A Sketch of the Early “Far West”

Fur Traders

Fur Traders

To strengthen the establishment of French dominion, the genius of Samuel de Champlain saw that it was essential to establish missions among the Indians. Up to this period “the far west” had been untrod by the foot of the white man. In 1616, a French Franciscan, named Joseph Le Caron, passed through the Iroquois and Wyandot nations — to streams running into Lake Huron; and in 1634, two Jesuits founded the first mission in that region. But, just a century elapsed from the discovery of the Mississippi River, where the first Canadian envoys met the Indian nations, of the northwest, at the falls of St. Mary’s, below the outlet of Lake Superior.

It was not until 1659, that any of the adventurous fur traders wintered on the shores of this vast lake, nor until 1660, that Rene Mesnard founded the first missionary station upon its rocky and inhospitable coast. Perishing soon after in the forest, it was left to Father Claude Allouez, five years subsequent, to build the first permanent habitation of white men among the northwestern Indians. In 1668, the mission was founded at the falls of St. Mary’s, by Claude Dablon and Jacques Marquette; in 1670, Nicholas Perrot, agent for the intendant of Canada, explored Lake Michigan to near its southern termination. Formal possession was taken of the northwest, by the French, in 1671, and Marquette established a missionary station at Point St. Ignace, on the mainland north of Mackinac, which was the first settlement in Michigan.

In 1748, the Ohio Company, composed mainly of wealthy Virginians, dispatched Christopher Gist to explore the country, gain the good-will of the Indians, and to ascertain the plans of the French. Crossing overland to the Ohio River, he proceeded down it to the Great Miami River, up which he passed to the towns of the Miami tribes, about 50 miles north of the site of Dayton, Ohio. The next year the company established a trading post in that vicinity, on Loraroies Creek, the first point of English settlement in the western country. It was soon after broken up by the French.

Fort le Boeuf, Pennsylvania

Fort le Boeuf, Pennsylvania

In the year 1753, Robert Diawiddie, governor of Virginia, sent George Washington, then 21 years of age, as commissioner, to remonstrate with the French commandant who was at Fort le Boeuf, near the site of Erie, Pennsylvania, against encroachments of the French. The English claimed the country by virtue of her first royal charters; the French, by the stronger title of discovery, and possession. The result of the mission proving unsatisfactory, the English, although it was a time of peace, raised a force to expel the invaders from the Ohio River and its tributaries. A detachment under Lieutenant Ward erected a fort on the site of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; but, it was surrendered shortly after, in April 1754, to a superior force of French and Indians under Claude-Pierre Pecaudy de Contrecœur, and its garrison peaceably permitted to retire to the frontier post of Cumberland. Contrecoeur then erected a strong fortification at “the fork,” under the name of Fort Duquesne.

Measures were now taken by both nations for the struggle that was to ensue. On May 28, 1755, a strong detachment of Virginia troops, under George Washington, surprised a small body of French from Fort Duquesne, killed its commander Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, and ten men, and took nearly all the rest prisoners. He then fell back and erected Fort Necessity, near the site of Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

In July, he was attacked by a large body of French and Indians, commanded by Louis Coulon de Villiers, and after a gallant resistance, compelled to capitulate, with permission to retire unmolested; and under the express stipulation that farther settlements or forts, should not be founded by the English, west of the mountains, for one year.

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 himself 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.

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