During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the French used Indian raids to attack British settlements all along the east coast. These efforts were successful in checking British colonial expansion. In response, Britain occupied forts in upstate New York with hopes that their conventional forces would inhibit Indian raids. These forts failed because they only controlled the area within musket range of their walls. The British turned to Robert Rogers and his rangers. The colonial rangers were inured to the deprivations of wilderness fighting. They had a personal stake in the war in their backyard. Comfortable in the woods, the rangers fought to win.
In the fall of 1759, Rogers and two hundred rangers trekked 150 miles through French-controlled wilderness to attack the Indian town of Saint Francis.1 The action was a stunning model for future special operations raids. The ability to materialize where not expected and strike a blow changed the dynamic of the war. The British has gained the offensive and it was the French and their allies who had to fear the darkness at civilizations edge.
The raid on Saint Francis can be described in terms of its sociopolitical backdrop. The French, British, Indians, and settlers all had different goals and motives.
British colonists were outcasts and religious misfits who came to the new world to escape persecution and social ills. Britain saw the colonies as a place to send dissidents and ne’er do wells. English colonists were not agents of the crown but settlers looking for land to start anew. The British government’s main interest in America was to protect their colonists and allow them to produce goods, specifically lumber, cotton, and tobacco. As a consequence, Native Americans felt threatened by British occupation of their ancestral homelands.
The French had a completely different view of the new world. French
colonists were entrepreneurs, businessmen, and priests. They were direct agents of the French crown and were more interested in the trade products of the deep American interior. French established trading alliances with many Indian tribes. Unified in religion, they sent catholic missionaries to convert Indians. The Indians were not to be conquered but co-opted.2
To complete this model it is necessary to examine British-American frontiersmen. These were tough independent minded people. Their ancestors had made the long arduous journey to America because the rules of civilization didn’t suit them. American frontiersmen lived off the land in the backcountry, hunting, homesteading, and defending their land from Indian attacks. These settlers formed the core of Roger’s Rangers. A hard uncompromising lifestyle provided the selection process for an elite unit.3
To understand the strategies of the combatants, one must realize that New York had few roads or byways at this time. Inland waterways were the swiftest form of travel. The long lakes, Lake George and Lake Champlain,...