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VII - The French and English
The French were the
first white men who made explorations in the lake region. As early as
1611-12, Sieur de Champlain ascended the chain of lakes as far as Lake
Huron. At a period extending from 1620 to 1640, the Indians were visited
by numerous French Catholic priests, among whom were the celebrated Joliet
and Marquette, on the double mission of spreading the Gospel and promoting
the interests of their king and nation. In 1679, La Salle launched the
schooner Griffin in Niagara River, and sailed with a picked body of men to
Green Bay, in Lake Michigan, as will be found more fully detailed in the
chapter on lake navigation. A french post was established at Machinaw in
1684, and a fort and navy on Lake Erie were proposed by M. de Denonville
in 1685, but the idea was not carried into effect. The dominion of the
country was not wholly given over to the French until 1753. They did a
large trade with the Indians by exchanging beads, goods, provisions, guns
and ammunition for furs, which were shipped across the ocean and sold at
an immense profit. Although their possession was undisturbed, it must not
be inferred that it was quietly acquiesced in by the English. 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 34°, 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 Pennsylvania,
Maryland and Virginia, representing the mother country. A long and
sometimes acrimonious controversy was waged between the foreign
departments of the two nations over the question, and the leading officers
in America, on both sides, looked upon it as certain to eventually result
October 31, 1753
lands upon the River Ohio, in the western part of the colony of Virginia,
are so notoriously known to be the property of the crown of Great Britain
that it is a matter of equal concern and surprise to me to hear that a
body of French forces are erecting fortresses and making settlements upon
that river within His Majesty's dominions. The many and repeated
complaints I have received of these acts of hostility lay me under the
necessity of sending in the name of the King, my master, the bearer
hereof, George Washington, Esq., one of the Adjutants General of the
forces of this dominion, to complain to you of the encroachments thus
made, and of the injuries done to the subjects of Great Britain, in
violation of the law of nations and the treaties subsisting between the
two crowns. If these facts are true and you think fit to justify your
proceedings, I must desire you to acquaint me by whose authority and
instructions you have lately marched from Canada with an armed force and
invaded the King of Great Britain's territory, in the manner complained
of; that, according to the purport and resolution of your answer, I may
act agreeably to the commission I am honored with from the King, my
master. However, sir, in obedience to my instructions, it becomes my duty
to require your peaceable departure; and that you would forbear
prosecuting a purpose so interruptive of the harmony and good
understanding which His Majesty is desirous to continue and cultivate with
the most Christian King, etc.
From the Fort on the River au Boeuf
December 15, 1753
|Sir: As I
have the honor of commanding here as chief, Mr. Washing delivered to me
the letter which you wrote to the commander of the French troops. I should
have been glad that you had given him orders, or that he had been inclined
to proceed to Canada to see our General, to whom it better belongs than to
me to set forth the evidence and the reality of the rights of the King, my
master, to the lands situate along the River Ohio, and to contest the
pretensions of the King of Great Britain thereto. I shall transmit your
letter to the Marquis Du Quesne. His answer will be a law to me. And if he
shall order me to communicate it to you, sir, you may be assured I shall
not fail to dispatch it forthwith to you. As to the summons you send me to
retire, I do not think myself obliged to obey it. Whatever may be your
intentions, I am here by virtue of the orders of my General, and I entreat
you, sir, not to doubt one moment but that I am determined to conform
myself to them with all the exactness and resolution which can be expected
from the best officer. I do not know that in the progress of this campaign
anything has passed which can be reputed an act of hostility, or that is
contrary to the treaties which subsist between the two crowns; the
continuance whereof interests and pleases us as much as it does the
English. Had you been pleased, sir, to descend to particularize the facts
which occasioned your complaint, I should have had the honor of answering
you in the fullest, and, I am persuaded, the most satisfactory manner,
Legardeur de Sr. Pierre
Washington did not extend his journey to Presque Isle, feeling, perhaps, that duty compelled him to report the French answer as speedily as could be done. Both sides were busily engaged during the winter in preparing for the war which was now inevitable. The French plan was to establish a chain of fortifications from Quebec along Lake Ontario and Erie and the water of French Creek and the Allegheny to the junction of the last-named stream with the Monongahela, where Pittsburgh now stands, and from there along the Ohio and Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico. Of these, we have already described the progress at Presque Isle and Le Boeuf. The forts at Niagara, the mouth of French Creek and the head of the Ohio were constructed early in 1754. The one at the junction of French Creek and the Allegheny was known as Fort Machault or Venango, and the one at Pittsburgh as Fort DuQuesne. Provisions and ammunition were sent from Quebec to Presque Isle, and from there distributed to the lower forts.
