Skip to comments.No, It Wasn't French vs. Indians
Posted on 01/01/2005 6:44:12 AM PST by Pharmboy
Re-enactors fire their muskets at British soldiers near Fort Ticonderoga. There are as many as 3,000 French and Indian War
re-enactors in the United States and another 800 in Canada.
Welcome to 2005: the Year of the French and Indian War.
Actually? Make that years, plural. The celebration is continuing through 2010.
It seems that New York would like to be known as the French and Indian War State, since it will serve as host of a national, and international, five-year-long commemoration of the many battles that took place within its borders.
Just exactly why are we supposed to care about this bicenquinquagenary?
"Well, for starters, this war is why we speak English and not French today," said Bob Bearor, a French and Indian War re-enactor from Newcomb, N.Y., who has written five books about New York as the bloody ground for French insurgent fighters and their Indian allies.
To history lovers, the conflict is increasingly seen as a crucible for the American Revolution and a war college for George Washington. "Most of the battles were fought in this state," Mr. Bearor added. "It was a war for an empire, and it changed the fate of the world."
The latest rediscovery of an under-heralded war prompted Gov. George E. Pataki to sign legislation in November creating the New York State French and Indian War 250th Anniversary Commemoration Commission, a 19-member group charged with organizing, promoting and carrying out a series of "re-enactment tourism events," the act says. The panel will also encourage studies of the French and Indian War from kindergarten through Grade 12 in New York State schools.
The unpaid commissioners are soon to be appointed, and meetings to determine a schedule of commemorative events will begin this winter.
"The battles of the French and Indian War," the governor said in a statement, "were the driving force for inspiring the values and ideals that led to the successful drive toward American independence, and the birth of freedom and democracy in the New World."
And there is always visitorship. The war's anniversary "is a major historic event that could be important for tourism upstate," said State Senator George D. Maziarz, Republican of Niagara County, who was a champion of the legislation. About that name: in Europe they call the French and Indian War the Seven Years' War. French Canadians call it la Guerre de Sept Ans. Other Canadians have termed it the War of the Conquest. And just like Civil War battles that were differently designated in the North and South, the New York conflicts have competing names above and below the Canadian border.
For example, Fort Ticonderoga was known by the French as Fort Carillon, and Lac du Saint Sacrement was renamed Lake George by the English in honor of their king.
It was Winston Churchill who, in "History of the English-Speaking Peoples," called the Seven Years' War the first world war, since it was the first conflict of European countries fought out in North America, the Caribbean, West Africa, India and the Philippines. But the war has often been relegated to footnote status, since "historians tended to write out everything that didn't lead directly to the Revolutionary War," said Dr. Fred Anderson, professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder and an expert on the Seven Years' War.
The French and Indian War was a flashpoint of the maritime and colonial conflict between France and England - which had previously been contending for domination of the North American continent for more than a century - and it began with a land dispute over control of the Ohio Valley.
None other than the inexperienced 22-year-old George Washington was a catalyst, triggering the war on May 28, 1754, when the contingent of Virginia soldiers and native warriors he was leading ambushed a French detachment and killed its commander, Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville.
Though the French had many early victories, the tide ultimately turned in favor of the English, and they won control of Canada in 1760, a year after their victory on the Plains of Abraham at what is now Quebec City. The war continued in Europe, Africa and Asia until 1763, when the Treaty of Paris formally concluded hostilities. France lost all of its colonies in North America to the English, except for two coastal islands.
Historians had long discounted the importance of Indians in the French and Indian War "because the attitude was that they chose the wrong side and they were doomed," said Dr. Anderson.
But, he said, research in recent years has shown "that Indians controlled every single historical outcome on the North American continent from the 1500's to the middle of the 18th century. They had always managed to play one side off against the other, but it didn't work in the Seven Years' War."
Ultimately, "though the British booted the French out of the North American continent, they ended up with an empire they couldn't control and with debts they couldn't pay," Dr. Anderson said. England's imposition of new taxes alienated not only the colonies but also that former Anglophile, George Washington.
Indeed, "it is the Seven Years' War that makes Washington as we know him possible - it shaped his attitudes and made him a competent military commander," Dr. Anderson said, adding that the war also taught colonists how to establish a militia and gave them a taste for controlling their own destiny.
To Dr. Anderson, without the French and Indian War, "it is impossible for me to imagine that the American Revolution would have taken place," he said.
The dominoes dislodged by Washington in 1754 just kept falling: the French and Indian conflict led, ultimately, to disaster for the French, Dr. Anderson said. They got their revenge for losing "by helping the Americans to win the war against the English," he said. "But that left the French crown so deeply in debt that the result was the French Revolution."
