During King George’s War (1744-1748), the primary military encounters in the Saratoga area were focused on the Schuyler estate and associated settlements and Fort Saratoga/Fort Clinton.
The most significant event was the November 1745 First Battle of Saratoga in which a force of French and Indian allies from Fort St. Frederic (at Crown Point) attacked the village, burning 30 houses, several mills, and the fort as well as killing, scalping, and capturing soldiers and residents. (You can read about that here.)
That event can be characterized more as a raid than a battle as English military forces never engaged the French in any organized fashion. Militia and regular forces, if any were present, had abandoned the fort. As a result, the French and their Native allies were unconstrained by English defenses.
(On June 17th, 1745, Louisburg had capitulated to New Englanders under General William Pepperrell, aided by a fleet commanded by Commodore Peter Warren, which had given the English command of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, helping to cut off Quebec from France.)
“Continued Depredations,” 1746
Fort Clinton was built on the footprint of the destroyed Fort Saratoga in 1746, a year in which there were a series of short skirmishes. In January 1746, Captain Nicholas Schuyler informed the Assembly that the “Fort at Saraghtoga goes on with success.”
Nicholas was likely the engineer for the construction of the fort and was trained as surveyor. Life in the border area remained difficult, as numbers of enemy scouting parties roamed the area, even venturing near Schenectady. Out-scouts from the fort found a woman between Saratoga and Crown Point scalped, her identity unknown.
The French continued to reconnoiter around Saratoga, monitoring the movement of troops and Native scouts. On April 20, 1746, a party of 14 French Iroquois from the Sault St. Louis Mission on the St. Lawrence River, commanded by Ontassago, son of a sachem, made several scouting expeditions to Saratoga at the end of April and into May.
The Indian Commissioners reported on “the Barbarous Murder & Scalping of a principal Farmer at Schaahkook” that occurred at the end of April, which was likely the first raid undertaken by Ontassago and his warriors. The farmer was later identified as Harme Van Veghten (Vechten) who also owned and operated a sawmill along the Hoosick River.
In May there was attack on a fishing party in Fisk Creek. The same roving group of French and Native allies likely retired northwards towards Crown Point, pausing along the way to scout the fort at Saratoga. A report in a Boston newspaper described a small skirmish outside the fort around May 13, 1746:
“From Albany Tuesday last 3 men from garrison at Saraghtoga were fishing near fort, they were surprised by a party of Indians, who killed one of them a son of William Norwood, and took another of them prisoner, a German who used to live with col. John Schuyler, while a third made an escape to the fort.”
These chilling actions by the French and their allies had the desired effect, as by late spring of 1746, Peter Wraxall himself toured the frontier and reported on the devastation:
“For upwards of 70 miles along the Hudsons River I was a Witness of an almost total desertion from all the Settlements… the grain within 4 miles of Albany was left unreaped & the lands uncultivated: such an universal Terror doe the Barbarity of a few Indians Inspire.”
An English out-scout was taken prisoner at the end of June 1746 by a party of 27 Iroquois led by Sieur Claude Drouet de Carqueville (who he died in 1755 at Fort Duquesne, Pittsburg during the Battle of Monongahela) and his cadet, Sieur Blein. Further raids were executed along the Hoosick River where 60 houses and barns were burned. A raid in Kinderhook (now in Columbia County, NY) resulted in the capture of the son of John Vosburgh and daughter of Isaac Teunis Van Deusen.
Soon a flight ensued from the countryside into the palisaded city of Albany, where residents felt a relative sense of peace. The Indian Commissioners writing to the Council in New York City commented: “Many of the farmers seek shelter in Albany, whose leaders continue to petition the governor and Assembly for men, money, and support.”
Similar fears where had in Boston and around New England, which was rife with rumors that the french would soon attack in retaliation for the taking of Louisburg. In a June 28th speech to the Council and House of Representatives of Massachusetts Bay, Governor William Shirley warned that if the French remained in control of Quebec “all His Majesty’s Colonies on the Northern Continent of America” would be threatened.
In July 1746, the French took an Albany postal carrier prisoner on his way to Saratoga. The man, named Robert Dusenbury, was eventually transported to Montreal for additional questioning. The letters carried by Dusenbury were a small trove of intelligence that provided information that an army of 13,000 English soldiers were planning to depart for Saratoga where 600 troops were now stationed en route to attack Fort St. Frederic at Crown Point.
A Failed American Offensive
Colonial companies raised in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia planned to rendezvous at Albany, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Roberts, to await provisioning and regulars from England. Supplies and men were to be carried north with new canoes being built at Albany and “Menade” (likely Menands, near Schuyler Flatts). The Province of New York provided for 1,600 men, and also four independent companies of one hundred men each. Colonel William Johnson met with the Iroquois and was chosen by them chosen to be their colonel.
