With Rogers on the Frontier: A Story of 1756 - J. Macdonald Oxley - ebook

The great conflict between England and France for supremacy upon the North American continent was drawing near its final stage. It had been waged for more than a century with varying fortunes, and over a vast extent of territory. The sea-girt province of Acadia in the extreme east, and the rich valley of the Ohio in the far west had alike been the scene of bloody encounters, and now the combatants were coming to close grips in that picturesque and beautiful portion of New York State where the twin lakes Champlain and George lay embosomed amid forest-clad hills.

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With Rogers on the Frontier

A Story of 1756


J. Macdonald Oxley

Illustrator: F. J. Devitt




The great conflict between England and France for supremacy upon the North American continent was drawing near its final stage. It had been waged for more than a century with varying fortunes, and over a vast extent of territory. The sea-girt province of Acadia in the extreme east, and the rich valley of the Ohio in the far west had alike been the scene of bloody encounters, and now the combatants were coming to close grips in that picturesque and beautiful portion of New York State where the twin lakes Champlain and George lay embosomed amid forest-clad hills.

The possession of these lakes was divided between the two rivals, the French being masters of Lake Champlain, and the English of Lake George, and their crystal waters were again and again reddened with the life blood of the antagonists and their Indian allies as they fought fiercely for the prize of sole possession that the way between Canada and the colonies might be completely closed to whichever power was vanquished.

In the spring of the year 1755 the New England colonies combined to undertake the capture of Crown Point, the French stronghold on Lake Champlain, which for the past quarter of a century had been a veritable hornet's nest. To Governor Shirley of Massachusetts was due the credit of inspiring the undertaking, and his province was foremost in voting men and money toward its accomplishment, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and finally New York followed suit, and the result was a little army of several thousand men, whose appearance would have filled a European commander with scorn.

For they were none of them soldiers, but simply farmers and farmers' sons who had gallantly volunteered for the campaign, leaving their scattered dingy homes in the midst of rough fields of corn and pumpkins to shoulder the guns they all knew so well how to use, and when the fighting was over, if so be that they escaped the bullet and tomahawk, to return to their ploughing and sowing as though they had merely been out on a hunting trip.

Only one corps boasted a uniform, blue faced with red. The others were content with their ordinary clothes, and the most of them brought their own guns. They had no bayonets, but carried hatchets in their belts instead, and at their sides were slung powder-horns on which they had carved quaint devices with the points of their pocket knives.

Their whole appearance was neither martial nor picturesque, and gave them no excuse for pride, but they were brave, brawny fellows, clear of head, quick of eye, swift of foot, and sure of hand, and incomparably better adapted for the irregular warfare of the time than the highly disciplined soldiery of either England or France. They knew the forests as the city-bred man knows the streets, and by day or night could traverse their fastnesses without fear of losing their way or falling into the hands of the enemy.

They were of all ages and sizes so to speak, from boys in their teens to gray-haired grandfathers, and from dwarfs to giants, but they all could give a good account of themselves in a fight either at long or close range.

The commander of this curious army was no less remarkable than his men, for he had never seen service, and knew nothing of war. An Irishman by birth, William Johnson had held an extensive domain on the banks of the Mohawk River for a score of years, and grown powerful and rich by trading with the Indians of the Five Nations who found him far more honest and reliable than his Dutch rivals in the business, and over whom he came to acquire so profound an influence that the Government made him Indian Superintendent, an appointment that was hailed with joy throughout the Iroquois Confederacy.

He had taken to himself a Mohawk squaw for wife, and lived in almost baronial style in a fortified house which was a stronghold against his foes and a centre of lavish hospitality to friends and visitors whether white or red.

Governor Shirley had chosen him for the responsible post of commander because by so doing he prevented any jealousy among the New England colonies, gratified the important province of New York, and secured the co-operation of the Five Nations, a threefold advantage that could be secured in no other way.

