History of Warren County, Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

FRENCH DOMINION 

A Slight Ascendency - De Nonville Attacks the Senecas - Origin of Fort Niagara - Count Frontenac in the Field - Treaty of Ryswick - Queen Anne’s War - The Iroquois Neutral - The Tuscaroras - Joncaire - Fort Niagara Rebuilt - French Power Increasing - Conflicting Claims - Secret Instructions - De Céleron Takes Possession of the Allegheny Valley - Buries a Lead Plate at Mouth of the Conewango - The Six Nations Alarmed - French Establish a Line of Forts - The Ohio Company - Virginia’s Claim - Washington as an Envoy - French Build Fort Du Quesne - Washington and his Virginians Captured - Braddock’s Disastrous Campaign - The Final Struggle - French Defeated all Along the Line - Their Surrender of Power in the New World.

For many years after the adventures of La Salle, the French maintained a general but not very substantial ascendency in the lake region. Their voyageurs traded, their missionaries labored, and their soldiers sometimes made incursions, but they had no permanent fortress beyond or west of Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Canada), and they were constantly in danger from their enemies the Iroquois. Yet the French sovereigns and ministers considered the whole lake region, besides the territory drained by the Allegheny, the Ohio, and the Mississippi, as being unquestionably a part of "New France." Their maps so described it, and they looked forward with entire assurance to the time when French troops and French colonists should hold undisputed possession of all that vast domain.

In 1687 the Marquis de Nonville, governor of New France, arrived at Irondequoit Bay, a few miles east of the site of the city of Rochester, N.Y., with nearly two thousand French soldiers and some five hundred Indians, and marched at once against the Seneca villages, situated, as has been stated, in the vicinity of Victor and Avon, N.Y., or from ten to twenty miles south of Rochester’s site. The Senecas attacked him on his way and were defeated, as well they might be, considering that the largest estimate gives them but eight hundred warriors, the rest of the confederates not having arrived.

The Senecas hastened back to their villages, burned them, and with their women and children fled to the Cayugas. De Nonville destroyed their stores of corn, etc., and retired, after going through the ceremony of taking possession of the country. The supplies thus destroyed were immediately replenished by the other confederates, and the French accomplished little except still further to enrage the Iroquois. The Senecas, however, determined to seek a home less accessible from the waters of Lake Ontario, and accordingly located their principal village at the foot of Seneca Lake, and others on the Genesee River above Avon.

The French commander, after defeating the Senecas, sailed to the mouth of the Niagara River, where he erected a small fort on the east side. This was the origin of Fort Niagara, one of the most celebrated strongholds in America, which, though for a time abandoned, was afterwards during more than half a century considered the key of the whole upper lake country, and the vast domain stretching southward to the head waters of the Ohio. From the new fortress De Nonville sent the Baron La Hontan with a small detachment of French to escort the Indian allies to their northwestern homes. They made the necessary portage around the falls, rowed up the Niagara to Lake Erie, and thence coasted along the northern shore of the lake in their canoes All along the river they were closely watched by the enraged Iroquois, but were too strong and too vigilant to be attacked. Ere long the governor returned to Montreal, leaving a small garrison at Fort Niagara. These suffered so severely from sickness that the fort was soon abandoned, and it does not appear to have been again occupied for nearly forty years.

In fact, at this period the fortunes of France in North America were brought very low. The Iroquois ravaged a part of the island of Montreal, compelled the abandonment of Forts Frontenac and Niagara, and alone proved almost sufficient to overthrow the French dominion in Canada.

The English revolution of 1688, by which James II was driven from the throne, chiefly on account of his friendship for William Penn and his liberal views regarding all religious sects, was speedily followed by open war with France. In 1689 the Count de Frontenac, the same energetic old peer who had encouraged La Salle in his brilliant discoveries, and whose name was for a while borne by Lake Ontario, was sent out as governor of New France. This vigorous but cruel leader partially retrieved the desperate condition of the French. He, too, by way of retaliation, invaded the Iroquois country, but accomplished no more than De Nonville. This war continued with varying fortunes until 1697, the Five Nations being all that while the friends of the English, and most of the time engaged in active hostilities against the French. Their authority over the whole west bank of the Niagara and far up the south side of Lake Erie was unbroken, save when a detachment of French troops was actually marching along the shore.

At the treaty of Ryswick in 1697, while the ownership of certain lands in America was definitely conceded to France and England respectively, those formerly occupied by the exterminated tribes - the Eries and Kahquahs - were left undecided. The English claimed sovereignty over all the lands of the Five Nations, the French with equal energy asserted the authority of King Louis over territory discovered by their explorers, while the Iroquois themselves, whenever they heard of the controversy, repudiated alike the pretensions of Yonnondio and Corlear, as they denominated the governors respectively of Canada and New York.

