Dinsmore Documentation  presents  Classics of American Colonial History

Author: Greene, Evarts Boutell
Title: Provincial America, 1690-1740.
Citation: New York, N.Y.: Harper and Brothers, 1905
Subdivision:Chapter VIII
HTML by Dinsmore Documentation * Added February 9, 2003
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KING WILLIAM’S WAR (1689-1701)

WAR was formally declared between England and France in April, 1689, but in some of the colonies it was not proclaimed until several months later, and the most important operations of that year were in the West Indies. There the advantage was temporarily with the French, and in the summer of 1689 they seized the English part of St. Christopher. Urgent appeals were made by the islanders for an English fleet, but none could be sent out until the following year. Fortunately, the new governor of the Leeward Islands, Sir Christopher Codrington, a man of unusual ability, made an energetic defence, and no further losses followed.1

     On the North American main-land the chief feature of the year was a series of Indian raids on the New England frontier, where, during the previous winter, Andros had sent an expedition against the Maine Indians. He established a number of frontier posts extending as far north as Pemaquid; but on the fall of his government these garrisons were

     1 Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1689-1692, pp. 21, 111, 118-123.


either recalled altogether or reduced, and the Indians were encouraged to renew their raids. In June they attacked and ruined the village of Cocheco, near Dover, New Hampshire, killing or capturing a large number of the inhabitants. In August an Indian party, led by the French Baron de St. Castin, captured the fort at Pemaquid and massacred the inhabitants of the adjacent village. These disasters aroused the government of Massachusetts. A considerable force was raised and sent to the frontier, Casco (Portland) was relieved from a siege by the Indians, and an unsuccessful retaliating expedition was undertaken by the well-known Indian fighter Benjamin Church.1

     The French also suffered seriously from Indian attacks. The Iroquois, thoroughly exasperated by Denonville’s attacks, made a succession of raids on the French settlements of the upper St. Lawrence. At Lachine, in the immediate vicinity of Montreal, several hundred persons were butchered by the Indians or carried into captivity. When Frontenac arrived in the province, two months later, he reported that the colonists were still terrified and dejected by the blow. Meanwhile, Callières, the governor of Montreal, proposed an elaborate plan for the conquest of New York by a land expedition from Montreal co-operating with a naval force sent

     1 Drake, Border Wars of New England, chaps. ii.-v.; Andros Tracts, III., 21-38; N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IX., 440; Church, History of the Eastern Expeditions (ed. of 1867), 1-37.


out from France. This plan, though accepted in substance by the king and embodied in instructions to Frontenac, was found impracticable at that time.

     Frontenac now undertook to bring the Iroquois to terms by a vigorous show of force, and to check the English offensive through a series of border raids. In the winter and spring of 1690 three war parties were sent out against the English frontier, each composed of Canadians and Indians and led by French officers. The first blow fell on Schenectady in February, 1690, and the capture of the post was followed by a wholesale butchery of the inhabitants. The sense of horror which this outrage produced in the neighboring town of Albany was strongly expressed a few days later by Mayor Peter Schuyler: “The Cruelties committed at said Place no Penn can write nor Tongue expresse: the women bigg with Childe rip’d up and the Children alive throwne into the flames, and there heads dash’d in pieces against the Doors and windows.” The two other parties attacked and destroyed the village of Salmon Falls, in New Hampshire, and the fort and village at Casco (Portland) on the Maine coast. From various points on the long, exposed frontier news of similar disasters were sent to the government at Boston.1

     1 N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IX., 408-435, 466-473: Andros Tracts, III., 114; Sewall, Diary, I., 311-321; Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1689-1692, p. 200; on this war, see also Thwaites, France in America (Am. Nation, VII.), chaps. ii., vi.


