The French & Indian War
The conflict between England and France in North America centered on the fur trade. Although 1628 is the official date for the beginning of the Beaver Wars, increased intertribal warfare to control trade with the Europeans had started as soon as the first furs had been exchanged between the Micmac and European fishermen in the Canadian Maritimes in 1519.
By the time the French established their first trading post in New Brunswick in 1604, Algonquin-speaking Micmac, Algonkin, Montagnais (Innu), and Malecite (Etchemin) had forced the Laurentian Iroquois (either Huron or Iroquois) to abandon the lower St. Lawrence River at Quebec where Cartier had first found their villages in 1534. When the French soon afterwards shifted their trade to the St. Lawrence, the Algonkin and Montagnais had allied with the Huron and were fighting with the Iroquois League for control of the upper river. The French unwittingly decided to intervene in this war and in 1609 joined an Algonkin war party which defeated the Mohawk (Iroquois) in a battle fought at Lake Champlain. Within two years, the Algonkin had driven the Iroquois from the upper St. Lawrence, but the French had made a dangerous enemy.
In 1615, Samuel de Champlain arrived in Ontario. The Huron (Wyandot) Indians were at war with the Iroquois Indians. Champlain led a war party of Huron (Wyanhdot) and Algonquin Indians into Iroquois territory and gave the Iroquois a taste of battle using muskets and bayonets. The Iroquois retaliated by wiping out the Huron's and opposing French expansionism. This played a major role in the French's failure to establish a permanent link to the New World.
The extensive water system, stretching from the Atlantic to central Canada and the American Midwest, provided a natural transportation route through the rugged wilderness. By utilizing the lakes and their numerous tributaries, the Native peoples and European explorers could cross much of the continent. Portages connected the Great Lakes with water systems leading to the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Plains. These "carrying places" around obstacles to water transport - rapids, heights of land and, of course, Niagara Falls - were control points for waterborne commerce.
When European people began settling on the coast of North America in the early seventeenth century, the French accidentally occupied the most convenient route to the interior. From their posts at Quebec and Montreal they rapidly moved up the St. Lawrence River to explore the continent and trade for furs with the Native peoples. Although this route should have led them directly to Niagara and the great Falls, their path was blocked by the hostility of the Native people of the region, the Five Nations of the Iroquois.
The Iroquois consisted of five distinct nations linked by language and culture. By the fifteenth century, however, they had allied in a powerful confederation. This kept internal peace and allowed mutual defense against outsiders. The country of the Five Nations stretched across New York from the Mohawk River to the Niagara River. Ranged from east to west were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. These people became known as the Six Nations during the eighteenth century when the original five accepted the refugee Tuscarora from North Carolina.
Westernmost of the Iroquois was the Seneca. Though after the mid-seventeenth century the Niagara was part of their territory, the Seneca did not heavily populate the area. Their main villages were in the Genessee Valley, about eighty miles to the east. Archaeological evidence suggests, however, that the site of Fort Niagara was used seasonally as a fishing and hunting camp.
The Iroquois, perhaps the most politically powerful group of Native people in the history of North America, had early confrontations with the French. Their hostility would last until the French had been driven from North America. Since much of the land around Lake Ontario was Iroquois country, French exploration and influence was at first diverted up the Ottawa River to the northern Great Lakes.
In 1629, a fleet of British privateers captured Quebec which cut the flow of French trade goods to the Algonkin and other French trading partners. Taking advantage of this, the Iroquois attacked the Algonkin to retake the St. Lawrence Valley marking the official start of the Beaver Wars (1629-1701). By the time Quebec was returned to the France in 1632, the Iroquois (whose trade with the Dutch had not been interrupted) had driven the Montagnais and Algonkin from the upper St. Lawrence and were threatening to cut the trade route through Ottawa River Valley to the Great Lakes.
To restore the balance of power in favor of their allies, the French began selling firearms and ammunition in limited amounts to the Huron and Algonkin. These weapons, as well as steel hatchets and knives, soon spread to other tribes, and the Dutch responded by providing guns to the Iroquois. Meanwhile, the Swedes along the Delaware River and the British in New England were arming other tribes. An arms race developed, in which tribes providing the most fur had a military advantage over those which did not. The initial confrontations during the 1630s took place in the eastern Great Lakes, mainly between the Iroquois and Huron (Wyandot), but as the trading tribes exhausted the beaver in their homelands, they began seizing hunting territory from others, and the Beaver Wars spread west.
