Military history


Other Disasters, and a Ray of Hope


IN THE REGION that Lord Loudoun had designated as the Southern Department of operations—the colonies from Pennsylvania to Georgia—the picture at the time of Fort William Henry’s fall was hardly an encouraging one. Only in the lower south, a region still spared much military activity, did things seem to be progressing satisfactorily. The completion of Fort Loudoun in what would later become southeastern Tennessee established a strategic foothold for the Crown and the colony of South Carolina in the Overhill Cherokee country. French agents ranging northward from Fort Toulouse (a post at the forks of the Alabama River on the approximate site of modern Montgomery) and Shawnees operating to the south from the Ohio Valley had been in the area since 1754, seeking to forge an alliance with the Cherokees. Fort Loudoun and its supporting post of Fort Prince George, located about a hundred miles to the southeast amid the Cherokee Lower Towns, seemed ready to foster stable relations with the Cherokees by furnishing foci for trade and fortified bases for the operations of provincial and redcoat troops. North of the Carolinas, however, in the backwoods of the middle and southern colonies, relations with the Indians were anything but stable. There the war in 1757 proceeded very much as it had in the previous year, as raiders from Fort Duquesne lengthened to seeming endlessness the melancholy list of kidnappings, scalpings, and settlement-burnings. 1

In the Chesapeake colonies, Maryland continued to spend as little as possible on defense. The backwoods settlements to the east of Fort Cumberland in the Conococheague Valley had all but emptied themselves of people in 1756 after the assembly announced that it would defend nothing to the west of Fort Frederick. Although Loudoun in his March conference with the governors had ordered Governor Horatio Sharpe to garrison Fort Cumberland with 150 men, the Maryland Assembly had flatly refused to support them so long as they remained there. They stayed in place but ultimately had to be provisioned by the regular army. Although Maryland did raise 500 men in 1757, relations were so strained between the upper house of the assembly, controlled by a faction friendly to the interests of the proprietary family, the Calverts, and the lower house, dominated by the antiproprietary (or popular) party, that these two halves of the legislature never agreed on a supply bill, and the soldiers were never paid.2

Virginia, with an increasingly disciplined regiment attempting to defend its frontier, seemed to offer a better example of coordination between colony and empire. On closer inspection, however, the situation could be seen to have improved only slightly, if at all, over the previous year. By early 1757 the Virginia provincial officers had grown so discouraged by the unwillingness of the House of Burgesses to supply and pay their regiment that Washington himself had approached Lord Loudoun at his Philadelphia conference and pleaded for the Virginia Regiment to be taken into the regular establishment. The Virginia officers, he maintained, “want nothing but Commissions from His Majesty to make us as regular a Corps as any upon the Continent.” His men had “been regularly Regimented and trained, and have done as regular Duty for upwards of 3 Years as any regiment in His Majesty’s Service,” and, he concluded hopefully, “we are very certain, that no Body of regular Troops ever before Servd 3 Bloody Campaigns without attracting Royal Notice.” Loudoun had not been impressed enough by the towering young colonel’s arguments to agree to absorb his regiment into the regular army, but he evidently thought enough of its proficiency to leave the defense of the Virginia backcountry entirely in its hands. Instead of issuing Washington the regular commission he coveted, Loudoun decided to station a battalion of the Royal American (60th) Regiment in Pennsylvania for 1757 and to give its commander, Colonel John Stanwix, authority over Washington and the Virginia provincials. Since Stanwix’s first communication to Washington was an order to deliver a hundred barrels of gunpowder, twelve thousand flints, and three tons of lead from his regimental stores to wagoners that Stanwix was sending down from Pennsylvania, Washington had reason to think that his new, closer connection to the regular army would only make a hard job worse.3

