Clash of Empires

Samuel de Champlain, Les voyages du sieur de Champlain Xaintongeois Paris: Jean Berjon, 1613.  Original McGregor Library (A 1613 .C34)

From 1603 to 1635 Samuel de Champlain led the exploration, settlement, and governance of the territory of New France. His travels through what are now the Maritime Provinces, Quebec, Ontario, and New York State, and his encounters with the Native American inhabitants, became well known to Europeans through Champlain’s five published books. This etching, done from Champlain’s original sketch, depicts the famous battle of July 30, 1609, near Ticonderoga where Champlain and a band of Huron Indians defeated a superior Mohawk force. Champlain hid until the last moment, when the bewildered Mohawk met their first European, and their first deadly gun.

Claude Dablon, Relation de ce qui s'est passé de plus remarquable aux missions des peres de la Compagnie de Jesus en la Nouvelle France, les années 1670 & 1671. Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1672.  Original McGregor Library (A 1632-73 .J47 no. 40)

The “Jesuit Relations,” published annually in France from 1632 to 1673, constitute a valuable source for the early history of New France. Tracy W. McGregor succeeded in collecting 33 of the 41 volumes. Intended to inform the French public and to raise funds, the Jesuit Relations contain a mix of first-hand missionary accounts and digests compiled from correspondence and mission documents. This volume provides updates on Jesuit missions to the Iroquois in what is now New York State, and to the Ottawa Indians in the Upper Great Lakes, with a map of the region.

Great Britain, Board of Trade, “The State of Your Majesty's Plantations on the Continent of North America, September 8, 1721.”  Acquired 1950 (MSS 3636)

In this comprehensive report to King George I, the Board of Trade describes each of Britain’s North American “Plantations,” with statistics on exports and imports. Separate sections describe the threats posed by a growing French presence along the frontier, and offer advice on cultivating better relations with the Indians. The Board strongly recommends that a “Capt[ain] General” assume overall command of the American Colonies because “great Inconveniencys do arise from so many different Forms of Governm[en]t” and the colonies “have shown too great an Inclination to be independent of their Mother Kingdom.”

Lewis Evans, Geographical, historical, political, philosophical and mechanical essays 2nd ed. Philadelphia: B. Franklin and D. Hall, 1755.  Original McGregor Library (A 1755 .E93b)

The French and Indian War created an urgent need for accurate maps of the frontier lands being contested by England and France. One of the best contemporary maps was prepared, engraved, and printed in Philadelphia by cartographer Lewis Evans. The most elaborate map to be published in America up to that time, it carefully delineated what was known about the Mid-Atlantic region and its western frontier. Some copies were issued with a descriptive pamphlet printed by Benjamin Franklin. Pictured is the original hand-colored map bound with the pamphlet.

John St. Clair, Letterbook, 1755-1756.  Acquired 1974 (MSS 10034)

The French and Indian War began badly for Britain. Sent to rout the French from western Pennsylvania, General Braddock’s forces suffered a disastrous defeat on July 9, 1755, at the Battle of Monongahela. Quartermaster General John St. Clair’s account of the battle was copied into this letterbook. After sustaining a serious chest wound, St. Clair “went up to General Braddock … and beg’d of him for God’s sake to gain the Rising ground on our Right to prevent our being totally Surrounded. I know no further of this unlucky Affair … as I was afterwards insensible.”

George Washington, Letter to Robert Dinwiddie, 18 July 1755.  Acquired 1944 (MSS 2027)

In 1754 George Washington suffered the humiliation of surrendering Fort Necessity to the French. One year later Washington returned to western Pennsylvania with General Braddock’s forces. This time he emerged a hero, leading an orderly retreat after Braddock was mortally wounded at the Battle of Monongahela. In this letter (a secretarial copy of the original) to Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie, Washington described the horrific battle, in which 1,300 colonial troops suffered nearly 600 casualties. Braddock’s men “were Immediately Struck with such a Deadly Panick that nothing but confusion and disobedience of Orders prevailed … Our poor Virginians behaved like men and died like Soldiers.”

Charles III, King of Spain, Royal patent granted to Bernardo de Gálvez, 1783.  Acquired 1959 (MSS 6163)

The American Revolution was fought on multiple fronts with crucial support from France and, beginning in 1779, Spain. Under the command of Bernardo de Gálvez, governor of Louisiana, Spain opened a backdoor Mississippi River supply route to American forces and began a concerted campaign to wrest Florida from British control. Victory came in 1781 after Gálvez captured Baton Rouge, Mobile, and finally Pensacola following a two-month siege. For his services King Charles III bestowed upon him the title of Count of Gálvez. This finely bound royal patent summarizes Gálvez’s military exploits and confirms his new title and coat of arms.