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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 48: 1759 — Gen. Johnson captures Fort Niagara.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 609-614 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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British-American expedition against French Fort Niagara passes west through Mohawk Valley — Commanded by General John Prideaux, with General Sir William Johnson, second in command — English Fort Oswego rebuilt — French attack on Oswego repulsed — General Prideaux killed, and General Johnson succeeds to the command — Johnson's army defeats French-Indian relief force — Fort Niagara surrenders.

The doom of French power in America was sealed when Sir Jeffrey Amherst was appointed commander-in-chief of the armies in the English Colonies. This was in September, 1758. General Amherst came to Albany and made his headquarters at that key position of the American military lines, in the spring of 1759. Here he perfected the campaign plans for the year. General Wolfe was to sail up the St. Lawrence with an army and a fleet and capture Quebec. General Amherst was to take the French forts on Lake Champlain, go on to Montreal, take that capital and join Wolfe at Quebec. General Prideaux was to capture Fort Niagara and then sail down Lake Ontario to Montreal. The British-American forces achieved all these objectives, except Montreal. General Amherst was a splendid soldier, whose valor and military virtues, as well as the other campaigns of the war, have been overshadowed by the spectacular battle of Quebec, in which the brilliant young General Wolfe and the gallant Montcalm were slain. Amherst had professional qualities and comprehensive plans such as Grant later showed. He was one of America's greatest generals, but his epoch-making successes won by thorough and professional methods, do not appeal to the historian unversed in military strategy. With Amherst, the long procession of stupid, incompetent and timid British commanders, who had afflicted the Colonists and caused untold losses of blood and treasure for a century, finally came to an end. Amherst and Sir William Johnson seem to have cooperated in sympathetic fashion and their brains and bravery combined to put an end to French empire in America and to the danger of savage butchery which had menaced the Mohawk Valley frontier for a hundred years.

Johnson held a council with the Mohawks and Senecas at Canajoharie Castle, January 18-19, and one at Fort Johnson, with the Cayugas and Mohawks, February 5th and 6th. On February 12th, he again met the Mohawks at Canajoharie Castle. From April 4th to the 22nd, Johnson held a council with the Six Nations at Canajoharie Castle. On May 4th, 1759, Johnson met Amherst at Schenectady, and on May 16th, he was in Albany. On May 17th, Sir William Johnson, recommended the capture of Fort Niagara to the Lords of Trade.

General John Prideaux had been raised from the rank of colonel to that of brigadier-general in 1759, and placed in command of the expedition against Niagara, with General William Johnson as second in command. Prideaux's army consisted of 5,000 regulars and provincials. He was ordered to leave a strong garrison at Fort Stanwix, establish garrisons at the Royal Blockhouse, at the east end of Oneida Lake, and at Fort Brewerton, at the western end; build a fort at Oswego and garrison it with nearly half his men and then go up Lake Ontario and capture Fort Niagara. Large as this order seems to be, Generals Prideaux and Johnson filled it.

Prideaux's army formed the second great military expedition of the war to pass westward through the Mohawk Valley, the first being Bradstreet's in 1758. General Prideaux mobilized his army at Schenectady and marched up the Mohawk Valley in June, 1759, boating his ordnance and supplies over the Mohawk River. Johnson joined him with militia and a large body of Indians. On June 21st, Johnson was at Oneida Lake, with the army; June 23rd at Three Rivers; June 24-25, at Great Falls of the Oswego; June 27-30, at Oswego; July 1, at Sodus Bay; July 2-3, at Irondequoit; July 5, at Johnson Creek; July 7 to August 4, at Niagara.

General Prideaux left a force of men at Oswego to rebuild the English fort and garrison it. They were commanded by Colonel Haldimand. Haldimand's men were attacked by a large party of Canadians, French and Indians which was beaten off. The English fort at Oswego was then reconstructed and continued to be occupied by British troops until 1792, nine years after peace was declared between the United States and Great Britain. Fort Oswego and Fort Stanwix were the most important posts upon the great waterway between Schenectady and Lake Ontario, by way of the Mohawk River, Wood Creek, Oneida Lake, Oneida River and Oswego River.