And indeed it did. Although Washington would eventually find his way to a cordial relationship with the competent, long-experienced Stanwix, nothing about the defense of Virginia’s backcountry came easily in 1757. Plagued by desertions and distressed by the behindhand way in which the province sent him replacements, Washington found himself no more able than before to defend 350 miles of frontier against raiders from the Ohio Country. As if this were not difficult enough, Loudoun had detached two hundred of Washington’s men and sent them to South Carolina under the regiment’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel Adam Stephen. There they helped to garrison Charleston—in effect, to deter slave insurrection—while regulars from the province’s independent companies, the Royal Americans, and the Highland (63rd) Regiment defended the frontier against an invasion that never materialized. Left with as few as four hundred (and never more than seven hundred) men to hold Virginia’s chain of eighteen forts, Washington abandoned all but seven, a move that enabled French and Indian raiding parties to enter the province virtually at will. Although Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie made efforts to supplement Washington’s forces with Catawba and Cherokee warriors imported from the Carolinas, Washington never found them to be more than burdensome: they consumed inordinate amounts of supplies, came and went as they pleased, and generally “behaved very insolently” when he tried to employ them as scouts.4

In October, beset not only by enemies he could not stave off but by his own quartermaster’s embezzlement of supplies and desertion, Washington was near despair. “Another campaign, such as was the last,” he wrote to Dinwiddie, “will depopulate the country.” Purely defensive strategies had failed, and unless an expedition could be sent to destroy Fort Duquesne, “there will not . . . be one soul living on this side the Blue-Ridge [by] the ensuing autumn.” He was not exaggerating. When Governor-General Vaudreuil reported to his superior, the minister of marine, on the raids conducted from Fort Duquesne in 1757, he could describe “nothing very important”—just twenty-seven scalps and twenty-seven prisoners taken since his previous account. It had not been for want of activity, but rather because there were so few English settlers left on the frontier; one group had been in the field for two months and taken only two scalps. Indeed, Vaudreuil wrote, “all our parties have carried terror among our enemies to a point that the settlements of the English in Pinsilvanie, Mariland, and Virginia are abandoned. All the settlers have retreated to the city or into the forest.”5

Only in Pennsylvania did there seem to be any cause for hope in 1757, and the improvement in that quarter came not from military factors— Stanwix’s Royal Americans based at Carlisle and the provincial companies posted at forts along the frontier could do little to deter enemy raiders—but rather from the diplomatic negotiations between private intermediaries and the eastern Delaware leader, Teedyuscung, which had begun at Easton in 1756. These talks had continued, despite Sir William Johnson’s insistence that only he was authorized to conduct diplomacy with the northern Indians, because of two compelling, complementary needs. On one hand, Governor Denny realized that, given the failure of provincials and redcoats alike to defend the frontier, diplomacy offered his best (and perhaps only) hope for ending the devastation of his province. On the other, the flight of traders from Shamokin and the Susquehanna generally had left Teedyuscung’s people in desperate need of the manufactures—blankets, ironware, weapons, ammunition—that they needed to survive.

Pennsylvania’s informal representatives were Quakers, now formally out of politics. They had begun by making individual efforts to negotiate an end to hostilities; then, in December 1756, several “weighty” Friends had founded an organization called the Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures. This organization and the remarkable man who headed it, the merchant Israel Pemberton, had maintained contacts with Teedyuscung, raised large sums of money to support the negotiations, and purchased the diplomatic gifts necessary to keep the talks alive. Apart from the eastern Delawares’ precarious situation, the goodwill and impartiality of Pemberton and the Friendly Association were probably the biggest factors inducing Teedyuscung to negotiate. The presence of the Quakers at the renewed Easton negotiations of July and August 1757, as the financial supporters and informal monitors of the proceedings, added an element of integrity uncommon in Pennsylvania’s treaty-making after the passing of William Penn.6

And, it must be said, the presence of Pemberton and the Quakers also added an element of complexity unusual even in the ordinarily complicated setting of intercultural diplomacy. As we have seen, Teedyuscung’s intentions in opening the talks at Easton in the previous year had included two goals: first, to nullify the Walking Purchase of 1737, by which Iroquois chiefs had connived with the representatives of the Penn family to deprive the Delawares of their lands in eastern Pennsylvania; second, to gain a perpetual grant of approximately 2,500,000 acres in the Wyoming Valley region as a territorial reserve within which the eastern Delawares could be forever safe from white encroachments. As a result, the Easton talks of 1757 had a distinctively multilateral character.

