to cut the communications of Canada with the whole system of French forts and settlements in the West, and leave them to perish like limbs of a girdled tree.

Major-General Shirley, in the flush of his new martial honors, was to try his prentice hand at the work. The lawyer-soldier could plan a campaign boldly and well. It remained to see how he would do his part towards executing it. In July he arrived at Albany, the starting-point of his own expedition as well as that of Johnson. This little Dutch city was an outpost of civilization. The Hudson, descending from the northern wilderness, connected it with the lakes and streams that formed the thoroughfare to Canada; while the Mohawk, flowing from the west, was a liquid pathway to the forest homes of the Five Nations. Before the war was over, a little girl, Anne MacVicar, daughter of a Highland officer, was left at Albany by her father, and spent several years there in the house of Mrs. Schuyler, aunt of General Schuyler of the Revolution. Long after, married and middle-aged, she wrote down her recollections of the place,—the fort on the hill behind; the great street, grassy and broad, that descended thence to the river, with market, guardhouse, town hall, and two churches in the middle, and rows of quaint Dutch-built houses on both sides, each detached from its neighbors, each with its well, garden, and green, and its great overshadowing tree. Before every house was a capacious porch, with seats where the people gathered in the summer twilight; old men at one door, matrons at another, young men and girls mingling at a third; while the cows with their tinkling bells came from the common at the end of the town, each stopping to be milked at the door of its owner; and children, porringer in hand, sat on the steps, watching the process and waiting their evening meal.

Such was the quiet picture painted on the memory of Anne MacVicar, and reproduced by the pen of Mrs. Ann Grant.[320] The patriarchal, semi-rural town had other aspects, not so pleasing. The men were mainly engaged in the fur-trade, sometimes legally with the Five Nations, and sometimes illegally with the Indians of Canada,—an occupation which by no means tends to soften the character. The Albany Dutch traders were a rude, hard race, loving money, and not always scrupulous as to the means of getting it. Coming events, too, were soon to have their effect on this secluded community. Regiments, red and blue, trumpets, drums, banners, artillery trains, and all the din of war transformed its peaceful streets, and brought some attaint to domestic morals hitherto commendable; for during the next five years Albany was to be the principal base of military operations on the continent.

[Footnote 320: Memoirs of an American Lady (Mrs. Schuyler), Chap. VI. A genuine picture of colonial life, and a charming book, though far from being historically trustworthy. Compare the account of Albany in Kalm, II. 102.]

Shirley had left the place, and was now on his way up the Mohawk. His force, much smaller than at first intended, consisted of the New Jersey regiment, which mustered five hundred men, known as the Jersey Blues, and of the fiftieth and fifty-first regiments, called respectively Shirley’s and Pepperell’s. These, though paid by the King and counted as regulars, were in fact raw provincials, just raised in the colonies, and wearing their gay uniforms with an awkward, unaccustomed air. How they gloried in them may be gathered from a letter of Sergeant James Gray, of Pepperell’s, to his brother John: “I have two Holland shirts, found me by the King, and two pair of shoes and two pair of worsted stockings; a good silver-laced hat (the lace I could sell for four dollars); and my clothes is as fine scarlet broadcloth as ever you did see. A sergeant here in the King’s regiment is counted as good as an ensign with you; and one day in every week we must have our hair or wigs powdered.”[321] Most of these gorgeous warriors were already on their way to Oswego, their first destination.

[Footnote 321: James Gray to John Gray, 11 July, 1755.]

Shirley followed, embarking at the Dutch village of Schenectady, and ascending the Mohawk with about two hundred of the so-called regulars in bateaux. They passed Fort Johnson, the two villages of the Mohawks, and the Palatine settlement of German Flats; left behind the last trace of civilized man, rowed sixty miles through wilderness, and reached the Great Carrying Place, which divided the waters that flow to the Hudson from those that flow to Lake Ontario. Here now stands the city which the classic zeal of its founders has adorned with the name of Rome. Then all was swamp and forest, traversed by a track that led to Wood Creek,—which is not to be confounded with the Wood Creek of Lake Champlain. Thither the bateaux were dragged on sledges and launched on the dark and tortuous stream, which, fed by a decoction of forest leaves that oozed from the marshy shores, crept in shadow through depths of foliage, with only a belt of illumined sky gleaming between the jagged tree-tops. Tall and lean with straining towards the light, their rough, gaunt stems trickling with perpetual damps, stood on either hand the silent hosts of the forest. The skeletons of their dead, barkless, blanched, and shattered, strewed the mudbanks and shallows; others lay submerged, like bones of drowned mammoths, thrusting lank, white limbs above the sullen water; and great trees, entire as yet, were flung by age or storms athwart the current,—a bristling barricade of matted boughs. There was work for the axe as well as for the oar; till at length Lake Oneida opened before them, and they rowed all day over its sunny breast, reached the outlet, and drifted down the shallow eddies of the Onondaga, between walls of verdure, silent as death, yet haunted everywhere with ambushed danger. It was twenty days after leaving Schenectady when they neared the mouth of the river; and Lake Ontario greeted them, stretched like a sea to the pale brink of the northern sky, while on the bare hill at their left stood the miserable little fort of Oswego.

