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The Fort William Henry Massacre

I have frequently been a spectator of them, and once bore a part in a similar scene. But what added to the horror of it was that I had not the consolation of being able to oppose their savage attacks. Every circumstance of the adventure still dwells on my memory, and enables me to describe with greater perspicuity the brutal fierceness of the Indians when they have surprised or overpowered an enemy.

As a detail of the massacre at Fort William Henry in the year 1757, the scene to which I refer, cannot appear foreign to the design of this publication, but will serve to give my readers a just idea of the ferocity of this people, I shall take the liberty to insert it, apologizing at the same time for the length of the digression and those egotisms which the relation renders unavoidable.

General Webb, who commanded the English army in North America, which was then encamped at Fort Edward, having intelligence that the French troops under Mons. Montcalm were making some movements towards Fort William Henry, he detached a corps of about fifteen hundred men, consisting of English and provincials, to strengthen the garrison. In this party I went as a volunteer among the latter.

The apprehensions of the English general were not without foundation, for the day after our arrival we saw Lake George (formerly Lake Sacrament), to which it lies contiguous, covered with an immense number of boats, and in a few hours we found our lines attacked by the French general, who had just landed with eleven thousand regulars and Canadians and two thousand Indians. Colonel Munro, a brave officer, commanded in the fort, and had no more than two thousand three hundred men with him, our detachment included.

With these he made a brave defence, and probably would have been able at last to preserve the fort had he been properly supported and permitted to continue his efforts. On every summons to surrender sent by the French general, who offered the most honorable terms, his answer repeatedly was, that he found himself in a condition to repel the most vigorous attacks his besiegers were able to make; and if he thought his present force insufficient, he could soon be supplied with a greater number from the adjacent army.

But the colonel having acquainted General Webb with his situation, and desired he would send him some fresh troops, the general despatched a messenger to him with a letter, wherein he informed him that it was not in his power to assist him, and therefore gave him orders to surrender up the fort on the best terms he could procure. This packet fell into the hands of the French general, who immediately sent a flag of truce, desiring a conference with the governor.

They accordingly met, attended only by a small guard, in the centre between the lines, when Mons. Montcalm told the colonel that he was come in person to demand possession of the fort, as it belonged to the king, his master. The colonel replied that he knew not how that could be, nor should he surrender it up while it was in his power to defend it.

The French general rejoined, at the same time delivering the packet into the colonel’s hand, “By this authority do I make the requisition.” The brave governor had no sooner read the contents of it, and was convinced that such were the orders of the commander-in-chief, and not to be disobeyed, than he hung his head in silence, and reluctantly entered into a negotiation.

In consideration of the gallant defence the garrison had made, they were to be permitted to march out with all the honors of war, to be allowed covered wagons to transport their baggage to Fort Edward, and a guard to protect them from the fury of the savages.

The morning after the capitulation was signed, as soon as day broke, the whole garrison, now consisting of about two thousand men, besides women and children, were drawn up within the lines, and on the point of marching off, when great numbers of the Indians gathered about and began to plunder. We were at first in hopes that this was their only view, and suffered them to proceed without opposition. Indeed, it was not in our power to make any, had we been so inclined, for, though we were permitted to carry off our arms, yet we were not allowed a single round of ammunition. In these hopes, however, we were disappointed; for presently some of them began to attack the sick and wounded, when such as were not able to crawl into the ranks, notwithstanding they endeavored to avert the fury of their enemies by their shrieks or groans, were soon despatched.

Here we were fully in expectation that the disturbance would have concluded, but in a short time we saw the same division driven back, and discovered that we were entirely encircled by the savages. We expected every moment that the guard, which the French, by the articles of capitulation, had agreed to allow us, would have arrived, and put an end to our apprehensions, but none appeared. The Indians now began to strip every one, without exception, of their arms and clothes, and those who made the least resistance felt the weight of their tomahawks.

I happened to be in the rear division, but it was not long before I shared the fate of my companions. Three or four of the savages laid hold of me, and whilst some held their weapons over my head, the others soon disrobed me of my coat, waistcoat, hat, and buckles, omitting not to take from me what money I had in my pocket. As this was transacted close by the passage that led from the lines on to the plain, near which a French sentinel was posted, I ran to him and claimed his protection, but he only called me an English dog, and thrust me with violence back again into the midst of the Indians.

I now endeavored to join a body of our troops that were crowded together at some distance, but innumerable were the blows that were made at me with different weapons as I passed on; luckily, however, the savages were so close together that they could not strike at me without endangering each other, notwithstanding which one of them found means to make a thrust at me with a spear, which grazed my side, and from another I received a wound with the same kind of weapon on my ankle. At length I gained the spot where my countrymen stood, and forced myself into the midst of them. But before I got thus far out of the hands of the Indians the collar and wristbands of my shirt were all that remained of it, and my flesh was scratched and torn in many places by their savage grips.

By this time the war-whoop was given, and the Indians began to murder those that were nearest to them without distinction. It is not in the power of words to give any tolerable idea of the horrid scene that now ensued; men, women, and children were despatched in the most wanton and cruel manner, and immediately scalped. Many of the savages drank the blood of their victims as it flowed warm from the fatal wound.

