Incursions of the French Against the Mohawks

About this time the French, who based their right to the country of the Iroquois on the established maxim existing among European nations, that the discoverers who planted the arms of their government upon aboriginal soil acquired thereby the property of that country for their respective nations, became possessed of a desire to control the Hudson River and the port of New York. To carry out this purpose meetings of the cabinet council discussed plans, and measures were inaugurated. Also, in the hope of avenging past injuries and to put an end to future incursions, the government of New France resolved, in 1665, to send against the Mohawks a force that would not return until their enemies were wiped from the face of the earth.

On the 23d of March of that year Daniel de Runy, knight, Lord de Courcelles, was appointed governor of Canada. On the 9th of January of the following year this gentleman started, with less than six hundred men, upon the long-contemplated incursion to the heart of the Iroquois country, a weary march of three hundred miles in mid-winter, when the snow was four feet deep. On the 21st they started up the lake, and upon arriving at Bulwagga Bay, opposite the present town of Addison, took the route across to the head waters of the Hudson. Following the Hudson down as far as Glens Falls, they struck across to the Mohawk River, coming out near the Dutch settlement at Schenectady on the 9th of February. Here, in their half-famished and deplorable condition, they fell into an ambush of the Mohawks; and but for the intercession of Arant Van Corlear, a prominent citizen of Schenectady, the whole party would have fallen a prey to the vengeance of the exasperated Mohawks. They returned by the same route they came, "stopping two days at Chimney Point, for stragglers to come in."

Notwithstanding the inglorious termination of this expedition, its magnitude prompted the Iroquois to sue for peace, and a treaty was concluded in May, June and July, 1666, by the Senecas, Oneidas and Mohawks, respectively. Pending the negotiations, however, the Mohawks committed an outrage on the garrison of Fort St. Anne 1, which convinced its commander, M. de Tracy, that the stability of the treaty would be enhanced by visiting a chastisement upon them. Accordingly, at the head of six hundred troops and seven hundred Indians, he made an incursion into the Mohawk country in September, only to find it deserted by the wily savages; after destroying their villages and crops, he returned.

In July of the following year (1667) the peace of Breda was concluded between Holland, England and France, by which the New Netherlands was given to the English, and Acadia (Nova Scotia), with fixed boundaries, to the French. The interval of quiet was short, however, for in 1669 the troubles with the Iroquois were recommenced. Suffering and consternation prevailed among the Canadian settlements, and many of the settlers prepared to return to France; but in 1672 Count de Frontenac was appointed governor and lieutenant-general of the province, under whose effficient administration peace was again established in 1673. In 1684 this peace treaty was violated, M. de la Barre having in the mean time been appointed as De Frontenac's successor. Several years of bloodshed followed, reducing the French colony to a pitiable condition.

The accession of William of Orange to the throne of England, in 1689, however, gave a new aspect to affairs. Count de Frontenac was again appointed governor of New France, arriving here in October of that year. He immediately began earnest efforts to effect a peace negotiation with the Iroquois; but failing, he determined to terrify them into submission. For this purpose he fitted out three expeditions-one against New York, one against Connecticut, and the third against New England. The first was directed against Schenectady, which was sacked and burned on the night of February 9, 1690.

These repeated incursions by the French and Indians at last awakened the English colonists to the conviction that they must harmoniously unite in their efforts against their enemies if they would succeed. A convention was accordingly held in New York in May, 1690, constituted of delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, at which it was resolved to combine their strength for the subjugation of Canada. Massachusetts engaged to equip a fleet and attack the French possessions by sea, while the other two States should assault Montreal and the forts upon the Sorel. The land forces, mustered at Lake George in formidable numbers, embarked in canoes and sailed for Ticonderoga. Embarking again on Lake Champlain, but little progress was made when the expedition was abandoned through failure in supplies and dissensions in the force. The failure of these efforts and the heavy expenses incurred left the colonies in a more defenseless situation than before. But in the same year John Schuyler (grandfather of Philip Schuyler, of Revolutionary fame) organized a band of about one hundred and twenty "Christians and Indians" for an incursion into the French possessions. He cautiously passed down Lake Champlain and landed in the vicinity of Chambly. Leaving his canoes in safety, he penetrated to La Prairie, far within the line of the French fortresses. They fell upon the French colonists, who were unsuspectingly engaged in their harvest, and, in the savage spirit that then controlled such movements, committed young and old alike to slaughter.

