Category Archives: Frontier

The Colonial Internet

The Colonial Internet

The Colonial Internet


In the modern world if you need news fast you can turn to your phone or computer. Want to know what your neighbors or friends and family are up to? You can always go to Facebook or Twitter to find out who’s doing what to whom at any hour of the day.  Besides gossip and outrage, we have also seen the Internet used to spark resistance and rebellion to perceived outrages and threats. Heck, we have even seen Twitter used to spark governmental overthrows. But if you lived in Colonial America in 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution, how would you get your news and know what was happening all around you.  That is where the local tavern came in.

More than a place to get a pint or grab a quick meal, the tavern was the center of social life for the community (some will say Church, and that may be true in some places) and it was here that news was traded and gossip spread. Men would gather from all over to talk about the news of the day, even taking turns reading whatever newspapers were available.


It was in taverns that the American Revolution took shape and form. The City Tavern in Philadelphia and the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg are among the most famous. In the back rooms, men would meet and voice their concerns and plan their actions. It was in places like this that the first calls for a general continental congress came to fruition. Face to face, person to person, thoughts took shape and ideas formed.

The taverns were very much the Internet of Colonial life. A social place where you could keep up with neighbors and the world outside. Hear the news and plot your rebellions. The picture above is of the King’s Arms Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg. Today it serves as a family restaurant, staying as true as possible to the colonial era. You can’t bookmark it like a Google search, but you can sure make reservations!

Fort Stanwix: The Key to the West

Ft. Stanwix

Located near what is today Rome, New York Ft. Stanwix at one time was one of the primary guardians of the frontier world. When the construction began on August 26, 1758, during the French and Indian War, it was designated to defend the Oneida Carrying Place. An important portage that could command traffic from the Atlantic seaboard to Lake Ontario. British General John Stanwix oversaw the construction of the fort which is done in a standard star design.


In 1768 the fort was the site of a treaty conference between the British and Iroquois. The purpose of the conference was to redraw the boundary lines between the white settlements and the Indian lands based on the Proclamation of 1763. The proclamation basically forbid British subjects from settling across the Appalachian Mountains. Thus giving the Indians control of the land. Both sides hoped that the conference would lead to an end to the frontier violence that was costing both sides lives. They also cost the British a lot of money to maintain a defense force in North America.

Of course, as with most treaties of the time, no one got everything they wanted. The Iroquois maintained their boundaries in the north, much to the chagrin of the white settlers. In return, the Iroquois ceded the better part of what would become Kentucky. There was just one problem, the tribes that actually lived in that area Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee were not represented at all in the negotiations! So, of course, this treaty just paved the way for the next round of frontier violence.

American Revolution

After the treaty was signed Ft. Stanwix was abandoned and fell into disrepair until American troops occupied it in July of 1776. Officially renamed Ft Schuyler, it was repaired and fortified. In August of 1777, it came under siege by the British. At the time British General Burgoyne was leading one arm of the British army on his ill-fated Hudson River campaign. General Barry St. Ledger led another arm against the Continentals at Ft. Stanwix.

On the day that the siege began the defenders of the fort raised the flag that was based on the designed approved by Congress. For the first time, the flag of the United States of America was flown in battle. The Americans held out, thanks to General Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany, and double thanks to General Benedict Arnold. St. Ledger retreated to Canada and his defeat helped set the stage for Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga months later.

In May 1781 the fort burned down and was not rebuilt. During the War of 1812, a blockhouse was built on the site. Designated a National Monument in 1935 the fort was reconstructed between 1974 and 1978 and remains in place, run by the National Park Service and open year-round.

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal


In the days before the American Revolution, the great European powers explored the wilds of North America. They presented the leaders of the various native tribes with silver medals. The medals were symbols of friendship. They also singled out the leaders as special people. They were effective tools that tied the leadership of various tribes to the major powers.