Shirley’s whole force soon arrived; but not the needful provisions and stores. The machinery of transportation and the commissariat was in the bewildered state inevitable among a peaceful people at the beginning of a war; while the news of Braddock’s defeat produced such an effect on the boatmen and the draymen at the carrying-places, that the greater part deserted. Along with these disheartening tidings, Shirley learned the death of his eldest son, killed at the side of Braddock. He had with him a second son, Captain John Shirley, a vivacious young man, whom his father and his father’s friends in their familiar correspondence always called “Jack.” John Shirley’s letters give a lively view of the situation.

“I have sat down to write to you,”—thus he addresses Governor Morris, of Pennsylvania, who seems to have had a great liking for him,—“because there is an opportunity of sending you a few lines; and if you will promise to excuse blots, interlineations, and grease (for this is written in the open air, upon the head of a pork-barrel, and twenty people about me), I will begin another half-sheet. We are not more than about fifteen hundred men fit for duty; but that I am pretty sure, if we can go in time in our sloop, schooner, row-galleys, and whaleboats, will be sufficient to take Frontenac; after which we may venture to go upon the attack of Niagara, but not before. I have not the least doubt with myself of knocking down both these places yet this fall, if we can get away in a week. If we take or destroy their two vessels at Frontenac, and ruin their harbor there, and destroy the two forts of that and Niagara, I shall think we have done great things. Nobody holds it out better than my father and myself. We shall all of us relish a good house over our heads, being all encamped, except the General and some few field-officers, who have what are called at Oswego houses; but they would in other countries be called only sheds, except the fort, where my father is. Adieu, dear sir; I hope my next will be directed from Frontenac. Yours most affectionately, John Shirley.”[322]

[Footnote 322: The young author of this letter was, like his brother, a victim of the war.

“Permit me, good sir, to offer you my hearty condolence upon the death of my friend Jack, whose worth I admired, and feel for him more than I can express.... Few men of his age had so many friends.” Governor Morris to Shirley, 27 Nov. 1755.

“My heart bleeds for Mr. Shirley. He must be overwhelmed with Grief when he hears of Capt. John Shirley’s Death, of which I have an Account by the last Post from New York, where he died of a Flux and Fever that he had contracted at Oswego. The loss of Two Sons in one Campaign scarcely admits of Consolation. I feel the Anguish of the unhappy Father, and mix my Tears very heartily with his. I have had an intimate Acquaintance with Both of Them for many Years, and know well their inestimable Value.” Morris to Dinwiddie, 29 Nov. 1755.]

Fort Frontenac lay to the northward, fifty miles or more across the lake. Niagara lay to the westward, at the distance of four or five days by boat or canoe along the south shore. At Frontenac there was a French force of fourteen hundred regulars and Canadians.[323] They had vessels and canoes to cross the lake and fall upon Oswego as soon as Shirley should leave it to attack Niagara; for Braddock’s captured papers had revealed to them the English plan. If they should take it, Shirley would be cut off from his supplies and placed in desperate jeopardy, with the enemy in his rear. Hence it is that John Shirley insists on taking Frontenac before attempting Niagara. But the task was not easy; for the French force at the former place was about equal in effective strength to that of the English at Oswego. At Niagara, too, the French had, at the end of August, nearly twelve hundred Canadians and Indians from Fort Duquesne and the upper lakes.[324] Shirley was but imperfectly informed by his scouts of the unexpected strength of the opposition that awaited him; but he knew enough to see that his position was a difficult one. His movement on Niagara was stopped, first by want of provisions, and secondly because he was checkmated by the troops at Frontenac. He did not despair. Want of courage was not among his failings, and he was but too ready to take risks. He called a council of officers, told them that the total number of men fit for duty was thirteen hundred and seventy-six, and that as soon as provisions enough should arrive he would embark for Niagara with six hundred soldiers and as many Indians as possible, leaving the rest to defend Oswego against the expected attack from Fort Frontenac.[325]

[Footnote 323: Bigot au Ministre, 27 Août, 1755.]

[Footnote 324: Bigot au Ministre, 5 Sept. 1755.]

[Footnote 325: Minutes of a Council of War at Oswego, 18 Sept. 1755.]

“All I am uneasy about is our provisions,” writes John Shirley to his friend Morris; “our men have been upon half allowance of bread these three weeks past, and no rum given to ‘em. My father yesterday called all the Indians together and made ‘em a speech on the subject of General Johnson’s engagement, which he calculated to inspire them with a spirit of revenge.” After the speech he gave them a bullock for a feast, which they roasted and ate, pretending that they were eating the Governor of Canada! Some provisions arriving, orders were given to embark on the next day; but the officers murmured their dissent. The weather was persistently bad, their vessels would not hold half the party, and the bateaux, made only for river navigation, would infallibly founder on the treacherous and stormy lake. “All the field-officers,” says John Shirley, “think it too rash an attempt; and I have heard so much of it that I think it my duty to let my father know what I hear.” Another council was called; and the General, reluctantly convinced of the danger, put the question whether to go or not. The situation admitted but one reply. The council was of opinion that for the present the enterprise was impracticable; that Oswego should be strengthened, more vessels built, and preparation made to renew the attempt as soon as spring opened.[326] All thoughts of active operations were now suspended, and during what was left of the season the troops exchanged the musket for the spade, saw, and axe. At the end of October, leaving seven hundred men at Oswego, Shirley returned to Albany, and narrowly escaped drowning on the way, while passing a rapid in a whale-boat, to try the fitness of that species of craft for river navigation.[327]

[Footnote 326: Minutes of a Council of War at Oswego, 27 Sept. 1755.]

