The Battle of Lake George took place September 8, 1755, during the French & Indian War (1754-1763) fought between the French and British. About 200 Mohawk warriors fought with Sir William Johnson and 1,500 men for the British against Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau, 2,800 frenchmen, and 700 allied Indians, including Mohawks from Canada, for the French.
The Mohawks and British won this battle, but at a steep cost.
The issue of trade with Native Americans, furs and land acquisition were primary causes of the French and Indian War (last of the colonial wars). When the French claimed territory near the Great Lakes and built trading posts, the English also were interested in acquiring more land for the growth of tobacco.
The Mohawk Indians were Indians of the Northeastern Region of America. They were part of the Great Iroquois Confederation. Known as the Keepers of the Eastern Door, they guarded the Iroquois Confederation for hundreds of years against invasion from the East.
They were known as united and invincible. They stood shoulder to shoulder and brother to brother. In 1666, they were attacked by the French, and part of the negotiations was to allow Jesuit missionaries to come in amongst their people.
Sometime around 1669, the Jesuit missionaries not only converted many of the Mohawk people to their faith, but several years later, they took half of the Mohawk Nation and took them north into Canada where they erected two missions close to Montreal.
On one hand, this seems harmless enough. On another, it was not so smart…unless one was trying to destroy the Mohawks from within. So what does this have to do with the French and Indian war? When I was in school, I learned that the war was fought against the French and the Indians, who terrorized the colonists. But here”s the little known history, that isn’t even touched upon in most written accounts of the Iroquois.
The Mohawk Indians who were left in the Mohawk River Valley of upper New York state, were friends with and sided with the English during the French and Indian war. However, the Mohawk Indians who had been taken into Canada, sided with the French. This had the effect of pitting Mohawk brother against Mohawk brother, something the chiefs feared more than any enemy.
Then came the Revolutionary War. Most of the Iroquois tribes sided with their allies, the English. But because the Colonies were fighting for Freedom, and because the Mohawk treasured freedom, many of the Mohawks sided with the Colonists. Again, Mohawk Brother was pitted against Mohawk Brother.
This, coming so close on the tail-end of the French and Indian War effectively destroyed the unity of the Mohawks, who for so long had guarded the Iroquois against invasion in the East. Added onto this, the results of the Revolutionary War forced all of the Iroquois/Mohawk allies, as well as the enemies of the Colonists to cede their lands to the Americans.
Interestingly, it was a corporation that took posession of the lands of the Mohawk and Iroquois — the corporation was headed by a man who was related to the President”s wife at the time of the undertaking.
The Albany Congress of 1754
The Mohawks, which were the easternmost of the Iroquois tribes, were in closest contact with the British. To secure the Mohawk as allies, a meeting known as The Albany Congress of 1754 was held in June, primarily to repair poor relations by the British in the past with the tribes.
Meeting in Virginia, they decided to launch three campaigns that year against the enemy. In the north, the British effort would be led by Sir William Johnson who was ordered to move north through Lakes George and Champlain.
Departing Fort Lyman (re-named Fort Edward in 1756) with 1,500 men and 200 New York Mohawks in August 1755, Johnson moved north and reached Lac Saint Sacrement on the 28th.
Renaming the lake after King George II, Johnson pushed on with the goal of capturing Fort St. Frédéric. Located on Crown Point, the fort controlled part of Lake Champlain.
To the north, the French commander, Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau, learned of Johnson’s intention and assembled a force of 2,800 men and 700 allied Indians. Moving south to Carillon (Ticonderoga), Dieskau made camp and planned an attack on Johnson’s supply lines and Fort Lyman.
Leaving half of his men at Carillon as a blocking force, Dieskau moved down Lake Champlain to South Bay and marched to within four miles of Fort Lyman. Scouting the fort on September 7, Dieskau found it heavily defended and elected not to attack.
As a result, he began moving back towards South Bay. Fourteen miles to the north, Johnson received word from his scouts that the French were operating in his rear. Halting his advance, Johnson began fortifying his camp and dispatched 800 Massachusetts and New Hampshire militia, under Colonel Ephraim Williams, and 200 Mohawks, under King Hendrick Theyanoguin (Mohawk), south to reinforce Fort Lyman.
Departing at 9:00 AM on September 8, they moved down the Lake George-Fort Lyman Road.
Setting the Ambush
While moving his men back towards South Bay, Dieskau was alerted to Williams’ movement. Seeing an opportunity, he reversed his march and set an ambush along the road about three miles south of Lake George. Placing his grenadiers across the road, he aligned his militia and Indians in cover along the sides of the road. Unaware of the danger, Williams’ men marched directly into the French trap. In an action later referred to as the “Bloody Morning Scout,” the French caught the British by surprise and inflicted heavy casualties.
Among those killed were King Hendrick and Williams who was shot in the head. With Williams dead, Colonel Nathan Whiting assumed command. Trapped in a crossfire, the majority of the British began fleeing back towards Johnson’s camp. Their retreat was covered by around 100 men led by Whiting and Lieutenant Colonel Seth Pomeroy.
Fighting a determined rearguard action, Whiting was able to inflict substancial casualties on their pursuers, including killing the leader of the French Indians, Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre. Pleased with his victory, Dieskau followed the fleeing British back to their camp.
The Grenadiers Attack
Arriving, he found Johnson’s command fortified behind a barrier of trees, wagons, and boats. Immediately ordering an attack, he found that his Indians refused to go forward. Shaken by the loss of Saint-Pierre, they did not wish to assault a fortified position.
In an effort to shame his allies into attacking, Dieskau formed his 222 grenadiers into an attack column and personally led them forward around noon. Charging into heavy musket fire and grape shot from Johnson’s three cannon, Dieskau’s attack bogged down. In the fighting, Johnson was shot in the leg and command passed to Colonel Phineas Lyman.
By late afternoon, the French broke off the attack after Dieskau was badly wounded. Storming over the barricade, the British drove the French from the field, capturing the wounded French commander.
To the south, Colonel Joseph Blanchard, commanding Fort Lyman, saw the smoke from the battle and dispatched 120 men under Captain Nathaniel Folsom to investigate. Moving north, they encountered the French baggage train approximately two miles south of Lake George.
Taking a position in the trees, they were able to ambush around 300 French soldiers near Bloody Pond and succeeded in driving them from the area. After recovering his wounded and taking several prisoners, Folsom returned to Fort Lyman. A second force was sent out the next day to recover the French baggage train. Lacking supplies and with their leader gone, the French retreated north.
Precise casualties for the Battle of Lake George are not known. Sources indicate that the British suffered between 262 and 331 killed, wounded, and missing, while the French incurred between 228 and 600.
The victory at the Battle of Lake George marked one the first victories for American provincial troops over the French and their allies. In addition, though fighting around Lake Champlain would continue to rage, the battle effectively secured the Hudson Valley for the British.