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Duquesne and Acadia

The colonial wars treated in the preceding chapter did not originate in America; they were but reflections or echoes of far greater wars in Europe. But the French and Indian War had its origin on this side of the water, and was caused by boundary disputes between two great European powers concerning their possessions in North America. And yet this was closely connected with the tremendous war that raged simultaneously in Europe, known as the Seven Years' War, in which Frederick the Great of Prussia contended, at first single-handed, and later in alliance with the British, against the powerful French and Austrian monarchies. The formal declaration of war between France and England was not made till May, 1756; but hostilities broke out in America two years before this, and the year 1755 is marked by two of the most memorable events of the war. These were the ill-starred expedition of Braddock against Fort Duquesne and the drastic dealing with Acadia by the English.

One Sunday, late in February, 1755, a British general of stately bearing and in bright uniform came to the home of Governor Dinwiddie at Williamsburg, Virginia. The governor wrote to a friend: "He is, I think, a very fine officer, and a sensible, considerate gentleman. He and I live in great harmony." The gentleman was General Braddock, and he was accompanied by his secretary, William Shirley, son of the famous governor of Massachusetts. Braddock had come to be commander in chief of the English and American forces against the rising enemy on the north and west. The ministry had decided on three expeditions -- against Niagara, Crown Point, and Fort Duquesne, respectively; and to the last of these Braddock was now to address himself. Three months after reaching Williamsburg we find him at the Ohio Company's old trading station, now Cumberland, Maryland, with a motley army of some thirteen hundred men, partly British regulars, partly provincial troops, and with a sprinkling of Indians. After much delay and trouble in collecting wagons, food, and forage, whioh caused the commanding general, as well as his quartermaster, to "storm like a rampant lion," the army was ready to begin its march across the mountains to attack Fort Duquesne.

Fort Duquesne was a French post situated at the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, the spot now occupied by the great iron city of Pittsburg, with its teeming life and its hurrying thousands. When Washington made his famous trip to Saint-Pierre, two years before, he took notice of this spot, and reported to his governor that an English fort should be planted there. A few months later a body of men were sent to carry out Washington's suggestion; but ere they had finished their task, several hundred French and Indians floated down the Allegheny and drove them away, and erected Fort Duquesne. To capture this fort Braddock would now lead his army, and he seemed never to dream of failure. Braddock was haughty and self-willed, but he was brave and not without ability. He refused to be advised by those who knew more of the foe and the country than himself. He looked with contempt on the Virginia troops, and made them feel their littleness in his eyes at all times; nevertheless one of them, George Washington, was a member of his staff.

Three hundred axmen were sent before to cut a road, and the army began to move from Cumberland early in June. The march was long and toilsome, but the spring was in full bloom and there was much to attract the lover of nature's beauty. Over the hills and ridges, streams and deep gullies, up the steep Braddock's mountain slopes, the brave, hilarious soldiers marched through the great primeval forest, and the woods rang with their shouts and music. The road was cut but twelve feet wide, and the army, four miles in length, seemed like a gigantic centipede trailing its weary way through the wilderness.1 On the 9th of July, when they had come within eight miles of Duquesne, at a point near where Turtle Creek flows into the Monongahela, surrounded by the dense forest and under the shadow of a line of hills, they suddenly met the enemy whom they sought. Braddock was surprised, but not ambuscaded, as is commonly stated. The enemy were about nine hundred strong; two thirds of them were Indians, the rest French and Canadians. They were led by Captain Beaujeu, who, seeing the English advance column, turned to the motley hordes behind him, waved his hat, and gave the signal. Instantly there was a terrible war whoop and the French and Indian forces spread into two parts to the right and left, hid behind trees, and opened a murderous fire. The English column wheeled into line and returned the fire with the utmost courage and steadiness. The enemy were scarcely visible from the beginning; they had adopted the true Indian mode of fighting. The first moments gave promise of English success. The French commander, Beaujeu, was killed at the beginning of the encounter, and most of the French and Canadians wavered and fled. But not so with the Indians. They quickly saw their opportunity -- hiding places in plenty, with an enemy before them that did not know or would not adopt their mode of warfare. They swarmed on both flanks of the English in great numbers, firing as rapidly as they could load from behind trees, bushes, and fallen timber.

