The Carlyle House Congress and Britain’s Military Objectives for 1755

The campaigns of 1755 began when Britain’s ranking military leaders in North America met in Alexandria, Virginia with the colonial royal governors of Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, at the home of prominent Ohio Company member, John Carlyle. On April 14-15, 1755, in what became known as the “Carlyle House Congress,” the newly minted commander in chief of His Majesty’s Forces in North America, Major General Edward Braddock, presented London’s military objectives for that coming spring and summer. The Crown’s strategy, on paper, was simple: capture and hold key French fortifications within the boundaries of New York, Nova Scotia, and Pennsylvania before the enemy could concentrate his strength. This plan was intended to oust the French from His Majesty’s colonial possessions on the continent before a large-scale conflict could commence.

Carlyle House
The John Carlyle House, c. 1918-1920, Library of Congress.

The task of subduing the French, Canadians, and their Native American auxiliaries in these regions fell upon a mixed contingent of British Regular soldiers, colonial provincial troops, and British-allied Native American warriors. How each group would be utilized depended upon how the respective expeditionary field commander chose to execute his orders by moving, supplying, and fighting his men.

Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock

In the orders laid out by the Captain-General of His Majesty’s Forces, the Duke of Cumberland, Edward Braddock was to capture Fort Duquesne, located at the Forks of the Ohio River. William Shirley, the royal governor of Massachusetts and second-in-command in North America, was to advance to Lake Ontario and besiege Fort Niagara. “[Shirley] express’d the greatest Readiness to engage in it …,” Braddock recorded following the Alexandria meeting, “I therefore order’d him to take his own Regiment [50th Regiment of Foot] which is compleat, and Sir William Pepperell’s [51st Regiment of Foot] … and to proceed upon it as soon as possible with my orders to reinforce the Garrison at Oswego … and put the Works in such Repair as to preserve the Garrison and secure his Retreat and Convoys.”[1] William Johnson, of New York, was tasked with securing Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains and subsequently moving north and ousting the French from Crown Point along Lake Champlain. Finally, Lt. Col. Robert Monckton’s orders destined him to rid Nova Scotia of French influence by targeting forts along the Chignecto Isthmus. William Shirley had been working closely with Nova Scotia’s royal governor, Charles Lawrence, on this piece of Britain’s strategy for 1755. They had settled on an expeditionary force consisting predominantly of New England provincial troops to undertake the operation “for repelling the French from their new Encroachments on the Bay of Fund[y],” Braddock remembered, “which I approv’d of, and immediately sent orders to Lt. Colonel Monckton to take upon him that Command and carry it into execution.”[2]

Braddock’s army of over 2,400 men was the centerpiece of the four-pronged offensive during the summer of 1755. The colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia were ordered to raise volunteer companies to assist Braddock. His campaign was to be a tremendous logistical undertaking. The 300-plus mile advance west through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia was something not accomplished by any fighting force on the continent up to that point in history. Once his army had captured Fort Duquesne, its job was not yet complete. The Duke of Cumberland’s orders for the general represent the unrealistic approach to waging war in North America that the British carried with them overseas during the first full year of the French and Indian War. Following the capitulation of Fort Duquense, the Captain-General advised Braddock:

If you should find, that the two British Regiments [Braddock’s 44th and 48th Regiments of Foot] will be sufficient for performing the service at Niagara, you may, then, employ the two American Regiments [the 50th and 51st Regiments of Foot with Shirley], at the same time, in dispossessing the French from their Post at Crown Point, on Lake [Champlain], which is the next point you will endeavor to gain; But no positive instructions can be given you, upon this head, as you can only judge, hereafter, whether such a separate operation can be undertaken, at the same time, that you are making yourself Master of that most material one, at Niagara. However after you shall have possessed yourself of the Niagara Forts, and shall have opened a safe communication betwixt that, and Oswego (which will not only secure the Back settlements, but likewise, bring back those Indians, who have fallen off from Our interest, and joined the French); It is our will and pleasure, that the next service upon which you shall proceed, shall be … The reducing of the Fort at Crown Point, and entering another upon the Lake [Champlain], in such place as you shall find most effectual for bridling the French Indians in those parts and for securing and protecting, our neighboring colonies.[3]

These orders to Braddock involved a tremendous amount of moving pieces, which seemingly relied solely on the success of his army’s expedition against Fort Duquesne. As asserted within the proposed plan, when Braddock secured the Forks of the Ohio River he was then to advance his army north to assist William Shirley in capturing Forts Niagara and Frontenac (if the former surrendered without much inconvenience). If Braddock’s two regular regiments proved “to be sufficient for performing the service,” then the two units already with Shirley were to march to reinforce Johnson at Lake Champlain or Lake George.[4] Not taken into account by the Duke of Cumberland were the hundreds of extra miles that would need to be traveled in order for Braddock’s and Shirley’s men to reach their secondary destinations. It was an unrealistic approach to the great logistical undertaking necessary to move armies and supplies in North America, more specifically in regions where roads did not exist. Braddock did not reach the Forks until July, Shirley’s vanguard did not arrive at its jump-off point, Fort Oswego, until the middle of August, and Johnson’s force did not begin encamping at the southern end of Lake George until the end of August and the beginning of September. The idea that Braddock could capture Fort Duquesne, advance to Lake Ontario, drive the French from the region, dispatch the 50th and 51st Regiments to Lake George, and then capture Crown Point all before the changing seasons ended campaigning for that year is inconceivable. This was a prime example of Britain’s initial ignorance toward the true nature of warfare in North America and the continent itself as a whole.

An interesting aspect about Braddock’s orders was the focus placed on the importance of the Native Americans. Securing a foothold along Lake Ontario and establishing communications with western Pennsylvania (again, after Fort Duquesne capitulated) was believed to be a prime method of persuading the Native Americans of those occupied regions, such as the Shawnee, Delaware, Ottawa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi, to open diplomatic talks with the British. Further east, once the French at Crown Point had been subdued, Braddock was ordered to search for “such place as you shall find most effectual for bridling the French Indians in those parts …..”[5] This, of course, implied the construction of a fort as a show of force to pry the Native Americans away from the French, giving the British complete control of and influence over the tribes south of New France’s border. William Johnson had been appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Colonies by Braddock, so it was his duty to obtain military assistance from the Natives or see to it that they should remain neutral. He succeeded in securing the help of over 200 Mohawk warriors under Theyanoguin, the sachem known to the British as “Chief Hendrick,” for his expedition against Crown Point. However, Braddock was only able to muster the support of less than a dozen Ohio Iroquois for his own campaign.

It has been argued by historians that the British failed to appreciate the impact of the Native Americans during the first few years of the war. While they did struggle to expand their alliances and enhance their influence among the Native Americans, the evidence in Cumberland’s written orders demonstrates that London understood that the French held the advantage in the contested regions, and that it was imperative to sever the ties between the enemy and his Native allies.

The objectives for the spring and summer of 1755 had been laid out in their entirety. It was only a matter of each respective commander fulfilling his duties and successfully executing his orders. It began with Braddock and his march to destiny near the Forks of the Ohio River.


[1] Stanley Pargellis, ed., Military Affairs in North America, 1746-65: Selected Documents from the Cumberland Papers in Windsor Castle (New York, NY: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1936), 82.

[2] Ibid., 81.

[3] E.B. O’Callaghan, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York, vol. 6 (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1853), 116. .

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

2 thoughts on “The Carlyle House Congress and Britain’s Military Objectives for 1755

  1. Pingback: George Washington’s Hometown: Alexandria, Virginia | Emerging Revolutionary War Era

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