This year (1690) was an important one in the annals of the territory immediately under consideration. On the 26th of March "The mayor, aldermen and justices of the city and county of Albany, gave Captain Jacobus de Narm orders to take seventeen men and pass by way of 'Schuytook,' and take from thence twenty savages," and proceed to the "pass" in Lake Champlain, there to build a fort; a project which had long been contemplated by Governor Dongan, of New York. This was accordingly done, and in the early summer a small stone fort was built on Chimney Point, in the present town of Addison. This was the first civilized occupation of the county's territory.

In the summer of the following year (1691) Major Peter Schuyler, with a force of about two hundred and fifty whites and Indians, passed down the lake to fall upon the ill-fated settlement of La Prairie, which he reached at dawn on the moming of August 1. A sharp battle ensued, in which the loss of the French was severe, though Schuyler was obliged to retreat with a loss of twenty-one killed and twenty-five wounded.

The result of these forays, while they were not decisive in themselves, was to keep the French settlers in a constant state of terror, and oblige them, in their impoverished condition, to support the large number of soldiers quartered upon them. In the mean time the Five Nations had nearly ruined the French fur trade by taking possession of the passes between the French and their western allies. In 1693, exasperated to the last extremity, Count de Frontenac secretly passed up the lake on the ice with a force of between six and seven hundred French and Indians, and descended into the Mohawk country. Here he destroyed three of their castles, meeting with but little resistance; but on his retreat he was sorely pressed by Major Peter Schuyler, who had hastily gathered a party of five hundred Albany militia and Indians, and started in pursuit. The French escaped, however, with a loss of eighty killed and thirty-three wounded In July, 1696, also, De Frontenac, after vainly repeated efforts to establish peace, set out for a destructive incursion against the Onondagas. But like the others, except in the destruction of villages and crops, this formidable invasion proved fruitless. Finally, in September of the following year (1697), the treaty of Ryswick was concluded, establishing peace between the French and English, a condition ultimately shared in by their respective allies.

With the signing of this treaty there followed five or six years of quiet in the region of Lake Champlain, during which interval, August 4, 1701, the Five Nations signed a treaty of neutrality with Canada. In the following year (1702) Queen Anne ascended the throne of England, and soon afterward found cause to declare hostilities against France. Then followed the war of the Spanish succession, or, as it was called in America, Queen Anne's war, attended with a decade of bloodshed and ferocious forays in New England and elsewhere. The Iroquois treaty of neutrality, however, turned this series of hostilities in other directions and to other localities than that under consideration. Suffice it to say, then, that on April 11, 1713, the treaty of Utrecht between England and France was signed, securing an interval of peace continuing over a period of thirty years.

During this interval, in 1730, a small French colony came up Lake Champlain and established themselves upon Chimney Point 2, the site occupied by De Narm in 1690. Here they built a small fort and probably repaired the stone fort built by De Narm. The little village which thus sprung up was subsequently given the name of Hocquart. In the following year (1731) M. de Beauharnois, the French governor of the Canadian colony, by the authority of Louis XV, though in direct violation of the treaties of Ryswick and Utrecht, proceeded up the lake and began fortifying Crown Point, directly opposite Chimney Point. To protect Canada from incursions by the Iroquois was the ostensible reason advanced by France for building this fortress; but that there was a deeper purpose is too palpable to need demonstration. While the English colonies were at first startled by this encroachment and awakened to a sense of the great advantage an enemy would gain by the control of this point, the enervation of peace (we can assign no other reasonable cause) had rendered them too apathetic to make any decided opposition to the invasion. As the work was first erected, it was a small wooden fort, scarcely strong enough to resist the weakest artillery; but it was added to and strengthened during the successive years until, in 1755, it contained space for five or six hundred men. It was called by the French Fort St. Frederic. Thirty men only formed the first French garrison at this point.