[Footnote 327: On the Niagara expedition, Braddock’s Instructions to Major-General Shirley. Correspondence of Shirley, 1755. Conduct of Major-General Shirley (London, 1758). Letters of John Shirley in Pennsylvania Archives, II. Bradstreet to Shirley, 17 Aug. 1755. MSS. in Massachusetts Archives, Review of Military Operations in North America. Gentleman’s Magazine, 1757, p. 73. London Magazine, 1759, p. 594. Trumbull, Hist. Connecticut, II. 370.]

Unfortunately for him, he had fallen out with Johnson, whom he had made what he was, but who now turned against him,—a seeming ingratitude not wholly unprovoked. Shirley had diverted the New Jersey regiment, destined originally for Crown Point, to his own expedition against Niagara. Naturally inclined to keep all the reins in his own hands, he had encroached on Johnson’s new office of Indian superintendent, held conferences with the Five Nations, and employed agents of his own to deal with them. These agents were persons obnoxious to Johnson, being allied with the clique of Dutch traders at Albany, who hated him because he had supplanted them in the direction of Indian affairs; and in a violent letter to the Lords of Trade, he inveighs against their “licentious and abandoned proceedings,” “villanous conduct,” “scurrilous falsehoods,” and “base and insolent behavior.”[328] “I am considerable enough,” he says, “to have enemies and to be envied;”[329] and he declares he has proof that Shirley told the Mohawks that he, Johnson, was an upstart of his creating, whom he had set up and could pull down. Again, he charges Shirley’s agents with trying to “debauch the Indians from joining him;” while Shirley, on his side, retorts the same complaint against his accuser.[330] When, by the death of Braddock, Shirley became commander-in-chief, Johnson grew so restive at being subject to his instructions that he declined to hold the management of Indian affairs unless it was made independent of his rival. The dispute became mingled with the teapot-tempest of New York provincial politics. The Lieutenant-Governor, Delancey, a politician of restless ambition and consummate dexterity, had taken umbrage at Shirley, of whose rising honors, not borne with remarkable humility, he appears to have been jealous. Delancey had hitherto favored the Dutch faction in the Assembly, hostile to Johnson; but he now changed attitude, and joined hands with him against the object of their common dislike. The one was strong in the prestige of a loudly-trumpeted victory, and the other had means of influence over the Ministry. Their coalition boded ill to Shirley, and he soon felt its effects.[331]

[Footnote 328: Johnson to the Lords of Trade, 3 Sept. 1755.]

[Footnote 329: Johnson to the Lords of Trade, 17 Jan. 1756.]

[Footnote 330: John Shirley to Governor Morris, 12 Aug. 1755.]

[Footnote 331: On this affair, see various papers in N.Y. Col. Docs., VI., VII. Smith, Hist. New York, Part II., Chaps. IV. V. Review of Military Operations in North America. Both Smith and Livingston, the author of the Review, were personally cognizant of the course of the dispute.]

The campaign was now closed,—a sufficiently active one, seeing that the two nations were nominally at peace. A disastrous rout on the Monongahela, failure at Niagara, a barren victory at Lake George, and three forts captured in Acadia, were the disappointing results on the part of England. Nor had her enemies cause to boast. The Indians, it is true, had won a battle for them: but they had suffered mortifying defeat from a raw militia; their general was a prisoner; and they had lost Acadia past hope.

The campaign was over; but not its effects. It remains to see what befell from the rout of Braddock and the unpardonable retreat of Dunbar from the frontier which it was his duty to defend. Dumas had replaced Contrecoeur in the command of Fort Duquesne; and his first care was to set on the Western tribes to attack the border settlements. His success was triumphant. The Delawares and Shawanoes, old friends of the English, but for years past tending to alienation through neglect and ill-usage, now took the lead against them. Many of the Mingoes, or Five Nation Indians on the Ohio, also took up the hatchet, as did various remoter tribes. The West rose like a nest of hornets, and swarmed in fury against the English frontier. Such was the consequence of the defeat of Braddock aided by the skilful devices of the French commander. “It is by means such as I have mentioned,” says Dumas, “varied in every form to suit the occasion, that I have succeeded in ruining the three adjacent provinces, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, driving off the inhabitants, and totally destroying the settlements over a tract of country thirty leagues wide, reckoning from the line of Fort Cumberland. M. de Contrecoeur had not been gone a week before I had six or seven different war-parties in the field at once, always accompanied by Frenchmen. Thus far, we have lost only two officers and a few soldiers; but the Indian villages are full of prisoners of every age and sex. The enemy has lost far more since the battle than on the day of his defeat.”[332]

[Footnote 332: Dumas au Ministre, 24 Juillet, 1756.]

Dumas, required by the orders of his superiors to wage a detestable warfare against helpless settlers and their families, did what he could to temper its horrors, and enjoined the officers who went with the Indians to spare no effort to prevent them from torturing prisoners.[333] The attempt should be set down to his honor; but it did not avail much. In the record of cruelties committed this year on the borders, we find repeated instances of children scalped alive. “They kill all they meet,” writes a French priest; “and after having abused the women and maidens, they slaughter or burn them.”[334]

[Footnote 333: Mémoires de Famille de l’Abbé Casgrain, cited in Le Foyer Canadien, III. 26, where an extract is given from an order of Dumas to Baby, a Canadian officer. Orders of Contrecoeur and Ligneris to the same effect are also given. A similar order, signed by Dumas, was found in the pocket of Douville, an officer killed by the English on the Frontier. Writings of Washington, II. 137, note.]