The English fired volley after volley, though they could see no enemy -- only numberless puffs of smoke from which the bullets whizzed into their ranks like hail. At length they huddled together in disorder and confusion. Braddock heard the firing and came with all speed with the main army; but he knew nothing of Indian warfare, and he was too proud to learn. He galloped forward and back among the men, striving with threats and oaths to form them into battle lines, refusing to adopt Indian methods, and striking down with his sword men who hid behind trees. The Virginia troops knew how to fight Indians, and they might have won the day had they been allowed to use Indian methods, as they attempted to do; but the haughty general refused to permit it, and they, like the regulars, stood and quivered like frightened quail as they were mowed down by the invisible enemy. The scene was one of horror beyond description. The ground was covered with dead and wounded, and these were trampled in the mad rush of men and horses, while the yells of the savage hordes in the distance, heard above the din of battle, added to the general pandemonium. Braddock dashed to and fro like a madman, and at last, when his army had stood this frightful slaughter for three hours and more than two thirds of it was cut down, he ordered a retreat.

The battle was almost over. Four horses had been shot under Braddock, and he mounted a fifth, when a bullet was buried in his lungs, and he pitched from his horse and lay quivering and speechless on the ground. The ruined army was soon in full retreat, but only a third was left alive and unhurt. Of eighty-six officers sixty-three were killed or disabled. The escape of Washington seemed miraculous; two horses were killed under him and four bullets pierced his clothing. Young Shirley, Braddock's secretary, fell dead with a bullet in his brain. The loss of the French and Canadians was slight, but a considerable number of the Indians were killed.

The fallen general was carried on a litter back over the rough- hewn road that had brought him to the field of death. His wound was mortal. He was at times silent for many hours, then he would say, "Who would have thought it? Who would have thought it?" It is said that during his last hours he could not bear the sight of the British regulars, but murmured praises for the Virginia tioops and hoped he would live to reward them.2 Four days after the battle be died, near the Great Meadows where Washington had fought Jumonville the year before. His body was buried in the middle of the road, as he had requested, and, lest the spot be discovered by the Indians, the whole army -- men, horses, and wagons -- passed over his grave.

Acadia had been settled by the French before the founding of Jamestown; but it was soon in the possession of the English, and again of the French, and so it passed back and forth like a shuttle between the two nations till the Treaty of Utrecht, when it became a permanent English possession. But its inhabitants were French, and, led by their priests and encouraged by the home government, they retained the language and customs of France, refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the British king. Furthermore, they fostered a spirit of hostility to the British governinent, and it was feared that an outbreak against the newly founded English settlement at Halifax might occur at any time. Governor Duquesne wrote in October, 1754, to one of his subordinates, urging that a plausible pretext for attacking the English be devised. At the same time the English, led by Governor Shirley, were planning the most drastic measures -- no less than the removal by force of the entire French population from Acadia. Plans were ripened during the following winter, and in the early spring the expedition set forth from Boston under Colonel Monckton, with John Winslow, great-grandson of a Mayflower Pilgrim, second in command. On the first of June they sailed into the Bay of Fundy and anchored within a few miles of Beau Sejour, the only military post on the peninsula still in possession of French troops. After a short resistance the fort surrendered to the English, who, some months later, began to carry into effect their cruel decision to deport the Acadians. They had ample authority, for the Lords of Trade in London had written that the Acadians had no right to their lands, if they persisted in refusing to take the oath.

