Fighting for a Continent
Newspaper Coverage of the English and French War For Control of North America, 1754-1760
Stories of Enemy Atrocities, Letters From the Front and Battle-Field Reports Gave Readers a Running Account Of the Fight For a Continent.
by David A. Copeland
The news in America’s newspapers in the first six months of 1754 was not good. England’s long-time enemy and challenger for control of North America, France, had, with the assistance of Native American allies, scored a series of victories over English colonial troops from the backcountry of Virginia through New England.
Fear that France would soon make a move to drive all the English out of North America seemed ready to become reality. A distraught Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie had warned the colony’s assemblymen that the very “Welfare of all the Colonies on this Continent” was in jeopardy from the French and their Native American friends. To make sure the House of Burgesses members truly understood the implications of the threat, the governor painted this bloody portrait of what awaited all the English if the French and their allies were not stopped:
Think you see the Infant torn from the unavailing Struggles of the distracted Mother, the Daughters ravished before the Eyes of their wretched Parents; and then, with Cruelty and insult, butcherd and scalped. Suppose the horrid Scene compleated, and the whole Family, Man, Wife, and Children (as they were) murdered and scalped . . . and then torn in Pieces, and in Part devoured by wild Beasts, for whom they were left a Prey by their more brutal Enemies.1
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Dinwiddie concluded by telling those in the Assembly that the “Season for entering upon Action” was at hand.
The words of Governor Dinwiddie and the actions of the French and Indians echoed through the pages of America’s newspapers in 1754. The news of the war continued unabated in America’s press until the French officially relinquished land claims in North America in 1763, and the vast majority of Native Americans east of the Mississippi River either died fighting, succumbed to peace treaties with the English settlers, or moved westward.
This research looks at newspaper coverage of the French and Indian War era, focusing upon the dangers that the “Colonies to the Northward,”1 that is, the French colonies to the north of British colonial America, presented to English settlers. In particular, this research presents newspaper coverage of how French troops from Canada created panic in the British colonies with a series of victories over the English and how the English recouped to eventually take control of Canada, which was seen as France’s passageway into the American colonies2 and whose defeat would signal “the Honour and Glory of Great-Britain [and] the Prosperity and Welfare of North America.”3 The research seeks to offer an accurate portrayal of part the indepth newspaper coverage of this war that successfully removed France as a key player in North American settlement. The research at the same time demonstrates how newspapers covered a widespread event of intercolonial importance and served as a catalyst in the evolution of individual, autonomous colonies into a political body with a national conscious.
Media historian Frank Luther Mott called the French and Indian War “the great running story” of the colonial era,4 yet neither Mott nor other media historians discuss in any detail newspaper coverage of the war except to mention of the Pennsylvania Gazette woodcut “Join or Die” that appeared 9 May 1754 as a warning of what could happen unless the colonies united to fight the French and Indians.5 This research is a preliminary step in providing an accurate portrayal of “the great running story” of the era.
For this study, five colonial newspapers were read in their entirety from January 1754 through December 1763. The newspapers were the South-Carolina Gazette, the Maryland Gazette, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the New-York Mercury, and the Boston Gazette. Newspapers were selected because of their geographic locations and because of their continuity of publication. Approximately 2,600 issues were read.
Before looking at newspaper coverage of the war between the French and English for what ultimately led to English domination of Canada and North America east of the Mississippi River, a brief overview of the relationship between the English and French in North America should help in understanding British colonial feelings and newspaper response to the war.
English and French Relations in Colonial America
English and French settlers in America collided almost immediately after permanent settlements by both countries had been established in 1607 and 1608 respectively. In 1629, hostilities between the nations erupted with the English occupying Quebec from 1629-1632. For the most part, though, the colonies of the two nations developed independently in the seventeenth century. England populated the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to South Carolina, and France settled Canada and the central part of the continent west of the Appalachian Mountains to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Native American tribes, especially the Iroquois and Cherokees, served as a buffer between the two powers in the region of the English Middle Colonies and Southern Colonies.6
Even though the two nations settled North America independently, confrontations between English and French colonists in New England and New York and Southeastern Canada occurred because of the proximity of settlements and the lack of barriers such as the Appalachian Mountains or large Native American nations. British settlers, urged on by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, captured Acadiathe region of Eastern Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotiain 1654, but the region was returned to France under the monarchy of the pro-Catholic Charles II in 1667. It would, however, remain an area of contention for another century.7 As long as England had kings with papist leanings, England and France peacefully coexisted. But, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 placed the Protestant William III on England’s throne, and within a year, England and France were again at war. In America the war, named for the English king, was fought mainly in the border region of New England and Canada with sporadic fighting in New York. Native Americans joined the French in their raids of English settlements.8
American newspapers echoed the fear and dislike that had long existed between the English and French. The single edition of Publick Occurrences in 1690 reported that the Honourable General Winthrop had led an expedition into French territiories as part of the colonial effort to send the French back to Canada in King William’s War. The story also petitioned Almighty God to help subdue Canada.9 The first issue of the Boston News-Letter in 1704 opened with a long account of France’s plans to gain control of England and subsequently all English territory in America by placing the Scottish “Pretender,” James III, on England’s throne. The news from London warned that “the French Kinch [King] knows there cannot be a more effectual way for himself to arrive at the Universal Monarchy.”10