A second prong of the attack was aimed at Montreal and the Upper St. Lawrence. Provincials of Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut were to rendezvous at Louisburg as soon as possible, where they were to await the arrival of Lieutenant-General James Sinclair and the eight battalions of regulars, with the fleet commanded by Rear Admiral Peter Warren.
The fleet with provisions and regulars never did arrive, however. Instead, the King directed them to make an expedition against Brittany in France. Efforts by Shirley to redirect the assembled forces against Crown Point were also eventually abandoned. In October, 1747, Shirley and Commodore Charles Knowles issued a proclamation, “that the King, finding it necessary to employ the greater part of his forces to aid his allies and to defend the liberties of Europe, had. thought proper to lay aside for the present the intended expedition against Canada.”
(The Knowles Riot, also known as the Impressment Riot of 1747, was a three-day riot in Boston that began on 17 November 17, 1747, in response to the impressment of 46 Bostonians by Knowles into the Royal Navy. The Knowles Riot was the largest impressment riot in North America, and the most serious uprising by the American colonists in Colonial America prior to the Stamp Act protests of 1765. A few days after the incident, an anonymous writer — probably Samuel Adams — published a pamphlet praising the rioters for defending their natural rights. This was the first time the ideas of John Locke were used to justify resistance to the authority of the Crown in the American colonies.)
The Schuyler Rescue Attempt
In September 1746 the French sent a small contingent to Saratoga under the command of Monsieur de Montigy (Monsigin?). The party scouted the fort and witnessed little activity, but just before departing, a small detachment of soldiers were seen carrying clay to the fort for the new chimneys. The French surprised the group and overtook eight of the 20 men before they could take shelter in the blockhouse. Of the eight, four were killed and four were taken prisoners from the militia commanded by Captain Schuyler.
Schuyler attempted a daring rescue attempt with the remaining troops of the garrison. At the time, it was speculated that if Schuyler had been cut off the fort, he may have fallen into enemy hands. Reports in newspaper from September 1746 describe the incident:
“We learn from Saragtoga, that the Indians have lately killed 4 men and taken 4 more prisoners, belonging to the independent companies quartered there, Capt. Schuyler who commands the militia posted here went out to their assistance, but he had like to have been cut off and with difficulty made his retreat to the fort, the enemy being so numerous, that they kept the field, and it’s thought that had they succeeded in cutting off Capt. Schuyler’s retreat, they would have taken the fort.”
Throughout the summer, the distractions of fort construction and maintenance allowed the French to move about relatively freely through the English frontier. The autumn brought more of the same types of guerrilla tactics against the garrison at Fort Clinton. The Pennsylvania Gazette reported from the frontier that in October “Indians have killed and taken 16 men at Saratoga, about a mile from the fort, belonging to Capt. Langdon’s and Capt. Hart’s company.”
In October 1746, M. de Repentigny by order of the Governor of Montreal set out with a patrol of 100 Frenchmen and Native allies throughout Northern New York, burning two villages and capturing several prisoners. While reconnoitering the road between Albany and Saratoga, perhaps near Halfmoon, they observed a party of “fusilleers” likely led by Captain Livingston guarding wagonloads of materiel, troops, and officers.
The convoy consisted of a guard of about 150 men at its head, with a small gap separating several wagons from the main group. Repentigny convinced a number of his Native allies to attack the lagging wagons, and killed several of the drivers. Reports by Repentigny himself of the skirmish vary. In one account, three officers were killed along with 20 soldiers and three prisoners taken. In another account, he describes the killing of two men and the wounding of another.
The French also continued to harass the English by taking out-scout prisoners. In November, Jonathan Hagadorn and John Fort were taken captive near Fort Ann and both later died in captivity at Quebec City.
The Second Battle of Saratoga, 1747
The Second Battle of Saratoga occurred in February, 1747 while the troops were gathering firewood. The area of the skirmish located outside of the fort along the military road, likely to the west. The exact location of the engagement is not clear in the historical records. Without the artillery or superior numbers to directly confront the fort, the French were content with “hit and run” engagements.
The battle may have been located along the modern US Route 4 corridor, immediately west of Fort Clinton. The exact location of the skirmish is unknown, nor is it known how the French managed to engage the English detachment. Presumably, they hid along the wooded roadside for cover and concealment.
The attack likely happened near the fort in an effort to “draw out” more of the garrison so they could be engaged, but this is speculative without corroborating archeological evidence. The raid left a few casualties among the soldiers and settlers outside the walls of the fort, and succeeding in deflating morale.
