How England And France Started A Colonial “Cold War” In North America
Years later, reflecting on the weeks he spent in the summer of 1704 travelling through New England to visit and worship with his coreligionists, Quaker Thomas Story remembered, “it was a dismal time in those parts; for no man knew, in an ordinary way, on his lying down to sleep, but that he might lose his life before the morning, by the hands of a merciless savage.” The passing of time had not clouded his recollections of strife.
When Story made his tour of the communities north of Boston, he found their inhabitants, only four years removed from a horrific war with the French in Canada and their American Indian allies, mired in another ghastly conflict.
This war—Queen Anne’s War—had become far worse than anything they could recall or conceive. Although Boston stood in no real danger of falling to the Indians or French, the Puritans’ “City upon a Hill,” their model of an exemplary Protestant society that would draw the eyes of the world, faced its greatest existential crisis.
Most New Englanders had wanted no part of another war in 1702, but as in 1689, when the War of the League of Augsburg (1688–1697) came to North America where it was known as King William’s War, the pull of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1715) proved too powerful to escape.
Throughout the 1690s, the theocrats who dominated Massachusetts had shown that, while they could offer jeremiads that prophesied the imminent fall of their Christian experiment in the New World, they could not lead the defense of New England. Prayer meetings and fast days had not stopped Indians and Frenchmen from penetrating the northern frontier, and multiple attempts to take the war to New France had ended in whimpers of pathos.
Some satisfaction came with the death of the savior of New France in King William’s War, Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, but his replacements as governor-general, first Louis-Hector de Callière and then Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil, could still call on Canada’s professional soldiers in the troupes de la marine.
Moreover, the mission Indians who lived in Catholic mission towns in the Saint Lawrence River Valley and the multitude of warriors of the Wabenaki Confederacy (the Abenakis, Maliseets, and Mi’kmaq) on the Maine and Acadia frontiers also offered their services. More worrisome for Boston’s elites, and the settlers and militia who would bear the burden of fighting, they knew they would be without Indian assistance if hostilities broke out. Frontenac had adroitly snapped the Covenant Chain that had made the Iroquois League allies of the English.
New England Left On Its Own
The Grand Settlement of 1701 saw the League declare peace with the French in Canada, as well as its neutrality in any future Anglo-French struggles. Added to all that, England had provided its Puritan colonies with no material help in the first go-round with the French and Indians; no one thought aid would be forthcoming from Europe during this war. New England thus was left to face the disconcerting reality that it would be truly on its own.
Despite the commencement of hostilities in Europe, Callière thought better of rushing into war as long as the Abenakis maintained a defensive buffer zone between Canada and New England. In the summer of 1702, at Casco Bay, Maine, New England negotiators conceded to the Eastern Indians several points of contention. Callière was hardly prescient, however, when he predicted the English would renege on their promises of better behavior; by December, they had.
He thereupon asked the Wabaneki Confederacy to join the French the next spring in spreading terror along the New England frontier. Callière died in the spring of 1703, but Vaudreuil remained fully committed to using the Indians as a cudgel to batter the English. Canada’s new governor-general did not exaggerate when he boasted the Indians were “ready to take up the hatchet against the English whenever he gave them the order,” and proved as brilliant a strategist as Frontenac. He would let the English spend the summer in bucolic peace, clearing their lands, building their sawmills and gristmills, and raising their crops and animals. Then, at harvest time, marines and Indians would plunder or destroy it all.
"Six Terrible Days"
In August, Vaudreuil sent Alexandre Leneuf de La Vallière de Beaubassin, an Acadian marine officer, to sack English settlements along the coast of Maine. Beaubassin divided his forces into small, fast-moving teams that operated independently and with no instructions other than to lay waste to everything in their grasp.
Samuel Drake, New England’s nineteenth-century chronicler of its Indian wars, called the first week of what would become a two-month-long Franco-Indian campaign of destruction, the “Six Terrible Days.” His “Diary of Depredations” filled pages. One war party killed and captured thirty-nine settlers at Wells. Another burned to the ground the fishing station at Cape Porpoise. Winter Harbor held out for several days before surrendering to Frenchmen who carried a false flag of truce.