So far as Warren county was concerned, they could base their claim on the good old plea that they had killed or driven away all its previous occupants; and as neither the English nor the French had succeeded in killing the Iroquois, the title of the latter still held good.

However, scarcely had the echoes of battle died away after the treaty of Ryswick, when, in 1702, the rival nations plunged into the long, desolating conflict known as "Queen Anne’s War." But by this time the Iroquois had grown wiser, and prudently maintained their neutrality, thus commanding the respect of both French and English. The former were wary of again provoking the powerful confederates, and the governments of the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania were very willing that the Five Nations should remain neutral, as they thus furnished a shield against French and Canadian Indian attacks along their frontiers.

Meanwhile, through all the western country the French extended their influence. Detroit was founded in 1701, and other posts were established far and wide. Notwithstanding their alliance with the Hurons and other foes of the Iroquois, and notwithstanding the enmity aroused by the invasions of Champlain, De Nonville, and Frontenac, such was the subtle skill of the French that they rapidly acquired a strong influence among the western tribes of the confederacy, especially with the Senecas. Even the powerful socio-political system of the Hedonosaunee weakened under the influence of European intrigue, and while the eastern Iroquois, though preserving their neutrality, were friendly to the English, the Senecas, and perhaps the Cayugas, were almost ready to take up arms for the French.

Another important event in the history of the Hedonosaunee occurred about the year 1712, when the Five Nations became the Six Nations. The Tuscaroras, a powerful tribe of North Carolina, had become involved in a war with the whites, originating, as usual, in a dispute about land. The colonists being aided by several other tribes, the Tuscaroras were soon defeated, many of them were killed, and many others were captured and sold as slaves. The greater part of the remainder fled northward to the Iroquois, who immediately adopted them as one of the tribes of the confederacy, assigning them a location near the Oneidas. The readiness of those haughty warriors to extend the valuable shelter of the Long House over a band of fleeing exiles is probably due to the fact that the latter had been the allies of the Iroquois against other southern Indians, which would also account for the eagerness of the latter to join the whites in the overthrow of the Tuscaroras.

Not long after this one Chabert Joncaire, otherwise known as Jean Cceur, a Frenchman who had been captured in youth by the Senecas, who had been adopted into their tribe, and had married a Seneca wife, but who had been released at the treaty of peace, was employed by the French authorities to promote their influence among the Iroquois. Pleading his claims as an adopted child of the nations, he was allowed by the Seneca chiefs to build a cabin and establish a trading-post on the site of Lewiston, on the Niagara, which soon became a center of French influence and activity.

All the efforts of the English were impotent either to dislodge him or to obtain a similar privilege for any of their own people. "He is one of our children; he may build where he will," was the sole reply vouchsafed to every complaint. "Among the public officers of the French," says Bancroft, "who gained influence over the red men by adapting themselves with happy facility to life in the wilderness, was the Indian agent Joncaire. For twenty years he had been successfully negotiating with the Senecas. He had become by adoption one of their own citizens and sons, and to the culture of the Frenchman added the fluent eloquence of an Iroquois warrior." Though Fort Niagara was for the time abandoned, and no regular fort was built at Lewiston, yet Joncaire’s trading-post embraced a considerable group of cabins, and at least a part of the time a detachment of French soldiers was stationed there. Joncaire and his trappers and voyageurs frequently visited Chautauqua Lake, the Conewango River, and the Allegheny, and. thus the French maintained at least a slight ascendency over the territory which is the subject of this history.

About 1725 they began rebuilding Fort Niagara on the site where De Nonville had erected his fortress. They did so without opposition; Joncaire’s influence was now potent among the Senecas; besides, the fact of the French being such poor colonizers worked to their advantage in establishing a certain kind of influence and confidence among the Indians. Few of them being desirous of engaging in agriculture, they made little effort to obtain land, while the English were constantly arousing the jealousy of the natives by obtaining enormous grants from some of the chiefs, often, doubtless, by very dubious methods. Moreover, the French have always possessed a peculiar facility for assimilating with savage and half-civilized races, and thus gaining an influence over them.

Whatever the cause, the power of the French constantly increased among the Senecas. Fort Niagara became a noted stronghold, and Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania were almost wholly given over to their dominion. They established small trading-posts along the streams and did a large trade with the Indians by exchanging beads, brooches, guns, ammunition, and tomahawks for furs, which were shipped to Europe and sold at an immense profit. However, although their possession was as yet undisturbed, it must not be inferred that it was quietly acquiesced in by the English. The latter viewed the projects of the French with mingled jealousy and alarm, sent out numerous agents*, and succeeded in some quarters in estranging the Indians from their rivals, but not to any extended degree. The influence of Joncaire, aided by that of his sons Chabert and Clauzonne Joncaire, in the interests of the French, was maintained and increased all through the second quarter of the eighteenth century.