The absence of ready firewood may have played into incidents that developed into the Second Battle of Saratoga in February 1747. Captain Livingston relieved the former commander at the fort, Nicholas Schuyler, by March 1747. Just before, as Captain Livingston was set to return to the garrison at Albany, the French set out to strike the fort. According to the account of the Second Battle of Saratoga in the Pennsylvania Journal in 1747:
“22 February part of 12 of forces from the garrison at Saraghtoga (at which place there are six companies posted) going out for fire-wood in the morning, and adventuring too hastily without the usual guard appointed one of them happened to step a little out of the road, when an Indian met him and told him he was his prisoner, and the Indian going to take off his belt to bind him, he being a stout fellow shov’d the Indian down in the snow then took up his hatch and was going to knock him on the head but another Indian approached, he was obliged to take to his heels crying out the enemy is upon us; both of the Indians fired at him, one of which shot through the skirt of his coat, and the other his heel, while the whole party of Indians immediately fired upon the rest of the Company, four of whom they kil’d outright, carried off four more prisoners, wounded three more, two of whom is thought mortally, and only one got off unhurt. Parties were immediately sent in quest of them, but believed to no purpose, except to alarm the other garrisons of the danger”.
Thirty Frenchmen and Natives killed six English soldiers, including an officer, and took four captives. French accounts suggested another 15 took flight and abandoned their arms. An examination of the prisoners revealed that the fort sported 12 cannons, six 18-pounders and six eight-pounders, with a garrison of 300 men placed there for defensive purposes.
Reportedly, there were 100 bateaux built at the fort and another 600 awaiting in Albany for an attack on Crown Point. The French also learned of the sickness (likely small pox) that was devastating the population at Albany and Saratoga where “a great many died this winter.”
The garrison was running low on provisions and disgruntled by lack of pay, despite the best efforts of the Assembly. The officer who had been killed in the
skirmish was carrying a small cache of correspondence that also provided useful information to the French. According to a letter from Captain Livingston, all of the soldiers at the fort were ill and only about 100 were fit for any duty. The men were in want of “every succor,” and the fort itself was in the “worse condition that can possibly be imagined.”
Also stationed at the fort was a detachment under the command of Captain Trent with “new levies” raised for an expedition against Canada. The detachment was awaiting new clothes that had recently arrived in Albany. The commanders in Albany were still considering a major expedition, but continued to dither while waiting for materiel, men, and money.
Both the men and officers at Saratoga had wished to be on the offensive rather than sitting idly by as the French and their allies roved about the countryside, which likely added to the demoralization of troops. The mood among the troops was deep and dangerously pervasive, and sometimes manifested in intra-personal violence.
On June 23, 1748, Thomas Anderson was executed for the attempted murder of an officer while being punished. Before the sentence was carried out, he also confessed as “he was going to Saraghtoga” he shot a soldier, later presumed by his commanding officers to have been killed by the French. In the fear and frenzy created by the French and Native allies, little attention was paid to the crime, which likely would have never come to light without the perpetrator’s confession.
Following the short battle, by June, several of prisoners taken at Saratoga had made their way to Quebec City from Montreal, with more expected in the future (Drake 1870:293). Fortunately for the prisoners, many were released in August 1747 from the Quebec jail, when the number of prisoners increased dramatically and the French no longer wished to house and feed them. Word reached Albany by the end of July that the Canadian government wished for the prisoners to be redeemed (at a price, of course) so that they may be sent back to the English colonies.
The Third Battle of Saratoga, April 1747
On April 13, 1747, a skirmish very similar to the Second Battle between the English and French at Fort Clinton was reported by Captain William Trent of Pennsylvania and under separate cover by Captain Livingston to Colonel Marshall. These accounts also mark the first time the fort is referred to as “Fort Clinton.”
While a party of men was sent out from the fort to cut wood, French and Native out-scouts attacked, killing four, wounding two, and likely taking two others prisoner. The French were led by Lieutenant Fredrick-Louis Herbin (sometimes identified as Sherbine).
Several accounts, largely based on the same letter from one of the commanding officers at Saratoga, also subsequently appeared in newspapers detailing the skirmish.
Captain Trent with a party of “new levies” went with Lt. Proctor on a detail north of the fort escorting troops forward. The waters of the surrounding swamp were of “considerable height from flood” and instead the detachment chose to cross the swamp “where Capt. Schuyler’s house stood” in order to get to the other side. Presumably they were trying to access the military road on the west side of the Hudson River.
As soon as they came to the Ten Broeck farm they were ambushed; presumably between the fort and the Schuyler house. The detachment was screened from the ambuscade by a “small rising ground within 40 yards of the road” and the French fired a withering volley on Proctor’s men, immediately killing eight and wounding others.
The enemy’s strength was estimated at about 60 men and confirmed by Herbin’s account. Captain Trent and Lieutenant Proctor’s troops held ranks and retuned the volley, which may have had greater affect if so many of their guns did not misfire.
The skirmish lasted an hour after ammunition was exhausted and Captain Trent and his men retreated into the nearby swamp “below a bank, behind some trees” where some soldiers fired as many as 16 volleys to keep the enemy at bay. One account in a letter from John Rutherford to Cadwallader Colden places the defensive position 1.5 miles from the fort, but this seems inaccurate.
Captain Livingston, upon hearing of the engagement, sent two parties from the fort to assist their beleaguered comrades. The first under Ensign Braat moved to prevent the enemy from advancing and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. The Braat detachment did not cross the swamp but fired from “the other side of the water” keeping the French from advancing down the hill.
