1755 - British expedition against Fort Niagara

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1755 - British expedition against Fort Niagara

The campaign lasted from July to October 1755


Among all the campaigns planned against French posts in North America in 1755, William Shirley, the British governor of Massachusets and Commander-in-Chief in North America, personally assumed command of the expedition against Fort Niagara.

In July, Major-General Shirley arrived at Albany which had been chosen as the base camp for his expedition. His force numbered some 2,500 men and consisted of Shirley's 50th Regiment of Foot, Pepperrell's 51st Regiment of Foot, and one regiment of New Jersey Provincials (500 men), known as the Jersey Blues. The two newly raised regular foot regiments were essentially formed with raw provincial recruits.

Departing near Albany, the expeditionary force used bateaux to advance upstream on the Mohawk.

On July 23, Lieutenant-Colonel Ellison embarked at Schenectady for Oswego with part (5th division) of the 50th Foot.

On July 24, Shirley arrived at Schenectady where Lieutenant-Colonel Mercer was still waiting for bateaux with 5 companies of the 51st Foot and one of the 50th Foot.

On July 29, Shirley embarked at Schenectady for Oswego. His force consisted of 97 bateaux loaded with military stores and provisions, 200 regulars, 150 bargemen and 40 Indians. Lieutenant-Colonel Mercer was left behind at Schenectady with orders to follow Shirley as soon as possible. Shirley followed the main force and ascended the Mohawk River. The expedition passed Fort Johnson, the two villages of the Mohawks, and the Palatine settlement of German Flats. Beyond this settlement, Shirley's force advanced about 100 km through wilderness and reached the "Great Carrying Place" (present-day Rome NY), which divided the waters that flow to the Hudson from those that flow to Lake Ontario. From this location, bateaux had to be carried overland for 2.7 km from the Mohawk River to Wood Creek (not to be confused with the Wood Creek of Lake Champlain). The force then reembarked and advanced downstream to Lake Oneida, then along the Onondaga River.

On August 18, Shirley's force finally arrived at Fort Oswego, 20 days after its departure from Shenectady. Supplies could not keep up with the swift advance of the expeditionary force. Thus, Shirley had to stop, putting his force on short rations while awaiting for his supplies.

The fort, located on the south shore of Lake Ontario, was in a very bad condition. It consisted of a stone wall armed with 5 guns (3-pdrs and 4-pdrs). Shirley immediately ordered to erect a strong log palisaded fort capable of mounting large guns and containing barracks for 300 men. Furthermore, to secure the place to the south of the old fort, Shirley ordered to build a small fort of earth and masonry with four bastions, a rampart, parapet and ditch.

Meanwhile, after the Ambush on the Monongahela, the French had seized papers disclosing British plans for the capture of Fort Niagara and Fort Frontenac. This allowed them to rapidly send reinforcements to these two forts. At the end of August, a force of 1,400 regulars and Canadians, and 2 vessels was assembled at Fort Frontenac while Niagara was garrisoned by 1,200 Canadians and Indians sent from Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh).

At Oswego, Shirley had a sloop, a schooner, some row-galleys and whale-boats, and about 1,500 effective men at his disposal. With both French forts reinforced, Shirley could not advance directly on Fort Niagara which lay at a distance of at least 4 days by boat without risking to be cut off from his base of operation at Fort Oswego by the French garrison of Fort Frontenac, only 80 km north across the lake.

On September 18, the works on the new fort were almost completed when Shirley received intelligence about Fort Niagara, he called a council of officers. He now had only 1,376 men fit for duty. Nevertheless, the council decided that Shirley would advance upon Niagara with 600 regulars, the Albany men, the Indians and a small train of artillery as soon as provisions would reach Oswego. However, bad weather persisted.

On September 27, eight bateaux arrived at Oswego with 40 barrels of flour and 13 of bread, providing Shirley with enough provisions for his planned expedition against Niagara. He summoned a new council. The plan to attack Niagara was abandoned as impractical. It was rather resolved to strengthened Fort Oswego and to build additional vessels to renew the offensive the following year.

On October 24, Shirley finally decided to retreat. He left Oswego, leaving orders with the commanding officer of the garrison (about 700 men) to finish the two forts.

On November 4, Shirley arrived at Albany.

On December 2, Shirley arrived at New York.

On December 12, Shirley held a council of war in New York. During this council, it was decided to build a snow (a type of brig), a brigantine and a sloop at Fort Oswego for operations on Lake Ontario the following year.


This description is a combination of abridged and adapted excerpts from the following books now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761
  • Fortescue J. W., A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 284-285
  • Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 186-191