“Storys, scalping and mohawking”

American tales, narratives, stories—“the rhetoric of fear”—and the defeat of General Edward Braddock

in Journal of Early American History
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This work examines an often underappreciated factor in the defeat of General Edward Braddock’s infamous expedition against Fort Duquesne of 1755. This, of course, was the influence of the frontier tales, narratives and other stories (or the ‘rhetoric of fear’) fed to the regular British soldiery by their provincial allies—and indeed the colonial civilian population—as they marched across Western Maryland and Virginia on the long and arduous route to the Monongahela. These frequently exaggerated rumors and tales, evoking what many British colonists considered the almost mystical martial prowess (at least in North America’s backcountry) and merciless brutality of American Indian warriors, large numbers of whom were allied to the French, severely undermined morale among Old World soldiers advancing through what was a foreboding and unfamiliar country. This paper establishes that such literature and stories were factors of far greater significance than is recognized in traditional accounts of the Braddock defeat.

“Storys, scalping and mohawking”

American tales, narratives, stories—“the rhetoric of fear”—and the defeat of General Edward Braddock

in Journal of Early American History



Ian K. SteeleGuerrillas and Grenadiers: The Struggle for Canada 1689–1760 (Toronto, Ont.: McClelland and Stewart1974) 132.


Dallas Irvine“The First British Regulars in North America”Military Affairs 9 (Winter 1945): 337–354 and John Grenier The First Way of War: American War Making of the Frontier (New York: Cambridge University Press 2005).


Thomas E. CrockerBraddock’s March: How the Man Sent to Seize a Continent Changed American History (Yardley, Pa.: Westholme Publishing2011) offers one of the more recent campaign-orientated examinations of Braddock’s defeat. For Crocker Braddock was ultimately confounded because of “a confluence of adverse circumstances”. These included not only his French and Indian enemies but a “formidable geography almost non-existent intelligence colonial assemblies which would not pay [i.e. contribute to his campaign financially as expressed in his orders] colonial governors who dissembled Americans with their own agendas Quakers who did not lift a finger Indians who failed to materialize bad weather drunken and ill-humored troops and conniving staff officers” at 242. All of this is true of course but when examining the battle itself it still does not fully explain why the troops became as panic-stricken as they did when confronted by Native American warriors. As mentioned it is the extent of this terror which clearly ran deep in the British psyche that really requires significant elaboration if we are to understand at least when reflecting upon the engagement itself why we read of Braddock’s men eventually running as “Sheep before the Hounds leav’g the Artillery Ammunition Provisions and every individual thing we had with us prey to the Enemy” George Washington to Mrs. Mary Washington 18 July 1755 in ed. John Clement Fitzpatrick The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1749–1799 39 vols. (Washington d.c.: United States Government Printing Office 1931) 1:150–152.


Stanley Pargellis“Braddock’s Defeat”American Historical Review 41 no. 2 (January 1936): 253–269 and Peter Russell “Redcoats in the Wilderness: British Officers and Irregular Warfare in Europe and America 1740–1760” William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. 35 no. 4 (October 1978): 629–652.


Fred AndersonCrucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America 1754–1766 (New York: Vintage Books2001) 90. William M. Fowler Jr. is another historian who has examined the Braddock defeat within the context of a wider French and Indian War narrative. Fowler sees the French response to the British advance as a desperate attempt to fight a rear-guard action that would allow the majority of the garrison to reinforce the more strategically vital Fort Niagara. The defeat of Braddock was for Fowler the consequence of a surprise encounter that caught the British off guard. The French and Indians were quick to adapt to the terrain on which they fought while the nervous British struggled to order themselves in the midst of the unfolding chaos that soon befell their column. All of this is true but it is the reasons for the depth of British fear (particularly of Indian warriors) requires further explanation when examining the Battle of the Monongahela William M. Fowler Jr. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America 1754–1763 (New York: Walker Publishing Company 2005) 64–73.


Peter SilverOur Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America (New York: W.W. Norton2008). Silver identifies the “anti –Indian sublime” as “horror-filled rhetoric of victimization intent on the damage that Indians had done to colonists’ bodies and families”. Ibid. xx. Although no Pennsylvanian units served in Braddock’s army—the colonial element of his army consisted of troops from Virginia Maryland and North Carolina (while New York and South Carolina provided independent regular companies)—many of the albeit diverse wagoners attached to that general’s force were from Pennsylvania (having been induced to serve by Benjamin Franklin) F. T. Nichols “The Organization of Braddock’s Army” William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. 4 no. 2 (April 1947): 125–147.


SilverOur Savage Neighbors45.


Frederich W. GleachPowhatan’s World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press1997) 47–51.


David L. Preston“La Bataille de la Malengueulee, 1755: New Perspectives on Braddock’s Defeat”The Filson Historical Society26 October 2012 http://www.filsonhistorical.org/media/41307/preston paper 2012 conference.pdf (accessed 15 September 2014).


 Quoted in J. A. HouldingFit for Service: The Training of the British Army 1715–1795 (Oxford: Oxford University Press1981) 357.


William H. GuthmanDrums A’beating Trumpets Sounding. Artistically Carved Powder Horns in the Provincial Manner 1741–1781 (Hartford, Ct.: Connecticut Historical Society1993) 101–102.


 See Ian McCulloch“‘Within ourselves’: The Development of British Light Infantry in North America during the Seven Years War”Canadian Military History 7 (Spring 1998): 41–55.

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