Sunday, August 27, 2017

Episode 007: Acadia, Lake George, and Loudoun's Arrival

Last week we looked at Gen. Braddock’s advance on Fort Duquesne in what it today western Pennsylvania and the massacre of him and most of his army primarily by Indians and a few Frenchmen. The British retreat, overseen by junior officers like George Washington and Thomas Gage, gave France undisputed control of the Ohio valley.  But Fort Duquesne was one of only four goals British military planners had for the summer of 1755 in North America.

Removal of the Acadians

British forces in Acadia (now called Nova Scotia) were having better luck.  For years, the French and British had stood eyeball to eyeball in forts across the Missaguash River.  The French Fort Beauséjour and the British Fort Lawrence kept each side in check.
Forts Beauséjour and Lawrence (from Wikiwand)

Ever since the British had taken control of the area in 1713, the local French Acadians living under British rule had caused trouble for the army. London had tasked Gen. William Shirley, who was also Governor of Massachusetts, with advancing into Canada and taking as much territory as possible.  Gen. Shirley did not share Gen. Braddock’s disdain for militia.  Shirley raised about 2000 New England militia to join about 270 British regulars in laying siege to Fort Beauséjour. The French had only 162 French regulars and about 300 militia from the Acadians and the Mi'kmaq Indians to defend the fort..

Given the overwhelming numbers, it took only a few weeks before the French surrendered and withdrew. Once victorious, the British took the highly unusual step of removing the civilian population. British authorities demanded that the local Acadian cease the practice of Catholicism and swear allegiance to King George II.  When they locals understandably balked, officials declared them enemies of the State.  The government seized all of their lands and possessions and forcibly deported about 5400 Acadians to England or other English colonies.  Another 7000-10,000 fled the area for other parts of Canada. Considering the entire French population of Canada was only about 75,000 at this time, this was a massive disruption.

The the area effectively depopulated, thousands of New Englanders moved into the many towns and farms snatching up land at bargain prices.  Within a few years, the region went from an almost entirely French Catholic population, to an English Protestant one..

With Gen. Braddock death at the Monongahela, Gen. Shirley assumed overall command of forces in North America.  He continued to follow the general plans laid out in London months earlier.

Battle of Lake George

With the 1755 summer fighting season coming to an end, the British had accomplished little outside of Acadia.  News of the destruction of Braddock’s army in June still reverberated across the continent.  The British naval blockade of the St. Lawrence River had been a failure.  The French had sent six battalions of regulars (about 3000 men) to reinforce Quebec and Louisburg.  The British captured only two ships containing about 400 of the reinforcements.

William Shirley
(from Wikipedia)
Gen. Shirley still talked about taking Fort Niagara, but had made little progress.  Fights over supplies and logistical problems transporting equipment meant that troops only reached the eastern shore of Lake Ontario by September.  The old trading post, Fort Oswego, was too small and dilapidated to serve as a base of operations. So, Shirley decided to spend several months building a proper fort and put off the attack on Fort Niagara until the following spring.

Col. William Johnson’s assault of Fort Saint-Frédéric at Crown Point also fell behind schedule.  By September, his forces had arrived at the southern tip of Lac St. Sacrement, which he decided to rename Lake George, in honor of the King.  There, he built Fort Edward, named in honor of the Edward, Duke of York, one of the King’s grandsons.

While the British colonial troops made their tentative advances, the French planned to counter these moves.  Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau, was among those who had slipped past the British blockade back in June.  Dieskau, a German born officer, commanded the French regulars who had been sent to Canada. Also arriving was a new Canadian Governor General, Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, who I’m just going to call "Regaud."  The new political and military leaders planned to respond to British advances much more aggressively.

Both men initially thought the defense of Fort Niagara was they key to the theater of operations and placed the bulk of their troops there.  However, after realizing that the British did not seem inclined to move on Niagara, and receiving exaggerated reports of movement against Fort Saint-Frédéric, Dieskau took about 3000 men, regulars, militia, and Indians to defend the Fort.

