Sunday, July 6, 2014

Forts near Presque Isle in the Kabinettskriege Era (part 2)

Dear Reader,

When we last left Erie, PA, we saw that the French had abandoned their fort in the region in 1759. This abandonment was indicative of the French position in the colonial back-country, which they called the Pays d'en Haut. In 1759 and 1760, the French position in North America was collapsing, as they faced immense challenges, such as the capture of Louisbourg and Quebec City. By 1761, the fighting in North America had died down, with full British control of Canada and North America accepted.

In an effort to exert more control of the newly conquered parts of their domains, the British built and garrisoned forts, often on the site of old French forts. In the case of Presque Isle, the British rebuilt the burned French fort, along a different pattern and in a slightly different location.

As you can see in this photo, the British constructed a new fort slightly to the west of the old French fortification. It is marked "B" on the map above. Built by Major Robert Rogers in 1760, this fort, like Fort de la Presqu'Ile, was designed to guard the area, but was built along the lake-shore, for ease of access and supply. The British constructed a different manner of fort than their French predecessors. With the French threat removed, their was no need to worry about European artillery assault, and therefore, Rogers ignored the Vauban-style of fortifcation in his design. Fort Presque Isle, as this fort was called, was a simply four walls and a blockhouse. While this fort was not designed resist artillery attack, it proved difficult for Native America attackers to overwhelm.  While not a large fort, it connected distant Fort Pitt and Fort Detroit with British command at Fort Niagara.

With the retreat of the French from North America, various Indian tribes began to worry about what British control of North America would mean for them. While some tribes, such as the Mohawks, were traditional British allies, many others such as the Ottawas, were deeply troubled by the absence of the drapeu blanc in back-country.

Around this time, two Indian figures, one Delaware, and one Ottawa, began to change the way in which Indians conceived of themselves in relation to Europeans. Neolin, often called, "the Delaware Prophet," was a spiritual leader, who preached that Indians should abandon European entanglements, and drive Europeans from their lands. He was a pivotal force in establishing the idea of "Pan-Indian" identity. These ideas were supported by an Ottawa war-leader named Pontiac. In 1763, Pontiac began an uprising which still bears his name, although he did not exert personal control over most of the Indians involved in the struggle. One of the targets for the Indian uprising was Fort Presque Isle.

The current location of the British Fort Presque Isle
In the face of this uprising, Ensign John Christie commanded Fort Presque Isle. He had slightly less than thirty soldiers under his command,  and was faced with an Indian force of 250 Chippewas, Ottawas, and Hurons. Christie attempted to avoid the confrontation, but upon coming within musket range of the fort, the Native American warriors opened fire.

Realizing that it would be pointless to attempt to defend the entire fort with only thirty men, Christie withdrew his soldiers into the blockhouse- the two story building in the northwestern corner of the fort. The Indians swiftly broke into the fort, and employed effective siege techniques, such as using a mobile shield constructed from an outbuilding, to cover their advance. The battle for Fort Presque Isle lasted three days, mostly consisting of efforts by Native American warriors to set the blockhouse on fire. Ensign Christie, his soldiers, and one woman- the wife of a soldier, fought a desperate battle to keep the Indians pinned down long enough to extinguish the fires on the blockhouse.

On the evening of the second day, the Indians attempted to convince the garrison to surrender, first by offering them terms in French, and finally, when it was obvious none of the garrison spoke French, getting an English deserter who fought with the Ottawas to communicate with Christie. After much deliberation, the English agreed to surrender, upon being given assurances that they would be free to march away unharmed. The Indians promptly burned the fort to the ground, and after convincing the British to lay down their arms, captured all but two of the British soldiers.

While Ensign Christie was eventually returned to the British at Fort Detroit, the fate of the rest of the captives is unknown.

After the fall of Fort Presque Isle, the British managed to suppress Pontiac's Rebellion. They were in America to stay, and no amount of effort by Native Americans could force them out. Erie would remain abandoned until 1795, when a new power would construct yet another fort in the region.

Thanks for Reading!

Alex Burns