A major factor in treaty disputes was Native Americans' concept of land. Indians fought among themselves over hunting rights to the territory but the Native American idea of "right" to the land was very different from the legalistic and individual nature of European ownership. John Alexander Williams describes this in his book, West Virginia: A History for Beginners:
"The Indians had no concept of "private property," as applied to the land. Only among the Delawares was it customary for families, during certain times of the year, to be assigned specific hunting territories. Apparently this was an unusual practice, not found among other Indians. Certainly, the idea of an individual having exclusive use of a particular piece of land was completely strange to Native Americans. The Indians practiced communal land ownership. That is, the entire community owned the land upon which it lived." (John Alexander Williams, West Virginia: A History for Beginners (Charleston, WV: Appalachian Editions, 1993), 64.)
Native Americans were forced west. Many of the tribes were destroyed by constant warfare and catastrophic diseases. At the same time, trade with the Europeans proved a strong attraction, enabling the Indians to acquire valuable new products, such as guns, steel hatchets, cloth, and kettles. The fur trade made many tribes powerful and more aggressive.
In 1669 during a period of peaceful relations with the Iroquois, a party of French priests and explorers, which included Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, reached Niagara Falls. Nine years later, La Salle returned to explore the Niagara and construct a sailing vessel above the Falls. In order to support the shipbuilding efforts, La Salle required a post at the mouth of the river. Here, vessels crossing Lake Ontario with supplies from Fort Frontenac (modern Kingston, Ontario) could make a landfall. Early in 1679 a party of men constructed a storehouse and a stockade on the later site of Fort Niagara. The post was named Fort Conti after Louis Armand de Bourbon, Prince of Conti, a patron of La Salle's lieutenant, Henri de Tonty. Once La Salle had weighed anchor on Lake Erie in the summer of 1679, however, the men left to guard Fort Conti became careless. A fire consumed the buildings before the end of the year.
The second French post to occupy the site of Fort Niagara was established under less peaceful circumstances. Good relations between the French and the Iroquois ended a few years after the destruction of Fort Conti. By 1687 the Governor of new France, Jacques-Rene de Brisay, Marquis de Denonville, was prepared to strike a blow against the old enemies of New France. Denonville gathered troops and Indian allies in Canada and marched against the Iroquois of Western New York.
Governor Denonville spent the summer of 1687 engaged in an impressive, if futile, campaign against Seneca villages in the Genessee Valley near the site of modern Rochester, New York. Houses and crops were destroyed, but few warriors were captured or killed. To complete his attempt to pacify the Iroquois, Denonville moved his army to the mouth of the Niagara River. There he established a fort. Within a few weeks a stockade enclosing eight buildings had been erected and christened Fort Denonville. Then, leaving one hundred men under Captain Pierre de Troyes to hold the post for the winter, the Governor and his army returned to Montreal.
Fort Denonville, the first truly military outpost on the Niagara River, was sturdily constructed. Its palisades, however, provided little protection against the most sinister enemies: isolation, cold, starvation and disease. Cut off from supplies and reinforcements and surrounded by hostile Senecas, the garrison sickened and died. By April only twelve soldiers remained alive. Those few men were saved by a relief force which arrived in the Niagara River on Good Friday, 1688. The horrified reinforcements did what they could for the emaciated survivors. Their chaplain, Jesuit Father Pierre Millet, erected a tall wooden cross in the center of Denonville's fort and offered a mass of thanksgiving for their survival.
Fort Denonville was re-garrisoned, but the lesson had been learned. The post was too far from the center of New France to be maintained in the face of Iroquois hostility. In September the troops pulled down the stockade and left the buildings to the elements. It would be thirty-eight years before French soldiers again occupied the site.
Aside from the embarrassment of retreat from the Iroquois country, the fiasco at Fort Denonville stirred ominous rumblings from a new rival to French control of the Niagara River. The Iroquois had originally looked to the Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam for European goods and guns to fight their enemies. Once the English took the Dutch colony, in 1664, they inherited the alliance with the Five Nations. When Denonville's army marched into Iroquois country, the Governor of New York (as Nieuw Amsterdam had been renamed) protested loudly. The event marked the beginning of a long rivalry for the lands surrounding the Great Lakes. As relations between France and England worsened in Europe, both nations increased their efforts to gain the upper hand in the forests of America. The French thus found control of the Niagara Portage all the more desirable.
The turn of the eighteenth century was marked by open colonial warfare between France and England. King William's War (1689-1697) and Queen Anne's War (1702-1713) also involved the Iroquois and other Indian nations. France moved to consolidate her position on the Great Lakes. A post constructed at Detroit in 1701 blocked the British from the three northwestern lakes. In 1715 a new fort at Michilimackinac assured their influence in the north. Niagara and its portage was the linchpin, however. Control of it would assure the exclusion of the English from the Great Lakes and the safe movement of goods and furs to and from New France.