French and British Forts. The battle between Dieskau and
Johnson took place where Fort William Henry would be built
the following year. (from Wikimedia)
When he arrived, he realized that the fort was not in any immediate danger and decided to go on the offensive.  Leaving most of the French regulars at the fort, Dieskau took about 1500 troops (200 regulars, 600 Canadian militia, and 700 Indians) to attack Fort Edward.  When the Indians seemed reluctant to attack the fort directly, they found a new target, a camp several miles from the fort where Col. Johnson was planning to build a second fort.

Col. Johnson heard that the enemy was near Fort Edward and sent much of his own troops, a force of about 1000 Massachusetts militia and 200 Mohawk allies to attack the French.  So at the same time Dieskau was trying to advance on Johnson, Johnson’s troops were also advancing on Dieskau.  Although the French had only a small numerical advantage, they were able to ambush the British and force a panicked retreat.  The men, however, were able to recover and restore order upon returning to the main camp.  This first skirmish became known as “Bloody Morning Scout.”

Col. Johnson, alerted by the sounds of battle, had placed temporary breastworks and cannon to defend the camp.  This was enough to stop the Indians who had been chasing down the British retreat.  They did not want to rush the cannons.  In hopes of shaming the Indians into attack, Dieskau ordered his 200 regulars to charge the cannon.  They obeyed, but watching the regulars get cut down en masse by canister shot did not encourage the remaining troops to follow them.

For the rest of the day, the troops fired at each other from a distance with little impact on either side, other than Dieskau suffering a serious but not mortal wound.  On the other side, Col. Johnson also suffered a less serious wound.

Wm Johnson Saving Baron
Dieskau (from Wikimedia)
As night began to fall, the French forces began to pull back for a return to Fort Saint-Frédéric.  About 400 Indians returned to the site of the original ambush to collect booty, scalps, and prisoners whom they had left tied up there.  There, about 200 New Hampshire militia sent from Fort Edward to aid Col Johnson, stumbled across the Indians, resulting in an evening firefight. A few on each side were killed, but the main result was that the Indians decided to kill and scalp all of their prisoners so they could retreat faster without the prisoners.

In the end, the battle was more or less a draw.  Both sides lost about 330-340 men (exact numbers are in dispute).  The British held the field, which made them the winners.  The main result though was that both sides spent the winter building much better forts.  The French built Fort Carillon at the north end of Lake George, about 15 miles south of Fort Saint-Frédéric to prevent a spring landing by the British.  The British built Fort William Henry on the site of Col. Johnson’s camp to protect against a French landing against Fort Edward.  The fort was named after William, Duke of Cumberland, King George’s son, and Henry, duke of Gloucester, another of the King’s grandsons in an apparent attempt to honor as many members of the royal family as possible.  Col. Johnson had serious political ambitions.  Brown nosing with the royal family never hurt one’s chances for advancement.

The Prime Minister

In the last episode, I introduced Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, who had been Secretary of State and who became Prime Minister in 1754.  The notion of Prime Minister was still a relatively new one.  When King George I stopped attending ministerial meetings a few decades earlier.  The ministers decided they needed to have one person running things or else everything got out of control.  There never really was a formal establishment of the job.  It really evolved out of necessity and over time.  Although the title was sometimes used earlier, historians generally consider Robert Walpole to be the first Prime Minister beginning in the 1720’s.  Even then, it was not a formal title, in a nation obsessed with formal titles.

After Walpole left office in 1742.  Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, served for just over a year.  At 70 years old, he was seen as more of a temporary caretaker.   A year later in 1743, Henry Pelham, a protégé of Walpole, landed the role, which he held until his death in 1754.  His brother, Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle took over as Prime Minister.

So as you can see there was relatively little tradition behind this role.  The Prime Minister was not elected but was appointed by the King.  OK, technically the King or Queen still appoints Prime Ministers.  Today, however, that appointment is largely ceremonial.  The leader of the  political party what wins a majority gets the appointment.  Back in the 1700’s the King may have paid some attention to politics, but in the end appointed whomever he wanted.

