The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America - Walter R. Borneman (2006)

BOOK THREE. Prelude to Revolution (1760–1763)

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Nothing can eradicate from the English colonists’ hearts their natural, almost mechanical affection to Great Britain.

—GOVERNOR THOMAS POWNALL OF MASSACHUSETTS1763

16. MONTREAL TO MICHILIMACKINAC

As far back as Braddock’s roads in the spring of 1755, the British had always planned multipronged attacks against Canada. Pitt’s ascendancy resulted in detailed instructions for the multiple fronts of 1758 and 1759. Now, in the spring of 1760, however, Pitt’s orders to Amherst were decidedly succinct. By whatever routes and whatever means he chose, the commander in chief was to advance on Montreal and seize the last major objective in New France.

To be sure, there were some in Canada who still held out hope for a miracle despite the preponderance of British power arrayed against them. “Ah, one ship of the line,” lamented one of the French attackers who had briefly surrounded Murray’s beleaguered garrison, “and the fortress was ours.”1 That is an interesting “what if,” but at best, it seems that if the French had indeed recaptured Quebec, this would have merely prolonged their agony. Amherst’s own “what if” is that had he decisively pushed northward in the late summer of 1759, rather than stopping to rebuild Ticonderoga and Crown Point, Montreal might have fallen then and there, while the bulk of French forces were occupied around Quebec.

Now, beginning anew against Montreal, Amherst adopted his own three-prong plan. Brigadier James Murray was to move southwest up the Saint Lawrence River from Quebec. Brigadier William Haviland was to force Ile-aux-Noix at the outlet of Lake Champlain and strike north down the Richelieu River. Amherst himself would follow Bradstreet’s route up the Mohawk to Lake Ontario and then descend the Saint Lawrence northeast to Montreal. Chevalier de Lévis and his remaining forces—a few thousand French regulars and a fluctuating number of militiamen—would be caught in a vise or swept aside.

The sheer numerical superiority of the British on these multiple fronts was staggering: 5,600 regulars and 5,400 provincials with Amherst; 1,500 regulars and 1,900 provincials with Haviland; and 3,800 regulars with Murray, counting 1,000 reinforcements received from Louisbourg. These numbers, threatening from multiple directions, “made it impossible for the Franco–Canadian staff to adopt any fixed plan.”2

Of these three avenues, Amherst considered Murray’s the “easiest.” Murray agreed. Indeed, the arrival of the British fleet seems to have given the battered brigadier and his troops not only a new lease on life, but also a conquering edge. Noting that he had not heard from Amherst and fearing that Amherst’s movements northward were delayed, Murray wrote on July 14, 1760, that “the Saint Lawrence was the sure route” to Montreal. “I shall push without hesitation to that capital,” Murray continued. “I can do it with safety, because I am master of the river, and if Amherst does not get through, which I much doubt, I shall conquer the country.”3

Whatever his pretensions, Murray got started first. This was in large part because he indeed had the advantage of river transport on the Saint Lawrence and did not have to wait for the arrival of provincial troops—an annual ritual that frustrated the advances of Amherst and Haviland until late July. Relying on British sea power, Murray moved slowly up the Saint Lawrence. He issued proclamations calling on the inhabitants to resist at their peril, dispatched raiding parties to show that he meant it, and—despite his earlier boasts—shrewdly refused to land and engage Lévis’s remaining troops in force until he was confident that Amherst and Haviland were close at hand.

Meanwhile, Haviland advanced on Lake Champlain and forced Bougainville to evacuate the French works at Ile-aux-Noix. Amherst made similar progress against the defenses at Fort Lévis on the Saint Lawrence and then ran the rapids downstream to the western gates of Montreal, arriving there on September 5. By then, Murray was ashore in force just east of the city.4

Governor Vaudreuil and the chevalier de Lévis were out of options. There had never been any good ones—save perhaps prevailing against Murray at Quebec. Taking on the British forces one at a time as they converged on Montreal was not impossible, but it was highly impractical without naval control of the river. There was some talk of a grand retreat westward to Detroit and then south down the Mississippi to the Illinois country and to Louisiana, but that, too, did not come to pass.