The destruction of the Huron in 1649 had left the French fur trade in shambles, and with less than 400 French in North America at the time, they were in no position to challenge 25,000 well-armed Iroquois. When the western Iroquois (Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga) offered peace in 1653, the French accepted and, to protect the fragile agreement, halted their travel to the Great Lakes. However, they stopped short of giving the Iroquois a trade monopoly and continued their fur trade by encouraging former native trading partners to bring their furs to Montreal, a source of considerable irritation to the Iroquois. They were also annoyed by the presence of French Jesuits in their villages ministering to adopted Huron converts. The Iroquois tolerated this until the conclusion of their war with the Erie and then tried to rid themselves of the missionaries which were creating serious divisions within the League.
Following the murder of a Jesuit ambassador in 1658, war between the French and Iroquois resumed along the St. Lawrence. Despite this, the Ottawa and Wyandot were collecting furs at Green Bay and Chequamegon (Ashland, Wisconsin) from other tribes (including the Illini) and, using large fleets of canoes to fight their way past the Iroquois on the Ottawa River, were bringing them to the French at Montreal. Unable to stop this, the Iroquois went after the source and began attacking tribes the refugee tribes in Wisconsin. After years of living in fear, the French decided on serious measures to deal with the Iroquois. Alarmed by the British conquest of New York from the Dutch in 1664, the French king took control of Canada (a private commercial venture before) and sent a regiment of regular soldiers to Quebec. Their first offensive against the Iroquois homeland failed, but the French learned quickly and soon had the Iroquois on the defensive. Meanwhile, the French resumed their travel to the Great Lakes.
In 1665 the fur trader Nicolas Perrot, Jesuit Claude-Jean Allouez, and six other Frenchmen accompanied 400 Ottawa and Huron on their return to the western Great Lakes. They reached Green Bay in September and spent the winter. Perot remained at Green Bay, but Allouez wanted to contact the Wyandot and Ottawa converts the Jesuits had made before the disaster in 1649, and proceeded to their village at Chequamegon on the south shore of Lake Superior. It was here in 1667, that he met with a group of Illini which had come to trade fur, the first known meeting of the Illini and Europeans.
By 1667 repeated attacks by French soldiers on their homeland had forced the Iroquois to make peace. Their agreement with the French was significant in that it also extended to French native allies and trading partners, including those in the Great Lakes. Adding to the tension, the Ottawa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi preferred the earlier arrangement where they profited as middlemen and tended to view French fur traders at Green Bay and Sault Suite Marie as competitors. This situation worsened after the French arranged a truce between the Dakota and Saulteur Ojibwe in 1680 and then began direct trade with the Dakota. Arming their enemies did not endear French to the Ottawa, Wyandot, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Fox, and Sauk in Wisconsin, and this often led to the murder or robbery of French traders. Despite this, the French established permanent trading posts and missions in Wisconsin, and using their power as the supplier of the trade goods, assumed the role of mediator in intertribal disputes and began dominating the relations between the tribes in the upper Great Lakes.
Meanwhile, through a treaty signed at a grand council at Sault Suite Marie in 1671, the Great Lakes tribes consented to Simon Daumont's formal annexation of the region for France. The French had annexed territory they had never seen, so there was immediate interest in exploring it. Hearing of the "Great River" to the west, the Jesuit priest Jacques Marquette and fur trader, Louis Joliet, accompanied by five Miami guides and canoe paddlers, set off in 1673 from St. Ignace (Mackinac) to find it.
Their route took them west to Green Bay, up the Fox River to Lake Winnebago, and then used the Fox Portage to reach the Wisconsin River. Following this, they entered the Mississippi at Prairie du Chien. Travelling downstream they entered the Illini homeland, encountering the Peoria in eastern Iowa and the Moingwena further south at the mouth of the Des Moines. In fact, Marquette and Joliet met few tribes besides Illini (the exception being the Missouri and Osage on the lower Missouri River) until they encountered Spanish trade goods at the Quapaw villages located at the entrance of the Arkansas River and turned back. Their return journey deviated from the original path and followed the Illinois River to the portage at the south end of Lake Michigan. Marquette found Illini villages scattered the length of the river, now including, to his surprise, the Peoria and Moingwena, who, encouraged by their earlier encounter, had left the Mississippi and moved east to the Illinois. He was also startled to learn the Illini already had firearms and were using them against them Shawnee.
Marquette developed a special love for the Illini and was determined to establish a mission for them. Preparations began after his return to St. Ignace, and late in 1674 he set out on his return. Caught by the winter, he stopped at Chicago where he became ill. Pressing on that spring, he reached the "great village" of the Illini (Grand Kaskaskia) near present-day Utica, where he founded his mission. His illness became serious, and he was forced to return to St. Ignace. He died en route and was buried on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Marquette River. His Ottawa converts from St. Ignace visited his grave a few few years later and, as was their custom for one of their own people, took his bones back with them to St. Ignace.