In the war between England and France, begun in 1744 and closed by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, the Six Nations generally maintained their neutrality, though the Mohawks gave some aid to the English. During the eight years of nominal peace which succeeded that treaty, both the French and English made numerous efforts to extend their dominion beyond their frontier settlements, the former with most success. To Niagara and Detroit they added other posts, and finally determined to establish a line of forts from the lakes to the Ohio, and thence down that river to the Mississippi.

The French claimed that their discovery of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi entitled them to the ownership of the territory bordering upon those streams and their tributaries. The English claim was based upon a grant by King James I, in 1606, to "divers of his subjects, of all the countries between north latitude 48° and 340, and westward from the Atlantic Ocean to the South Sea," and also upon purchases of western lands made from the Six Nations by commissioners from the provinces of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, representing the mother country. Hence, although the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was supposed to have settled all difficulties between the courts of England and France, it appears that it did not settle anything in the New World, nor had either party relinquished its claims. Therefore, when it was ascertained that the French were actively pushing forward their enterprises with a view of permanently occupying the great territory beyond the Alleghenies, the British ambassador at Paris entered complaint before the French court that encroachments were being made by the French upon English soil in America. These charges were politely heard, and promises made of restraining the French in Canada from encroaching upon English territory. Formal orders were sent out by the home government to this effect; but at the same time secret intimations were conveyed to the French Canadians that their conduct in endeavoring to secure and hold the territory in dispute was not displeasing to the government, and that disobedience of these orders would not incur its displeasure.

In the execution of these secret instructions the French deemed it necessary, in order to establish a legal claim to the country, to take formal possession of it. Accordingly the Marquis de la Galissonnière, who was at this time captain-general of Canada, dispatched Captain Bienville de Céleron with a party of two hundred and fifteen French and fifty-five Indians, to publicly proclaim possession, and bury at prominent points plates of lead bearing inscriptions declaring occupation in the name of the French king. Céleron started on the 15th of June, 1749, from La Chine. He followed the southern shores of Lakes Ontario and Erie until he reached a point opposite Lake Chautauqua, where the boats were drawn up and taken bodily over the dividing ridge, a distance of ten miles, with all the impedimenta of the expedition, the pioneers having first opened a road. Following on down the lake and the Conewango Creek, they arrived on the site of the present town of Warren. Here the first plate was buried. These plates were eleven inches long, seven and a half inches wide, and one-eighth of an inch thick. A translated account of De Céleron’s procedure at this point reads as follows:

"In the year one thousand seven hundred and forty-nine, We, Celeron, Knight of the Royal and Military Order of St. Louis, captain commanding a detachment sent by order of the Marquis de la Galissonniêre, Captain General in Canada, and the Beautiful River, otherwise called the Ohio, accompanied by the principal officers of our detachment, have buried at the foot of a red oak tree, on the south bank of the River Ohio,** and opposite the point of a little island where the two rivers, Ohio and Kanaougou*** unite, a leaden plate, with the following inscription engraved thereon:

     "In the year one thousand seven hundred and forty-nine, in the reign of Louis XV, King of France.

     "We, Celeron, commanding officer of a detachment sent by the Marquis de la Galissonnière, Captain General of New France, to re-establish peace in some Indian villages of these Cantons, have buried this plate at the confluence of the Rivers Ohio and Kanaougou this 29th day of July, as a monument of the renewal of the possession which we have taken of the said River Ohio, and of all the lands on both sides, up to the source of the said rivers, as the preceding Kings of France have enjoyed or ought to enjoy the same, and have maintained themselves there by arms and treaties, and especially by those of Ryswick, Utrecht, and Aix-la-Chappelle. We have, moreover, affixed the King’s arms at the same place to a tree. In testimony whereof, we have signed and drawn up this procès verbal.

     "Done at the mouth of the Beautiful river,(4*) this twenty-ninth day of July, one thousand seven hundred and forty-nine.

     "Signed by all the officers.

                                                      "CELERON."

The burying of this plate was attended with much form and ceremony. All the men and officers of the expedition were drawn up in battle array, while the savages assembled looked on in open

-mouthed awe and wonder, when Celeron proclaimed, in a loud voice, "Vive le Roi," and declared that possession of the country was now taken in the name of the king. A plate bearing the arms of France was then affixed to the nearest tree.

The same formality was observed in planting each of the other plates: the second at the rock known as the "Indian God" - on which are ancient and unknown inscriptions - a few miles below Franklin; a third at the mouth of Wheeling Creek; a fourth at the mouth of the Muskingum; a fifth at the mouth of the Great Kanawha, and the sixth and last at the mouth of the Great Miami. Toilsomely ascending the Miami to its head waters, the party burned their canoes, and obtained ponies for the march across the portage to the head waters of the Maumee, down which and by Lakes Erie and Ontario they returned to Fort Frontenac, arriving on the 6th of November. It appears that the Indians through whose territory they passed viewed this planting of plates with great suspicion. By some means they got possession of one of them, generally supposed to have been stolen from the party at the very commencement of their journey.