The News-Letter’s report referred to English and French hostilities that had erupted in 1702 and continued until 1713 in Queen Anne’s War, but following the Peace of Utrecht, England and France entered a period of European peace that lasted thirty years.11 When fighting between the two erupted again, the war naturally spilled over into the American colonies, and, as with all other wars in America between England and France, Native Americans were central to the fighting and news reports. Known as King George’s War in America (1744-1748), most of the fighting took place on Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, parts of New France that had been ceded to England by the Peace of Utrecht in 1713.12 According to newspaper reports, up to £105 awaited anyone who could capture an enemy Indian male in this region and bring him to a British officer.13
A main point of contention in this confrontation was the fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. Built by the French as an outpost in 1713, control of Louisbourg would again become a prime concern of the English during the French and Indian War. King George’s War gave Louisbourg back to the French in 1748, provided France a refueling station for ships making transatlantic voyages and a major land and water military post, and represented a continual threat to the British port of Halifax, Nova Scotia.14
The animosities between English and French settlers of America caused by King George’s War were not settled by the war’s peace treaty. France controlled most of the territory of North America, and French claims beyond the Appalachians politically curtailed English westward expansion just as French control of Canada halted northern migration. European treaties, however, were not enough to stop British and French expansion. The French began to build forts in the disputed territory of the Ohio River Valley.15 The British colonists saw these new forts and French troops being positioned in Canada as trespasses against them. In December 1753, Virginia Governor Dinwiddie sent an expedition westward to build forts to stop French encroachment.16 By the spring of 1754, British colonists and the French were fighting in the Ohio Valley. Directly involved, especially on the side of the French, were Native Americans from the St. Lawrence River to the Mississippi River delta,* and the true danger of the French and Indian organization against the British colonists was quickly brought into focus by the publication of George Washington’s Journal.17 Later, Washington’s account of his defeat at Fort Necessity by the French and their allies helped crystalize American resolve to fight the French one more time.
As the colonies from Pennsylvania south focused their attention upon the transappalachian region, colonists from New York into New England mustered troops and supplies to battle the enemy from the North, from Canada. Subduing the French in Canada became a prime concern for the British colonists, because, as the Frenchman the Marquis de la Galissoniere had pointed out in 1750, only Canada with its location and human and natural resources was truly capable of thwarting British expansion in the New World.18
Driving the French from Canada, then, became a prime goal of the British American colonies and the Mother Country. How newspapers in all regions of the colonies reported on the war from its inception to the capitulation of Canada in 1760 follows.
Newspaper printers and their correspondents took seriously the threat that the French posed to the British American colonies in the 1750s. The French and their Indian allies had been successful from 1754-1756 in defeating the British colonists, creating the need for a wake-up call for Americans. A writer, calling himself the “Virginia Centinel,” delivered the address. He said:
Friends! Countrymen! . . . Awake! Arise! . . . When our Country, and all that is included in that important Word, is in most threatening Danger; when our Enemies are busy and unwearied in planning and executing their Schemes of Encroachments and Barbarity . . . when in short our All is at Stake . . . the Patriot Passions must be roused in every Breast capable of such generous Sensations. . . . Countrymen! Fellow-Subjects! Fellow-Protestants! to engage your Attention, I need only repeat, Your Country is in Danger.19
Newspapers not only covered the war effort, but they also promoted a unity of consciousness for colonists along the Atlantic seaboard. Newspaper reports had warned of French troops moving southward from Canada20 and of the French master plan to capture the continent in 1753,21 but it took the newspaper publication of the journal of a twenty-two-year-old major in the Virginia militia, George Washington, in 1754, to bring into focus the real threat that the French and their Native American allies presented to the English colonies.
Published in the Maryland Gazette on March 21 and 28, Washington’s Journal gave newspaper readers a first-person account of his talks with Native American and French military leaders west of the Appalachians. Readers learned of French forts from New Orleans to Canada, a network of Native American alliances with the French, and how difficult moving supplies into the region would be for British fighting units. Washington’s activities became a prime news topic for months,22 culminating in his defeat at Fort Necessity on July 3.23
The news of Washington and the French trouble in the Ohio Valley did not appear in isolation in colonial newspapers. The spring and summer of 1754 brought in reports of French and Indian activitiy and troop build-up from Maine southward. The New-York Mercury, for example, warned readers that the Lake Erie area was already under French control and that the French and Indians planned to attack Albany. Unless stopped by American forces, the article said, citizens could expect France to “subject the whole Continent to the French Yoke.”24
The widespread attacks by the French from Canada and their Indian alliesbrought into focus by Washington’s Journalled to a call for unity of America’s colonies.25 In the May 9 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, a woodcut of a disjointed rattlesnake, whose parts represented the separate colonies, appeared. It was preceded by the observations that “the present disunited State of the British Colonies, and the extreme Difficulty of bringing so many different Governments and Assemblies to agree in any speedy and effectual Measures for our common Defence and Security” almost surely ensured “the Destruction of the British Interest, Trade and Plantations in America.”26
The “JOIN, or DIE” snake, the work of Gazette printer Benjamin Franklin,27 quickly appeared in other newspapers. The New-York Mercury produced its own woodcut of the disjointed snake to run with the call for a united British America on May 13. Boston Gazette printer Samuel Kneeland recreated the snake and added the words, “Unite and Conquer,” coming from the snake’s mouth.28 Other papers described the snake and its calls for unity but did not create a woodcut.29