One may wonder about the zeal which drove men like Marquette to push their missionary efforts to point of death, but for many it was a race against time to thwart their countrymen whose fur trade was wreaking havoc and corruption among the native populations. Jesuits had witnessed the devastation created while working among the Huron and had no wish to see this repeated among the native populations in the interior. However, their protests to Paris went unanswered, especially after Louis XIV became involved in a dispute with the Vatican in 1673. The missionaries remained committed to stopping the expansion of the fur trade, but they failed. Their most serious adversary was Louis de Buade, comte de Frontenac. who became governor of Canada in 1672. Frontenac is remembered as a poor administrator, but a strong proponent of French expansion. His protege was René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.
Educated in France by the Jesuits, La Salle became their worst nightmare soon after his arrival in New France in 1666. By 1669 he was exploring the Ohio Valley for new areas to open to trade. When Frontenac built Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ontario) in 1675, La Salle served as its first commandant. Visiting France in 1677 as Frontenac's personal representative, La Salle recruited an Italian soldier of fortune named Henri de Tonti. He returned to Canada in 1678 with royal authority to explore the western areas of New France and establish as many trading posts as required. The following year, he built Fort Conti near Niagara Falls and then the Griffon, the first sailing vessel on Lake Erie. With this advantage in transport, La Salle was redirecting the flow of fur across the southern lakes to Fort Frontenac and bypassing the old route down the Ottawa Valley to Montreal. Needless to say, his innovation met strong opposition from the merchants at Montreal, French traders at Green Bay, and the Jesuits. However, with Frontenac's backing, they could not legally stop him, but New France was soon divided into two hostile commercial camps.
In December, 1681 La Salle and Tonti led an expedition south to rebuild their post on the upper Illinois. The location they selected was a natural fortress, a sheer outcrop of rock overlooking the river opposite Grand Kaskaskia. At the time, the French called this place Le Rocher (the rock), but a later tragedy would change its name forever to Starved Rock. In the spring, La Salle and Tonti left Fort St. Louis to explore the Mississippi. In April La Salle reached the Gulf of Mexico, and in the manner of all great explorers, claimed the entire region (Louisiana) for his king and country without bothering to consult the native peoples who lived there.
La Salle received the credit for the discovery, while Tonti, his loyal and relatively unknown Italian assistant, went back to Illinois to chop logs and fend off the Iroquois - with one hand no less! Fort St. Louis took more than a year to complete but was formidable when finished. However, Tonti did not have enough men to defend it by himself, and it took considerable encouragement to convince the Illini, in light of their recent experiences, to agree to locate nearby and help defend it. Efforts to add more tribes for its defense were aided by the Iroquois themselves. On their return to New York from their raid in 1681, the Iroquois had attacked a Miami hunting party near the mouth of the Ohio, and Miami prisoners were taken back to New York as slaves. The motivation for this attack on an ally seems to been that the Miami had allowed Shawnee (Iroquois enemies) to settle among them. The Miami demanded reparation and sent 3,000 beaver skins to obtain the release of the captives. The Iroquois kept the skins and the prisoners.
In 1682, the Miami moved close to Fort St. Louis for trade and defense. Almost 3,000 Shawnee also came swelling the population in the vicinity to almost 20,000. La Salle and Tonti had created a real "bear trap" for the Iroquois if they chose to attack again. La Salle had also added Louisiana to the French empire but mattered little after Frontenac was replaced as governor of Canada by Joseph Lefebvre de La Barre. La Barre ordered La Salle to surrender control of Fort St. Louis which forced him to return to France to seek relief from the king. La Salle never returned to Illinois and was killed by his own men during an abortive attempt to establish a French settlement in Texas in 1687.
The last part of the Beaver Wars coincided with the King William's War (1689-97) between Britain and France, and for this reason, this major conflict is rarely assigned its proper importance in history. As victory followed victory, the French and their allies gained control of ever-greater portion of the beaver country in the Great Lakes, and despite the warfare, fur reached Montreal in unprecedented amounts. However, the success of the French fur trade ultimately was its undoing. With too much beaver fur on the European market, supply exceeded demand, and the price fell. As profits plunged, Louis XIV decided it was finally time to listen to Jesuit complaints and in 1696 issued a royal proclamation suspending the French fur trade in the Great Lakes. The result was chaos just as the French were on the verge of crushing the Iroquois and dominating the British colonies along the Atlantic coast.
The fur trade held their alliance together, and without it, the French lost the ability to control their native allies. This was immediately apparent in their efforts to make peace with the Iroquois. The King William's War ended with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Since this agreement placed the Iroquois League under British protection, the French were anxious to end the fighting in the Great Lakes to preclude the possibility of another war with the British, but their allies could sense the Iroquois were on the verge of collapse and refused to stop. Using all of their diplomatic skills, it took the French until 1701 to get them to agree to peace. Elsewhere, native traders did not understand the price drop caused by a European fur glut. What they saw instead was the French were giving them less trade goods for the same amount of fur which was perceived as greed and selfishness. French traders were robbed and killed as a result, and as posts closed after the royal decree, the situation became worse.
