America's Colonial History

The Colonial Wars in America 1607-1763

By Mary Rhinelander McCarl

There is nothing glorious about armed conflict in itself. It signifies the breakdown of negotiation and compromise. Yet we have preserved tales of war ever since Homer sang of the siege of Troy. There is a fascination in retelling exemplary, because they are true, accounts of this country's early days, when people arose to heights of extraordinary personal heroism; proved themselves, like George Washington, to have natural gifts for leadership; or failed like General Braddock, who paid for his mistakes with his life. On a deeper level, an understanding of the history of these conflicts in the days before America became independent is crucial to an understanding of the very core of America as a nation. Our language, our civilization, our boundaries within and without, were all fixed by the outcome of those conflicts that we call collectively The Colonial Wars.  

Armed conflict in America existed from time immemorial. Wars among Indian nations predated European conflicts by centuries, and when the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch arrived in America, they brought with them the political, religious, and mercantile tensions of Europe, which would continue to echo the wars of the Old World within the New. In the Society of Colonial Wars,1892-1967: Seventy-fifth Anniversary, Nathaniel C. Hale, chronicled the conflicts of the Europeans with the Indians, the Anglo­Dutch conflicts, the intra-colonial squabbles, as well as the grand campaigns between the British and the French. 
The aim of this historical essay is more modest. It tells the stories of selected conflicts that are examples of the changing relationship between the British settlers, the Indians, the professional British army, and the French. It will begin with a glance of the seventeenth-century conflicts between settlers and Indians, particularly the Great Swamp Fight in King Philip's War. These wars were fought by the colonials alone, without men or funding from the mother country. At that time the main problem for the Americans was to invent a strategy that would beat the Indians at their own game of lightning raids against defenseless settlements and of ambushing columns of men marching in European formations.
The eighteenth-century wars, in which the Americans played a vital but subordinate role, pitted professional European armies against each other. The British suffered occasional defeats in these campaigns when they violated the rules of wilderness warfare, but the final decisive battles were won by European armies in direct confrontation with each other. Here the focus is on the American colonial soldier as part of the great British military establishment. Were the Americans simply inept, argumentative, unreliable, pale shadows of the Redcoat ideal, or did they "march to a different drummer" and act in an honorable and reasonable way according to their own lights?
It is generally conceded that the British colonies of North America were founded for religious or commercial, not military purposes. Captain John Smith of Virginia and Captain Myles Standish of Plymouth Colony, professional soldiers, were exceptions among the farmers and traders. Yet the colonies were founded in areas with indigenous populations that quite naturally objected to being forced off their lands. How should they protect the farms with their houses full of food and manufactured goods, and their outbuildings and pastures full of cattle and horses? What was the most efficient method of defense on a moving frontier? In the earliest years of Virginia, the settlers huddled in fortified centers, and every settler was put under Draconian military discipline, but this promptly broke down and the militia system was substituted.
Every able-bodied male between the ages of sixteen and sixty served in the militia without pay. Training was minimal, but every soldier had to bring his own firearm to the annual training day, and to demonstrate that he was an accurate shot. The militia in its regular form was a purely defensive force, never asked to move outside the neighborhood of the members' homes. In areas of particular danger the colonists developed a garrison system of fortified dwellings where inhabitants of a village might huddle until the threat of an Indian raid was past, but normally members of the militia guarded their own homes. The main use of the militia on the frontier was as a pool of men from which paid "rangers" were chosen to patrol the frontier line just in front of the settlements, and to go on occasional offensive raids against Indian villages. In the seventeenth century rangers were neither permanent nor professional soldiers.

  • The Great Swamp Fight in King Philip's War
    • The Great Swamp Fight was the first example of a large-scale victory of the English colonists over the Indians of southeastern New England. It was a test of the New England confederation or commission of the three United Colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Connecticut. Rhode Island, founded by dissidents and at this time largely inhabited by Quakers, was not an official member of the confederation, although many Rhode Islanders fought valiantly against the Indians.
      King Philip's War had begun in the summer of 1675 when the Wampanoags, inspired by Metacom (better known to the English by his baptismal name, Philip), son of the chief Massasoit who had welcomed the Pilgrims, opened hostilities against Plymouth colony settlements that were hemming them in at Mount Hope at the northeast end of Narragansett Bay. The Wampanoags caused much damage and misery, but the greater potential danger was from the Narragansetts of western Rhode Island, a large tribe that threatened the colonists in the settlements to the west on the Connecticut River and to the north in central Massachusetts. The English, fearful that they would join the fray, decided to force the issue of Narragansett loyalty and, if necessary, attack them in their winter quarters. When the Narragansetts refused to comply with the colonists' demands, the Commissioners of the United Colonies ordered the attack.
      On 19 December 1675 the total force of 1,100 men, including Indian auxiliaries, under the command of Josiah Winslow, the governor of Plymouth colony, was led by an Indian defector named Peter through the frozen swamp to the secret palisaded village which sheltered at least 1,000 Indians. The Indians had built individual wigwams for each family group within the fort and filled them with food supplies for the entire winter, but they had not quite completed their defenses. Peter led the colonial forces to the one spot where the defenses were incomplete. The troops poured in only to be driven back by direct fire and cross fire from the small blockhouses. Again they advanced. This time they gained ground inside the walls, and commenced hand-to-hand combat among the wigwams. With great difficulty, the colonists prevailed, the wigwams with their terrified inhabitants and all the food supplies were put to the torch. The official estimate was that three hundred warriors and over three hundred noncombatants died in the fort. The colonists lost twenty dead and two hundred wounded in the assault. The threat of the Narragansetts had been removed.