Prideaux invested Fort Niagara on July 7th. His army had been increased by 900 warriors of the Six Nations under the leadership of Sir William Johnson. The fort was garrisoned by 600 men well furnished with supplies and ammunition. On July 20th, the British-American batteries opened fire. A shell burst prematurely and killed General Prideaux instantly. The command then passed to Sir William Johnson. The artillery made breaches in the fort and killed or wounded more than one hundred of the garrison.

A motley army of some 1,100 French and Canadians and 200 Indians now came down the Lakes to the relief of Fort Niagara. Some were French Canadian troops but most of them were traders and bushrangers. The force of 1,300 was under the command of two leaders named Aubry and Lingeris. Johnson had 2,300 soldiers and 900 Indian warriors. He divided this force into three detachments. One was placed to guard the batteaux, the second held the trenches and the third, composed of three-quarters Provincial militia and one-quarter British regulars, went out to give battle to the advancing enemy. The two forces met near the fort on June 24th, 1759, and the American-British army, after a hot battle, won a complete victory, routing the French and Indians and killing or capturing nearly all their officers. The beaten enemy retired to Detroit, burning many of their posts on the way. The next day, July 25th, Fort Niagara surrendered to General Johnson, who protected its garrison from his savage allies. The battle of Fort Niagara was one of three won by the American-British forces in the French and Indian war. Johnson was commander at two of them — Lake George and Fort Niagara, both conflicts having been won by American militia. The third pitched battle was won by Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham on September 13th, 1759.

Only a few days before Johnson won the Niagara battle, General Amherst had taken Fort Ticonderoga, the French retiring to Crown Point. Amherst marched for that post and the French again fled before the English commander. The English now controlled the head of Lake Champlain as well as the head of Lake Ontario and the end of French rule seemed in sight. Amherst started down Lake Champlain for Montreal but was driven back by gales and then built the great fort at Crown Point, marked today by its interesting ruins.

Parkman says of Johnson's victory at Niagara: "The capture of Niagara was an important stroke. Thenceforth Detroit, Michillimackinac, the Illinois, and all the other French interior posts were severed from Canada and left in helpless isolation."

General Amherst appointed General Gage to supersede General Johnson, who returned to Oswego on August 7th, where he remained until October 14th, in connection with the erection and supplying of the new fort. He returned to Fort Johnson about October 20th. On December 2nd, he conferred with General Amherst at Albany. Seventeen hundred fifty-nine, like 1755, was certainly a year when Johnson's fortunes were in the ascendant. He had now developed into an energetic and capable military commander and one of the great Amherst's most worthy lieutenants.

The following interesting diary of Lieutenant Christopher Yates of Schenectady was written during the campaign conducted by Generals Prideaux and Johnson against Fort Niagara in 1759. It is taken from Yates' History of Schenectady County and is given with Major Yates' prefatory comments.

Christopher Yates (known universally in the Valley as Colonel Stoeffle to distinguish him from Christopher P. and Peter Yates, his cousins, all of them becoming afterwards colonels on the Revolution), was commissioned as captain in the New York Provincial Regiment of Oswego, Thursday, June 15th, 1759. He was promoted while on his way to Fort Niagara in command of the rear guard, afterwards of the quarter guard of the army, under General Prideaux who, on his death in the assault, was succeeded by Sir William Johnson. Yates had under him a Schenectady company, the roll of which cannot be found. * * *

Diary of Lieut. Christopher Yates, Afterwards Captain in the Expedition Against Fort Niagara in July, 1759

"A diary of my proceedings from my father's house in Schenectady which I left on June 1st, with the last party of our regiment, commanded by Col. Johnson, consisting of about 300 men with whale boats.

"The first day we went to Claas Vieles. Each night I had the quarter guard. The next day we went to Sir William's (Sir William Johnson) and encamped there, and the next day we went to Little Falls and carried over some whale boats. On the same evening came up the artillery batteaux, which went over the falls before us, putting our party in great confusion. The next day we were ordered to make fascines to mend the. road, which was very bad, and were four days in getting over our boats and provisions.

