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Historic America

La Belle-Famille Battlefield in Youngstown, New York

This little-known British military victory along the Niagara River led to the French surrender of Fort Niagara, but historians are undecided about where it actually took place.

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The Battle of La Belle-Famille was fought on July 24, 1759 between French forces under the command of Col. François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery and British forces under the command of Lt. Col. Eyre Massey and their American Indian allies along the Niagara River during the French and Indian War. The battle ended in complete British and Iroquois victory over the French, and the surrender of Fort Niagara two days later.

Approximately 3,500 British and Iroquois lay siege to Fort Niagara at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River from July 6 to July 26, 1759. Trapped inside were 520 French regulars, militia, and their American Indian allies under the command of Captain Pierre Pouchot. Pouchot appealed to Col. François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery for help, and Lignery marched from Fort Machault with 800 French regulars and militia and 500 native allies to relieve Fort Niagra’s garrison.

Lignery sent messengers ahead to notify Pouchot that relief was on its way, but unfortunately for them, the British also had advanced warning. Approximately 450 British soldiers and an equal number of Iroquois warriors set up a carefully laid ambush. Lignery compounded his earlier mistake by failing to properly screen his movement and French forces walked right into an open field, triggering the ambush.

After the British fired several vollies, their Iroquois allies descended on the panicked French and sent them fleeing. Lignery was mortally wounded, and hundreds of his men were killed. Among them was a French chaplain, Father Claude Joseph Virot. The British lost 12 dead and 40 wounded.

The French and Indian War, part of the larger Seven Years’ War, was fought between Great Britain and France and their American Indian allies from 1754 to 1763. It ended in complete victory over the French, and France ceded her North American colonies to Great Britain and Spain. Many American Colonists felt their contribution to the war entitled them to equal status in the British Empire, setting the stage for the Revolutionary War and Declaration of Independence 13 years later.

Because no one is certain where the battle actually took place, monuments and signs are scattered around Youngstown, New York. Traditionally, historians thought La Belle-Famille was fought one mile south of Lockport Street on River Road, but Brian Leigh Dunnigan, former Executive Director of the Old Fort Niagara Association, believes it occurred near what would become the corner of Main and Lockport streets. Today, Youngstown is a bustling town, quite different from the scene of the battle over 258 years ago.

Signs pertaining to La Belle-Famille Battlefield are not easily located, and parking is roadside in most cases. A fieldstone marker to the battle sits on Lower River Road at approximately 43°14.48010′, -079°03.05994′. A more modern sign was dedicated in 2016 at the corner of Lockport and Main Streets in Youngstown, and an illustrated interpretive sign is located in a small park with a gazebo along the Niagara River, across the street from Falkner Park.

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