Parallel Warfare and Amerindian-European Alliances in the Seven Years' War: Part 2

Continued from previous page ...

Which brings us to the summer of 1756, when an allied army attacked Oswego. After a four day siege, the French and British opened negotiations and signed articles of capitulation.

For the French, this is just great. Taking Oswego eliminates a British naval base on Lake Ontario, removes a threat to french supply lines to the Ohio, and ends the danger of a British invasion of Canada down the St. Lawrence.

But this capitulation gave the Canadian Iroquois exactly nothing. Once again, the French negotiated as if they didn't exist. The terms of surrender took no account whatever of Canadian Iroquois war aims.

This was no more acceptable to the Canadian Iroquois than leaving Oswego in the hands of the British would have been to the French.

They moved immediately to rectify this situation. When the French took the garrison into custody, Amerindians brushed past French sentries, appropriated the possessions of disarmed British soldiers, and took about fifteen prisoners. Those who resisted were killed.

Incidentally, I've found that Amerindians would take anyone prisoner, if they surrendered immediately. When potential prisoners resisted, on the other hand, they'd often just kill them.

One Amerindian party forced its way into the British hospital, and killed all the patients. Other fighters pursued members of the garrison who fled towards British- controlled territory. These fugitives were, for the most part, French deserters who'd enlisted in the garrison. Some slipped away when Oswego surrendered, others remained, laid down their arms, then made their escape. A few escaped; the rest were killed, which is exactly what would have happened if the French had caught up with them.

Once the Canadian Iroquois had their prisoners, the siege of Oswego became an Amerindian, as well as a French, success.

The next campaign, in 1757, brings us back to Lake Champlain. In that year, an allied army mustered at Ticonderoga, then besieged Fort William Henry. On the morning of 9 August, the French and British negotiated a surrender. The Europeans expected that the garrison would leave the next morning, with a French escort.

But once again, the articles of capitulation made no allowance for the achievement of Amerindian goals, and the Amerindians prolonged hostilities after the Europeans agreed to stop.

Following the capitulation, French grenadiers took possession of the fort. The garrison departed without incident, carrying their weapons and personal effects, and marched to the entrenched camp.

At the same time Amerindian fighters entered the fort through embrasures. They killed sick and wounded soldiers and gathered matériel. Then they turned their attention to the entrenched camp, where they appropriated the possessions of members of the garrison. Some of the British resisted, others offered bribes of rum or money. Most remained passive.

The next morning, as British regiments formed up to march to Fort Edward, numerous Amerindians (most armed only with axes, some unarmed) returned to the entrenchment. Outnumbered by armed enemies, the Amerindians gathered weapons, clothing, and personal effects from British soldiers and civilians.

Instead of standing firm, the British marched out before their French escort had fully assembled. The British regiments passed through the gates in reasonably good order. They pushed their way through an Amerindian crowd, preceded and assisted by French soldiers. The Amerindians allowed the regulars and provincials to depart more or less intact.

But as the last regiment cleared the gates, the Amerindians fell upon the tail of the column and began to seize prisoners.

At this point British officers finally began to organize resistance, and ordered the regiments to halt.

However, the seizures of prisoners at the rear led the hindmost troops to flee towards the front. This left a gap between the armed soldiers and the non-combatants, who were abandoned in the camp.

As they ran, soldiers from the rear crashed into those who were forming up in front. The ensuing impact threw the column into confusion. Simultaneously, when those in front heard about the seizures in the rear, they broke and fled forward.

Chaos ensued.

Individual Amerindians, men and women alike, pushed their way into the column and dragged out passive, unresisting captives.

French observers couldn't quite believe their eyes. The British, said one French officer: "... allowed themselves to be taken like sheep, in the midst of their battalions, armed, and taken away without making the least resistance.

Two years later, incidentally, the French garrison of Fort Niagara found themselves in the same position. Threatened by Amerindians, after the fort surrendered, they closed ranks, fixed bayonets, and held firm until their opponents backed off.

At Fort William Henry, the chase continued for about seven kilometres along the road to Fort Edward. The Amerindians took seven hundred prisoners, mostly from the rear of the column. They killed thirty to fifty persons who resisted capture.

French attempts to intervene produced minimal results. More effectually, Amerindian leaders persuaded numerous fighters to release their captives. Four hundred prisoners were subsequently turned over to the French; three hundred remained in captivity.

With prisoners, scalps, and matériel safely in hand, the Amerindians left for Montreal. A few prisoners were killed en route by the western allies. Most were ransomed by the governor general.

For the French and British, the campaign of 1757 ended in atrocity with a treacherous attack on prisoners. You can still hear the echoes of their outrage in contemporary popular culture.

For the Canadian Iroquois, the campaign ended on a high note, with a massively successful seizure of prisoners. In achieving this triumph they overcame both the resistance of their enemies and the interference of their friends.

During this campaign, the surrender of a fort again represented success for the French and failure for the Canadian Iroquois. This might have been avoided if both groups had understood and respected the aspirations of the other. Instead, each party refused to recognize their ally's definition of victory.

Amerindians did not respect the French acceptance of the British surrender; Frenchmen did not consider the subsequent seizure of prisoners and property to be a legitimate act of war.

Braddock's defeat and the ambush on the road to Lake George occurred in the open forest. Battles in the forest Amerindians allowed Amerindians to wage parallel warfare without interference from the French, and thus precluded any conflicts between the allies.

