#OTD A large French Army arrived at the Hudson River going by Saratoga to Schenectady as part of the Beaver Wars.
Early in February, 1666 an army of about 600 French soldiers and their allies under the command of French Canadian governor De Courcelles. De Courcelles lost his way and ended up in Saratoga trying to get to the Mohawk castle at Gandawague. This was part of what historians call the Beaver Wars between the Mohawk and the French.
Why did this French army end up in Saratoga? As Historian John Brandow explained, “old Saratoga, owes its historic importance to its geographical location. In colonial days it was regarded by military men as an important strategic position. From this point important lateral trails diverged from the main one, which ran like a great trunk line up and down the Hudson valley. These lateral trails started here because at this point two large streams empty into the Hudson; the Battenkill (or Di-an-on-de-howa, in Indian) from the east, and the Fish creek from the west.“
Brandow in 1900 explains Courcelle’s Expedition against the Iroquois as: “For years prior to 1666, bands from the Five Nations, or Iroquois, had harrassed the French settlements in Canada, at Montreal, Three Rivers and Quebec, murdering and carrying the settlers into captivity. Finally a full regiment of French soldiers was sent to their defence. The French governor,Samuel de Remi Sieur de Courcelle, impatient of delay after they came, started out with a force of 600 men and a number of Algonquin Indians as guides to wreak vengeance on the hated savages. Equipped with snow shoes and with provisions loaded on toboggans, drawn by mastiff dogs, they started from Quebec on October 29, 1665. They slowly and laboriously made their way south over frozen lakes and the wilderness of snow till they arrived at the Hudson about February 1st, 1666. Their Indian guides failing them on account of too much “fire-water, “they missed the Kayadrosseras trail, their intended route, and took the Saratoga trail instead. This brought them down to the mouth of the Fish creek at Schuylerville, up which they went to Saratoga lake and so on. The 9 th of February they discovered to their chagrin that instead of being near the Mohawk castles, or palisaded forts, they were within two miles of the Dutch trading post at Schenectady. Here they fell into an ambush set by the Mohawk Indians and lost eleven men. The Indians fled and gave the alarm. Nearly exhausted from cold and exposure, but receiving some timely succor from the Dutch, they abandoned the enterprise, and hastily retreated by the way they came, down through Old Saratoga and up the Hudson and Lake Champlain. That trip of some 700 miles over a frozen desert, void of human habitation, in the teeth of howling blizzards and biting cold, was an achievement never excelled before that day.”
The above section was the view of our community history in the past (1900). As a community, we will be eternally grateful for the early historians including John Brandow. But the interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the passage of time. A future posting will share some modern research on the expedition.
The map from Canadian Military History Gateway (Government of Canada) show the route in 1666 and the French fortifications along the Richelieu River.