In 1700, Tonti left Illinois and went south to join Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d' Iberville's effort to establish a French colony and trading post at the mouth of the Mississippi. The Queen Anne's War (1701-13) erupted in Europe between Britain and France and spread to North America. However, the fighting was confined to New England and the Canadian Maritimes and little happened in the Great Lakes.
The Iroquois kept their promise made in the peace treaty signed with the French earlier that year and remained neutral (with the exception of the Mohawk), but they had been quick to notice the havoc the fur trade suspension had created within the French alliance and offered their former enemies access to the British and Dutch traders at Albany. In so doing, they came closer to destroying the French through economic subversion than they had by war. With the French unable to compete, British and Iroquois traders made inroads into the French monopoly. The fur trade continued, although not at previous levels, and with it intertribal competition for hunting territory.
Meanwhile, the French alliance had been falling apart after the suspension of the fur trade in 1696. By the start of the Queen Anne's War in 1701, the loyalty of many French allies was doubtful due to the inroads of British and Iroquois traders, and since they were outnumbered by the British in North America, the French needed these tribes to defend Canada. For this reason, the French crown relented in 1701 and allowed the establishment of single new trading post to retain the allegiance of the Great Lakes tribes. In June, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac arrived at Detroit and began construction of Fort Ponchartrain and invited the Ottawa and Wyandot to settle nearby. However, with only one post to compete with the British, Cadillac was forced to invite more and more tribes to Detroit to prevent them from trading with the British. By 1710 there were 6,000 Wyandot, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Ojibwe Miami, Peoria, Osage, and Missouri living in the vicinity of Detroit, and this concentration soon exhausted the resources. Even the friendly Wyandot, Ottawa, and Ojibwa were skirmishing with each other over territory.
With the end of trade restrictions in 1715, the French opened a series of posts during the next five years: Mackinac, La Baye, Ouiatenon, Chequamegon, St. Joseph, Pimitoui, Miamis, Niagara, De Chartres, and Vincennes, but the damage was done, and their trade in the region never recovered. Competition from British traders continued to grow, and after the British opened a new post at Oswego (New York) in the Iroquois homeland in 1727, 80% of the beaver on the Albany market came from French allies.
British traders used the shortage of French goods to their advantage and by 1746 were entering Ohio with Iroquois permission for direct trade with French allies. The Sandusky Wyandot of chief Orontony were the first to break with the French and trade with the British. By 1748 this became open revolt when Orontony burned his French trading post and asked the Detroit Wyandot to join him. His movement collapsed upon his death, but a far more dangerous conspiracy formed under the leadership of the Miami chief Memeskia (La Demoiselle or Old Britain). The Miami had joined Orontony's revolt against the French and in 1748 signed a treaty and trade agreement at Lancaster, Pennsylvania with the British and Iroquois giving permission for trading posts at their villages. The Wyandot dropped out after Orontony's death, but angered by the lack of annual presents from the French, Memeskia burned his French trading post in 1750 and moved his people east to a new village at Pickawillany (Piqua, Ohio).
After a British post was built, Memeskia began inviting other Miami to come for trade. About the only positive outcome from the malaria in Illinois and Indiana after 1718 had been that the Illini and Miami had ended their former hostility. For this reason, invitations were also extended to the Illini. Despite their loyalty to the French, this was difficult to resist. French goods were not only in short supply, but British goods were cheaper and better quality. However, Memeskia anticipated the French would not meekly accept the British takeover of trade in the Ohio Valley, and he began to circulate a wampum belt to create a secret alliance against them. The plot included groups of the Illini, and the French became aware something was very wrong when many of their allies suddenly ceased their attacks on the Chickasaw. The arrest and imprisonment at Fort de Chartres of several Kaskaskia and Piankashaw (Miami) for attacks on French traders in the Illinois country confirmed the existence of a wide-spread plot.
After Memeskia ignored demands to expel his British traders, the French in 1751 tried to induce the Detroit Tribes (Potawatomi, Ottawa, Wyandot, and Ojibwe) to attack Pickawillany. However, even these allies were considering switching to the British, and using the excuse of a smallpox epidemic which struck the Ohio Valley that year, they declined. At this point, the French realized how serious the situation had become In desperation, the French were forced to reach far to the north for allies, and Charles Langlade, a Métis (mixed-blood), organized a war party of 250 Ottawa and Ojibwe at Mackinac which in June, 1752 attacked Pickawillany killing Memeskia and 30 other Miami. The British trading post was looted and burned, while Langlade's warriors cooked and ate Memeskia's body. The attack left little doubt among other French allies what might befall them if they broke with the French and began trading with the British.