Dr. Anderson foreshadowed some of those insights in his book "Crucible of War," published in 2000, and has gone further in putting the Seven Years' War at the center of American history in "Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000," which he wrote with Andrew Caton, to be published next week by Viking.
Chapman Historical Museum
A painting that was commissioned by the Glens Falls Insurance Company in the early 20th century is titled the "Surrender
of Fort William Henry, Lake George, N.Y. 1757."
"Our schools teach a lot about the Revolutionary War, but not about the French and Indian War," Senator Maziarz said. Mr. Bearor has long tried to raise consciousness about the conflict, and credited the late David L. Dickinson, Niagara County historian, with heading the recognition effort.
Among the literary reimaginings of the era were "Northwest Passage" by Kenneth Roberts, as well as James Fenimore Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales" (in the 1992 film "The Last of the Mohicans," Daniel Day-Lewis played the role of Hawkeye). But there is live drama in the French and Indian War re-enactments, a colorful mix of those wearing the red of British regulars, as well as Highlanders with bagpipes, not to mention colorful French militia and marine units, as well as those portraying Indians.
Mr. Bearor estimates that there are as many as 3,000 "F&I" re-enactors in the United States and another 800 in Canada. Some of them had tired of the same-old "rev war" and "civ war" events, as they term them, and became "F&I" devotees. "The French and Indian War opened up a whole new genre," said Mr. Bearor, a retired Troy, N.Y., firefighter whose best-known history book is "The Battle on Snowshoes," (Heritage Books, 1997).
Canadian re-enactors, too, will be participating in the New York events. One of them will be Daniel Roy, the direct descendant of a French marine who arrived in New France in 1720. "The French lost the empire but no one ever conquered the French spirit," said Mr. Roy, a warrant officer in the Canadian Air Force who has been a re-enactor for 12 years. He carries an epee and flintlock pistol and portrays Captain Lacorne, a marine commander. "I feel we are helping Canadians to rediscover their own culture."
The schedule of French and Indian War re-enactments began last summer in Pennsylvania and commemorated George Washington's 1754 battle at Fort Necessity. Future re-enactment events in New York are likely to include Lake George this summer, Fort Bull in 2006, Fort William Henry in 2007, Fort Ticonderoga in 2008, Fort Niagara in 2009, and Fort Levis in 2010.
"I'm so glad that New York is giving recognition to this history," said George Larrabee, a 70-year-old re-enactor from Woodbury, Vt., who said he was proud of his Indian blood.
Since 1982, he has been portraying the character of Peskunck, an Abenaki warrior, paddling a 16-foot birch-bark canoe, carrying his flintlock musket and wearing a headdress of wild turkey feathers painted to resemble those of the spotted eagle, a protected species.
"I don't know that Indians regretted picking the wrong side," Mr. Larrabee said. "Even if Indians had picked the English side, it wouldn't have done them any good, because the English thought of them as dirty savages and treated them terribly."
Thanks for the post. I love these historical threads.
I am all for the celebration of the French and Indian War of the 1760s so long as we don't have to get the French involved in the affair.
Great post; I've always enjoyed history. The French & Indian War is little known even in the upstate NY, Ohio Valley & Great Lakes areas where it was fought; Washington's role was probably more central to this conflict than anyone else of his age--and that in turn gave him the military knowledge and leadership experience he used to bring victory in the Revolutionary War.
My hometown. On Free Republic! What a way to start the new year! This is a great museum by the way.
What is so fascinating about the General is that he demonstrated incredible heroism during the Massacre on the Monongahela when he carried the wounded General Braddock from the field under heavy fire. George II learned Washington's name for this feat.
If you visit Alexandria, VA, (where Braddock began his ill-fated trek) you can still drive down Braddock Road.
I think they also call it "The Seven Years' War."
When I was in high school we watched "The Last of the Mohicans" in history class and that was about all we were taught about that war.
One of the things I think history lessons fail to impress about Washington was how physically impressive he was - he literally dominated people with his presence. He was 6'2", which would be equivalent to someone around 6'6"/280 lbs today - say, an NFL lineman. Imagine an expert horseman and fearsome leader of that size exorting troops to give it their all.
Typical Times, assuming that its readership is stupid.
The French were indeed the first enemy of the United States (not counting the indians). Under the Adams administration we fought what was called the "Quasi War" against them for authorizing privateers against our shipping.
Our new Navy and our new Marines kicked their butt. Our privateers made out OK too.