The support troops only suffered a single causality under the command of Captain Hart. At the same time, Lieutenant Johnson and Lieutenant Hall led another detachment around the swamp to out-flank the French—instead they happened upon their encampment some two miles from the attack. The movement took too long, but the party was able to briefly engage the French during their retreat, wounding one and taking another, Julian Fortian, prisoner, while the rest of the French party disbanded leaving their baggage behind.
In all, the English lost nine men, with another nine were wounded and six missing, most likely from the initial volley of the French. Herbin reported 12 killed and three prisoners for the French.
In their haste while departing their camp, the French and their allies left behind an array of material including “one scalp of our own people’s which they (the enemy) dropped, 5 kettles, 23 deer skins, 12 blankets, 19 Indian shoes, 15 knives, 3 looking glasses, 1 gun, 1 pistol, 5 lbs powder, 4 lbs ball, several bags of meal, bread, chocolate, paint, etc.” The author of the account described the cache as a small “recompense” for our loss.
The officer described the difficulty in combating the French who utilized “their unmanly lurking way of fighting” to blunt the activities of the garrison. For maximum effectiveness, he estimated that 400 men would be needed to garrison the fort, while there was half that number at the time. However, fresh troops could only do so much, as the officers at Saratoga continued to turn mutinous for lack of pay.
Following their attack at Saratoga, the French proceeded to Kinderhook, south of Albany, where they surprised a working party of eleven men, killing two and taking the rest captive (Drake 1870:142). They continued a path of destruction through the countryside burning a house and barn belonging to John Van Alstine.
The conditions at Saratoga in the spring of 1747 continued to plague the best intentions to reinforce the garrison, as Colonel Roberts reported to the council that the troops demanded to be immediately replaced or to desert the fort. The council recommended the governor provide immediate payment and allowances to induce the “new levies” to remain at the fort.
Word had spread about the poor conditions at Saratoga to other troops as well. Captain Alburtis Tiebout’s company of volunteers, two companies at Schaghticoke, and detachments of men from Halfmoon and Niskayuna all refused to march to Saratoga to relieve the garrison.
To assist the situation, the New York government appealed to Massachusetts and Connecticut for assistance. In the meanwhile, Colonel Nicholas Schuyler, and his local
militia, were ordered to move from Albany to Saratoga, and the Rangers from Kinderhook were also ordered to the frontier. By the end of July however, New York was becoming increasingly preoccupied with sending scouting parties from Saratoga to Fort Massachusetts to assist with the continuing trouble in that area.
The Assembly and Governor sought a company of rangers to be employed along the frontier to assist in scouting the movement of the French and their allies. In April 1747, Andrew Lambert Hough and Johannes de Wanderlaer were appointed rangers for northern Albany county, with the new commission of Captain and Lieutenant, respectively.
Even Massachusetts understood the importance of rangers and pressured the colonial government of Connecticut to provide 100 troops to scout between “the Fort at Sarahtoga and Massachusetts Fort & back, for a few months during the summer season” as a means to secure its western frontiers.
The movement of New England troops to the frontier appears to be a tactic in the larger strategy of the Governor in raising a significant force to thwart the French at Crown Point. In early May 1747, the governor set forth his most coherent and detailed plan for the execution of the war and presented it to the General Assembly.
First, however, he bemoaned the fact the frontier communities were no longer willing to shoulder the burden of providing intelligence to the colonial government. “While last in Albany I could not persuade any to range the woods for less than 3 shillings a day and provisions, though it was to defend themselves, their
near relatives, neighbors, and their estates…” the governor declared.
In a response to the growing chorus of critics to the governor, he explained in broad terms the factors contributing to the lack of progress in utilizing the new levies on the frontier, including sickness at Albany and elsewhere, lack of sufficient provisions, and distractions caused by continued maintenance and upkeep of the Saratoga fort.
The governor also stated several of his efforts, including sending parties of new levies as scouts, while Native allies continued to harass the French and the establishment of a camp at the carrying place to accommodate 500 troops for defense as well as a magazine and stores for a future expedition. The
new levies, according to the governor, were utilized in a variety of manner to secure the frontier, including being stationed at the Mohawks’ Upper Castle and Lower Castle, Schenectady, Niskayuna, Halfmoon, Schaghticoke, as well as the main garrisons at Saratoga and Albany.
Despite the pressing need, however, no other small forts were erected due to lack of funds from the assembly. As for Saratoga, the governor’s impression of the fortification and garrison there had clearly begun to sour, as implied by his portent of actions in the coming months:
“though, by all information, which I had of that place, is the most disadvantageously situated that anything of the kind can be, as it cannot serve for any of the purposes which I had in view by the fortified camp at the carrying place. And is so over looked by hills covered with woods, that enemy’s skulking parties can discover every motion in the fort. By the lowness of the ground, the watery swamps round it, it has always been unhealthy, and has brought on a continued sickness in every garrison that has been placed in it. The event has, on too many occasions, proved the truth of these things.”
