King William’s War was the North American theater of the Nine Years’ War in Europe. The events in Europe began in 1688 when England’s Catholic King James II was overthrown in the “Glorious Revolution.” England had a significant Catholic population but was overwhelmingly Protestant. The throne was taken by James’ daughter and her husband the Prince of Orange who were Protestants and jointly ruled as William III and Mary II. James fled to France; a Catholic nation ruled by Louis XIV. The King of France believed in the “divine right of kings” and did not believe in the right of any group to depose any monarch. Consequently, Louis welcomed James to his court and supported his claim to the English throne. ilr
The Nine Years War was primarily a struggle between Catholic France and Protestant England, although other nations were involved. The English, the Dutch Republic and the Holy Roman Empire formed an alliance known as the League of Augsburg to counter French military aggression.
The Nine Years War spilled into the New World where both France and England had colonies. Their North American colonies were already conflicted over boundaries and were struggling for control of North America, particularly the lucrative fur trade.
The predominantly Protestant English settlers numbered about 154,000 outnumbering the French by 12 to 1. The English advantage in numbers was, however, diluted by the fact that they were divided into multiple colonies along the Atlantic coast. Also, the English colonies did not cooperate very well, became engulfed in the Glorious Revolution, and lacked effective military leadership.
Catholic New France was more politically unified in three entities: Acadia on the Atlantic coast, Canada along the Saint Lawrence River up to the Great Lakes, and Louisiana from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico along the Mississippi River. The French population was disproportionally adult male with military backgrounds. Although both sides used allied Indian tribes as force multipliers, the French did it better and made more effective use of hit and run tactics.
The Indian tribes usually played both sides against the middle quite effectively, but the English allied with the Iroquois Confederacy and the French with the Wabanaki Confederacy. The Iroquois dominated the economically important Great Lakes fur trade and had been at war with the French since 1680 attempting to divert the fur trade from the French to the English.
Before we begin discussing the war, it is appropriate to review the world the North American settlers lived in. We read about the people and what they accomplished without realizing how dangerous colonial North America was. The country was wild and untamed and was inhabited by numerous Indian tribes that ranged from very warlike to peaceful. However, no Indian tribe wanted to be displaced from their ancestral lands.
Bison ranged into central Pennsylvania. Bear, mountain lions, and other dangerous predators were native to the entire continent. The land was often extreme and unforgiving to those unprepared and many new settlers died in the midst of plenty. The major cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Charleston were connected by crude road systems and waterways, often through wilderness. Frontier settlements were subject to raids by hostile Indian tribes. War and Indian raids were extremely brutal. Muzzle loading muskets became clubs after the first shot and fighting became hand-to-hand with knives, tomahawks, clubs, and fists. Only the bravest, toughest, and most fit survived and many of those died from disease.
Indians often killed slowly and cruelly, and the settlers responded with as much and even more cruelty. White children were often taken hostage and sold as slaves or integrated into the tribe thereby losing their identity.
We see the pictures of men wearing silk clothing and powdered wigs working in ornate surroundings, and women in flowing gowns, but they were the minority. Even these elite lived in conditions that we would consider primitive. The common people were mostly poor and lived in very crude and difficult conditions. I once read that in 1860 you were more likely to meet a violent death than you are to die in today’s combat. It was even worse in 1760.
Back to the war:
The northern English colonies had united as the Dominion of New England in 1686 and had been pushing their borders northward into New France. The French were countering by establishing Catholic missions in present day Maine.
In April 1688, St. Castin’s Trading House in Maine was plundered by English Governor Sir Edmund Andros. In retaliation the Baron de St. Castin and the Wabanaki began raids along the border of New England and Acadia.
On 13 February 1689, William III and Mary II officially replaced James II. When news of the Glorious Revolution reached New England in March talk began about overthrowing the Dominion of New England. In April, a mob in Boston overthrew Governor Andros but the organization survived.
On 17 May England declared war on France, which changed the American hostilities from localized incidents to serious war against committed enemies. The pace of killing increased significantly.
On 27 June 1689, French allies Abanaki and Pennacook Indians raided Dover, New Hampshire killing 20 and taking 29 captives who were sold into slavery. They also killed four men in Saco, Maine. The English raised 24 men to recover bodies and pursue the Indians but were forced to retreat after losing six.
Baron St. Castin attacked New Dartmouth (Newcastle, Maine) on 13 August killing a “few.” This became the first “official” battle of King William’s War. Castin and Father Louis-Perry Thury led an Abanaki war party that destroyed the English fort at Pemaquid in Acadia, which was a serious tactical setback for the English. Castin then attacked Kennebunk, Maine killing two families.
Also in August, 1,500 Iroqouis warriors attacked the French settlement at Lachine, Quebec. Then Governor General Count Frontenac attacked the Iroquois village of Ononaga, New York. Casualties were not reported in either engagement but were probably high.
The English responded to French actions when Major Benjamin Church conducted the first of his four expeditions into Acadia. In September 1689, Church’s force of 250 soldiers moved to Falmouth to protect the English settlers from Wabanaki warriors. The Wabanaki killed 21 of Church’s men but he was able to force the Indians to retreat. Church then returned to Boston leaving the English settlers unprotected.