Map Facing This Page: Intercolonial Wars (1689-1713)

     These losses by land, accompanied by others on the sea, suffered by New England merchantmen at the hands of French privateers, soon made evident the necessity of more aggressive measures. The first important offensive movement on the English side was undertaken by the New-Englanders. During the winter and early spring of 1690 they had been preparing an expedition against Port Royal, which was a base for French privateering operations as well as for raids against the English frontier. For this purpose a fleet of about seven vessels was collected and an infantry force of about four hundred and fifty men. The command was given to Sir William Phips, himself a native of the Maine frontier, a daring and adventurous sea-captain, but without special fitness for military command. The fleet sailed from Boston, April 28, entered Port Royal harbor about ten days later, and the French commander yielded almost at once. The settlement was plundered, and the Puritan feeling showed itself in some wanton destruction of Catholic church property. The inhabitants of Port Royal and the surrounding country were then compelled to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary.1

     This conquest of Acadia was a comparatively simple matter, but before Phips’s return to Boston the colonists had planned the far more serious enterprise

     1 Parkman, Frontenac (ed. of 1878), 236-243; N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IX., 474; Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1689-1692, pp. 240, 275.


of taking Quebec and completely expelling the French from Canada. At the congress in New York in the spring of 1690 representatives of New York, Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut arranged for a land force to move northward by way of Lake Champlain against Montreal. To the proposed movement by sea, the Massachusetts delegates would not pledge their colony; but after the capture of Port Royal it was determined to carry out that part of the plan also.

     Definite quotas for the land expedition were assigned to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Plymouth, Maryland, and to New York, which was held responsible for about half of the total. After considerable disagreement, Fitz-John Winthrop, of Connecticut, was appointed by Leisler to command the expedition. When, however, the time came for the advance, it was found that the quotas had not been filled; the Iroquois allies also failed to perform their part; and the main expedition was finally abandoned, though a small volunteer force, under John Schuyler, gave some annoyance to Frontenac by attacking the French settlement of La Prairie, opposite Montreal.1

     In the mean time preparations had been going forward at Boston for the expedition against Quebec, and Phips’s easy success at Port Royal led to his selection for this larger responsibility. The resources

     1 Doc. Hist. of N. Y., II., 237-288; N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IV., 193-196.


of the colony were strained to provide the necessary men and supplies. The fleet was composed of merchantmen and fishing-vessels, and the officers were generally untrained men. An unsuccessful effort was made to secure the co-operation of the home government, and finally, after numerous delays, the fleet left Boston harbor on August 9, 1690. No pilot had been provided for the St. Lawrence, and there was another long delay in the river, so that the fleet did not appear before Quebec until the middle of October. Phips at once sent a demand for immediate surrender, but the golden moment had passed.1

     Less than a week earlier Frontenac had received, at Montreal, his first intimation of a possible English attack on Quebec. Acting with a promptness and decision which appear in marked contrast with the conduct of the enemy, he hastened to Quebec, giving orders for the despatch of reinforcements. The defences of the city were strengthened, and when the messengers from Phips arrived, Frontenac treated the summons with studied contempt. In accordance with their plan for a joint attack, the English then landed about twelve hundred men a little below the city, but the expected co-operation of the fleet was not given; and in the mean time the garrison of Quebec was strengthened by the arrival

     1 Parkman, Frontenac, chap. xii.; Hutchinson, Hist. of Mass. Bay, I., App.; Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1689-1692, pp. 240, 385, 415.


of several hundred men from Montreal. After some indecisive skirmishing on land and an ineffective bombardment by the fleet, the landing force returned in confusion to the ships. After some hesitation it was decided to abandon the siege and return to Boston. The losses in action had been small on both sides, but the New-Englanders suffered severely from disease.1

     The expedition had involved Massachusetts in heavy loss, both of men and money, and the chief officers were severely criticised. Major Walley, the commander of the land forces, prepared a brief defence, naming the following reasons for the disappointment: “The land army’s failing, the enemy’s too timely intelligence, lyeing 3 weeks within 3 days’ sail of the place, by reason whereof they had the opportunity to bring in the whole strength of their country, the shortness of our ammunition, our late setting out, our long passidge, and many sick in the army.”2

     Frontenac appealed to his king for more aggressive measures. He suggested the employment of the royal navy in “punishing the insolence of these veritable and old parliamentarians of Boston; in storming them, as well as those of Manath [New York] in their dens, and conquering these two towns whereby would be secured the entire coast.”

