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."
My personal favorite from this historic period is Mad Anthony Wayne, who has a county named after him, and who helped the original GW at this time.
To be perfectly fair, the English settlers and their Indian allies treated the French settlers and their Indian allies much the same.
This was a war to see who would dominate North America, the British or the French. It was not a war between absolute good and absolute evil.
The atrocities committed by each side were similar in type and in scope. We hear about those committed by the French and their allies because they were committed against "our" side.
Perfectly fair my foot.
I collect old history books, and the stories of the INdians and their savagry against the settlers is well documented.
And there are no stories of Englishmen capturing Frenchmen and selling them as slaves in the new world.
The French, America's oldest enemy.
The history of savagery of the French and their Indian allies is indeed well-documented.
As is that of the English and their allies. But much of that documentation is in French and of little interest to most Americans, so it is not surprising that you are unfamiliar with it.
This was a war that went on without really stopping for almost as long as American has been a nation. Horrible deeds were committed by all sides.
The MSM will not stand for this and neither should we. Sure, both Kerry and Arnold were good Americans until both betrayted their country and went over to the other side. It is unfair to subtly raise the comparison and hihlight Kerry's treason every tme Fort Ticonderoga is mentioned.
Yes...exactly right. And, he was FEARLESS in battle. He demonstrated this a number of times: on the Monogahela, at Trenton, Princeton, Manhattan, &etc. At the ill-fated Battle of Manhattan, he had to be physically led away from the charging Hessians (the incident took place around present-day 42nd St and Lexington Ave.--there was an apple orchard there at the time).
Which peters out in the middle of nowhere in Loudoun County (or, at least did until Loudoun County had its massive growth spurt). Take a metal detector and try to find Braddock's payroll! :-D
Thanks...I have always thought that the Deerfield Raid would make a great movie.
Christmas day our family follows a tradition and visits Mount Vernon as we did this year.
Your Obdt. Svt.,
The difficulty with F&I reenacting is that there are so few reenactors at any battle that they can hardly hold more than a modest skirmish. It's not like the Civil War reenactors who can sometimes put 30,000 men and 125 guns in the field.
Not an unreasonable assumption, for the most part.
Allen, banged on the fort's door and cried "Open up in the name of Jehovah!"
We homeschool, and this is covered in the 4th grade curriculum. I frankly admit my shame at discovering just how much I had forgotten about this important part of our history.
We're transitioning to the American Revolution now, and I find I'm re-learning some of that, too.
While speaking of our aborigines, allow me to remind all of our Freepers that during the RevWar the only Algonquin tribe to stand with the patriots were the Oneidas. Please always support them.
You've chosen your screen name well.
Thanks for the ping!
The Brits made New York their base of operations during the F&I war. This brought great prosperity to this growing North American port city. When the war ended and they pulled out in 1763, the city experienced a depression which directly led to events culminating in the American Revolution.
Certainly, Boston was the RevWar city from 1770 on, but from 1765-1770, the Sons of Liberty and Revolutionary activity centered in NYC.