[Footnote 334: Rec. Claude Godefroy Cocquard, S.J., à son Frère, Mars (?), 1757.]

Washington was now in command of the Virginia regiment, consisting of a thousand men, raised afterwards to fifteen hundred. With these he was to protect a frontier of three hundred and fifty miles against more numerous enemies, who could choose their time and place of attack. His headquarters were at Winchester. His men were an ungovernable crew, enlisted chiefly on the turbulent border, and resenting every kind of discipline as levelling them with negroes; while the sympathizing House of Burgesses hesitated for months to pass any law for enforcing obedience, lest it should trench on the liberties of free white men. The service was to the last degree unpopular. “If we talk of obliging men to serve their country,” wrote London Carter, “we are sure to hear a fellow mumble over the words ‘liberty’ and ‘property’ a thousand times.”[335] The people, too, were in mortal fear of a slave insurrection, and therefore dared not go far from home.[336] Meanwhile a panic reigned along the border. Captain Waggoner, passing a gap in the Blue Ridge, could hardly make his way for the crowd of fugitives. “Every day,” writes Washington, “we have accounts of such cruelties and barbarities as are shocking to human nature. It is not possible to conceive the situation and danger of this miserable country. Such numbers of French and Indians are all around that no road is safe.”

[Footnote 335: Extract in Writings of Washington, II. 145, note.]

[Footnote 336: Letters of Dinwiddie, 1755.]

These frontiers had always been at peace. No forts of refuge had thus far been built, and the scattered settlers had no choice but flight. Their first impulse was to put wife and children beyond reach of the tomahawk. As autumn advanced, the invading bands grew more and more audacious. Braddock had opened a road for them by which they could cross the mountains at their ease; and scouts from Fort Cumberland reported that this road was beaten by as many feet as when the English army passed last summer. Washington was beset with difficulties. Men and officers alike were unruly and mutinous. He was at once blamed for their disorders and refused the means of repressing them. Envious detractors published slanders against him. A petty Maryland captain, who had once had a commission from the King, refused to obey his orders, and stirred up factions among his officers. Dinwiddie gave him cold support. The temper of the old Scotchman, crabbed at the best, had been soured by disappointment, vexation, weariness, and ill-health. He had, besides, a friend and countryman, Colonel Innes, whom, had he dared, he would gladly have put in Washington’s place. He was full of zeal in the common cause, and wanted to direct the defence of the borders from his house at Williamsburg, two hundred miles distant. Washington never hesitated to obey; but he accompanied his obedience by a statement of his own convictions and his reasons for them, which, though couched in terms the most respectful, galled his irascible chief. The Governor acknowledged his merit; but bore him no love, and sometimes wrote to him in terms which must have tried his high temper to the utmost. Sometimes, though rarely, he gave words to his emotion.

“Your Honor,” he wrote in April, “may see to what unhappy straits the distressed inhabitants and myself are reduced. I see inevitable destruction in so clear a light, that unless vigorous measures are taken by the Assembly, and speedy assistance sent from below, the poor inhabitants that are now in forts must unavoidably fall, while the remainder are flying before the barbarous foe. In fine, the melancholy situation of the people; the little prospect of assistance; the gross and scandalous abuse cast upon the officers in general, which is reflecting upon me in particular for suffering misconduct of such extraordinary kinds; and the distant prospect, if any, of gaining honor and reputation in the service,—cause me to lament the hour that gave me a commission, and would induce me at any other time than this of imminent danger to resign, without one hesitating moment, a command from which I never expect to reap either honor or benefit, but, on the contrary, have almost an absolute certainty of incurring displeasure below, while the murder of helpless families may be laid to my account here.”

“The supplicating tears of the women and moving petitions of the men melt me into such deadly sorrow, that I solemnly declare, if I know my own mind, I could offer myself a willing sacrifice to the butchering enemy, provided that would contribute to the people’s ease.”[337]

[Footnote 337: Writings of Washington, II. 143.]

In the turmoil around him, patriotism and public duty seemed all to be centred in the breast of one heroic youth. He was respected and generally beloved, but he did not kindle enthusiasm. His were the qualities of an unflagging courage, an all-enduring fortitude, and a deep trust. He showed an astonishing maturing of character, and the kind of mastery over others which begins with mastery over self. At twenty-four he was the foremost man, and acknowledged as such, along the whole long line of the western border.

To feel the situation, the nature of these frontiers must be kept in mind. Along the skirts of the southern and middle colonies ran for six or seven hundred miles a loose, thin, dishevelled fringe of population, the half-barbarous pioneers of advancing civilization. Their rude dwellings were often miles apart. Buried in woods, the settler lived in an appalling loneliness. A low-browed cabin of logs, with moss stuffed in the chinks to keep out the wind, roof covered with sheets of bark, chimney of sticks and clay, and square holes closed by a shutter in place of windows; an unkempt matron, lean with hard work, and a brood of children with bare heads and tattered garments eked out by deer-skin,—such was the home of the pioneer in the remoter and wilder districts. The scene around bore witness to his labors. It was the repulsive transition from savagery to civilization, from the forest to the farm. The victims of his axe lay strewn about the dismal “clearing” in a chaos of prostrate trunks, tangled boughs, and withered leaves, waiting for the fire that was to be the next agent in the process of improvement; while around, voiceless and grim, stood the living forest, gazing on the desolation, and biding its own day of doom. The owner of the cabin was miles away, hunting in the woods for the wild turkey and venison which were the chief food of himself and his family till the soil could be tamed into the bearing of crops.

