History of Warren County, H. P. Smith
Chapter VI: French and English Rivalry
This transcription was produced through the use of Readiris Pro 11 OCR software. Contributed by Tim Varney.
Declaration of War between France and England - Destruction of Saratoga - Indian and French Atrocities - English Apathy - Events of 1747 - Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle - Operations by the English in 1754 - Hendrick's Speech - The Massachusetts Expedition - Braddock's Campaign - The Movement Against Crown Point - Ticonderoga - Arrival of Dieskau and Vaudreuil - Engagement between Johnson and Dieskau - English Victory - Ephraim Williams's Death - Building of Fort William Henry.
At this time the French held possession of the Champlain valley, and had fortified Crown Point and Ticonderoga. In the fall of 1745 an expedition was fitted out at Montreal and placed under the command of M. Marin. The expressed object of this enterprise was to attack and sack certain settlements on the Connecticut River, but it seems that on arriving at Crown Point, or Fort St. Frederic, the party was met by Father Piquet, a French prefet apostolique, who induced M. Marin to change his purpose. Accordingly they proceeded up "Lake Champlain to Wood Creek, crossed the country to the Hudson River, destroyed Lydius's lumber establishment on the site of Fort Edward, and approached the thriving settlement of Saratoga, which they utterly destroyed." (1) In this massacre about thirty men and women were killed, and fifty or sixty prisoners were taken. But one family escaped. The fort was burned to the ground. The New York Assembly rebuilt it the next year (1746) and named it Fort Clinton. It was then one hundred and fifty feet in length by one hundred in breadth, with several wooden redoubts, which were used as barracks. Its armament consisted of twelve cannon, six, twelve and eighteen pounders.
All through the summer of 1746 small detachments of French soldiers and their Indian allies were dispatched from Montreal, and, proceeding to Fort St. Frederic, halted long enough to make the necessary preparations, and then set out upon the trails leading to the scattered English settlements in the vicinity of Albany and westward along the Mohawk River. When we consider the mercilessness and barbarous atrocities perpetrated by these prowling bands, acting under the direct control of the French commandants, and often accompanied by them, it is not to be wondered at that the American colonists looked upon Fort St. Frederic as a constant menace, and the source from which the enemy were enabled successfully to send out its marauding parties; and all the time the inhabitants felt their inability to protect themselves against the forays, and burned with indignation against the English government for its Page 68 apathy and dilatoriness in thus leaving them to suffer at the hands of the relentless foe. The following memoranda, from the original French documents preserved in the Documentary History, throws strong light upon the proceedings of the French at this time, and may be considered indisputable, as it is their own statement: -
"March 29, 1746. A party set out, consisting of fourteen Indians . . . . who have been in the country, near Albany, and returned with some prisoners and scalps.
"26th (April). A party of thirty-five warriors belonging to the Soult set out. They have been in the neighborhood of Orange (Albany), have made some prisoners and taken some scalps.
"27th. A party set out consisting of six warriors, who struck a blow in the neighborhood of Albany.
"May 7. Six Nepissings started to strike a blow near Boston and returned with some scalps.
"10th. Gatienonde, an Iroquois, who had been settled at the lake for two or three years, left with five Indians of that village and Lieutenant St Blein, to strike a blow near Orange. They brought in one prisoner. The leader was killed.
"12th. Ten Indians of the Soult set out towards Boston and returned with some scalps.
"22d. Nineteen warriors of the Soult St. Louis have been equipped. They have been made to strike a blow in the direction of Albany.
"24th. A party of eight Abenakis has been fitted out, who have been in the direction of Corlac [Schenectady] and have returned with some prisoners and scalps.
"27th. Equipped a party of eight warriors of Soult, who struck a blow near Albany, and brought back six scalps.
"28th. A party of twelve Nepissings made an attack in the neighborhood of Boston, and brought away four scalps and one prisoner, whom they killed on the road, as he became furious and refused to march.
"A party of Abenakis struck a blow near Albany and Corlac, and returned with some scalps.
"June 2d, Equipped twenty-five warriors, who returned from the neighborhood of Albany with some scalps.
"3d. Equipped a party of eighteen Nepissings, who struck a blow at Albany and Corlac.
"19th. Equipped a party of twenty-five Indians of the Soult, who struck a blow near Orange. One or two of these Indians were wounded. They brought away some scalps.
"20th. Equipped a party of nineteen warriors of the Soult, who went to Orange to strike a blow.Page 69
"21st. Equipped a party of twenty-seven of the same village to go to Albany. Sieur De Carquiville, an officer, was of the party, which has brought in a prisoner that was on the scout to Saristeau [Saratoga], and some scalps.
"August 10th, Chevalier De Repentigny arrived at Quebec and reported that he had made an attack near Corlac and took eleven prisoners and twenty-five scalps."
