British troops massacre the Abenaki people and burn many in their homes
4 October 1759
In the early hours of 4 October 1759, 142 British troops, under the command of Major Robert Rogers, approached a large Native American settlement at Odanak on the Saint Francois river, some seventy miles south west of Quebec. Noticing that the Abenaki villagers were busily engaged in celebrations, the Redcoats waited until almost all were asleep and attacked just before the dawn.1 Few of the Abenaki had any time to grab their weapons.
Rogers recounts in his journal how his troops ‘broke into their homes, shot some as they lay in bed, while others attempting to flee by backways, were tomahawked or run through with bayonets.’ His account suggests that almost the entire population was massacred either inside or next to their homes, ‘except some few who ran to the water, thinking to make their escape that way, but were pursued by about forty of our men who dispatched them likewise, by sinking both them and their boats.’2
The major then ordered his troops to loot a Jesuit church and the granaries, and, shortly after sunrise, to set fire to the entire village. Many of the surviving inhabitants, still hiding in their homes, were burned alive. He noted in his journal that all the houses were ‘entirely consumed… (along with) many of the enemy who had concealed themselves therein; which our men learned from the crying and shrieking of those miserable wretches, when they perceived their houses set on fire, and themselves likely to be made the fuel. The sword without, which prevented all escape, and the fire within rendered their situation most unhappy, most miserable… (By) seven in the morning the affair was over, in which… (his soldiers) had killed, some say 300, and some more; but by the lowest computation there could not have been fewer than 200 who were slain by the sword, by the fire, and water.’3
Rogers had acted under the instructions of General Jeffrey Amherst, who had ordered him to ‘take your revenge’ for the Abenaki capture of two British officers who they had handed over to the French, with whom the British were then at war. The Abenakis had also launched raids against British territory as they considered the French to be more worthy allies, as they permitted them far more freedom than the British had a reputation for allowing. Roger’s punitive assault was a decisive blow to the Abenaki people from which they never recovered. Subsequent incursions by colonial settlers, land enclosure and disease meant that by the twenty first century only around four hundred still survived.4
- Richard Gott, Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, Verso, London, 2011 p. 21 and ‘The River Burns: Fort Odanak, 1704-59: The Search for Traces of a Fortified Abenaki Village,’ accessed online on 5 January 2019 at url http://www.fort-odanak.ca/riviere_brule-river_burns-eng
- Major Robert Roger’s journal cited in ‘Affairs in North America,’ the Scots Magazine 3 March 1760 p42-43. A slightly different version is cited in Richard Gott, Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, Verso, London, 2011, p. 21.
- Richard Gott, Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, Verso, London, 2011 p. 21.
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