     1 Parkman, Frontenac, chap. xiii.; Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1689-1692, pp. 377, 385, 415: N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IX., 455-461.
     2 Journal, in Hutchinson, Hist. of Mass. Bay., I., App.


For large enterprises of this kind, however, Louis XIV. was not then prepared.1

     While preparations were being made in Boston for the unsuccessful expedition against Quebec, the British had won a substantial success in the West Indies. With the help of an English fleet St. Christopher was retaken, in 1690, and the French driven altogether from the island. The colonists hoped for the complete expulsion of the French from the West Indies, but the later years of the war were almost wholly lacking in events of decisive importance.2

     On the New England frontier the war consisted mainly of French and Indian raids like those of 1689 and 1690, and some rather ineffective retaliatory expeditions by the New-Englanders. In 1691 a new French governor, Villebon, was sent to Acadia; he easily recovered Port Royal and established himself at Naxouat, on the St. John’s River. With the help of the Jesuits the Abenaki Indians were again aroused and led against the Maine frontier. York was destroyed in February, 1692, and a determined but unsuccessful attack was made upon Wells. There was also a series of small raids on the towns of central Massachusetts.3

     1 N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IX., 461, 494.
     2 Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1689-1692, pp. 186-195, 278, 291-294 303, 712, 1693-1696, pp. 39-43, 79, 86, 92.
     3 Ibid., 1689-1692, 560; N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IX., 526; Parkman, Frontenac, 347-356; Drake, Border Wars of New England, chaps. viii., ix.


     In 1692, Phips returned from England with a commission under the new charter as governor of the enlarged province of Massachusetts. For the kind of military service now required he was better fitted than for the larger enterprise of 1690. Acting under royal instructions, he rebuilt the fort of Pemaquid, and in 1693 made a treaty there with representatives of the Abenaki Indians. Nevertheless, through the efforts of the daring French officer Villieu and the Jesuit missionary Thury, the warlike faction among the Indians regained the ascendency and the war began again. The Oyster River settlement, in New Hampshire, was destroyed in 1694, and a raid on Groton, about thirty miles from Boston, brought the war still nearer home to the people of Massachusetts.

     In 1696, after a few minor raids on the Maine and New Hampshire borders, a French expedition commanded by Le Moyne d’Iberville again destroyed Pemaquid, and the New England fisheries were seriously depressed by Iberville’s destruction of the English settlements on the eastern shore of Newfoundland. English attempts at retaliation were only partially successful: an expedition under Church plundered and burned the French settlement of Beaubassin at the head of the Bay of Fundy, but a subsequent attack on the French at Naxouat was repulsed. Massachusetts was so much discouraged by the situation in Acadia that the general court asked that the province be relieved


from further expense in defence of Port Royal or the St. John’s River. The closing months of the war were marked by murderous forays on the interior towns of Massachusetts. In March, 1697, occurred the Haverhill raid, made famous in colonial annals by the capture of Hannah Dustin and her subsequent escape by the killing of her captors. In February, 1698, several months after peace had been proclaimed in London, the Indians made another raid as far south as Andover. Taken individually, these French and Indian forays seem unimportant, but in the aggregate they constituted a serious check on the expansion of the colonies beyond the older settled areas.1

     From time to time more ambitious enterprises were discussed on both sides. Phips was not discouraged by his failure at Quebec, and continued to urge the conquest of Canada. In the summer of 1693 a fleet under Sir Francis Wheeler arrived at Boston from the West Indies, under orders to co-operate with the Massachusetts government in another attack on Quebec, but its effective force had been much reduced by disease, and Phips argued that it was now too late to prepare for an attack that year. The plan was therefore abandoned, and