In the mean time, also, the English settlements were still gradually drawing nearer the Champlain Valley, that "gateway of the country" which the French were so insidiously fortifying and colonizing. As early as 1673 the settlement of Northfield, Mass., was commenced, followed soon after by that of Deerfield. As late as 1723 these towns were still the frontiers of Massachusetts in the vicinity of the Connecticut. On the 27th of December of that year, in order to more effectually secure the safety of the inhabitants here, the General Court of the Province of Massachusetts Bay voted that "it will be of great service to all the western frontiers, both in this and in the neighboring government of Connecticut, to build a block-house above Northfield, in the most convenient place on the lands called 'the equivalent lands,' and to post in it forty able men, English and Western Indians, to be employed in scouting at a good distance up the Connecticut River, West River, Otter Creek and sometimes eastwardly, above Great Monadnuck, for the discovery of the enemy coming toward any of the frontier towns, and so much of the said equivalent lands as shall be necessary for a block-house be taken up with the consent of the owners of the said land, together with five or six acres of their interval land, to be broken up or plowed for the present use of the Western Indians, in case any of them shall think fit to bring their families hither."

To fulfill the conditions of this vote a site was chosen in the southeastern part of the present town of Brattleboro, just south of the village, upon what is now known as the Brooks farm. Colonel John Stoddard, of Northampton, was ordered by Governor Dummer to superintend the building of the block-house, the immediate oversight of the work being committed to Lieutenant Timothy Dwight, who, with a competent force, consisting of "four carpenters, twelve soldiers with narrow axes, and two teams," commenced operations on the 3d of February, 1724. Before summer had begun the fort was so near completed as to be habitable, and was named Fort Dummer, in honor of Sir William Dummer, then lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts. This was the embryo of the first permanent civilized settlement, and the first of any kind by Anglo-Saxons, in the territory now included within the limits of Vermont. In 1739 quite a settlement had been begun in the present town of Westminster, and, about this time, another in the present town of Putney.

The smothered flame of rivalry and jealousy in the Old World broke out anew in 1744, when war was again declared between England and France. In the autumn of the following year (1745) an expedition was fitted out at Montreal for the purpose of proceeding against the Connecticut River settlements. Having proceeded up the lake as far as Crown Point (or Fort St. Frederic), its commander, M. Marin, was met by Father Piquet, a French préfet apostolique, who induced him to change his purpose. Accordingly the expedition proceeded on up the lake, then crossed over to the Hudson and destroyed Lydius's lumber establishment on the site of Fort Edward, and then passed on to the thriving settlement of Saratoga, which they utterly destroyed, only one family escaping massacre or imprisonment.

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. Terror and rapine reigned supreme. Still the English government displayed the same apathy and dilatoriness in coming to the aid of the distressed settlers that it had in allowing the French fortifications to be erected on Lake Champlain. 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 English settlers and their Iroquois allies displayed great bravery, but were too greatly outnumbered in concentrated forces to be even able to successfully protect their lives and property.

In October, 1748, however, the hatchet was once more buried. The European powers signed a new treaty of peace at Aix-la-Chapelle, which it was hoped would prove permanent. Quite the contrary was its reality, however, for hollow and insincere in the Old World, its tenure was scarcely observed at all in the New. Continued alarm and occasional attacks resulted in decided measures for protection in 1754, while two years later, May 18, 1756, England issued a formal declaration of war against France, a course made necessary for the protection of her American colonies, and which was reciprocated by France on the 9th of June.

Note:

1. This was the first structure erected in the vicinity of Lake Champlain. It was built in 1642 by Captain de la Motte, or Mothe, upon what is now known as Sandy Point, on the west shore and about a mile south of the northern extremity of Isle la Motte.

2. Chimney Point was called by the French Point à la Chevelure. It is a curious fact that at this time there were two small islands just opposite the point, all traces of which have long since passed away. One of these islands lay directly west of the point, the other a little north, against Hospital Creek. They were called by the French Aux Boiteux.
 

 

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