Mr. O.H. Marshall, in an excellent monograph upon this expedition, made up from the original journal of Céleron and the diary of Father Bonnecamps, found in the Department de la Marine in Paris, gives the following account of this stolen plate:

"The first of the leaden plates was brought to the attention of the public by Gov. George Clinton to the Lords of Trade in London, in a communication dated New York, December 19,1750, in which he states that he would send to their Lordships in two or three weeks a plate of lead full of writing, which some of the upper nations of Indians stole from Jean Coeur, the French interpreter at Niagara, on his way to the River Ohio, which river, and all the lands thereabouts, the French claim, as will appear by said writing. He further states that the lead plate gave the Indians so much uneasiness that they immediately dispatched some of the Cayuga chiefs to him with it, saying that their only reliance was on him, and earnestly begged he would communicate the contents to them, which he had done, much to their satisfaction and the interests of the English. The Governor concludes by saying that the contents of the plate may be of great importance in clearing up the encroachments which the French ~have made on the British Empire in America.

The plate was delivered to Colonel, afterward Sir William Johnson, on the 4th of December, 1750, at his residence on the Mohawk, by a Cayuga sachem, who accompanied it by the following speech:

"‘Brother Corlear and War-ragh-i-ya-ghey! I am sent here by the Six Nations with a piece of writing which the Senecas, our brethren, got by some artifice from Jean Coeur, earnestly beseeching you will let us know what it means, and as we put all confidence in you, we hope you will explain it ingeniously to us.’

"Col. Johnson replied to the Sachem, and through him to the Six Nations, returning a belt of wampum, and explaining the inscription on the plate. He told them it was a matter of the greatest consequence, involving the possession of their lands and hunting grounds, and that Jean Coeur and the French ought immediately to be expelled from the Ohio and Niagara. In reply, the Sachem said that he had heard with great attention and surprise the substance of the "devilish writing" he had brought, and that Col. Johnson’s remarks were fully approved. He promised that belts from each of the Six Nations should be sent from the Seneca’s castle to the Indians at the Ohio, to warn and strengthen them against the French encroachments in that direction." On the 29th of January, 1751, Clinton sent a copy of this inscription to Governor Hamilton, of Pennsylvania.

The French followed up this formal act of possession by laying out a chain of military posts, on substantially the same line as that pursued by the Celeron expedition; but instead of crossing over to Lake Chautauqua, as had been the custom of their traders for many years, they kept on down to Presque Isle (now Erie), where was a good harbor, and where a fort was established, and thence up to Le Bceuf (5*)(now Waterford); thence down the Venango (French Creek) to its mouth at Franklin, establishing Fort Venango there; thence by the Allegheny to Pittsburgh, where Fort Du Quesne was afterwards seated, and so on down the Ohio.

To counteract this activity on the part of the French, the Ohio Company was chartered, and a half million of acres was granted by the crown, to be selected mainly on the south side of the Ohio, between the Monongahela and Kanawha Rivers, and the condition made that settlements (one hundred families within seven years), protected by a fort, should be made. The company consisted of Maryland and Virginia gentlemen, among whom were Lawrence, a brother of George Washington.

In 1752 a treaty was entered into with the Indians, securing the right of occupancy, and twelve families, under the leadership of Captain Gist, established themselves upon the Monongahela, and subsequently began the erection of a fort at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. Apprised of this intrusion into the very heart of the territory which they were claiming, the. French at once built a fort at Le Boeuf, and strengthened their post at Venango.

These proceedings having been promptly reported to Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, where the greater number of the stockholders resided, and which province, by the way, claimed jurisdiction over all of the region lying west of Laurel Hill(6*) and northward to the junction of the two rivers just named, he determined to send an official communication to the French commandant at Le Boeuf, protesting against the forcible interference with their chartered rights, granted by the crown of Great Britain, and pointing to the late treaties of peace entered into between the English and French, whereby it was agreed that each should respect the colonial possessions of the other.

But who should be the messenger to execute this delicate and responsible trust? Winter was approaching, and the distance to be traversed - some five hundred miles - led through a wild wilderness, cut by rugged mountain chains and deep, rapid streams. It was proposed to several, who declined, and was finally accepted by GEORGE WASHINGTON, then a youth barely twenty-one years old. On the last day of November, 1753, he bade adieu to civilization, and pushed on through the forest to the settlements on the Monongahela, where he was joined by Captain Gist. He then followed up the Allegheny to Fort Venango; thence up the Venango or French Creek to its head waters at Fort Le Boeuf, where he held formal conference with the French commandant, St. Pierre.