Progress of the French
As soon as the weather would permit in the spring of 1754, troops were moved by both sides in the direction of the Ohio. The first French detachment to reach Pittsburgh, then known as the "Forks of the Ohio," was on the 17th of April. It was commanded by Contreceur, and consisted of 1,000 French and Indians, with eighteen cannon. Their voyage from Le Boeuf down French Creek and the Allegheny was made in sixty batteaux and 300 canoes. The English had put up a stockade at the Forks, during the winter, which was unfinished and guarded only by an ensign and forty-one men. This small body, seeing the hopelessness of defense, immediately surrendered. On the 3d or 4th of July, 500 English capitulated to the French at Fort Necessity, in Fayette County, after an engagement of about ten hours. The French seem to have been uniformly successful in the campaign of 1754. Deserters from their ranks reported that the number of French and Indians in the country during the year was about 2,000, of whom five or six hundred had become unfit for duty.
The records of the campaign show that Presque Isle was regarded by both the French and English as a post of much importance. DuQuesne, in a letter from Quebec of July 6, 1755, says: "The fort at Presque Isle serves as a depot for all others on the Ohio. * * The effects are put on board pirogues at Fort Le Boeuf. * * At the latter fort the prairies, which are extensive, furnish only bad hay, but it is easy to get rid of it. * * At Presque Isle the hay is very abundant and good. The quantity of pirogues constructed on the River AuBoeuf has exhausted all the large trees in the neighborhood." It was on the 9th of July, 1755, that Braddock's defeat took place near Pittsburgh, an event which raised the French hopes to a pitch of the utmost exultation, and seemed for the time to destroy all prospect of English ascendancy in the West. From 2,000 to 3,000 French and Indians are supposed to have passed through Presque Isla during the season.
French Village at Presque Isle
An official letter dated at Montreal, August 8, 1756, says: "The domiciliated Mississaugues of Presque Isle have been out to the number of ten against the English. They have taken one prisoner and two scalps, and gave them to cover the loss of M. de St. Pierre." This officer had been ordered East in the winter of 1753, and was killed in battle near Lake George the ensuing summer. The same letter reports the small-pox as having prevailed at Presque Isle. A prisoner who escaped from the Indians during this year described Fort Le Boeuf as "garrisoned with 150 men, and a few straggling Indians. Presque Isle is built of square logs filled up with earth; the barracks are within the fort, and garrisoned with 150 men, supported chiefly from a French settlement begun near it. The settlement consists of about one hundred families. The Indian families about the settlement are pretty numerous; they have a priest and schoolmaster, and some grist mills and stills in the settlement." The village here referred to was on the east bank of Mill Creek, a little back from the lake, almost on a line with Parade street.
Events in 1757 and 1758
No events of importance occurred in this section in 1757. The only chronicle we find relates that some of the Indian warriors aiding the French sent their families to the neighborhood of Presque Isle for the purpose of planting corn. A captured French ensign reported in his examination on the 20th of June that 100 men were in garrison at Presque Isle, and that apprehensions were felt by them of an attack by the English and Indians. The transportation from Canada for the troops was mainly by canoes, which were obliged to keep close to the north shore of the lake. Fort LeBoeuf was in charge of an ensign of foot. There were from 800 to 900, and sometimes 1,000 men between the forts, 150 of whom were regulars and the rest Canadian Indians, who worked at the forts and built boats. There were no settlements nor improvements near the forts, which would indicate that the village at Presque Isle had been abandoned. The French planted corn about them for the Indians, whose wives and children came to the forts for it, and were also furnished with clothing at the King's expense. Traders resided in the forts who bought peltries of them. Several homes were outside the forts, but people did not care to occupy them for fear of being scalped. One of the French batteaux usually carried sixty bags of flour and three or four men; when unloaded they would carry twelve men.
A journal written in November, 1758, gives this description of the two forts, on the authority of an Indian who had just come in: "Presque Isle has been a strong stockaded fort, but is so much out of repair that a strong man might pull up any log out of the earth. There are two officers and thirty-five men in garrison there, and not above ten Indians, which they keep constantly hunting for the support of the garrison. The fort on LeBoeuf River is in much the same condition, with an officer and thirty men, and a few hunting Indians, who said they would leave there in a few days."
The English Gaining
During the year 1758, the English made sufficient progress in the direction of the Ohio to compel the French to evacuate Fort DuQuesne on the 22d of November, their artillery being sent down the river, and the larger part of the garrison retiring up the Allegheny. A letter dated Montreal, March 30, 1759, announces that the French troops at Detroit had been ordered to rendezvous at Presque Isle, in order to be ready to aid Fort Machault if necessary, the commander at the latter being required, if too hard pressed, to fall back on Le Boeuf. The Indians, by this time, had lost confidence in the triumph of the French, and many were either siding with the English or pretending to be neutral. One of them, employed by the English as a spy at the lakes, reached Pittsburgh during March, and gave some additional particulars of the fort at Presque Isle. "It is," he said, "square with four bastions. * * The wall is only of single logs, with no bank within -- a ditch without. * * * The magazine is a stone house covered with shingles, and not sunk in the ground, standing in the right bastion, next the lake. * * The other houses are of square logs." Fort Le Boeuf he described as of "the same plan, but very small -- the logs mostly rotten. Platforms are erected in the bastions, and loopholes properly cut; one gun is mounted in a bastion, and looks down the river. It has only one gate, and that faces the side opposite the creek. The magazine is on the right of the gate, going in, partly sunk in the ground, and above are some casks of powder to serve the Indians. Here are two officers, a storekeeper, clerk, priest, and 150 soldiers, who have no employment. * * * The road from Venango to LeBoeuf is well trodden; from there to Presque Isle is very low and swampy, and bridged most of the way."
