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A 130-mile winter march to a Mohawk Valley massacre


Traveling in March across Northern New York poses its own unique dangers, with blinding snowstorms and subfreezing temperatures a normal part of life for anyone who cares to step outside.

But 258 years ago, a winter expedition meant hiking through snowdrifts, plunging through icy rivers and braving Arctic temperatures.

On March 12, 1756, the Abbe Francois Picquet accompanied a young French lieutenant on one of the most daring winter-time military raids in the history of North America’s colonial wars.

In the 1750s, Great Britain and France were waging a world war, battling for control of North America.

French Lt. Gaspard Joseph Chaussegros de Lery had been ordered to lead a force of 360 French, Canadian and Native Americans from Fort La Presentation (present day Ogdensburg) on a 130-mile march to attack an English fort near what’s now Rome, in Central New York.

Accompanied by about 100 Oswegatchie, St. Regis, Abenakis and Nipissings, Lt. de Lery and his 260 French and Canadian troops hiked along the Oswegatchie River, Black Lake and then followed the Black River, crossing by rafts near Great Bend and then later wading across the icy Deer River.

They walked almost 10 miles a day for two weeks until they arrived in the Mohawk Valley, where they had been ordered to launch their attack against the British.

The English had built two forts, Fort Williams and Fort Bull, where the British army had stored supplies they intended to use to launch an invasion of French Canada.

Lt. de Lery had been ordered to destroy the British supply depot at a time of year when the English were least likely to expect an attack.

On March 27, de Lery and his men launched an ambush, capturing 10 wagonloads of desperately needed food and supplies.

After the ambush, de Lery led his men against Fort Bull, his French Canadians chopping through the wooden gates with their axes while the British lobbed grenades at them from inside.

Once inside, the French massacred over 80 defenders. Setting fire to the fort, de Lery destroyed over 45,000 pounds of gunpowder, 16 boats and a huge quantity of arms and supplies.

With over 20 prisoners, they struggled home along the Black River, striking northwest to Black Bay at Sackets Harbor.

For his courage and daring, de Lery was promoted to captain and knighted by King Louis XV with the Cross of St. Louis.

The Abbe Picquet’s assistance in the daring raid earned him and his Oswegatchies the respect of the French high command.

The destruction of the British supplies at Fort Bull paved the way for the French victory at Fort Oswego later that year.

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