OTD A large French Army arrived at the Hudson River going by Saratoga to Schenectady as part of the Beaver Wars. This is the second posting looking at the actions in early February, 1666 when an army of about 600 French soldiers and their allies under the command of French Canadian governor De Courcelles passed by Saratoga. This was part of what historians call the Beaver Wars between the Mohawk and the French.
The initial posting we looked at the history written in 1900 by Historian John Brandow. 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. There is no single, eternal, and immutable “truth” about past events and their meaning. We are very fortunate to live in a community where there is active history being researched and providing new evidence. This is an example where some new research has been done and it shows a wider interpretation of this history.
The following passage describes the raid from report titled “Inventory King William’s and King George’s Wars Battlefields: 1689-1697 and 1744 to 1748 done by Hartgen Archeological Associates in June, 2015 under an American Battlefield Protection Program grant from the National Park Service.
“The Iroquois in 1665 signed a new peace agreement with the French, but the Mohawk did not participate… On January 30, 1666, a detachment of 500 French regimental soldiers, Indian allies and 200 volunteers began for Mohawk territory. The volunteers may have had the snowshoes necessary for the winter excursion, but the soldiers, unfamiliar with winter warfare in North America, likely did not (Varney 1991:45; Coolidge 1964:26). Algonquian scouts, deemed critical to the eventual success of the mission, did not arrive until the return trip. While the expedition’s route is not clear, the excursion likely passed near Saratoga following Lake Champlain to Wood Creek, and across the Hudson River. They may have used the Chemin des Iroquois passing west of Saratoga Lake and into the Mohawk Valley, although this route was not without risk….By whichever route, the detachment arrived three weeks later near Schenectady in search of the Mohawk villages. The French attacked a small European settlement (likely mistaking it for a Mohawk village) and killed three Dutch women and a Metis boy and took prisoners. Nearby Mohawk warriors who were visiting Schenectady attacked the retreating French column. In all, four Mohawk, ten French officers, five soldiers and one volunteer were left dead, and six Mohawk, three French officers, and one volunteer were wounded (Varney 1991:50). The Schenectady mayor, alerted to the attack, made his way to the French position and demanded the full retreat of French soldiers and return of the prisoners. The French agreed and in return bought provisions from Schenectady merchants. Their Algonquian guides arrived just about at this time to shepherd them back to Canada in two weeks. Along the way, the rear guard was harassed by Mohawk warriors who seized on the opportunity. Provisions failed along the way and a “cache” of food left at Isle La Motte was pillaged by the Mohawk (Coolidge 1989:27). As the campaign ended, the French noted that almost 400 men had died (Varney 1991:45). The bedraggled force returned to Fort St. Louis in the beginning of March 1666. These events again testify to the willingness of New France to strike deep into enemy territory. Yet, the French still needed to overcome logistical hurdles to utilize such a large force, over a great distance, in the winter months.”
There is no question this was a remarkable military campaign to go over 200 miles through the wilderness in the dead of winter. Saratoga due to geographical location played a minor role in this campaign. This telling of history highlights how our understand has evolved over the past 110 years. We have new access to primary source material, new archeology studies, or new perspectives because new historians and researchers are continuing to working in our community. This is an unending quest of historians and our community for understanding the past — that is, revisionism and that is what makes history vital and meaningful. Our community is, as Historian John Brandow described, “the scene of so many events, tragic, thrilling, and heroic, in their character; events far reaching and superlatively beneficent in their effects on our civilization.” That is why the study of Saratoga is a never ending task
The map from Canadian Military History Gateway (Government of Canada) show the route in 1666 and the French fortifications along the Richelieu River.