Thomas Pelham-Holles,
Duke of Newcastle
Because Pelham-Holles was the Duke of Newcastle, he was ineligible to sit in the House of Commons.  He sat in the House of Lords.  Even in the 1700’s, Commons served as the center of political power for the country. The House of Commons drove politics. Pelham-Holles (who I will now go back to calling simply “Newcastle” to make things easier) needed a leader in the House of Commons to get things done.

There were two strong candidates in the House of Commons.  William Pitt and Henry Fox.  Newcastle did not really like either of them, and they did not like each other much either.  Fox was an ally of the Duke of Cumberland, the King’s favored son, and the man who had worked to create the aggressive plan of attack in North America.  Newcastle was not happy when Cumberland had replaced his plans for the American assault with a much more ambitious one that, predictably, did not work.

Pitt had spent much of his time in Parliament attacking Newcastle’s policies.  Earlier in his career, Newcastle had attempted to bring Pitt into the Ministry, but George II vetoed the idea.  Pitt opposed all the military spending on Hanover, and thought British defenses were better spent on a strong Navy.  King George, who was also still the Elector of Hanover and considered it home, was not a fan of anyone who did not see Hanover as part of the vital national interest.  As a result, Pitt remained out of power criticizing the ministry.  Even worse, Pitt became close to George, Prince of Wales (the future King George III).  Prince George openly disagreed with many of the policies of King George II (his Grandfather).  The Prince of Wales was the heir apparent, as his father Frederick had died in 1751 making him next in line.  Despite the rules of primogeniture, it is clear the King would have preferred Frederick’s younger brother William, Duke of Cumberland, rather than Frederick’s eldest son George, to rule after him.

Henry Fox (from .UK National Trust)
In the end, Newcastle grudgingly forged an alliance with Fox, which also meant working closely with Cumberland.  Pitt essentially became the voice of opposition in the Commons, even though everyone involved was a Whig.

The next step was deciding what to do with American strategy for the coming year.  The hope in 1755 had been to strike quickly and decisively capturing the disputed territory and critical French defenses before the French really could react.  All this was being done before there was even a declaration of war.  By 1756, with Braddock’s defeat in the Ohio Valley, and with Gen. Shirley and Col. Johnson failing even to make an attack on two of the other three targets for the prior year, the chance for a first strike was gone.  The French were understandably outraged at what had happened and would end up formally declaring war in the spring.  The French still controlled the Ohio Valley and all the important forts along the New York and New England frontier.

Gen. Shirley

With Gen. Braddock’s death, Gen. Shirley assumed command.  Although Shirley was born in England, he had clearly gone native from his many years in the colonies.  Shirley, who was also Governor of Massachusetts, had paid New England militia the going rate that they would make as common laborers.  This was more money than British regulars made.  While it allowed him to fill his regiments with volunteers, it clearly irritated the bean counters back in London.

More importantly, Shirley had tried to avoid two contentious issues that London considered essential to the good order of the empire.  One was a royal proclamation that all colonial militia officers would be subordinate to regular army officers.  This meant the lowest lieutenant or ensign in the regular army could give orders to Generals and other top commanders in the militia.  As you might guess, militia officers took this as a HUGE insult.

Second, enlisted militia were subject to the same rules of discipline that existed for enlisted soldiers in the regular army when acting in conjunction with British forces.  Life for enlisted regulars was harsh.  Whipping was common for the most minor of offenses.  Execution was also commonplace for more significant offenses that would probably be considered minor in civilian life.  Shirley knew these rules would be major impediments to obtaining the officers and soldiers he needed for the coming fight.

Col. William Johnson
(from Wikimedia)
Shirley assured provincial leaders that militia units would fight in separate areas from regulars.  This ensured that no regular officers of lower rank would be around to give orders to militia commanders.  Shirley also promised enlistees that they would be subject only to provincial discipline, not regular army discipline.  Since the militia were operating in entirely separate theaters of battle, he interpreted this as not acting “in conjunction” with regular forces and so the rules on regular discipline would not apply.