At Saco Fort, the French and Indians killed eleven defenders and took twenty prisoners. At Spurwick, Indians killed or captured twenty-two members of the Jordan family. The siege at Scarborough was lifted only after militia from further down the coast miraculously appeared.
More disasters, however, were in store for the English following that sole bright turn of events. The small community at Perpooduck Point near Falmouth (now Portland) suffered, per capita, the most. Nine families regularly lived there. In August 1703, the men were off working in the forests cutting timber. The Indians “inhumanely butchered” twenty-five children and women, one of whom, “being big with Child, they knockt her on the head, and ript open her Womb, cutting one part of the Child out; a Spectacle of horrible Barbarity.” All told, French and Indian raiders destroyed settlements along more than forty-five miles of the seaboard. Drake did not exaggerate when he lamented, “Maine had nearly received her death-blow.”
Vaudreuil had, for his autumn 1703 operations, purposely left New York untouched. The latter’s leaders were reluctant to become embroiled in another war with Canada, especially with the Mohawks adamant that they intended to hold fast to the Grand Settlement for fear that an Anglo-French conflict might morph into an internecine struggle with their mission-dwelling cousins at Kanawake.
Keeping Pressure On The English
Nevertheless, Vaudreuil wanted to keep the pressure on the English. He recognized that, although the Kanawakes might be hesitant to raid into Maine or unwilling to do so west of Hudson’s River, the English towns in the Connecticut River Valley offered tempting targets. Word of the Wabanaki Confederacy’s smashing success in Maine then reached Montréal, and mission- dwelling Indians, rather than miss out on plunder, offered to raise the hatchet.
Major Benjamin Church (left), combat-tested in previous frontier wars, led a successful retaliatory raid against settlements in New France; Deerfield burns on February 29, 1704 (right). One hundred nine residents, 40 percent of the population, were captured. Less than 90 captives reached Canada alive but most were exchanged in 1706.
While New England, it seemed, struggled to find even one competent militia captain capable of defending a fixed blockhouse, Vaudreuil could choose from dozens of battle-tested marine officers to lead New France’s military forces. In the end, he appointed Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville to command the 250 men (fifty marines and 200 Abenaki and Kanawake allies) that would prey upon Western Massachusetts.
It was a tremendous honor for the thirty-six-year-old Jean-Baptiste, an opportunity to live up to the legacy of his father, Joseph-François “The Hero” Hertel de La Fresnière, who had led the brilliant 1690 raid into New England.
Hertel and his troops arrived outside Deerfield on February 28, 1704. His scouts reported that the villagers seemed to be anticipating an attack—the Mohawks had, in fact, warned the English that one was coming—and had taken refugee behind a large palisade.
Before dawn on February 29, Leap Day in more ways than one, several Indians jumped from the snowdrifts that reached the top of the palisade, disabled the sentry, and opened the village gates. Reverend John Williams later recalled the raiders fell “like a flood upon us.”
Setting A Trap
Once inside the village, Hertel’s marines and indigenous allies moved from house to house, killing and scalping, taking prisoners, and putting to the torch everything in sight. Williams’s home was one of the first to come under attack; raiders killed two of his children and a servant, and took he and the rest of his family with another servant prisoner. The assault ended rather quickly when, unexpectedly, a large group of raiders gathered 109 captives—forty percent of the village’s inhabitants—and retreated. They left behind seventeen burned houses and forty-four English corpses, fifteen of whom had gruesomely died from immolation.
The militia from Hadley and Hatfield, alerted by the billowing smoke fifteen miles to the north, rushed toward Deerfield. After killing several Frenchmen and Indians who had dallied to plunder, they gave chase to Hertel’s main body. The Englishmen—farmers and shopkeepers who were unevenly matched against marines and warriors in a running fight through the forest—thought they had caught the enemy’s rearguard in the meadows north of Deerfield. After a brief skirmish, the Indians appeared to flee. It was, of course, a trap and the English rushed headlong into it. Nine of them were killed and a handful of others wounded. Having learned the hard way that discretion is the better part of valor, the survivors retreated to the still burning ruins of Deerfield. In the process, they left the prisoners to their fates.