Governor Denny was there to represent the province of Pennsylvania and of course the interests of the Penn family. But William Denny was also his own man and shrewdly capable of seeming “in the morning [to be] for the proprietaries, at noon of no party, and at night, plump for the Assembly.” At Easton, he was acting most of all as the direct subordinate of the earl of Loudoun and as a career officer in the British army. He aimed therefore at obtaining a strategic peace with the eastern Delawares. If in so doing it was necessary to expose and renounce a twenty-year-old land fraud, that was merely unfortunate for the proprietors. His oath was to the king, not the Penns, and the interest of the king in restoring peace with the Indians and gaining them as allies against the French far superseded any obligation he had to protect the pecuniary interests of the proprietors. Denny was not, however, the only delegate from Pennsylvania at the conference. Four commissioners representing the assembly attended, vigilant to protect their constituents’ interests against the power of the proprietors; agents of the Penn family were there too, intending to preserve the Walking Purchase, thwart the massive cession of Wyoming lands to the Delawares, and make sure that Denny did not respond too eagerly to the advice of the assembly’s commissioners. Observers from the Iroquois Confederacy were also on hand—chiefs who were as reluctant as the Penns to see the Walking Purchase renounced and by no means pleased to see Teedyuscung, who was supposed to be taking orders from them, negotiating his own people’s settlement with the government of Pennsylvania. To complicate matters further, George Croghan was at Easton as the deputy of Sir William Johnson, charged with preserving Johnson’s status as the sole Crown authority authorized to negotiate with the northern Indians; yet Croghan was also on the lookout—as always—for opportunities to promote his own interests as a private trader and land speculator. And of course, Pemberton and his colleagues from the Friendly Association were also in attendance, acting as ostensibly neutral observers but—insofar as they advised the Indians and kept an independent record of the proceedings— as de facto allies of Teedyuscung and the Delawares. Yet even the Quakers’ presence was complicated, and perhaps compromised, by the fact that Pemberton had been cultivating close relations with Colonel Stanwix, who supported a peace settlement in order to gain eastern Delaware allies for a campaign into the Ohio Valley, not to realize the Quakers’ hope of bringing a prompt, diplomatic end to the bloodshed.7

Ultimately these complex affiliations among the participants and observers at Easton resolved themselves into the pragmatic alignment of interests that determined the conference’s outcome. Denny, the commissioners from the assembly, the Quakers, and Teedyuscung all wanted peace and had no objection to having the Walking Purchase reviewed by higher authorities in order to determine its legitimacy. The agents of the Penns, the representatives of the Iroquois, and George Croghan sought to defend the Walking Purchase but were willing to have it examined—if the higher authority who would examine it was Sir William Johnson. Denny and Croghan wanted peace to be accompanied by an alliance between the eastern Delawares and the British; Croghan and the Iroquois wanted the alliance to be understood as coming under the Confederacy’s sanction. Teedyuscung was willing to defer the grant of land to his people in return for immediate aid in the form of a permanent settlement, to be built at Pennsylvania’s expense in the Wyoming Valley—with houses, a trading post, and teachers to instruct his people in reading and writing. In return for this, he was prepared to offer a military alliance between his people and the British, under the formal aegis of the Iroquois. The commissioners from the Pennsylvania Assembly were willing (once the representatives of the Friendly Association had assured them of financial support) to subsidize the construction of Teedyuscung’s Wyoming town in return for an alliance.8

Thus between July 21 and August 8 at Easton, the representatives of several cultural communities and a vast range of competing interests were able to negotiate something that even six weeks earlier would have seemed impossible: the beginnings of a peace. It was far from a comprehensive settlement, of course, and given its indeterminate character, it was at best a fragile one. Understood in strategic terms, the Treaty of Easton merely neutralized the eastern Delawares as a first step toward opening contacts with the western Delawares—a group still allied with the French. Nothing could dislodge the French from the Ohio Country, and nothing could make the raids along the frontier cease, unless the alliance between the French and the Delawares, as well as the other Ohio Indians, could be broken. In August 1757—as French and Indian raiders continued to pillage backcountry settlements from New York to North Carolina, and as Fort William Henry’s broken masonry and shattered timbers littered the headland above Lake George—any well-informed observer of the war would surely have found the likelihood remote that the Easton conference would prove a pivotal moment. Least of all would it have seemed a likely turning point to the best-informed observer of them all, the earl of Loudoun, who even then was sitting in Halifax watching his prospects for capturing Louisbourg fade into the blank face of a Nova Scotia fog.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!