Towards night he returned; and as he issued from the forest shadows he saw a column of blue smoke rising quietly in the still evening air. He ran to the spot; and there, among the smouldering logs of his dwelling, lay, scalped and mangled, the dead bodies of wife and children. A war-party had passed that way. Breathless, palpitating, his brain on fire, he rushed through the thickening night to carry the alarm to his nearest neighbor, three miles distant.

Such was the character and the fate of many incipient settlements of the utmost border. Farther east, they had a different aspect. Here, small farms with well-built log-houses, cattle, crops of wheat and Indian corn, were strung at intervals along some woody valley of the lower Alleghanies: yesterday a scene of hardy toil; to-day swept with destruction from end to end. There was no warning; no time for concert, perhaps none for flight. Sudden as the leaping panther, a pack of human wolves burst out of the forest, did their work, and vanished.

If the country had been an open one, like the plains beyond the Mississippi, the situation would have been less frightful; but the forest was everywhere, rolled over hill and valley in billows of interminable green,—a leafy maze, a mystery of shade, a universal hiding-place, where murder might lurk unseen at its victim’s side, and Nature seemed formed to nurse the mind with wild and dark imaginings. The detail of blood is set down in the untutored words of those who saw and felt it. But there was a suffering that had no record,—the mortal fear of women and children in the solitude of their wilderness homes, haunted, waking and sleeping, with nightmares of horror that were but the forecast of an imminent reality. The country had in past years been so peaceful, and the Indians so friendly, that many of the settlers, especially on the Pennsylvanian border, had no arms, and were doubly in need of help from the Government. In Virginia they had it, such as it was. In Pennsylvania they had for months none whatever; and the Assembly turned a deaf ear to their cries.

Far to the east, sheltered from danger, lay staid and prosperous Philadelphia, the home of order and thrift. It took its stamp from the Quakers, its original and dominant population, set apart from the other colonists not only in character and creed, but in the outward symbols of a peculiar dress and a daily sacrifice of grammar on the altar of religion. The even tenor of their lives counteracted the effects of climate, and they are said to have been perceptibly more rotund in feature and person than their neighbors. Yet, broad and humanizing as was their faith, they were capable of extreme bitterness towards opponents, clung tenaciously to power, and were jealous for the ascendency of their sect, which had begun to show signs of wavering. On other sects they looked askance; and regarded the Presbyterians in particular with a dislike which in moments of crisis rose to detestation.[338] They held it sin to fight, and above all to fight against Indians.

[Footnote 338: See a crowd of party pamphlets, Quaker against Presbyterian, which appeared in Philadelphia in 1764, abusively acrimonious on both sides.]

Here was one cause of military paralysis. It was reinforced by another. The old standing quarrel between governor and assembly had grown more violent than ever; and this as a direct consequence of the public distress, which above all things demanded harmony. The dispute turned this time on a single issue,—that of the taxation of the proprietary estates. The estates in question consisted of vast tracts of wild land, yielding no income, and at present to a great extent worthless, being overrun by the enemy.[339] The Quaker Assembly had refused to protect them; and on one occasion had rejected an offer of the proprietaries to join them in paying the cost of their defence.[340] But though they would not defend the land, they insisted on taxing it; and farther insisted that the taxes upon it should be laid by the provincial assessors. By a law of the province, these assessors were chosen by popular vote; and in consenting to this law, the proprietaries had expressly provided that their estates should be exempted from all taxes to be laid by officials in whose appointment they had no voice.[341] Thomas and Richard Penn, the present proprietaries, had debarred their deputy, the Governor, both by the terms of his commission and by special instruction, from consenting to such taxation, and had laid him under heavy bonds to secure his obedience. Thus there was another side to the question than that of the Assembly; though our American writers have been slow to acknowledge it.

[Footnote 339: The productive estates of the proprietaries were taxed through the tenants.]

[Footnote 340: The proprietaries offered to contribute to the cost of building and maintaining a fort on the spot where the French soon after built Fort Duquesne. This plan, vigorously executed, would have saved the province from a deluge of miseries. One of the reasons assigned by the Assembly for rejecting it was that it would irritate the enemy. See supra, p. 63.]

[Footnote 341: A Brief View of the Conduct of Pennsylvania for the year 1755.]

Benjamin Franklin was leader in the Assembly and shared its views. The feudal proprietorship of the Penn family was odious to his democratic nature. It was, in truth, a pestilent anomaly, repugnant to the genius of the people; and the disposition and character of the present proprietaries did not tend to render it less vexatious. Yet there were considerations which might have tempered the impatient hatred with which the colonists regarded it. The first proprietary, William Penn, had used his feudal rights in the interest of a broad liberalism; and through them had established the popular institutions and universal tolerance which made Pennsylvania the most democratic province in America, and nursed the spirit of liberty which now revolted against his heirs. The one absorbing passion of Pennsylvania was resistance of their deputy, the Governor. The badge of feudalism, though light, was insufferably irritating; and the sons of William Penn were moreover detested by the Quakers as renegades from the faith of their father. Thus the immediate political conflict engrossed mind and heart; and in the rancor of their quarrel with the proprietaries, the Assembly forgot the French and Indians.

