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The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Carrie E. Sowden

With the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, many Native Americans, who had previously been trading partners and allies with the French, found themselves, surprisingly, under British control. The terms and conditions put upon them were odious and many were disappointed to see the French cede all of New France to the British in the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763.

Beginning in 1760, with the end of fighting in North America, General Jeffery Amherst, the British Commander-in-Chief, implemented restrictive policies, stopped the tradition of gifts, and treated the tribes with disdain. Also during this time, British settlers began moving west of the Appalachian Mountains, the agreed upon “boundary” for their settlement.

Messages between tribes about their discontent had been circulating via wampum (war belts) since at least 1761. Finally in 1763, in rapid succession, eight British forts were captured between May 7 and June 16. There were three regional groups involved in what became known as Pontiac’s War:

  • Tribes of the Great Lakes Region: Hurons Ottawas Ojibwes Potawatomis
  • Tribes of eastern Illinois Country: Miamis Weas Kickapoos Mascoutens Piankashaws
  • Tribes of the Ohio Country: Lenape Shawnees Wyandots Mingos

Pontiac, an Ottawa war chief, led the first attack against Fort Detroit in early May. Historians disagree whether he organized all of the subsequent raids and hostilities, or tribes joined in as they heard about his success at Fort Detroit.

In 1764, the British began their fight back. The fighting ceased in 1766 in what is now considered by many to be a “stalemate.” The North American Indians did not drive out the British, and the British did not conquer the Indians. The ending treaty set up relations that were more equal than they had been under Amherst.

Bradstreet’s Disaster

Col. John Bradstreet, painting in 1764
by Thomas McIlworth

By 1764, the raids on settlements ranged from the Illinois Country to Virginia and western Maryland. After negotiating a peace treaty at Fort Niagara, Sir William Johnson sent Colonel John Bradstreet and a large contingent of soldiers across Lake Erie to help in Detroit. Bradstreet left Fort Schlosser, a fortification near the mouth of the Niagara River, on August 8, 1764. Col. Bradstreet and his contingent of 1,200, to possibly 2,300, men reached Detroit on August 26, having made at least one unauthorized peace treaty along the way.

In Detroit,  Bradstreet reinforced and resupplied Fort Detroit (back in British hands) and also negotiated a peace treaty with local tribal elders. Once again, Col. Bradstreet was not authorized to negotiate with anyone, let alone sign treaties.

About six weeks later on October 18, Bradstreet and his flotilla of approximately 60 bateaux, a flat bottom open deck boat that could be rowed or sailed with one mast, and 9 canoes stopped near the entrance of a river on the south side of Lake Erie about 10 miles west of what is now Cleveland. The group landed on shore in the area now known as the town of Rocky River. Why they stopped there and didn’t continue on the additional two miles to the shelter of the Rocky River, is not known. During the evening, a horrific storm hit the area and the wind and waves destroyed about one-third of the small-boat fleet. It was noted that six cannons were lost along with ammunition, provisions, and personal belongings. It took three days for the 1,500 men to clean up and repair as many vessels as possible.

As it was, there was not enough space in the remaining bateaux for the entire team of soldiers to sail back to Lake Ontario. So, 150 –300 men were sent back via land. The return trip was not easy. The soldiers faced food scarcity, cold, and extreme fatigue. However, most men did make it back to Niagara with the first soldiers arriving on November 4.

Colonel Bradstreet did not come out of this campaign well. He had made several peace treaties that were not authorized and then lost a lot of vessels and supplies during the return trip. While he remained in his post until his death, Bradstreet’s desire to move up in the military was hampered by this disastrous 1764 Lake Erie campaign.

Bradstreet’s Disaster Today

In the years since 1764, remnants from Bradstreet’s Disaster have appeared on the beaches near the town of Rocky River, Ohio. A great storm in 1842 caused shifting sand and many artifacts washed ashore, including gun flints, musket barrels and bayonets. There were reports throughout the 19th Century of many items found in this area, including a silver spoon and an intricate sword.

Into the 20th Century, reminders from this long-ago tragedy were discovered on the south coast of Lake Erie. More recent explorers did not wait for shifting sands to reveal the artifacts, but used handheld metal detectors. The area has been thoroughly searched and the findings continue to tell us more about this era in Great Lakes history. Today, the location known as Bradstreet’s Landing is a city park for all to enjoy the water, the shoreline, and the history.

