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The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763
Copyright © 2005 Fowler, William M., Jr.
All right reserved.
Lining Up Allies
All I can say is that the natives of these localities are very badly disposed towards the French, and are entirely devoted to the English. -Celiron, "Expedition Down the Ohio"
Among those most aware of the English threat was New France's governor, the marquis de la Galissonihre, an officer in the French navy who arrived at Quebec in September 1747. During his travels through Canada Peter Kalm, the Swedish scientist and diarist, met Galissonihre and was astounded to discover, deep in the North American wilderness, a man so well versed in science and philosophy. The governor was equally at ease bantering in Parisian salons or barking orders from the quarterdeck of a warship. He brought energy and vision to Canada.
Galissonihre was the accidental governor. The marquis de La Jonquihre was the original appointee, but he had the misfortune of being taken prisoner in May 1747 when his vessel was captured by the British off the coast of Spain. Louis XV sent Galissonihre as a stand-in until he could manage the release of Jonquihre from the Tower of London. His instructions reflected both the failure of New Francein the eyes of the ministers in Paris as well as their hope for the colony's future. "Although capable of supporting enterprises both solid and profitable, Canada has made but little progress in the course of a fair number of years. The first settlers, who were little concerned with these sorts of enterprises, concerned themselves solely with the fur trade they could manage to carry on with the Indians, and there are still a rather large number of them who, satisfied with what that trade brings them and attracted still more by the independence they enjoy in their travels, are not much interested in devoting themselves to farming."
Galissonihre embraced the challenge. To strengthen the colony, he supported improvements in agriculture and encouraged the development of manufacturing. Ironically, his superiors at home viewed his work with indifference and sometimes hostility. French mercantilists could not abide the thought that the colonies might compete with the mother country. The comte de Maurepas, minister of marine, to whom Galissonihre reported, wrote him that his efforts at improving the economy of New France were not welcomed and that they would "be tolerated only to the extent that they [did] not harm the market in France, and for this reason they must not be allowed to multiply." Although disappointed at Maurepas's comments, Galissonihre paid them little heed, for his immediate concerns were less with the colony's economy and more with its defense.
Galissonihre appreciated his strategic advantage of interior lines. Despite the huge size of the territory of New France, its vast network of lakes and rivers provided secure routes. As long as Galissonihre held these water routes, he had the advantage of mobility, and he could mass his forces to hit decisive points. The French could, in short, move fast and strike hard.
In addition to providing pathways, the water passages served as boundaries and barriers. The Ohio River system marked one of Galissonihre's key links. By holding that line, he could block the British advance and secure his communications with the lower Mississippi. Given the length of the line, however, and his limited resources, the only way he could hope to maintain his position was with the aid of Indian allies. Galissonihre realized that if the British continued to seep into the west with their cheap goods, which enabled them to woo the Indians to their side, the French were doomed.
From the British point of view, expansion into the west was profitable and legal. By article 15 of the Treaty of Utrecht, France and England had agreed that the Iroquois would be subjects of the British Crown. Since the Iroquois claimed the Ohio Valley, the British, as their sovereign, took it to be theirs as well.
The French rejected the claim and asserted that sovereignty over a mobile people such as the Iroquois could only extend to persons, not to the lands through which they traveled. To prove this point, and to establish his king's authority, Galissonihre summoned Pierre-Joseph Ciloron de Blainville. A native-born Canadian and a grizzled veteran officer in the Troupes de la Marine (regular colonial forces), Ciloron had been commandant at both Crown Point as well as in the west at Detroit. Galissonihre ordered him to lead an expedition into the Ohio country. His mission was similar to Le Loutre's in Acadia: to remind the Indians of their obligation to the French king and if necessary terrify them into submission.