Following the woodcut’s call for unity, colonial leaders began putting together a congress to discuss a union of colonies to stop the French and Indians and to create British alliances with Native Americans. Delegates from Maryland and all the colonies above it met in Albany in June. According to Pennsylvania Gazette, the meeting with Native Americans at Albany ended “in Favour of the British Interest,”30 but newspaper reports were also realistic in pointing out that Native Americans were hesitant to meet with English colonists. “A much smaller Number attended the Interview, than heretofore has been usual,” reports stated,* and most of the Indians were late for the appointed meeting.31 The fact that the Congress failed to produce a strong Native American alliance only reaffirmed the resolve of the Commissioners in attendance that a union of colonies was necessary. “The Commissioners from the several Governments were unanimously of Opinion, That an Union of the Colonies was absolutely necessary in order to defeat the Schemes of the French,” the Boston Gazette reported.*
During the next few months, colonial governors promoted the Albany Plan of Union, and newspapers carried petitions for its passage. New York Governor James De Lancey, in an address published in the New-York Mercury, appealed to the New York General Assembly to support a union of colonies,32 but the New York legislatureas did the other colonial assembliesrejected the Albany Plan of Union.33 Even though colonial governments rejected the Albany Plan of Union, newspaper coverage of calls for union demonstrates that a collective consciousness was developing in British Colonial America. New York and other assemblies did provide money and troops to fight the French and Indians without hesitation.34 And even though New York, for example, had to constantly worry about French and Indian aggression from Canada, the colony readily sent aid to Virginia to help that colony fight the French and Indians in the Ohio Valley.35
The money, supplies, and men raised by colonial governments to fight did little to deter the early success of the French and Indians. The infusion of British regulars and commanders did not help, either. Great Britain sent General Edward Braddock and two regiments to fight in the Ohio Valley. Braddock and his men arrived at Fort Cumberland on the Potomac River in Western Maryland on 11 June 1755, the Maryland Gazette reported, and were joined by colonial militiamen and more than one hundred Native Americans who had aligned themselves with the English.36 Letters from colonial militia members that appeared in newspapers kept readers apprised of Braddock’s progress toward the French Fort Duquesne at the meeting of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers.* But Braddock’s troops were routed by the French and Indians, and Braddock killed. Newspapers discussed “the melancholy Accounts of the Defeat of the Forces under the immediate Command of General Braddock” and the repercussions of that loss on the colonies for months.37
Braddock’s defeat was just one in a string of news stories that painted the picture that the English colonies were in grave danger of being conquered by the French and their Indian allies. Colonists in Western Pennsylvania were constantly being attacked by Native Americans, newspapers reported. A letter in the South-Carolina Gazette blamed the raids on “Those Indians [who] renounced their Friendship to the English, soon after the Defeat of General Braddock and (having been persuaded by the French, that the English had laid a deep Scheme for destroying all the French in America, and after them all the Indians) swore perpetual War against them.”38 Farther north, the cruelty of Native Americans under French guidance was portrayed in papers as what awaited all English “put under a French Government.” One prisoner of the French and Indians in New York, a report said, had his legs broiled by French and Indian soldiers, had gunpowder poured into a furrow cut in his back and lit, and was then scalped and hot coals put on his skull. Finally, the prisoner was chased by soldiers and his head crushed with rocks.39
As barbarities such as this were occurring, French troops from Canada and their Indian allies were eradicating English forts along the Canadian border. About 1,500 militiamen at Oswego, on Lake Ontario, surrendered the fort to 6,000 French and Indians, giving up what was considered “one of the most important [British] Garrisons upon this Continent.” Oswego had given colonials control of the Great Lakes and temporarily stopped the French from sending troops into the Ohio Valley from Canada.40 Fort William Henry, the colonial buffer between Albany and the French at Ticonderoga, fell, too, leaving a writer to the Boston Gazette to declare, “Our friends and brethren, exterpated, butchered, scalped; our fields, lain waste; our territories, possessed by those that hate us.”41
Even though newspapers presented reports of continued French and Indian successes, all of the war news in colonial papers was not negative. In July 1756, newspapers reported that England had declared war on France in May, making the conflict that began in North America in 1754 a global war.42 Colonists also read about plans to rout the French from Canada, a plan that called for seiges of Quebec and Montreal.43 Before forces from England and the American colonies could mount assaults on Canada’s main cities, however, English troops and fleets had to capture Louisbourg, the French fortress at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
Louisbourg had been the source of controversy between the English and French for almost fifty years. During King George’s War, Louisbourg played a central role, and militiamen, mostly from Massachusetts, captured the fortress in June 1745.44 The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the war, gave Louisbourg back to the French. This peace concession worried the British colonists of Nova Scotia, an English colony since it was seized from France in 1710, and New England. A writer to the Boston Gazette in 1756 warned that Nova Scotia would once again have to be rescued from the “Jaws of Destruction” of the French at Louisbourg.* The battle for Louisbourg and the island of Cape Breton became important news in American newspapers because the capture of the island and its fortress would signal the successful completion of the first phase of the occupation of Canada.
The Boston Gazette announced the plan to capture Louisbourg and then all of Canada on 29 March 1758:
The good Time is at Length arrived, when we may retrieve the Mistakes we have committed in the Conduct of the present War. We have endeavoured at an immense Charge, only to lop the Branches, without laying Ax to the Root of the Tree. A united and vigorous Attempt upon Canada has been long desir’d and expected, as the best Method to decide the Contest between us and our persidious Enemies. . . . Canada must be destroyed.
Newspaper reports revealed the strategy for the taking of Louisbourg. First, British ships, including two hundred sail from Halifax, set up patrols from Boston throughout the North Atlantic to capture French ships or to keep them from reaching Louisbourg.45 While the ships patrolled the waters, transports carrying approximately eight thousand land troops headed for Halifax to strengthen the colonial militia and British regulars stationed there.46 The seige of Louisbourg began on May 22, newspapers reported, when 14,500 British regulars and colonial militiamen left Halifax.47 Following the departure of the troops, letters from citizens in Halifax and from soldiers provided the bulk of the information that newspapers printed about the actual seige.