The National Museum of the Great Lakes recently received two donations of artifacts from this event.

Swivel Gun with English broadarrow

The swivel gun was found slightly off shore in 1968 by Paul and Sandy Reynolds in Rocky River. He kept this small cannon in his dive shop south of Cleveland for a number of years. Upon his death, his family donated this important relic to the National Museum of the Great Lakes. The gun was discovered near Bradstreet’s Landing and the characteristics of the gun are congruent with the time period, though it hasn’t been definitively confirmed to have been part of Bradstreet’s Disaster.

Cannon pieces: A – Possible Bar Shot. B – Linstock. C – Cannon Vent Cover. D – Possible Vent Cleaner.

A linstock is the last of five tools used in the process of loading and firing a cannon. This device is a composite of wood, rope and iron ranging between three to four feet in length. On one end of the wooden rod is a piece of iron with rope wrapping around the iron trailing down the wooden handle. Once the cannon was fully prepped and ready to fire, the rope was burned to mimic the use of a match and gently pressed to the open fuse of the cannon.

Several types of shot have been discovered at the

Shot: A – Stone Shot. B – Iron Shot. C – Iron Shot with Incendiary Slit

Bradstreet site. There are stone balls, which were created to fragment upon impact. There are the traditional iron shots. One iron shot discovered, seen in the exhibit case, has a small slit to hold incendiary materials. Once a shot like this hits its target, it is designed to start a fire, creating great destruction, especially to wooden ships. The last piece of shot recovered again denotes a naval use, the bar shot. In the exhibit case is most of a piece of bar shot, something that would have been used in close range to rip through sails and render vessels immobile.

Gun Parts: A – Gun Barrels. B – Flash Pan. C – Side Plates. D – Hammer Lock.

One of the largest collections found is that of gun or rifle pieces. The flash pan was used in muzzle loaded guns for placing priming powder next to the touch hole. The hammer lock is also part of the firing system of the gun. This was the piece that would have come down and ignited the primer powder in the flash pan. There would have been a piece of flint and as it scraped across the lock, the spark would create the “flash” needed to set off the charge to fire the bullet in the barrel. Also shown here are some rifle side plates.

A – Tool Head. B – Trunk Latch

Outside of weaponry, there were certainly other losses in Brad- street’s disaster. A previous find, a silver spoon, has been documented. Here we see the iron head of a tool, which would have been attached to a wooden handle. Also shown is a trunk latch.

Most of the finds at Bradstreet’s Landing are of metal or stone. Anything organic, like a wooden handle or a leather covered wooden truck, would have rotted away in the intervening 240 years, leaving only the metal pieces.

Mystery piece discovered near Bradstreet’s Disaster

One of the artifacts is a bit of a mystery. It was recovered from the beach near Bradstreet’s Landing and was initially identified as a hammerlock from a musket or pistol. However, the piece is highly decorated on both sides, which would make that use impossible. What do you think?

Editor’s Note:

In our issue from Winter 2021, we highlighted the story of Bradstreet’s Disaster on the south shore of Lake Erie in October 1764.  The National Museum of the Great Lakes had recently been donated a number of finds from the area where this occurred, including one find that we labeled a “mystery object”. We were completely at a loss to what this piece could be and asked you, our loyal readers, if anyone had seen anything like it.  Of course you came through.  Thanks to L. Richard Phelps; he notified us and sent images of exactly what we were looking at, part of a wall mount for an oil lamp.

Now, that leads us to a discussion of what does this mean within the context of these finds from the area now known as Bradstreet’s landing. It seems, from limited research, that oil lamps of this nature, were not invented until 1780 by Ami Argand, a Genevan physicist. These develop, in the 1850s, into kerosene lamps, like that shown in Mr. Phelps photograph. Based on those dates, our “mystery piece” seems to be not a part of Bradstreet’s Disaster, but a piece of history that was found in the same area.

Thank you, Mr. Phelps! Because of your eye to this detail, we have solved our mystery.

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About the Author:  Carrie Sowden is the Director of Archaeology and Research at the National Museum of the Great Lakes.


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