      In Captain Benjamin Church of the Plymouth colony, the English found their greatest leader, one who understood that the way to defeat the Indians was to wear them down. The greatest blow to the Narragansetts at the Great Swamp Fight was not so much the loss of life as the loss of food. From then on, the English strategy became to keep the Indians moving until they surrendered because their women and children were starving. The militia system was too cumbersome to provide the guerrillas that Church needed; he relied on a mobile group of volunteers, chosen from colonials and Christian Indians, who scoured the swamps of Plymouth colony looking for King Philip. On 12 August 1676 Church caught up with him in the swamps of Mount Hope, near Swansea, Massachusetts. Philip was killed by one of the Indians. Church described the corpse as that of a "doleful, great, naked, dirty beast." He had Philip's head cut off and sent back to Plymouth for public display. In September Church accepted the surrender of Annawan, Philip's war leader, who gave him the chief's regalia. That was the end of King Philip's War.

      It was also the end of the Indian threat to any part of southern New England. The Indians who surrendered were sold as slaves to the West Indies, others either moved west or became Christianized and marginalized within the English society. The Indian threat had been real. In proportion to population, King Philip's War inflicted greater casualties upon the white settlers than any other war in American history. The line of American settlement had actually been pushed back more than twenty miles. Thirteen towns in Mas­ sachusetts and Rhode Island had been almost completely destroyed; six, including Springfield and Providence, were partially burned. The economic cost was tremendous: the United Colonies claimed that their war expenses reached the staggering £100,000 sterling. Internal strains among the colonies, squabbling over former Indian lands, broke out. It should also be noted that the Narragansetts were betrayed by an Indian, and that Benjamin Church's forces were mixed white and Indian. Some Indians, whether because of ancient tribal animosities or for personal reasons, such as conversion to Christianity, always served with the colonial forces.
  • The Militia System
    • As the British settlements moved slowly westward, the militia became differentiated into two types. The first, on the frontier, remained the primitive type, entirely defensive. Throughout the colonial period and beyond, the settlers on the frontier and the Indians who impeded their movement westward, fought each other with ferocity, scalped, raided, and burned, yet in a sense understood each other and crossed the lines into each others cultures with some frequency. These men, except for a few who joined ranger companies in the 1750s (Robert Rogers and his second in command John Stark were the most famous) did not serve directly under the British. They were too busy defending their own families and moving the line of settlement westward.
      The second form of militia, which evolved in the settled areas behind the frontier, became more important politically than militarily. The militia companies were mustered once a year in the spring for Training Day. There they showed off their military expertise, elected their new officers, drank a good deal of punch in the local tavern, and generally enjoyed their time of patriotic male solidarity. These companies provided the young volunteers who served in the provincial forces for pay, young men in their early twenties, unmarried and landless, and in need of cash money to buy the land that was the only recognized form of wealth. The New England volunteers were literate and respected young men who served with their cousins and neighbors for money and adventure. They were very conscious of the contractual, covenantal nature of their service. They, as devoutly bigoted Protestants, extended the covenantal theory to their service as battle as against the anti­christian Indians and papist French. The Virginia volunteers for provincial service were drawn from same age group as the New Englanders, but were more likely to have been born in Britain and had no local ties. They had nothing of the New England village consensus that service was desirable, were far more cynical, and deserted at an appalling rate unless they were paid large bonuses.

      The British army, which had not existed in Elizabethan times, gradually took shape during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - an entirely different shape from the American pattern. By the eighteenth century, all British battles, except the Stuart attempts to regain the throne, were fought on foreign soil with professional soldiers.

      The officers bought their commissions and were of the landowning classes. The men, as the Duke of Wellington was to say early in the next century, were the scum of the earth. Not many were hardened criminals, but they were from the property-less, disaffected classes, without education or hope. They enlisted for thirty years or for life, never married, and knew no life but the army. As the eighteenth century progressed, more Highland Scots and Irish, who were not native English-speakers, enlisted, and the British made use of German mercenaries as well. They were exhaustively drilled and brutally treated; the shocked Americans recorded that some soldiers were sentenced to 1,000 lashes for misdemeanors. The officers, accustomed to perfect obedience and to an unbridgeable gulf between officers and men, could not understand the provincial mentality and saw the colonials simply as bad soldiers.
  • The Wars
    • Even before the first successful British colonies had been founded, British and French captains had burned out each other's embryo settlements on the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine, and it was obvious that eventually the two European rivals would meet each other in direct armed conflict on the soil of North America. Jamestown was founded in 1607, Quebec in 1608. In 1609, Samuel de Champlain came down the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain to what is now Ticonderoga. There, as an ally of the Hurons against the Iroquois, he killed enough Iroquois with his firearms to earn their undying enmity and set the allegiance in the conflict between the French and British for all time. The Iroquois, especially the Mohawks, were over the next one hundred fifty years either neutral or allied with the British; they never supported the French. It was the tribes of the Iroquois Confederation, the famous Five Nations, which controlled access to the furs of the entire Ohio Valley.