With the Canadian militia melting away and the few Indian allies that remained not eager to fight those Indians who now supported the British, the French regulars were left to their own devices. On the evening of September 6, 1760, a meeting of civilian and military leaders was held at Vaudreuil’s house in Montreal. All agreed that “a capitulation honorable to the troops and advantageous to the people of Canada was far preferable to an attempt at defense that could only defer the loss of the city for a matter of a day or two.”5

Consequently, early the next morning, the trusted Bougainville was sent to Amherst’s headquarters under a flag of truce with a letter from Governor Vaudreuil. Surrounded though he was, the governor tried to buy a little more time by suggesting a truce until the return of a courier who had recently been dispatched downriver to ascertain whether or not France and Great Britain had come to peace in Europe. Perhaps Amherst suppressed a smile, but if so, he was not amused for long. “Tell Monsieur Vaudreuil,” Amherst replied icily to Bougainville, “I have come to take Canada and I will take nothing less.”6

If the governor had any proposals to make, Amherst continued, he should reduce them to writing. Bougainville mumbled a reply that such documents took time, but when he returned to Amherst’s camp by noon the same day with Vaudreuil’s proposed terms, it was clear that the governor had taken considerable time over the last few months to craft them in anticipation of the negotiation. Now, Vaudreuil proposed no less than fifty articles to govern the capitulation of not only Montreal but also all of Canada.

Surprisingly, Amherst agreed to many of them—mostly those detailing the administration of the colony and the property rights of its citizens. Some provisions, however, Amherst flatly refused. First, the French regulars would not be accorded the honors of war, but must lay down their arms and return to France with the promise not to serve again in the current conflict. Second, all Frenchmen and Canadians who decided to remain in Canada were free to do so, but they would be regarded not as neutrals—as Vaudreuil had proposed—but as subjects of Great Britain. Third, no sanctuary would be provided to those who had deserted the British army and fled to Canada; these deserters would be dealt with expeditiously. Fourth, in the event that Canada should become a British possession—and there was great uncertainty about that at this point—Vaudreuil had sought assurances that the French king would still be permitted to appoint the bishop of Quebec. This too the general of the Church of England, of course, declined.

Given the circumstances, one of Bougainville’s lieutenants thought that “Amherst accorded conditions infinitely more favorable than could have been expected in our circumstances.” But for a moment it appeared that Lévis might fight on after all. Most egregious to him was his soldiers’ status as prisoners of war and the prohibition against their future military service not just in North America, but in Europe as well. Limit the prohibition to Canada but not Europe, Lévis appealed. He did so because unless his officers were free to bear arms again in Europe, they would be reduced to half pay and would most likely meet financial ruin. Doubtless Amherst knew this, but he remained firm. He did so because of “the infamous part the troops of France had acted in exciting the savages to perpetuate the most horrid and unheard of barbarities.” Fort William Henry had finally been revenged.

Lévis threatened to retreat to an island in the Saint Lawrence and fight on, but Vaudreuil, relieved at the terms granted Canada and never too concerned about the fate of French regular officers, convinced him otherwise. By sunset on September 8, 1760, Amherst and Vaudreuil exchanged signed copies of the terms of surrender. Amherst immediately ordered Major Isaac Barré, who had served as James Wolfe’s adjutant on the Plains of Abraham and lost an eye there, to depart immediately and carry the news to Pitt. It was Amherst’s fondest hope that he, too, would soon be bound for England.

The following morning, the remnants of ten French battalions stacked their arms and returned two British flags taken from Oswego four years before. But where were the French battle flags? Amherst’s terms required the surrender of these colors—symbolic of their bearers’ status as prisoners of war—but now it appeared that Lévis had managed one small victory. Colors, the French asked incredulously? Why, they were so torn to pieces after six years that they had been destroyed. Undoubtedly, the destruction had been very recent and calculated to prevent them from falling into British hands. Amherst, not one to question the honor of an opposing officer, let the matter drop. The French could keep their colors; he would keep Canada.7