Evacuation of the French
The tide of battle continued to favor the English, and they finally besieged Fort Niagara below Buffalo, compelling the French to withdraw 1,200 men from Detroit, Presque Isle and Venango for its defense. Its capture by the English astonished and terrified the French in this section. A messenger reached Presque Isle from Sir William Johnson, the victorious English commander, notifying the officer in charge that the other posts must surrender in a few days. The French knew that their force was too small to copy with the enemy, and began making hasty preparations for departure. Their principal stores at Presque Isle were sent up the lake August 13, 1759, and the garrison waited a brief time for their comrades at Le Boeuf and Venango when the entire army left in batteaux for Detroit. An Indian, who arrived at DuQuesne soon after, reported that they had burned all of the forts, but this is questioned by some of the authorities. Upon taking their departure, they told the aborigines that they had been driven away by superior numbers, but would return in sufficient force to hold the country permanently.
The English did not take formal possession of Forts Presque Isle and Le Boeuf until 1760, when Maj.Rogers was sent out for that purpose. Hostilities between the two nations continued, but the bloody wave of war did not reach Western Pennsylvania. A treaty of peace was signed at Paris in 1763, by which the French ceded Canada and confirmed the Western country to the British Crown. The Indians did not take kindly to the British. They were hopeful of the return of the French, and meditated the driving of the victorious rivals out of the country. In June, 1763, the great Indian uprising known as "Pontiac's Conspiracy" occurred, which resulted in the destruction of all but four of the frontier posts. Fort Le Boeuf fell on the 18th and Fort Presque Isle on the 22d of that month, as will be found more fully described in the chapter devoted to the Indians. Col. Bradstreet, with a small army, arrived at Presque Isle on the 12th of August, 1764, and met a band of Shawnees and Delawares, who agreed to articles of peace and friendship. From there he marched to Detroit, where another treaty was made with the Northwestern Indians. These proceedings seem to have been entered into by the savages merely as a deception, for in a short time they renewed hostilities. Another expedition, under Col. Boquet, was fitted out, and punished the troublesome tribes so severely that they were glad to accept the conditions offered them.
The independence of the United States was acknowledged by Great Britain in 1783. By the treaty of peace the mother country abandoned all pretensions to the western region. Her officers in Canada, however, still retained a hope of the ultimate return of the colonies to the protection of the British Crown. The English had, by this date, won the confidence of the Indians, who were kept hostile to the Americans by representations that Great Britain would yet resume possession of the country. As late as 1785, Mr. Adams, our minister at London, complained to the English Secretary of State, that though two years had elapsed since the definitive treaty, the forts of Presque Isle, Niagara, and elsewhere on the Northern frontier were still held by British garrisons. The actual American occupation dates from 1795.
The French and English Forts
Little remains to be added to the various statements above, descriptive of the French forts. Fort Presque Isle stood on the bluff overlooking the mouth of Mill Creek, on the western side, about 350 feet back from the shore of the bay. The British put it in repair and occupied it till after our independence was acknowledged, by which time it had almost gone to ruin. Its site was easily traceable as late as 1863, by mounds and depressions on the bank of the lake near the mouth of the creek.
The fort at LeBoeuf stood within the present limits of Waterford Borough, on the brow of the hill above LeBoeuf Creek, nearly in line with the iron bridge across that stream. A ravine, which has since been partially filled up, extended along its north side, down which flowed a rivulet, leading Washington to describe the fort as standing on "a kind of an island." Practically the same site was successively occupied by the English and Americans.
The French Road
The French road commenced at the mouth of Mill Creek, where a warehouse stood, extended up that stream a short distance, and then struck off to the higher land, nearly following the line of Parade street, on its west side, through the city limits of Erie. A branch road led from the south gate of the fort, and connected with the main road in the hollow of Mill Creek. From the southern end of Parade street the latter ran across Mill Creek Township to the present Waterford plank road. The road that begins in Marvintown opposite the old Seib stand, and terminates at the farm of Judge Souther, is almost identical with the French thoroughfare. Leaving the Waterford plank, the French road took across the hills into Summit Township, which it crossed entirely, entering Waterford Township on the Charles Skinner place, and terminating at the gate of Fort LeBoeuf, about where Judson's Hotel stands. The route known as the French road in Summit is understood to be exactly on the line of its historical original. The road was laid out thirty feet wide, and was "corduroyed" throughout most of its length. It was easily traced when the first American settlers came in, was partially adopted by them, and portions of it, as above stated, are in use to this day.
Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Part II, Chapter VII, pp. 185-194.
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