Increasing pressure on the colonial government to bolster the frontier defenses and the series of small skirmishes at the Saratoga fort characterized the run-up to the Fourth Battle of Saratoga during the summer of 1747. French intelligence, contrary to the governor’s statement, suggested that the English had abandoned their
forts and were starting to mass in and around Albany for a major expedition.
Yet the defensive posture within New York remained largely static even after the third attack on Saratoga. The French were sufficiently concerned that reinforcements were sent to Crown Point, and despite the obstacles placed in and along Wood Creek by M. de Rigaud the previous fall, the French were considering alternatives to
checking a possible advance along the “great carrying place,” including a greater effort to undermine the frontier post at Saratoga.
The Fourth Battle of Saratoga, June 1747
The fourth and final battle at Saratoga occurred in June 1747. In many ways, this was the most effective and sustained French attack on Fort Clinton. Like all of the skirmishes and battles before, this event was a tactical draw. However, the demoralizing effects of the maneuvering warfare undertaken by the French reached its height.
Following the Third Battle of Saratoga, the French continued to harass the garrison at Fort Clinton, sending an advance scout of about 50 men to Saratoga in early June in a prelude for a more significant expedition. By this time, desertion among the ranks left the fort lightly garrisoned, but the fort itself appears to have remained relatively stout despite its physical inadequacies.
Between about June 18 and 30, 1747 (the French accounts record June 23 to 30 and the English June 18 to 23), M. de la Corne St.-Luc, operating out of Crown Point, assembled a sizable French expedition of both Native allies and French military regulars. The regulars were led by M. de Carqueville, and Ensign Jean-Baptiste de Saint-Ours Deschaillons, Junior along with a smaller detachment of twenty French militia and 200 Native allies.
Also of note on the expedition was Lieutenant Herbin who had been on “frequent expeditions” to Saratoga, including the second battle. He likely provided critical intelligence to the party that assisted St.-Luc in his successful attack. Included among the forces was a young Charles Deschamps De Boishébert et De Raffetot, who was just starting his military career and later provided a narrative of the expedition long with St.-Luc himself at the conclusion of the war.
Three days after setting out from Fort St. Frederic, the party crossed over the Hudson River to the west side. St. Luc’s Abenaki allies expressed concern about moving out in the open along the flood plain of the river. They suggested an ambuscade from the little island in front of the fort, but St. Luc ordered them to go directly
to the fort and to stay together as a unit. Upon nearing the fort, the commander deployed M. de Carqueville with seven Indians to scout the movements of the English troops.
Moving about undetected, St.-Luc’s men happened upon a provisioning party of about 40 to 50 men fishing in what was described as a little river “on the side of fort,” likely Fish Creek. St.-Luc offered his double-barrel musket as a reward to the contingent for the first English prisoner taken, since he did not have a string of
However, the provisioning party returned to the fort before the French could engage. M. de Ours found a place to cross the river unnoticed by the English sentries seen patrolling the road, likely upstream of the falls along Fish Creek. From there upon the hills, the detachment could observe the fort on the floodplain below.
The remainder of the force forged the creek “a half a league above” the fort on June 29. The war party watched and waited but saw no movement within or outside of the fort. St.-Luc sent a scouting party south along the road to Albany, which returned fearing they had been detected.
Sensing he was losing time, St.-Luc created a ruse by posting seven Natives in an ambush on the Hudson River “within eighty paces” of the front of the fort. The group would then induce the garrison out of the fort through force or trickery. The ambush party returned to St.-Luc declaring that they had been detected and the plan could not be executed.
According to the English accounts, French allies attempted to trick the garrison into opening the fort’s gates, but without success. An account printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette reported: “We are informed that a French Indian came yesterday before the fort, fired his gun, and threw it down, shewed great signs of discontent; whereupon he was taken into the garrison and examined; but after he had been some time there, he made an attempt to escape over the stockades, upon which he was secured and put into irons.”
The English version is partially confirmed by other French accounts of a native discharging his gun near the fort. After the first ruse failed, deliberation between the French and Natives as how to proceed continued.
Eventually a party of Iroquois, Abenaki, and Nipissing (comprised of about six warriors) agreed to undertake another attempt at an ambush. The party was told that if large numbers of English forces left the fort, the remainder of the French detachment would advance and engage. St.-Luc asked the ambush party to lead the English forces into a trap at the north end of the field by dropping equipment and feigning injury.
On the morning of June 30, the French were finally able to launch a more sustained assault, when two English soldiers leaving the fort were fired upon. A larger party then left the fort to the aid of the initial two. At this point, the French ambush party retreated and St.-Luc brought the main body forward (likely moving south
from their position on a small rise north of the fort and just south of Fish Creek).
Over 100 English formed into lines under two lieutenants (one of whom was Lieutenant Chew) and four or five other officers. The English utilized a “wheel” movement to approach the former French ambush, seemingly unaware of the main body. The detachment marched through “a fine meadow” following along the edge of the river. When the British detachment came within range, St.-Luc ordered the French to fire.