The French court took the news of the surrender of Canada with the same uninformed air and detachment that it had exhibited toward Canada’s affairs on far too many occasions during the past six years. Professing astonishment that Montreal had opened its gates “without having fired a shot,” one official in the ministry of the marine claimed that Amherst’s troops should have been no match at all because they had “come over the Niagara Falls.” And what of Louis XV? Did he finally have any misgivings that his mistress had lowered his eyes to Europe instead of opening them to the world? Legend has it that the French king was talking with Voltaire when he received the news. “After all, sire,” spoke the philosopher soothingly, “what have we lost—a few acres of snow?”8

Meanwhile, although Canada might be secure to British arms, there was trouble in the south. There is no doubt that Great Britain and France had long been transfixed by the campaigns along the Saint Lawrence and the Great Lakes. (So, too, would be many historians of the conflict.) It will be remembered, however, that the French encirclement of the British colonies extended all of the way down the Mississippi to New Orleans, east to Mobile, and then northeast to Fort Toulouse at the confluence of the Alabama and Tallapoosa rivers (just north of present-day Montgomery, Alabama). Good relations with the Indian nations inhabiting the buffer zones not only between the British Carolinas and French Louisiana but also between British Georgia and Spanish Florida were essential to the relative stability of these frontiers.

It will also be remembered that political rivalry between Virginia’s lieutenant governor Robert Dinwiddie and South Carolina’s governor James Glen had foiled Braddock’s attempts to recruit Cherokee warriors from this region to aid in his march against Fort Duquesne. When Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter) of the Cherokee had in fact led warriors north to aid General Forbes in his similar mission in 1758, they had been left with little to do and returned to the Carolinas largely disgruntled.

In November of that year, Governor William Henry Lyttelton of South Carolina wrote to Pitt and offered to mount an attack against French settlements on the Alabama and Mississippi rivers, beginning with Fort Toulouse. In some respects, Fort Toulouse was to the Carolina frontier what Fort Duquesne had been to the frontier of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Such an attack would be popular with his colony, the governor maintained, and he could raise a force of several thousand to accomplish it. Not only would the expedition evict the French from this territory, but it also would serve to impress the Creek Indians there and if not gain their support, at least keep them neutral. In this effort, Lyttelton assumed that he would have the support of friendly Catawba and Chickasaw as well as Attakullakulla’s Cherokee. Having boasted of South Carolina’s willingness to undertake this mission, the governor concluded his letter to Pitt with numerous requests, including tents for 2,000 men, 2,000 muskets and ammunition, and a direct mail service from Charleston to London.9

Even as Lyttelton’s proposal made its way to Pitt, Amherst himself had pondered a campaign against Fort Toulouse in the winter of 1758–1759. Nothing came of this, however, because Amherst worried that such troops would be needed in the north for the spring campaigns before an attack against Toulouse might be concluded. Amherst confessed to Lord Ligonier that such an effort would be “lopping off a branch, when it would be time that I should try at the stem and the root.” Pitt, for his part, of course, was also focused on Canada and not inclined to open a southern theater of operations. Lyttelton’s request was not approved, and South Carolina “fell back into its previous attitude of indifference to support of the war.”

Its neighbors were equally indifferent. North Carolina had sent three companies to aid Forbes in 1758, but declined to provide any support for the following year’s campaigns. Tiny Georgia had only a small troop of rangers maintained at the governor’s expense. All this was to change with what the colonials came to call the Cherokee War.10

The Cherokee numbered about 10,000. They lived in forty towns clustered in three main areas along the Carolina-Georgia frontier: the Lower Towns east of the Great Smokies, the Middle Towns tucked among their hollows, and the Overhill Towns west of the mountains. Despite Attakullakulla’s generally pro-British stance, there was a strong pro-French faction among the Cherokee that was hardened by the whispers of French traders from Fort Toulouse and by increased resentment over four principal British settlements deep in Cherokee country.

These settlements were Long Canes Creek and Ninety-Six in western South Carolina; Fort Prince George on the Keowee River in extreme western South Carolina; and Fort Loudoun on the Little Tennessee River on the western side of the Smokies, about thirty-five miles southwest of present-day Knoxville. Fort Loudun had been established in 1756 near the Cherokee capital of Chota and was the “first English fort on the western side of the Appalachians.” It hardly helped matters that a number of Cherokee women, “enjoying great personal freedom, soon were living with many men of the garrison.”11

Friction intensified when some of Attakullakulla’s warriors returning from the Forbes campaign were mistaken for the enemy and were killed indiscriminately by militiamen. To add insult to injury, other returning Cherokee found that in their absence, colonials had encroached on the hunting grounds of the Lower Towns and poached game vital to the winter hunt. Attakullakulla became the mediator in a rapidly deteriorating situation and tried to salvage relations by emphasizing the beneficial trading relationships that were crucial to both the Cherokee and the South Carolinians.