In the wake of the Revolution, it was decided that the United States of America would continue the tradition. Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, saw the medals as just trinkets that were the continuation of a long-standing European tradition to give small presents to treaty negotiators, one that was harmless and really had no meaning. Sort of like when you stop at a truck stop and buy a spoon with the name of whatever state you are visiting.

When Jefferson, as President, sent Lewis and Clark on their great adventure to the Pacific Ocean they were loaded down with these medals in 1804 through 1806. Along the way, as they handed out the medal to the various tribes they encouraged their “new friends” to send back or turn in any such trinkets they had received previously from other Europeans. There is no record to indicate how many were returned. Odds are not many.

The medal above is one of these medals. The original medals were made of thin silver plates connected with a small silver band. On the front, President Jefferson, the back the crossed tomahawks and clasped hands indicating peace and friendship. Each successive President would strike their own medallions. Whether or not they worked in promoting friendship… well that may be another story.


The Journal of Major Washington

The Journal of Major Washington

The Journal of Major Washington


In 1753 the Governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, sent Major George Washington (then only 21) into the Western reaches of the Colony to warn the encroaching French that they were trespassing on land that was claimed by Virginia for England. The land in question would eventually become Ohio.

Washington and his small expedition were to deliver an ultimatum to the French garrison at Fort Le Boeuf. Not far from Lake Erie. He was received by the French commander who told Washington that he would forward the request to his superiors in Quebec. In the meantime, they were going nowhere.

When the expedition kicked off Washington was sure to take experienced woodsmen, explorers, and interpreters with him. He was about to get his first taste of the true frontier. On his tour, he dealt with rain and snow, visited a number of French forts and even some native villages. Putting his skills as a surveyor to the test he even created one of the first maps of the Ohio River Valley. Realizing that he was not going to get the answer he was looking for Washington headed home.

As soon as he returned to Williamsburg Washington wrote out the official report of his trip and handed it over to Governor Dinwiddie who immediately saw it as a tool to warn people about the encroaching French menace. Dinwiddie had the journal published in book form and in broadsides and excerpts even showed up in newspapers in the colonies and back in England. Overnight Major George Washington became a name well-known at home and in the social circles in London.

The picture above is of one of the original copies of the published journal.

Side note

Dinwiddie would send Washington back to the Ohio River Valley on a second expedition to parley with the French. This one did not go as well. George Washington may have accidentally started a world war. One that would end with the British American colonies on a slippery slope to revolution. Too bad he didn’t keep a journal of THAT adventure!

The Cost of 1812

The Cost of 1812

The War of 1812 was an interesting war. The United States was not quite ready to fight but declared war anyway.  The British were busy against Napoleon in Europe, so fought the first half as an afterthought. The Natives involved pretty much knew that no matter who won they would be the losers.

When the war started in June 1812 the land forces of the United States numbered approximately 7,000 men that would face off against 5,200 British soldiers in the New World. By the end of the war, the US would field over 35,000 men including close to half a million militiamen. The British would put over 48,000 men in the field, another ten thousand Provincial regulars and four thousand militia. As far as Natives, the American allies provided at least  125 Choctaw Indians and scores from other tribes, the British could count on over ten thousand warriors.

In almost two and half years of fighting the Americans invaded Canada, the British invaded the United States. Both sides won and lost at sea but neither gained much ground. With the “final” defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the British found themselves in a position to put their full weight into the war. Not long after both sides had enough fighting and a treaty was agreed on.

Final Tally

Almost 15,000 US soldiers died from combat and disease. The British lost about 7,000.  In the end, no borders changed, no grievances were resolved and things went back to pretty much the way it was before the war.

Oh and the natives? They continued to fight the Americans and without the support of the British, did not fare well. The last hope for the Natives pretty much ended with the end of the War of 1812. Now they were all that stood between the people of the United States and their Manifest Destiny.

Keep Your Powder Dry

Keep Your Gunpowder Dry

Keep Your Gunpowder Dry


Gunpowder changed the way that lives were lived and wars were fought, no one can deny that. From guns to bombs, to fireworks, to any number of uses.  It gives a great amount of bang for the buck (pun intended). The only problem is that once it gets wet, it quits banging. So for ages people have been coming up with ways to keep their powder dry. The most popular was the good old-fashioned cow horn. It was waterproof and easily obtainable, just eat a cow and usually you get two!