     1 Sewall, Diary, I., 391; Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1693-1696, pp. 149, 157; Drake, Border Wars of New England, chaps., xi.-xiv.; Parkman, Frontenac, 361-391; Hutchinson, Hist. of Mass, Bay (ed. of 1795), II., 88-104; N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IX., 664.


during the remaining years of the war Quebec was not seriously threatened.1

     On the French side, the idea of a naval attack on Boston and New York repeatedly appears in the official correspondence, but without definite action, until the last year of the war, when a detailed plan was worked out for a strong fleet from France, under the command of the Marquis de Nesmond, to be joined on the Maine coast by a force of Indians and fifteen hundred troops from Canada. It was thought that Boston could be easily captured, and it was proposed afterwards to destroy the leading towns to the northward. The fleet actually set sail from France, but arrived too late to accomplish its purpose.2

     On the New York frontiers the contest was quite as much diplomatic as military. The English wished to keep the Iroquois aggressively on their side and to enforce their view that these tribes were dependent on the English crown. On the other hand, the French were constantly seeking to detach the Iroquois from the English alliance and compel them to a separate peace. The western Indians, especially those of the lake region, also formed a factor in the problem. Their trade was essential to the prosperity of Quebec, and the French

     1 Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1693-1696, pp. 13, 31, 124.
     2 Charlevoix, History of New France (Shea’s trans.), V., 69-73; N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IX., 659-661; Parkman, Frontenac, 382-384.


therefore desired not only to protect them against Iroquois attacks, but also to prevent their reaching an understanding with the Five Nations which might result in the diversion of the western trade to the English.

     In this peculiar contest of diplomacy and Indian warfare, the chief figure on the French side was, of course, Frontenac. He found on his return to Canada that the French prestige, even among the western Indians, had been seriously impaired. Just before his arrival the danger from the Iroquois had been emphasized by the fearful massacre of Lachine, and the western trade was almost cut off. Frontenac first undertook to secure peace by negotiations with the Five Nations; and when that failed, to revive French prestige by striking a series of severe blows against the English and their Iroquois allies. Until the Iroquois could be forced to terms, the breach between them and the western Indians was, if possible, to be kept open.1

     The chief representatives of the English interest in New York were the successive governors of the province, especially Fletcher, and an able Dutchman, Peter Schuyler. Fletcher was afterwards severely censured for misconduct in other matters;2 but in the management of French and Indian affairs he showed considerable energy, and made, for a time at least, a favorable impression upon the Iroquois.

     1 Lorin, Le Comte de Frontenac, pt. ii., chap. iv., pt. iii., chap. i.
     2 N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col Hist., IV., 479-486.


It is difficult to say what he would have accomplished with larger resources within his own province and heartier co-operation from the neighboring colonies. The most important work on the frontier was done by a little group of Dutch colonists at Albany, of whom the most conspicuous was Peter Schuyler, who began his official career under Governor Dongan. He became the first mayor of Albany, and chairman of the board of commissioners of Indian affairs. Under the Leisler government he was out of favor, but in the later years of the war the value of his services was recognized by making him a councillor in the provincial government and its chief agent and adviser on the northern frontier.1

     After the fiasco of 1690 the New York government undertook no serious military movement, though the desirability of an attack on Canada was strongly urged by the Iroquois and was recognized by Governor Fletcher. The resources of the province were considered inadequate to such an undertaking without the effective co-operation of the home government and the neighboring colonies, and such co-operation was not to be had. During the last six years of the war the burden fell almost wholly on the Iroquois.2

     While the English remained comparatively inactive, the Five Nations were being gradually weakened by the aggressive measures of Frontenac. In

     1 Schuyler, Colonial New York, I., 302 et seq.
     2 N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IV., 23, 32, 74.