Transports ferried the troops the two hundred miles from Halifax to Louisbourg where they stormed the beaches with fixed bayonets.48 On June 10, British troops had reached “the very Gates of Louisbourg” and “burnt all the Merchant Ships in the Harbour of Louisbourg,” newspaper reports said.49 By June 24, a letter from an officer explained, Louisbourg was completely shut off from all outside communication and being continually bombarded by cannon and mortars.50 Because news from Louisbourg was so extensive and detailed, the New-York Mercury provided its readers with a woodcut of “the City and Harbour of Louisbourg,” which explained the city’s location, the location of English gun batteries, and the proximity of Cape Breton Island to Acadia or Nova Scotia.
Under embargo since April and surrounded by English troops for nearly two months, the French in Louisbourg surrendered their garrison July 26. An unsubstantiated report of the surrender was printed by the New-York Mercury on August 21, as reported by a New York resident who received the information from a friend in Boston. By the next week confirmed news of the surrender reached New York via letters written to citizens of Halifax. Hugh Gaine, printer of the Mercury, proclaimed before the letters, “It gives the Printer of this Paper the greatest Pleasure, that he now can with Certainty assure his Readers of the Reduction of the Island of Cape-Breton, and the Fortress of Louisbourg.”51 Two different letters confirming the surrender followed, along with the Articles of Capitulation and casualty listings for the British and American troops. And correspondents to newspapers immediately recognized the significance of the fall of Louisbourg. “By this Event,” a piece in the Pennsylvannia Gazette proclaimed, “France is deprived of the Key to her North American Trade, and of the Means to insult and encroach upon our Settlements.”*
The victory by the English at Louisbourg also produced a new hero for the American press, a thirty-year-old general named James Wolfe. Wolfe led the troops that stormed the gates of Louisbourg and also positioned the mortar and cannon that bombarded the fortress. But Wolfe’s heroics were not the only ones reported in the papers, and the victory at Louisbourg was the first in a string of successes for the English. In September, for example, news reached Annapolis that Fort Frontenac, a major French outpost on the St. Lawrence at Lake Ontario, had fallen to General John Bradstreet.* The French in Canada were now cut off from Europe and from French troops in the Ohio Valley. The fall of Fort Duquesne under General John Forbes followed,52 and a letter from the Canadian front noted that the French “were in the greatest Confusion at Montreal.”53 Within seven months, the last remaining French forts between the British colonies and CanadaNiagara, Ticonderoga, and Crown Pointwere all under English control.*
With Louisbourg fallen and with the English in control of the major French forts on the Canadian border, newspapers began to suggest that the end of the fighting might be in sight. Pennsylvania Governor William Denny announced to all Pennsylvanians that “a Day of Publick Thanksgiving” would be observed because God had heard “the Prayers which were made by his Servants, at the manifold Troubles and Calamities attending the Continuance of a most dangerous War, and to bless the Arms of His Majesty in the Course of this Year” because of “many signal Victories, both by Sea and Land, for which every British and Protestant should be sincerely thankful.”54 And a letter writer suggested, “There is no room to doubt of France’s being reduced to great distress, and involved in almost insuperable difficulties, and that she ardently wishes for peace.”55
With the French in Canada reeling from major losses, the English, according to newspapers, began organizing a two-pronged attack on Canada’s main cities, Quebec and Montreal, spearheaded by General Wolfe from the east and General Jeffrey Amherst, who had directed the Louisbourg seige, from the south. With the war now favoring the British, colonial recruits increased. Voluntary enlistment provided 2,500 militiamen from New York,56 while 5,000 Massachusetts men enlisted for the push into Canada.57 In addition, reports from ships arriving in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, said that 12,000 British troops in Barbados were now preparing to join the seige of Canada.58 News reports also suggested that many Native American tribes that had fought with the French in the Ohio Valley, New York, and New England were also abandoning their former allies. “Between 500 and 600 Indians have joined with England and declared against the French,” a letter writer from Albany informed Pennsylvania Gazette readers,59 while other Native American nations met with the English to form alliances at Fort Pitt, on the site of the razed French Fort Duquesne.60 Other newspaper reports suggested that at least 1,100 Native Americans were hurrying to join the English forces preparing to attack Canada from the south.61
With sufficient supplies and military forces, the British launched their “Expedition against CANADA,”62 in the summer of 1759. Because the English controlled the territory between their advancing armies and the main colonial ports, news of the invasion of Canada appeared weekly, despite the fact that a writer to the Boston Gazette claimed, “it will be very difficult for a weekly news writer to keep pace” with the advancing army.63 The attack on Canada began with Quebec, approximately two hundred miles up the St. Lawrence River from Montreal, and newspaper reports provided varied information about the attack, Canada, and Quebec itself in days leading up to the surrender of Canada’s oldest French settlement. Newspaper readers learned in August that Wolfe had landed 10,000 men on the Island of Orleans just in front of Quebec, erected batteries of artillery, and was “burning the Country for 50 Miles round it [Quebec].”64 An officer with General Wolfe described Canada as “a Garden, from one End to the other,” and then remarked that “all France can’t save them [Canadians] from Ruin and Destruction; for we shall burn their Houses, destroy their Corn, and eat their Cattle.”65
By the middle of September American newspaper readers knew that a major assault on Quebec was probable if the “Manifesto” issued by General Wolfe to the citizens of Quebec was rejected. The general queried:
Are the Canadians ignorant of their Present Situation? A respectable Fleet, and a powerful Army, cuts off all the Hopes of Succour, which they otherwise might have expected from Europe: And another Army threatens them on the other side the Continent — In so critical a Situation, can they hesitate? What can they expect by Opposition? . . . Let then the Canadians determine.On one side behold England (whose Sincerity is well known) offering them their Effects, and indulging them in every Privilege: On the other side, behold France, inert, and incapable, abandoning them in the most critical Conjuncture.66