What Shirley did not fully appreciate was that political backstabbers were active within his own army as much as they were back in London.  Col. Johnson was regularly corresponding with officials in London.  He took every opportunity to criticize just about everything that Shirley did.  Johnson was a political ally of NY Lt. Gov. James De Lancey.  Delancey was upset at Shirley’s appointment as a General, which also allowed him to benefit financially from all the military contracts. De Lancey, who wanted those contracts for himself,  did not get them and was looking for revenge.  His protégé Col. Johnson was in the perfect position to undermine Gen Shirley.

Thomas Pownall
(from Wikimedia)
Another backstabber was Thomas Pownall, who had arrived in the colonies in 1753 and became Lt. Gov. of New Jersey in 1755. He had close friends on both sides of the Atlantic.  During the Albany Conference, he had allied himself with Johnson and was now working with him to undercut Shirley with the leaders back in London.

In London, Newcastle only saw that all the aggressive plans for advancement had failed, costs were far over budget, and everyone was telling him that Shirley was a disaster.  When Cumberland and Fox brought him a new plan which called for replacing Shirley with an experienced military administrator named John Campbell, the Earl of Loudoun, he agreed with the consensus.

Col. Johnson, who hadn’t been any more successful than Shirley, received a baronetcy, making him Sir William.  He also received a prize of £5000 for his heroism at Lake George.  His buddy Thomas Pownall landed a new gig as “secretary extraordinary” to the new military commander Loudoun.  He had returned to London to complain about Shirley.  When Loudoun became Shirley’s replacement, Pownall came back on the same ship with Loudoun.

Loudoun Takes Command

Loudoun arrived in Virginia in the July of 1756 ready to straighten out the mess and save the colonies.  About 6000 regular troops would also soon arrive to assist in the new major offensive against the French. In addition to serving as military commander in chief, Loudoun also became the new governor Virginia.  Almost immediately, Loudoun heard complaints from all sides about Shirley.  He had promoted colonial officers without authorization.  He had recruited militia by making promises related to how they would serve, and deployed them without regular army supervision.  Many complained about military contracts that benefited his friends and family.

Loudoun quickly went from simply replacing Shirley to sending him back to England to face criminal charges.  So Shirley headed back to London, where he spent the next few years trying to justify his positions.  When Loudoun’s plans failed miserably the following year, Shirley could basically say I told you so to London officials.  The Ministry eventually made him Governor of the Bahamas.

John Campbell. 4th Earl of
Loudoun (from Wikimedia)
For Loudoun, even if Shirley was not a criminal, the new commander decided that British and colonial forces were deployed terribly.  Like most British officers, Loudoun took a dim view of Indians or colonial militia as useful soldiers.  The notion that provincials could manage an entire offensive without even guidance from regular officers seemed like a terrible idea.  The fact that the provincials were occupying a series of forts along the New York frontier just set them up as easy targets for attack.

When Loudoun learned that the militia refused to serve alongside regulars, he angrily summoned the top provincial officers for a conference.  Loudoun was a professional officer.  He knew how to take orders from superiors and expected nothing less from his subordinates. He had gotten a modification so that senior provincial officers would be treated as “senior captains” meaning they would only have to take orders from regular officers with the rank of Major and higher.  The colonial officers were unmoved.  They had signed up based on certain conditions, including not having to take orders from regular field officers of lower rank and not being subject to regular army discipline.  If Loudoun insisted on changing these conditions, his provincial army would evaporate through resignation of officers and desertion of the enlisted men.

Realizing his impossible position, Loudoun backed down and allowed the provincials to proceed as planned.  However, he wrote a series of angry letters back to London describing the unreasonable lack of obedience among the colonists and blaming Shirley for making these deals in the first place.