The gathering place was at Albany, and here in the month of July were assembled several thousand provincials ready for the fray. Hither also came a swarm of Johnson's Mohawks, warriors, squaws, and children. They made things very lively. They adorned the General's face with war-paint, and he joined them in the war dance, and then with his sword cut the first slice from the ox that had been roasted whole for their entertainment.

"I shall be glad," remarked a New England surgeon surveying the somewhat riotous goings-on with a touch of complacent contempt, "if they fight as eagerly as they ate their ox, and drank their wine."

Among the spectators of these rude festivities stood a youth whose otherwise pleasing countenance was so clouded that one seeing it could hardly fail to wonder what troubled him thus deeply.

Although still in his teens he had reached the stature of a man, and his well-knit figure gave evidence of no common share of strength and activity. He was dressed in a suit of tanned buckskin that became him particularly well, and with his double-barrelled smoothbore, carved powder-horn, keen-edged tomahawk, and long-bladed hunting knife was fully equipped to meet the foe.

The son of a pioneer settler upon the northern border of Massachusetts, Seth Allen had already drunk to its depths the cup of sorrow, for at one fell swoop the dusky allies of the French had rendered him a homeless orphan. With his own eyes he had beheld his parents tomahawked and scalped, the farmhouse burned, and the stock slaughtered while he had been carried off for torture in the Indian camp.

Escaping by a happy chance he made his way back to New England, and at once volunteered for active service against the French. Henceforward he had but one purpose in life—to serve his country in the field, and in view of what he had suffered it is easy to understand with what impatience he awaited the advance of the English against Crown Point, and how he chafed at the delay which seemed to him inexcusable.

Now above all things this expedition needed to act promptly, and yet preparations went on with exasperating slowness. The troops and supplies were contributed by five different legislatures, and they each wanted their own way about something. Indeed at one time there was a regular deadlock because they could not agree as to their respective quotas of artillery and stores.

"The expedition goes on very much as a snail runs," grumbled Surgeon Williams. "It seems we may possibly see Crown Point this time twelve months."

Seth Allen, burning with eagerness to forget in the excitement of action the horrors which haunted his memory, could not understand why there should be all this useless dawdling, and one day ventured to address a group of men whom he knew to be among the leaders.

"Can you tell me, good sirs," he said, doffing his cap respectfully, "how much longer we are to be here doing nothing?"

In the little party were Colonel Titcomb and Seth Pomeroy of Massachusetts, who had both fought so well at Louisbourg, the sturdy Israel Putnam of Connecticut, and brave John Stark of New Hampshire, and they all turned to look at the speaker while a suspicion of a smile curved the corners of their lips.

"Your question is not easy to answer, young man." It was Colonel Titcomb who spoke. "We would fain have some definite knowledge upon that matter ourselves. But may I inquire your name, and how you came here? You seem to have scarce sufficient years for such hard fighting as must fall to our lot if our purpose be effected."

A ruddy glow showed through the tan of the youth's cheeks, and he lowered both head and voice as he replied:

"My name is Seth Allen, and I come from Massachusetts. My father and mother were killed by the Indians who are in league with the French, and our home was burned. I am here because I have no other desire than to fight against those who have broken my heart."

There was a strange simplicity in the words. They came from the heart of the speaker, and they went straight to the hearts of his hearers. The veteran warriors looked at each other, and then at the youth with eyes full of intelligent sympathy, and Colonel Pomeroy, stepping forward, laid his hand gently upon the youth's shoulder, saying:

"We have heard of your sad story. No one has better reason to be here than you, and we can well understand how hard you find this waiting. But patience is a soldierly virtue, and you must have your share of it. There will be plenty of fighting in due time."

The blush deepened upon Seth's countenance at the implied reproof, and, murmuring his excuses for having thus interrupted their conference, he moved away.

"That boy bears a heavy heart," said Colonel Titcomb, "and I should not like to be either the first Frenchman or Indian that he meets, for he has a long account to settle with our hated foes."