The Canadian residents of Quebec and the French soldiers with them did reject Wolfe’s offer, and Wolfe began an offensive, to draw attention away from General Amherst’s army to the south of Quebec.67 Within a week of news of the assault on Quebec, Americans learned that “the Reduction of QUEBEC, the Capital of CANADA” was complete, as English troops defeated an army “more than three times our Number.” The rejoicing that should have accompanied the victory was short-lived for Americans, though, because in the same paragraphs that announced the fall of Quebec, newspaper readers learned “that General WOLFE is among the Number of the Killed—-His Zeal for His Majesty’s Honour was unrivall’d—his Bravery and Activity, as an Officer, had made him the Darling of the Soldiery.—–He lived to see the Enemy fly before him, and then expired in a full Blaze of Glory.”68 Readers also heard that Wolfe “died gloriously . . . rather to be envied than pitied.”69
For the remainder of 1759 and early into 1760, Americans, through numerous newspaper recounts of the capture of Quebec, relived the significant capture of Canada’s capital and the death of a man considered a hero.* Even though it was not true, poems of praise considered the fall of Quebec analogous with the defeat of Canada and the French. “Louisbourg reduc’d and Quebeck subdu’d, Our Rights and Liberties at length secur’d,” one poet rejoiced.70 While another writer declared:
When first thy noble Conquest reach’d our Ears,
Compleat were all our Hopes, dispell’d our Fears;
Quebec is taken, was the joyful Note,
Quebec is taken, thrills thro’ every Throat.71
While another poet declared: “Britons, the work of war is done! Conquest is yours, the battle’s won.”72 Yet in the rejoicing, elegies for General Wolfe tempered Quebec’s reduction. A writer lamented, “Ev’n Canada was thus too dearly bought; That savage, treacherous Race, which to subdue Requir’d no less a Conqueror than You.”73
After wintering at Quebec and surviving a seige by French forces of the city, the English war effort prepared to take Montreal.74 News of French deserters, captured French supply ships, and increasing numbers of Native American allied to the English printed in colonial newspapers no doubt helped bolster colonial assurances that the war would soon end,* as did reports that 14,000 English troops were assembled outside Montreal.75 Newspapers, as they had done for the seige and capture of Quebec, printed as much news weekly as they could about the assault on Montreal.76 The 8 September 1760 surrender was first printed in newspapers on September 22. The Boston Gazette declared, “We have the most joyful News of the surrender of the City of MONTREAL . . . and therewith the Surrender of CANADA.”77 Three days later, the Pennsylvania Gazette put the capitulation of Montreal into a British perspective:
We now have the Pleasure to congratulate our Countrymen upon the most important Event, as we apprehend, that has ever happened in Favour of the British Nation . . . the War in Canada is at an End: The Governor, has surrendered the Country to the British General Amherst without Bloodshed. The Subjects of France are to be sent Home, all that remain of the French are to swear Allegiance to His Majesty, and retain their Possessions.78
The papers concluded 1760 and started 1761 with journals and letters about the taking of Montreal, a history of the war with France since 1748, and the peace terms agreed to between General Amherst and the Marquis de Vaudreuil, governor of Canada.79 One writer even painted a picture of bliss in Canada because of British rule: “Those Inhabitants who but lately were under the Tyrannical Yoke of France, now exult in the Liberty they enjoy under the British Government.”*
Although peace terms were signed, the fighting between the French and English would continue sporadically in North America. But most of it, according to newspapers, would be in the Caribbean or in conjunction with Native American attacks in the Southern colonies. Newspapers did report one last French attempt to retake Canada by attacking Newfoundland in the summer of 1762. After briefly gaining control of the island, however, the French agreed to a final truce with General Amherst on September 18, following an attack by the general’s troops on French forces in St. Johns.80 Newspapers noted the end of hostilities between England and France worldwide early in 1763, with the definitive 10 February 1763 Peace of Paris appearing in newspapers in May.81
Newspaper coverage of the French and Indian War was “the great running story” of the colonial era, as Frank Luther Mott claimed. For a decade newspapers closely covered the war in all regions of North America as well as fighting between the English, French, and their allies in Europe and Asia once war between the two powers was declared globally. This research has only discussed newspaper coverage of English and French hostilities from the Ohio Valley into Canada and the capture of Canada. Hundreds of news items that discussed this aspect of the war have been left out. The removal of the French from Canada was no doubt the most important aspect of the war to all citizens of British Colonial America, but news of the Indians wars in the Southern colonies, the war at sea, the war in the Caribbean, the war in Europe, and the war in the East Indies and India, was also important. The hundreds of stories on these aspects of the war have been omitted from this study, too. The fact that American newspapers covered all facets of the war is testament to the war’s significance to the American population. However, by studying only newspaper coverage of the war against the French from 1754-1760, one can begin to understand how complete a picture of the war newspapers provided. Unfortunately, most history texts overlook newspapers as valid sources of historical fact.82
Although not the first news story of intercolonial importance,83 the French and Indian War no doubt held the most implications for colonial America prior to the conflict between the colonies and England that led to the Revolution. The united presentation of news and the sharing of it by colonial printers during the French and Indian War provided a ready source for common resistance during the Stamp Act crisis, which began the year after the French and Indian War ended and was part of England’s plan to recoup losses incurred in defending America. Because newspapers had reported on a common enemy for the decade before the Stamp Act, uniting to fight a common enemy to newspapers such as the Stamp Act had to be a logical step for printers.84
Newspaper growth during the French and Indian War period is also an indicator of the importance of news of the war to the American colonists. From 1754 to 1760, the number of newspapers in America increased 73 percent, from eleven English language newspapers to nineteen. At the same time, the population of the British American colonies increased by just 36 percent, from slightly more than 1.17 million inhabitants to slightly more than 1.59 million.85 Newspapers grew at twice the rate of the American population in the period leading up to the capitulation of Canada, no doubt because of the desire for news about the war, a fact confirmed by Isaiah Thomas, first American media historian and a printer’s apprentice during the war. Thomas said, “The war with the French at this time , in which the British colonies were deeply interested, increased the demand for public journals.”86 In addition, another three newspapers were begun in the colonies before the official end of the French and Indian War in 1763.