In 1718, Louis XV granted a charter and trade monopoly to the Company of the Indies which included a grandiose scheme for the colonization of the Mississippi Valley. The idea was first proposed by a Scotsman named John Law and won the support of French nobility interested in quick profits. Before the "Mississippi Bubble" burst in a frenzy of speculation in 1720, the first French colonists had arrived at Kaskaskia and construction of a new fort (de Chartres) and trading post had begun. Aside from the tiny settlement which developed near the Sulpician mission at Cahokia, Kaskaskia, and St. Genevieve across the Mississippi in Missouri, would be the center of French occupation of Illinois until the founding of St. Louis in 1763.
French efforts to improve relations with the Iroquois increased during this time. Agents and traders slowly gained influence over the western Iroquois nations, particularly the Seneca. Chief among these men was Louis-Thomas Chabert de Joncaire. In 1720 he gained permission from the Iroquois to establish a trading house on the Niagara Portage. Chabert selected a site at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment. He dubbed his post the "Magazin Royale" and displayed the colors of the French King, a move which, predictably, brought howls of protest from the English. Undeterred, Chabert traded with the Indians and increased his influence among them.
Louis-Thomas Chabert de Joncaire had achieved much for New France. His efforts had finally placed a fort on the Niagara River. It was not, however, a strong post. By itself the Magazin Royale posed little threat to English ambitions. Within a few years, therefore, Chabert was again requesting permission of the Iroquois to construct a trading house on the Niagara River. To allay their suspicions he justified the request by promising to construct a place for trade. Termed a "House of Peace", it was not to be a formal military post but, rather, a place where the Iroquois could barter for furs and meet with the representatives of the French King. Permission was granted by the Iroquois in 1725.
Early in June, 1726, a French flotilla arrived at the mouth of the Niagara River. Although their original plan had been to construct a stronger post on the site of Magazin Royale, Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Lery, the engineer sent to perform the work, soon made a major change. He felt that the point of land at the mouth of the river, site of the vanished buildings of Denonville's fort, provided the best position to control the route to the west. Chaussegros accordingly laid out his post where it could overlook river and lake and face a possible English attack from the East.
The French were faced with a particular problem. While it was necessary to construct fortifications strong enough to resist an attack by the Iroquois or the British, the post could not have the appearance of a true fortification. Chaussegros de Lery's solution was to erect a large stone house surrounded by a simple wooden stockade. Such a building would not be threatening, and yet its walls would be proof against the small arms available to the Iroquois. This was the origin of the "French Castle", oldest of the buildings of Fort Niagara. Chaussegros, however, took pains to avoid calling the building a "castle". He referred to it instead as a "maison a machicoulis" or machicolated house". The title derived from the overhanging dormers of the second floor which allowed defenders to fire down upon an enemy. In dealings with the Iroquois, however, it was always referred to as the "House of Peace".
Construction of the new fort was nearly complete by the end of 1726. Final touches were added the following year. Regardless of its name, "House of Peace" or "machicolated house", the French finally had a fort at Niagara. Its presence effectively sealed the gateway to the West. The British had access to Lake Ontario from the Oswego River, 150 miles east of the Niagara, but the new French post blocked their route to the other Great Lakes. Establishment of Fort Oswego by the British in 1727 was poor compensation for losing the road to the West.
The House of Peace served the French well as a place to trade with the Indians. A small garrison was also maintained to watch over the portage and protect French interests among the Iroquois. Rivalry with the British continued, but it was not until the 1740's that it again erupted into open conflict. The years of King George's War (1744-1748) saw a growing emphasis on the military value of Fort Niagara. As guardian of the portage the post needed its garrison of approximately one company of soldiers. The neutrality of the Iroquois prevented a British attack, though it likewise kept the French from using their position at Niagara for attacks on the frontiers of New York. Fort Niagara was expanded during the war, and Chaussegros' old stockade was replaced with new pickets. The larger area within the walls was soon filled with new buildings to supplement the quarters and storerooms available in the French Castle.
The peace which followed King George's War provided little more than a respite for the climatic struggle to come. The French realized this and used their post at Niagara to prepare for the next conflict. Having secured access to the Great Lakes, they prepared to consolidate their claims to the interior of the continent.
King George's War had barley ended when the first of several expeditions gathered at Niagara to establish French domination of the Ohio Valley. In 1749 Celeron de Blainville set out from the post, crossed the portages from Lake Erie to the Ohio and busied himself with formally claiming possession of that vast area. Further expeditions in the early 1750's used Fort Niagara as the key organization and supply base for the establishment of a chain of forts between Lake Erie and the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. Conflict with the British over a fort on the latter site (today's Pittsburgh) provided the spark which ignited the last of the major American colonial wars.
