Friday, June 13, 2014

Forts near Presque Isle in the Kabinettskriege Era (part 1)

The modern site of the historic fortifications of Erie, PA
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to look at the history of a place a little closer to home than normal. While much of the fighting of the Kabinettskriege era went on in places far away from my rustic midwestern living quarters, some of it occurred quite close to home. Erie, Pennsylvania, is a town with a rich historical background. While probably best well known to historical enthusiasts for its rich naval history, focusing on the War of 1812, there is another, equally important part of Erie history which has been overlooked by most of the town's inhabitants.

Before it was the home of the flagship Niagara, or the supply post of Oliver Hazard Perry, Erie was the center of a different conflict. Not between the British and the Americans, but between the French and the British, and various Native American forces. In the Kabinettskriege era, Erie was located in a hotly disputed territory referred to as the Pays d'en Haut, or what we might refer to in English as the "Upper Country," or colonial back-country. Erie was not a town then, or even a population center, it was part of a vast territory under dispute by many peoples: the French, the British, and various Indian peoples. At the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, Erie was the site of a French colonial fort, Fort de la Presqu'Ile.

Historical Marker near the site of Fort de la Presqu'Ile
As you can see, Fort de la Presqu'Ile was the built in the Vauban model of fortifications (often colloquially referred to as "star forts") and consisted of four corner star bastions connected by curtain walls. It contained a small French garrison, (100 or fewer men,) and a few small cannons, and flew the drapeu blanc, the white flag which symbolized French military power in America. However, as Dr. Daniel Ingram has decisively demonstrated in his book, Indians and British Outposts in Eighteenth Century America, Native Americans would not have been overawed by this relatively weak timber construction. It was a place of cultural exchange, not cultural domination.  When the Seven Years' War broke out, the French managed to successfully defend Fort Duquesne, in modern day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a two hour drive to the south of modern day Erie. However, this French success could not last forever, as British naval action had severely hampered the flow of reinforcements to North America.

In an issue of the Erie county historical society magazine from the turn of the century, a local historian found an engineer's description of the fort:
"The body of the work was in the form of a parallelogram, about seventy five by one hundred and five feet, with bastions in the form of polygons at each of the four angles. The gate fronted the river. In the interior were the magazine, fifteen by eighteen feet,  protected by a thickness of three feet of earth, and several buildings for officers' barracks. Two of these were eighteen by fifty feet, with three others that were smaller. The barracks were two stories high, and furnished with stone chimenys.  A door in the northeastern bastion led to a large cellar. The soldiers' barracks consisted of forty-four separate buildings  chiefly on the north and east sides. "

However, in the summer of July, 1759, disaster struck. The larger and more important Fort Niagara, near Youngstown, NY, had been attacked by overwhelming British forces. As a result, the forts in modern northwestern, PA were expected to send forces to Niagara's relief. Fort de la Presqu'Ile, For Le Boeuf, and Fort Machault all sent a significant portion of their garrisons in an effort to break the British siege. These soldiers were defeated in the Battle of La Belle-Famille, leaving the western French forts almost undefended.

Thus, in the high summer of 1759, the French made the decision to abandon their forts in the Pays d'en Haut. They gave whatever they could not carry with them to their Indian allies, and burned their wooden forts to the ground.

Sadly, that is all I have time for today. Tune in soon for the continuation of this story- when the British construct a new fort in the area, and that fort, in its turn, is attacked by Native Americans.

Thanks for Reading!

Alexander Burns

Friday, June 6, 2014


Dear Blog Readers,

Sorry for the long delay in writing! I am alive and well, but between graduating with my MA, moving to a new apartment, starting a new job, and a number of other personal changes, I've not had much time to blog. I will be teaching as an adjunct professor at Indiana Wesleyan University starting on June 30th, so I will have much more time to blog then, as opposed to my current job, where I am away from the writing desk 40+ hours a week.

However, I thought I might give you a preview of what's to come.

I will be doing a piece on Fort de Presque Isle during the Seven Years' War and Pontiac's Rebellion. In addition, I will be reviewing some more books, so if you don't like book reviews, let me know in the comments, and I will do something else.

As always, I am open to your feedback regarding potential topics. If you have something about warfare from 1648-1789, you would like me to right about, let me know!

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns