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and extensive swamp, called the Dismal, which chap. I. could not be penetrated without difficulty even 1779. by single persons.
The whole seaboard on the south side of James river being now in possession of general Mathews, he fixed his head quarters at Portsmouth, whence small parties were detached to Norfolk, Gosport, Kemp's Landing, and Suf. folk, where a great quantity of military and naval stores, and several vessels richly laden, were taken, and either brought away, or destroyed. The loss sustained both by the public, and by individuals, was immense. The opposition encountered in effecting it was almost nothing.
The invasion of general Mathews was of short duration. Having destroyed the maga. zines collected in the small towns near the coast, and the shipping in the rivers, he was directed by sir Henry Clinton to return to New York, where he arrived towards the last of May.
Impressed with the importance of Portsmouth as a permanent station, the admiral, and general Mathews united in representing to the commander in chief, the advantages to be derived from keeping possession of it. But, in the opinion of sir Henry Clinton, the army, at that time, did not admit of so many subdivisions; and with a view to more interesting objects, Portsmouth was evacuated.
Discontents in a part of the American army....Letter
from general Washington on this subject....Colonel Van Schaick surprises and destroys one of the Indian settlements....Expedition under general Sullivan against the Indian settlements....Fort Fayette surrendered to the British....Invasion of Connecticut....General Wayne surprises and takes Stony Point....Expedition under colonel M-Lean against Penobscot.... The British post at Powles-hook surprised by major Lee, and the garrie son made prisoners.
1779. THE shocking barbarities practised in the
course of the preceding year, by Indians united to white men still more savage than Indians, on the inhabitants of the western frontiers, had irresistibly attracted the public attention, and added motives of mingled resentment and humanity to those of national interest, for employing a larger force than had heretofore been spared, for the protection of that part of the union.
General Washington, who in the early part of his life had received many practical lessons in the science of Indian warfare, had been always firmly persuaded of the absolute impossibility of defending the immense frontier on the west from their incursions, by any chain of forts which could be erected; and that the country would be much more certainly protected by offensive, than by defensive war.
His plan was to penetrate by a rapid movement chap. II. into the heart of their settlements, with a force 1779. competent to the destruction of their towns, provided the circumstances of the army would justify his making a detachment sufficient for the purpose. As a contingent part of his plan, he had also contemplated the reduction of the British post at Niagara, the possession of which gave them an almost irresistible influence over the Six Nations. This plan constituted one of the various subjects of conference with the committee of congress in Philadelphia, and received the entire approbation of that body.
The state governments also took a strong interest in the protection of their western settlements. Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania respectively applied to congress, urging the adoption of such vigorous measures as would secure the frontiers against a repeti. tion of the horrors which had been already perpetrated. These papers were referred to the committee appointed to confer with general Washington; in conformity with whose report it was resolved, “ that the commander in chief be directed to take efficient measures for the protection of the inhabitants, and chastisement of the savages.” Other resolutions were passed at the same time, for raising companies of rangers for the sole purpose of serving on the western frontiers.
CHAP. II. That extensive and fertile country lying 1779. between the then westernmost settlements of
Pennsylvania and New York, and the great lakes, was occupied by the Six Nations of Indians, who, from their long intercourse, with the whites, had made some advances towards acquiring the comforts of civilized life, and had extended their ideas of the advantages of private property beyond those limits which generally bound the views of the savages of North America.
In their populous villages were to be seen several comfortable houses, and their fertile fields and orchards yielded an abundant supply of corn and fruit. Some few of their towns were attached to the United States, but, in general they were under the influence of the British, from whose posts on the lakes, they received supplies of blankets, rum, and other imported articles. Many of the loyalists, who had been compelled to Ay from the settled parts of the United States, had taken refuge among them and had added to their strength, without diminishing their ferocity. These men found an asylum among the Indians, lived with them in their villages, and joined them in their expeditions against the Americans. They had been active in the incursions of the preceding year, and were believed to be meditating others for the ensuing campaign. Into the heart of these villages of mingled whites and Indians, it
was now determined to lead a force which should CHAP. II. be certainly sufficient to overpower any num. 1779. bers they could possibly bring into the field, and to destroy the settlements they had made.
The country was to be entered by three divi. sions at the same time. The principal body, to consist of about three thousand men, was to march up the Susquehannah, and to pene. trate immediately into the settlements of the Senecas. The second, to be composed of about one thousand, was to proceed by the way of the Mohawk; and the third, which was to be composed of five hundred men, was to move up the Alleghany river, and attack the town in that quarter.
The only circumstance which, according to any reasonable calculation, could endanger the success of the expedition, would be the arrival of a strong re-enforcement from Canada. To prevent this, means were used to inspire that colony with fears for itself. Demonstrations were made of a design to enter Canada by the way of lake Champlain; and at the same time, persons were employed to extend the road from Coos to the Sorel, in order to excite apprehen. sions from that quarter also. In the mean-time, preparations were making for the enterprise really contemplated, and every intelligence was collected which could facilitate its execution.
Just as the army destined for this expedition was about to move, alarming symptoms of discontent were given by a part of it.