With the outbreak of hostilities Fort Niagara's value redoubled, yet the post remained little more than a rickety frontier stockade. While it might have been formidable to an enemy lacking artillery, the new conflict was certain to bring cannon within range of the walls. Unlike earlier colonial wars, both France and Britain soon committed large numbers of trained regular soldiers to the campaigns in North America. The French and Indian War, as the conflict is popularly known today, would result in the complete transformation of Fort Niagara.
The fighting began with a crushing defeat of British General Edward Braddock in the upper Ohio Valley. However, Fort Niagara, vital link of the victorious French troops with Montreal, was threatened by a second British army. General William Shirley gathered his forces at Oswego, Fort Niagara's old rival, during the summer of 1755. Weakly defended, the post would have fallen quickly had Shirley attacked. He delayed too long, however. Autumn and the threat of cold weather put an end to the campaign season before Shirley could strike.
The lesson was not lost on the French. Niagara was too important to be left in its dilapidated state. In the fall of 1755 a large body of regular troops, recently arrived from France, was sent across Lake Ontario. With them went Captain Pierre Pouchot carrying orders to transform the post and make it defensible against artillery. Pouchot was admirably successful. By the spring of 1756 he had greatly enlarged the fort and constructed new earthwork defenses. The useless old stockade was torn down. The Castle, however, survived as the largest building in the fort. By the end of another year the expanded interior had been filled with new buildings of wood and stone. Barracks, storehouses, a powder magazine, and even a church had been completed.
Pouchot's efforts were aided by the French offensive actions which moved the fighting well away from Niagara. Oswego was captured in 1756, thus removing the nearest potential base for a British attack. The next two years would find the Fort Niagara garrison busily supporting Native allies in their raids against the frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Throughout this great conflict the Iroquois (now composed of Six Nations) had remained largely neutral. Their support was courted by both antagonists, but as British strength grew the Iroquois began to turn against the French. The old animosity, lingering bitterness over the presence of a French fort on their territory at Niagara and the persuasiveness of British Indian Superintendent Sir William Johnson finally ended Iroquois neutrality. Their declaration of support late in 1758 made a British attack on Fort Niagara possible.
The French fully expected such a move. Pressured on all fronts by the more numerous British forces, they did their best to prepare a defense. Captain Pouchot was again assigned to command Fort Niagara. He arrived in April, 1759, with a few reinforcements and orders to hold his post as long as possible. Early in the summer a British army under Brigadier John Prideaux began moving west from Albany. Part of the force was left at Oswego to rebuild that fort. The remainder, some 2,000 soldiers and 1,500 Iroquois warriors led by Johnson himself, set out for the western end of Lake Ontario. On July 6 they landed four miles east of Fort Niagara and laid siege to the post.
The ensuing nineteen days witnessed one of the classic sieges in the history of North America. For more than two weeks the six hundred man French garrison resisted as the British dug trenches towards the walls, constructed batteries for heavy guns and slowly pounded Fort Niagara to pieces. By July 24 the attackers trenches were only eighty yards from the walls, and the garrison was on the verge of collapse.
Captain Pouchot held on in part because he knew help was approaching. Before Fort Niagara was surrounded he had sent messages to the garrisons of Detroit and the Ohio Valley ordering them to come to his relief. Come they did, 1,500 Frenchmen and Indians. On July 23 they started down the Niagara River from Lake Erie hoping to fight their way through the British to the beleaguered garrison.
The British, however, were expecting them. Sir William Johnson, commanding the attackers since the death of General Prideaux on July 20, sent a detachment to block the road leading to the fort. His troops took post a mile up river at a place known as "La Belle Famille". The next morning the French attacked, charging forward against British regulars. The redcoats stood their ground, firing repeated disciplined volleys into the French ranks. Within twenty minutes the battle was over, and the survivors of the shattered relief force were in flight towards Lake Erie. The action was decisive. When Captain Pouchot learned of the rout he asked for surrender terms. On July 25, 1759, Fort Niagara became British.
When, in 1754, hostilities (the French and Indian War) broke out between English and French troops in western Pennsylvania, English troops under a young commander, George Washington, were overwhelmed by the French at Fort Necessity, beginning the last of a series of wars for control of the American colonies. While the English had made it clear they intended to settle the frontier, the French were more interested in trade. This influenced the Delaware and Shawnee to side with the French. Although the Six Nations officially remained neutral, many in the Iroquois Confederacy also allied with the French.
Early defeats in the French and Indian War led Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie to construct forts in the South Branch Valley. From 1756 to 1758, Native Americans wreaked havoc on the new forts, attacking Fort Evans in present-day Berkeley County and forts Seybert and Upper Tract in present-day Pendleton County, as well as sites throughout the Monongahela, New River, and Greenbrier valleys. In November 1758, the British captured Fort Duquesne at present-day Pittsburgh, the key to French control of the Ohio Valley. The following year, French troops lost Quebec, crippling their military strength. The loss of French military support temporarily calmed tensions between Native Americans and settlers in western Virginia. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended the French and Indian War and gave England title to virtually all territory east of the Mississippi River.
