Thursday, November 13, 2014

Second Fort from French to British

by Tom Castaldi

Have you ever taken the pleasant drive north on St. Joseph Boulevard along its name-sake river?  As you pass the intersection of St. Joseph Street, you are at the site of the second French fort of the mid 1700s once known as Fort St. Joseph.  French authorities in Quebec decided in 1750 that the old French outpost on the St. Mary's River two and a half miles west by river travel was no longer tenable.  The French built a new fort, called Fort St. Joseph, closer to the Miami settlement of Kekionga.  However, the French had lost the friendship of the local Indians of the region.  Now for a time, the natives’ allegiance was to the British and their more attractive trading centers in the territories of present-day Ohio.

Long a favored place among the American Indian tribes, the place that was to become Fort Wayne was at the western end of the Great Black Swamp and marked a principal passageway between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley. When the Europeans first came among the Indian people of the Three Rivers, the newcomers also were attracted to the crossroads near the swamp which facilitated their travel and trade. Competition for the region was strong, evidenced by the flags that have waved over the land.

Captain Charles de Raimond, the French commandant, wrote to the governor of Canada, "my people are leaving me for Detroit nobody wants to stay here and have his throat cut."  The outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1755 led to the surrender of Fort St. Joseph to the British.  Down came the French banner and up went the British jack.  The fort was then occupied in 1760 by contingents of Roger's Rangers led by Lieutenant John Butler.  French power in the Old Northwest territories was ended and passed into British hands.

British relations with the Indians in its newly won territories quickly deteriorated in the face of arrogant traders and officials, broken promises, and withheld gifts.  The American Indians throughout the Great Lakes country united to drive out the British in the celebrated "Pontiac's Rising" of 1763.  Simultaneously, all the forts north of the Ohio River were attacked, and all but Detroit and Fort Pitt were taken.

At the old Fort St. Joseph, now renamed Fort Miami, an impending attack was signaled when three soldiers were killed by a Miami warrior outside the stockade gates on the night of May 25, 1763.  Ensign Robert Holmes, in charge of the small garrison, ordered the fort closed and prepared for siege.  Two English traders were captured that day by the Indians at Kekionga and witnessed what happened two days later when the fort fell.  A young Indian woman who lived with Commandant Holmes came to tell him that another woman lay seriously ill in a wiikiaami near the fort and urged him to come to her relief.  Having confidence in the young woman, Holmes came in sight of the large number of dwellings in the village when two muskets flashed and instantly killed the ensign.  The storyteller of the episode was shown Holmes' scalp the next day.

For the next thirty years, the Indians of Kekionga enjoyed the absence of a garrison.  During these years a large settlement of confederated tribes, centering on the Miami, emerged at the headwaters of the Maumee River, drawn together by the common hatred of the American intruders from the east. Defending their homes and fields, the Miami Confederacy, under Chief Little Turtle, struck back at the invading United States Army twice, once in 1790 and again in 1791, winning significant victories.  It would not last, however, because of the expansion of the new United States, which eventually overwhelmed the Indian people.  On October 22, 1794, another fort was erected in their midst called Fort Wayne.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” January 2010, No 62
 Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at

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