BECAUSE Louis XIV refused to recognize William and Mary as the sovereigns of England and chose to thrust an imbecile grandson upon the throne of Spain; because a Hapsburg emperor was without a son and left a daughter to succeed him, under his famous Pragmatic Sanction, red Indians and white settlers hunted and scalped one another in the wilds of New England and New York. Every quarrel between the courts of London, Paris, Madrid, Vienna and Berlin was echoed by a war whoop in the primeval wilderness. America became a new theater for the evil system of Old World alliances, with the wrangling princes of Europe stooping to ally themselves with tribes of painted barbarians.
New England was the buffer in the first collisions of England and France in America. For thirty years she was left to bear almost alone the brunt of a conflict between Christian nations that was as cruel as Sioux or Apache ever waged, the other colonies coolly holding aloof until their own borders were menaced by the advance of the French.
The French were not and still are not a migrating race, and their colonists in America were outnumbered by the English fifteen to one. They could hope to do no more than check the spread of the English settlements toward them. This they succeeded in doing by employing the Indians to raid and terrorize the border. Those raids served incidentally to give the Canadian red men an opportunity to take white captives and hold them for a profitable ransom and to encourage the American Indians to join in resisting the ever encroaching English settlers.
New York could repay the French in their own coin, as she had the Iroquois for her allies. But New England had made few or no friends among her Indians and had none she could trust to coöperate with her in making forays through the immense wilderness that lay between her and Quebec. She could retaliate only by offering her own frontiersmen liberal bounties for scalps.
As much as £100 apiece was paid by Massachusetts for those gruesome trophies of the slaying of Indians of both sexes above twelve years of age. The younger captives were spared only for a slower death in the jungles of the West Indies, where they were sold into slavery. Ten scalps were brought to the colonial treasurer at Boston by one woman, the celebrated Hannah Dustin of Haverhill, who turned upon her sleeping captors in the night and, aided only by a white boy, dispatched the entire party with their own tomahawks.
On the one notable raid that they made, the New Englanders matched the Indians in ferocity. All that part of Maine lying east of the Kennebec was disputed land. The center of French influence was at Norridgewock, where Father Rale had buried himself in the wilds for thirty-odd years while he labored among the Indians as a missionary of his faith.
Massachusetts first sent up a Puritan parson to bombard the priest in a long range debate, which was carried on with the aid of couriers. That controversy grew hot when the two theologians began to cast aspersions on each other's Latin. In the final bombardment, when words were no longer the missiles, the venerable Jesuit father was slaughtered in the midst of his Indians, and the New Englanders brought away from Norridgewock twenty-six scalps.
New England could strike back at Canada herself only by sea. Twice her bootless expeditions up the St. Lawrence were laughed to scorn by Count Frontenac from the heights of Quebec. But the New Englanders, with the aid of British fleets, did take New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (Acadia) and finally the great fortress of Louisburg on Cape Breton, when an English officer said that if the Yankees "had a pick and a spade, they could dig a way to hell itself." Their commander in this latter campaign, William Pepperell, who was made a baronet, had so prospered in the fishing trade that he was the richest man in America, and from his big mansion at Kittery, Maine, he could ride thirty miles without leaving his estate.
The capture of Louisburg was a famous victory, but what good came of it at last the victors could not tell. The early wars between the English and French colonists were started in the Old World and were fought only to win Old World objectives. The New Englanders never recovered from the chill they suffered when British diplomacy, in exchange for a trading post in the East Indies, lightly tossed Louisburg back to France and surrendered that Gibraltar of America at the mouth of the St. Lawrence.
Every new deal in that game of diplomacy between England and France signaled an open season for scalps and captives along a front that stretched from Rockland, Maine, to Deerfield, Mass. The poor chips in the play, the Indians, were persuaded that they were engaged in a holy crusade, and their squaws knelt in relays at their altars to offer a continuous prayer for the success of the red warriors. Led by a few Frenchmen, the braves stole out of the shadows of the great north woods to fall upon the lonely settler in his newly cleared field and upon defenseless wives and children in their cabins. Than that upper boundary of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, no line on the map of the United States was drawn at greater cost.
The yellowest of yellow-back fiction has not spun from its wild fancy stranger tales than the true stories of some of the simple country folk who were stolen from their New England homes in those French and Indian wars . . . stories of humanity and kindness shining now and then through the black cloud of hate in those ferocious campaigns; of captives who refused to be ransomed; of Puritans who became Catholics; of New England maidens who fell in love with their cavemen captors.
John Zachariah Tarbell of Groton, Mass., transformed himself into a chief of the red men who stole him. A Deerfield girl was restored to her home, only to run away and rejoin forever her Indian friends. A lad from Salisbury, Mass., and a girl from Kennebunk, Maine, who married and settled down in the land of their captivity, are acclaimed to-day the ancestors of more than a thousand perfectly good French folk.
Eunice Williams, six-year-old daughter of Parson Williams of Deerfield, Mass., bloomed into an Indian maiden. Another Deerfield girl, Martha French, daughter of the village blacksmith, was the grandmother of Joseph Octave Plessis, first archbishop of Quebec.
One of the two Sayward sisters from York, Maine, married a wealthy seigneur and the other rose to the post of mother superior in her religious order. Mary Silver of Harvard, Mass., became a nursing nun at Hotel Dieu in Quebec, where she long cherished as her dearest wish that "my mother may embrace the holy Catholic faith." Esther Wheelwright of Wells, Maine, captured when she was seven, joined the Ursuline sisterhood, and in the inner chapel of the Ursuline Convent at Quebec, the Puritan nun, Esther Marie Joseph, rests from her seventy years of labor in the order that four times chose her to be its mother superior. And her miniature portrait of her New England mother, but with veil and drapery added, is cherished as a madonna by the Sisters of St. Ursula.
The testimony of the New England captives generally, of those who returned as well as of those who remained, would seem to be strong corroborative evidence that the French and Indian wars, like most wars, were not so much between the people who fought them as between the rulers who plotted them.
For more than half the threescore years and ten between 1689 and 1760, English and French colonists were embroiled in a savage warfare that made a desolation of the frontier between them. America remained all that while only another bone in the ancient, unending squabble of England and France. And when the snarling ended, both had lost the bone!
James Morgan, The Birth of the American People, 1930