Sieges, however, posed unique problems for Amerindians in pursuit of victory. The presence of a fort separated the combatants, enabling Europeans to strike private deals among themselves regarding access to prisoners and property.

Yet neither walls, nor entrenchments, nor intra-European agreements were strong enough to prevent the Canadian Iroquois from continuing to fight on their own terms.

In 1758, the major event of the campaign occurred right here at Ticonderoga. Three years after the battle of Lake George, the British resumed their advance up Lake Champlain. They made a frontal assault on an army of French regulars, sheltered behind an entrenchment.

They lost.

Only a very small number of Amerindians were present. But the battle marked a watershed in French metropolitan attitudes towards their allies.

Before the battle, Europeans generally accepted that they needed Amerindian help to win battles in the interior. At Ticonderoga, the metropolitan regulars of the troupes de terre won a victory on their own.

From this point forward a new theme enters the Franco-Amerindian discourse--the assertion by metropolitan officers that the alliance was more a nuisance than a necessity.

In the words of one metropolitan officer: "What must excite the greatest admiration and public joy is that not a single Native contributed to this great event, something that has never happened in this country.

The Canadian Iroquois were enormously impressed by the French victory over a much larger British army. They were still on the way when the battle occurred, but immediately they arrived, they offered fulsome congratulations to Louis-Joseph de Montcalm.

Montcalm replied:

"You have come at a time when I have no more need of you. Have you only come to see dead bodies? Go behind the fort and you will find them. I do not need you to defeat the English.

Very diplomatic.

Confronted with this unbelievably crass behaviour, the Amerindians responded calmly and rationally. They sent a delegation to meet the governor general, and let him to resolve the situation. At Montreal, Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil smoothed things over by suggesting that the interpreter had been at fault.

Blame the media, in other words.

Then he wrote out a private reprimand for Montcalm.

At Ticonderoga, the remaining Amerindians joined Canadian militiamen in attacking a British convoy near Halfway Brook. They took 84 prisoners, 110 scalps, and considerable matériel.

Later on another party met a british detachment and took 6 prisoners and 49 scalps.

With this encounter the campaign of 1758 came to an end for the Canadian Iroquois.

For their French allies, victory at Ticonderoga was balanced by defeats at Louisbourg, Fort Frontenac, and Fort Duquesne. For the Canadian Iroquois, that didn't seem to matter. Their raids against the British above Lake George had all been reasonably successful.

Weighed against these victories, their confrontation with Montcalm was irritating, but irrelevant. Their alliance with the French was strong enough to withstand even very irregular behaviour on the part of a senior officer.

The Canadian Iroquois hadn't chosen their allies for their good manners, but because alliance with the French crown suited their national interests.

Cultural differences might divide the Canadian Iroquois from the French. But they remained close allies, serving together against a common enemy.

At least until 1759.

And that brings us to the British capture of Ticonderoga.

If there was any single moment that marked the beginning of the end of the Canadian Iroquois-French alliance, it was the afternoon of 22 July, 1759.

A British army was advancing up Lake George towards Ticonderoga, and the Canadian Iroquois had just learned that their French allies planned to abandon the fort without a fight.

In the words of one French officer, the Amerindians expressed: "astonished surprise to see us abandon the entrenchments [made] so famous by our victory in the preceding year, and for our work to perfect it."

They joined the French in evacuating first Ticonderoga, then Crown Point. But they were very disturbed by this development.

From a French perspective, falling back on Lake Champlain wasn't very heroic. But it worked.

The British army stopped at the head of the lake and built Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point. Then they sailed down towards the new French position at Ile aux Noix, turned around, and came right back.

The Canadian Iroquois were not impressed. Ticonderoga was located within their national territory. Its occupation by the British was an invasion of their winter hunting grounds.

I might add here, that earlier in the campaign, the French theatre commander told the Amerindians:

"We know how to make war without you. What have you been good for up to now? We beat the English last year without any of you; we will do so again this year."

That's not really a smart thing to say, when you're planning a retreat.

But in the broader scheme of things, boorish French officers weren't all that high on the list of Canadian Iroquois concerns.

During the greater part of the Seven Years' War, they'd been able to support the French without endangering their communities. These communities, near Montreal, were comfortably distant from the various theatres of operations.

After Ticonderoga (and the fall of Fort Niagara), the Canadian Iroquois found themselves in a new and precarious position. By late summer of 1759, it was clear that the French might lose the war. Under these conditions, seeking personal prestige by taking prisoners became less important. Even the French alliance became expendable.

The priorities of the Canadian Iroquois consequently shifted to protecting and preserving their communities. Until Ticonderoga, they'd wholeheartedly supported the French. Now, they received British emissaries. When these emissaries asked them to become neutral, the Canadian Iroquois responded positively, but not irrevocably.

Yet at the same time, they avoided an overt break with the French. For the rest of the Seven Years' War, the Canadian Iroquois kept an army in the field alongside the French. They took part in the Battle of Sainte-Foy, the French siege of Quebec, and the defence of Montreal.

In other words, they managed to place themselves on reasonably amicable terms with both European powers, and maintained this balancing act until the French surrender in 1760. After that, they negotiated a new alliance with the British.

So you might say that after seven years of parallel war, the Canadian Iroquois made themselves a parallel peace.

Thank you.

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Copyright © 1999, 2001 D. Peter MacLeod

The bottom center image is a detail from David Rickman, Eastern Woodland Indians, middle of the eighteenth century, Department of National Defence.