The captives’ ordeal on the march to Canada became the stuff of New England horror stories. Several of them managed to escape in the first days of the trek, but Hertel’s subsequent warning to Williams that any recaptured escapees would be summarily executed put an end to further attempts at absconding. Several others died from both mistreatment at the hands of their captors and the weather. Williams’s wife and infant child were two of the first to perish. Fewer than ninety prisoners made it to Montréal to be eventually ransomed and returned to New England.
It proved a sickeningly bitter pill for Williams to swallow when he learned that his ten-year-old daughter Eunice, whom he had been forced to leave behind when he and his other children were sent to Boston as part of a prisoner exchange in 1706, embraced Roman Catholicism and, at age sixteen, married François-Xavier Arosen, a Kanawake. Despite continued entreaties from her father to return home, she vociferously refused repatriation.
The great irony of the “Deerfield Massacre”—one not lost on his contemporaries—became that the daughter of the village’s Puritan minister, whose grievous suffering at the hands of the “Jesuit-corrupted” Kanawakes and Abenakis inspired his captivity narrative, The redeemed captive returning to Zion , stood as the exemplar for New England’s “unredeemed captive.”
New England’s response to the French offensives of 1703 and early 1704 fell on the shoulders of scalp hunters and rangers. Massachusetts placed generous bounties on Indian scalps, but few men mentioned venturing across the frontier to collect them. In June and July, Major Benjamin Church, who thirty years earlier in King Philip’s War had formed New England’s first companies of rangers, and throughout King William’s War conducted “expeditions” in Acadia, again led his charges against the French settlements in present-day New Brunswick and in the Minas Basin. In a tit-for-tat for Deerfield, Church burned Mi’kmaw camps, captured as many Acadians as he could, and burned Grand Pré. The final accounting, however, showed that he inflicted little lasting damage. Absent the threat of continued attacks from the enemy such as the Maine settlers faced, the Acadians dusted themselves off and set about rebuilding their homes.
Church’s raid, and the realization that France harbored no intention of sending him support, led Vaudreuil to consider a truce with New England. As a tentative first step, he proposed to Massachusetts’s crown-appointed governor, Joseph Dudley, a prisoner exchange. Pierre Maisonnat, Acadia’s most accomplished privateer captain, had fallen into English hands; the Puritans therefore saw it as a manifestation of God’s providence when Vaudreuil offered to swap Reverend Williams and others for him.
Retreat To Boston
Once safely back at Port Royal, Acadia’s capital, Maisonnat and his ships’ crews recommenced systematically devastating the New England merchant marine and the fishing fleet that plied the Grand Banks. By the end of 1706, it was apparent—at least to Boston’s ship owners and their investors—that the French had again outsmarted them.
Sir William Phips and a New England army had sacked Port Royal in 1690 on their way to Québec; New Englanders hoped that another army could surely accomplish at least that in the summer of 1707. John March, a Newbury merchant who doubled as a militia colonel, thus assumed command of several hundred men and sailed for Acadia.
Although March’s army outnumbered Port Royal’s defenders, he could not execute much of a siege because, like Phips’s outside Québec seventeen years earlier, his engineers and artillerists did not know how to bring their heavy guns to bear on the “citadel,” in truth just a dilapidated earthen and wooden fort.
March withdrew his besieging force after eleven days, perhaps to read up on the basics of early eighteenth-century siege work. On August 22, he started his second siege. Daniel d’Auger de Subercase, Acadia’s governor, concerned that the English may have found a way to properly work their heavy guns as siege weapons, organized several sorties from the fort. In the face of that “spirited” resistance, March retreated all the way back to Boston.
At Their Wits' End
New England’s Puritan leaders had reached their wits’ end. They raged against New York’s government for failing to join the war, and Cotton Mather, one of Boston’s most influential clergymen, excoriated Dudley for agreeing to the truce with Vaudreuil. He leveled claims that the governor and his allies, none more so than Samuel Vetch, had engaged in illegal and traitorous trade with New France. Anti-government paranoia had paralyzed New England’s attempts to deal with either the French or the Indians.
