[FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR]. RICHARDSON, John. Autograph letter signed to Thomas Adams, Albany, New York, 8 December 1759. 4 pages closely written, folio, some wear at creases otherwise very good; with original envelope (envelope repaired). Typed transcription.
"THAT DAMNABLE CUSTOM OF SCALPING": A FEARFUL ENGLISHMAN MAKES HIS WAY THROUGH THE NEW YORK FRONTIER DURING THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR
A fascinating, lengthy (over 2,000 words) and detailed description of the Indians and the English armies, fighting in New York during the French and Indian War. Richardson, a medical officer, begins by comparing the civilities of Philadelphia to the crudeness of the hard-driving Dutch in New York, who "are never civil, but to those from whom they expect some considerable profits." Then he travels up the Hudson, reporting rich details of the life of a military campaigner. "Here we see nature without art clad in her very roughest mantle; when the army are upon a march they are obliged to pitch tents every night, where you meet with no other object than lofty trees...During my journey to Oswego (destroyed by the French about four years ago)...I accidentally met with Brigadier General Gage, brother to an English nobleman of that name, who was traveling the same way to take upon him the command of the army that were at Niagara after the death of General Brideaux...I therefore with two others joined with his party at Albany, as the passage from thence to Oswego was reckoned hazardous, upon acct. of several Scalping Parties who were then out, as they termed it, and had scalped several Traders upon the Mohawk River, so called from an Indian nation of that name who live adjacent to it, and who...are the only Indians that are to be depended upon by the English." He speaks of his dread of the "French Indians attacking us who still pursue that damnable custom of scalping. At a place called Oswego Falls I passed a little creek or burn with two or three others, where three men were scalped about two days before, so that our fears were not without some grounds."
His description of the Indians is a mixture of fear, fascination and admiration. "The first time I ever saw one of these Savages was upon the Mohawk River. Their aspect extremely Barbarous & Savage, which is not a little assisted by the strangeness of their dress. They were Mohawks...returning with the plunder they had taken at Niagara....They are remarkably brawny made men, representing not a little the figures of fine statuaries where the muscles appear in their full Vigour...Their dress mostly consists of a Blanket , or wild beasts skin thrown over their shoulders, & a cover for their Privacies...." The women are industrious, he says, while the men hunt and fight, but "since the commencement of the war they have thrown aside all industry, giving themselves entirely up to drunkenness & rioting whenever they can get rum of which they are exorbitantly fond." Richardson exults in the English gaining the upper hand in the fighting. The French "are now reduced to the lowest ebb & I can venture to say that they will never be able to make any considerable footing in America again, if affairs are properly managed. Thanks be [to] God for his peculiar kindness."