Both Ciloron and the expedition's chaplain, Father Joseph-Pierre de Bonnecamps, kept careful journals. They set off from Lachine on June 15, 1749, with a force of 213 men in twenty-three canoes. After getting past the rapids, where they lost one canoe and one man, they arrived at the mission of La Presentation. Two days later they beached their canoes at Fort Frontenac. From there they made their way along Lake Ontario's north shore to cross the portage at Niagara over to Lake Erie. Hugging the southeastern side of Erie, the expedition beached its canoes at the Chautauqua portage, where Ciloron and his men shouldered their small craft and marched overland to Lake Chautauqua and thence to the headwaters of the Allegheny River. Although the road was "passably good," the portage to the lake took five days.
On June 29 the expedition reached the Allegheny, where the men halted. With great ceremony Ciloron ordered the ranks to attention. Father Bonnecamps said a few prayers as Ciloron buried an engraved lead plate announcing the French king's claim to the territory. Then, with equal dignity, he nailed to a large tree a plaque emblazoned with the king's arms. Ciloron and his men continued south to the Ohio. En route they encountered British traders; Ciloron told them they were trespassing and ordered them out. On one occasion he gave to a party of Englishmen a letter addressed to the governor of Pennsylvania, warning His Excellency about the perils of trespassing on the French king's lands.
Not surprisingly, burying lead plates and tossing out errant traders had minimal effect. At Logstown on the Ohio the Indians were bold enough to declare to Ciloron "that the land was theirs and that while there were any Indians in those Parts they would trade with their Brothers the English." Despite Ciloron's bluster and engraved lead plates, the Indians knew that in a few days the French tide would ebb and the British would flow back.
From Logstown the French floated down the Ohio to the Miami River. At the junction of the two rivers Ciloron buried his last plate and then turned north. The party stopped at Pickawillany, the village of La Demoiselle, a Miami chief known to the British as Old Briton. Ciloron ordered him to leave the area and warned him of the consequences if he continued to do business with the English. Old Briton, true to his name, dismissed Ciloron's threats. Five days later the party reached the French post at Fort des Miamis, and from there they traveled overland to Detroit and then via the lakes and St. Lawrence home to Montreal, reaching the city on November 10.
By the time Ciloron returned to deliver his alarming reports about British incursions, the imprisoned Jonquihre had been released and was in Montreal. Galissonihre was already on his way home to France. Jonquihre read Ciloron's report with grave concern. The old soldier had not minced words. "All I can say," Ciloron wrote, "is that the natives of these localities are very badly disposed towards the French, and are entirely devoted to the English. I do not know in what way they could be brought back."
While Jonquihre pondered Ciloron's gloomy assessment of the French position, Galissonihre was halfway across the Atlantic. Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts was at the same time traveling home to London aboard the ship Boston. Both governors spent their time at sea preparing reports about affairs in North America. Their views differed in nearly every respect, with one exception. Both men delivered dire warnings that the rivalry in North America was growing more intense and violent. Each urged decisive action against the other.
Shirley argued that Massachusetts and the other colonies would never be secure as long as the French were present in North America. Henry Pelham, the prime minister, and his brother Thomas Pelham Holles (the duke of Newcastle), secretary of the Northern Department, the ministry in charge of diplomatic relations with Protestant Europe and Russia, greeted Shirley's bellicose messages with caution. Others in the government, particularly the imperialist faction led by Henry Dunk (the earl of Halifax), and the duke of Cumberland, applauded Shirley's aggressive stance. Recognizing an ally in Shirley, Halifax and Cumberland engineered a special mission for the governor.
In their rush to end the War of Austrian Succession, the peace negotiators had left a number of critical disputes unresolved, especially the convoluted border issues in North America. These questions were referred to a special Anglo-French commission to which Shirley, thanks to Halifax and Cumberland, was appointed. His fellow commissioners were a lawyer named William Mildmay and the ambassador to France and titular governor of Virginia, the earl of Albemarle. The composition of the commission-Shirley, the bellicose expansionist; Albemarle, the governor of a colony under French threat; and Mildmay, who owed his appointment to Cumberland and Halifax-sent a clear message that the English were not likely to make any concessions. In Shirley's words, the aim was to keep talking until the moment arrived "when it shall be thought proper to reduce 'em." The French commission would be equally unyielding. "Because of the promptness with which he sacrificed his repose, his inclination and personal interests to the pressing needs of the service," the king promoted Galissonihre to the rank of rear admiral, placed him in charge of the Hydrographic Office, and appointed him to lead the commission.