Patience in no small degree certainly was required by the provincials who had gathered together for active service, not to waste time in aimless dallying, and their anxiety to be up and doing was increased when the four Mohawk scouts which Johnson had sent to Canada returned with the startling intelligence that the French were fully informed of the English designs, and that eight thousand men were being sent to the defence of Crown Point.

Upon this a council of war was held whereat it was decided to send to the several provinces for reinforcements, and at the same time to begin the movement northward lest the volunteers, wearied of inaction, should lose heart in the enterprise.

Accordingly the main body, accompanied by a train of Dutch wagons, marched slowly over the stumps and roots of a newly made road, and presently reached the borders of the most beautiful lake which Johnson loyally called Lake George in honor of the King of England.

Here camp was made on a piece of rough ground by the water's edge, the men pitching their tents among the stumps of the lately felled trees.

With a clear water-way to their destination, and hundreds of bateaux hauled overland from Fort Lyman (afterward called Fort Edward), ready to transport them thither, the men's spirits rose, for they naturally thought they would soon be led against the enemy, but in this they were again disappointed.

Johnson sent out scouts in different directions, but otherwise did nothing, and Seth Allen, at last unable to endure the continued inaction any longer, begged so earnestly of his captain to be allowed to go out scouting, that when an Indian brought word that he had found the trail of a body of men moving toward Fort Lyman, and Johnson called for a volunteer to carry a letter of warning to Colonel Blanchard, the commander of the fort, the captain at once sent for Seth, and telling him what was wanted said:

"Now, young man, there's the chance you have been fretting for."

"And I'm ready to take it," responded Seth promptly.


In order to a clear understanding of the situation it is necessary at this point to leave the provincial army for a little while and take a glance at what the French were doing.

They were by no means idle. While the British were preparing to attack Crown Point they were preparing to defend it, having first got warning of their purpose from the letters of the unfortunate Braddock found on the battlefield, which information was confirmed by the report of a reconnoitring party that had made its way as far as the Hudson, and returned with the news that Johnson's forces were already on the field.

The Marquis de Vandreuil, Governor of Canada, who on his part had been meditating an expedition for the capture of Oswego, and for this purpose had got together several battalions of regular soldiers under the command of Baron Dieskau, thereupon changed their destination from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain.

Passing up the Richelieu River these troops embarked in boats and canoes for Crown Point. Their veteran leader knew that the foes with whom he had to deal were not disciplined soldiers, but simply a mob of countrymen, and he never doubted for a moment that he would put them to flight at the first meeting, and keep them going until he had chased them back to Albany. Such, too, was the pleasant conviction of the Marquis de Vandreuil, who wrote to him in this strain:

"Make all haste, for when you return we shall send you to Oswego to execute our first design."

And he had obeyed orders to such good purpose that while Johnson's force lay idle at Lake George he had reached Crown Point at the head of nearly four thousand men, regulars, Canadians, and Indians.

Dieskau had no thought of waiting to be attacked. His troops were commanded to hold themselves ready to move at a moment's notice. The officers were bidden to take nothing with them but one spare shirt, one spare pair of shoes, a blanket, a bearskin, and twelve days' provisions, while the Indians were strictly enjoined not to amuse themselves by taking scalps until the enemy was entirely defeated, since they could kill ten men in the time required to scalp one, a grim injunction that reveals like a lightning flash the barbarity of that border warfare when all the laws of humanity were ignored.

Early in the month of September a scouting party brought in an English prisoner caught near Fort Lyman. He was questioned under threat of being handed over to the Indians for torture if he did not tell the truth, but, nothing daunted, he endeavored to lure the French into a trap by telling them that the English army had fallen back to Albany, leaving only a few hundred men at Fort Lyman, which he said was a place to be easily taken.

Dieskau at once resolved on a rapid movement to seize the fort, and, leaving a part of his force at Ticonderoga, he embarked the rest in canoes, and hurried along through the narrow part of Lake Champlain, stretching southward through the wilderness.

