NEW! Fire and Desolation

Fire and Desolation: The Revolutionary War's 1778 Campaign as Waged from Quebec and Niagara Against the American Frontiers

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David B.J. Snyder -- April 7, 2018

I finished Fire and D last week.
Congratulations and Thank You for this historical gem.
I appreciate your objectivity. Your OK Valley Fan,
Bed and Breakfast at Canyon Cottage, Penticton, BC.

Bob Rowe - November 14, 2017

Dear Mr. Watt,

I found your book very informative and amazingly balanced in relation to the Canadian and US sides in this "Civil" war.

I especially appreciate the fourth chapter: New York;s Midwestern Frontier. My family have lived in Pakatakan since 1763. I wish the name had been retained (rather than Margaretville/Arkville). The mountain is still named Pakatakan,as is an old Art Colony in Arkville.

I plan to use portions of your book in my book which will be published next spring. I'll let you know what I am planning to use for your approval before publication.

Thank you for your fine book Fire & Desolation.

Nicholas Westbrook - October, 2017

The best, most vivid treatment of ST. LEGER is by Gavin K. Watt in two books:

Kelly Meilke - (Source) - September 8, 2017

With the thousands of works written on the American Revolution, there are still areas where, remarkably, the surface has hardly been scratched. Increasingly, modern studies of the American Revolution are taking new directions, examining things in different light, and adding knowledge that challenges long standing assumptions. Even with digging deeper and applying innovative methods, however, there are still some areas of the war that just plain do not garner as much attention. Although the events covered in Fire and Desolation: The Revolutionary War’s 1778 Campaign as Waged from Quebec and Niagara Against the American Frontiers played an important role in the development of the major campaigns of 1779, detailed accounts of these actions are lacking in the vast library of Revolutionary War literature.

Canadian historian Gavin Watt examines this often ignored region and year of the war and highlights tactical expertise employed by Native Americans and their allies. The violent and destructive raids detailed in this aptly named book bridge the gap between key events in 1777—the American victory at Saratoga and Burgoyne’s failed Hudson campaign—and the Clinton-Sullivan expedition of 1779. Watt demonstrates that the actions along the Canadian border were fraught with complications born out of allegiance and personal relationships and played an important role in the military and diplomatic course of the war.

The author’s perspective, one to which many Americans may be unaccustomed, is reflected in the terminology used; for example, rather than using the term “patriot” he consistently uses “rebel.” More important than the terms the author uses, readers are taken out of the loyalist-patriot dichotomy into which students of the Revolution are too apt to fall as Watt strives to maintain an air of objectivity. Rather than viewing each side in a black and white manner and perceiving one side as “good” and the other “bad,” Watt fairly acknowledges that all parties performed both laudable and horrifying acts.

It is remarkable that this part of the war has received so little attention as it not only proved important in the tactical course of the war, but also provides a perfect snapshot of the complicated human dynamics that steered the course of the Revolution. Employing a range of sources, including military and diplomatic records and correspondences from England, Canada, and the United States, Watt shows the wide range of personalities and complex relationships that influenced diplomatic relations. Complexities in relationships extended beyond the difficulties rendered by the civil war conditions and were influenced by cultural and historical factors, particularly with the entrance of the French in the war and the role and influence of the tribes of the Six Nations.

A great strength of this work is that Watt brings the tribes of the Six Nations to the center of the action, underscoring that the Natives were not passive participants but rather played an important role in the defense of the Canadian border. Not only were the British and Americans vying for Native alliances, but intertribal divisions and historical tensions led the Natives to act decisively and in ways that directly influenced the Continental Congress’ campaign plans. The climax of the action—the raids on the Wyoming and Cherry Valleys—illustrate the decisive action taken by Natives that directly resulted in the Continental Congress’s retributive campaigns of the following year. Although these raids are often referred to as “massacres” by American historians, one wonders if the use of that term reflects not only the perspective from which it is studied, but perhaps assisted the narratives created in the postwar years to support and justify early America’s agenda in conquering Native lands.[1]

Although the scope of the campaign can be difficult to grasp due to the several regions and time frames involved, the author eases comprehensive clarity by providing a very helpful comparative timeline of each region’s actions. Given the layout of the chapters as regionally specific—Lake Champlain and Lower Quebec, the Mohawk Region (the subject of two chapters), Pennsylvania, and New York – this is quite useful in tying the content together and gaining an overall sense of the campaign on the American frontier. The book is visually interesting with regular use of images interwoven within the text, including portraits, maps, and weaponry. At times, the narrative’s flow is interrupted by abrupt transitions. This part of the Revolution is unarguably complex with many groups involved, but at times the viewpoints and people discussed switch so often it is difficult to keep track. Particularly disruptive to the narrative are some of the shortest subsections within chapters, some of which either call for expansion to fit cleanly into the context or relegation to footnotes.