1693 a force of several hundred French and Indians attacked and destroyed three Mohawk villages. In the same year an expedition to Mackinac strengthened the French influence among the western Indians and revived their trade with Montreal. These reverses and the inactivity of the English seriously weakened the Iroquois alliance. In 1694, conferences were held by some of the Iroquois with the French, but Frontenac refused to accept any peace which did not include his Indian allies, and insisted that the English should not be considered in the negotiations. The English influence was still strong enough to prevent a peace on these terms, and the war continued.1

     In 1696 the French prestige in the west was strengthened by two aggressive measures. One was the re-establishment of Fort Frontenac, which had been abandoned by Denonville, but which Frontenac considered of great importance for the defence of French interests in the west. The other was a formidable expedition against the Iroquois, composed of French regulars, Canadian militia, and several hundred Indians, with Frontenac himself in command. The Onondagas, who were the special object of attack, retired before this superior force, so that the French had to content themselves with the destruction of food and of the growing crops. Though this expedition, standing by itself, was indecisive,

     1 N. Y. Docs., Rel. to Col. Hist., IV., 118, IX., 550-555 577-584; cf. Parkman, Frontenac, chap. xiv.


the long continuance of the war had so seriously impaired the fighting strength of the Five Nations that, according to an official report made in 1698 by order of the English governor, the number of their men had been reduced by one-half.1

     The operations of the American war were, on the whole, indecisive, though the French could count some considerable strokes against the enemy during the closing months. In the west, French prestige was notably higher than at the beginning of hostilities. On the seaboard, Pemaquid had been taken and the fishing interests of New England had been seriously depressed by Iberville’s operations in Newfoundland. Finally, the French had gained an important advantage in the Hudson Bay region through Iberville’s capture of Fort Nelson in 1697.2 These military operations were, nevertheless, too small to affect negotiations for peace, and the American provisions of the treaty of Ryswick were only minor incidents in the general European settlement between Louis XIV. and the allies.

     In America, as in Europe, the treaty of Ryswick, in 1697, brought no real settlement of the questions at issue. It was agreed that the two contending parties should retain the possessions which they held at the beginning of the war; but the boundary disputes then existing were not adjusted, although

     1 N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IV., 337, IX., 640-659.
     2 Parkman, Frontenac, 391-394; Lorin, Le Comte de Frontenac, 464-467.


commissioners were to be appointed by the two governments.1

     Before peace could be definitely established in America, both sides were obliged to negotiate with the Indians. On the New England border the war was closed by a treaty between the government of Massachusetts and the Abenaki Indians at Casco Bay in January, 1699.2 The position of the Iroquois was quite different from that of the eastern Indians, for the English assumed that the Five Nations were dependent upon the English crown, and hence included in the peace between France and England. Acting on this assumption, the Earl of Bellomont, the new governor of New York and Massachusetts, demanded of Frontenac the surrender of all prisoners in his hands, including the Iroquois as well as the English, promising in return the release of French prisoners held by the Iroquois. Frontenac rejected the theory of English sovereignty over the Iroquois, and insisted upon separate negotiations with them. There was an angry correspondence between the two governors, and when Frontenac died, in 1698, the controversy was still unsettled. The English used all their efforts to prevent the Iroquois from conferring with the French; but they suffered a serious diplomatic defeat when, in 1701, under the auspices of the French

     1 Treaty in Mémoires des Commissaires (Paris, 1755), II., 92-108.
     2 Drake, Border Wars of New England, chap. xiv.; Hutchinson, Hist. of Mass. Bay (ed. of 1795), II., 104.


governor Callières, a general peace was concluded between the French and their Indian allies on the one side and the Iroquois on the other.1

     1 Parkman, Frontenac, 423-426, 438-452; N. Y. Docs. Rel. to Col. Hist., IV., passim., esp. 564-573, IX., 690-695, 715-725.

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Dinsmore Documentation  presents  Classics of American Colonial History