      However, the French could and did outflank the British, by going further to the west. They traveled across the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi, where they founded forts and trading posts, but they never did have sufficient settlers to sustain colonies any­ where but the Saint Lawrence Valley. The British were in solid settlement to the western borders of the thirteen original colonies, and were sending out expeditions into the Ohio Valley by the time the American Revolution began in 1775. Even by 1690, when they first became involved in the major colonial wars, the British­ Americans were so thickly settled, so conscious of themselves as a "peculiar people," that England was no longer home to them. They were on the way to becoming Americans.

      There were four official wars between the English and the French in the area of the thirteen original colonies between 1689 and 1763: King William's War (1689-1697), Queen Anne's War (1702-1713), King George's War (1744-1748), and the ultimate war, known in America as the French and Indian War (1754-1763) but appropriately named by the military historian of the era Lawrence Henry Gipson as "The Great War for the Empire." These four were the American manifestations of European conflicts. There were constant battles up and down the frontier which were given local names, such as the Tuscarora War (1711-1713) fought in North Carolina, the Yamasee War (1715-1716) fought in South Carolina, and Governor Dummer's War (1722-1725) fought in the Massachusetts territory of Maine. In the one hundred fifty-six years between 1607 and 1763, the British and French were officially at war with each other over one-third of the time, and it is safe to say that somewhere on the thousands of miles of frontier between the British, the French, and the Indian allies of both sides, aggressive action was being taken on every day of the whole period.

      In 1689 the Iroquois, acting to revenge a major raid on their territory by Governor Denonville of New France, wiped out the Canadian settlement of La Chine, above Montreal. The French, who had meanwhile declared war on the new English monarchs, William and Mary, recalled Denonville, and reinstalled the Sieur de Frontenac, the greatest of all the warriors of seventeenth-century New France. Frontenac organized three great raids in retaliation. The first was aimed at Albany, but when the Indians balked was turned against the helpless settlement of Schenectady, and effectively wiped it out. The second destroyed the settlement of Salmon Falls on the New Hampshire-Maine border. The third took the fort at Casco Bay, where Portland, Maine, now stands. The British garrison surrendered under European rules of warfare, but when the soldiers marched out and laid down their weapons, they and their families were overwhelmed by the Indians, many were killed and the rest led away into captivity.

      The English were determined to take revenge against the centers of French power. Fitz-John Winthrop, governor of Connecticut, organized an army of seven hundred fifty local soldiers, plus Iroquois, to attack Montreal. Simultaneously Sir William Phips was to sail up the Saint Lawrence and attack Quebec by sea. Winthrop's army of untrained militia levies never got any further than the southern end of Lake Champlain. Phips got to Quebec, unloaded some men, but could do nothing against the well-entrenched French. Sadly, the American fleet re-embarked its soldiers and sailed back to Boston. The only thing approaching an American victory was a successful cattle raid led by John Schuyler against La Prairie, near Montreal. Both the unsuccessful armies had been composed of untrained militia and led by amateur generals. They were also financed locally.

      The rest of King William's War was on the same level. John Schuyler's brother Peter led another raid against La Prairie, Frontenac retaliated against the Mohawk Iroquois. Schuyler chased him but was unable to inflict a mortal blow. Another scene of action was the Maine-New Brunswick-western Nova Scotia coasts, the area known to the French as Acadia. Port Royal in Nova Scotia changed hands more than once, York and Wells in Maine were raided, as was Oyster River (Durham, New Hampshire). The fall of the British fort at Pemaquid to the French and Indians in 1696 meant that the whole Maine coast became open to raids from Canada, and settlement pulled back from Downeast.

      The heroic brutality of the New England situation was epitomized in the story of Hannah Dustin of Haverhill, Massachusetts. French-led Indians raided the town in the spring of 1697. Hannah was seized and her newborn baby killed. Several weeks later Hannah, the neighbor who had been nursing her, and a small boy paddled down the Merrimack in an Indian canoe. She carried with her ten fresh Indian scalps, which she took to Boston in triumph. The governor dutifully rewarded her £10 for her prowess, and she went back to her anonymous life in Haverhill.

      King William's War ended with the Peace of Ryswick in 1697. The Americans learned that they could not, without the help of professional soldiers, take either Montreal or Quebec. The French likewise learned that they might lead Indian raiders against both Indian and British targets, but they could not take any British settlements in the thickly-settled areas. Both found that the Indians were unreliable allies, brutal and erratic, who could not be trusted to carry out the white man's agenda.

      The War of the Spanish Succession, or Queen Anne's War, which began in 1701 in Europe, was the war in which the Duke of Marlborough led Anglo-Dutch armies against the French in the Spanish Netherlands, now Belgium. In America, the British achieved some success in the south, but none in the north. In the south, British fur traders coming overland through Georgia, arrived at the Mississippi simultaneously with the French who came downriver. The French were clever diplomats, but the English had better quality trade goods, and the Indians of the southeast became involved in European rivalries. This exacerbated the longstanding rivalry between the English at Charleston and the Spanish at Saint Augustine. Efforts to take the rival cities ended in failure on both sides, but an unofficial raid on Spanish West Florida by the British was very profitable.

      In the north, the provincials were to emerge from the war with a deep disgust for the ethics of the British professionals, a disgust which was to color British-American relations throughout the colo­ nial period. The British took and permanently kept Port-Royal in Nova Scotia, which they renamed Annapolis Royal. The Abenaki Indians of Maine wiped out Wells in I703, a great raiding party from Quebec attacked Deerfield, Massachusetts, in I704. But despite the suffering which these raids and others like them caused locally, the French agreed tacitly to leave New York state alone, in order to assure Indian neutrality.

      It was attempts to take Quebec by land and by sea that exasperated the colonials. The British repeatedly stranded armies of local militia on the banks of Lake Champlain, while strategy shifted according to purely European considerations. Colonel Francis Nicholson, the American commander, served as either governor or lieutenant governor of five British colonial provinces; he was a most distinguished and able man, yet he was left to stew with his little army three times. None of the American governors, despite having been appointed by the Crown, could persuade the British military establishment to take them seriously. Finally, in 1711, Queen Anne decided to reward the family of her newest favorite, Abigail Masham, by putting her brother in charge of a frontal assault on Quebec. The fleet sailed down the Saint Lawrence only to crash against the northern shore of the great river (seventy miles wide at that point) and never got within one hundred and fifty miles of Quebec. Nicholson again loyally waited on the shores of Lake Champlain for word that never came.
  • War in the Carolinas
    • The Tuscarora of North Carolina were distantly related to the Iroquois of New York. They felt pressed by a combination of new settlers on their lands and more immediately by the highhanded tactics of the traders based in Charleston, who not only cheated them in trade but sometimes sold them into slavery. In 1711, when surveyors moved out to survey lands for the Swiss settlement that was to become New Bern, the Indians struck. North Carolina was so thinly settled that it could do little to defend itself. It called on Virginia, which held the Tuscarora in the north, but could not move against them in force; and South Carolina, which did provide the resources to put armies in the field. Over two years armies comprised of ten times as many Indians as white soldiers moved against the Tuscarora. In 1713, an army led by Colonel James Moore, Jr., won a three-day battle at the Tuscarora stronghold of Nohoroca. The English victory meant that the survivors of the Tuscarora moved north to join the Iroquois, which now became the Six Nations. White settlers poured into the vacuum.
      The Tuscarora War was part of the slow movement of pushing the Indians westward, the grinding work that can be traced on maps as the new counties were formed behind the treaty lines. The Yamassee War was more complicated in origin, and had serious repercussions as far west as the Mississippi. There were only two colonies south of Virginia in 1715, the two proprietary colonies of North and South Carolina (Georgia had not yet been founded; Florida was Spanish). Once the Tuscarora had been driven north, there were six principal tribes in the southeast. In South Carolina, the Catawba lived in the north on the rivers that drained into the Atlantic, the Yamassee held the same position south of Charleston. The Yamassee had once been located further south, near the Spanish at Saint Augustine. Nervous about the fate of the Tuscarora, they renewed contacts with the Spanish and also with their kinsmen the Creek. The Creek at that time, perhaps 9,000 people in sixty villages, lived well beyond the lines of settlement between the upper Suwannee and the Alabama rivers, in an area where the rivers flowed south and the trading paths cut across them from east to west. Above the Creek were their chief rivals the 11,000 Cherokees, who lived east of the Tennessee river and traded with both Virginia and the Carolinas. The remaining two tribes, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw, were too far west to be immediately involved in this war.

      In April of 1715, after the treaty of peace had been signed in Europe, the Yamassee massacred a group of Carolina traders in one of their own villages. The Creek and Catawba joined in the fray, moving first against the traders, then against the prosperous plantations around Charleston. The Carolinians blamed the Spanish in Saint Augustine and the French in distant Mobile for inciting the Indians, yet the Yamassee had plenty of reasons to resent the traders without considering outside influences. They were terribly in debt to the traders, who had begun selling the debtors' wives and children into slavery when they were unable to pay.

      The militia fought valiantly. but understandably refused to defend anything but their own property. The assembly, terrified by the threat of the Indians, called for a mobile standing army of 1,200 men, of which 500 were to be blacks and another 100 to be friendly Indians. That they considered arming the blacks shows the magnitude of the danger.

      The Catawba tried a direct assault in June of 1715, but were driven back by the militia under Captain George Chicken, and withdrew from the war. The Yamassee and the Creek got within twelve miles of Charleston before they were stopped. The Creek tried to pull in the Cherokee, but they supported the British. By the winter of 1715-1716 both Creek and Yamassee were seeking protection from the Spanish.

      The results of the war were mixed. The Creek, who were not yet threatened by white settlers, learned from this that they could play the two European powers against each other. The settlers of South Carolina realized just how fragile was their hold on the land and just how expensive it was to wage war in America. In 1719 the proprietors gave up and turned the government over to a royal governor. The very real threat of further Indian risings, Spanish raiders from Saint Augustine, and the possibility of slave revolts as the proportion of black slaves to white masters grew ever greater as the eighteenth century passed, would keep the Carolinians out of most of the formal wars for the empire. Then too, the trading rivalry with Virginia became heated, and dark suspicions were voiced that Virginia was making money from the Carolinians misfortunes. This too made the assembly reluctant to vote to join in joint expeditions. The aftermath of the Yamassee War also drew the attention of the British government to the southern frontier, when it became only too obvious that the French were trying to encircle the British by coming down the Mississippi. The Tuscarora and Yamassee Wars, like the earlier King Philip's War in New England, had consequences out of proportion to the numbers of combatants.
  • The Taking of Louisbourg (1745)
    • The successful conquest of the great French fortress of Louisbourg took place after the imperial system was in place in New England, but was largely a collaboration between the merchants of Boston and the royal governor. The New Englanders desperately wanted to open Maine and the Maritime Provinces to British settlement and trade. They provided all the soldiers; the British fleet provided protection, but only after the fact did the British government reimburse the colonists for their expenses.

