King William's War

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The French and Indian Wars, which stretched out from 1689 to 1763, were a series of conflicts in the colonies of New Netherlands, New England, New York, and New France that very much reflected European political disputes. The first of them, King William's War, was the New World theater of the Nine Years' War, or the War of the Grand Alliance.

In 1688, England's King James II, a Catholic, was deposed by the Glorious Revolution, and he fled to France. Parliament offered the throne to William of Orange, and Mary. In addition to having a college named after them, William and Mary were husband and wife and first cousins; that Mary was the daughter of the just-deposed James apparently did nothing to harm her reputation. William promptly joined the League of Augsburg, also known as the Grand Alliance, which had been formed to oppose Louis XIV, and went to war with France, where James II was in exile. The alliance was numerous: Austria, Bavaria, Brandenburg, the Dutch Republic, The Holy Roman Empire, the Palatinate of the Rhine, Portugal, Savoy, Saxony, Spain, Sweden, and, because of William's domains, England, Scotland and Ireland. The war was not fought only in Europe: England used its influence with the powerful Iroquois nations to disrupt trade between New France, its Wabanaki confederacy allies,  and the western tribes.

A long-simmering hostility among native peoples also fed into this conflict. Mohawks had been battling Algonquin tribes since before European settlement, and remained hostile in order to protect their valuable trade with the Dutch and English. In 1666, a French attack on Mohawk villages led to forced Catholicization of a number of Mohawks, and more were converted over time and convinced to relocate to villages near Montreal. There was significant tension with the Mohawks who remained in their home valley.

For a few years, living along the interface of this conflict was a dangerous proposition. Raids in modern Maine and New Hampshire killed settlers, soldiers, and natives. A large body of Iroquois warriors, who had long bristled against the French and Catholicized Mohawks, led a massacre at Lachine, just outside modern Montreal, in the summer of 1689. They killed 24 colonists in the attack, and another 50 captives were later tortured to death; the settlement was set ablaze. By this time France and England were formally at war, but news had not reached the colonies.

The Governor of New France, the Comte de Frontenac, slowly responded by organizing expeditions to attack English settlements south of Montreal. In the winter of 1690, one group of 160 Canadiens and 100 native warriors, a mix of Catholic Mohawks, Sault and Algonquins, trekked south along the ice-covered lakes Champlain and George toward the English towns on the Hudson. They did not go undetected; scouting parties in earlier months had caused alarm in both Albany and Schenectady. Their objective, Albany, appeared well-defended by the soldiers at Fort Frederick, but they learned from local natives that there was no guard at the stockaded community of Schenectady. It has also been reported that among their number, some of the Catholic Mohawks preferred to attack a town closer to the home of the Iroquois, where the Dutch and the Iroquois Mohawks were in fact in close alliance. And so the raiding party turned a bit west.

Toward Schenectady.

Next: An unguarded moment.

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