The French Capture of Schenectady During King William's War (1690)
Described by Comptroller-General de Monseignat (E. B. O'Callahan, tr., 1843)
[Excerpted from American History Told by Contemporaries, Vol. II: Building of the Republic, Albert Bushnell Hart, ed. (New York, MacMillan, 1899), pp. 337-340]
Monseignat was a Canadian official, a protege of Madame de Maintenon to whom thus account is addressed.
News arrived at Quebec of the success of the first party that had gone out against the English, and which had been organized at Montreal. It might have consisted of two hundred and ten men; to wit, of 80 Indians of the Fault and the Mountain sixteen Algonquins, and the remainder Frenchmen. It was commanded by Lieutenants Le Moyne de Sainte Hélène and Dailleboust de Mantet both Canadians, under whom were Sieurs Se Moyne d'Iberville and Repentigny de Montesson. The best qualified of the French were Sieurs de Bonrepos and de La Brosse, reduced lieutenants (reformés) Sieurs Le Moyne de Biainville, Le Bert du Chesne, and la Marque de Montigny who all served as volunteers. They took their departure from Montreal in the fore part of February....
. . . they . . . experienced inconceivable difficulties . . . having been obliged to wade up to their knees in water, and to break the ice with their feet in order to find a solid footing.
They arrived within two leagues of Corlard about four o'clock in the evening, and were harangued by the Great Mohawk, the chief of the Iroquois of the Sault. He urged on all to perform their duty, and to forget their past fatigue, in the hope of taking ample revenge for the injuries they had received from the Iroquois at the solicitation of the English, and of washing them out in the blood of those traitors. This Indian was without contradiction the most considerable of his tribe, an honest man, as full of spirit, prudence and generosity as possible, and capable at the same time of the grandest undertakings. Four squaws were shortly after discovered in a wigwam who gave every information necessary for the attack on the town. The fire found in their hut served to warm those who were benumbed, and they continued their march, having previously detached Ciguières, a Canadian, with nine Indians, on the scout. They discovered no one, and returned to join the main body within one league of Corlard.
At eleven of the clock at night, they came within sight of the town, resolved to defer the assault until two o'clock of the morning. But the excessive cold admitted of no further delay.
The town of Corlard forms a sort of oblong with only two gatesÑ one opposite where our party had halted; the other opening towards Orange, which is only six leagues distant. Messieurs de Sainte Helene 0 and de Mantet were to enter at the first which the squaws pointed out, and which, in fact, was found wide open. Messieurs d'Iberville and de Montesson took the left with another detachment, in order to make themselves masters of that leading to Orange. But they could not discover it, and returned to join the remainder of the party. A profound silence was every where observed, until the two Commanders, who separated after having entered the town for the purpose of encircling it, met at the other extremity. ,
The signal of attack was given Indian fashion, and the entire force rushed on simultaneously.
M. de Mantet placed himself at the head of one detachment, and reached a small fort where the garrison was under arms. The gate was burst in after a good deal of difficulty, the whole set on fire, and all who defended the place slaughtered.
The sack of the town began a moment before the attack on the fort. Few houses made any resistance. M. de Montigny discovered several which he attempted to carry sword in hand, having tried the musket in vain. He received two thrusts of a halbert (pertuissane) one in the body and the other in the arm. But M. de Sainte Helene having come to his aid, effected an entrance, and put every one who defended the place to the sword. The Massacre lasted two hours. The remainder of the night was spent in placing sentinels, and in taking some rest.
The house belonging to the Minister was ordered to be saved, so as to take him alive to obtain information from him; but as it was not known, it was not spared any more than the others. He was killed in it and his papers burnt before he could be recognized.
At day break some men were sent to the dwelling of Mr. Condre who was Major of the place, and who lived at the other side of the river. He was not willing to surrender, and put himself on the defensive with his servants and some Indians; but as it was resolved not to do him any harm, in consequence of the good treatment that the French had formerly experienced at his hands, M. d'Iberville and the Great Mohawk proceeded thither alone, promised him quarter for himself, his people and his property, whereupon he laid down his arms on their assurance entertained them in his fort, and returned with them to see the Commandants in the town.
In order to occupy the Indians, who would otherwise have taken to drink and thus rendered themselves unable for defence, the houses had already been set on fire. None were spared in the town but one belonging to Condre, and that of a widow who had six children, whither M. de Montigny had been carried when wounded. All the rest were burnt. The lives of between fifty and sixty persons, old men, women and children were spared, they having escaped the first fury of the attack; also some thirty Iroquois, in order to show them that it was the English and not they against whom the grudge was entertained. The loss on this occasion in houses, cattle and grain, amounts to more than four hundred thousand livres. There were upwards of eighty well built and well furnished houses in the town.
The return march commenced with thirty prisoners. The wounded, who were to be carried, and the plunder with which all the Indians and some Frenchmen were loaded, caused considerable inconvenience. Fifty good horses were brought away. Sixteen of them only reached Montreal. The remainder were killed on the road for food....
Such, Madam, is the account of what passed at the taking of Corlard. The French lost but twenty-one men, namely four Indians and seventeen Frenchmen. Only one Indian and one Frenchman were killed at the capture of the town. The others were lost on the road.
[E. B O'Callaghan, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York (Albany, 1855), IX, 466-469 passim.]