Reaching the lower end of the lake they left their canoes under guard, and began their march through the dense forest toward Fort Lyman. They numbered fifteen hundred in all, and it was concerning their approach that the report had been brought in to the English camp, which Seth Allen was ready to carry to the endangered fort.

"You seem a likely lad," said Johnson when Seth was brought to him, "and will no doubt do as well as any one. You had better take a horse. You will run a better chance of getting through."

Seth was quite willing to make the venture afoot, but he was still better pleased to be mounted, and a little later he galloped away over the rough road on his perilous task with the important letter hidden in his bosom.

For the first time since coming to the camp he felt in good spirits, and he would have whistled to keep himself company had he not known better than to make any more noise than was absolutely necessary.

He fully realized the danger he was running. Capture by the French meant probable torture, and certain death, while the chances were that if perceived by the foe or their merciless allies he would be shot on sight as so many others had been before him.

But this knowledge in no wise clouded his brave young spirit. He was too glad at being allowed to undertake the perilous mission to be concerned about his safety, and with every faculty keen for hint or sign of danger he hastened along the stump-strewn road toward his destination.

A high rate of speed was not possible owing to the roughness of the road, but he made very good progress nevertheless, and one-half the fourteen miles of the way had been covered ere the still solitude through which he was passing gave token of other human life.

Then it was revealed in startling enough fashion, for as Seth rode along carefully through the stumps and roots which were ready to bring his steed to his knees, a shot rang out on his right, followed by a blood-curdling whoop, and a bullet whistled uncomfortably close to his head.

"Now for it!" he exclaimed, bending low over his horse's neck and driving in the spurs.

The willing creature responded with a bound that nearly unseated his rider and then sprang away at the top of his speed, soon leaving the Indian scout far behind.

If he were the only one to discover Seth it would be well enough, but that was hardly to be hoped for. The very fact of his presence implied the proximity of the French as Seth thoroughly understood, and at any moment others might show themselves.

On he rode, glancing anxiously to right and left, yet keeping a close watch on his horse. Again and again the animal stumbled over a root, but, thanks to Seth's skill in the saddle, did not go down, and the remaining distance to Fort Lyman was rapidly being decreased, when once more peril appeared in the path.

This time it was a small party of Canadians out on scouting duty, and they were right in the rider's road. He must either turn back, or go on to apparently certain capture.

For an instant Seth was at a loss which course to pursue. Then with that quickness of decision which was characteristic of him he determined upon a desperate expedient.

Reining in his horse he approached the Canadians at a walk as if he meant to surrender, whereby they were thrown off their guard. Counting upon an easy capture they dropped their guns which they had been holding in readiness to fire, and as Seth came up called out to him in jeering tones that he was their prisoner.

By way of response Seth, now within a few yards of them, clapped spurs to his horse, and drove him right into the centre of the little group.

This sudden and unexpected action took them completely by surprise. With oaths and angry exclamations they threw themselves out of the way of the horse, which ere they could recover and take aim with their guns, was many yards away galloping furiously along the road.

A scattering volley followed the fugitive, but not one of the leaden messengers touched him as he crouched over the horse's neck, and only one hit the animal, inflicting a slight wound in the hind quarter that simply served to quicken its speed.

For the rest of the way Seth did not spare his steed. Taking chances every minute of a fall that might mean the rendering of one or both of them helpless, he galloped on until at last the welcome sight of Fort Lyman gladdened his eyes, and presently he pulled up the panting creature which had borne him so well at the gate that was quickly opened to receive him.

Colonel Blanchard thanked him warmly for the warning message, and bade him stay at the fort until it would be safe for him to return to Lake George.

Immediately all possible preparations for defence were made at Fort Lyman, and full of anxiety its garrison awaited the expected attack.

But the days went by without bringing any sign of the enemy, and Seth again began to grow impatient. The confinement of the fort became irksome to his liberty-loving nature. He felt sure that there was plenty to be done at Lake George, and chafed at waiting in idleness inside the fort, where there was nothing to occupy the long hours.