The French were much more aggressive and effective, and in the dead of winter 1690, Count Frontenac organized three expeditions into English territory. One into New York, one into New Hampshire and one into Maine. The progress of these expeditions was marked by plunder, burning and death.
The 8 February Schenectady, New York Massacre resulted in 60 killed. Thirty-four were killed in the attack on Salmon Falls, New Hampshire on 27 March. On 16 May at Falmouth, the French captured Fort Royal and killed at least 200 settlers who had survived the 1689 massacre. The fall of Fort Royal led to the near depopulation of Maine and exposure of New Hampshire to unopposed attacks.
The English responded with a force under the command of Sir William Phips attacking the capital of Acadia, Fort Royal on 9 May. Phips arrived with 736 New England men in seven English ships. Governor de Meneval defended for two days before capitulating The English destroyed the new fort, took control of the settlement, and forced the French inhabitants to declare their “allegiance” to the King of England.
Phips withdrew but more warships from New York City arrived in June. The English burned and looted the settlement before returning to New York. The French then moved the capital of Acadia to safer territory at Fort Nashwaak (present day Fredericton, New Brunswick). The capital was not returned to Fort Royal until 1699.
Benjamin Church’s second incursion into Acadia was in September 1690. He led 300 men to “reduce” the Indian population and relieve Fort Pejepscot (present day Brunswick, Maine). He attacked Fort Pejepscot and then attacked an Indian village at Livermore Falls killing three or four as they retreated. They then discovered five English captives and butchered six or seven Indians and took nine prisoners. The Wabanaki retaliated by attacking Church at Cape Elizabeth, Maine on Purpooduc Point. The Indians killed seven and wounded 24. Church withdrew to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Attempting to build on their success at Fort Royal, the English launched a two-pronged attack against French Canada in the fall of 1690. Phips assaulted Quebec with 2,200 Massachusetts troops and was repulsed. General Fitz-john Winthrop was targeted against Montreal with New York and Connecticut militia reinforced by Indian warriors. He failed due to disease and supply problems. The English never launched another major offensive during the war. They fell back to mainly defensive operations and retaliatory raids.
The Candlemas Massacre, also known as the Raid on York, took place on 24 January 1692. Chief Madockawando and Father Louis-Perry Thury commanded 200-300 Indians that attacked York, Maine killing about 100 English settlers and capturing about 80. About 500 French and Indians attacked Wells, Maine on 10 June 1692, but the English defeated them after a 48-hour siege.
Benjamin Church launched his third campaign into Acadia in 1692 leading about 450 troops on raids in the Penobscot region of Maine. Casualties were not reported.
In the spring of 1692, the Salem, Massachusetts Witch Trials began in the midst of King William’s War. Some historians believe the trials were partly caused by the tension and stress of the war. This could be true but was not included in my research. Suffice it to say, Massachusetts was distracted from the war. The trials finally ended in 1693. Nineteen people had been hanged, one was pressed to death, and a handful died in jail awaiting trial.
King William’s War continued with mostly sporadic and minor contacts. However, on 18 July 1694, French Soldier Claude-Sebastien de Villieu led about 250 Indians that raided Durham, New Hampshire killing and capturing about 100 English settlers. They also burned about half the dwellings in what became known as the Oyster River Massacre. The French also raided York, Maine and Groton, Masachusetts slaughtering many.
In 1696, Castin and Wabanaki Warriors fought a naval battle in the Bay of Fundy and raided Pernaquid. They then began the Avalon Peninsula Campaign and destroyed nearly every English settlement in Newfoundland.
In retaliation, Church conducted his fourth campaign into Acadia. He attacked Fort Nashwaak, which was the capital of Acadia. He also raided Chignecto killing the inhabitants of that settlement.
On 15 March 1697, the French and Indians attacked Haverhill, Massachusetts Bay. Also, the war’s major naval battle, the Battle of Hudson Bay, occurred when one French ship defeated three English ships. The French went on to capture York Factory, an English settlement and important trading post.
The last battle of the war was the Battle of Damariscotta, Maine on 9 September 1697. English Captain John March led a force that killed 25 Indians.
The Nine Year’s War in Europe ended on 30 October 1697 when the Treaty of Ryswick was signed. The treaty stipulated that the North American borders between New France and the English colonies would remain unchanged. Some disputed territories were still left unresolved. King William’s War ended officially on 7 January 1699 when the Abenaki and Massachusetts Bay signed a peace treaty at Casco Bay, Maine.
The Iroquois Five Nations had suffered greatly during the war because of the weakness of their English allies. The French and their Indian allies had ravaged Iroquois towns and had destroyed their crops causing wide-spread hunger while the English remained passive.
Abandoned entirely by the English after the peace treaty, the Iroquois remained at war with New France until 1701. A peace agreement, known as the Great Peace of Montreal, made peace between New France, the Five Iroquois Nations, and more than 35 other Indian nations.
King William’s War unfortunately did not settle any of the problems of the competing colonial powers. English and French settlers continued to violate each other’s territory. In addition, the French, English and Spanish still hated each other. This hatred came from their European roots and their open warfare in North America. Settlers clashing over land and forcing Indians from their ancestral lands made for a very volatile world. This continued unrest and friction resulted in the outbreak of the next war, Queen Anne’s War in 1702.
No matter who said it first, the following quote fits here: “only the dead have seen the end of war.”