"From thence we proceeded to Fort Herkimer where we camped and from whence we proceeded to Orisco [Oriskany], which was June 14th, during which time we heard an alarm by the firing of more guns on the north side of the river, and sent out a party of about eighty or more men who made no discovery. The commanders of the party were Captain Bloomer, Lieutenant Schuyler and Lieutenant Wemple. Proceeded to Fort Stanwix.

"When we came there, the 14th and 16th regiments were marched to Canada Creek, part of our regiment to Fort Bull. Next day we tarried at Fort Stanwix, then another part of our regiment went off commanded by Major Roseboom, which was the 15th of June, and Sir William went off from the fort with a great party of Indians. It was a fine sight, the bands of music played upon the ramparts of the fort, when the General and Sir William went off with the Indians.

"Oswego, July 1st, 1759. Upon a Sunday morning our army commanded by General Prideaux, went off from Oswego to Niagara, and in that way until we came to a great covered harbor called Sodom, [Sodus], and encamped there that night, and the next morning, July 2nd, went off from there. At night we came to another cove called Jerundequa [Irondequoit].

"July 4th. In the morning we set off and proceeded until about two or three in the afternoon, when we encamped by a mighty great one [cove] where the Geneva [Genesee] River comes out into the lake.

"July 5th. In the morning we went from there and proceeded along until we came to a narrow cove and creek, and there we encamped, and in the morning very early, about three or four o'clock, we set off and proceeded very smartly until we came to a cove about three miles, and there we landed. The same afternoon the Indians went and about three o'clock in the morning cannonaded and took three prisoners and six whale boats almost from under the fort and the general. The whale boats went in order to catch the sloops but the sloops laid under the fort so that they could not catch them. The fort shot several cannons at the boats, shot one man, taking his leg right off.

"The next day, which was the 7th, we prepared our cannons and the sloop played every hour on the lake, firing several cannons, and so they did all next day, which was the 8th. Then we marched about a mile from the fort, and made gabions, etc., all that day. Next day went in a flag of truce, which was Monday the 8th. Then we began to intrench, and I was in the entrenches all that night until morning, and then they fired very smart all three cannons but did not do any damage. Then Wednesday, the 11th there went a flag of truce from the Indians, and stayed in the fort a good while, and there was no further firing from them or from us. Before then we entrenched like men, and as soon as the Indians came there was no work all that night, but we did not mind that much, we worked the attack like smoke. They wounded a few men very slightly with their small arms. That night we began to play with four or five howitzers. In the morning we brought a few cannons into the trench. The 12th at night, I went in and they said they saw hot work there, there was one of our men killed and Indian Williams wounded very badly. Then at night we entrenched until within 200 yards of the fort, close by their gabions. Saturday 13th we began the batteries but did not finish them.

"Sunday the 14th. Went and was in all night, but it rained so hard that we could not work; that night we finished three batteries.

"The 17th. In the morning the firing was pretty hot, all that day and the next day, the 18th at night, we entrenched.

"The 18th. In the afternoon the schooner came from Garoqua. The same night we entrenched forty yards from their breastwork, but the schooner did not come to the fort.

"The 20th. In the afternoon our colonel was wounded through his leg by a musket shot, and Colonel Johnson was killed by a musket ball as he was laying out the ground to entrench. That night at about ten o'clock the General [Prideaux] was killed by one of our cowhorn [mortars] and Sir William Johnson took command. And so we marched and worked night and day until the 24th, when we were attacked by about 1,500 of the enemy, under command of Musher Delanquay about ten o'clock in the morning. But we soon gave them their breakfast and on the 25th we took the fort."

Major Yates comments on the diary as follows:

"The Captain's spelling is very phonetic, his pronunciation of French amusing, but as we hear of him in the future he will loom up in the revolution, and after, as an accomplished and cultivated gentleman. He was but twenty-two years of age and yet had fought and been wounded at Ticonderoga. (Col. Records Vol. 10, p. 731, N. Y. State Library). Yates obtained prominence from the fact that he took a company from Schenectady to Fort Niagara, but there were others of the provincial troops whose descendants are all around us."

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