The Acadians, some seventeen thousand in number, were a simple, frugal, industrious, and very ignorant people, who lived apart from all the rest of the world. They raised their herds and cultivated their little farms in contentment, and made their clothes from wool and flax of their own raising. They often had quarrels and litigations among themselves, but in the main they were happy and contented. The British government up to this time had been fairly lenient with them; it had granted them the free exercise of their religion and had exempted them from military service. Nevertheless, the Acadians, led by their superiors, had fostered an unfriendly, almost a hostile, spirit against their government during the more than forty years of British rule.

After the surrender of Beau Sejour, the English thought it a favorable moment for exacting the oath of allegiance which had so long been refused. But it was again refused, and the painful business of deporting the Acadians began early in the autumn. The scenes at Grand Pré, made famous by Longfellow's Evangeline," furnish a fair sample of the whole. This section was under the charge of Winslow, and he wrote that the duty before him was the most disagreeable of his life. Grand Pré was a quiet rural village, surrounded by broad meadows, their green slopes dotted with farmhouses. It was now late in August, and the waving fields of grain betokened the industry and thrift of the simple inhabitants. Winslow, with a body of troops, was encamped at the village, and he issued an order for the men of the community to assemble at the church on a certain day to hear a decree of the king; and the glittering bayonets of the soldiers warned them in unmistakable language of their peril if they refused. The men, clad in homespun and whollv unarmed, assembled in the church to the number of four hundred and eighteen, and heard the fatal decree that their houses and lands and cattle were forfeited to the Crown, and that they, with their families and household goods, were to be removed from the province. The men were thunderstruck at the announcement; however, as Winslow says, many of them did not then believe that the decree would be carried out. But it was carried out with merciless severity, and within a few weeks hundreds of them were launched upon the sea for unknown shores, while the lowing of the herds and the howling of the dogs could alone be heard from the desolate farms that had so lately been the scene of life and peace and plenty. Other similar scenes occurred in various parts of Acadia; but the majority of the people escaped to the forests and could not be captured. More than six thousand in all were deported, families usually being kept together. They were scattered among the English colonies from New Haven to Georgia. Many of them afterward returned to Canada, some to their old homes in Acadia; and a large number of them made their way to the west bank of the Mississippi, in Louisiana, where their descendants are still to be found.

It is difficult to pronounce judgment on this merciless dealing of the English with these simple, untutored people of Acadia. History has generally pronounced the deed a harsh and needless one, that has left an indelible stain upon its perpetrators. Assuming that the English had a perfect right to the province, they employed, after forty years of forbearance, perhaps the only means, aside from extermination, by which thev could secure their ends and crush opposition to their government. Assuming, however, that might does not make right, the English should not have owned Acadia at all. They held it only by the doubtful right of conquest. The land had been settled and was occupied by the French, and, if there is a standard of human rights above the rulings of kings and governments and the results of unholy wars, these people should have been permitted to choose their own sovereign. Viewing the matter in this light (as the Acadians doubtless did), we must pronounce these simple people the victims of a dastardly outrage, and they must ever elicit the sympathy of mankind.

At the time when the English planned the two campaigns against Fort Duquesne and Acadia, they also decided on two other expeditions -- against Niagara and Crown Point. The movement against Niagara was to be led by Governor Shirley, but it came to nothing; that against Crown Point was led by General William Johnson. He had nearly four thousand troops, mostly from New England, and with this army he met Dieshau, a brave and able French commander, with a somewhat smaller army. Several hundred on each side were Indians. The battle occurred near Lake George, and Dieskau was defeated and mortally wounded. The honor of this, the only English victory of the year, belonged rightly to General Lyman of Connecticut. Johnson, however, assumed the honor; and through his friends at court he was rewarded with knighthood from the Crown and a bonus of £5000.

