In the early days of the French and Indian War on the Pennsylvania frontier, newly formed Pennsylvania regulars and militia counter raided Ohio Indian villages, while the forts completed in 1757 brought some semblance of security to the frontier. In Philadelphia, the Quakers went on their own “peace offensive” against the Ohio Indians. The official position of the Pennsylvania Assembly was that the land west of the Juniata and East Susquehanna River valleys belonged to the Iroquois Confederation and that the colonists were interlopers. This caused a deadlock in the Assembly about negotiating with the Indians. Israel Pemberton, the Quakers’ leader in the Pennsylvania Assembly, formed the “Friendly Association for Preserving and Regaining Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures.” The “Friendly Association” took advantage of the lack of French and British traders in some Delaware lands to begin negotiations with Indians desperate for trade goods that weren’t forthcoming because of the war parties. Pemberton brought food and goods in exchange for temporary cease fires among the isolated tribes.
Pemberton’s efforts were rewarded when in 1758, the Ohio Indians, the Iroquois, and peace delegates led by Conrad Weiser from Pennsylvania met in Easton. The Delaware half-king Teedyuscung declared himself the “King of the Delawares” and he took the lead in most of the peace negotiations with the Pennsylvanians on behalf of the Ohio Indians. The Iroquois were neutral in the French and Indian War, and felt that to resume subjugation of Teedyuscung and the Ohio Indians, who had grown beyond their control, peace was needed on the frontier. Until the French and Indian War, the Iroquois ruled over their Ohio Indian subjects, the Delaware, Shawnee, and Monongahela, through the Mingo. The Treaty of Easton in October 1757 resulted in the nullification of the Albany Purchase and an agreement that no colonial would settle the lands beyond the crests of the highest mountains, as implied in the original Lancaster Treaty, but was specified in the Easton Treaty.
Along with the Quaker peace overtures at Easton, Christian Frederick Post, a Moravian missionary who was married to a Delaware woman and was known to most of the Delaware tribes, travelled the Ohio country spreading the news of the conference at Easton. Many of the Ohio Indians seemed to warm to the peace initiatives because Great Lakes Indians were no better overlords than the Iroquois, and the French didn’t seem to want to depart their land either. They were also concerned with Brigadier General John Forbes’ expedition which was just ascending the east slopes of the Allegheny Mountains, building a road and constructing forts along the way. Like the disastrous Braddock expedition the year before, Forbes was tasked with expelling the French from the Ohio Country. Post told the Ohio Indians that as long as the French were in the Upper Ohio Valleys, Forbes would continue and the British would stay.
General John Forbes was a regular British officer sent to the colonies to attempt what had eluded Gen Braddock – seize Fort Duquesne and the French forts below the southern shore of Lake Erie. Fort Duquesne was the primary staging ground for all of the Great Lakes’ Indian raids on the Pennsylvania frontier and served as their “village.” To assist Forbes in this endeavor was the man who would come to epitomize the frontier soldier in Pennsylvania: Colonel Henri Bouquet.
Bouquet was a colorful Swiss mercenary with extensive experience fighting in the Europe and America. He accepted a commission during King George’s War in the 60th “Royal American” Regiment, a regular British regiment recruited specifically to fight in America and easily recognized by their distinctive forest green uniforms. Despite the only surviving portrait of him as a portly cleft chinned gentlemen, Bouquet was a rugged, creative and competent frontier soldier. Bouquet understood the realities of frontier fighting. Although he shared the typical British officer’s disdain of colonial militia, he recognized that militia understood frontier fighting and were better suited to a variety of roles that would cause regulars to be underutilized, such as vanguard, flank and rear guard, and manning fortifications. Moreover, he was quick to see that in the militia there were true frontiersmen sprinkled about. These special individuals could serve as scouts and raiders modeled of Maj. Robert Rogers’ Rangers in New York. Finally, Bouquet knew the potential of regular troops and if trained properly could assume the roles of light fighter and raider as necessary. To this end he encouraged his men to “brown their musket barrels”, doff their bright red uniforms and replace them with “browns and greens”.