And so on, each succeeding week being but a repetition of the preceding one. The terms of the records are brief, but the miseries and horrors hidden behind the few tame words are more than mind can conceive, or pen can write without shuddering. Cunning, cruel and stealthy, the unfeeling Indians were fit tools in the hands of their unscrupulous employers. It is no wonder that the almost powerless English settlers were driven to desperation, and to a thirst for vengeance.
In 1747 the same methods were employed by the French, only that each succeeding attack seemed to be actuated by a deeper intent of murder and rapine than the one preceding. The terms of the treaties of peace between the parties were utterly ignored, as well in Europe as in the colonies. The original and deep-rooted plan of the French to establish a chain of military posts from Canada to the Mississippi and thence to the Gulf of Mexico, was never relinquished by them, no matter to what extent the text of the treaties they had signed forbade such a proceeding. By all the devices known the Indians were worked upon to take up arms in their favor, and so successful were they in accomplishing this even questionable military measure, that it is told by writers of the time that the sound of the hammer and saw in the construction of fortifications mingled with that of the rifles of their dark-skinned allies in their murderous depredations against the English settlers.
It was the expressed purpose of the expeditions fitted out by the French at Montreal to "harass, murder, scalp, burn and pillage, and this was what they called war." No doubt by experience they had learned that small parties thus composed and equipped following one another at short intervals, had a greater terrorizing effect upon the stricken settlers, and accomplished greater ruin than would the same number of men consolidated into a single army. The apathy that, from the beginning of the settlement of the country, had characterized the English government in protecting its colonists probably had much to do in augmenting the effrontery and recklessness of the French officials; certain it is, that none of the expeditions set on foot by the English succeeded in chastising the marauders to the extent justice demanded, although it is on record that in the colony of New York alone seventy thousand pounds were expended in one year in carrying out plans to punish the French and Indians for the depredations they had committed.
During the season above mentioned (1747) more than thirty different attacks were made on the settlements between the head of Lake George and Albany. Page 70 The torch and scalping-knife had driven the inhabitants to desperation, and, discouraged at the supineness of the government, they took the matter into their own hands. On the 4th of August Colonel Johnson had dispatched a body of the Iroquois to Canada, divided into two parties, who made an attack on Chambly. They inflicted sharp punishment upon that post, for all they were drawn into an ambush and suffered severe losses. Johnson made another attempt to reach Canada, but found so large a body of the enemy at Crown Point that he abandoned the enterprise.
In December Governor Clinton announced that he had succeeded in raising twenty companies to engage in the expedition against Crown Point the coming season - an enterprise urged by all the leading provincials as the first step necessary towards liberating the settlers from the harassing incursions of the French and northern Indians. These twenty companies numbered about 1,000 men.
About this time orders were given to burn Fort Clinton at "Saraghtoga," after removing the property therein. The reason assigned for this remarkable action was that the provincial assembly had failed to furnish troops and supplies sufficient to protect it from even the small marauding parties of the enemy.
In October, 1748, the European powers signed a new treaty of peace at Aix-la-Chapelle, which it was hoped, would bring a lasting peace. Once more the hatchet was buried, and the settler felt safe in planting his crops, and harvesting the same without the accompaniment of his rifle. Many who had been driven from their clearings to the larger settlements, returned to find but a blackened spot where their homes had stood, and that nature does not remain idle while men are spending their strength in war. But the return of peace brought with it hope and faith, and the sturdy backwoodsman returned to his axe and plow trusting that he had reached the beginning of the era of his reward. But yet the strife was not ended.
"The peace secured by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, hollow and insincere in the Old World, was scarcely observed in the New. The ashes of the frontier settlements had scarcely ceased smoking when the French resumed" (1) their military operations. "The Indians, far and near, by threats and caresses, presents, promises, and displays of force, were rendered tributary to their vast designs." (2)
1. Holden's Queensbury.
Beginning in 1754, continued alarms and occasional attacks on the frontiers awakened the colonists to the fact that the fancied security arising from the peace treaty was but the lull before the storm. Measures were accordingly undertaken for a more vigorous defense than had before been made. When the New York Assembly met in the spring of 1754, Governor James De Lancey in his message called their attention to the recent encroachments of thePage 71
French and to a request by Virginia for aid. The assembly voted a thousand pounds and to bear its share in erecting forts along the frontier. By victories in western Pennsylvania in 1754, the French were left in undisputed possession of the entire region west of the Alleghanies. The necessity for concerted action by the English colonies was now too apparent to be overlooked; but the old sectional differences tended to prevent harmonious action. The Iroquois were also becoming, to some extent, alienated from the English, whose apathy and failures they did not relish. The English ministry had, therefore, advised a convention of delegates from all the colonial assemblies in an effort to secure the continued alliance of the Six Nations. This convention was held in Albany in June, 1754; Governor De Lancey was president, and he opened the proceedings with a speech to the Indian chiefs who were present. A treaty was renewed and the Indians left apparently satisfied. (1)
1. It was on this occasion that the venerable Hendrick, the great Mohawk chieftain, pronounced one of those thrilling and eloquent speeches that marked the nobler times of the Iroquois. It excited the wonder and admiration of those who listened, and commanded the highest encomiums wherever it was read. In burning words he contrasted the supineness and imbecility of the English, with the energies of the French policy. His hoary head and majestic bearing attached dignity and force to his utterances. - "We," he exclaimed, "would have gone and taken Crown Point, but you hindered us." He closed his phillippic with this overwhelming rebuke: "Look at the French, they are men. They are fortifying everywhere. But you, and we are ashamed to say it, you are like women, bare and open without any fortifications."