The French fired forth a withering volley that immediately left four of the five forward English officers dead. According to English accounts, Lieutenant Chew (the only officer to survive the initial volley) was taken prisoner along with 37 other men, while 15 other soldiers had been killed.
Chew later fumed over the poor performance of his troops, who although “overmatch’d… some threw away their pieces, without ever firing them: others fired once and ran off.” Chew estimated the strength of the enemy at about 320, and received fair treatment at the hands of M. St.-Luc.
He and the other prisoners were first taken to Crown Point, then Montreal and eventually to Quebec City. He along with Henry Smith, Thomas Harlow, James English, Martin Winyard, Robert Active and Thomas Archer, all levies from Maryland and captured at Saratoga, were returned to Boston within two months of capture.
Undeterred, the British staggered but returned volley and were quickly provided cover from artillery within the fort in the form of grape shot and eleven cannon shots. Although the artillery caused confusion among the French and Indians, several parties advanced towards the fort fighting by hand. During the rush, several English soldiers ran into the river and others were set upon by the Natives.
No more than 25 English soldiers were able to re-enter the fort, upon which another 150 came out to assist without advancing beyond the gates. The English effectively left the field to the French and the engagement ended without pursuit from Fort Clinton’s garrison.
After collecting the plundered arms, St.-Luc ordered his troops to withdraw a safe distance from the fort while he tarried with a small scouting party about 200 yards from the fort (just outside of musket range and too close for artillery) to watch the movements of the enemy troops.
The remainder of St.-Luc’s party collected bounty from the field and quickly returned to their encampment about nine leagues (about 40 miles) above the fort likely along Lake George.
The French reported a slightly different tally from the English, suggesting 28 or 29 British killed and 41 or 45 taken prisoner, and another 20–30 fled or were drowned. The prisoners were quickly escorted to Crown Point, and rumor spread through the garrison that a larger body composed of 4,000 men was at the “great carrying place” with detachments determined to return with field pieces to lay siege to the fort.
The garrison reported that the French, although equipped with hand-grenades and “cohorns” did not avail themselves of the weapons and instead tried to set the block houses on fire “with burning punk on the end of their arrows.”
The French appear to have remained near the fort, forcing the garrison to stay within the gates until reinforcements arrived: a “great number of men are encamped on the other side of the Fish-Kill, and that M. le Core lies on this side of Sarghtoga, to intercept succors that may be sent to reinforce the garrison.”
The fort was described by the narrator as “150 feet long by one hundred wide” with six redoubts or barracks, four in the angles and two in the center of the curtain walls. It appeared to the French that the fort was doubled in size since the Marin attack and strengthened with revetments (rabetted), perhaps with entrenchments
fortified with logs or gabions.
After the skirmish it became increasingly clear that the colony did not have the men or resources to adequately defend Fort Clinton in Saratoga. In the immediate aftermath, more troops were sent forward to Saratoga to help protect it from further French harassment. Among them were the “New Jersey Blues” led by Colonel
The Pennsylvania Journal reported: “We have advice that Col. Peter Schuyler with his regiment, was arrived safely at Saraghtoga, and that the French withdrawn before the fort, and ‘tis thought are gone back to Crown Point, or to a fort they are said to have built at Wood Creek… all our forces that remain, are in good health and high spirits, and long rather to go against the French, than be thus destroyed, piece-meal.”
Similar sentiments of the precarious situation of Fort Clinton were expressed in the Pennsylvania Gazette: “Col. Peter Schuyler is now to go with his regiment to keep that garrison. I hope he may get there safe, tho’ many people are apprehensive that he will be cut off by the way and think a much greater force is necessary. We are in short, in the most deplorable situation imaginable, and is shocking to think in what this affair must terminate.”
By the middle of July, desertion was growing among the ranks of levies raised from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland in part due to the lack of pay (21 months’ worth). By this time, perhaps nearly half of all the new levies had left the frontier. French scouts reported the garrison at Saratoga was reduced to about
150 men, and the fort at Halfmoon had already been deserted.
M. de Rigaud set out from Crown Point to destroy the remaining forces at Saratoga. Arriving about the 17th of July and spending about three days around the fort, his detachment eventually withdrew. Rigaud noted that the garrison did not leave the fort and without cannons to fight the fort’s artillery it could not be taken without siege. Further complicating matters, his Native allies heard rumors of Mohawk warriors in the area, and appear to have been nervously lying in wait.
Newspaper accounts suggest that Colonel Schuyler, still commanding the garrison at the fort, estimated the enemy’s strength at 500 men, but “received no Harm from them, excepting one being wounded in the arm; but they killed many of the Enemy, and suppose they still lay near them….”
In mid-summer of 1747, it was clear to the colonial governments that the safety of the frontiers in both New York and New England depended on the reduction of Crown Point, as a base from which the French and their allies could operate. Despite efforts to raise a significant army to undertake the task over the course of the following two years, the expedition was never operationalized.