      By the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, all of Acadia went to the British. This did not, however, include Cape Breton Island off the northeastern tip of Nova Scotia, which remained in French hands. This was of great strategic importance as it guarded the southern approach to the Saint Lawrence. The French decided to fortify the island, and so built the great fortress of Louisbourg, which has ever since loomed large in the tales of New England military history. Work was begun in 1713. By 1715 there was a population there of over seven hundred, not counting the soldiers in the garrison. In 1744 the garrison numbered seven hundred, and there were one hundred sixteen cannon in place, including some 36-pounders. The fort was built according to the most current military plans, the harbor was guarded, too, by some of the nastiest weather on the coast. (In many years the ice did not leave the harbor until May.) The French might well have thought themselves invulnerable there, but they fell victim to one of the grand amateur military campaigns of the eighteenth century.

      In May 1744, the French at Louisbourg received word from Paris that war with England had broken out again. An expedition from the French garrison overran the nearest British fort, at Canso on the far southeastern end of Nova Scotia. Among the officers captured at Canso was a native of Nova Scotia, John Bradstreet. He was paroled to Boston, where, he insisted in later years, he gave Governor William Shirley the idea of taking Louisbourg.

      William Shirley was the greatest of the British royal governors. He managed to keep the governorship of Massachusetts a record fifteen years, 1741-1756, juggling the demands of his English patron, the Duke of Newcastle, against those of the merchants of Boston. He was to fall from grace only when he unexpectedly inherited the command of all the British military forces in 1755, on General Braddock's death in battle. But that was far in the future. A lawyer with eight children and extravagant tastes, he and his ambitious wife, Frances, had arrived in Boston in 1731. He soon demonstrated a knack for judicious and politic application of the laws against smuggling, and against abusing the royal privileges that governed the great New Hampshire white pines, legally reserved for the king for ship masts. He was affable, hard-working, and had a devoted wife in Frances, who spent five years in London urging Newcastle to make her husband governor. In 1741, to the surprise of virtually no-one, her wish was granted.

      Shirley was a great governor because he was able to keep the large imperial picture before himself at all times. He persuaded the legislature to vote for men for the British forces in the West Indies (in 1741, Britain was fighting Spain in the Caribbean and had not yet officially declared war on France). Shirley looked forward to war with France because of the opportunity it gave him to build patronage by awarding military contracts. He and his backers, the bankers, also looked forward to an influx of sterling to help to cure the chronic problem of devalued local currency. Yet most of the Boston merchants who controlled the legislature did not necessarily want to think about, let alone send money on, expensive defensive measures for their own territory, which at this time meant strengthening the chain of forts along the coast of Maine. By actually going to Maine and investigating the situation, Shirley made allies of the two most important landholders and patrons of the area: Samuel Waldo and William Pepperrell. Waldo and Pepperrell could only make money if they could persuade reluctant settlers to buy land from them. The settlers would not move to the Maine coast without assurances that they would be protected from the French. By 1744, Shirley, Waldo, and Pepperrell were in complete agreement with Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire that hostilities were about to break out between Britain and France in the Massachusetts sphere of influence.

      France moved first and took Canso from the British. The garrison at Annapolis Royal was to be next. The French had actually fought their way past the outer buildings of the fort when the relief fleet from Boston arrived in the nick of time. Shirley had done all that he could to save Annapolis Royal. Yet, as he complained bitterly to London, the stingy Massachusetts legislature had placed strict limits on his efforts: one hundred eighty men for six months, with a monetary limit of £2,000. The legislators were willing, however, to strengthen forts under the direct control of Massachusetts.

      Late in 1744, the paroled British prisoners from Canso arrived in Boston. Three of them, John Bradstreet in particular, gave Shirley a very precise report on the insufficient firepower of the cannons guarding Louisbourg, and the discontent rife among the small number of defenders. Shirley decided to strike before reinforcements arrived from France in the spring of 1745.

      It took all his powers of persuasion to get a favorable vote from the legislature; he had to promise that professional British soldiers would take over from the provincials once the fort was won. On 25 February 1745, the Massachusetts legislature, guided by William Pepperrell, voted the governor the authority to raise three thousand volunteers. Shirley made Pepperrell commander-in-chief, with Waldo and Joseph Dwight of western Massachusetts as his brigadier generals. Colonies as far south as Pennsylvania sent men and supplies. Massachusetts and Maine provided 3,000 men, the largest contingent. Connecticut sent five hundred men. New Hampshire four hundred fifty. Rhode Island provided an armed ship; New York sent ten 24-pound cannon; Pennsylvania and New Jersey sent provisions. The bulk of the men, money, and materiel came from Massachusetts territory, yet the expedition was inter-colonial, and, more importantly, completely voluntary. Convinced that the British government would ultimately pay for the expedition in sterling, Shirley raised £50,000 in paper currency. He also requested that Commodore Peter Warren, commander of British naval operations in the Caribbean, escort his small fleet.

