A Cursory Look at the Fort William Henry Massacre
A major highlight of the war between Great Britain and France in their respective bid to dominate North American territory originally occupied by the Native Indians is the massacre at Fort William Henry. Although some of the characters and events used by Cooper in his novel the Last of the Mohicans” were fictitious, he gave account of the unfortunate massacre in the battle for domination of the Native American territory between Great Britain and France at Fort William Henry in 1757. The author brilliantly succeeded in highlighting the intrigues and betrayals that characterized the battle.
The events that led to the unfortunate massacre and the roles played by some actual characters from both the British and French side as narrated in the Cooper’s novel will be briefly discussed in this essay.
A fierce but inconclusive battle at the southern end of Lake George prompted the British to build a fort at that end; called Fort William Henry(Eggington). The name of the fort was symbolic since it was named after a British King to symbolize her authority over the area. Colonel Munro oversaw command of the Fort. Munro was described as a father with two daughters namely Alice and Cora who played important fictional roles in the novel.
Under the command of Colonel Munro, Fort William Henry was made up of two thousand soldiers while General Webb had three thousand soldiers under his command at Fort Edward. (Eggington). The occupation of the southern end of Lake George by Great Britain angered the French who viewed it as humiliating since they have for over a hundred years considered the lake as their heritage and therefore were determined to engage Great Britain in a confrontation to regain possession of Lake George. Below is an image of Lake George as shown in Fig.1
The French in a bid to regain possession of Lake George, began a fort at the north end of the lake which they named Fort Carillon but later renamed it Fort Ticonderoga. Under the command of Major General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, the French comprising of seven thousand troops with the support of Native Indians fought and besieged the British force at Fort William Henry. General Montcalm will be historically remembered mostly for his success at the Fort William Henry(Eggington). The author elaborated the French bombardment of the British forces at Fort William Henry using the support of the Huron tribe led by a fictional character Magua; whose qualities and attributes in the novel could qualify him to be described as the Prince of Darkness. The French struck damaging blows to the British Forces with the support of Magua through deception and intrigues which Magua showed by betraying the trust placed on him to lead the Munro daughters to safety, rather he led them to ambush and held them captive. Overwhelmed by the presence of French troops which outnumbered the British force in Fort William Henry, Colonel Munro in a desperate bid to survive the imminent attack, sent a message to Fort Edward begging for support and reinforcement which was intercepted by the French troops led by Montcalm(Eggington). Cooper in his novel captured the event by narrating how Munro sent Hawkeye, (a scout who fought alongside the British against the French and her Huron allies) to Fort Edward with a message begging for reinforcement but was intercepted by the French troops who sent him back to Fort William Henry without the letter. Below in Fig.2 is a portrait of the Commander of the French troops, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm
The inability of the garrison headed by Colonel Munro at Fort William Henry to receive reinforcement from Fort Edward weakened the troops. The French and their Indian allies laid siege at Fort William Henry for three days. Montcalm succeeded in deceiving General Webb in charge of British forces at Fort Edward through a French deserter to erroneously believe that French army led by General Montcalm were made up of eleven thousand strong men. This deception led to the refusal of General Webb to send reinforcement to Fort William Henry and ultimately resulted to the unfortunate massacre of the British forces in fort William Henry. General Webb will be historically remembered for this action which was viewed by Colonel Munro as a monumental betrayal(Eggington). Although, he was not a major character in The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper, the author highlighted the inability of General Webb to send support to Fort William Henry when it was most needed as one of the hallmarks of British defeat and massacre at Fort William Henry. General Montcalm capitalized on the weakness of the British forces in Fort William Henry and the support of his Indian allies to negotiate British surrender. General Montcalm in an attempt to convince Colonel Munro on the need to surrender to avoid further loss of lives, showed him refusal letter for the requested reinforcement by General Webb and demanded the surrender by the British forces with the terms that the British soldiers together with their wounded soldiers, women and children to be escorted back to Fort Edward with the condition that British forces withdraw from the war for eighteen months.
Unfortunately the acceptance to surrender by Munro who expected the French to keep to their own side of the surrender terms led to the exposure of the troop to the attack by almost 2000 Native Indians which led to the massacre of the British troop including women and children. Cooper described the betrayal of the surrender terms in his novel where Montcalm despite the terms of agreement which includes to safely lead the British back to Fort Edward couldn’t restrain her Huron allies led by Magua to attack the British in order to satisfy them on their revenge mission against the British. Magua in the novel the Last of the Mohicans was determined to seek revenge against Colonel Munro for turning him into an alcoholic which made him to initially lose leadership of the Hurons. Alice and Cora with others were taken captive by Magua (Cooper, the Last of the Mohicans). Cooper by so doing exposed the ulterior motive of the Native Indians during the Fort William Henry battle which was to regain their lost spiritual power. The Native Indians believed they lost their spirituality due to the influence of the British. Diversity in the Indian camp made it difficult for the French troop to effect restrain on the part of the Indians, The Native Indians sabotaged the agreement so as to seek revenge and benefit from the spoils of war.Munro will be historically remembered for his inability to defend the troops under his command which led to the massacre. Below in Fig.3 is symbolic image of the massacre at Fort William Henry.
In conclusion, the massacre of the British Troops at Fort William Henry was significant in exposing the different war strategies adopted by both Great Britain and France in the battle. Great Britain’s neglect of the Native Indian forces resulted in the disgrace and defeat of Britain in the battle. However, France capitalized on her trading partnership with the Native Indians, and sometimes offer of inducements to win their loyalty and support to fight and defeat of Britain in the battle.
- Cooper, James, Fennimore, The Last of the Mohicans-a Narrative of 1757
- Eggington, Richard. The true story behind The Last of the Mohicans.History In An Hour,24 August 2017,https://www.historyinanhour.com/2017/08/24/true-story-behind-last-mohicans/ Accessed 11 July 2018
- www.southwilliamstown.org/2010/06/the-fort-williamhenry-massacre-the-last-mohicans. Accessed 11 July 2018
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_of_the _Mohicans#Historical_background. Accessed 11 July 2018
- https://en.wikipedia/wiki/Louis-joseph_de_Montcalm. Accessed 11 July 2018
- https://www.gutenberg.org/files/940/940-h/940-h.htm. Accessed 11 July 2018
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_George_(New_York). Accessed 11 July 2018
- www.warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/massacre-of-misunderstanding-fort-william-henry-1757. Accessed 11 July 2018
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