In the meantime, many of the Eastern Abenaki bands had grown tired of the war. With the English driven from Maine and their impotence in Acadia exposed for all to see, they told Vaudreuil that they no longer saw a reason to raise the hatchet. The governor-general called their bluff and summoned 400 of them for campaign in the summer of 1708. Most of them begged off, which left Hertel with primarily mission Indians to join his marines. These allies, at their rendezvous with the French in New Hampshire, then announced they were unwilling to stray much farther from their homes. Hertel concluded that a raid on Haverhill, the frontier village that some of the same warriors may have attacked eleven years earlier near the end of King William’s War, offered his best, perhaps his only, chance of making productive use of the marines and few Indians putatively under his command.
The French and their indigenous allies descended on the village before dawn on August 29, 1708. Clio seemed intent on repeating herself—houses were burned, captives taken, and thirty to forty settlers killed—before events played out differently.
During the militia’s pro forma chase of the raiders, it killed nine and wounded eighteen marines and Indian combatants in Hertel’s rear guard. Another militia company stumbled upon the supplies the raiders had cached for their trip to Canada. Without food and medicine, the retreat proved as difficult for captors as for captives; back at Montréal, the mission Indians let it be known that they had had enough and henceforth intended to sit out the war.
Rare Colonial Unity
Help often comes from the most unexpected places. In late 1708, crown officials approved Vetch’s plan to send an army from Albany toward Montréal and an amphibious force up the Saint Lawrence River to lay siege to Québec. Vetch’s was essentially the same scheme that the colonies had tried in King William’s War, but with one important modification: English officers would command the 4,000 professional soldiers and sailors who would conduct the siege of Québec. Most of the colonies were ecstatic, and, in a rare instance of colonial unity, they set about enlisting 3,000 men. The one outlier, New York, had no choice but to participate because the queen had authorized the campaign.
European Colonies in North America, Before and After Queen Anne’s War: As England (Great Britain after 1707) and France fought each other in a succession of European wars, their North American colonies inevitably were drawn into the conflicts as the wars’ ‘American theater.’ English colonies along the Eastern seaboard proved especially vulnerable to attacks from New France by French professional ‘troupes de la marine’ and allied Indian nations; after the Treaty of Utrecht ended Queen Anne’s War, British colonies had survived—even expanding to include ceded territory in New France.
The preparations progressed at a breakneck pace. In April 1709, Vetch and Virginia’s former governor, Francis Nicholson, arrived in Boston. Vetch would take care of the logistics (and skim a nice profit off the top in the process), and Nicholson, an outsider among New England’s constant squabbling parties, would whip the militia into shape. A yet-to-be-named British—after 1707 and the Acts of Union, Scotland, England, and Wales were official joined as Great Britain—officer would direct the Québec thrust.
Because no New Englanders possessed the expertise, or stomach, to command the Albany contingent, Nicholson agreed to lead it. By early summer, teamsters had begun carrying supplies to Wood Creek in the south end of the Lake Champlain Valley and 1,500 militia from throughout the colonies had poured into Albany.
Best of all from Nicholson’s perspective, four of the five tribes of the Iroquois League had renounced their neutrality in the Anglo-French war—better the British turn their large army on Canada than on the Mohawk Valley. In Boston, hundreds of militia arrived in the town, which gave it, for the first time in its history, a quasi-martial air.
In all of this, Mather again saw the hand of God at work. The arrival of the British regulars, he exclaimed, promised long-suffering Puritan New England its long-awaited Armageddon with Canada. He carried no doubts as to that battle’s outcome.
The regulars never made it to America. London had concluded that peace was on the verge of breaking out, and no point was to be gained in spending resources on an attempt to take Canada when any treaty ending the long-stalemated European war most likely would return matters to the status quo ante bellum.
The Campaign Is Cancelled?
Eventually, in mid-October, Dudley learned that English officials had cancelled the campaign. The colonies squandered most of the campaigning season waiting for the British; Vetch and Nicholson had no choice but to disband the militia. Their decision probably could not have come at a better time, especially for the soldiers in New York. Smallpox and “putrid fevers” wracked them throughout the summer, morale had reached its nadir, and mutiny loomed. Whether they again would come out for another “Glorious Enterprise” was left for the leadership in Boston to ponder over the winter.