In Philadelphia and the eastern districts the Quakers could ply their trades, tend their shops, till their farms, and discourse at their ease on the wickedness of war. The midland counties, too, were for the most part tolerably safe. They were occupied mainly by crude German peasants, who nearly equalled in number all the rest of the population, and who, gathered at the centre of the province, formed a mass politically indigestible. Translated from servitude to the most ample liberty, they hated the thought of military service, which reminded them of former oppression, cared little whether they lived under France or England, and, thinking themselves out of danger, had no mind to be taxed for the defence of others. But while the great body of the Germans were sheltered from harm, those of them who lived farther westward were not so fortunate. Here, mixed with Scotch Irish Presbyterians and Celtic Irish Catholics, they formed a rough border population, the discordant elements of which could rarely unite for common action; yet, though confused and disjointed, they were a living rampart to the rest of the colony. Against them raged the furies of Indian war; and, maddened with distress and terror, they cried aloud for help.

Petition after petition came from the borders for arms and ammunition, and for a militia law to enable the people to organize and defend themselves. The Quakers resisted. “They have taken uncommon pains,” writes Governor Morris to Shirley, “to prevent the people from taking up arms.”[342] Braddock’s defeat, they declared, was a just judgment on him and his soldiers for molesting the French in their settlements on the Ohio.[343] A bill was passed by the Assembly for raising fifty thousand pounds for the King’s use by a tax which included the proprietary lands. The Governor, constrained by his instructions and his bonds, rejected it. “I can only say,” he told them, “that I will readily pass a bill for striking any sum in paper money the present exigency may require, provided funds are established for sinking the same in five years.” Messages long and acrimonious were exchanged between the parties. The Assembly, had they chosen, could easily have raised money enough by methods not involving the point in dispute; but they thought they saw in the crisis a means of forcing the Governor to yield. The Quakers had an alternative motive: if the Governor gave way, it was a political victory; if he stood fast, their non-resistance principles would triumph, and in this triumph their ascendency as a sect would be confirmed. The debate grew every day more bitter and unmannerly. The Governor could not yield; the Assembly would not. There was a complete deadlock. The Assembly requested the Governor “not to make himself the hateful instrument of reducing a free people to the abject state of vassalage.”[344] As the raising of money and the control of its expenditure was in their hands; as he could not prorogue or dissolve them, and as they could adjourn on their own motion to such time as pleased them; as they paid his support, and could withhold it if he offended them,—which they did in the present case,—it seemed no easy task for him to reduce them to vassalage. “What must we do,” pursued the Assembly, “to please this kind governor, who takes so much pains to render us obnoxious to our sovereign and odious to our fellow-subjects? If we only tell him that the difficulties he meets with are not owing to the causes he names,—which indeed have no existence,—but to his own want of skill and abilities for his station, he takes it extremely amiss, and say ‘we forget all decency to those in authority.’ We are apt to think there is likewise some decency due to the Assembly as a part of the government; and though we have not, like the Governor, had a courtly education, but are plain men, and must be very imperfect in our politeness, yet we think we have no chance of improving by his example.”[345] Again, in another Message, the Assembly, with a thrust at Morris himself, tell him that colonial governors have often been “transient persons, of broken fortunes, greedy of money, destitute of all concern for those they govern, often their enemies, and endeavoring not only to oppress, but to defame them.”[346] In such unseemly fashion was the battle waged. Morris, who was himself a provincial, showed more temper and dignity; though there was not too much on either side. “The Assembly,” he wrote to Shirley, “seem determined to take advantage of the country’s distress to get the whole power of government into their own hands.” And the Assembly proclaimed on their part that the Governor was taking advantage of the country’s distress to reduce the province to “Egyptian bondage.”

[Footnote 342: Morris to Shirley, 16 Aug. 1755.]

[Footnote 343: Morris to Sir Thomas Robinson, 28 Aug. 1755.]

[Footnote 344: Colonial Records of Pa., VI. 584.]

[Footnote 345: Message of the Assembly to the Governor, 29 Sept. 1755 (written by Franklin), in Colonial Records of Pa., VI. 631, 632.]

[Footnote 346: Writings of Franklin, III. 447. The Assembly at first suppressed this paper, but afterwards printed it.]

Petitions poured in from the miserable frontiersmen. “How long will those in power, by their quarrels, suffer us to be massacred?” demanded William Trent, the Indian trader. “Two and forty bodies have been buried on Patterson’s Creek; and since they have killed more, and keep on killing.”[347] Early in October news came that a hundred persons had been murdered near Fort Cumberland. Repeated tidings followed of murders on the Susquehanna; then it was announced that the war-parties had crossed that stream, and were at their work on the eastern side. Letter after letter came from the sufferers, bringing such complaints as this: “We are in as bad circumstances as ever any poor Christians were ever in; for the cries of widowers, widows, fatherless and motherless children, are enough to pierce the most hardest of hearts. Likewise it’s a very sorrowful spectacle to see those that escaped with their lives with not a mouthful to eat, or bed to lie on, or clothes to cover their nakedness, or keep them warm, but all they had consumed into ashes. These deplorable circumstances cry aloud for your Honor’s most wise consideration; for it is really very shocking for the husband to see the wife of his bosom her head cut off, and the children’s blood drunk like water, by these bloody and cruel savages.”[348]

[Footnote 347: Trent to James Burd, 4 Oct. 1755.]