It was upon this occasion that, in his final speech, Hendrick, the famous Mohawk chief, closed as follows: "Brethren, we put you in mind from our former speech, of the defenseless state of your frontiers, particularly of this city of Schenectady, and of the country of the Five Nations. You told us yesterday you were consulting about securing both. We beg you will resolve upon something speedily. You are not safe from danger one day. The French have their hatchet in their hands both at Ohio and in two places in New England. We don't know but this very night they may attack us. Since Colonel Johnson has been in this city there has been a French Indian at his house, who took measure of the wall around it, and made very narrow observations on everything thereabouts. We, think Colonel Johnson in very great danger, because the French will take more than ordinary pains to kill him or take him prisoner, both on account of his great interest among us and because he is one of our sachems.
"Brethren, there is an affair about which our hearts tremble and our minds are deeply concerned. We refer to the selling of rum in our castles. It destroys many, both of our old and young people. We are in great fears about this rum. It may cause murder on both sides. We, the Mohawks of both castles, request that the people who are settled round about us may not be suffered to sell our people rum. It keeps them all poor, and makes them idle and wicked. If they have any money or goods they lay all out in rum. It destroys virtue and the progress of religion among us."Page 72
The governor promised satisfaction to this pathetic appeal, of course, gave the Indians thirty wagon loads of presents, and the civilized inhabitants went on selling their gallons of rum for beaver skins. And the Indians have often been cursed for their intemperance.
Meanwhile at the suggestion of the Massachusetts delegates to this convention, a plan for the union of the colonies was taken into consideration. The suggestion was favorably received and a committee of one from each colony was appointed to draw plans for the purpose. Then the fertile mind of Benjamin Franklin, having already conceived the necessity of union and harmony, produced a plan which he had already prepared and which was adopted. It was the forerunner of our constitution; but the assemblies rejected it, deeming that it encroached on their liberties, while the ministry rejected it as granting too much power to the people.
As one of the results of the convention, Massachusetts raised three regiments of infantry, one of which was placed under command of Ephraim Williams as colonel. As an element in the proposed campaign Colonel Williams was to co-operate with General William Johnson in an attack upon the posts the French had established along Lake Champlain, and was ordered to proceed to Albany for that purpose, along with other New England forces.
Though England and France were nominally at peace, (1) the frontier was continually harassed by the Indians, fitted out and let loose by the French, and the colonists continued their appeals to the English ministry.
1. War was not formally declared in Europe till the following year (1756) by England on the 18th of May, and by France on the 9th of June following.
On April 14th, 1755, a congress, composed of General Edward Braddock, Commodore Keppel, with the governors of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, was held at Annapolis, Maryland. Braddock had lately arrived as commander-in-chief of the British forces in America. Under instructions from the ministry he directed the attention of the colonial governors to the necessity of raising a revenue for military purposes. The governors informed him of their strifes with their respective assemblies, and assured the British general that no such fund could be established without the first step being taken by parliament. It was finally determined, however, to begin a campaign by organizing four separate expeditions. The first to effect the reduction of Nova Scotia; the second to recover the Ohio valley; the third to expel the French from Fort Niagara and then form a junction with the Ohio expedition, and the fourth to capture Crown Point. The first of these expeditions was entirely successful; the second, under command of Braddock himself, was, chiefly through his folly, disastrous in the extreme. He failed to send out scouts, as repeatedly counseled by Washington, and when within a few miles of Fort Du Quesne, the army was surprised by the lurking foe and only saved from destruction by Washington, who, upon the fall of Braddock, assumed Page 73 command and conducted the retreat. The expedition against Fort Niagara was also unsuccessful. It was commanded by General Shirley, governor of Massachusetts, and many of his force deserted upon hearing of Braddock's defeat. Leaving a garrison at Oswego, he led the remainder of his army to Albany and returned to Massachusetts.
The army gathered for the capture of Crown Point was assembled at Albany and the command entrusted to General William Johnson. It comprised the militia and volunteers from New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. They came together fired with zeal and enthusiasm born of the conviction that they were to fight for the safety of their firesides.