During the French & Indian War, American and British forces took the old-fashioned powder horn to new heights by engraving them with military themes. The smooth surfaces were perfect for engraving and anyone that has been to war knows the old adage, “hurry up and wait.” So the men had plenty of time to be creative.

The powder horn above was a custom job that was carved for a veteran of the 1758 siege of Louisbourg (Nova Scotia, yeah, we invaded Nova Scotia once). The horn contains a map of the city showing where each artillery battery was located, shows ships in the harbor firing on the city, a hunter with his dog, and a light infantryman firing his weapon at Native Americans. (It was a different time!)

In the center of the horn is a distinctively carved tree. This style of the tree was like a signature for the artist. Unfortunately, he remains unidentified, but his work has been seen several times.


A. Lincoln, Soldier

A. Lincoln, Soldier

A. Lincoln, Soldier

At Lincoln’s Tomb, as you leave the entrance way and walk the hallway to the antechamber where the sarcophagus is, you are shown a number of statutes that represent certain periods of Lincoln’s life. The one above is of Lincoln the soldier. While his actual time spent in that role was short, it shaped him in a number of ways.

In early 1832 Black Hawk and a band, his followers crossed the Mississippi River in an attempt to reclaim their lands from the white settlers. This attack caused Illinois to call out there militia, among them a young man named Abraham Lincoln who would serve over the next couple of months.

Lincoln served in a number of roles during the war as he came in out of the service. At one point he was elected captain of his company, his first brush with an electoral process. Most accounts show he was a well thought of and capable leader. While he never actually saw combat during the war, he was on hand for the aftermath of several battles, tasked with helping to bury the dead each time.

Later in life, Lincoln would reflect on his time in the service. It would be one of the many starting points for his famous stories. During this period he made a number of contacts that would serve him in his career. The images of the aftermath of the war would never stray far from his mind. Of the many roles, Lincoln undertook in his life this was one of the smallest. Certainly not a legendary one. Still, that brief time did help make the 23-year-old into the man he would later become.




For almost two hundred years the flintlock firearm was the state of the art for the military around the world. First developed by Marin le Bourgeoys for King Louis XIII of France around 1610 they continued to be refined and developed until the mid-19th century when percussion caps became more the norm.

The flintlock pistol was normally used in conjunction with another weapon, sword or cutlass and would fire one shot before having to be reloaded. They ranged from six inches up to twenty and were mostly smooth bore. Effective and powerful in the short-range their greatest deficiency was that time it took to reload. For those that have never done it here are the steps:

Load the flint into the lock.

Half-cock the cock

Pour the proper amount of black powder down the muzzle

Tamp it down

Wrap the ball in a patch, usually linen or cotton

Put the ball in the muzzle

Tamp the ball and power down with the ramrod

Prime the flash pan

You are ready to fire!

Now imagine that in the middle of a fight, probably not going to happen which is why you would normally carry more than one.

Not only is the load process time-consuming, but the actual flick that makes the spark can sometimes be an issue. They wear out, and if not produced right is just plain ineffective.  Of course, keeping your powder dry was a major issue. Even when it was you would have to constantly clean the powder residue from the weapon to keep it functioning. Since most of the pistols were made by hand the parts were mostly not transferable from one to another. So if something broke, you may be out of luck.

Still, though they were good weapons and were integral in not only the military but taming the new frontiers found on the American Continent.

Book Review: Illinois in the War of 1812

Review: Illinois in the War of 1812


It is actually quite a shame that the War of 1812 does not get more focus outside the hallowed halls of academia. It was a war that didn’t need fought, was almost lost and the most famous battle was fought after the treaty was signed. Some very interesting stuff. Most of the time the focus of studies of the war deal with the fight for Canada and the Great Lakes, or the sack of Washington DC or the Battle fo New Orleans. This book by Gillum Ferguson forgoes all that t do with one certain aspect of the larger war, the frontier war in Illinois.