The following year, 1756, witnessed but few changes in the war situation. Both nations formally declared war in the spring. Lord London was made the chief commander of the British forces, with General Abercrombie as second in command. The Marquis de Montcalm became the commander of the French. The English planned great things and accomplished almost nothing, while Montcalm captured Oswego, with fourteen hundred prisoners and large stores of ammunition. The only English success, aside from building a fort on the Tennessee River to guard against Indians in that part of the country who were in sympathy with the French, was the destruction of Kittanning. This was an Indian village on the Allegheny River, forty-five miles above Fort Duquesne, and was the base of many Indian raids on the Pennsylvania frontier. Early in September, Colonel John Armstrong, with three hundred men, surprised the town one morning at daybreak. A desperate battle ensued; the Indians were defeated and their town was utterly destroyed, and for several years thereafter the settlers of western Pennsylvania had rest from Indian massacres. The year 1757 was even more humiliating to British arms than the preceding year had been. Lord Loudon planned the destruction of Louisburg, the powerful French fortress on Cape Breton Island that had surrendered twelve years before to the New England farmers and fishermen. London embarked in June from New York with a large fleet, and was joined at Halifax by Admiral Holborne with another. With nearly twelve thousand men they now made ready to attack the powerful stronghold. But London was wanting in skill as a commander, as well as in the mettle of a true soldier. Hearing that Louisburg was guarded by a French fleet, and that the garrison had been increased to seven thousand men, he abandoned the enterprise and returned to New York.

While the English cause languished for want of a leader, the French had found one of great vigor and ability in the person of Montcalm. This intrepid warrior, hearing that London had drawn heavily on the militia of New York, and had left the northern frontier of that colony but half protected, determined to strike a telling blow for his country by attacking Fort William Henry at the head of Lake George. This fort was formed of embankments of gravel, surmounted by a rampart of heavy timbers, and mounted seventeen cannon. Colonel Monro, a brave Scotch veteran, was in command, and the garrison numbered twenty-two hundred men. It was rumored in early July that the French under Montcalm were contemplating an attack; but Monro felt fairly secure, owing to the strength of his fort, the bravery of his men, and the fact that General Webb with sixteen hundred additional troops lay at Fort Edward, but fourteen miles away.

The rumor proved true. Stealthily through the midsummer forest, along the shore of the silvery lake, over the streams, and among the hills, crept the army of Montcalm. It was seven and a half thousand strong -- sixteen hundred were Indians. On the 3d of August the wild war whoop and the rattle of musketry from among the timbers told the garrison that the siege was begun. The spot was fast becoming historic; here Dieskan had received his death-wound and here Sir William Johnson had won his knighthood. But this third encounter between the same peoples in this lonely forest seemed to promise victory to the French. Monro saw his danger, but he refused the French demand to surrender. He sent messengers daily to General Webb, begging for reenforcements. Webb was within hearing of the cannonade, and held more than a thousand men in idleness; but he refused to raise a finger for the rescue of the fort. He sent a letter to Monro, advising him to surrender. The bearer fell,into the hands of the Indians, and the letter fell into the hands of Montcalm, who sent it to Monro, renewing his demand for the surrender of the fort. For several days longer the roar of the cannon echoed from the neighboring mountains, when the white flag was raised over the fast-crumbling walls. The English were to march out with the honors of war, to be escorted by French troops to Fort Edward, and not to serve again for eighteen months.

And now was enacted one of those bloody deeds characteristic of early America -- a deed of which only savage man is capable. The French commander used every effort to restrain his Indian allies, but a taste of blood had awakened their savage nature and turned them to demons; the practice of generations was too strong to be overcome by the restraints of civilized warfare. They rushed into the fort and tomahawked the sick and wounded, the women and children. But this did not appease their thirst for blood. They even attacked the column of marching soldiers. Montcalm ran among them with wild gestures, striving with threats and entreaties to restrain them. "Kill me," he cried, "kill me, but spare the English who are under my protection." But the savage hordes were not restrained until they had slain eighty of the New Hampshire men in the rear of the column.


1See Parkman's "Montcalm and Wolfe," Vol. I, Chap. VII. [return]

2Parkman's, "Montcalm and Wolfe," Vol. I, p.226. [return]

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.

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