"His army, fresh from the plow and the workshop, save a few who had been engaged at the siege of Louisburg, were novices in the arts and services of war. The provincials, clothed in the home-spun garments woven by wives and mothers, armed only with their own rifles and fowling pieces, without bayonets, but animated by the noblest impulses of patriotism and courage, and inspired by a fervid religious enthusiasm, which kindled the faith that they were battling in defense of the altars of Protestantism and for the subversion of idolatry. While the preparations were in active, but to their impatient ardor, slow progress, they were restive and impatient for the advance. On the Sabbath, in obedience to their Puritan habits, they assembled to unite in prayer and to 'listen to the word,' while their swarthy allies gravely hear the interpretation of a long sermon." (1)
1. Watson's Essex County.
In July General Lyman, of New Hampshire, with 600 men was sent forward to clear up the old military road along the Hudson, and rebuild the fort at Lydius's Mills. Meantime Colonel Williams was sent to the "second carrying-place" on the Hudson, where he erected a block-house and entrenchments. The village of Fort Miller still perpetuates the name then given to these defenses.
The French were not idle and already their attention, or that of their engineers, was drawn to the bold and rocky cliffs at the confluence of Lake George (known to the French as Lake St. Sacrament (2)) and Lake Champlain, as an excellent military stronghold. In the summer of 1755, Du Quesne had advised the construction of works at that point. The selection of the site and the construction of the works were entrusted to Lotbiniere, an engineer of the province. The original fort (which was still unfinished a year later) "was a square fort with four bastions, and built of earth and timber." (3) In the same rear Johnson mentions Ticonderoga as an important but unoccupied position. Page 74 Such was the inception of Fort Carillon, (1) about which was to center so much of military conflict and heroism. It is not now known when the imposing stone battlements were erected, whose picturesque ruins inform the beholder of to-day of their original strength. In the year 1758 the French were energetically engaged in extending and strengthening the fortress; at that time Crown Point, on account of its less favorable position, and the falling walls of Fort St. Frederic, became of secondary importance to them.
2. Father Jogues . . . on his return to Canada . . . set out with some Indians for the scene of his former sufferings in company with Sieur Bourdon, royal engineer, and arrived on the festival of Corpus Christi at Lake Andiatorocte, to which, in honor of the day, he gave the name of the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament. - O'Callaghan.
3. Documentary History, x, 414.
1. Mr. Watson says the name "Carillon seems to bear the same signification as the Indian name, "The Onderoga," the original of Ticonderoga, meaning noise-chimes, in allusion, doubtless, to the brawling waters.
When the news of Braddock's movements reached France, a fleet bearing six battalions of regulars was dispatched to the aid of the troops in Canada. With it came also Vaudreuil, governor-general of New France (the last one) and Baron de Dieskau as commander-in-chief of the colonial armies. The latter laid his plans for the immediate capture of Oswego, when the governor-general received the startling intelligence of Johnson's movement towards Ticonderoga and Crown Point. Dieskau was, therefore, hurried to the defense of Lake Champlain.
All the preparations for the campaign having been completed at Albany in the early part of August, the main body of the troops began its slow and tedious march along the old military road up the Hudson, General Johnson following immediately after with the artillery, stores and baggage. On the 14th of August Johnson reached the "great carrying-place," when he reported to Governor De Lancey that his whole force did "not exceed 2,850 men fit for marching to Crown Point." One regiment was left behind to guard the wagons and bateaux.
While awaiting the arrival of his stores and implements of war, General Johnson began an addition to the defenses at this point, to which was given the name of Fort Lyman, in honor of Major-General Phineas Lyman, (2) of the Connecticut troops, who had charge of its erection. It was soon after changed to Fort Edward, as a compliment to Edward, Duke of York, brother of George III.
2. General Lyman was a graduate of Yale College, and a lawyer by profession. He commanded the Connecticut troops in this movement, under Johnson, and when the latter was wounded at the battle of Lake George, the command devolved upon him. He participated in later campaigns, under Abercrombie, Lord Howe, and Amherst. In 1763 he was sent to England as agent to receive prize moneys due him and other officers, and as agent for a company soliciting a grant of lands on the Mississippi, and there wasted eleven years of his life, being deluded by idle promises until his mind sank to imbecility. In 1774 his wife sent his second son to bring him home. About this time the petitioners received their grant of land, when he and his eldest son embarked for the Mississippi, and died on the way in West Florida in 1755.
On the 15th a council was called by Johnson, at which resolutions were passed asking for reinforcements from the governors of New York and Connecticut; and requesting the governor of Massachusetts to make a diversion in his favor by sending a detachment down the Chaudiere River to attack the Page 75 French posts in that vicinity. Later in the month he reported to Governor De Lancey that "the road is now making from this place to Lake St. Sacrament where I propose to build magazines and raise a defensible fortification," and adds, "I propose to march to-morrow or next day with the first division of about fifteen hundred men, and some Indians, and a few field pieces." (1)
1. Documentary History of N. Y., II, p. 682.
The following detailed and trustworthy account is taken from Holden's History of Queensbury. It is based upon early documents, and is considered a valuable historical statement: -
"Awaiting developments, General Johnson established a camp at the head of the lake, and under the immediate supervision of Col. Williams, a large clearing was made on the headland afterward covered by the entrenchments of Fort William Henry.
