King William’s War 1689-1698

Louis XIV of France fought against the rest of Europe over James II of England's right to the English throne. The war caused colonists in America to launch attacks on French colonies namely Quebec and Montreal

King James II of England, unlike his profligate brother, Charles II, was extremely religious, and his religion was that of Rome. The large majority of the people of England were Protestants; but they would have submitted to a Catholic king had he not used his official power to convert the nation to Catholicism. From the time of James’s accession, in 1685, the unrest increased, until, three years later, the opposition was so formidable that the monarch fled from his kingdom and took refuge in France. The daughter of James and her husband, the Prince of Orange, became the joint sovereigns of England as William and Mary. This movement is known in history as the English Revolution.

Louis XIV, the king of France, was a Catholic and in full sympathy with James. Moreover, he denied the right of a people to change sovereigns, and espoused the cause of James; and war between the two nations followed. This war was reflected in America, as King William rejected an offer of colonial neutrality, and it is known as “King William’s War.” The English colonies had long watched the French encroachments on the north; the French determined to hold the St. Lawrence country, and to extend their power over the vast basin of the Mississippi; and each was jealoous of the other concerning the fisheries and the fur trade. To these differences must be added an intense religious feeling. The English colonies were almost wholly Protestant except Maryland, and even in Maryland the Protestants were in a large majority. New France was purely Catholic, and the two forms of Christianity had not yet learned to dwell together, or near together, in harmony. King James had not confined his designs to the home country; he had not only revoked some of the colonial charters and sent the tyrant Andros to domineer New England, but he had instructed his Catholic governor of New York, Dongan, to influence the Iroquois to admit Jesuit teachers among them, and to introduce the Catholic religion into the colony. It was at this time that Leisler seized the government of New York, and called the first colonial congress. Exasperated by these things, the English colonists were eager for the conflict, while the French Canadians were equally ready to grapple with them. King William’s War was very different in aim and meaning in the colonies from what it was beyond the Atlantic. In America it was the first of several fierce contests, covering seventy years; or, it may be said, it was the beginning of a seventy years’ war with intervals of peace, for the supremacy in North America.

The war began by a series of Indian massacres instigated by Frontenac, the governor of Canada. The first of these was the destruction of Dover, New Hampshire, a town of fifty inhabitants. One night in July, 1689, two squaws came to the home of the aged Major Waldron and begged a night’s lodging. Being admitted, they rose in the night and let in a large number of Indians who lay in ambush. Waldron was put to death with frightful tortures, the town was burned to the ground, about half the people were massacred, and the remainder were carried away and sold into slavery. In the following month Pemaquid, Maine, met a similar fate. In February, 1690, a body of French and Indians, sent by Frontenac, came to the town of Schenectady on the Mohawk. For nearly a month they had faced the wintry blasts, plowing their way through the deep snow on their mission of destruction. At midnight they fell with dreadful yells upon the sleeping village. In a few hours all was over; the town was laid in ashes. More than sixty were massacred, many were taken captive, a few escaped into the night and reached Albany. The towns of Casco and Salmon Falls soon after met a similar fate.

The war spirit was now aroused throughout the colonies. It was determined, through Leisler’s congress,1 to send a land force against Montreal by way of Lake Champlain, and a naval expedition against Quebec. The expenses of the former were borne by Connecticut and New York, and of the latter by Massachusetts. Sir William Phipps of Maine, who had this same year, 1690, captured Port Royal in Nova Scotia, commanded the naval force. He had thirty or more vessels and two thousand men. But the vigilant Frontenac, in spite of his fourscore years, was on the alert. He successfully repelled the land force, which turned back disheartened, and then hastened to the defense of Quebec. But here he had little to do. Phipps was a weak commander, and the fleet, after reaching Quebec and finding it well fortified, returned to Boston without striking an effective blow. The people of Massachusetts were greatly disappointed at the failure of the expedition. The debt of the colony had reached an enormous figure, and to meet it bills of credit, or paper money, were issued to the amount of £40,000. Phipps was soon afterward sent to England to seek aid of the king and a renewal of the old charter that Andros had destroyed. King William was hard pressed at home, and he left the colonies to fight their own battles; he also refused to restore the old charter, but he granted a new one, as we have noticed, and made Phipps the first royal governor of Massachusetts.

The war dragged on for several years longer, but it consisted only in desultory sallies and frontier massacres. The towns of York, Maine, Durham, New Hampshire, and Groton, Massachusetts, were the scenes of bloody massacres, and hundreds of people were slain.

In 1697 a treaty of peace was signed at Ryswick, a village near The Hague, and the cruel war was temporarily over. Acadia, which had been prematurely incorporated with Massachusetts, was restored to France. But this treaty was only a truce. The English and French nations had not learned to love each other, and the questions in dispute had made no progress toward settlement.

After the death of William and Mary the crown of England was settled (1702) on Anne, the sister of Mary. James, the exiled king, died in 1701, and his son, known as James the Pretender, was proclaimed king of England by the French sovereign. This act alone would have brought another war, but there was another provocation. King Louis of France placed his grandson, Philip of Anjon, on the throne of Spain, and thus greatly increased his power among the dynasties of Europe. This was very distasteful to the English, and the war that followed was known as the War of the Spanish Succession. In America, however, it was styled Queen Anne’s War (1702).

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