By Ted Como
Captain Pierre Pouchot couldn’t take a hint.
He was the French officer assigned to defend Fort Levis near Ogdensburg from British attack, and in early August, 1760, everybody knew that General Jeffery Amherst was headed down the St. Lawrence River with 10,000 regulars, one of three British armies planning to take Montreal. Quebec City had already fallen.
The general, no doubt, thought Fort Levis, which he knew to be manned by a small French force, would be but a minor diversion. It was a bit more than that. Indeed, the British could hardly believe that such a small garrison offered such spirited resistance, even after it was visited by three of the 10 plagues of Egypt.
Amherst attacked Aug 19 with three ships, shore batteries and 100 siege guns. But even with the fort pounded to smithereens, Pouchot held out until Aug. 24 when he asked for terms because he had run out of ammunition. He reportedly lost 275 of the fort’s 300 defenders killed or wounded despite that two months before the battle, he had suffered one of the plagues and immediately after that, another. And but a month later, just weeks before the fort would fall, yet a third Biblical plague descended from the heavens.
But as with Pharaoh, Pouchot was undeterred.
The first plague was one very familiar to anyone raised along the St. Lawrence at least since the last time Ogdensburg was covered with a mile and a half of ice. It was the plague of flies, as cited in Exodus. In his memoirs, Pouchot described it:
“About this time (early June) there appeared a prodigious quantity of that kind of little millers that come in the night and fly around a candle. They called them Manne, and they fell like snow. They were very annoying by getting into the food, and by night the lights attracted them so that we could harly write.
“They appeared for 15 days and of different colors, as grey, speckled, yellow and white. To these succeeded a kind of white midge, very troublesome from their numbers, but they did not sting. The rains killed them and the earth was covered so that they were two fingers breadth deep on all the ramparts, and three or four inches in the bateaux, where they decayed and infected the air.
“We were obliged to shovel them away as we do snow. These midges were nevertheless useful as those that fell into the river gave nourishment to the fish, which grew to a large size, and the Indians caught them in great quantities, especially eels in the vicinity of Toniata,” an Indian village believed to be in the area of Mallorytown, Ontario, across the river from Chippewa Bay.
Shortly after came the plague of frogs. Says the Bible, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse I will plague your whole country with frogs.” Writes Pouchot, “All the soil of the island (Chimney Island) which was very shallow, was covered with thousands of little toads.”
Then came the plague of thunderstorm and fire on the 14th of July, precisely at 2 p.m. “There came up a violent storm from the northwest, with terrific thunder and attended by a very singular phenomenon,” Pouchot wrote. “This was a column of fire which, with a roar and lightning, fell upon the end of the island. The waters rose so that they formed an immense wave, which, after covering both ends of the island, retired. It carried off a dock made for landing, sunk a Jacobite bateau, and filled the others, which were thrown upon the strand.”
The troops must have been terrified about something they likely had never seen. Clearly, Pouchot describes an extraterrestrial object that struck with sufficient force as to create at least a three-foot wave, since the island averaged two feet out of the water and the wave not only swept over all of it, but filled boats pulled up on shore. A wave of that size would require a meteorite at least baseball size, I would guess.
If it struck on the northwest side of Chimney Island it most likely would have been dredged for the Seaway shipping channel. If it struck on the southeast side between it and the shore, it may still be there – if it’s not tucked away in a shed or basement along with musket and cannon balls and such other historical artifacts gathered the past 262 years. If you have any, please contact the Ogdensburg History Museum via Facebook.
You may read of these events in Durant and Peirce’s History of St. Lawrence County, 1878, a link to which may be found at fort1749.org at bottom right, “Local History Links.”