"In a communication to the board of trade dated 3d Sept., 1755, General Johnson states as follows: 'I am building a fort at this lake where no house ever before was built, nor a rod of land cleared, which the French call Lake St. Sacrament, but I have given it the name of Lake George, not only in honor to His Majesty but to ascertain his undoubted dominion here. When the battoes (certain small boats so called) are brought from the last fort caused to be built at the great carrying-place about 17 miles from hence, I propose to go down this lake with a part of the army, and take part of the end of it about fifty miles from hence at a pass called Tionderogue about 15 miles from Crown Point, there wait the coming up of the rest of the army, and then attack Crown Point.'
"On Sunday, the seventh, the camp was hushed to listen to the first Christian services and sermon held on this spot of which there is record. The venerable and Reverend Stephen Williams, of Longmeadow, Mass., a near relative of Col. Williams, and chaplain of his regiment, preached in camp from the prophetic words of Isaiah, 'which remain among the graves and lodge in the mountains.' The forces gathered here now numbered nearly five thousand, and the want of transportation, coupled with the intelligence received from his trusty scouts and runners, that the French were in possession of the passes at the north dissipated the plan for any further advance.
"In the mean time the enemy, more active and aggressive, had dispatched three thousand men to the frontier post of St. Frederic; early one-third of these veterans from the fields of France, the remainder consisting of Canadians and Indians. They were joined on the seventeenth by the Baron de Dieskau, a brave and experienced officer, who had been assigned to the command of the expedition, For the following fifteen days he was encamped under the entrenchments of that fort, maturing his plans - sending out scouts for intelligence and harmonizing disagreements among the intractable savages who constituted so large a part of his following. On the second of September he Page 76 reached the lower fall on the outlet of Lake George, whence he sent out a small scouting party, and bivouacked for a couple of days at what is now known as the fort ground of Ticonderoga. On the 4th M. de St. Pierre was sent forward with the Canadians and Indians, who were to sleep that night on the side of the great marsh near Whitehall. General Dieskau made the great mistake of leaving the bulk of his force, viz.: 1800 men, at Carillon, and with a flying corps of six hundred Canadians, as many Indians, and three hundred regulars, . . . . he reached the head of South Bay, on Lake Champlain, on the 5th, and set forward on his march to Fort Lyman. Continuing the march on the 6th, about noon the detachment encamped beyond the mountains. Here small scouting parties were sent off in the direction of Fort Lyman and the head of Lake George. One of these returning the same night discovered and reported thick smoke seen in the direction of Johnson's camp. On the 7th the army, preceded by scouts, again set forward. About two o'clock of that day the scouts, who had been sent to reconnoiter in the vicinity of Fort Lyman, rejoined the main body, with the information that there were about fifty tents outside of the fort, upon which Dieskau decided to attack it. Pushing forward he reached that night the banks of the Hudson River about one league from the fort, where he encamped for the night. (1)
1. Probably on the flat at the foot of Sandy Hill.
"At daybreak on the 8th the Indians fired at and killed a courier galloping towards the fort. On his person was found a dispatch to the officer in command of the garrison at that place advising him of Dieskau's approach, with a large force of Frenchmen, Canadians, and Indians; and cautioning him as to the proper disposition of the provisions and ammunition. Twelve wagons shortly after passed in the same direction, from which Dieskau only obtained two prisoners, from whom he obtained tolerably accurate information as to the condition and disposition of the English forces at the head of the lake. The garrison at Fort Lyman consisted of only about three hundred troops from the New Hampshire levies under Col. Blanchard. It was the baron's original intention, after learning the weakness of the latter place, to move forward with celerity, assault and carry it by storm. 'The Iroquois refused point blank to march to attack the fort.' Dieskau in his account of the affair says: 'I was to arrive at nightfall at the fort and rush to the attack; but the Iroquois, who took the lead on the march, under the pretense of zeal, caused a wrong direction to be taken; and when I was informed of the circumstance, it was no longer time to apply a remedy, so that at nightfall I was yet a league from that fort on the road leading from it to Lake St. Sacrament.'
"M. de St. Pierre who, by the baron's orders, had consulted the chiefs of the different natives, and communicated to them his intention of attacking the camp at the head of the lake, under the alluring representation 'that the more English there were, the more of them he would kill,' reported that the Indians Page 77 would submit to his pleasure; and should he succeed at Lake St. Sacrament, they would accompany him to the fort.