The newspaper coverage of the French and Indian War did more than provide American citizens news of an event important to them all, a fact that alone makes study of newspapers and the period important. News of the war provided some of the worst and best of journalistic practices. News of the war was filled with propaganda. From Governor Dinwiddie’s description of the rape and butchering of innocent English families to the torture of prisoners by the French and Indians, newspaper accounts of the war created a fear of both the French and Indians that was not entirely justified. Readers also given a portrait of the English as freedom fighters who, as reports from Canada in 1760 noted, freed French Canadians from “the Tyrannical yoke of France.” At the same time, newspaper printers during the period increasingly tried to confirm their news stories to provide readers with the most accurate information as possible. This is exactly what New-York Mercury printer Hugh Gaine did in 1758 with news about the surrender of Louisbourg. Gaine told his readers that he could now “with Certainty” report the fall of the fortress on Cape Breton.
The newspaper coverage of French and English fighting from the Ohio Valley through New England and the “Campaign to the Northward” to capture Canada during the French and Indian War tells the story of a fight for a continent. It exhibited all the traits of war news with letters from the front, first-hand battle descriptions, official releases in the form of terms of surrender, enemy atrocities, letters supporting the troops, pieces praising soldiers fallen in battle, and biting denunciations of the enemy. While the news of the war did not eradicate all other news in colonial newspapers, it made all other information secondary for nearly ten years.
The French and Indian War was the most significant story of the colonial era prior to the revolutionary period. It helped mold independent colonies into political bodies dependent on each other for survival. Benjamin Franklin was correct in 1754 with his “JOIN, or DIE” snake. The British American colonies had to join together to repel and conquer the French and their Native American allies. The same would be true for the colonies twenty years later with the British. But Franklin’s snake was also a metaphor for colonial newspapers. By joining together to present comprehensive details of a war, newspapers began creating a competent network for information exchange and dissemination in America that citizens increasingly found they could not do without. The desire for information, consequently, produced a 73 percent increase in America’s press during the war period.
Coverage of the French and Indian War by colonial newspapers found America’s press joined together to serve the public with the most accurate, complete, and freshest news available. The study of newspapers and the news they presented in this era is essential to our understanding of the growth of the colonial press. How newspapers covered the North American war with the French and their defeat in Canada is but the first step.
1. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 7 March 1754, 3; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 12 March 1754, 1-2; New-York Mercury, 25 March 1754, 1; Boston Gazette, or Weekly Advertiser, 26 March 1754, 1; and South,-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 2 April 1754, 2.
2. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 2 May 1754, 2; and Boston Gazette, or Weekly Advertiser (14 May 1754), 3.
3. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 23 May 1754, 1.
4. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 22 June 1758, 1.
5. – Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism, A History: 1690-1960, 3rd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 52.
6. – See, for example, James Melvin Lee, History of American Journalism (Garden City, Garden City Publishing, 1923), 84; Willard Grosvenor Bleyer, Main Currents in the History of American Journalism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927), 76; Jean Folkerts and Dwight L. Teeter, Voices of a Nations: A History of Media in the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 50; Edwin Emery and Michael Emery, The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media, 6th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1988), 57; Wm. David Sloan, James G. Stovall and James D. Startt, eds. The Media in America: A History, 2nd ed. (Scottsdale, Ariz.: Publishing Horizons, 1993), 42. Other important texts on media history only give brief mention of the French and Indian War, offer no discussion of newspaper coverage, or do not mention it. See, for example, Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America (1810, reprint; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 305, 368; Frederic Hudson, Journalism in the United States, From 1690-1872 (1873; reprint, New York: J. & J. Harper, 1969); George Henry Payne, History of Journalism in the United States (1920, reprint; Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970), 70-71; Mott, 52; Sidney Kobre, The Development of the Colonial Newspaper (1944, reprint; Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1960), 108; Sidney Kobre, Development of American Journalism (Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown, 1969); Mitchell Stephens, A History of News: FFrom the Drum to the Satellite (New York: Viking Press, 1988), 186; and Wm. David Sloan and Julie Hedgepeth Williams, The Early American Press, 1690-1783 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994), 123. David S. Shields, Oracles of Empire: Poetry, Policy, and Commerce in British America,, 1690-1750 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 222-26, discusses the role of the French and Indian War in producing elements of an empire identity among American colonists. He does not, however, use any examples of calls for a common American identity from American newspapers.
