The Emigrants in Arms

From A History of the Irish Settlers in North America by Thomas D'Arcy McGee

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Chapter IV.

The Emigrants in Arms—Adventure of John Stark—The Irish Brigade in Canada—Indian Wars—Peace of 1763—Dawn of the Revolution

FRANCE and England had early laid claim to the same American territory. France claimed through Cartier's discovery; England through Cabot's. France possessed the Gulf of St. Lawrence, (excepting Newfoundland,) the banks of the Kennebec, the St. Lawrence, St. John, and Ottawa, Lakes Champlain and Ontario, and had its forts on the present sites of Detroit, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. French adventurers had sketched a magnificent arch of empire on the basis of the Atlantic, which the English settlements penetrated as so many arrows, all pointed towards the west.

Each power had its "friendly Indians." The New Hampshire settlers loosed the Penacooks on the French in Maine, and they, in return, used the Aroostooks against New Hampshire. Small expeditions were continually issuing from the settlements of each race, but no considerable armament was equipped, until the expedition against Louisburg, Cape Breton, in 1744. William Vaughan, of Portsmouth, suggested this expedition; Massachusetts furnished 3000 men; New Hampshire, 500; Rhode Island, 300; New York contributed cannon, and Pennsylvania a quantity of provisions. The place attacked was the Quebec of that day, but it was forced to surrender to the gallantry and skill of the besiegers. This was in June, 1745. The military history of America dates from that remarkable event,—the Trojan war of the future republic.

An Indian frontier war continued in Vermont and New Hampshire for four years. In 1749, there was a truce, but in 1753 the barbarous strife was again renewed. In this year a striking story is told of four hunters from Londonderry, who had "wandered in quest of game", into the territory of the Canadian Aroostooks. Two of them were scalped, and two taken prisoners. They were condemned at St. Francis to run the gauntlet. "This consists in passing through two files of warriors, each of whom is privileged to give the prisoners a blow. The elder of the prisoners passed through first, and suffered little less than death. The younger and remaining one was a lad of sixteen years. When his turn came, he marched forward with a bold air, snatched a club from the nearest Indian, and attacked the warriors as he advanced on the lines, dealing the blows right and left with a merciless and almost deadly force. Nothing in the conduct of a prisoner so charms the savage mind as a haughty demeanor and contempt of death. The old men were amused and delighted; the young warriors were struck with admiration at the gallant bearing of the youthful captive. They next ordered him to hoe corn. He cut it up by the roots, declaring that such work was fit for squaws, but unworthy of warriors. From that period he became their favorite. They adopted him as a son, and gave him the title of "Young Chief." They dressed him in the highest style of Indian splendor, and decorated him with wampum and silver. It was not long after this, that Captain Stevens was despatched on an embassy to Canada to redeem the captives. The first one offered him was their favorite young chief. Captain Stevens received him at their hands with delight. But no one of the rude warriors recognized, in the young chief of their affection, the future American General, JOHN STARK.[1]

In 1754, Montcalm became Governor of Canada, and made active preparations for war. The Albany Conference for the union of the colonies was held, and though at that time the union miscarried, a greater harmony of action was established. The campaign of 1755 began with three expeditions against the French forts. In that against Crown Point, on Lake George, Captain McGinnes, of New Hampshire, "fell on the French, at the head of 200 men, and completely routed them." After turning the fortunes of the day, he fell, mortally wounded. The other two expeditions utterly failed. It was in covering the retreat of the one against Fort Du Quesne, that George Washington, then very young, first distinguished himself in arms.

The war, at this juncture, brought the "Irish Brigade" in the French armies to the Canadian frontier. They had been brought from the West Indies to the shores of the Saint Lawrence, for their country was with the lilies of France wherever they might grow. In 1756 and 7 they were at Oswego, under Montcalm, and probably participated in the capture of that fort, Fort George, and Fort William Henry.[2] Some of their number, leaving the service of the Bourbons, settled in the new world, and one, at least, attained to distinguished honors, in after years, under the flag of the Republic.[3]

In the campaigns of '58 and '59, fortune again returned to the British side. Louisburg was retaken, and Fort Du Quesne carried. Ticonderoga was at first assailed in vain, with terrible loss to the besiegers, but was taken at the second attack, as Niagara, and, finally, Quebec, were also. In 1760, English arms ended the dominion of the French, in Canada, as, twenty years later, French aid ended that of England, at Yorktown. So one nail drove out the other. The treaty of Paris, in 1763, gave America one master less; the treaty of Paris, 1783, gave her almost complete independence.