On August 31, 1750, the commissioners held their first meeting at Galissonihre's private apartments in Paris. The conversation was polite, perfunctory, and pointless. Most of Louis XV's close advisers thought Canada not worth a great deal. Critics outside Versailles shared similar views. Voltaire dismissed Canada contemptuously as a "few acres of snow." But Galissonihre argued vehemently that the loss of Canada would bring France's entire overseas empire tumbling down. Without Canada, France's fisheries, the source of wealth and sailors, would vanish, leaving the nation's merchant marine and navy in a precarious position unable to defend other parts of its overseas empire.
The marquis understood how far the English had encroached on his king's lands. Virginians had invaded the Ohio Valley; land-hungry New Englanders were pushing at the borders of Acadia; New Yorkers were moving north up the Hudson Valley toward Lac Sacrement (Lake George) and Lake Champlain. On every border there was conflict. Galissonihre demanded that the contending parties carve a wide swath of neutral turf between New France and the English colonies to protect both sides from encroachment and violent contact.
Shirley was wary. Galissonihre's demands, as he saw them, would deny the English their rightful claims to western lands by raising a Gallic barrier to inland expansion. Deadlocked in their discussions, the two sides stopped meeting face-to-face and fell to exchanging detailed written briefs accompanied by heavily annotated maps, crisscrossed with dozens of lines pretending to be borders. Neither Shirley nor Galissonihre was unhappy with the lack of progress. They were partners in a diplomatic dance, playing for time so that each might prepare for the inevitable war to come.
When Shirley returned to London, Halifax welcomed him warmly. The collapse of negotiations served his lordship's expansionist plans. Newcastle and Pelham, on the other hand, were cool. Shirley's truculent attitude had done little to improve relations across the Channel, and his marriage to a French innkeeper's daughter was an embarrassment to the ministry. When Shirley requested the governorship of New York as a reward for his "good work," Newcastle and Pelham ignored him and instead sent him packing back to Boston to resume his post in Massachusetts, a place Shirley had hoped never to see again.
Both Pelham's financial acumen and his obsession with patronage were legendary. Paying off the national debt and finding jobs for friends and relatives were his chief goals. He was appalled at the cost of the War of Austrian Succession and had little appetite for doing anything that might precipitate another major upheaval. Tranquillity suited him. One London wag noted that the years of Pelham's administration were a time when "a bird might have built her nest in the Speaker's chair or in his periwig."
Aside from the continuing rise of parliamentary influence, the most notable feature of Pelham's era was the extraordinary increase in English foreign trade. By the mid-eighteenth century as many as one in five families in Great Britain were directly dependent for their livelihood on foreign commerce. Even more dramatic was the change in direction of trade. While Continental markets grew modestly, colonial markets expanded at an astonishing rate. In the first half of the eighteenth century British exports to North America grew fourfold, those to the West Indies doubled, while East India tea imports increased an incredible forty times. Ninety-five percent of the increase in Britain's commodity exports was sold into protected colonial markets. But the price of prosperity could be high. Continued growth in trade depended upon a relentless expansion of colonial commerce, which inevitably caused conflict as competing nations struggled to protect and enlarge their own overseas interests.
Revenue from levies on trade was key to Pelham's fiscal plan. Should tax receipts from overseas commerce fall, he knew his government would have to raise domestic taxes. And not even Pelham's legendary political skills could save him from the wrath of landed interests should he try to reach deeper into their pockets. From Pelham's perspective peace meant profit, whereas war offered only a painful bill of costs.
Philip Yorke (the earl of Hardwicke), the lord chancellor and Newcastle's and Pelham's longtime ally, agreed. These three formed the center of a moderate coalition within the government willing to negotiate and make concessions. Their challenge was to defend, and if possible expand, overseas trade at the expense of the French and Spanish without unduly alarming those kingdoms.
Excerpted from Empires at War by Fowler, William M., Jr. Copyright © 2005 by Fowler, William M., Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
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