Military history

CHAPTER 33

Emblem of Empire FORT PITT AND THE INDIANS

1759

IF INTERNAL POLITICAL frictions and intramural distrust delayed the opening of the campaign to consolidate British control over the Forks, problems stemming from the previous year’s operations hindered it even more severely once it began. Building Forbes Road and supplying the troops along it had destroyed thousands of wagons and perhaps tens of thousands of horses that the army had leased for the expedition; Forbes’s death had slowed the settlement of the owners’ claims against the army. These conditions hardly encouraged civilians to come forward when Stanwix began to appeal for wagoners and teams, and through most of the spring his army suffered an acute shortage of transport. Meanwhile the state of the troops holding Pittsburgh and Fort Ligonier was becoming perilous. Provisions could be brought in only in heavily guarded pack trains until the woods cleared of snow and enough grass grew in the meadows to feed the herds of cattle that would have to be driven westward to sustain the big summer garrisons. It was the middle of June by the time drovers brought the first cows to Pittsburgh, where the soldiers had been eating horses and dogs. When the first cattle arrived, the troops butchered forty of them on the spot and, barely pausing to cook them, devoured the beasts without pausing to distinguish entrails from meat.1

The shortage of supplies at the western posts was more than a matter of discomfort for the garrisons. When the French had withdrawn, they had taken with them, destroyed, or dispersed to friendly villages all the provisions and trade goods that they had stored at Fort Duquesne. The Shawnees, Delawares, and Mingos of the valley therefore found themselves facing a winter subsistence crisis: the first and most tangible effect of their decision to make peace with the Anglo-Americans. To retain their cooperation, the trade that Forbes and the Pennsylvania authorities had promised had to be opened as soon as possible; as long as it was not, the possibility remained that the Indians would revert to their old French suppliers. Fort Duquesne’s commandant, Captain François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery, had withdrawn only as far as the Allegheny River post of Fort Machault, or Venango. During the winter he sent out appeals for aid not only to such traditional French allies in the pays d’en haut as the Potawatomis, Ottawas, and Ojibwas, but to the defecting Shawnees and Delawares themselves. All winter long Lignery was able, even with a skeleton force, to keep up his raids on the pack trains that were barely sustaining Pittsburgh and Fort Ligonier. There was no doubt that when the rivers cleared of ice in the spring and he once more built up his troops at Fort Machault, he would return. As winter slowly waned in 1759, the only real question seemed to be whether the Ohio tribes would stand by the Anglo-Americans or change sides once again. 2

A vigorous trade at the Forks was therefore critically important if the British hoped to maintain control in the west, but disorganization and competition among those who wished to dominate it perilously delayed its revival. As part of its obligations under the Easton agreements, the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1758 had passed a law creating a provincial monopoly over the Indian trade. Stores were to be established in each of the province’s three great valleys: at Fort Allen on the Delaware, Fort Augusta (Shamokin) on the Susquehanna, and Pittsburgh on the Ohio. There “honest, prudent, and Sober Men” would sell goods to Indians at fixed prices as a means of countering the abuses and correcting the destabilizing effects of unregulated trade; there missionaries, schoolmasters, and “other sober and Virtuous Men” were to take up residence to “civilize and instruct” the Indians. It was an ambitious and philanthropic scheme, endorsed by the Friendly Society, but conditions in wartime Pennsylvania made it supremely unrealistic. Shortages of capital and poor planning prevented the colony from establishing its store at Pittsburgh before September 1759, and in the interim Israel Pemberton—at the urgent request first of Forbes, then of Stanwix—did his best to fill the need with a private establishment. With great difficulty and expense Pemberton’s employees managed to get a pack-train load of goods to Pittsburgh before the end of April 1759. These items and the shipments that followed helped to preserve the goodwill of the Ohio tribes, but they came too late to relieve the pressure on Pittsburgh’s slender supplies of trade goods and food during the winter. Thus the garrison’s commandant, Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Mercer, allowed many small traders (primarily farmers from Virginia with produce and whiskey to sell) to operate an all-but-unrestricted trade at the Forks.3

