John Frizzell 1756-1760 By Patricia A. Johnson
In July 1998 I received a copy of "The Diary of John Frizzell 1756-1760". John Frizzell is my 7th great-grandfather, and I knew little more than his name until I received the transcription of this diary from a fellow descendant. John Frizzell was age 26 when this adventure begins in August 1756. It covers his experiences and travels and finally ends when he takes a ship, homeward bound, on 15 April 1759. The diary of John Frizzell gave me a special reason for studying the French and Indian War and especially the saga of the battle of the Oswego Forts in August 1756.
Using two references, I have put the pieces of the diary together as they pertain to history. The rest of my narrative is about John Frizzell's personal experiences after he became a prisoner of war. The two references used are "Arms for Empire" by Douglas E. Lynch and "Battle for A Continent 1754-1763" by Harrison Bird.
The story begins on 17 May 1756 when the British government declared war on France. The struggle between the two countries was about control of the Northern part of the North American Continent -- and the riches and trade that went with it.
The battle of the Oswego Forts, in August 1756, was important because these forts commanded access to Lake Ontario in Western New York. Both Britain and France wanted control of this access. Lake Ontario was the gateway to the St. Lawrence River and therefore to the Atlantic Ocean and International trade.
John Frizzell was probably assigned to Fort Ontario since his diary begins on 10 August 1756 and that coincides with the start of the battle at Fort Ontario. He was most likely in the 50th or 51st Foot Regiment.
I DO know he was among 1,780 prisoners of war by the time the white flag went up over Fort Oswego on 14 August 1756.
John's diary agrees completely with history. He begins with, "August 10th 1756 attacked by our enemy and the 14th day we surrendered ourselves to our enemy and were confined to close quarters." Both historical references state that the battle began 10 August 1756 at Fort Ontario and by 14 August 1756 the white flag of surrender was hoisted over Fort Oswego.
The British surrendered to French General, Louis Montcalm. General Montcalm had maneuvered an almost perfect victory -- except for one thing -- his Indians slipped out of control and began plundering and murdering the terrified British troops. A number of British had been killed before Montcalm could regain control of the Indians. This happened after the British commander had been promised safety from the Indians as part of the surrender terms. The Indians had no patience for these "humanitarian agreements" between white men.
John Frizzell describes this very incident in his diary. "The French general said to the Indians take what follows and immediately thrust three Indians through with his sword which struck dread in them, but he saw that they were hard set on their mission and he could not pacify them so he called out seventeen men and gave them to the Indians to pacify them." John's next sentence is, "I can't say but that it made me look around amongst my fellow creatures to see whose lot it must be next." I can only imagine the terror of that event! To see men called out to be turned over to the Indians and feeling a mixture of guilt and thankfulness to be passed over would be unforgettable. I, for one, am most grateful that John Frizzell was not chosen for this terrible fate.
About 17 August 1756, the Canadians marched the group of prisoners to Lake Ontario. There were several bateau there and the Canadians pointed to them. John Frizzell and his fellow prisoners jumped into the boats and steered north northwest. They were followed closely by Indians in canoes. The Indians were flourishing their knives to show that they intended to kill and scalp them if given the chance. The Canadians made signs that the prisoners should lay down in the bateau so the Indians didn't see so many of them.
The next day they proceeded down the river, passing Canadian villages along the way. Finally they could see the "Great Falls of the St. Lawrence" ahead. This is where the Ottawa River empties into the St. Lawrence river. John Frizzell didn't expect to survive the trip over the falls, but the Canadians brought them through safely. The prisoners were ordered to lie down in the bateau and I can only imagine the terror of that experience! They went ashore near Beauharnois, Quebec and then traveled another twelve miles to a place John calls "Swaygochway" a very fine fort with thirty pieces of cannon on the south side of the river.
Upon reaching Montreal, the prisoners were, "turned into a yard and kept under lock and key. It was raining very hard but the men thought that this was the least of their grievances. The last two weeks in August 1756 had brought John Frizzell from a miserable fort in Western New York, across Lake Ontario, down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal. He had many more experiences to face, but that he had survived this two weeks was a miracle!
On October the 6th 1756 an order came for them to embark for old France, but John was in a "very poor state of health, and could not venture the passage." The next day a Doctor came and took him to Saint Joseph's hospital. He was unable to get out of bed for 30 days. He thought that he must submit himself to death. At this point in time a friar came to visit John once a day. When the friar suggested that John receive the sacrament and become a Christian, John said, "I pray you will not do me any harm for I know you cannot do me any good. He told me that he would go home and pray for me. I told him as it was God's will that I should be a prisoner of war I should trust in his mercy for my deliverance. But as God's mercy was greater than their power, I recovered."
At the end of December 1756, John Frizzell was returned to the prison. "Out of 50 or 60 men that went in 1 man would live to come out. I went back to prison with a very heavy heart, the snow being 9 feet deep upon the level and in that country the Winters are 8 months long."
In March 1757, John mentions two officers that had been captured at Ohio and had been prisoners for two and a half years. The two men had drawn a map of Canada and tried to smuggle it to England. It was their misfortune that the ship was taken and carried to France. There was an order that one of them would be executed for the act. John says, "as it happened, the night before the Indians came and took them out of the dungeon and they saw no more of them."
On 22 July 1757, John Frizzell embarked on board the French ship "Canticle". The ship was going to England. John was finally free of prison -- at least the prison on land.
9 December 1757, John Frizzell was "obliged" to go on board a privateer of 18 guns. Thus began his travels to various ports of the World. 5 February he was off the coast of Jerusalem. Other places he mentions are: Cape St. Vincents, off Portugal; Cape Finisterre, off Spain; Gibralter; Cartagena; Port Mahon; the Gulf of Lyons; Costoco, Leghorn, off Italy; Sicily; Sardinia.
The most important date in the diary is 15 April 1759 when John Frizzell took a brig, the San Fernandez, homeward bound. The ship was commanded by Captain Mootry. The last entry is, "August the 18, 1759 on board his Majesty's Theristes ship on short allowance of wine for seven days. August the 28, 1759 short allowance of bread.."
August 1756 to August 1759 John Frizzell survived ordeals that I can only imagine. I am sure his father, Samuel Frizzell and his mother, Prudence Flagg had no hope of ever seeing him again. What a joyous day it must have been to see their son come home.