Army and Empire: British Soldiers on the American Frontier, 1758-1775

By Michael N. McConnell | Go to book overview

1
The British Occupation of the West

The surrender of French forces at Montreal on September 8, 1760, brought the fighting in North America to an end. Nevertheless, for Sir Jeffery Amherst’s victorious armies there was still much to do: regiments had to be assigned winter quarters in Canada, provincial troops had to be sent home, and several thousand French and Canadian soldiers had to be disarmed, paroled, or held until they could be sent out of the colony as prisoners of war.

Equally important, news of the capitulation had to be carried to distant French outposts and those forts provided with British garrisons in order to ensure, as Amherst later put it, “a quiet possession of the whole” of Canada. This task fell to Maj. Robert Rogers and his now-famous corps of rangers. With some 200 men, a Canadian guide, Joseph Poupao, dit La Fleur, and engineer Lt. Dietrich Brehm to take soundings and make maps, Rogers was ordered to cross the Great Lakes to Detroit, accept the town’s surrender, then occupy as many of the outlying forts as he could.

It was a tall order. Winter came early in the pays d’en haut, and it was a region inhabited by Indian societies that had been French allies and commercial partners for years—they were unlikely to welcome news that their French “father” had been driven from Canada. On November 13 Rogers and his men left Montreal in a flotilla of the light, maneuverable whaleboats rangers favored. Ten days later, having passed through the stunning maze of the Thousand Islands, they landed at Cataraqui and made ready for the first leg of their journey through the inland seas: the trip across Lake Ontario to Fort Niagara.1

Crossing the Great Lakes in boats with only a few inches of freeboard was altogether different from the rangers’ forays down the narrow Champlain corridor. An officer who crossed Lake Erie a year earlier found the experience “Extreamly Hazardous, and Dangerous” since the “slightest wind” whipping across the shallow water produced high waves. Indeed, the rangers were held up for two days at Cataraqui because of what Rogers called the “tempestuousness of the weather,” which brought alternating squalls of

-1-

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