But when certain Cherokee went to Charleston to further negotiations, Governor Lyttelton not only cut off all trade goods—including the time-honored presents—but also took some of the group as hostages, demanding in return that any Cherokee who had ever killed a settler be turned over for punishment. When this didn’t produce results, Lyttelton marched the South Carolina militia to Fort Prince George along with the innocent hostages.

Such saber rattling, of course, only made matters worse. The Cherokee refused to surrender the accused parties, and Lyttelton continued to hold the innocent hostages and some three tons of presents—woolens as well as powder, balls, and muskets. Then, an outbreak of smallpox caused panic among Lyttelton’s militia and the governor beat a hasty retreat to Charleston. He left behind a recipe for disaster: a smallpox epidemic, vengeful Cherokees who would never surrender to British justice, resentful relatives of the innocent hostages, and a stockpile of guns and ammunition. Lyttelton’s ineptness had lit the fuse, but within two months he departed Charleston to become governor of Jamaica and left the ensuing mess to Lieutenant Governor William Bull.

Isolated, undermanned, and holding both prisoners and booty, Fort Prince George became a ripe target. On February 16, 1760, the Cherokee leader Oconostota tried to lure the fort’s commandant into an ambush under the guise of a parley. The commandant was killed, but Fort Prince George held and the innocent Cherokee hostages were murdered in retaliation. This act unleashed Cherokee attacks all along the Carolina frontier, effectively pushing it eastward almost 100 miles.

Now, rather than offering to lead an attack against the French, South Carolina appealed for British regulars to secure its own interior. Amherst responded by dispatching the First and Seventy-seventh regiments of Highlanders under the command of Colonel Archibald Montgomery to Charleston. Montgomery’s second in command was Major James Grant, recently exchanged as a prisoner of war after having been captured outside Fort Duquesne. Whether Grant had learned anything about Indian warfare remained to be seen.

Montgomery marched to the relief of Ninety-Six and then moved westward to Fort Prince George, destroying a succession of Cherokee villages in the Lower Towns in the process. “The neatness of those towns and their knowledge of agriculture would surprise you,” Grant wrote to Lieutenant Governor Bull. “They abounded in every comfort of life, and may curse the day we came upon them.”12

From Fort Prince George, Montomery attempted to advance on the Middle Towns where many Cherokee from the Lower Towns had taken refuge. But this was tougher country. The paths were impassable to large wagons, and even the Scots, who were used to mountainous terrain, found the going difficult. On June 27, 1760, near Echoe, a Cherokee attack inflicted 100 casualties and the loss of so many pack animals that Montgomery decided that he had had enough. Abandoning any thought of pushing on to Fort Loudoun, he retreated to Fort Prince George and in short order to Charleston itself.

By August, Montgomery’s force was en route back to New York, and Amherst was calling the venture “the greatest stroke the Indians have felt.” It was hardly that. Despite leaving some provisions and reinforcements at Fort Prince George, Montgomery had returned to Charleston without addressing any of the underlying issues. For their part, the Cherokee were certain that the column of redcoats had withdrawn out of fear.13

The real losers, however, were the 200 militiamen under the command of Captain Paul Demeré who were now isolated and besieged at Fort Loudoun. Because the distance to the fort was shorter from Virginia than Charleston, South Carolina appealed to Virginia for assistance; and a relief column of 300 men under the command of Colonel William Byrd started for Fort Loudoun in July. But Fort Loudoun’s garrison was starving and ready to desert long before it drew near.

Captain Demeré was forced to ask for terms and surrendered the garrison on August 8, 1760. His soldiers and their families were to be escorted to Fort Prince George, but on the second day of the march, the Cherokee escorts attacked the column. Demeré was badly wounded, thirty-two others were killed, and the survivors were divided up as captives. Later, Demeré appears to have been tortured to death. Of the officers, only one, Captain John Stuart, was spared, because he was a former trader and a friend of Attakullakulla’s.