However, Saratoga and the New York frontiers partially benefited from the efforts to mount an attack at Crown Point, as men and materiel were positioned in the area in advance of the proposed assault.
Attention to pressuring Fort Clinton quickly waned during the summer and the French turned their focus eastward.
Colonel Johnson continued to range the woods of the frontier as directed by the Governor to assess the enemy’s movement and their strengths, especially around Crown Point. In August, Johnson returned to Albany to coordinate with Colonel Roberts and Colonel Marshall concerning the intelligence he had received. Johnson’s
scouts reported the construction of six log houses around the fort for the purpose of sheltering a group of about 40 Native allies.
More disconcerting was the assembly of 500 to 600 men on an island in the southern end of Lake George, from which daily forays were dispatched into English territory. Johnson wrote “I fear, e’er long (they will) kill Abundance of our People, burn and destroy all the grain Houses, & c. which will entirely ruin the People.”
To blunt the French attacks on the New York frontier, Johnson was able to leverage the support of the Mohawk, Seneca, and other Iroquois. Up to this point, they had tried to remain neutral, but in the closing year of the war many Iroquois warriors grew anxious to join the fray.
Johnson tried to persuade the Albany military leaders to provide 300 men to accompany his 300 Native warriors on an expedition to the borderlands in order to capitalize on the newfound interest in military involvement.
The New York papers were buoyed by the idea of a joint military operation: “let us therefore be no more amused with present Dangers, but rationally turn our Thoughts to future Security.”
Despite the optimism provided by Johnson and his warriors, trouble was looming on the frontier. Word had started to spread of the large party of French and Natives operating out of Lake George. The garrison at Fort Clinton now was composed largely of “new levies,” inexperienced and often completely unfamiliar with the wilderness. Facing a continued lack of consistent pay and provisions, the forces along the frontier once again grew restive.
The French continued their pressure with a two-pronged attack into New York in mid-August. A detachment of Natives from St.-Luc’s party at Fort St. Frederic left destined for Albany and Saratoga. The Albany-bound contingent actually pushed further south about nine miles to Schodack. The raid struck Abraham Van Valkenburgh’s farm, where one person was killed and four people were taken prisoners.
Among the prisoners were Abraham himself, his son, son-in-law, and grandson. Later newspaper accounts also list Jacob Vosburgh, Andries Huygh, and Abraham Gardinier, all of Schodack, as prisoners later released by their Native captures.
The Saratoga foray returned after killing two. The Saratoga raid hit a wood-cutting party that had set across the river near the fort. The remainder of the French forces fired up to “500 shots” at the fort to little effect. The fort responded with a brisk cannonade that wounded a number of the enemy forcing them to retreat from the field.
Defense of Albany was paramount at this point in time for the English colonial government. Colonel Marshall, previously stationed at Colonel Schuyler’s house on Schuyler Flatts, was re-positioned to the east side of the river to monitor movement of the enemy. The colonel’s house was palisaded and defended with over 100 men, which aside from Saratoga represented the northernmost defense made by the English.
Word began to leak that the garrison at Fort Clinton was no longer tenable. Colonel Peter Schuyler, then in command of the post along with his New Jersey forces were running short of provisions, and asked the Assembly for relief. The governor warned the Assembly that failure to act to provide necessary support would lead to his orders for a withdrawal. The Assembly urged the governor to post troops gathered for the potential expedition to Canada at Saratoga, or 100 men from the four Independent Companies at Albany for which supplies could be obtained. But the Assembly seemed reticent to provision the troops of New Jersey any further.
Colonel Schuyler attempted to hold his troops together by paying them and providing them with supplies with his own account, incurring a debt of “thousands” of pounds. Ironically, many of his men deserted not to return home, but instead enlisted in the New York companies since there was a greater likelihood of being paid.
Colonel Roberts reported to Governor Clinton on September 23, 1747, that the forces at Fort Clinton had deserted. Two days later, the Council received word that Saratoga has been deserted by the new levies.
By October 14, Fort Clinton was burned by the English and the cannons and troops removed to Stillwater. The governor and Assembly could not agree to terms by which the fort would be provisioned, and it was sacrificed “lest ….fall into enemy hands.”
The Pennsylvania Journal reported the surprising turn of events: “From Albany we learn forces posted at Saraghtoga abandoned a fortnight ago, and after setting it on fire, retreated with all canon and stores to Albany.”
The destruction of the fort appears to have been as equally surprising to the French. M. DeVillers while patrolling along the borderlands with a detachment of 70 French and Native allies set out a scouting party led by Ensign Hertel Beaubassin with three Natives. Upon hearing the destruction of the fort, DeVillers advanced with the larger contingent. He estimated the fort was burned about three weeks earlier.