The French officer had been ordered to hold this territory on the claim of the discovery of the Mississippi by La Salle, and the subsequent occupation of all this region for many years by the French, and he had no discretion but to execute his orders, and referred Washington to his superior, the governor-general of Canada. Making careful notes of the location and strength of the post and those encountered on the way, the young ambassador returned, being twice fired at on his journey by hostile Indians, and came near losing his life by being thrown into the freezing waters of the Allegheny while effecting a crossing on a hastily improvised raft. Upon his arrival he made a full report of the embassage, which was widely published throughout the English colonies and in England, and doubtless was the basis upon which action was taken that eventuated in a long and sanguinary war - the Old French and Indian War - which resulted in the collapse of French dominion upon this continent.

Governor Dinwiddie being satisfied that the French were determined to hold the territory upon the Ohio by force of arms, a body of one hundred and fifty Virginia provincials, of which Washington as lieutenant-colonel was in command, was sent to the support of the small garrison at the mouth of the Allegheny. But the French, having this river as a means of transportation and the Virginians a very rugged and mountainous country to overcome, the former first reached the goal or vantage ground for which each was striving. Contracoeur, the French commander, with one thousand men, and well-equipped batteries of artillery, having provided himself with a sufficient number of bateaux and canoes, glided swiftly down the Allegheny and easily seized the unfinished work of defense of the Ohio Company, and at once began the construction of an elaborate work which was named Fort Du Quesne, in honor of the governor-general of Canada.

Informed of this proceeding, Washington pushed forward and, finding that a detachment of the French was in his immediate neighborhood, he made a forced march by night, and coming upon them unawares killed and captured the entire party save one. Ten of the French, including their commander, Jumonville, were killed and twenty-one made prisoners. Though reinforcements had been dispatched from the several colonies in response to the urgent appeals of Washington, none reached him but one company of one hundred men, under the command of the insubordinate Captain Mackay, from South Carolina. Knowing that he was confronting a vastly superior force of the French, well supplied with artillery, he threw up defensive works at a point called the Great Meadows, in the present county of Fayette, Pa., and named his hastily built fortification Fort Necessity. Stung by the loss of Jumonville and his command, the French came on in strong force and soon invested the place. Washington informs us that he had chosen a "charming field for an encounter," but unfortunately for him one part of his position was easily commanded by the artillery of the French, which they were not slow in taking advantage of. The action opened on the 3d of July, and was continued till late at night. A capitulation was then proposed by the French commander, which Washington reluctantly accepted, seeing all hope of reinforcements reaching him cut off, and on the 4th of July marched out with the honors of war and fell back to Will’s Creek, now Cumberland, Md.

The French were now incomplete possession of the country claimed by them from the mouth of the St. Lawrence via the Great Lakes and the head waters of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers to the Mississippi. Along this line gayly dressed French officers sped backward and forward, attended by the fierce warriors of their allied tribes, and not unfrequently by the Senecas, who seemed more friendly to them than to t-he English. Dark-gowned Jesuits also hastened to and fro, everywhere receiving the respect of the red men, even when their creed was rejected, and using all their art to magnify the power of both Rome and France.

Possession and victory counted heavily in the balance. Many of the Senecas, and nearly all of the Indian tribes in the Canadas and the great Northwest, east of the Mississippi, were the friends and’ allies of the French, and it is probable that the whole Iroquois confederacy would have been induced to become active partisans of the French had it not been for one man, the skillful English superintendent of Indian affairs, soon to be known as Sir William Johnson. He, having in 1734 been sent to America as the agent of his uncle, a great landholder in the valley of the Mohawk, had gained almost unbounded influence over the Mohawks by integrity in dealing and native shrewdness, combined with a certain coarseness of nature which readily affiliated with them. He had made his power felt throughout the whole confederacy, and had been intrusted by the British government with the management of its relations with the Six Nations.

The English, meanwhile, were not idle spectators of the enterprise and activity displayed by their ancient enemy, the French, in their efforts to occupy, hold, and possess the greater and best portions of North America. Hence, determined to push military operations, the British government had called, early in the year of 1755, upon the provinces of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia for several thousand volunteers, and had sent two regiments of its standing army, under General Braddock, from Cork, Ireland. Landing at Alexandria, Va., he marched to Frederick, Md., and thence by a circuitous route to Will’s Creek, or Fort Cumberland, Md., where all of the troops under his command were concentrated.