"After daybreak on the morning of the eighth, Dieskau commenced his march along the newly made road so recently traversed by Johnson and his army. His force was disposed in five columns, marching at a distance of thirty paces apart. The regular troops forming the center were led by the Baron, in person, while on either flank was a column of Canadians and another of Indians. The latter were obliged, in order to maintain their front, to wade morasses and streams, thread the tangled underbrush of the forest and climb the hills on their route. Nevertheless the force moved with considerable celerity, reaching the heights just north of Brown's Half-way House, at about eight o'clock in the morning. Here he was met by some scouts who brought in two English prisoners, from whom he derived the intelligence that General Johnson had fortified and entrenched the English camp, that he was in possession of twelve cannon from thirty pounders down. And, 'that a large body of English and Indians were following them on their way to reinforce Fort Lydius.' In consequence of this information, a halt was ordered, the Canadians and Indians deposited their packs, and in light marching order were instructed to place themselves in ambush on the side hill west of the road, which was occupied by Dieskau with his regular troops.
"In the mean time an express arrived at the English camp with the intelligence that he had seen a large body of the enemy, a few miles to the north of Fort Lyman. In the morning following a council of war was held to determine a plan of procedure, at which it was resolved to send out a small party to reconnoitre and harass the enemy's flanks as they approached. King Hendrick, the celebrated chief of the Mohawks, being asked for his opinion, replied: 'If they are to fight they are too few, if they are to be killed they are too many.' It was subsequently proposed to divide the party into three detachments. The brave old sachem remonstrated, and forcibly illustrated the folly of the suggestion by picking up three sticks and binding them together saying: 'You see now that these cannot easily be broken; but take them one by one, and you may break them at once.' The council of war adopted in part the chief's advice, and one thousand men, under the command of Col. Ephraim Williams, of the Massachusetts levies, and two hundred Mohawks, led by King Hendrick, the sachem of the upper castle of that tribe, were detailed for this service. Before starting King Hendrick mounted a gun carriage and addressed his followers in a strain of thrilling eloquence, that at once aroused their courage, and kindled their ferocious passions for the approaching fray. An eye-witness, who did not understand a word of what was said, described it as the most affecting speech he ever heard.
"The road recently made followed the course of a ravine extending from the head of the lake nearly due south for a distance of several miles. The detachment Page 78 headed by Colonel Williams took this route at nine o'clock in the morning, and in consequence of the intelligence received at midnight, supposed the enemy to be still in the vicinity of Fort Lyman; and probably moved forward with less precaution than he would have done, if he had supposed the enemy nearer. At a point about two miles south of the encampment, near a place now known as Hendrick's Spring, he halted, and was joined by the detachment of Mohawks, who, with their chief, passed to the front, and at ten o'clock resumed the march. King Hendrick was mounted on a small horse, loaned for the occasion by his friend the general. Flanking parties were now thrown out, which advanced, cautiously beating the dense woods on the right and left .
"About one-third of a mile south of Bloody Pond the ravine, through which Williams's detachment proceeded, is narrowed by the abrupt shoulder of a hill projecting from the west, while on the east the sharp acclivity and rugged sides of French Mountain abut the narrow defile. At its base creep the shimmering waters of a rivulet known as Rocky Brook. When within a short distance of the ambush, a herd of deer, probably driven forward by the French advance, rushed violently down the defile, and effected their escape by breaking through the ranks of the advancing party. Still, no apprehensions were entertained of the proximity of the enemy. and they continued to advance in fearless confidence, the entire command marching in double files along the road, until entered some distance within the jaws of the ambuscade, when, reaching a small eminence, the keen sighted Hendrick suddenly halted and exclaimed to Williams who was near him: 'I scent Indians.' A few Mohawks pushed out into the thick undergrowth of bushes, and the detachment moved cautiously forward for a short distance, when one of the French allies called out, 'Whence come you?' 'From the Mohawks,' was the reply. 'Whence come you?' returned Hendrick to which was answered, 'Montreal,' accompanied with a few scattering shots, followed shortly by the terrific Indian war-whoop, and a destructive volley of musketry from the woods and rocks on the right. Shortly afterward a heavy fire was poured in by the Canadians on the left. King Hendrick's horse was killed by the first fire, and he was soon after dispatched with a bayonet. The advancing files of provincials, wholly unprepared for the unexpected encounter, made but a feeble resistance, while at the first alarm the Mohawks took promptly to cover.
"Colonel Williams, perceiving the firing to be the heaviest from the ascent to the right, ordered his troops to charge up the hill with the hope of turning the enemy's flank, and gaining a more elevated and commanding position. This was attempted, but they had no sooner changed front and advanced, than a destructive volley was poured in upon them from the thickly guarded summit, and the thinned ranks, stunned, swayed backward, closed up in a confused mob and fled panic stricken from the scene of action. Colonel Williams fell <Page 79 dead at the head of his column. (1) The command now devolved upon Lieutenant Colonel Whiting, who, after a while, succeeded in restoring a degree of order among the fugitives.