Rummaging through the ruins, he noted that 20 chimneys were still standing within the remnants of the fort. The cannons had clearly been removed as judged by the large wheel ruts left behind. However, in their haste the English left behind a small cache of hand-grenades and 12–14 pounds of shot. The fort was estimated to stand 150 feet long by 140 feet wide with a palisade about two feet thick.
The remainder of the party appears to have struck near Kinderhook around October 24, 1747. A small detachment stationed at Kinderhook under the command of Captain Robinson with a sergeant and 18 men were ambushed while collecting provisions from a nearby farm owned by Dirk Van Slyke.
The party of about 40 French and Native allies exchanged several volleys and tried to out flank the detachment while it returned to quarters. The second round of volleys affected only minimal damage, as Robinson’s men only suffered one death and three other casualties. Several of the enemy appeared to have been killed and taken from the battlefield.
Problems along the English frontier continued to be exacerbated by desertions. By November, the levies at the Mohawk and Canajoharie castles and at Colonel Johnson’s fort also deserted. This must have been a particularly bitter pill for Johnson, who worked tirelessly to bring the Mohawk into the war, just as the colonial armies were dissipating, leaving the frontiers as exposed and vulnerable as ever.
Not only were the frontiers in danger, the fortified towns of Schenectady and Albany now hung in the balance. Without sufficient out-scouts and advanced defensive outposts, the towns, now swollen with refugees from the countryside, blindly awaited attack. Further difficulties were reported in February 1748, as there was no powder at Albany to assist in its defense.
By March, several of few remaining out-scouts from Albany were taken or killed. In early May, the French were able to act with impunity after Beaubassin returned with a small detachment of 11 Abenaki and three Canadians having discovered the loss of Saratoga. The detachment found the countryside surrounding Albany largely abandoned. As such, they torched 30 houses, three small abandoned forts, and one mill.
Towards the end of May, the French launched what turned out to be a final assault on the area, an incident today referred to as the Beukendaal or Poependal massacre. Farmers Daniel Toll and Dirk Van Vorst were fetching horses from their pasture outside of Schenectady. There they were set upon by a large force of French (40 in all) and Native allies (250 to 260 men), killing Toll and taking Van Vorst prisoner temporarily.
This aroused the nearby city of Schenectady and its garrison of levies quickly sprang into action. Despite the English being heavily out-manned, they were able to dislodge the larger French force but not without significant causalities. Twelve residents were killed in the action including: Daniel Toll; Frans Vanden Bogart, Jr.; Jacob Glen, Jr.; Daniel Van Antwerpen; J.P.V. Antwerpen; Cornelius Vielen, Jr.; Adrian Van Slyke; Peter Vroman; Klaas A. De Draef; Adam Conde; Johan A. Bradt; and Johan Marines.
Another five were missing and presumably taken captive: Isaac Truax, Ryer Wemp, Johan Syer Vroman, Albert John Vedder, and Frank Conner. In addition, the Regiment of Lieutenant Darling from Connecticut lost seven levies and the lieutenant himself, with another five missing in action. To pursue the fleeing French party, Captain Chew (having been redeemed from Canada) set out with his regiment of levies and 200 Natives allies, but seemingly to avail.
The colonial government still toyed with the idea of a major expedition against Crown Point. However, by this time it appeared that the end of hostilities between France and Britain was not far in the future. By the end of May 1748, the New York Assembly petitioned the Canadian government for the exchange of prisoners.
On August 9, 1748, information concerning a formal cessation of hostilities reached New York and colonial government, who in turned passed the information along to the Canadian authorities to prevent any further unnecessary bloodshed. By the end of August, word of the cessation of hostilities reached Montreal through various English channels to the government.
The 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended war, after a congress in April and formal signing in October.
Following the war, Cadwallader Colden wrote about the troubles along the frontier. Following its initial destruction in 1745, Colden suggests the fort was “only enlarged & added some new wooden bastions to an old fort.”
Like Governor Clinton, Colden did not think highly of its location, as “most disadvantageously situated that any place could be for defence in a low unhealthy bottom every where surrounded by hills from whence the men on the parade could be seen to the soles of their feet.”.
Illustrations, from above: Map of British and French fortifications during King George’s War (Hartgen, 2004); A close-up of the 1777 Gerlach map (a copy of the original by H.C. Degeling), depicting the Schuyler estate (circled) just before being destroyed during Burygone’s final encampment at Victory Woods. The former location of Fort Clinton is along the Hudson River and indicated by an arrow; French map “Chemin des Iroquois” (Jean Bourdon ca. 1646); Popple Map 1733 showing Saratoga, Albany, Schenectady, and Kinderhook.
This essay was drawn, Inventory King William’s and King George’s Wars Battlefields: 1689-1697 and 1744 to 1748 (June 2015), a report prepared by Matthew Kirk, Elise Manning-Sterling, Walter R. Wheeler, and Tracy Miller of Hartgen Archeological Associates for the Natural Heritage Trust for the National Park Service, American Battlefield Protection Program. You can read the full report, which includes the full notes and additional information here.