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   Chapter 13 1754). No.13

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 4523

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: The Iroquois]

For many years the final conflict had been postponed by the existence of a barrier state,-the Iroquois, or Six Nations of Indians. This fierce, brave, and statesmanlike race held a strip of the watershed from Lake Champlain to the Allegheny River. For many years they had been subject to English influence, exercised chiefly by William Johnson; but the undisturbed possession of their lands was the price of their friendship. They held back the current of immigration through the Mohawk. They aimed to be the intermediary for the fur-trade from the northwest. They remained throughout the conflict for the most part neutral, but forced the contestants to carry on their wars east or south of them.

[Sidenote: English claims.]

Southwest of the territory of the Iroquois lay the region of the upper Ohio and its tributaries, particularly the valleys of the Tennessee, the Muskingum, the Allegheny, the Monongahela and its mountain-descending tributary, the Youghioghany, of which the upper waters interlace with branches of the Potomac. In this rich country, heavily wooded and abounding in game, there were only a few Indians and no white inhabitants. In 1749 France began to send expeditions through the Ohio valley to raise the French flag and to bury leaden plates bearing the royal arms. A part of the disputed region was claimed by Pennsylvania as within her charter limits; Virginia claimed it, apparently on the convenient principle that any unoccupied land adjacent to her territory was hers; the English government claimed it as a vacant royal preserve; and in 1749 an Ohio company was formed with the purpose of erecting the disputed region into a "back colony." A royal grant of land was secured, and a young Virginian, named George Washington, was sent out as a surveyor. He took the opportunity to locate some land for himself, and frankly says that "it is not reasonable to suppose that those, who had the first choice,… were inattentive to … the advantages of situation."

[Sidenote: Attempts to occupy.]

Foreseeing the struggle, the French began to construct a chain of forts connecting the St. Lawrence settlements with the Mississippi. The chief strategic point was at the junction of the Allegheny and Mon

ongahela rivers,-the present site of Pittsburg. The Ohio company were first on the ground, and in 1753 took steps to occupy this spot. They were backed up by orders issued by the British government to the governors of Pennsylvania and Maryland "to repel force by force whenever the French are found within the undoubted limits of their province." Thus the French and English settlements were brought dangerously near together, and it was resolved by Virginia to send George Washington with a solemn warning to the French. In October, 1753, he set forth, and returned in December to announce that the French were determined to hold the country. They drove the few English out of their new post, fortified the spot, and called it Fort Duquesne. The crisis seemed to Benjamin Franklin so momentous that at the end of his printed account of the capture of the post he added a rude woodcut of a rattlesnake cut into thirteen pieces, with the motto, addressed to the colonies, "Join or die."

[Sidenote: No compromise.]

This was no ordinary intercolonial difficulty, to be patched up by agreements between the frontier commanders. Both French and English officers acted under orders from their courts. England and France were rivals, not only on the continent, but in the West Indies, in India, and in Europe. There was no disposition either to prevent or to heal the breach on the Pennsylvania frontier.

[Sidenote: Washington attacks.]

When Washington set out with a small force in April, 1754, it was with the deliberate intention of driving the French out of the region. As he advanced towards Fort Duquesne they came out to meet him. He was the quicker, and surprised the little expedition at Great Meadows, fired upon the French, and killed ten of them. A few days later Washington and his command were captured at Fort Necessity, and obliged to leave the country. As Half King, an Iroquois chief, said, "The French behaved like cowards, and the English like fools." The colonial war had begun. Troops were at once despatched to America by both belligerents. In 1755 hostilities also broke out between the two powers on the sea; but it was not until May 18, 1756, that England formally declared war on France, and the Seven Years' War began in Europe.

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