Once more, South Carolina appealed to Amherst for assistance, and 1,200 British regulars returned to South Carolina, disembarking in Charleston on January 6, 1761. This time, James Grant was in full command as a lieutenant colonel. South Carolina also raised a regiment of its own. This included a company of provincials in which a farmer from Upper Saint John Parish named Francis Marion served as first lieutenant.

Grant’s expeditionary force of some 2,800 regulars, provincials, and Mohawk and Stockbridge Indians reached Fort Prince George in May and found things calmer. Its commander had managed to ransom 113 white prisoners, many from Fort Loudoun, and win the respect of the Cherokee in the process. Grant might have stopped then and there and bargained for peace, but Amherst’s orders were “to chastise the Cherokees [and] reduce them to the absolute necessity of suing for pardon.” Revenge for the massacre at Fort Loudoun—which itself had been revenge for the slaughter of the Cherokee hostages at Fort Prince George—gave local fervor to Amherst’s charge.

Moving northward from Fort Prince George, Grant’s column was met by a force of about 1,000 Cherokee on June 10, 1761, just short of Echoe, where Montgomery had called it quits the year before. Once again, Cherokee warriors lay in ambush in a narrow pass and Francis Marion’s company of South Carolina rangers was given the unenviable task of clearing the way. Despite heavy casualties, Marion advanced steadily, and Grant’s main force soon followed. Routing the main body of Cherokee, Grant proceeded to carry out a systematic advance of death and destruction. All fifteen of the Middle Town villages were burned, along with 1,500 acres of cornfields and bean fields. Such widespread destruction would not be felt in the south again until Sherman marched from Atlanta to the sea a century later.14

With no assistance likely from the French at Fort Toulouse and with William Byrd’s expedition from Virginia building a road into the northern part of their territory, the remaining Cherokee sent Attakullakulla to Grant to broker a peace.

Attakullakulla proved an astute negotiator. The terms that ensued pushed the Cherokee boundary westward, but only a small distance. Lyttelton’s demands for retribution against those who had killed settlers in 1759 were quietly forgotten. Under the guidance of John Stuart, who was determined that Lyttelton’s callous treatment of the Cherokee not be repeated, a measure of trade resumed between the Cherokee and Carolinians.

General Amherst recognized that such trade was necessary; but in the aftermath of the Cherokee war, faced with similar issues on the northern frontier, he made an almost unilateral decision as commander in chief that was to have dire consequences. Forgetting, or at least choosing to ignore, the pleas of the dying John Forbes, Amherst viewed the Indian situation in strictly military terms and now that the French were removed from the situation, dictated that the long-established custom of dispersing presents was to cease.

“You are sensible how averse I am, to purchasing the good behavior of Indians, by presents,” wrote Amherst to Sir William Johnson, “the more they get the more they ask, and yet are never satisfied; therefore as a trade is now opened for them, and that you will put it under such regulations as to prevent their being imposed upon, I think it much better to avoid all presents in the future.” It was to be an ominous pronouncement.15

Meanwhile, as Francis Marion was honing the ranger skills that would serve him well as the “Swamp Fox” in a coming war, the most famous ranger of the current conflict had been dispatched westward to accept the French surrender of Detroit and see to French outposts as far away as the Straits of Mackinac. Major Robert Rogers had been engaged with Brigadier Haviland’s push north from Lake Champlain; but barely was the ink of Vaudreuil’s signature dry on the surrender documents at Montreal than Amherst sent Rogers west. “The capitulation including in it, as we hear,” reported the Boston Evening Post of October 13, 1760, “not only all Canada, but likewise all the territories thereof depending—and that Major Rogers with a large body of rangers were gone upon a distant expedition towards Lake Superior.”16

With two ranger companies, Rogers ascended the Saint Lawrence from Montreal, camped on the ruins of Fort Frontenac, paddled along Lake Ontario’s northern shore to Niagara, and then portaged south into Lake Erie. As the main body of his rangers rowed along Lake Erie’s stormy shores, Rogers pushed on ahead with a few others and detoured south from Presque Isle to Fort Pitt, following Amherst’s orders. Here, Rogers conferred with Brigadier Robert Monckton and was joined by the veteran Indian agent and trader George Croghan and a company of Royal American regulars for the push westward to Fort Detroit.

