Photo Credit – By Varing (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Near the beginning of the French and Indian War between Britain and France, the city of Oswego, in present day New York, was considered a strategic location for both the French and the British. The British held the garrison at the beginning of 1756 and were making plans to launch operations from there to disrupt the French re-supply of their inland garrisons of the Ohio Valley. Oswego is where the Oswego River meets Lake Ontario and the British hoped to use it as a jumping off point to attack Fort Niagara, on the present day New York / Ontario border where Lake Ontario meets the Niagara River. Oswego was important, because it could be re-supplied from Albany, New York which was firmly in British control. The route from Albany to Oswego followed the Mohawk River from Albany to near present day Rome, New York, where boats would be unloaded and goods carried overland along the “Oneida Carry” or “The Carrying Place” portage to Wood Creek. Wood Creek, then led into Lake Oneida, then to the Oneida River and finally to Oswego on the Oswego River’s drainage into Lake Ontario. All of this looked good on paper, but the “Oneida Carry” was only protected by two small forts, named Bull (on Wood Creek) and Williams (on the Mohawk). The French decided that to attack Oswego first was too risky, so they decided to cut it off first. French Governour of Canada, Vaudreuil, sent a small force under Lieutenant Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry to capture and destroy both Forts Bull and Williams.
Around 13 March 1756, de Lery took his force of French regulars (troupes de terre from various Regiments), Canadian militia and Indians (Iroquis, Algonquin and Nepissing) from Montreal on a march of privation to the vicinity of Fort Bull on 27 March 1756. The weather had abused them and the forced march deprived them of food for several days at a time. By the time they came to the “Oneida Carry,” they were so ravenous, they did not notice that a member of a sled party that they had raided had escaped to alert Fort Williams. The Indians felt that the group should escape whilst they had the chance, but de Lery was an officer of the continental mode and would have none of it. He had come to disrupt the “Oneida Carry” and that was what he intended to do. Therefore, the Indians focussed on ambushing unsuspecting British on the trail and de Lery took his European force on to Fort Bull.
At Fort Bull, de Lery found a garrison that had been alerted by a work party who had been ambushed by de Lery’s Indian allies. So, instead of a pushover, de Lery had a fight on his hands. Fort Bull was more of a supply depot than a true baricaded fort, so the French were able to fire sufficently well into the fort that the gates were soon assaulted. Being a gentlemanly European warrior, de Lery asked the British commander for a surrender, but met nothing but another volley of fire. This gave de Lery the mandate he needed to kill all he found inside the fort. Once capitulated, the fort’s soldiers found themselves dying by French bayonettes. The French threw the British weapons in the swamp nearby and put the fort to fire. Fort Williams dispatched a relief column, but they were ambushed by the French allied Indians and turned back. Afterwards, de Lery thought better of attacking Fort Williams as he knew he would not have Indian help and Fort Williams had more men and artillery to fend off his withering force.
At Fort Bull, the French had lost approximately 3 men and the British over 100, but most importantly, the French had conducted a daring winter raid that now denied the British the supply chain they needed to operate willfully on Lake Ontario. Oswego would fall in August 1756, but it was effectively silenced in March 1756.
Try this ride from Rome, New York along the “Oneida Carry,” along Wood Creek, along the north shore of Oneida Lake and on to Oswego on Lake Ontario.