Had the garrison known the reason for the non-appearance of the enemy they might not only have rested with easy minds, but might even have taken the field on their own account, as all danger of attack had passed for a time. The change of plan on the part of the French had been brought about in this way.

They had made their way through the forest until they were within three miles of Fort Lyman, and there as they halted for the night a dozen wagons came along the road from Lake George. They were in charge of mutinous drivers who had left the English camp without orders, little dreaming the punishment that waited their misconduct. Several of them were shot, two were captured, and the remainder escaped into the woods with the Indians at their heels.

The two captives on being questioned, told a very different story from the prisoner taken by the scouting party a few days previously. According to them, instead of the English having fallen back upon Albany, they were encamped in large force at Lake George.

When the Indians heard this they held a council and decided that they would not attack the fort which they thought well supplied with cannon, but they were quite willing to go against the camp at the lake.

All remonstrances went for nothing. They were not to be moved from their resolution, and Baron Dieskau had perforce to alter his plan of campaign. Now he was not only young but daring to rashness, and burning with eagerness to emulate the recent victory over Braddock. According to the reports the enemy greatly outnumbered him, but his Canadian advisers had assured him that the English colonial militia were the worst troops on the face of the earth.

"The more there are of them, the more we shall kill," he said with complacent confidence to his Canadian and Indian allies, and in the morning the order was given to leave Fort Lyman alone, and to march to the lake.

In the meantime Seth Allen, made desperate by delay, in spite of the efforts of his friends to restrain him, left the fort, and, by making a wide detour, succeeded in reaching the camp in safety, although almost every foot of the way thither had been fraught with perils.

Here he found the whole place astir, for an advance against the French was about to take place. Congratulating himself upon having arrived in time to take part in it Seth carefully examined his fighting gear, to make sure that everything was in readiness for active service.


By the wagoners who had managed to escape the fate which befell their companions Johnson had been warned of the proximity of the French war party, but he somehow formed a very wrong conception of its strength.

Instead of preparing to meet them with his full force his first plan was to send out two detachments of five hundred men each, one going toward Fort Lyman, and the other toward South Bay, with the object of catching the enemy in their retreat.

But Hendrick, the brave and sagacious chief of the Mohawks, expressed his dissent after the dramatic fashion of his race. Picking up a single stick he broke it easily with his hands. Then picking up several, he put them together and showed that they could not be broken thus.

Johnson was shrewd enough to take the hint, and directed that the two detachments be joined in one. Still the old savage shook his head.

"If they are to be killed," said he, "they are too many. If they are to fight, they are too few."

But the commander would make no further change, and the Indian not only ceased his objections, but mounted on a gun carriage and harangued his warriors, exhorting them to fight bravely for their friends, and to show no mercy to their enemies.

The morning was still young when the thousand men, under the command of Ephraim Williams and Colonel Whiting, marched off from the camp in quest of the French, their orders being to intercept their supposed retreat, and if possible find and destroy their canoes.

Seth Allen was with the vanguard, his pulse beating rapidly, and every nerve a-quiver, for he felt it in his bones that there would be plenty of fighting before the day ended.

"I hope the French will wait for us," he said to Elisha Halley, by whom he was walking. "Maybe if they get warning of our advance they will go back to their canoes and we have nothing to follow them with on the water."

Elisha smiled contemptuously as he replied:

"It all depends upon how many they are and what they know about our strength. If they think they outnumber us they will not fail to wait for us, but if we outnumber them they will retreat fast enough. Nevertheless I think we ought to go forward carefully. They might be lying in ambush somewhere ahead."

The Colonials certainly showed a lack of common sense and utter ignorance of strategy in their advance against the enemy, for no scouts were thrown out in front or flank. They pushed on in full security until the sharp eye of old Hendrick detected a sign of danger.

He at once gave warning, but it was too late. The dense thickets on the left suddenly blazed out a deadly fire, and the English fell by scores. The head of the column, as Dieskau afterward boasted, "was doubled up like a pack of cards." The old Mohawk chief's horse, on which he rode because he was so old and fat, was shot under him, and he himself killed with a bayonet as he tried to gain his feet.