      The colonial fleet of fifteen ships sailed out of Boston harbor on 28 March 1745, without Warren's escort, but buoyed on its way by the sermons of excited clergymen, convinced that Popish tyranny would soon be forever driven from North America.

      Within a week after the fleet had sailed, Shirley received news that Newcastle had sent word that Warren was to be in charge of a grand effort to drive the French out of Nova Scotia once and for all. This might have caused difficult political problems for Pepperrell, but Warren proved, initially. to be most diplomatic in his dealings with the man from Maine. In June 1745, word reached Boston that the French had surrendered and that the amateurs of New England had finally beaten French regulars. The town went wild with joy. Shirley asked for the colonelcy of a British regiment (for financial, not military reasons) and a baronetcy. Yet only a few weeks later he had to sail to Louisbourg himself to quell fierce complaints among the Massachusetts soldiers that the British regulars were interfering and taking all the glory. Pepperrell wrote of Warren that all he did was to find fault because "the soldiers did not march as handsome as old regular troops, their toes were not turned out enough, etc."

      It is necessary to back up and examine the events of the campaign to see how the two points of view collided. The provincial transports jumped the season that cold spring of 1745. They arrived at Canso in early April before the ice was out of the harbor at Louisbourg. On 23 April Commodore Warren joined their little fleet with four immense British naval vessels, one of sixty guns, and three of forty guns. On 29 April the fleet moved over to Gabarus Bay, which opens to the south, three miles to the west of the town of Louisbourg. The landing was easy. Only three Americans were wounded, three Frenchmen killed. The remaining Frenchmen set fire to houses outside the walls and retreated into the town. Brad­ street had told Shirley that there were two breaches in the walls of the Great Battery on the north side of the harbor. As predicted, a small detachment discovered on 2 May that the French had spiked the great guns (twenty-eight 42-pounders) and abandoned the well­ stocked battery. By 4 May the Americans were turning French cannons on their former owners. As if this were not bad enough, Warren captured a French supply ship loaded with bread, meat, and flour, and further French ships with military supplies. Mean­ while the Americans bombarded the fortress from the hill above the town with some of the cannon from the Great Battery, which they had dragged through the swamps. Two direct attempts to take the town failed when the Americans proved to be too drunk to keep discipline. On 15 June, the two commanders were planning a joint assault when the French sent out a flag of truce. After a day of negotiations the French commander handed over the city to Pepperrell on 17 June. Thus the greatest French fortress in North America fell, a victim of official French neglect and American enthusiasm.

      Although Pepperrell and Warren understood each other very well (Warren had spent fifteen years in America, was married to a De Lancey of New York, and owned considerable property in Manhattan), trouble began at once. Warren insisted that the French flag be kept flying over Louisbourg to decoy rich merchant vessels into the range of his guns. Loot worth more than a million pounds sterling fell into his hands; according to the custom of the day half went to the British crown and half to the naval commanders, none to the shore forces. This was, to put it mildly, bitterly resented. But the real trouble came when the Americans were forced into a garrison role. They were simply too undisciplined for this. Their enlistments were for the season only, they were worried about their families in the backcountry of New England, which was open to raids from the French and Indians, and they were prone to all the illnesses that go with lack of sanitation. Of the four thousand men under Pepperrell's command, fifteen hundred were incapable of duty even before the French capitulated. By the spring of 1746, after a winter in camp, eight hundred ninety were dead.

      Yet the provincials held on at Louisbourg under Warren's governorship. They deeply resented the fact that they had been pressured into enlisting for a second year, but they had no way to get home to New England. The French in Canada, as they feared, stirred up the Indians in New York state to make trouble all along the frontier and distract the British from their next objective: Quebec.

      Meanwhile, the French sent an enormous fleet against Louisbourg to retake it as quickly as possible. The wind that blew the Spanish Armada up and around England in 1588 is always known as "The Protestant Wind," but the wind that saved Louisbourg in 1746 rates the same title. Everything went wrong with the French fleet: hurricanes, pestilence, the commander killed himself. The fleet turned around and fled back to France. The French king tried again in 1747; this time the fleet got only four sailing days off the cost of France when the English defeated it decisively in battle.

      The American soldiers and their clergymen exulted in every new mark of God's favor towards them. They were not prepared for the final outcome of the Louisbourg campaign. England gave it back to France in the peace treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. Every­ thing that Shirley and his volunteers had worked for seemed to have been for nought. Again, purely European considerations had overruled the considerations of the provincials.
  • Braddock's Defeat
    • The struggle actually began in the American back-country years before official war was declared in Europe. The British and French had been jockeying for position far beyond the lines of settlement, in the Ohio Valley, the Great Lakes, and ultimately, the Mississippi Valley. In 1701 a fortified trading post was opened at Detroit on the strait connecting Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Within a few years the French were trading furs with Indians for to the west of the Iroquois. There was a real threat that the French would outflank the English fur-traders altogether by building a chain of fortified trading posts down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Meanwhile inexorable pressure for westward settlement came from the Scotch Irish and the Palatine Germans flooding into the Mohawk and Susquehanna valleys of New York and Pennsylvania, and turning south into the Shenandoah valley of Virginia. In 1744 the Iroquois granted practically all the Ohio valley to the English, and the way was prepared for the joint stock Ohio Company, a trading and land development enterprise to establish British claims beyond the mountains.

