Through So Many Dangers - Purple Mountain Press

The Memoirs and Adventures of Robert Kirk, Late of the Royal Highland Regiment

Edited by Ian M. McCulloch and Timothy J. Todish
Introduction by Stephen Brumwell and Artwork by Robert Griffing

About the book

"I enlisted in his Majesty's 77th Regt. Of Foot, commanded by Colonel Archibald Montgomery in the latter end of the year 1756," Robert Kirkwood recorded on the opening pages of his Memoirs, "from which time I was employed in recruiting and Disciplining the regiment, which was mostly composed of impress'd men from the Highlands." Kirkwood's regiment (initially called the First Highland Battalion, later numbered 62nd, then re-numbered the 77th Foot) was not a typical marching regiment, being one of two Highland battalions specially raised for service in North America.

Through So Many Dangers is the first reprint in over 250 years of this young Scot's personal experiences of battle and captivity in the wilderness of North America during the French and Indian War. Originally entitled The Memoirs and Adventures of Robert Kirk; Late of the Royal Highland Regiment, this small, obscure book was first published in Limerick, Ireland, 1775. Kirkwood's story constitutes a very rare voice-from-the-ranks account of the conflict, a remarkable chronicle by a private soldier of some of the sharpest woods fighting and skirmishing ever encountered by the British army. Kirkwood's experiences were indeed remarkable: a prisoner of the Shawnee at Fort Duquesne in 1758; a participant on Robert Rogers' famous raid on St Francis in 1759; a light infantryman at the storming of craggy Signal Hill in Newfoundland in 1762; a survivor of Henry Bouquet's celebrated victory over the western Indians at Bushy Run, 1763; and one of a hundred Black Watch soldiers who went down the Ohio to the Mississippi in 1765 to take possession of Fort de Chartres in the Illinois country.

Kirkwood could rightly claim in his Memoirs that "few Men have traveled more than [me] in the back parts of North America." From Niagara Falls to Newfoundland, from the Carolinas to the great western plains flanking the Mississippi, this soldier of the 42nd and 77th Foot covered some 5,000 miles by foot, canoe, whaleboat and transport ship in the course of his ten years' campaigning. On his return with the Black Watch to Ireland in 1767, after ten years of "service truly critical" in North America, our roguish hero was an accomplished marksman, hunter, and tracker, proficient in the use of canoes, snowshoes and tumplines, the ultimate "Light Infantryman" of the self-styled "American Army."

This reprint constitutes a superb team effort from several experts in their chosen fields. Through So Many Dangers is wonderfully llustrated with paintings by reknowned American artist, Robert Griffing. An excellent and insightful introduction by best-selling British historian, Stephen Brumwell, (author of the critically-acclaimed Redcoats), sets the scene, while annotations, biographical notes, and essays by French and Indian War historians, Lt. Col. Ian McCulloch and Timothy Todish, provide a solid framework whereon the whole tale hangs.

It is hoped that this new edition will help stimulate interest in Robert Kirkwood and the frontier environment that provided the dramatic raw material for his Memoirs. At a time when scholarly books and articles on colonial North America's 'backcountry' are emerging thick and fast, Through So Many Dangers offers a fresh and compelling voice from a man who experienced that violent and fascinating world first hand—and who, against all the odds, lived to tell the tale.

"Personal narratives by private soldiers are the scarcest of all sources for the French and Indian War. By presenting the little-known tale of Robert Kirkwood, Ian McCulloch and Tim Todish have done much to amplify the voice of the man in the ranks and show the conflict from a different perspective. The editors have carefully verified the authenticity of Kirkwood's account and provided annotations that clarify and broaden an exciting tale of military campaigns and Indian captivity. It is a pleasure to see this important source made accessible to a broad audience." -–Brian Leigh Dunnigan, Curator of Maps and Head of Research & Publications William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan

"Robert Kirk's long-lost, first-hand account tells us that this Highlander and erstwhile Ranger with Robert Rogers apparently was everywhere during the North American campaigns of the Seven Years' War. . . . Robert Kirkwood's narrative offers an uncommon window on the horrific experiences of the usually anonymous, everyday soldiers who shaped the destiny of North America." -–Nicholas Westbrook, Director, Fort Ticonderoga, Ticonderoga, New York

About the cover painting by Robert Griffing

In 1758, General John Forbes cautiously led a large force of British Regulars and American Provincials against the French at Fort Duquesne, at the Forks of the Ohio where Pittsburgh now stands. Within the ranks was Robert Kirkwood of the 77th (Montgomerie's) Highland Regiment. The young private was about to embark on a series of adventures and travels that few men would ever equal.

By September, the bulk of Forbes' army was staged at Fort Ligonier, on Loyalhannon Creek about fifty miles from Fort Duquesne. As the army prepared for the last leg of the march, Major James Grant, a good officer of sound reputation, proposed a quick strike against Fort Duquesne. Colonel Henry Bouquet, Forbes' second-in-command, authorized a combined force of about eight hundred Regulars and Provincials for the raid. Their goal was to take prisoners and gain as much information about the enemy's fortifications as possible.

At about 2:00 am on 14 September, Grant's force arrived at a rise of ground east of Fort Duquesne that is now known as Grant's Hill. In order to distinguish their comrades in the dark, the men were ordered to wear white shirts over their outer garments. An initial probe by the Virginia Provincials under Major Andrew Lewis failed when the men became disoriented in the dark, and they returned to the main body without making contact with the enemy.

Frustrated at this turn of events, at about 7:00 am Grant next ordered a small force to burn a storehouse outside the fort. Some eight hundred French and Indians responded and quickly overran the small band of Highlanders. Underestimating the enemy's strength, Grant had divided his force into several sections that were unable to support one another, and in the brutal fighting that followed, the British suffered two hundred seventy-three killed, wounded, and captured. Major Grant was among the captured.

Robert Kirkwood later wrote of the battle: "It is impossible to describe the confusion and horror which ensued, when all hopes of victory was gone. We were dispersed here and there, for my part I cannot inform the reader, how affairs went with my fellow soldiers, for I was pursued by four Indians, who fired at me several times, and their shot went through my cloaths, one of them however made sure, and wounded me in the leg with a buck-shot . . . I was immediately taken, but the Indian who laid hold of me would not allow the rest to scalp me, tho' they proposed to do so; in short he befriended me greatly." The painting depicts the moment when the wounded Kirkwood was captured by the Shawnee warriors.

While some of the soldiers taken that day suffered horrible deaths by torture, Kirkwood was spared, adopted into the tribe, and treated well by his captors. He learned the Indians' ways, accompanying them on hunting trips and on a war party against the Cherokee. After he escaped and rejoined his regiment, he participated in many important events, including Rogers' Rangers famous raid on the Abenaki village of St. Francis, Rogers' expedition to Detroit in 1760, the battles of Signal Hill in Newfoundland and Bushy Run in Western Pennsylvania, and then later accompanied the Stirling Expedition down the Ohio River to take possession of Ft. de Chartres.

Kirkwood's rare and exciting tale of a common British soldier during the French and Indian War was first published in Limerick, Ireland, in 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution, and until recently it has gone largely unnoticed by historians. The cover painting, He Befriended Me Greatly, was created by noted artist Robert Griffing especially for this edition.

In his own words: Kirk's account of his capture by the Shawnees
The editors' annotations are in bold face.

We began our attack, by posting three companies over against the gates of the Fort with orders to rush in as soon as they heard the main body attempt the walls. That we might the better distinguish our own people every one had a white shirt over his coat.