Overall, Fire and Desolation provides a detailed account of important but neglected year of the war and adds important context to the military and diplomatic actions surrounding it. Although the narrative reads a bit rough at times, the book highlights the complexities of the groups and personalities involved. Moreover, the Canadian point of view may come as a refreshing change of pace for many readers. This book will appeal to enthusiasts of the military history of the Revolution as well as readers specifically interested in the region’s history or the role of Canada in the American Revolution.

Susan Watkins - September 8, 2017

As a dabbler in regional history (Mohawk Valley of New York), I have found ALL of Mr. Watt’s books to be valuable resources. As the reviewer helpfully notes, this fringe area was home to a plethora of (usually) opposing interests and shifting alliances/grievances. Mr. Watt carefully sorts out intertwined strands of action by documenting the rationale and action of each involved group.

I find the suggestion that he has too obvious a Canadian British bias to be a bit overstated. He sticks to written record, and on-the-ground knowledge. I would have embellished the roles (also from the written record) of a few charismatic leaders, and several real stinkers!

By Mark Pavilons - July 12, 2017 - Source - King Sentinel

Canada is currently known as the global peacekeepers. For us to get to this point, we have to understand our roots and historic conflicts. A King author examines the Canadian-American schism in his latest book, “Fire & Desolation: The Revolutionary War’s 1778 Campaign as Waged from Quebec and Niagara Against the American Frontiers.” This is a particularly interesting and a somewhat neglected chapter of the American war for independence, told by one of the best. King City’s Gavin Watt, author of 11 books about Loyalist military history, recounts our history in a fresh, well presented way, providing new insights into marginalized Loyalists, First Nations, British and rebel contributions.

Fire & Desolation picks apart the battles and tactics used during the infamous Wyoming Valley and Cherry Valley Massacres.

Watt explained these events both took place in 1778 and were labelled as “massacres” by American historians. The first took place in the Wyoming Valley on the Susquehanna River in upstate Pennsylvania. Then, several months later, the Cherry Valley Massacre occurred in the Mohawk River country of upstate New York. Although the details prompting these events are most complicated, their bloody outcomes convinced the American Congress to punish the Six Nations’ Iroquois Confederacy and its allied tribes. The following year, the American Continental Army retaliated by destroying the Natives’ settlements throughout eastern Indian Territory.

Watt noted that although the conflict began as a rebellion of disgruntled American colonists against Britain, it soon evolved into a world-wide conflict as the two sides gathered in allies. In the early stages, the 13 rebelling colonies unsuccessfully attempted to co-opt their northern neighbours – Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Britain then turned to the German States to provide troops; the American rebels allied with France for assistance on land and sea, and the next year with Spain.

“Of course, not all Americans embraced the rebellion and there were often as many Americans under arms for the British Crown as there were against. That American Natives were immediately involved on both sides of the conflict was an added complication and ultimately a disaster for them. With Americans of all derivations arrayed against each other, the conflict was clearly America’s first civil war.” There are some key historic facts that Watt wants everyone to know. As a result of this war, the most powerful Native confederacy in North America was shattered; French Canada was preserved; English Canada was expanded, and a second country took root.

Several “unsung heroes” emerged from all of this. Watt found several who played key roles in our past.

They included Brigadier Sir John Johnson, Superintendent & Inspector General of Indian Affairs, settled Montreal. Mohawk War Captain Joseph Brant Thayendanegea, Brant’s Volunteers, settled Brantford on the Grand River. Mohawk War Captain John Deserontyon, Fort Hunter Mohawks, settled Tyendinaga on the Bay of Quinte near Deseronto. Major Edward Jessup, Loyal Rangers, settled Prescott. Major James Rogers, King’s Rangers, settled at Frederickburgh on Lake Ontario near Napanee County Lieutenant Claude-Nicolas-Guillaume, Sieur de Lorimier, Quebec Indian Department, continued at Kahnawake on the St. Lawrence River south of Montreal.

Through his research, Watt admitted that he still has a lot to learn.

An avid re-enactor for decades, Watt has worn the uniform of the day, and experienced the mock battlefield. He has been involved in re-enactment since the 1970s and has been involved in parades, military events and celebrations both in Ontario and in the U.S. He’s been active in three 18th Century recreated units – the 1st and 2nd battalions, King’s Royal Regiment of New York and the 1758 New York Provincial Regiment. And that’s how his stories of the men and their regiments come to life in his books.