For the most part this was a side of the war fought between the Native Americans and the American settlers. What few regular troops were engaged by the US and the British had an impact but never enough to sway the outcome one way or the other. No, this was a war fought against the old by the new. As such the topic is one that can a little difficult because we know the ending.

Ferguson, to his credit. does not shy away from the brutality on either side.  For every Native village burned a dead settler family can be found. For every attempt at justice there was an ambush. This was not so much war as it was a contest to see who would be standing at the end.

One of the most fascinating aspects was learning about some of the Native leaders, the ones who knew that siding with the US was in their best interest, but took up the fight against them anyway. Some of the leaders, such as Gomo of the Potowatami was one of these that would do whatever was needed to protect his people. the political interplay between the tribes is something in this book that brought a new aspect to the time and struggle.

The other really great thing about the book was the author’s use of primary sources to “debunk” local legends. Some communities claim to have been the site of a famous battle, yet oddly no records of the fight exists.  Or even using sources from the time to locate where battles actually occurred in a frontier that no longer exists.

The down side is that it can be a little dry. Keeping track of the names and the geography can get a little overwhelming. It’s not a long book, but it is a meaty read. Don’t take this one lightly.

I recommend this book for anyone that more insight into the frontier wars and the impact of British and Native interactions in the period. If that sounds interesting dig in.

As always you can get a copy of the book from Amazon by clicking on the cover image above.



The Siege of Louisbourg

The Siege of Louisbourg 1758

The Siege of Louisbourg

The map above is an original showing the siege action that took place at Louisbourg during the French & Indian War. Louisbourg is located on Ile Royal, the modern-day Cape Breton Island in Canada. The fortress was the key to St. Lawrence waterway and the interior of Canada. As long as the French held out, any British campaigns in Canada would be very difficult.  In 1758 it took the British six weeks to take the fort and opened up Quebec to attack the next spring.  That is not the story for today though.

The real story is that years earlier in 1745 the fort had already been taken from the French. Not by the British Army however, but by brave men from New England (with a little help from the Navy.) This was one of the first military wins against a foreign power in the annals of American military history.

The Siege of Louisbourg (The First One)

In 1744 the War of the Austrian Succession broke out in Europe with the main combatants being England and France. It did not take long for the conflict to spill into the North American colonies.  As was the case in the next war the French fortress at Louisbourg stood in the way of the British war effort. Talk of trying to take the fortress in the colonies made the rounds, but the British were not all that enthused about the idea. In the end it was decided that it would just be too darn expensive to launch an operation.

Massachusetts Governor William Shirley  would not take no for an answer. He thought that the fortress could be taken with just a few men and made a proposal to the General Assembly, which pretty much denied it deferring to their British overlords. Shirley would not be denied however.

In all he arranged for 3,000 volunteers for land duty and another 1,000 for the naval duty. with backup coming from a British fleet in Jamaica. In a campaign that lasted a little more than a month the Colonists were victorious and Louisbourg was theirs!

The Fallout

When news of the victory reached the colonies there was elation. Spontaneous celebrations of the “Citizen Soldier” ran rampant. Fireworks and liquor were widespread. This was the birth of the idea that the common man, the militia, were just as powerful as the “regular” army. It was this victory that sat in the minds of the next generation of Americans when war began brewing against the British.

Speaking fo the British. The victory was not quite received as well. The common man on the street thought the victory was incredible. The Government though, were not as thrilled. Unknown to the colonists a peace treaty was in the works and the victory caused issues. In a move that would later come back to haunt them the British handed the fort back over to the French.

When news of the return of the fort reached America the colonists felt betrayed. They had fought hard and well and won a great victory over the mighty French. Only to see their victory wiped out. This was a slight that would stick in the colonists craw for many years and would even be brought up during the march to revolution.  So in many ways, the First Siege of Louisbourg had much more of an impact than the second.