[Footnote 348: Adam Hoops to Governor Morris, 3 Nov. 1755.]

Morris was greatly troubled. “The conduct of the Assembly,” he wrote to Shirley, “is to me shocking beyond parallel.” “The inhabitants are abandoning their plantations, and we are in a dreadful situation,” wrote John Harris from the east bank of the Susquehanna. On the next day he wrote again: “The Indians are cutting us off every day, and I had a certain account of about fifteen hundred Indians, besides French, being on their march against us and Virginia, and now close on our borders, their scouts scalping our families on our frontiers daily.” The report was soon confirmed; and accounts came that the settlements in the valley called the Great Cove had been completely destroyed. All this was laid before the Assembly. They declared the accounts exaggerated, but confessed that outrages had been committed; hinted that the fault was with the proprietaries; and asked the Governor to explain why the Delawares and Shawanoes had become unfriendly. “If they have suffered wrongs,” said the Quakers, “we are resolved to do all in our power to redress them, rather than entail upon ourselves and our posterity the calamities of a cruel Indian war.” The Indian records were searched, and several days spent in unsuccessful efforts to prove fraud in a late land-purchase.

Post after post still brought news of slaughter. The upper part of Cumberland County was laid waste. Edward Biddle wrote from Reading: “The drum is beating and bells ringing, and all the people under arms. This night we expect an attack. The people exclaim against the Quakers.” “We seem to be given up into the hands of a merciless enemy,” wrote John Elder from Paxton. And he declares that more than forty persons have been killed in that neighborhood, besides numbers carried off. Meanwhile the Governor and Assembly went on fencing with words and exchanging legal subtleties; while, with every cry of distress that rose from the west, each hoped that the other would yield.

On the eighth of November the Assembly laid before Morris for his concurrence a bill for emitting bills of credit to the amount of sixty thousand pounds, to be sunk in four years by a tax including the proprietary estates.[349] “I shall not,” he replied, “enter into a dispute whether the proprietaries ought to be taxed or not. It is sufficient for me that they have given me no power in that case; and I cannot think it consistent either with my duty or safety to exceed the powers of my commission, much less to do what that commission expressly prohibits.”[350] He stretched his authority, however, so far as to propose a sort of compromise by which the question should be referred to the King; but they refused it; and the quarrel and the murders went on as before. “We have taken,” said the Assembly, “every step in our power consistent with the just rights of the freemen of Pennsylvania, for the relief of the poor distressed inhabitants; and we have reason to believe that they themselves would not wish us to go farther. Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”[351] Then the borderers deserved neither; for, rather than be butchered, they would have let the proprietary lands lie untaxed for another year. “You have in all,” said the Governor, “proposed to me five money bills, three of them rejected because contrary to royal instructions; the other two on account of the unjust method proposed for taxing the proprietary estate. If you are disposed to relieve your country, you have many other ways of granting money to which I shall have no objection. I shall put one proof more both of your sincerity and mine in our professions of regard for the public, by offering to agree to any bill in the present exigency which it is consistent with my duty to pass; lest, before our present disputes can be brought to an issue, we should neither have a privilege to dispute about, nor a country to dispute in.”[352] They stood fast; and with an obstinacy for which the Quakers were chiefly answerable, insisted that they would give nothing, except by a bill taxing real estate, and including that of the proprietaries.

[Footnote 349: Colonial Records of Pa., VI. 682.]

[Footnote 350: Message of the Governor to the Assembly, 8 Nov. 1755, in Colonial Records of Pa., VI. 684.]

[Footnote 351: Message of the Assembly to the Governor, 11 Nov. Ibid. VI. 692. The words are Franklin’s.]

[Footnote 352: Message of the Governor to the Assembly, 22 Nov. 1755, in Colonial Records of Pa., VI. 714.]

But now the Assembly began to feel the ground shaking under their feet. A paper, called a “Representation,” signed by some of the chief citizens, was sent to the House, calling for measures of defence. “You will forgive us, gentlemen,” such was its language, “if we assume characters somewhat higher than that of humble suitors praying for the defence of our lives and properties as a matter of grace or favor on your side. You will permit us to make a positive and immediate demand of it.”[353] This drove the Quakers mad. Preachers, male and female, harangued in the streets, denouncing the iniquity of war. Three of the sect from England, two women and a man, invited their brethren of the Assembly to a private house, and fervently exhorted them to stand firm. Some of the principal Quakers joined in an address to the House, in which they declared that any action on its part “inconsistent with the peaceable testimony we profess and have borne to the world appears to us in its consequences to be destructive of our religious liberties.”[354] And they protested that they would rather “suffer” than pay taxes for such ends. Consistency, even in folly, has in it something respectable; but the Quakers were not consistent. A few years after, when heated with party-passion and excited by reports of an irruption of incensed Presbyterian borderers, some of the pacific sectaries armed for battle; and the streets of Philadelphia beheld the curious conjunction of musket and broad-brimmed hat.[355]

[Footnote 353: Pennsylvania Archives, II. 485.]

[Footnote 354: Ibid., II. 487.]

[Footnote 355: See Conspiracy of Pontiac, Chaps. 24 and 25.]