This detail Kirkwood provides is corroborated by Lieutenant Alexander Robertson, 77th Foot, to Sir Henry Munro, dated January 1759, in the Ballindalloch Papers: "We were ordered to put a shirt on above our clothes in order to distinguish our men from the enemy." According to Thomas Gist, Grant gave orders "that every man should put on a white shirt over his cloaths, and they which had none was to remain with Captn Bullett at the place appointed to leave our baggage." He later talks of marching down the hill with each man holding onto "his leaders shirt tail." (Thomas Gist, 291). Such an attack during the night, or at the break of day, was called a "camisade." During these attacks, it was standard practice to wear the shirt as the top garment, so that the soldiers could easily identify one another.

Upon the information of the deserters, the french sent over the rivers Allegany and Monengahaly, (which empty themselves into the Ohio,) two large parties of Indians who were encamped on the banks, who when they heard the report of the fire arms, sailed up these two rivers in their canoes, and landed at the point which the fort is built upon, and thus, when we least expected, attack'd us in the rere [rear], and the whole strength of the garrison in our front. The three companies before mention'd, stood firm a long time, and by their regular platoon firing annoyed the enemy greatly. But by their superiority and repeated attacks, this brave handful was at length broken and obliged to retreat in confusion to the main body. In this critical situation we exerted our utmost courage and kept the enemy at bay for a full hour, until we were in short almost all cut off.

The Alleghany River, a 325-mile-long principal tributary of the Ohio, rises in the hilly plateau country of north central Pennsylvania, curves across the southwestern corner of New York, then continues back into Pennsylvania, flowing south to Pittsburgh, where it joins the Monongahela River to form the Ohio. The Monongahela River, a 128-mile-long principal southern tributary of the Ohio rises in Marion County, West Virginia, and winds northwest across the boundary of Pennsylvania, then northward until its juncture with the Alleghany to form the Ohio at the Forks.

Kirkwood was most certainly with the main body under Grant upon the hill. His reference to "being almost cut off" is supported by the comments of Lieutenant Robertson of Captain Munro's company who stated, "we all made a stand on the summit of the hill (there's an English mile of clear ground from the summit to the Monongahela River and in some places more than half a mile broad). It was then we lost men, as we we're surrounded something like the figure of a horseshoe. We retired down the hill in a manner dispersed. . . ." Lieutenant Alexander Robertson, 77th Foot, to Sir Henry Munro, dated January 1759, Ballindalloch Papers.

It is impossible to describe the confusion and horror which ensued, when all hopes of victory was gone. We were dispersed here and there, for my part I cannot inform the reader, how affairs went with my fellow soldiers, for I was pursued by four Indians, who fired at me several times, and their shot went through my cloaths, one of them however made sure, and wounded me in the leg with a buck-shot.

Of this unfortunate engagement, General Forbes wrote to Prime Minister Pitt: "I acquainted you of Major Grant of Colo. Montgomerie's Battalion with a strong detachment of 900 men, having gone to Fort Du Quesne in order to reconnoiter the roads & Fort, to check the Enemy's scouting partys and to endeavor to make some Prisoners in order to get some Intelligence of the Enemy's Strength &c, which, in spite of all my Endeavours to learn, by every Means That I could devize we are still in the dark off [of], as to the certainty of their numbers. Major Grant trusting to false reports of their strength, divided his troops in order to bring them into an ambuscade, and at break of Day, beat his Drums and discovered himself to the Fort, who immediately poured out a large Body of Men, attacked his divided troops one after another, never allowing him time to get them together, and consequently had no difficult task in totally dispersing him."

"The Majors Grant and [Andrew] Lewis of the Virginia Provincialls were mad [made] prisoners with 4 more officers, seven officers killed and 270 Private Men. This was a most terrible check to my small Army . . ." I>Pitt, I, 370–71.

