Highlander’s War Dance

Two hundred and sixty years ago arguably one of the most significant French and Indian War era events occurred here at Ticonderoga.

As the sun rose over Lake George on the morning of July 6, 1758, a party of French soldiers on top of Mt. Pelee (Rogers Rock) looked down upon a great military spectacle.  They saw an armada of over thousand boats, bearing nine thousand colonials and six thousand regulars of the British army.  In the advance whaleboats were Roger’s Rangers and the light infantry  The six-mile flotilla, its oars glistening and its arms flashing in the sunlight, its colorful uniforms and banners, its bugles, trumpets and bagpipes, and it s picturesque Highlanders adding pageantry to the wild beauty of the lake, presented an imposing spectacle.  The scouts under Langyand Trepezec atop Rogers Rock might have picked out with their glasses the commander of the expedition, General Abercrombie.  They might also have picked out George Augustus, Lord Howe, the real leader of the army.  To the left of the lookouts smoke arose at the head of the portage.  The defenders of that outpost under Bourlamaque were burning their camp and bridge and retreating down the portage to join Montcalm at the sawmills.  The men of Langy and Trapeze descended the western slopes of the mountain they had climbed, and through experienced in bush fighting, soon became lost in the deep forest.  Suddenly they heard the noise of another party before them, also lost.  As the advancing party drew nearer, the French hurled out the challenge “Qui vive?” and the answer “Francais!” came back — with an English accent.  The order was given to fire, and at the first volley, though the French did not know it, Abercrombie’s great army was defeated.  For one of the bullets, in passing through the heart of Lord Howe, struck also the heart of the enemy.   Confidence and enthusiasm  gave way to indecision and confusion.

At the last moment Montcalm, on the advice of Lothbiniere and Le Mercier, threw up an abbatis across the slope of the promontory and decided to make his stand there rather than at the fort a quarter of mile farther out on the promontory.  His force at its greatest was outnumbered more than four to one.  He had only eight day’s provisions.  His position could be commanded from mill heights (Mount Hope) or Sugar Loaf (Mount Defiance).  He could be flanked and cut off from his base at Fort St. Frederic (Crown Point).  A formal siege would compel him to accept terms in short order.  Artillery could batter down his strong abbatis.  His only hope was that Abercrombie would make the stupid blunder of attacking his temporary defenses with infantry and muskets.

At twelve-thirty on that hot July day, two days after Lord Howe’s death, the French behind their breastworks heard firing ahead as their pickets were driven in.  From then until nightfall the regiments of the Highlanders, the regulars and the colonials came on, dying in heaps.  Abercrombie sat in his headquarters at the sawmills at the Lower Falls that hot afternoon, the roar of distant musketry in his ears.  His couriers would dash in, their faces showing the agony of the futile slaughter going on a mile away.  The general would hear their disheartening reports, and, impervious to all reasoning, would order his splendid regiments to press on again to the attack.  When the last charge was over, Abercrombie’s army had suffered approximately two thousand casualties; Montcalm’s loss was about four hundred.  The morning of July 9 a French scouting party was sent out and to their surprise they found that the bulk of the surviving British army were in full retreat.  So great was their rout that some of men left their shoes sticking in the mud in their precipitate flight from the three thousand or so Frenchmen. (Edited from the Ticonderoga Historical Society’s “Historic Ticonderoga.)

A new donation 

Terri and Reid McClure of Virginia present to the Society’s President William Dolback, a framed limited edition Print of Robert Griffing’s ~ War Dance

“As the French and Indian War exploded into a world wide struggle.  Great Britain expanded its army in North America. Among the many units sent to The Americans were three Scottish regiments; first the 42nd Highland Regiment and later the 77th and 78th Highland Regiments.  Throughout the war, English authorities negotiated with the Native Americans for their military assistance. While the English were not as skilled at romancing the Native Americans as their French counterparts, they did experience some success. This was partly due to the influence of the Highlands.

Perhaps that’s because the Native Americans saw in the Highlanders something very similar … themselves!  Both cultures were consummate warriors and lovers of the fray.  Their people had great respect for the orator and Chieftain. Clan and tribe held ancient traditions in high regard.  Their similarities in temperament and philosophy did not escape the English. They sometimes referred to the Scots as “cousins to the Indian.”

Preparing fro battle had its own Highlander custom..the war dance.  The painting.  “War Dance,” by Robert Griffing shows a soldier of the 42nd Highland Regiment engaged in a tradition as old as the mountains of his homeland.  The ritual takes place within the stone walls of Fort Ticonderoga. The dancer seeks a prophecy.  According to clan tradition, if the dancer touches the sword beneath his feet during the dance, it’s a forecast of doom for the coming battle.  A piper provides the tunes.  An Iroquois warrior watches…waiting for the results.  An amused and approving smile appears on the face of a tribal headsman as he keeps time with his drum.

Native American and Highlander cultures were far removed from British society and understanding.  Sadly, the English failed to appreciate their reverence for tradition.  By the mid-eighteenth century both cultures crumbled under the oppressive weight of England’s expanding empire.  Soon all that was dear to them was lost.  Their families, homes, traditions, even the sweet sounds of their own language were as distant a memory as the “War Dance.”

War Dance


Robert Griffing grew up in Linesville, Pennsylvania, where he roamed the fields and beaches around Pymatuning Lake  collecting stone artifacts, the key factor for his love of history and native cultures.  After graduating from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and a thirty year advertising career, he returned to the subject of his early fascination, the Eastern Woodland Indian of the 18th century.  Griffing decided to devote his time and energy to his passion after receiving an enthusiastic response to his early paintings and prints.

9/28/18 wgd

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