7. – George Brown Tindall, America: A Narrative History, vol. I (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1984), 150-53.
8. – Russell Bourne, The Red King’s Rebellion: Racial Politics in New England 1675-1678 (New York: Atheneum, 1990), 215.
9. – Tindall, 152-53.
10. – Publick Occurrences Both, Forreign and Domestick (Boston), 25 September 1690, 2. King William’s War lasted from 1689-1697 and was the first of four wars in the New World between England and France that corresponded roughly to wars fought in Europe between the two nations. For a description of the first three wars between the English and French in North America, see Howard H. Peckham, The Colonial Wars, 1689-1762 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1964).
11. – Boston News-Letter, 24 April 1704, 1.
12. – W. E. Lunt, History of England, 4th ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), 475.
13. – Lunt, 475.
14. – Boston Evening-Post, 26 August 1745, 2.
15. – “Fortress of Louisbourg,” http://www.chatsubo.com/louisbourg/overview.html (28 Feb. 1996).
16. – Larry Roux, “A Brief History of the French and Indian War,” 1755, http://web.syr.edu/ ~laroux/history.html (19 Jan. 1996).
17. – Boston Gazette, or Weekly Advertiser, 19 March 1754, 1.
18. – Gregory Evans Dowd, A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815 (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1992), 25.
19. – Washington’s Journal was published in the Maryland Gazette, 21 and 28 March 1754. Other newspapers picked up Washington’s experiences in the Ohio Valley, including the Boston Gazette, one of the newspapers included in this study. The Gazette ran Washington’s Journal over a six-week period, from 16 April through 21 May 1754.
20. – Marquis de la Galissoniere, “Memoir on the French Colonies in North America, December 1750,” American Revolution, http://grid.let.rug.nl/~welling/usa/documents/ galissonierre.html (20 Jan. 1996).
21. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 12 August 1756, 1 (emphasis included). The work of the “Virginia Centinel” first appeared in the Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), 30 April 1756. That issue is no longer extant. The Centinel’s letter appeared in newspapers in most American cities. For a brief discussion of the “Virginia Centinel,” see J. A. Leo Lemay, A Calendar of American Poetry (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1972), 183-84.
22. – See, for example, Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 5 July 1753, 2; 26 July 1753, 1.
23. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 13 December 1753, 1.
24. – Other newspapers reprinted Washington’s “Journal to the River Ohio.” See, for example, Boston Gazette, or Weekly Advertiser (16 April-21 May 1754). William Hunter, printer of the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg, published Washington’s Journal as a pamphlet in 1754. News of Washington’s activities in the West became a regular feature in newspapers. For examples, see Boston Gazette, 26 March 1754, 1; 2 July 1754, 2; 11 July 1754, 1; Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 14 February 1754, 3; 8 April 1754, 3; New- York Mercury, 8 April 1754, 3; 13 May 1754, 2; 24 June 1754, 2; 8 July 1754, 2; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 5 February 1754, 2; 12 March 1754, 1; South-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 5 March 1754, 2; 19 April 1754, 1; II June 1754, 1.
25. – New- York Mercury, 22 July 1754, supplement, Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 25 July 1754, 3; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, 25 July 1754, 1; Boston Gazette, or Weekly-Advertiser, 30 July 1754, 2; and South.-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), I August 1754, 2. The original report of Washington’s defeat was taken from the 19 July 1754 issue of the Virginia Gazette.
26. – 26 August 1754, 1.
27. – Sinclair Hamilton, “The Earliest Device of the Colonies and Some Other Early Devices,” Princeton University Library Chronicle 10 (1948-49): 118, notes that the “JOIN, or DIE” woodcut was “the first device to appear in this country symbolizing or suggesting the union of the colonies.”
28. – 9 May 1754, 2.
29. – Franklin’s’s authorship of the rattlesnake woodcut is generally accepted. For a discussion of his usage of the rattlesnake as a symbol of unity during the French and Indian War and earlier, see J. A. Leo Lemay, The Canon of Benjamin Franklin, 1722-1776 (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986), 124-26.
30. – Boston Gazette, or Weekly Advertiser, 21 May 1754, 3.
31. – South-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 22 August 1754, 2.
32. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 18 July 1754, 2.
33. – Boston Gazette, or Weekly Advertiser, 23 July 1754, 2; and New-York Mercury, 29 July 1754, 2.
34. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 11 July 1754, 2.
35. – 23 July 1754, 2. For the text of the Albany Plan of Union, see Henry Steele Commanger, ed., Documents of American History, 8th ed. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968), 1:43-45.
36. – 26 August 1754, 1.
37. – New- York Mercury, 2 September 1754, 1.
38. – See, for example, Boston Gazette, or Weekly Advertiser, 10 September 1754, 2; Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 19 September 1754, 2; New-York Mercury, 16 September 1754, 2; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 17 October 1754, 2; and South-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 10 October 1754, 2.
39. – New-York Mercury, 2 September 1754, 1; and Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 5 September 1754, 1.
40. – 12 June 1755, 2.
41. – See, for the example, the letters that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 10 July-7 August 1754.
42. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 31 July 1755, 2. See, also, Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 7 August 1755, 2; and South-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 21 August 1755, 2. For continued discussion of the ramifications of Braddock’s defeat, see Boston Gazette, or Country Journal, 18 August 1755, 1; and New- York Mercury, 10 November 1755, 2-3.
43. – 7 May 1756, extraordinary.
44. – New-York Mercury, 30 August 1756, 1.
45. – New-York Mercury, 6 September 1756, 3.