I was immediately taken, but the Indian who laid hold of me would not allow the rest to scalp me, tho' they proposed to do so; in short he befriended me greatly,* (as you shall hereafter be inform'd,) however I was bound hand and foot and left in his charge, in a little time some Squaws i.e. female Indians came, and carried me into a canoe, and paddled over to the other side of the Allegany river, when they put me into one of their Wigwams i.e. Indian-houses, where one of them dress'd my wound with great care,

I cannot express the woefulness of my situation, during the night that intervened twixt this and the next day; which I concluded would certainly be my last. I was confirm'd in this opinion, when I saw the rest of the Indians arrive, and bring with them several other prisoners whom I did not know. They immediately stript me of my cloaths and in return gave me an old Indian blanket and britch-clout to cover my nakedness. Upon the third day after my being inward, a french officer came over and spoke to the Indians, in order to have us ransom'd; but they would not foregoe themselves the pleasure of indulging their savage natures. He enquir'd of us concerning the strength of the english, what time we thought they would lay siege to the fort, and several such questions; adding that he was sorry for us, and that it was not in the power of the French to redeem us.

Possibly the French officer was fort commander, Captain Francois-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery.

Nothing but death inevitable was before us, and we remained in this painful uncertainty 'till the fifth Day, when we were brought forth, being nine in number, amongst a great many Indians, where we were unbound, scourg'd, and tortur'd the whole day; and here I cannot help remarking the inhumanity of the French, who took a great pleasure in participating in this cruel spectacle.

Here we are introduced to one of the harsh realities of frontier warfare. Just above, Kirkwood notes that a French officer unsuccessfully attempted to ransom the prisoners, while here he relates that the French actually participated in the "cruel spectacle" of the prisoners' torture. There are numerous examples of both types of behavior during the war. There are times, such as during the bloodbath after the surrender of Fort William Henry, when the French actively intervened, albeit too late, to protect their prisoners. In other instances, they just stood idly by while the Indians enjoyed what they honestly felt was a legitimate part of their "spoils of war." Similar instances can no doubt be cited about British behavior in similar circumstances.

As night approached we were carried into a council of the gravest Indians, and were by them ordered to be severally tied to posts, where there were all kinds of Pine-firr in heaps ready to be burnt. I here summoned all the fortitude I was master of, in order to enable me to resign myself to the will of providence. But I was not much longer in suspence, for the Indian who had taken me prisoner, accompanied by one of the chiefs came and told me in English, which he could speak brokenly, that I was not to be burnt; that I was for the future to be to him as a brother, his father being my father, and all his friends my friends. I was sometime before I collected myself so much as to understand him, being quite ignorant of their method of adoption, of which more hereafter.

For another well-written and highly credible story of a white man's captivity and subsequent adoption by his captors see James Smith, An Account of the Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col James Smith, (Lexington, 1799, reprint, Cincinnati; 1907).

I was carried by my adopted brother to view the war-dance, as they call it, when they burn any of their enemies; and to my unspeakable grief and terror saw five out of the nine burned in the most cruel manner.–The method they follow in the perpetration of this horrid scene, is as follows, viz having purposely collected a number of the roots that grow in fir-trees, they stick these to the fleshy parts of the unhappy victims, and then set them on fire, which consumes them in a slow and lingering manner, during which time the Indians dance and skip about them, using the most insulting gesticulation; and, as if this was not enough, they frequently use the barbarity of tomohawking them, i.e. striking a tomohawk into their skulls. When they have thus finished their bloody purposes, they go to drink and festivity, throughout the whole of which, the same hellish antipathy to their unhappy enemies seems predominant, a melancholy proof of which, I had like to have experienced.

Having been brought home by my adoptive mother, who celebrated my initiation by making over me for an hour or more; she then brought me some victuals, and a little french brandy, which she had saved during their debauch, which to me was a most acceptable present, nothing having cross'd my throat for two days before; it revived me greatly and I was in myself returning the Almighty thanks for my preservation, when a new danger attended, and had like to have been fatal to me.

174 pages, illustrated, 8.5 x 11, index, 2004
$20.00 paperback, $100.00 deluxe cloth edition limited to 250 numbered copies, each signed by the four contributors: McCulloch, Todish, Brumwell and Griffing--A Purple Mountain Press original, 2004

Also by Timothy Todish:
America's FIRST First World War: The French and Indian War, 1754-1763
The Annotated and Illustrated Journals of Major Robert Rogers

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