It seems that he had formed extravagant plans for his campaign. He would march forward and reduce Fort Du Quesne, thence proceed against Fort Niagara, which having conquered, he would close a season of’ triumphs by the capture of Fort Fróntenac. But this was not the first nor the last time in warfare that the result of a campaign-had failed to realize the promises of the manifesto. The orders brought by Braddock giving officers of the line precedence over those who commanded the provincial forces gave great offense, and Washington, among others, because of this, as well as the cutting criticisms ‘indulged in regarding his brief campaign in the Monongahela valley during the previous year, threw up his commission; but, enamored of the profession of arms, he accepted the position offered him by General Braddock as volunteer aid-de-camp. Accustomed to the discipline of military establishments in old, long-settled countries, Braddock had little conception of making war in a wilderness with only Indian paths, or "trails," to move upon, against wily savages. He was advised by Washington and other provincial officers to push forward with pack-horses, and by rapidity of movement forestall ample preparations on the part of his enemy. But the English general knew of but one way of soldiering, and, where roads did not exist sufficient to pass his cumbrous wagon trains and artillery, he stopped to fell the forest and bridge the streams. The French, who were kept advised of his every movement by their Indian scouts and runners, made ample preparations to receive him, though they were much less in numbers.

In the mean, time Washington fell sick; but intent on being up for the battle, he hastened forward as soon as sufficiently recovered, and only joined the army on the day before the fatal engagement. He had never seen much of the pride and circumstance of war, and, when, on the morning of the 9th of July, the army of Braddock marched on across the Monongahela, with gay colors flying and martial music awakening the echoes of the forest, he was accustomed in subsequent years to speak of it as the "most magnificent spectacle" he had ever beheld. But the gay pageant was destined to be of but short duration, for the army had only marched a little distance before it fell into an ambuscade skillfully laid by the French and Indians at a point within a few miles of Fort Du Quesne, and the forest resounded with the unearthly whoop of the Indians and the continuous roar of musketry. The advance was checked and thrown into confusion by the French from their well-chosen position, and every tree upon the flanks of the long drawn out line concealed a murderous foe, who, with unerring aim, picked off the officers. A resolute stand was made, and the battle raged with great fury for three hours; but the fire of the English regulars, who were held in close ranks, was of little effect because directed against an invisible foe. The few Virginia provincials, however, fighting in their own way, made it exceedingly warm for some, at least, of the French and Indians. Finally, the English mounted officers having all fallen killed or wounded, panic seized the survivors, and they fled from the field in dismay, leaving their dead, their baggage, artillery, etc., and nearly all of their wounded in the hands of an inferior force of the French and their savage allies.

Of the fourteen hundred and sixty officers and men of Braddock’s army engaged in this battle, four hundred and fifty-six were killed and four hundred and twenty-one wounded, a greater loss, in proportion to the number engaged, than has ever occurred in the annals of modern warfare. The surprising statement that more men were killed than wounded, is accounted for from the fact that when the English fled from the field, the Indians bounded forth from their coverts and tomahawked and scalped many of the wounded ere the more humane of the Frenchmen could put a stop to the slaughter. Sir Peter Halkert, the second in rank of the British forces, was killed, and Braddock, mortally wounded, was brought off the field by Washington, assisted by less than a score of other subalterns and soldiers, with the greatest difficulty.

The panic-stricken survivors fled back to the reserve forces commanded by Colonel Dunbar, who, it appears, was also seized with fright, though his reserves more than outnumbered the combined French and Indians at Du Quesne; and without attempting to halt the fugitives, to renew the campaign and return to the encounter, he abandoned his trains, destroyed his stores and artillery, and joined in a disgraceful flight, which was not stayed until Fort Cumberland was reached. The French remained at Fort Du Quesne anticipating a renewal of the struggle; but when they found that the English had fled, leaving the frontier all unprotected, they left no stone unturned in whetting the minds of the savages for the work of plunder and blood, and in organizing relentless bands to range at will along all the wide border. The Indians could not be induced to pursue the retreating English, but fell to plundering the field. Nearly everything was lost, even to the camp-chest of Braddock. The wounded general was taken back to the summit of Laurel Hill, where, after four days, he breathed his last. He was buried in the middle of the road, and the army marched over his grave that it might not be discovered or molested by the Indians.

This easy victory, won chiefly by the savages, served to encourage them in their fell work, in which, when their passions were aroused, no known people on earth were less touched by pity. The unprotected settler in his wilderness home was the easy prey of the torch and the scalping-knife, and the burning cabins lit up the somber forests by their continuous blaze, and the shrieks of women and children resounded from the Hudson to the Potomac. Before the defeat of Braddock there were three thousand men capable of bearing arms residing in that part of Pennsylvania lying west of the Susquehanna. Six months later there were scarcely one hundred.

The ferment in the wilderness daily grew more earnest, and in this hour of extremity the Indians for the most part showed themselves a treacherous race, ever ready to take up on the stronger side. Even the Shawanese and Delawares, who had been loudest in their protestations of friendship for the English and readiness to fight for them, no sooner saw the French victorious than they gave ready ear, to their advice to strike for the recovery of the lands which they had voluntarily sold to the English. As days passed the gay officers and soldiers of King Louis of France more frequently sped from Quebec, and Frontenac, and Niagara, now in bateaux, now on foot, through and along the borders of the present county of Warren, to Fort Du Quesne; staying a few hours perchance to hold a council with the Seneca sachems, then hurrying forward to strengthen the feeble line of posts on which so much depended.