46. – Boston Gazette, or Country Journal, 22 August 1757, 3. News of the surrender of Fort William Henry appeared in the Gazette on August 15.
47. – New-York Gazette, 19 July 1756, 3; Maryland Gazette, (Annapolis), 22 July 1756, nameplate; Boston Gazette, or Country Journal, 26 July 1756, 1; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 29 July 1756, 1; and South-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 19 August 1756, 1. The global war between England, France, and their allies was known as the Seven Years’ War. Fighting continued in North America as well as in Europe, India, and the East Indies. Fighting between the French and English also took place in the West Indies. According the newspaper reports, fighting in the Caribbean escalated from privateer raids that began in 1754 to skirmishes in 1755, and outright fighting early 1756. See, for example,South-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 9 April 1754, 1; I May 1755, 2; and 15 April 1756, 2.
48. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 5 February 1756, 1.
49. – For reports on the siege and surrender of Louisbourg during King George’s War, see Boston Gazette, or Weekly Journal, 28 May-20 August 1745.
50. – Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, 28 June 1756, 1.
51. – New-York Mercury, 17 April 1758, 2; and I May 1758, 2. The additional ships from Boston were reported 26 June 1758, 2.
52. – New-York Mercury, 3 April 1758, 2.
53. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 22 June 1758, 1.
54. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 29 June 1758, 2.
55. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 13 July 1758, 3.
56. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 3 August 1758, 2.
57. – New-York Mercury, 28 August 1758, 2. News of the reduction of Louisbourg appeared in the Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 28 August 1758, 1; the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 17 August 1758, 3; the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 24 August 1758, 3; and the South-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 2 October 1758, 1. In anticipation of the fall of Louisbourg, the South-Carolina Gazette described the surrender of Louisbourg in 1745 in its 4 August 1758 edition, while newspapers in Annapolis, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia continued with reports of prisoners, military supplies, and the siege itself in September and October.
58. – 30 November 1758, 1.
59. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 28 September 1758, 2.
60. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 7 December 1758, 3; Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 14 December 1758, 1; New-York Mercury, 18 December 1758, 3; Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, 8 January 1759, 1; and South,-Carolina Gazette (Annapolis), 29 December 1758, 2.
61. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 7 December 1758, 3.
62. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 16 August 1759, 1; and New-York Mercury, 27 August 1759, 2.
63. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 14 December 1758, 3.
64. – Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 26 April 1759, 1.
65. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 30 April 1759, 1.
66. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 14 May 1759, 2.
67. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 28 May 1759, 2.
68. – 3 May 1759, 1.
69. – New-York Mercury, 9 July 1759, 2; Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 12 July 1759, 3; and Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 16 July 1759, 2.
70. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 26 July 1759, 2. It should be noted that although many Native Americans from the Ohio Valley northward were switching loyalties, not all Native Americans who had originally sided with the French abandoned them. Indian attacks continued in the colonies, and in the Southern Colonies, 1759 brought the advent of a major war between Native Americans and English settlers. The South-Carolina Gazette, frontier-n the summer of 1759 through 1760 chronicles this Indian war. The French were involved with the Indians in this war that stretched frontier in Western Georgia into Southwest Virginia, but tile French were not principal players in the fighting as they were in the Ohio Valley, New York, and New England.
71. – New-York Mercury, 13 August 1759, 3.
72. – 6 August 1759, 1.
73. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 23 August 1759, 2; New-York Mercury, 27 August 1759, 3; and Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 30 August 1759, 2.
74. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 10 September 1759, 1. The letter was one of four that the Gazette published under the headline “News from Quebeck.” Headlines were rare in colonial newspapers.
75. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Joumal, 17 September 1759, 1; New- York Mercury, 17 September 1759, 3; Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 27 September 1759, 3; and Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 27 September 1759, 1.
76. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 8 October 1759, 1; and Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 11 October 1759, 3.
77. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 15 October 1759, 1; and Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 25 October 1759, 2.
78. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 18 October 1759, 3; and New-York Mercury, 15 October 1759, 3. A different account of the capture of Quebec and Wolfe’s death appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 27 October 1759, 1. Taken from the Newport Mercury, the story appeared under the headline, “God be praised! Quebec is in English Hands.”
79. – Almost every weekly edition of the papers studied, except for the South-Carolina Gazette, carried stories about the victory at Quebec. The 31 December 1759 issue of the New-York Mercury, as a prime example, offered “A Journal of the Expedition up the River St. Lawrence,” which recounted each day on the journey with General Wolfe from the departure from Louisbourg through the surrender of Quebec.
80. – Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 3 January 1760, 1.
81. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 22 October 1759, 1; and New-York Mercury, 29 October 1759, 3.
82. – Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, 3 March 1760, 1.
83. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 22 October 1759, 1; and New-York Mercury, 29 October 1759, 3. Other poems to Wolfe appeared in newspapers. See, for example, Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 25 October 1759, 2; and Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), I November 1759, 2.
84. – See, for example, Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 14 February 1760, 2; and 17 April 1760, 2. For an account of the French siege of Quebec, see, for example, Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 28 August 1760, 1-2.
85. – See, for example, Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 10 July 1760, 3; and New- York Mercury, 16 June 1760, 3 and 30 June 1760, 2.
86. – Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 15 September 1760, 1.
87. – Newspapers in this study, with the exception of the South-Carolina Gazette, published approximately two pages of news on Montreal and fighting in Canada from the middle of July through September. The South-Carolina Gazette did keep its readers informed about the fighting in Canada, but the province was involved in a major war with the Cherokees during 1760. Most of its news centered on that conflict.