- 1754 - The French and Indian War begins.
- 1754 - Under continuing pressure from British colonists, many Delaware drift west once more, crossing the Alleghenies into western Pennsylvania. The majority of the Munsee move north from Pennsylvania to settle in Canada. A few rejoin the main group of Delaware.
- 1754 - Delaware in western Pennsylvania join the Shawnee in raiding the settlements, more out of hatred of the English than love of the French. The Delaware still on the Susquehanna stay neutral at first.
- 1754 - Fort Duquesne (the present Pittsburgh) is built by the French where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the Ohio. The young George Washington is sent to destroy it but is forced to surrender to superior forces. His rash actions help to trigger a wider war.
- 1755 - July 9; defeat of General Braddock's expedition near Fort Duquesne by a mixed force of French and Indians, including Delaware, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Pottawatomi, Shawnee and Wyandots (Hurons). The Indians are led by Anastase, a Huron war chief from Lorette. Twenty-three-year-old George Washington and 21-year-old Daniel Boone are among the survivors.
- 1755 - The Delaware still on the Susquehanna defy the Iroquois and join their western kinsmen, raiding as far as New Jersey and southern New York.
- 1756-1763 - The French and Indian War in North America expands into The Seven Years' War in Europe. The fighting in North America grows into a global conflict, with Britain and Prussia fighting France, Austria and their allies in Europe, the Americas, and India.
- 1756 - January 27; birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
- 1756 - April 14; Governor Robert Morris of Pennsylvania declares war on the Delaware, and offers cash bounties for prisoners and scalps.
- 1756 - June 14; the governor of New Jersey declares war on the Delaware.
- Simon, James and George Girty are taken captive in an Indian raid in Pennsylvania, and are eventually traded to the Seneca.
- 1756 - September 8; colonial troops attack and burn the principal Delaware town of Kittanning on the Allegheny River, but most Delaware escape with over 100 white captives. End of Delaware presence in central Pennsylvania.
- 1756 - The Wyandots (Hurons) allow the main group of Delaware to settle along the Tuscarawas River in eastern Ohio. No longer under the thumb of the Iroquois, the Delaware reassert their manhood.
- 1756 - In November, William Pitt becomes Secretary of State for Great Britain, responsible for the conduct of the war and foreign affairs.
- 1757 - August 9; the French and Indians under the Marquis de Montcalm take Fort William Henry on Lake George. The fort is burned and prisoners massacred.
- 1757-1762 - Franklin is in London as agent for Pennsylvania.
- 1758 - July 26; the British take the great fortress at Louisbourg, giving them naval control of the St. Lawrence.
- 1758 - November 25; Colonial troops under Col. George Washington capture Fort Duquesne, site of Washington's surrender four years before. Rebuilt over the next two years as Fort Pitt, largest land fortification in North America, this establishes British control over the entire Ohio River valley.
- 1759 - Eighteen-year-old Simon Girty is released after three years as an adopted captive of the Seneca. He eventually becomes an interpreter at Fort Pitt.
- 1759 - July 25; the British under Sir William Johnson capture Fort Niagara.
- 1759 - September 13; General James Wolfe takes Quebec. Deaths of both Wolfe and the Marquis de Montcalm. This marks the effective end of French power in North America. 1760 - September 8; Sir William Johnson captures Montreal.
- 1760 - Pontiac meets in central Ohio with Maj. Robert Rogers, who is leading a British occupation force from Fort Pitt to Detroit. The meeting ends amicably.
- 1760 - October 25; death of George II. His grandson George III becomes King of Great Britain and America.
- 1760 - November 29; Rogers occupies Detroit.
- 1761 - James Otis speaks against writs of assistance. George III makes colonial judges serve at his pleasure.
- 1761 - July 3; the Northwest Confederacy is organized at a Wyandot town near Detroit, includes Delware, Miami, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Pottawatomi, Shawnee, Wyandots, and others. Wyandots are made Keepers of the Council Fire.
- 1761 - October 5; William Pitt, architect of Britain's victory over France, is forced to resign by George III.
- 1762 - James Otis challenges the royal governor in A Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts.
- 1762 - Pontiac's War begins. In the wake of French defeat, Pontiac sends messengers to all the tribes between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi, seeking their united support against the British.
- 1762 - November 3; the Treaty of Fontainebleau. France secretly cedes the greater part of Louisiana to Spain (hoping to eventually regain it), in return for Spanish agreement to an end of the war with Great Britain.
- 1763 - February 10; the Treaty of Paris is signed ending the Seven Years' War between France and Great Britain. Britain acquires Canada and Louisiana east of the Mississippi from France, and East and West Florida from Spain. The Treaty of Paris also ended the French and Indian War in North America.