A Sketch of the Early “Far West”

General Edward Braddock

General Edward Braddock

On July 9, 1755, General Edward Braddock was defeated within ten miles of Fort Duquesne. His army, composed mainly of veteran English troops, passed into an ambuscade, formed by a far inferior body of French and Indians, who, lying concealed in two deep ravines, each side of his line of march, poured in upon the compact body of their enemy, volleys of musketry, with almost perfect safety to themselves. The Virginia provincials, under George Washington, by their knowledge of border warfare, and cool bravery, alone saved the army from complete ruin. General Braddock was mortally wounded by a provincial named Fausett. A brother of the latter had disobeyed the silly orders of the General, that the troops should not take positions behind the trees when Braddock rode up and struck him down. Fausett, who saw the whole transaction, immediately drew up his rifle and shot him through the lungs; partly from revenge, and partly as a measure of salvation to the army, which was being sacrificed to his headstrong obstinacy and inexperience. The result of this battle gave the French and Indians a complete ascendancy on the Ohio River, and put a check to the operations of the English, west of the mountains, for two or three years. In July 1758, General John Forbes, with 7,000 men, left Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for the west. A corps in advance, principally of Highland Scotch, under Major James Grant, was on the 13th of September defeated in the vicinity of Fort Duquesne, on the site of Pittsburgh. A short time after, the French and Indians made an unsuccessful attack upon the advanced guard, under Colonel Henry Boquet.

In November, the commandant of Fort Duquesne, unable to cope with the superior force approaching under General John Forbes, abandoned the fortress and descended to New Orleans. On his route, he erected Fort Massac, so-called in honor of Marquis de Massiac, who superintended its construction. It was upon the Ohio River, within forty miles of its mouth — and within the limits of Illinois. Forbes repaired Fort Duquesne, and changed its name to Fort Pitt, in honor of the English Prime Minister.

The English were now for the first time in possession of the upper Ohio River. In the spring, they established several posts in that region, prominent among which was Fort Burd, or Redstone Old Fort, on the site of Brownsville.

Fort Loudoun, Tennessee by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Fort Loudoun, Tennessee by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Owing to the treachery of South Carolina Governor Lyttleton, in 1760, by which, 22 Cherokee chiefs on an embassy of peace were made prisoners at Fort George, on the Savannah River, that nation flew to arms, and for a while desolated the frontiers of Virginia and the Carolinas. Fort Loudoun, in East Tennessee, having been besieged by the Indians, the garrison capitulated on the 7th of August, and on the day afterward, while on the route to Fort George, were attacked, and the greater part massacred. In the summer of 1761, Colonel James Grant invaded their country and compelled them to sue for peace. On the north, the most brilliant success had attended the British arms. Ticonderoga, Crown Point, and Fort Niagara, and Quebec were taken in 1759, and the next year, Montreal fell, and with it, all of Canada.

By the Treaty of Paris, in 1763, France gave up her claim to New France, and Canada; embracing all the country east of the Mississippi River, from its source to the Bayou Iberville. The remainder of her Mississippi possessions, embracing Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, and the Island of Orleans, she soon after secretly ceded to Spain, which terminated the dominion of France on this continent, and her vast plans for empire.

At this period, Lower Louisiana had become of considerable importance. The explorations of Robert de La Salle in the Lower Mississippi country were renewed in 1697, by Lemoine D’ Iberville, a brave French naval officer. Sailing with two vessels, he entered the Mississippi River in March 1698, by the Bayou Iberville. He built forts on the Bay of Biloxi, Mississippi and at Mobile, Alabama, both of which were deserted for the Island of Dauphine, which for years, was the headquarters of the colony. He also erected Fort Balise, at the mouth of the river, and fixed on the site of Fort Rosalie; which later became the scene of a bloody Indian war.

Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle

Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle

After his death in 1706, Louisiana was but little more than a wilderness, and a vain search for gold, and trading in furs, rather than the substantial pursuits of agriculture, allured the colonists; and much time was lost in journeys of discovery, and in collecting furs among distant tribes. Of the occupied lands, Biloxi was barren land and the soil of the Isle of Dauiihine poor. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the brother and successor of D’ Iberville, was at the fort on the Delta of the Mississippi River, where he and his soldiers were liable to inundations, and held joint possession with mosquitoes, frogs, snakes, and alligators.

In 1712, Antoine de Crozat, an East India merchant of vast wealth, purchased a grant of the entire country, with the exclusive right of commerce for 16 years. But, in 1717, the speculation having resulted in his ruin, all to the injury of the colonists, he surrendered his privileges. Soon after, a number of other adventurers, under the name of the Mississippi Company, obtained from the French government a charter, which gave them all the rights of sovereignty, except the bare title, including a complete monopoly of the trade, and the mines. Their expectations were chiefly from the mines; and on the strength of a former traveler, Nicolas Perrot, having discovered a copper mine in the valley of St. Peters, the directors of the company assigned to the soil of Louisiana, silver and gold; and to the mud of the Mississippi River, diamonds and pearls. The notorious Law, who then resided at Paris, was the secret agent of the company. To form its capital, its shares were sold at five hundred lives each; and such was the speculating mania of the times, that in a short time more than a hundred million was realized. Although this proved ruinous to individuals, the colony was greatly benefited by the consequent emigration, and agriculture and commerce flourished.