We now perceived, though too late to avail us, that we were to expect no relief from the French; and that, contrary to the agreement they had so lately signed to allow us a sufficient force to protect us from these insults, they tacitly permitted them; for I could plainly perceive the French officers walking about at some distance, discoursing together with apparent unconcern. For the honor of human nature I would hope that this flagrant breach of every sacred law proceeded rather from the savage disposition of the Indians, which I acknowledge it is sometimes almost impossible to control, and which might now unexpectedly have arrived to a pitch not easily to be restrained, than from any premeditated design in the French commander. An unprejudiced observer would, however, be apt to conclude that a body of ten thousand Christian troops, most Christian troops, had it in their power to prevent the massacre from becoming so general. But whatever was the cause from which it arose, the consequences of it were dreadful, and not to be paralleled in modern history.

As the circle in which I stood enclosed by this time was much thinned, and death seemed to be approaching with hasty strides, it was proposed by some of the most resolute to make one vigorous effort, and endeavor to force our way through the savages, the only probable method of preserving our lives that now remained. This, however desperate, was resolved upon, and about twenty of us sprung at once into the midst of them.

In a moment we were separated, and what was the fate of my comrades I could not learn till some months after, when I found that only five or six of them effected their design. Intent only on my own hazardous situation, I endeavored to make my way through my savage enemies in the best manner possible. And I have often been astonished since, when I have recollected with what composure I took, as I did, every necessary step for my preservation. Some I overturned, being at that time young and athletic, and others I passed by, dexterously avoiding their weapons; till at last two very stout chiefs, of the most savage tribes, as I could distinguish by their dress, whose strength I could not resist, laid hold of me by each arm, and began to force me through the crowd.

I now resigned myself to my fate, not doubting but that they intended to despatch me, and then to satiate their vengeance with my blood, as I found they were hurrying me towards a retired swamp that lay at some distance. But before we had got many yards, an English gentleman of some distinction, as I could discover by his breeches, the only covering he had on, which were of fine scarlet velvet, rushed close by us. One of the Indians instantly relinquished his hold, and, springing on this new object, endeavored to seize him as his prey; but the gentleman, being strong, threw him on the ground, and would probably have got away, had not he who held my other arm quitted me to assist his brother. I seized the opportunity, and hastened away to join another party of English troops that were yet unbroken, and stood in a body at some distance. But before I had taken many steps I hastily cast my eye towards the gentleman, and saw the Indian’s tomahawk gash into his back, and heard him utter his last groan; this added both to my speed and desperation.

I had left this shocking scene but a few yards when a fine boy of about twelve years of age, that had hitherto escaped, came up to me, and begged that I would let him lay hold of me, so that he might stand some chance of getting out of the hands of the savages. I told him that I would give him every assistance in my power, and to this purpose bid him lay hold; but in a few moments he was torn from my side, and by his shrieks I judge was soon demolished. I could not help forgetting my own cares for a minute to lament the fate of so young a sufferer; but it was utterly impossible for me to take any methods to prevent it.

I now got once more into the midst of friends, but we were unable to afford each other any succor. As this was the division that had advanced the farthest from the fort, I thought there might be a possibility (though but a very bare one) of my forcing a way through the outer ranks of the Indians and getting to a neighboring wood, which I perceived at some distance. I was still encouraged to hope by the almost miraculous preservation I had already experienced.

Nor were my hopes vain or the efforts I made ineffectual. Suffice to say that I reached the wood, but by the time I had penetrated a little way into it my breath was so exhausted that I threw myself into a brake, and lay for some minutes apparently at the last gasp. At length I recovered power of respiration, but my apprehensions returned with all their former force when I saw several savages pass by, probably in pursuit of me, at no very great distance.

In this situation I knew not whether it was better to proceed or endeavor to conceal myself where I lay till night came on. Fearing, however, that they would return the same way, I thought it most prudent to get farther from the dreadful scene of my past distresses. Accordingly, striking into another part of the wood, I hastened on as fast as the briers and the loss of one of my shoes would permit me, and, after a slow progress of some hours, gained a hill that overlooked the plain which I had just left, from whence I could discern that the bloody storm still raged with unabated fury.

But not to tire my readers, I shall only add that after passing three days without subsistence, and enduring the severity of the cold dews for three nights, I at length reached Fort Edward; where with proper care my body soon recovered its wonted strength and my mind, as far as the recollection of the late melancholy events would permit, its usual composure.

It was computed that fifteen hundred persons were killed or made prisoners by these savages during this fatal day. Many of the latter were carried off by them and never returned. A few, through favorable accidents, found their way back to their native country after having experienced a long and severe captivity.

The brave Colonel Munro had hastened away, soon after the confusion began, to the French camp to endeavor to procure the guard agreed by the stipulation; but his application proving ineffectual, he remained there till General Webb sent a party of troops to demand and protect him back to Fort Edward. But these unhappy occurrences, which would probably have been prevented had he been left to pursue his own plans, together with the loss of so many brave fellows, murdered in cold blood, to whose valor he had so lately been a witness, made such an impression on his mind that he did not long survive. He died in about three months of a broken heart, and with truth might it be said that he was an honor to his country.

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