1. Colonel Ephraim Williams was born at Newtown, Mass., February 24th, 1715. His ancestors were of Welsh stock, having immigrated to America in 1630. The surroundings of his youth must have had a controlling influence in the formation of his character. Newtown at the time of his birth was on the extreme frontier, and exposed to all the horrors of rapine and massacre by the savages that were the invariable accompaniment of first settlements elsewhere in the new country. His early association with peril and privation tended to the formation of a character noted for its firmness, keen conception, bravery and honor. His parents died while he was quite young, and he was placed in the care of a grandfather, who was engaged in mercantile pursuits. In his grandfather's employ he made several voyages to foreign ports, spending some time in the different countries with which the colonists were in communication, thereby adding to his knowledge and broadening his mind with information gleaned by the way. At the beginning of the French war he was selected as a proper person to command the troops of that section, and he was accordingly commissioned as captain, and was afterwards (in 1754) promoted to colonel. Until August, 1746, he was in command of Fort Massachusetts "which stood not far from the northeastern end of Saddle Mountain, within the present township of Adams, and on the eastern border of Hoosac river." At that date he marched at the head of the Massachusetts levies to join Governor Clinton at Albany, in the proposed invasion of the French settlements in Canada. While he was absent Fort Massachusetts was captured by the French under Vaudreuil and its garrison taken prisoners to Canada. In 1748 he was again in command of Fort Massachusetts, which, had been rebuilt and garrisoned with one hundred men. In August of that year the fort was attacked by a force of two hundred French and Indians. Although drawn into an ambush in a successful sally for the rescue of four of his men who were returning, from a scout, by intrepidity and brilliant maneuvering he escaped the clutches of the wily foe and escaped to the fort with the loss of but one man. In the campaign of 1755 he was ordered with his command to Albany. While awaiting here the movement of the troops he made his will, in which, after making certain bequests to relatives, he devised the remainder of his property to the establishment of a free school. The terms of his will being carried out and the school proving a success, the Legislature in 1793, erected it into a college, by the name of Williams College.
All trustworthy statements regarding the death of Colonel Williams show that he fell at the head of his troops at the beginning of the battle. Dr. Holden says: "He was shot through the head, and fell dead upon the spot. His body was hidden by two of his comrades, near the rock which bears his name, to prevent its mutilation by the savages. After the action it was buried by the side of the old military road at the foot of a pine tree. This place was originally designated by a small granite slab marked E. W.
"About forty years since, Dr. William H. Williams (nephew of the colonel), of Raleigh, N. C., exhumed the skull, and carried it off. The statement that the entire remains were subsequently retrieved doubtless an error. The pine has fallen, but two thrifty scions, till within a few years, shaded the grave where the warrior sleeps.
"When the monument was put up, the grave was refilled and a pyramidal boulder still remaining, placed upon it, bearing the plain inscription E. W. 1755. In the year 1854, a plain marble shaft was placed by the alumni of Williams College upon the rock which bears his name. It contains the following inscriptions: -
To the memory of COLONEL EPHRAIM WILLIAMS. A native of Newtown, Mass., who, after gallantly defending the frontiers of his native State, served under General Johnson against the French and Indians, and nobly fell near this spot in the bloody conflict of Sept. 8th, 1755, in the 42d year of his age.
A lover of peace and learning, as courteous and generous as he was brave and patriotic, Col. Williams sympathized deeply with the privations of the frontier settlers, and by his will, made at Albany, on his way to the field of battle, provided for the founding among them of an institution of learning, which has since been chartered as Williams College.
Forti ac magnanimo EPH. WILLIAMS, Collegii Gulielmi Conditori; Qui in hostibus patriae repellendis, prope hoc saxum cecidit; grati alumni posuetunt, A. D. 1854.
This Monument is erected by the alumni of Williams College; the ground donated by E. H. Rosekrans, M. W. Perrine J. Haviland.
"This monument and the scenes around it are now classic ground to every educated American, and are annually visited by hundreds, eager to pay the tribute of a pilgrimage to the shrine of a hero and a patriot."Page 80
"A temporary stand was made at the Bloody Pond, behind which the troops rallied, and the French were held in check for several minutes by the determined and resolute bravery of the provincials. Compelled at length from the numerical superiority of the enemy to give way, they resumed their retreat, constantly holding the pursuers in check by a scattering but well aimed fire from every cover which could be made available on the route. The echoes of the protracted firing had been heard with gradually approaching nearness at the head of the lake, and hurried preparations were made for placing the camp in a defensible condition, for as yet no line of entrenchments had been thrown up, or any cover, redoubt, rifle pit or fortification constructed to retard the progress of the enemy. The trunks of the trees, already fallen, were hastily piled up as a sort of rude breastwork in front, while the flanks and rear were protected by seven field pieces and two mortars. The roadway was also commanded by four large cannon advantageously posted. While these dispositions were being made Lieutenent-Colonel Cole was dispatched with three hundred men to the assistance and relief of the defeated detachment. He met the flying troops a little north of the Bloody Pond, and checked, by a well-timed volley, the pursuit of the enemy and covered the retreat of the fugitives into camp. So furious and disastrous had been this brief engagement that on reaching camp, the numbers of the French were greatly magnified by the terrified survivors, while, as usual on such occasions, their own powers and achievements were greatly exaggerated.