American accounts of the history of the day tend to be quite different from our perspective and Watt sheds some light on these Canadian founding fathers. Pulling from his wide network of historians both here and south of the border, his “gigantic” personal library and collection of documents, Watt put the pieces together nicely in this easy-to-read account of these campaigns.

A benefit of reenacting was his growing friendship with American historians who were every bit as passionate about their Revolution as he was about their rebellion.

Despite his prolific writing, he said he still knows very little and this further fuels his appetite.

David Raymont - June 29, 2017

Gavin Watt provides another insightful description of a year during the revolution in upstate New York. An excellent read for Loyalists and Patriots alike. Ample use of original documents gives the reader of good sense of what life was like on a troubled frontier.

Dave R - June 29, 2017

Gavin Watt provides another insightful description of a year during the revolution in upstate New York. An excellent read for Loyalists and Patriots alike. Ample use of original documents gives the reader of good sense of what life was like on a troubled frontier.

Book Review: "Fire & Desolation" by Gavin Watt
The Revolutionary War's 1778 Campaign as Waged from Quebec and Niagara Against the American Frontiers

Author: Gavin K. Watt
Toronto: Dundurn. 2017. soft cover. 398 pages
Reviewed by Peter W. Johnson UE

Books by Gavin K. Watt can be divided roughly into two categories. While all include a lot of information regarding events during the Revolutionary War, one group includes varying amounts of information on individuals- and not just the officers. Such books are a delight to the descendant who uncovers new information about an ancestor. The second group focuses on the historical events and ensures that the reader is better acquainted with the circumstances faced by that ancestor. Fire & Desolation falls into the second category and follows the 1778 Campaign Season.

Gavin undoubtedly wants to be viewed as having taken an objective look at the events of 1778. For over two hundred years most authors in the United States were not troubled by such niceties. The formula was simple: Patriots- good, Tories- bad... along with most “Indians”. To reach his audience across the Border, Gavin uses the term “Tories” rather than the more comfortable “Loyalists”. However, at the same time, he refers to the opposing side as “Rebels” rather than “Patriots”. As well, there are no heroes as such in this book. Some may have admirable qualities, but none are as one-dimensional as the stereotypical hero.

The events of 1777 had left the Loyalists and their Native Allies bloodied but not defeated. The stage was set for considerable raiding with the Native component front and centre. The area covered included mainly parts of New York and Pennsylvania but actually reached as far down as New Jersey. It's amazing how much territory was covered.

The first Part focuses on Lake Champlain, the Upper Hudson River and Quebec. Then the narrative shifts to the Mohawk area. The next chapter covers the events at Wyoming with a return to the Mohawk Valley and Cherry Valley to end the book. Covering the 1778 events in chronological order works very well as there is an increasing sense of foreboding as one nears the most famous raids. In a sense Wyoming and Cherry Valley are the climaxes.

The events of 1778 were not pretty. This was a Civil War and they are often especially brutal. One is left wondering how people on either side survived? The raids on Wyoming and Cherry Valley have been referred to traditionally as “massacres” which served the Rebels as propaganda. Of course, 'had the shoe been on the other foot' the two raids would have been viewed as glorious victories by the Rebels with no references to massacres. My second re-enactment in the United States was the Bicentennial of Cherry Valley in 1978. What struck me at the time was the contrast. The hospitality afforded to us was beyond question, but at the same time it was clear that “us green-coated Tories were the bad guys” even after two centuries. The challenge for Gavin has been to take a neutral stance which is tricky with all the baggage which comes with Cherry Valley in particular. He does this very well. The only instance that jumped out at me was a comment about the relief of Ft. Stanwix wherein the word “Fortunately” is used to describe the event. As viewed through my Loyalist bias, there was nothing fortunate in Ft. Stanwix getting relieved, (p 282).

The book isn't just about raiding and violence. It's also a study of the complex relationships between the British Crown, the Loyalists and Six Nations, the latter having been divided into differing sides favouring either the British or the Rebels. With all the personal agendas, and politics, one could be forgiven for wondering how either side managed to accomplish anything.

What did the 1778 Campaign accomplish? There are certainly enough references in the book to show that the raiding greatly hampered the Rebels' ability to provide grain for their hungry troops. It also set the stage for the horrific Sullivan Campaign of 1779, which ultimately didn't stop more raiding. If you have Gavin's other books, this one is a welcome addition. If you're new to Gavin's work, this will be a treat!

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