      In 1753 an army of one thousand French headed down the Allegheny from Canada to build a line of forts. They had founded them at Erie on the lake and at the head of French Creek and had taken over an English trading post at Venango (Franklin, Pennsylvania) when Major George Washington found them in the winter of 1753 Washington carried a message from the governor of Virginia suggesting that they retire promptly to New France. They refused, and in the spring moved down the Allegheny to the Forks of the Ohio, where they chased away a company of Virginians who were building a fort at what is now Pittsburgh, and put in its place an impressive citadel they named Fort Duquesne.

      In 1754 Washington, besieged with his militia in the temporary palisade he called Fort Necessity, was forced to surrender to an overwhelming number of French soldiers. The English were driven out of the Ohio valley.

      The next year, 1755, General Edward Braddock arrived in Virginia with two regiments of British regulars to direct the campaign. The strategy worked out at a conference of colonial governors at Alexandria was elaborate. Braddock was to lead his two regiments of regulars against Fort Duquesne on a route up the Potomac via Fort Cumberland. One provincial army was to go up the Mohawk valley to take the French citadels on Lake Ontario; another was to move up the Hudson via Lake George to attack Crown Point on Lake Champlain, and a fourth army out of Boston was to re­establish British authority in Acadia where French troops from Louisbourg were building fortifications.

      General Braddock supplemented each of his understrength regiments with provincial recruits, trained them in the British system of close-order fighting (ignoring provincial advice about forest fighting), gathered a much too elaborate baggage train, and lumbered off slowly into the wilderness to meet the fate that was foreordained. They got within eight miles of Fort Duquesne, when the regulars panicked in the face of fire from unseen enemies. Nine hundred of the fourteen hundred British troops were killed or wounded in the rout, including General Braddock. Washington, by now a colonel, distinguished himself in battle, and after the defeat organized the defense of the frontier.

      Governor Shirley led the second army from Albany to Lake Ontario. His initial objective was the French Fort Niagara at the west end of Lake Ontario, but he stopped to reinforce the British Fort Oswego at the eastern end of the lake, fearing to extend his line too far, concerned that the French might cut his lines of communication. He then withdrew to Albany and then to Boston, where Shirley learned that he had succeeded Braddock as commander-in-chief. He began to plan the next year's campaign, but found that the provincial legislatures, stunned by Braddock's defeat, were not enthusiastic about advancing money or levying troops.

      The third expedition, against Crown Point, was led by Sir William Johnson, the fur trader and "father" of the Mohawks. His army consisted of three thousand provincials and two hundred fifty Mohawks. (This was the front in which the Massachusetts soldiers served.) The campaign was considered a British success, for the French commander, Dieskau, was captured, but it was a confusing affair as the Indians maneuvered for reasons of their own. Johnson took Crown Point and built a new fort, Fort William Henry, but he did not advance on a new French stronghold, Ticonderoga.

      The Nova Scotia campaign, which was a combined effort of New Englanders and British regulars, put an end to the French menace in Acadia by deporting the local population. Three British regiments occupied Nova Scotia for the remainder of the war.

      In 1756, Great Britain and France declared formal war. The British sent John Campbell, Earl of Loudoun, as commander-in­ chief; his second in command was General James Abercromby (both were to be shortly utterly detested by the Americans). The French sent out a tremendously gifted soldier, Louis Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm, to serve under the venal Governor General of New France, Pierre François de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil.

      Montcalm's first move was to take Fort Oswego. A first attempt at Fort William Henry was repulsed, but a second attempt succeeded when Loudoun divided his forces to lead an abortive expedition to retake Louisbourg. Montcalm's army consisted of five thousand five hundred regulars and militia and two thousand two hundred Indians. The British commander, Colonel George Munro had just over two thousand men. He surrendered after five days according to the European honors of war, but the Indians got out of hand, as they had at Casco Bay, and slaughtered the sick, the wounded, and the column of women and children, who were under French escort. The French withdrew to Ticonderoga. The Americans reinforced the older Fort Edward.

      In 1757, William Pitt became the British Secretary of State. Pitt firmly believed that the conquest of New France in America was realizable, and that the British could gain a final and lasting victory. Pitt threw himself into the task of planning a three-pronged attack on the French: Louisbourg, Quebec, Fort Duquesne. The northern colonies raised twenty thousand men and assembled them at Albanyfor an assault up Lake Champlain to Canada. The southern colonies contributed five thousand men for an assault on Fort Duquesne.

      The British, under Sir Jeffrey Amherst, supported by a fleet of thirty-seven warships, took Louisbourg after an eight-week campaign. The intention had been to move on Quebec, but it was too late in the season, and word had come that the British had suffered a major defeat at Ticonderoga. Abercromby had six thousand British troops, and seven thousand provincials to set against Montcalm's thirty-five hundred troops in Fort Carillon at Ticonderoga. Disaster began early for the British when George Augustus, Lord Howe, Abercromby's second in command, and the only high British officer whom the provincials admired, was killed in a minor skirmish. Abercromby, against advice and common sense, sent his regulars against the French fort, which was reinforced with brush and sharp stakes. The British soldiers, particularly the 42nd Highlanders of the Black Watch, were slaughtered. Sixteen hundred British were killed or wounded; Montcalm lost four hundred men. Abercromby withdrew in a panic to Fort Edward.