"Thus terminated the battle long known in fireside story and oral tradition as the bloody morning scout, which resulted in disaster and humiliation to the English cause, and well nigh terminated the fortunes of the day."
The losses of the English were severe, especially among the officers. The total loss of the whites was two hundred and sixteen dead and ninety-six Page 81 wounded, and of the Mohawks thirty-eight were killed and twelve wounded. The death loss is convincing evidence of the close range and fierceness of the action, evidence strengthened by the fact that few prisoners were taken, nearly all, as soon as fallen, being dispatched by the tomahawk and scalping-knife.
The Mohawks deeply mourned the death of their beloved chief, and it was with difficulty they were restrained from wreaking their vengeance upon the few captives taken.
The impetuous Dieskau, whose motto was, "Boldness wins," did not stop to reconnoitre, but started at the head of the French and Indians in rapid pursuit of the retreating English. He hoped thus to enter and capture an unfortified camp. But Johnson and his skillful woodsmen from New England had not been idle. Trees were felled and hasty breastworks constructed, behind which a few cannon that were hurried from the lake were placed. When the Indians heard the roar of the guns, they again thwarted Dieskau's designs by "stopping short," and he also soon saw the Canadians "scattering right and left." (1)
This defection forced Dieskau to make a brief halt near the works, which was of great advantage to his enemy. The second struggle of the battle now waged hotter than before and continued for more than four hours - the bloodiest and most obstinately contested the New World had yet witnessed. A vigorous assault on the center by Dieskau's regulars was "thrown into disorder by the warm and constant fire of the artillery and colonial troops." He then assailed the left, was again repulsed and in a last desperate effort hurled his decimated force upon the right; but in vain; only a bloody repulse awaited him. The French regulars fought with great heroism, but were unequal to their undertaking. The Canadians and Indians were of but little assistance and "were dispersed by a few shots thrown into their midst."
The French general was wounded and disabled, but bravely refused to be carried from the field, and ordered his subordinate, Montrueil, to assume the command and make the best retreat possible. Two Canadians came to the relief of Dieskau, but one of them was shot and fell directly across the legs of the general, "to his great embarrassment," as he expressed it. While supporting himself against a tree here amid a hail of bullets, a refugee Frenchman came upon him and fired a bullet through both his hips, causing a wound which resulted in his death twelve years later. He was left by his king to suffer as a prisoner, neglected by his country, until the peace of 1763.
The French army was now broken and scattered, and a routed party of about three hundred were encountered by a body of provincials under McGineis, of New Hampshire (who was killed in the action), and Folsom, of New York. The Frenchmen were put to flight in such confusion that all their baggage and ammunition was left behind for the victors.
1. Documentary History.Page 82
The losses were about equal on both sides, amounting to four hundred and fifty of the French, and something less by the English and Mohawks. Decisive victory rested with neither. The British were prevented for the time from the conquest of Lake Champlain, an object of no small advantage to the French. But the colonists achieved an actual triumph of arms which, following closely upon the disasters of Braddock, filled the land with rejoicing. The French and Canadians were taught that in the New England colonies was growing an element of military strength and heroism that could not be lightly encountered - an element that in later days was to win freedom for the country.
"Dieskau appears not to have been adapted by temperament or manners to conciliate the attachment or to command the confidence of his savage allies. Instead of indulging in familiar intercourse and yielding to their habits and peculiarities, he maintained with them - and equally with his subordinates and the Canadians - the stately German style of seclusion and exclusiveness. This course destroyed the influence and devotion, which could only be exerted over their rude and capricious nature, by controlling their impulses and affections."
Johnson was wounded early in the battle and turned the command over to General Lyman, (1) of the Massachusetts division. His enthusiastic soldiers and the impetuous Mohawks would have pursued the fleeing French and Canadians, but Johnson, either through over-cautiousness or timidity, restrained them, and the French continued their retreat unmolested to Carillon. A vigorous prosecution of the campaign as originally planned was urged by the people of the colonies. The French were partially paralyzed by the defeat; the walls of St. Frederic were crumbling, and the fortress at Ticonderoga was still unfinished. But Johnson neglected what was undoubtedly his great opportunity and spent the remainder of the season in erecting Fort William Henry at the head of Lake George; the Mohawks returned to their homes.
1. Johnson's conduct seems to have been neither just nor magnanimous. He ascribed all the glory of the event to himself; Lyman was not named in his report, and but slight mention was made of other officers. Yet Johnson was rewarded with a baronetcy, £5,000 and the appointment of superintendent of Indian affairs, which was wrung from the pittance allowed the colonies for their burdens.