In 1756, after two years of open hostilities in America, and several important conflicts, war was again declared between England and France, being their last great struggle for supremacy in the New World. In this war the Mohawks were persuaded by Sir William Johnson to take the field in favor of the English. But the Senecas, as before mentioned, were quite friendly to the French, and were only restrained from taking up arms for them as a nation by an unwillingness to fight against their Iroquois brethren farther east. A few of them, without a doubt, did assist the French to defeat Braddock. Indeed, it has frequently been asserted that "Cornplanter," an Indian chieftain whose name is indissolubly connected with the history of Warren county, then a young half-breed warrior of about the age of Washington, was one of the fierce young Seneca braves who were with the French at Fort Du Quesne; but this statement is not well authenticated.

For a time, as we have shown, the French were everywhere victorious. Braddock, almost at the gates of Fort Du Quesne, was slain, and his army cut in pieces by a force utterly contemptible in comparison with his own. Montcalm had captured Oswego, and the French lines up the Great Lakes and across the country to Fort Du Quesne were stronger than ever. But in 1758 William Pitt entered the councils of George II, as nominal though not actual chief of the ministry, and then England flung herself in deadly earnest into the contest. That year Fort Du.Quesne was captured by an English and Provincial army under General Forbes, and Fort Pitt erected upon its ruins, the French garrison having destroyed their fort, etc., and retreated while the English were thundering at their gates. To the northward Fort Frontenac was seized by Colonel Bradstreet, and other victories prepared the way for the grand success in 1759. The Gallic cordon was broken, but Fort Niagara still held out for France; still the messengers ran forward and backward, to and from Presque Isle, Le Boeuf, Venango, and the upper valley of the Allegheny, and still the Senecas strongly declared their friendship, and in many instances their undying fealty for Yonnondio and Yonnondio’s royal master.

Yet heavier blows were struck in 1759. Wolf assailed Quebec, the strongest of all the French strongholds. Almost at the same time General Prideaux with two thousand British and Provincials, accompanied by Sir William Johnson with one thousand of his faithful Iroquois, sailed up Lake Ontario and laid siege to Fort Niagara. Defended by only six hundred men, its capture was certain unless speedy relief could be obtained.

Its commander, however, was not idle. Once again, along the Niagara and up Lake Erie, and away through the forests to the south and westward, sped his lithe, red-skinned messengers to summon the sons and the dusky allies of France. D’Aubrey, at Venango, heard the call and responded with his most zealous endeavors. Gathering all the troops he could muster from far and near, stripping bare with desperate energy the little French posts of the West, and mustering every red man he could persuade to follow his banners, he set forth to the relief of Niagara.

Thus it was that in July, 1759, while the English army was still encamped around the walls of Quebec, while Wolf and Montcalm were approaching that common grave to which the path of military glory was soon to lead them, a stirring scene was being enacted along the southeastern shores of Lake Erie and its outlet. At that time the largest European force which had yet been seen in this region at any one time came coasting down the lake from Presque Isle, past the portage which led to Lake Chautauqua and the Conewango, and along the beach skirting the present counties of Chautauqua and Erie, N.Y., to the mouth of the limpid Buffalo. Fifty or sixty bateaux bore nearly a thousand hardy Frenchmen on their mission of relief while a long line of slippery-bottomed canoes were freighted with four hundred or more of the dusky warriors of the West.

A motley yet gallant band it was which then hastened along on the desperate service of sustaining, the fast-failing fortunes of France. Gay young officers, fresh from the court of the French monarch, sat side by side with sunburned trappers and voyageurs, whose feet had trodden every mountain and prairie from the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi. Veterans who had won laurels under the marshals of France were here comrades of those who knew no other foe than the Iroquois, the Delawares, and the scowling Sioux.

One boat was filled with soldiers trained to obey with unquestioning fidelity every word of their leaders; another contained only wild savages who scarcely acknowledged any other law than their own fierce will. Here flashed swords and bayonets and brave attire, there appeared the dark long rifles and buckskin garments of the hardy scouts and hunters, while still further on the tomahawks and scalping-knives and partly naked bodies of the savage contingent glistened in the July sun. There were some, too, among the younger men, who might fairly have taken their places in either bateau or canoe; whose features bore unmistakable evidence of the commingling of diverse races; who might perchance have justly claimed kindred with barons and chevaliers then resplendent in the salons, of Paris, but who had drawn their infant nourishment from the breasts of dusky mothers, as they rested from hoeing corn and other drudgery on the banks of streams flowing into the Allegheny and Ohio.