After regrouping at Presque Isle, the combined party of Rogers, Croghan, regulars, and rangers left there on November 4, 1760, in nineteen assorted whaleboats and bateaux. There was considerable uneasiness over how both the French at Fort Detroit and the Ottawa and Huron along the way would receive them. Croghan dispatched Iroquois and Delaware emissaries to invite Ottawa chiefs to meet them at the mouth of the Detroit River, but some thirty Ottawa signaled the flotilla to parley near present-day Ashtabula, Ohio, and others did so from the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. It was true, Rogers assured them; the French were no longer masters of Canada, and henceforth they must look to the British.17

More meetings with representatives of both the Ottawa and the Huron occurred as Rogers and his party moved westward past Cedar Point and Maumee Bay. No warfare broke out, however, and on November 27, 1760, the command entered the mouth of the Detroit River. Now, it was the French commandant at Fort Detroit who questioned their advance. Despite Rogers’s letter containing the terms of Vaudreuil’s surrender, the commandant expressed surprise that “no French officer accompanies you.” But this matter, too, was resolved peaceably, and two days later Rogers’s detachment of green-clad rangers stood beside the red coats and blue breeches of the Royal American regulars and watched as the French flag with its golden fleur-de-lis was lowered from Fort Detroit. It had flown there for fifty-nine years.18

But Major Rogers had not yet completed his full assignment. On December 7, 1760, a party of rangers set off to take over French posts southwest of Detroit. A day later, with thirty-five rangers and a dozen French inhabitants and Indian guides, Rogers himself set off for the Straits of Mackinac to enforce the surrender of Fort Michilimackinac. Old-timers marveled at his courage, but had their doubts. “Everybody here,” wrote Captain Donald Campbell of the Royal Americans, “says he will find great difficulty to get himself to Michilimackinac even with a small detachment; they doubt even it’s possible to be done.”

Indeed, that proved to be the case. A week later, about seventy-five miles north of Detroit on the western shores of Lake Huron, winter got the best of the man who, just the year before, had made his epic return from Saint Francis. In the face of great ice floes and a hammering north wind, Rogers was forced to halt. “To our great mortification,” the major wrote, “we were obliged to commence a return; in which, we were so much obstructed by ice, that we did not reach Detroit until the 21st.”19

But still, Rogers was not content to rest. After arriving back in Detroit, he departed again on December 23, bound this time to report to General Amherst. By the time Rogers presented himself before Amherst in New York City on February 14, 1761—by his own admission “in perfect health”—he had made an incredible six-month circuit through parts still largely unknown to the British, heightening his already enlarged reputation.

Unfortunately, however, the dark side that always plagued Rogers had been present on this journey, too. Impoverished more than usual by his years of service around Lake George, Rogers entered into a trading partnership at Fort Niagara. Supplies were purchased from the partnership for the expedition, and other partnership goods became part of the expedition’s cargo. This was not exactly illegal—indeed, John Bradstreet had taken similar liberties—but it was what in a later time would be called an “appearance of impropriety.” In some respects, the entire situation was a double-edged sword. Were it not for the entrepreneurship of their officers, many small units would have gone without supplies. But such arrangements did provide an easy mark when critics chose to cry “foul.”

Then, too, there was the deed. Rogers had been eager to claim lands since his early days on the New Hampshire frontier. Now, he returned to New York with a deed from four Chippewa chiefs purporting to convey an estimated 20,000 acres of land on the southern shores of Lake Superior. The acreage lay at the extreme western end of what would become Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and even then was rumored to hold rich copper deposits. It was not the sort of thing that British officers routinely acquired—no matter how accustomed they might be to the spoils of war—and it would come back to haunt him.20

Regardless of Robert Rogers’s indiscretions and his failure to reach Fort Michilimackinac that fall, the very fact that he had been bound there to accept its surrender was proof in itself that Great Britain had indeed taken all of Canada. Whether Great Britain would choose to keep its North American conquests would soon be a matter of great debate. Meanwhile, however, there were still other battles raging in Mr. Pitt’s global war.