1756 - Indian raids on the Western Borders
The campaign lasted from April to September 1756
In 1756, the western borders of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia were still ravaged by Indian raids. Each colony had made a chain of blockhouses and wooden forts to cover its frontier and manned them with inexperienced troops. Some of these forts were well built stockades while others were almost worthless. The Indian and French war-parties rarely attacked any fort, preferring to ravage isolated and unprotected farms.
In Pennsylvania the quarrel between the governor and the assembly combined with the pacifism of the Quakers made vigorous defence of the frontier almost impossible.
In April, a Virginian fort was attacked by a war-party under an officer named Douville. This officer was killed and his followers were put to flight.
On August 2, advancing from Fort Duquesne, a small force of 23 French (Troupes de la Marine and Milices Canadiennes) and 32 Allied Indians under François Coulon de Villiers assisted by Jacobs, chief of the Wolf clan of the Delaware attacked a small stockade called Fort Granville, on the Juniata River in Pennsylvania while most of its garrison was absent protecting the farmers at their harvest. They took the fort, set it on fire and brought back 27 prisoners.
On August 31, the Governor of Pennsylvania sent Colonel John Armstrong, a settler of Cumberland, with 300 men to attack the Delaware town of Kittanning on the Allegheny River, between the two French posts of Venango (near present-day Franklin, PA) and Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh). This town was used by Chief Jacobs as a staging point for the raids launched against the British establishments in the Juniata Valley. It was full of stores and ammunition supplied by the French. Armstrong set out from Fort Shirley.
On September 7, Armstrong's party was within 10 km of Kittanning. By rapid marching and rare good luck, his party had escaped discovery. At 10:00 p.m., they heard in the distance the beating of an Indian drum and the whooping of warriors in the war-dance. Guided by the sounds, they cautiously moved forward, till those in the front, scrambling down a rocky hill, found themselves on the banks of the Allegheny about 500 meters downriver from Kittanning. The party then crouched in the bushes and kept silent.
On September 8, as the eastern sky began to redden with the approach of day, Armstrong cautiously roused those of his men who had fallen asleep. He then ordered about 150 men to make their way along the ridge of a bushy hill that overlooked the town, till they came opposite to it, in order to place the Indians between two fires. Twenty minutes were allowed them for the movement but they lost their way in the dusk and reached their station too late. When the time had expired, Armstrong gave the signal to those left with him. His 150 men dashed into the cornfield, shooting down the astonished Indians or driving them into the village, where they turned and made desperate fight. The village consisted of some 30 log cabins, the principal being that of Chief Jacobs, which was loopholed for musketry and became the centre of resistance.
Armstrong ordered the town to be set on fire. As the flames rose, the Indians occupying Jacobs' cabin attempted a sortie but were instantly killed. Jacobs himself was shot dead. A party of French and Indians under Normandville was gathering beyond the Allegheny River, firing from the other bank, and even crossing to help their comrades, but the assailants held to their work till the whole place was destroyed. They rescued eleven men, women and children, previously captured by the Indians in the border settlements. During this action, Armstrong had lost 17 men killed and 13 others were wounded. Armstrong was wounded in a shoulder. The Indians did not harass the retiring party.
This description is an abridged and adapted excerpt from the following book, which is now in the public domain:
- Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 246-248
Dechêne, Louise: Le Peuple, l’État et la Guerre au Canada sous le Régime français, Éditions du Boréal, 2008, pp. 502-503