The final element in this rapidly developing muddle of Indian commerce—all of it technically illegal, since it contravened Pennsylvania law—was heralded by the arrival of George Croghan in June, at the head of a long pack train bearing the official gift from the Crown to the Ohio tribes. Croghan, as Sir William Johnson’s deputy agent in the Ohio Country, came to Pittsburgh no less as a diplomat than as a trader in his own right. In both capacities he intended to prevent the establishment of a Pennsylvania monopoly trade at the Forks. As official representative of the superintendent of Indian affairs he was eager to rebuild a lively trade in the valley as a means of tying the Indians closely to the British interest; therefore he granted licenses to several Philadelphia mercantile houses, enabling their representatives to carry on commerce in the Indian villages themselves—the setting in which, he knew, the Ohioans preferred to do business.4

Croghan was also eager to establish himself at Pittsburgh because he had land-speculating interests there to protect. Back in 1749, the wily Irishman had purchased from the Iroquois Council the rights to 200,000 acres near the Forks. Because he thus had a plausible claim to owning the land on which the British army intended to build Fort Pitt, Croghan had every reason not only to be present in the vicinity but to seek to dominate it commercially. If the British retained control of the Forks, he knew, both Indians and whites would gravitate to the fort. What better position could any businessman be in than to trade goods to the Indians for deerskins while selling land to the arriving whites? Who was better qualified than he to supply them with the provisions and tools they would need to turn their wilderness freeholds into working farms?5

The Ohio Indians, of course, needed the goods that the traders sold and to that degree welcomed even the chaotic commerce that grew up at Pittsburgh in 1759. They did not welcome dishonest treatment, a permanent British military presence, and the potential of thousands of white settlers swarming into the Ohio Country; as the year wore on, however, it grew steadily clearer that those were what they were actually getting. Tamaqua, Pisquetomen, Shingas, and the other chiefs had agreed to terms of peace that, they believed, promised the British would open a trading post at the Forks and then withdraw their soldiers across the mountains as soon as the French threat had been eliminated. By the middle of July the French had not reappeared, but the English were coming in ever-larger numbers and obviously preparing to build something more formidable than a trading post, or even Fort Duquesne. A British army engineer was laying out a huge pentagonal fort at the junction of the Monongahela and the Allegheny: a fort that would measure more than four hundred feet from bastion tip to bastion tip, with outworks that would enclose more than seventeen acres, interior barracks to shelter a thousand men, and embrasures that could mount more than a score of cannon. By mid-August soldiers and artisans were busily constructing a sawmill, felling and hauling trees, quarrying sandstone, mining coal, burning lime, making bricks, and shoveling and hauling the tens of thousands of cubic yards of dirt necessary to build the fort. On September 10, its inner walls began to rise within a wide glacis and moat.6

image

Fort Pitt. Unlike the cramped Fort Duquesne it replaced, Fort Pitt was a powerful pentagonal fort with walls nearly sixty feet thick at the base, substantial outworks along the river-front, and a ditch, covered way, and glacis that extended across the width of the peninsula. It was, however, poorly defended against other enemies: in the floods of 1762 and 1763 water stood from five to seven feet deep within the walls. The fort, never fully repaired, decayed until it was finally abandoned in 1772. From Rocque, A Set of Plans and Forts. Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

As early as July 9, Pisquetomen had “put it closely to” James Kenny, the man who ran Israel Pemberton’s store, “to tell what . . . ye General [Stanwix] meant by coming here with a great army.” All the honest store-keeper could say was that, so far as he knew, the soldiers were there merely to prevent the French from returning, and that “when they were subdued, ye army would be called away home.” Pisquetomen also wished to think that this was so, for although he reminded Kenny that “Quakers always should speak truth & not lie,” he “commended” the answer and went on his way. By the time Kenny left Pittsburgh two months later, neither he nor Pisquetomen would have thought this answer plausible. No one could have mistaken Fort Pitt, ten times the size of Fort Duquesne, for a trading post.7 It was a symbol of dominion, an emblem of empire; and by autumn the Ohio Indians were beginning to discern its meanings only too well.

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