Among the officers who commanded under Wolf at the capture of Quebec, was an Irish gentleman, Richard Montgomery, then in his twenty-first year. He held the rank of colonel. John Stark, John Sullivan, and others, served their apprenticeship in the same Canadian war. Other days, and heavier responsibilities, were reserved for these brave men.

Each colony had its own Indian wars, which were the constant schools of the future soldiers of the Revolution. The formidable Delawares and Hurons kept the settlers of Pennsylvania and Western New York constantly on the alert, and trained to hardy enterprise the defenders of the new clearings.

The power of the Delawares was not thoroughly broken till after the Revolution, during the progress of which they were formidable auxiliaries to the Tories and British. Many terrible stories of their cruelties and punishment yet linger in the valley of the Susquehanna. The escape of Pike, an Irish deserter from the British army, and three others, from ten Indian sentinels, near Tioga Point, is one of the best of these anecdotes, and might have furnished a subject to the author of the Leather-stocking Tales. Though less abused than Simon Butler, Pike required equal courage and skill, to overcome his guard, and tread back his way to Wyoming.

But it was on the southern frontier, adjoining the Spanish settlements, that Indian warfare was most formidable and implacable. The Spanish authorities in Florida constantly urged forward the fierce Yemasses to the re-conquest of the Carolinas. From the commencement of the century to the war of independence, the settlers on the Santee and Savannah never knew repose. The names of Governor Moore, Captains Lynch and Kearns, and of Marion, frequently appear as defenders of the whites. In this most trying warfare was trained that dauntless guerilla host, afterwards famous as "Marion's Men," among whom the names of Colonels Horry and McDonald, of Captains Conyers and McCauley, are so conspicuous.

The peace of 1763 had scarcely been promulgated, when the question of taxing the colonies, in London, was raised. In the British Parliament, in 1764, it was first nakedly brought forward. Previous to this, they had submitted to many arbitrary prohibitions on their woollen and iron manufactures, and their West Indian imports. In March, 1764, "the Stamp Act" was enacted at London, and Dr. Franklin wrote to Charles Thompson, one of the Irish settlers of Pennsylvania, "The sun of liberty is set; the Americans must light the lamps of industry and economy." To which Thompson replied: "Be assured we shall light torches of quite another sort."[4]

In the Virginia Assembly, Patrick Henry, a gentleman of Scottish origin, in the beginning of 1765, exclaimed, "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles had his Cromwell, and George the Third—(being interrupted with the cry of 'Treason,' he added)—may profit by their example. If that be treason, make the most of it!"

In the preliminary moral contest, which arose universally, the Irish settlers were not unrepresented. John Rutledge, in South Carolina, was the first man whose eloquence roused that state to the lever of resistance. In the east, Langdon and Sullivan seized the guns at Newcastle, which thundered at Bunker Hill. Washington, at Valley Forge, is reported to have said, "Place me in Rockbridge county, and I'll get men enough to save the Revolution." In Maryland, Charles Carrol of Carrolton, over the signature of "First Citizen," maintained the rights of the people, in a long and spirited controversy with Daniel Dulany, the royalist champion, "who had long stood the leading mind of Maryland." His services were well appreciated, and public meetings at Baltimore, Frederick, and Annapolis, confirmed the title he had assumed, and Maryland proudly owned Charles Carrol for her "First Citizen." Charles Thompson, of Pennsylvania, afterwards Secretary to Congress, was also one of the earliest and most fearless advocates of the principles on which the Revolution proceeded, that the country could reckon; and, happily, there was no scarcity of such men, of any European race.

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[1] Barstow's New Hampshire, p. 139. The original name of Stark was Star-kie, or Stark-ey, as it is spelt on the monument of the father of the General, at Stark's Mills, now Manchester, N. H.

[2] O'Callaghan. Documentary History of New York. It is strange that Forman, in his Memoir of the Brigade, and Mathew O'Connor, in his Military Memoirs, make no mention of their having seen the American "mainland."

[3] General Hand. In memory of this celebrated legion, a portion of the Pennsylvania line, during the war of the Revolution, styled themselves "The Irish Brigade."

[4] See Appendix No. II.