Loudoun’s frustration was not limited to militia.  Colonial governments refused to provide housing for the thousands of regular troops he had brought with him, or provide any other assistance that was not paid for at market rates.  Loudoun’s outrage seemed to be that he and his men should be greeted as liberators, there at great expense to protect these colonists from the French and Indians.  He did not want to hear arguments about how the English Bill of Rights guaranteed protection from the quartering of troops.  Loudoun frequently had to threaten to use military force take control of homes in order to get local governments to act appropriately and provide housing.

Marquis de Montcalm-Gozen
(from Upper Canada History)
None of Loudoun’s views would be seen as inappropriate in London.  Gen. Braddock had evinced similar views a year earlier.  His quick death was the only thing that prevented Braddock from getting into similar fights with the colonial governors.  These leaders were seeing the fundamental schism that would eventually lead to future war and independence.  The British government was designed around obedience by those in lower stations to those in clearly defined higher stations.  The nearly universal view among the colonists that contractual agreements and basic age old fundamental rights of all people were more important than deference to superiors.

The more fundamental problem was that the change of leadership during the prime summer fighting months of 1756, and the internal squabbling with the colonials had led to almost nothing happening in the fight against the French.

Since France had declared war officially in May 1756, the gloves were off.  Both sides did not need to worry about diplomacy any more.  That same month, Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm-Gozen de Saint Veran (we’ll just call him Montcalm) had arrived in Canada with hundreds of French Regulars to command French forces against Britain and her colonies.  With the British squabbling, Montcalm was free to take the initiative.

Next week, he will do just that.

Next Episode 8: Surrender of Fort Oswego

Previous Episode 6: British Take Charge: Battle of the Monongahela

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Further Reading


Battle of Lake George:

List of Britain’s Prime Ministers, with biographies:

William Pitt, the Elder

Henry Fox

Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial:

Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau:

Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm:

Free eBooks:
(from unless otherwise noted)

The History of Acadia: from its first discovery to its surrender to England by the Treaty of Paris, by James Hannay (1879).

The Fall of New France, 1755-1760, by Gerald E. Hart, (1888).

The History of Canada, Vol. 3 by William Kingsford (1887).

An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760Vol 1Vol. 2, & Vol. 3, by John Knox (1914).

England In The Age Of The American Revolution, by J.B. Namier (1930).

Montcalm and Wolfe, Vol. 1, by Francis Parkman (1885).

Memoir Upon the Late War in North America, Between the French and English, 1755-60, by Pierre Pouchot, Vol. 1, & Vol. 2 (1866).

The Administration of the British Colonies, by Thomas Pownall (1777) (another contemporary account of events).

A review of the military operations in North America : from the commencement of the French hostilities on the frontiers of Virginia in 1753, to the surrender of Oswego, on the 14th of August, 1756, by William  Livingston, William Smith, and William Alexander, called Lord Stirling (1757) (This was written by contemporaries living in the colonies as the events transpired).

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Anderson, Fred Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Brumwell, Stephen Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas 1755-1763, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002.

Fowler, Willam F. Jr. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763, Walker Books, 2005.

Jennings, Francis Empire Of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies & Tribes in the Seven Years War in America, W.W. Norton & Co. 1988.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


  1. Acadia is in New Brunswick, not Nova Scotia.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Acadia was defined at various times as part of present day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Cape Breton Island, Prince Edward Island, and part of eastern Maine. The portion under British control in 1755 when the deportations began was the southern part of what we today call Nova Scotia.

  2. My ancestors came from that area (the Bourque family). My father born in Sackville, in 1898 s parents were Frederick and Philomene Landry Bourque (married Cap Pele 1890. Their ancestor Michel Bourg served for US and got paid for three months in 1755ish. It is a challenge for me to get documentation at age 84. Thank you for allowing me to write. Leona Bourque, Middletown, RI USA

  3. I am finding your podcast riveting! I studied the American Revolution way back in grad school (especially Thomas Hutchinson), 25 years ago. Aside from occasionally reading biographies (e.g., Hamilton), I've more or less let my interest go. I came across this while looking for something to listen to at work, and now I'm completely hooked. Thank you for producing it.

    1. Rather than be "Unknown", I'm Doug Overmyer.