History has preserved but a slight record of this last struggle of the French for dominion in these regions, but it has rescued from oblivion the names of D’Aubrey, the commander, and De Lignery, his chief lieutenant; of Marin, the leader of the Indians, and of the captains, De Villiers, Repentini, Martini, and Basonc. These men were by no means despondent. Their commands contained many of the same men, both white and red, who had slaughtered the unlucky battalions of Braddock only two years before, and they might well hope that some similar turn of fortune would give them another victory over the foes of France.

The Seneca warriors, snuffing the battle from their homes on the Genesee and the head waters of the Allegheny, were roaming restlessly through the lake regions. and along the shores of the Niagara River, quite uncertain how; to act; more friendly to the French than the English, and yet unwilling to engage in conflict with their brethren of the Six Nations. Hardly pausing, however, to communicate with his doubtful friends, D’Aubrey led his flotilla past the pleasant groves whose place is now occupied by a great commercial emporium (the city of Buffalo), hurried by the tall bluff now crowned by the battlements of Fort Porter, and only halted on reaching the shores of Navy Island. After staying here a day or two to communicate with the fort, he passed over to the mainland and confidently marched forward to battle.

But Sir William Johnson, who had succeeded to the command of the British forces on the death of Prideaux, was not the kind of man likely to meet the fate of Braddock. Apprised of the approach of the French, he posted men enough before the fort to prevent an outbreak or sortie of the beleaguered garrison, and stationed the rest in an advantageous position on the east side of the Niagara, just below the whirlpool. After a sanguinary contest of an hour’s duration the French were utterly routed, several hundred being slain on the field and a large number of the remainder being captured, including the wounded D’Aubrey.

On the receipt of this disastrous news the garrison at once surrendered, And thus the control of the Niagara River, which for more than a hundred years had been in the hands of the French, passed into those of the English. For a little while the French held possession of a, few minor posts and fortifications, leading from Niagara to the mouth of French Creek. Becoming satisfied, however, that they could not withstand: their powerful foe with any certainty of success, the forts, fortifications, etc., along this line were soon after hastily dismantled, and the garrisons left in bateaux for Detroit. Upon taking their departure they told the Indians that they had been driven away by superior numbers, but would return in sufficient force to hold the country permanently. In this, however, they were too sanguine, as they were destined never again to occupy Northwestern Pennsylvania.

The English did not take formal possession of these forts until 1760, when Major Robert Rogers; was sent out in, command of two hundred Provincial rangers for that purpose. He repaired and garrisoned, the forts, at Presque Isle and Le Boeuf. Fort Machault, however, the French work at the mouth of French Creek, having been totally destroyed by its garrison at the time of its evacuation, was never rebuilt; but instead, the English in 1760 went about forty rods higher up on the Allegheny and built Fort Venango. The long, desolating war between England and France finally closed with the signing of the treaty of Paris, February 10, 1763, and by its sweeping provisions the Canadas and all the vast regions in the West heretofore claimed by the French were ceded to England.

The struggle was over. Forever destroyed was the prospect of a French peasantry inhabiting the hills and valleys of Warren county; of baronial castles crowning its vine-clad heights, and of gay French villas and towns overlooking the picturesque Allegheny.

* English agents or traders were located at Venango (now Franklin) and Le Boeuf (now Waterford), when the advance of the French army reached those points in 1753. John Frazier, a Scotchman, had established himself at the former place about 1745, where he carried on a gunsmith shop, and traded with the Indians until driven away by Joncaire, who also captured at Venango the traders John Trotter and James McLaughlin, and sent them as prisoners to Montreal.

** During their occupation of this region the French always termed the Allegheny the River Ohio, and it is so printed upon all their early maps.

*** Upon Captain Pouchot’s French map, published in 1758, for the purpose of showing the French and English frontiers in America, from the French stand-point, an Indian village called "Kanoagoa" is located at the mouth of the present Conewango, but the name of the latter stream was then printed "Schatacoin River," the French geographer intending, doubtless, to apply to it the same name as that of the lake of which it is an outlet. The name of the same stream has also been written by early English geographers, American officers and surveyors, as the Canawagy, Conewauga, Conewagoo, Canawago, Conawango, and Conewaugo; but since 1795 it has been considered proper to write it Conewango.

(4*) A mistake of the translator or copyist. It should read mouth of the Kanaougou.

(5*) So called because when the locality was first visited by Europeans - the French - it seemed a favorite haunt for vast herds of buffalo.

(6*) was believed by many at that time that the western boundary of Pennsylvania would not fall to the westward of Laurel Hill.

 

SOURCE: Page(s) 56-72, History of Warren County, J.S. Schenck & W.S. Rann, Syracuse, New York: D. Mason, 1887