      A surprising number of the provincial soldiers from Massachusetts serving as auxiliaries, carpenters, and boat-builders kept diaries. Of all the events that they recorded, this debacle stirred them to the greatest eloquence. They lamented the popular young Lord Howe's death, which they saw as God's revenge on the sinful British army. The British did gain an important victory in that campaign season when John Bradstreet, now a colonel, took Fort Frontenac on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence at the entrance of Lake Ontario. He also destroyed a flotilla of gunboats and effectively cut off Fort Duquesne from being resupplied. The French abandoned Duquesne in the fall of 1758 when the British under General John Forbes approached.

      The next year the noose tightened on the French. Loudoun was replaced by Sir Jeffrey Amherst, who planned his campaigns with forethought and care for the sensibilities of the provincials, in striking contrast to Loudoun who had shown nothing but contempt for them. Also on the side of the English was an excellent navy, and they were aided as well by the fact that the Marquis de Vaudreuil was extremely corrupt and he and his greedy favorites hindered Montcalm.

      The British moved inexorably forward. Fort Niagara at the western end of Lake Ontario was taken, and the French lost all control of the lakes and the trade routes west. Montcalm was already preparing the defense of Quebec when General Amherst with over eight thousand men, half regulars and half colonials, moved on Fort Carillon at Ticonderoga. The French commander blew up his magazine and retreated to Crown Point, where he repeated the process. He dug in at Isle aux Noix, at the junction of Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River, only a few miles from the Saint Lawrence.
  • The Plains of Abraham
    • The capture of Quebec has always seized the imagination because of the dramatic setting of the city and the deaths of the two young commanders. Sir Charles Saunders led a powerful fleet up the river to Quebec. He landed nine thousand troops under Major General James Wolfe on the Island of Orleans, five miles below the city. Montcalm, with fourteen thousand troops guarded the land approaches to the city at Montmorency on the north bank. The armies maneuvered. The French sent fire ships and rafts down the river to burn the British fleet. The attempt failed. Wolfe failed in a direct assault on Montmorency. He tried shifting some troops upstream, but they were neutralized by the French under Colonel Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Then, in a surprise manuever on the night of 12 September 1759, Wolfe led a landing party that scaled the heights just above the city. The next morning forty-five hundred British troops met three thousand French regulars, allied with fifteen hundred Canadians and Indians. The formal battle lasted fifteen minutes before the city surrendered to the British. The French lost fourteen hundred to the British seven hundred, the Canadians and Indians did not take part. Both Wolfe and Montcalm were killed.
      Vaudreuil withdrew to Montreal, and the British settled in for the winter. The French, under the Chevalier de Levis, tried to retake Quebec in the spring of 176o, but the presence of the English fleet, which kept the British constantly supplied, forced the French to withdraw to Montreal. In early September the British moved on Montreal in a beautifully executed three-pronged attack: Amherst from Lake Ontario, then down the Saint Lawrence; General William Haviland, who moved down Lake Champlain from Crown Point, outflanking de Bougainville at Isle aux Noix; and General James Murray from Quebec. Vaudreuil surrendered, and French Canada thereupon became a British colony.
      Though the menace from the French was now over; there were still Indians to deal with. Quite understandably the Indians could not comprehend that the entire territory east of the Mississippi had been ceded to the British, and they protested bloodily against the waves of settlers that moved west into New York state, Pennsylvania, the western Carolinas, and Tennessee, and paused at the edge of the rich lands of the Ohio Valley. The Cherokee at the headwaters of the Tennessee River had been neutral until 176o, when they raided settlements all along the border. It was a year of atrocities and ambushes on both sides. Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa had been an old ally of the French. He objected strongly to the English taking over the forts and trading posts, and in 1763 he arranged that each tribe attack the fort nearest to it. Twelve forts were attacked, and all but four were taken by the Indians who massacred the garrisons. The British, under Colonel Henry Bouquet, relieved the Pennsylvania forts, including Fort Pitt, the former Fort Duquesne. In 1764 Bouquet cleared the Ohio Valley of the hostile Indians. In 1765 Pontiac himself formally concluded a peace treaty with Sir William Johnson. The final treaty of the whole series of colonial wars came when Cornstalk surrendered to Governor Dunmore of Virginia in 1774, ending Dunmore's War. This acknowledged that the entire Ohio valley was in British hands, and millions of acres were open to settlement.

      The most important effects of the colonial wars were to drive French authority out of North America and to break the military power of the Indians from the east coast to the area west of the Appalachians. The wars also shaped the American identity in ways that were not apparent at the time, but became quite clear when the American Revolution broke out. It is a paradox of history that at the moment of great British victory in 176o, the moment when American culture seemed to be most deeply Anglicized, the first shoots of what would be the tree of liberty were rising from the ground. The colonial soldiers had learned that they could not keep their identities within the formal British military system. The veterans taught that lesson on the simplest level in all the villages and towns to which they returned. When a majority of the American public agreed with them, the British system was doomed.