In 1719, Renault, an agent of the Mississippi Company, left France with about 200 miners and emigrants, to carry out the mining schemes of the company. He bought 500 slaves at St. Domingo, to work the mines, which he conveyed to Illinois in 1720. He established himself a few miles above Kaskaskia, Illinois and founded there the village of St. Philips. Extravagant expectations existed in France, of his probable success in obtaining gold and silver. He sent out exploring parties in various sections of Illinois and Missouri. His explorations extended to the banks of the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers, and even to the Cumberland Valley in Tennessee, where at “French Lick,” on the site of Nashville, the French established a trading post . Although Renault was woefully disappointed in not discovering extensive mines of gold or silver, he made various discoveries of lead; among which were the mines north of Potosi, and those on the St. Francois. He eventually turned his whole attention to the smelting of lead, of which he made considerable quantities, and shipped to France. He remained in the country until 1744. Nothing of consequence was again done in mining, until after the American Revolution.

Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville

Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville

In 1718, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville laid out the town of New Orleans, on the plan of Rochefort, France. Some four years after, the bankruptcy of Law threw the colony into the greatest confusion and occasioned widespread ruin in France, where speculation had been carried to an extreme unknown before.

The expenditures for Louisiana were consequently stopped, but, the colony had now gained strength to struggle for herself. Louisiana was then divided into nine cantons, of which Arkansas and Illinois each formed one.

About this time, the colony had considerable difficulty with the Indian tribes and were involved in wars with the Chickasaw and the Natchez. This latter named tribe were finally completely conquered. The remnant of them dispersed among other Indians, so that once powerful people, as a distinct race, was entirely lost. Their name alone survives, as that of a flourishing city. Tradition related singular stories of the Natchez. It was believed that they emigrated from Mexico, and were kindred to the Incas of Peru. The Natchez alone, of all the Indian tribes, had a consecrated temple, where a perpetual fire was maintained by appointed guardians. Near the temple, on an artificial mound, stood the dwelling of their chief — called the Great Sun; who was supposed to be descended from that luminary, and all abound were grouped the dwellings of the tribe. His power was absolute; the dignity was hereditary and transmitted exclusively through the female line, and the race of nobles was so distinct, that usage had molded language into the forms of reverence.

In 1732, the Mississippi Company relinquished its charter to the king, after holding possession fourteen years. At this period, Louisiana had about 5,000 whites and 2,500 blacks. Agriculture was improving in all the nine cantons, particularly in Illinois, which was considered the granary of the colony. Louisiana continued to advance until the war broke out with England in 1755, which resulted in the overthrow of French dominion.

Immediately after the peace of 1763, all the old French forts in the west, as far as Green Bay were repaired and garrisoned with British troops. Agents and surveyors too were making examinations of the finest lands east and northeast of the Ohio River. Judging from the past, the Indians were satisfied that the British intended to possess the whole country. The celebrated Ottawa chief, Pontiac, burning with hatred against the English, in that year formed a general league with the western tribes, and by the middle of May, all the western posts had fallen — or were closely besieged by the Indians, and the whole frontier, for almost a thousand miles, suffered from the merciless fury of savage warfare. Treaties of peace were made with the different tribes of Indians in the year following, at Niagara, by Sir William Johnson; at Detroit and vicinity by General John Bradstreet, and, in what is now Coshocton County, Ohio, by Colonel Henry Boquet; at the German Flats, on the Mohawk, with the Six Nations and their confederates. By these treaties, extensive tracts were ceded by the Indians in New York and Pennsylvania, and south of Lake Erie.

Peace having been concluded, the excitable frontier population began to cross the mountains. Small settlements were formed on the main routes, extending north toward Fort Pitt, and south to the headwaters of the Holston and Clinch Rivers, in the vicinity of southwestern Virginia. In 1766, a town was laid out in the vicinity of Fort Pitt. Military land warrants had been issued in great numbers, and a perfect mania for western land had taken possession of the people of the middle colonies. The treaty made by Sir William Johnson, at Fort Stanwix, on the site of Utica, New York, in October 1768, with the Six Nations and their confederates, and those of Hard Labor and Lochaber, made with the Cherokee, afforded a pretext under which the settlements were advanced. It was now falsely claimed that the Indian title was extinguished east and south of the Ohio River, to an indefinite extent, and the spirit of emigration and speculation in land, greatly increased. Among the land companies formed at this time, was the “Mississippi Company,” of which, George Washington was an active member.

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