Seth had a wonderful escape. The bullets whistled past him on either side, but left him untouched, and he returned the fire with his own gun as best he could in the midst of the fearful confusion.

Although it was his first experience of battle he felt no qualm of fear. On the contrary, all his nervousness vanished, and thinking only how he might fight to the best advantage, he loaded and fired as rapidly as possible.

Presently the voice of Ephraim Williams was heard calling upon his men to follow him to a piece of rising ground on the right, and Seth obeyed the command.

"We must rally, men, or we will all be destroyed." Williams cried as he led them up the slope.

But he had not reached half-way when there came a volley from the bushes that laid him dead. And it was followed close by a hot fire poured in on the right flank.

Then there was a panic. Many fled outright. The whole column recoiled and began to retreat. Its van became the rear, and all the force of the enemy rushed upon it, shouting and screeching.

Seth found himself entangled in a mob of terrified men who had no other thought than to get out of reach of the deadly fire of their assailants; and, although his spirit rebelled against this ignominious flight, he had no alternative than to take part in it.

Happily after a brief interval of confusion Colonel Whiting succeeded in rallying a part of Williams' regiment; and they, adopting Indian tactics, fighting behind trees, and firing and falling back by turns, were able with the aid of the Mohawks to cover the retreat.

"A very handsome retreat they made," was the testimony of Colonel Pomeroy, "and so continued until they came within about three-quarters of a mile of our camp. This was the last fire our men gave our enemies which killed great numbers of them; and they were seen to drop as pigeons."

In the alternate fighting and falling back Seth took his full share, using the tree trunks for cover as cleverly as any of the Indians, and firing and reloading his musket with all possible speed, yet aiming carefully so that his bullets might not be wasted.

The lust of battle had full possession of him. He utterly forgot himself in the deadly business of the moment, and without a quiver of nerve saw white men and red falling beside him and in front of him mortally smitten.

Again and again the leaden messengers of death passed perilously close to him, but he remained unscathed. As the fierce conflict began to slacken somewhat he observed a Colonial, who had not been quick enough in retreat, stumble and fall headlong, and the next instant a stalwart Indian, hideous with war paint, sprang out from the enemy's line and dashed toward the man tomahawk in hand.

Seth had just fired and there was no time to reload. If he would save his helpless countryman it must be by exposing himself to a like fate. Yet he did not hesitate.

Holding his heavy gun in readiness to use as a club, he sprang from behind the tree-trunk which had sheltered him and rushed into the zone of fire.

His action was redeemed from utter recklessness by the heroic impulse which inspired it, and to the credit of the French be it said that they forebore to fire upon him, leaving it to the Indian to deal with him first, and then accomplish what he had set out to do.

The Iroquois, when he saw the youth coming at him, gave a grunt of contempt and raised his tomahawk menacingly. But Seth kept right on until he had got within striking distance, when whirling his gun around his head he aimed a terrible blow at his opponent.

The latter sprang aside to evade it, and as he did so his foot caught in a hidden root and he fell forward on his knees. Ere he could recover himself the butt of Seth's musket took him in the back of the head, and over he went like a log, the tomahawk flying from his nerveless grasp.

While this was happening, the fallen colonial had got to his feet again and was looking about in a bewildered way, having lost his bearings and not knowing in which direction to continue the flight interrupted by his fall.

"Here, come with me," cried Seth, grasping his arm. "Bend as low as you can and run for your life."

The fellow obeyed instantly and the two of them made all haste back to their own lines, followed by a volley from the enemy which happily, however, did neither of them any harm.

Seth's gallant feat won the admiration of all who beheld it, and the profound gratitude of the man to whom he had rendered such timely succor, and who proved to be from his own province.

When Dieskau saw that the English had really rallied, and were returning the fire of his men with deadly effect, he ordered a halt and had the trumpet sounded to collect his scattered men, with the purpose of pressing forward in good order so as to make the most of the advantage already gained.