Over the same period, Queen Anne’s closest advisers developed second thoughts about the potential for an armistice. In the spring of 1710, they sent to Nicholson and Vetch six warships and a regiment of marines to pluck the low- hanging piece of fruit at Port Royal.
The New England militia begrudgingly mustered again; in late September, 3,500 of them joined the fleet and set out for Acadia. Subercase could do little against such an overwhelming force, and he capitulated within days of Nicholson disembarking his army and its accompanying professional artillery officers. New England troops occupied Annapolis Royal—Nicholson’s new name for the town and fort—and Vetch assumed the governorship of Great Britain’s newest colony: Nova Scotia.
The favorable outcome at Annapolis Royal, plus the arrival in London in 1710 of four “Mohawk Chiefs” who obliquely implied that their people were prepared to help, led the crown to take another stab at Canada. Nicholson would again command the forces arrayed against Montréal; Rear Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker would lead an armada and nearly 5,000 British troops against Québec.
This time, Anne’s ministers kept their word, and in late June, Walker and seven redcoat regiments arrived at Boston. Nicholson rushed to Albany, and then to Wood Creek, where he built Fort Anne, assembled another army of New England militia, and waited for the Mohawks to arrive. The Puritans again thanked God for their deliverance.
Boston’s merchants decided that the town’s public displays of piety were enough: Walker’s army would have to make do with only the provisions and supplies with which they were willing to part, at prices they refused to negotiate. Sir Hovenden spent July wrangling with army contractors bent on draining the British treasury, and he grew increasingly sour on the entire expedition as the days passed. Nicholson stood pat at Fort Anne, waiting for the Mohawks and word that the armada was outside Québec before he put his army in motion.
Finally, in mid-August, Walker and his armada sailed for the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Inexplicably to Mather and his followers, God appeared to switch sides. On August 23, the British fleet foundered in the fog and currents near Île aux Oeufs. Seven transports and 900 sailors and soldiers succumbed to the St. Lawrence’s chilly waters. Shaken by the disaster, and still irked with the Bostonians, Walker sent the New England troops home while he and the redcoats sailed for Europe.
Nicholson heard of Walker’s catastrophe, and more importantly that the campaign had been called off, on September 19. After burning Fort Anne to the ground, and once his apoplectic rage subsided, he disbanded his army. In 1690, after Frontenac repulsed Phips at Québec, the French had named their church “Notre Dame de la Victoire,” but in 1711 they renamed it, “Notre Dame des Victoires.”
A Colonial "Cold War"
Walker reached England just in time to learn that Britain and France had come to peace terms based on a partition of the Spanish Netherlands, Britain’s acceptance of a Bourbon on the Spanish throne, and Spain’s award of the asiento , the right of British traders to sell enslaved people in Spanish colonies. With the scribbling of a pen at Utrecht, Queen Anne’s War was over.
New England’s efforts had meant nothing. The “Treaties of Utrecht” set the stage for over thirty years of peace—the “Long Peace”—between Great Britain and France in Europe, and a cold war of sorts in the colonies. France doubled down on the Abenakis as its cordon sanitaire between New France and New England, recognized Port Royal was untenable and formally transferred it to the British, and began construction of the fortress of Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island to guard approaches to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Grand Banks.
Half-hearted celebrations in Boston over the acquisition of Nova Scotia were short lived, particularly since the crown would devote only the barest resources (one half-strength infantry regiment) to dealing with the Acadian- Mi’kmaq insurgency that washed over the new colony. Quashing the “rebels” and keeping the Abenakis at arm’s length while expanding the frontier across their lands would be the New Englanders’ responsibility alone.
Finding a modus vivendi with New France became a primary aim of New England’s new generation of military, diplomatic, and business leaders, who, based on the Puritans’ pathetic performance at the helm of state during the war, supplanted them as the dominant players in New England society.
The greatest consequence of Queen Anne’s War was transforming New England from a Puritan theocracy to a Yankee stronghold of the British Empire. Within another generation, Puritan New England would become a relic of the past.