Lt. Col. Bouquet’s scouts and rangers found that the best route to Fort Duquesne was not via Fort Cumberland and Virginia in the south, but from Fort Lyttleton in the east. The Pennsylvania militia agreed wholeheartedly, as the route gave them better claim to the Ohio country than the Virginians. The Virginians, led by Lt-Col George Washington, protested vehemently, and even suggested a separate thrust via Cumberland. Forbes, trusting in Bouquet’s assessment, ordered the expedition to assemble at Fort Lyttleton.
As Post and Pemberton were hammering out a peace treaty with Teedyuscung and the Ohio Indians, Forbes’ Expedition was slowly cutting a road over the mountains (Today’s US 22). Forbes periodically stopped and built forts to secure his communications and logistics to the east. These forts, such as Fort Ligonier and Fort Bedford among other smaller outposts, provided a secure place to withdraw in the event of difficulties, safely rest and water the horses, and stockpile provisions. They also provided spots for scouts to return to in a timely manner with information regarding Indian war parties transiting east or returning west. Unfortunately, Forbes became increasingly invalided with “the flux” (probably stomach cancer), and by the time Fort Ligonier was established, he was carried in a litter and Bouquet was the de facto expedition commander.
When Bouquet’s column arrived in the vicinity of Fort Duquesne, he dispatched Maj James Grant with his Highlander regulars and some provincial militia to conduct a reconnaissance in force of the fort. Grant was instructed to withdraw if he encountered any Indians, and ambush the inevitable pursuit. Grant, a British officer in the Braddock mold, advanced in formation with drums pounding and pipes playing. Grant’s column was ambushed and wiped out after torching several of Fort Duquesne’s outlying blockhouses. This was an unfortunate turn of events because at that moment Christian Post was negotiating the withdrawal of all of the Ohio Indians from French service. Had Grant done what he was supposed to do, his men would have survived. Post brought peace belts and the news of the Treaty of Easton to Fort Duquesne’s Ohio Indians. When Bouquet arrived with the main column, he met Post and the Ohio Indians on the way back to their villages. With most of their Ohio Indian “auxiliaries” gone, the Great Lakes’ Indians deserted the French, and with few Indian allies remaining the French withdrew to Fort Venango and burned Fort Duquesne to the ground. As Bouquet and Post approached the ruined fort on 25 November 1758, they were greeted with the scalps, bloody kilts, and mutilated bodies of Grant’s Highlanders.
Lt. Col. Bouquet, the senior capable British officer on the Pennsylvania frontier, had to return to Philadelphia with the incapacitated Forbes and the vast majority of the 5000 man army. He left 200 men under Cpt. Hugh Mercer to hold the Forks of the Ohio that winter, maintain relations with Indians, and keep track of French movements. Like most militia, Hugh Mercer was a recent immigrant, specifically from Scotland, where he was a doctor in the army of the Jacobite Rebellion. However, he was an experienced frontiersman. In the confusion during John Armstrong’s withdrawal from Kittanning in 1757, the wounded Mercer became separated, and it took the tough Scotsman 14 days of living on berries, hiding during the day and traveling at night to reach the safety of one Pennsylvania’s new forts. He received his commission in the militia after that, and became one of Bouquet’s most trusted subordinates, along with Lt.-Col Washington of Virgina, during the construction of Forbes’ Road to the Forks.
Mercers’ first priority after constructing a small fort to shelter his men from the winter weather and French attack, was maintaining the neutrality of the Ohio Indians. He could only do this by continually assuring the Mingo half-kings and Ohio Indian chiefs, such as Shingas and Tamacua, who were instrumental in Post’s peace deal that the British would depart when the French were gone. In December 1758, Mercer called a great council fire with the Ohio Indian chiefs where he stressed that the Treaty of Easton would be honored. He even recruited Iroquois to back his message, who were happy in any attempt to reassert their control over the Ohio Indians. However, as was suspected by the Ohio Indians, the British and their Iroquois allies had no intention of departing the Ohio Country despite the Easton Treaty, (or the later Proclamation of 1763). In the spring of 1759, the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo looked on with suspicion when Cpt. Henry Gordon, a Royal Engineer, with 200 artificers arrived at the growing village, Pittsburgh, outside of Mercer’s small fort. Gordon had orders to build what became the second largest fort in colonial America, Fort Pitt.
Though the French and Indian War continued for three more years, violence on the Pennsylvania frontier declined dramatically after Bouquet seized the remains of Fort Duquesne and Mercer constructed Fort Pitt.