The mayor, aldermen, and common council next addressed the Assembly, adjuring them, “in the most solemn manner, before God and in the name of all our fellow-citizens,” to provide for defending the lives and property of the people.[356] A deputation from a band of Indians on the Susquehanna, still friendly to the province, came to ask whether the English meant to fight or not; for, said their speaker, “if they will not stand by us, we will join the French.” News came that the settlement of Tulpehocken, only sixty miles distant, had been destroyed; and then that the Moravian settlement of Gnadenhütten was burned, and nearly all its inmates massacred. Colonel William Moore wrote to the Governor that two thousand men were coming from Chester County to compel him and the Assembly to defend the province; and Conrad Weiser wrote that more were coming from Berks on the same errand. Old friends of the Assembly began to cry out against them. Even the Germans, hitherto their fast allies, were roused from their attitude of passivity, and four hundred of them came in procession to demand measures of war. A band of frontiersmen presently arrived, bringing in a wagon the bodies of friends and relatives lately murdered, displaying them at the doors of the Assembly, cursing the Quakers, and threatening vengeance.[357]

[Footnote 356: A Remonstrance, etc., in Colonial Records of Pa., VI. 734.]

[Footnote 357: Mante, 47; Entick, I. 377.]

Finding some concession necessary, the House at length passed a militia law,—probably the most futile ever enacted. It specially exempted the Quakers, and constrained nobody; but declared it lawful, for such as chose, to form themselves into companies and elect officers by ballot. The company officers thus elected might, if they saw fit, elect, also by ballot, colonels, lieutenant-colonels, and majors. These last might then, in conjunction with the Governor, frame articles of war; to which, however, no officer or man was to be subjected unless, after three days’ consideration, he subscribed them in presence of a justice of the peace, and declared his willingness to be bound by them.[358]

[Footnote 358: This remarkable bill, drawn by Franklin, was meant for political rather than military effect. It was thought that Morris would refuse to pass it, and could therefore be accused of preventing the province from defending itself; but he avoided the snare by signing it.]

This mockery could not appease the people; the Assembly must raise money for men, arms, forts, and all the detested appliances of war. Defeat absolute and ignominious seemed hanging over the House, when an incident occurred which gave them a decent pretext for retreat. The Governor informed them that he had just received a letter from the proprietaries, giving to the province five thousand pounds sterling to aid in its defence, on condition that the money should be accepted as a free gift, and not as their proportion of any tax that was or might be laid by the Assembly. They had not learned the deplorable state of the country, and had sent the money in view of the defeat of Braddock and its probable consequences. The Assembly hereupon yielded, struck out from the bill before them the clause taxing the proprietary estates, and, thus amended, presented it to the Governor, who by his signature made it a law.[359]

[Footnote 359: Minutes of Council, 27 Nov. 1755.]

The House had failed to carry its point. The result disappointed Franklin, and doubly disappointed the Quakers. His maxim was: Beat the Governor first, and then beat the enemy; theirs: Beat the Governor, and let the enemy alone. The measures that followed, directed in part by Franklin himself, held the Indians in check, and mitigated the distress of the western counties; yet there was no safety for them throughout the two or three years when France was cheering on her hell-hounds against this tormented frontier.

As in Pennsylvania, so in most of the other colonies there was conflict between assemblies and governors, to the unspeakable detriment of the public service. In New York, though here no obnoxious proprietary stood between the people and the Crown, the strife was long and severe. The point at issue was an important one,—whether the Assembly should continue their practice of granting yearly supplies to the Governor, or should establish a permanent fund for the ordinary expenses of government,—thus placing him beyond their control. The result was a victory for the Assembly.

Month after month the great continent lay wrapped in snow. Far along the edge of the western wilderness men kept watch and ward in lonely blockhouses, or scoured the forest on the track of prowling war-parties. The provincials in garrison at forts Edward, William Henry, and Oswego dragged out the dreary winter; while bands of New England rangers, muffled against the piercing cold, caps of fur on their heads, hatchets in their belts, and guns in the mittened hands, glided on skates along the gleaming ice-floor of Lake George, to spy out the secrets of Ticonderoga, or seize some careless sentry to tell them tidings of the foe. Thus the petty war went on; but the big war was frozen into torpor, ready, like a hibernating bear, to wake again with the birds, the bees, and the flowers.[360]

[Footnote 360: On Pennsylvanian disputes,—A Brief State of the Province of Pennsylvania (London, 1755). A Brief View of the Conduct of Pennsylvania (London, 1756). These are pamphlets on the Governor’s side, by William Smith, D.D., Provost of the College of Pennsylvania. An Answer to an invidious Pamphlet, intituled a Brief State, etc. (London, 1755). Anonymous. A True and Impartial State of the Province of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1759). Anonymous. The last two works attack the first two with great vehemence. The True and Impartial State is an able presentation of the case of the Assembly, omitting, however, essential facts. But the most elaborate work on the subject is the Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania, inspired and partly written by Franklin. It is hotly partisan, and sometimes sophistical and unfair. Articles on the quarrel will also be found in the provincial newspapers, especially the New York Mercury, and in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1755 and 1756. But it is impossible to get any clear and just view of it without wading through the interminable documents concerning it in the Colonial Records of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Archives.]


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Chicago: Francis Parkman, "Chapter 10," Montcalm and Wolfe Original Sources, accessed April 21, 2024,

MLA: Parkman, Francis. "Chapter 10." Montcalm and Wolfe, Vol. 6, Original Sources. 21 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Parkman, F 1884, 'Chapter 10' in Montcalm and Wolfe. Original Sources, retrieved 21 April 2024, from