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THE FRENCH COLONIES.
The French to the greater extent were the occupants of Canada. Montreal and Quebec were French cities. England and France were often at variance, and as often their hostility affected the peace of the colonies.
The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, which gave a brief repose to Europe, left unsettled the contending claims of France and England upon American territory. France had possessions in Canada and also in Louisiana, at the extreme South, many hundreds of miles away. She claimed the entire line of the Mississippi River, with its tributaries; and she had given effect to her pretensions by erecting forts at intervals to connect her settlements in the North with those in the South. Her claim included the valley of the Ohio. This was a vast and fertile region, whose value had just been discovered by the English. It was yet unpeopled; but its vegetation gave evidence of wealth unknown to the colonists in the eastern settlements. The French, to establish their claim, sent three hundred soldiers into the valley, and nailed upon the trees leaden plates which bore the royal arms of France. They strove by gifts and persuasion to gain over the natives, and expelled the English traders who had made their adventurous way into those recesses.
The English, on their part, were not idle. A great trading company was formed, which, in return for certain grants of land, became bound to colonize the valley, to establish trading relations with the Indians, and to maintain a competent military force. This was in the year 1749. In that age there was but one solution of such difficulties. Governments had not learned to reason. They could only fight. Early in 1751 both parties were actively preparing for war.
That war went ill with France. When the sword was sheathed in 1759, she had lost not only Ohio, but the whole of Canada.
When the fighting began, it was conducted on the English side wholly by the colonists. Virginia raised a little army. Washington, then a lad of twenty-one, was offered the command, so great was the confidence already felt in his capacity. It was war in miniature as yet. The object of Washington in the campaign was to reach a certain fort on the Ohio, and hold it as a barrier against French encroachment. He had his artillery to carry with him, and to render that possible he had to make a road through the wilderness. He struggled heroically with the difficulties of his position. But he could not advance at any better speed than two miles a day; and he was not destined to reach the fort on the Ohio. After toiling on as he best might for six weeks, he learned that the French were seeking him with a force far outnumbering his. He halted, and hastily constructed a rude intrenchment, which he called Fort Necessity, because his men had nearly starved while they worked at it. He had three hundred Virginians with him, and some Indians. The Indians deserted so soon as occasion arose for their services. The French attack was not long withheld. Early one summer morning a sentinel came in bleeding from a French bullet. All that day the fight lasted. At night the French summoned Washington to surrender. The garrison were to march out with flag and drum, leaving only their artillery. Washington could do no better, and he surrendered.
Thus ended the first campaign in the war which was to drive France from Ohio and Canada. Thus opened the
General Braddock's Campaign.
military career of the man who was to drive England from the noblest of her colonial possessions.
But now the English Government awoke to the necessity of vigorous measures to rescue the endangered valley of the Ohio. A campaign was planned which was to expel the French from Ohio, and wrest from them some portions of their Canadian territory. The execution of this great design was intrusted to General Braddock, with a force which it was deemed would overbear all resistance. Braddock was a veteran who had seen the wars of forty years. Among the fields on which he had gained his knowledge of war was Culloden, where he had borne a part in trampling out the rebellion of the Scotch. He was a brave and experienced soldier, and a likely man, it was thought, to do the work assigned to him. But that proved a sad miscalculation. Braddock had learned the rules of war; but he had no capacity to comprehend its principles. In the pathless forests of America he could do nothing better than strive to give literal effect to those maxims which he had found applicable in the well-trodden battlegrounds of Europe.
The failure of Washington in his first campaign had not deprived him of public confidence. Braddock heard such accounts of his efficiency that he invited him to join his staff. Washington, eager to efface the memory of his defeat, gladly accepted the offer.
The troops disembarked at Alexandria. The colonists, little used to the presence of regular soldiers, were greatly emboldened by their splendid aspect and faultless discipline, and felt that the hour of final triumph was at hand. After some delay, the army, with such reinforcements as the province afforded, began its march. Braddock's object was to reach Fort Duquesne, the great centre of French influence on the Ohio. It was this same fort of which Washington had endeavored so manfully to possess himself in his disastrous campaign of the previous year.
Fort Duquesne had been built by the English, and taken from them by the French. It stood at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela ; which rivers, by their union at this point, form the Ohio. It was a rude piece of fortification, but the circumstances admitted of no better. The fort was built of the trunks of trees. Wooden huts for the soldiers surrounded it. A little space had been cleared in the forest, and a few patches of wheat and Indian corn grew luxuriantly in that rich soil. The unbroken forest stretched all around. Three years later the little fort was retaken by the English, and named Fort Pitt. Then in time it grew to be a town, and was called Pittsburg; and men found in its neighborhood boundless wealth of iron and of coal. To-day a great and fast-growing city stands where, a century ago, the rugged fort and its cluster of huts were the sole occupants. The rivers, then so lonely, are ploughed by innumerable keels; and the air is dark with the smoke of innumerable furnaces. The judgment of the sagacious Englishmen who deemed this a locality which they would do well to get hold of has been amply borne out by the experience of posterity.
Braddock had no doubt that the fort would yield to him directly he showed himself before it. Benjamin Franklin looked at the project with his shrewd, cynical eye. He told Braddock that he would assuredly take the fort if he could only reach it; but that the long slender line which his army must form in its march“ would be cut like thread into several pieces” by the hostile Indians. Braddock “ smiled at his ignorance." Benjamin offered no further opinion. It was his duty to collect horses and carriages for the use of the expedition, and he did what was required of him in silence.
The expedition crept slowly forward, never achieving more than three or four miles in a day; stopping, as Washington said, “to level every mole-hill, to erect a bridge over every