G. Washington --- 1754 (On the skirmish against the French & Indians at Jumonville Glenn that started the war.)
The first of many times over the next 30 years when he would be under fire, yet never wounded.
That's because in this war, Indians carried away captured white people and sold them as slaves to the French Priests in Canada.
The Indians were slaughtering towns up and down the Hudson and inside Massachusetts, too.
November 21, 1706 John Williams, The Redeemed Captive, Returned
Indians return English captives in an unrelated incident.
Dawn was still two hours away on the morning of February 29, 1704. Inside the fence at Deerfield, Massachusetts, 291 people slept fearlessly. Expecting no trouble on such a cold, quiet night, the settlers had posted no night watch.
But, creeping quietly through three feet of hardened snow, a party of over 300 French and Indian fighters approached the town. Probably they noted with satisfaction the snow drifts that had piled high against the little town's palisade. They swarmed over the protecting fence and into the houses.
John Williams and his wife Eunice woke to find twenty painted warriors howling around their bed. Newly arrived to Deerfield as its first pastor, John was the most prominent person in the town. Indians tied him with ropes. Before his horrified eyes they tomahawked his six year old son, a six week old daughter and a black servant.
For three hours, the French and Indians looted the town. They set fire to its houses and barns. When men from neighboring towns came to Deerfield's defense, the enemy battled them. Finally, they disappeared into the snowy wilderness with 109 captives, leaving 56 settlers dead. Wading through three feet of snow, the raiding party headed North on a seven week trek to Montreal, Canada.
On the second day, John saw that his wife could not hold up. She was still weak from her last pregnancy. Knowing that the raiders would spare no one who was unable to keep up the pace, John said good-bye to her. Soon afterward, she stumbled while wading a small river and "was plunged over head and ears in the water; after which she traveled not far, for the cruel and bloodthirsty savage slew her with his hatchet."
Why had a Puritan pastor in a remote outpost been targeted for this bitter destiny? For one thing, Boston authorities held a Canadian "pirate" named Jean-Baptiste Guyon. The Canadians wanted this naval officer back, and thought a hostage exchange might force the negotiations along. For another, their Indian allies were concerned at the numbers of colonists moving westward and demanded that something be done to slow the land grab.
Although his own feet were so raw that he had to wring blood out of his socks each night, John did all he could to keep up the spirits of the other captives. Sixty of them were eventually released. John was one of the last. He returned to a hero's welcome in Massachusetts on this day, November 21, 1706. Shortly afterward, he wrote a bestseller The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion.
The book was half heroism and half complaint. His main gripe, apart from the brutal attack itself, was that the French attempted to force their Protestant captives to convert to Catholicism. In its other details, the book remains an important source of information on colonial life.
John Williams died on June 12, 1729. One of his daughters, Eunice, would not be there to bury him. Captured with him, she never returned home, but married an Indian.
I recommend a visit to Fort Necessity (about 10 miles east of Uniontown PA) where you can see a recreation of the stockade in the Great Meadow, and also visit nearby Jumonville Glenn, and Braddock's grave.
They've done a wonderful job with the restoration of Fort Ticonderoga. It's well worth a visit.
I love history and really enjoyed this post. This war really did shape the future of America and should be remembered. The British ended up in control of much of North America after this war. I don't think North America would of ever of amounted to anything if the British had lost. The French were a tough enemy at that time in their history and victory was never certain. It was perhaps their reliance on Indian allies that did the French in, since while fierce, they were not disciplined and trained troops. The experience that it gave the colonials was essential to our success in the revolutionary war.
How else would you regard treacherous stone age aborigines who engaged in terroristic murder, torture and cannibalism and who were in fact physically dirty?
Link to a powerpoint on the French and Indian war: http://staff.fcps.net/pnewton/ppt/The%20French%20and%20Indian%20War-ALL.ppt#280,25,Treaty of Paris 1763
Ohio history central: http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/ohc/history/h_indian/events/index.shtml
It depends on where you live in Ohio as to whether you know much about this war or not, or about the Ohio Indian wars, etc. With river and place names like Kanawha, Chillicothe, Mohawk, Delaware, Wyandot, etc., the area is filled with reminders of this area's heritage. Add to the mix the pre-historic mounds, and the Shakers, Moravians, Mennonites, Amish, Quakers and so forth, and you have quite a spicy history. Iriquois came from New York to gather Flint, too. However, it is too bad the Logan Elm really is now gone, even if Chief Pontiac has a statue to him farther north. Tecumseh is remembered every summer, though, in the play..........