An Early French Target
— French and Indian War —
British Toehold on Lake Ontario
During the French and Indian War, the Oswego River was the only British controlled waterway into the Great Lakes. French commander-in-chief, the Marquis de Montcalm, recognizing its strategic importance, wrote that Oswego was: "... the key of the Upper Country by its communication with the Five Nations (the Iroquois Confederacy), Albany and the River Hudson; defended by three forts - Fort Ontario on the right bank of the river, Forts George and Chouaguen (Oswego) on the left bank as well as a species of an earthen crown-work, serving as an entrenchment camp, having also a good port and a well sheltered roadstead."
Called Fort Beef or Fort Rascal, the unfinished Fort George, built of logs and earth, was little better than a cattle pen and was garrisoned by a provincial force known as "the Jersey Blues." It was built to protect Fort Oswego.
Fort Oswego was a castle-like stone fort, but its strong appearance masked its weaknesses: built on low ground, the masonry mortared with mud, the structure was vulnerable to artillery. It was garrisoned by the 50th and 51st Regiments of Foot.
West Bank Fortifications
A stone blockhouse called Fort Oswego is built to guard a growing trader's settlement and establishes England's first presence on the Great Lakes.
Seasonal trader's village thrives as up to 300 Dutch and English fur traders, in over 70 log huts, obtain furs from American Indians.
Fort Oswego is strengthened with an outer, U-shaped stone wall.
Fort Oswego's garrison of 8 men mutiny and place their lone officer in irons.
Fort Oswego is strengthened and Forts George and Ontario are built by Major General William Shirley. The Royal Navy's first Great Lakes squadron is built in the harbor.
The 700 troops left behind at the forts of Oswego are decimated by disease and starvation. Over half perish by spring.
Troops are harassed by American Indian and Canadian raiders.
Montcalm destroys all three forts, the trader's village, captures the British fleet and takes 1,700 prisoners
With more than 3,000 French, Indians, and Canadians, Montcalm's forces and artillery drove the British out of Fort Ontario. The British retreated across the river to the shelter at Fort Oswego.
1,500 Indians and Canadians waded across the river to surround the forts on the west side, while Montcalm's artillery was moved up to the high ground on the east side of the harbor to bombard Fort Oswego.
As British commander Colonel James Mercer prepared a break out attempt with 500 men, he was killed by a cannonball. Second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel John Littlehales quickly sought a parley with the French and lost no time surrendering.
The British loss was catastrophic; three forts, 1,100 soldiers and sailors, 600 civilians including skilled craftsmen, the trader's village, the new fleet of seven ships, and over 100 pieces of ordnance.
Oswego was wiped from the map and Lake Ontario became French again. But, because of Montcalm's failure to hold onto this ground, the British would return and reoccupy Oswego in 1759.