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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Why We Speak English in Wisconsin

In Germany they speak German; in China, Chinese. So how come, here in the center of No. America, we speak English?

When the French and Indian War (1755-1763) broke out, the French controlled the interior of North America and the English the Atlantic seaboard. Here are a French map from 1757 and an English one from 1754 showing what they knew about each other.

Charles de Langlade, Wisconsin's first permanent French settler, led 1,500 Ojibwe, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Ottawa warriors from Wisconsin to defend their homeland against the English invaders. On July 9, 1755, they routed the English at Pittsburgh, even though the English outnumbered them and were led by Gen. Edward Braddock and a young Virginian named George Washington.

The British forces had just sat down for lunch with pinned napkins on their bright red uniforms when the Wisconsin warriors attacked. De Langlade told his grandson that "the English officers, who had their little towels pinned over their breasts, seized their arms... and a good many of them were killed with these napkins still pinned on their coats." Braddock met his death that day, and legend has it that Wisconsin fighters nearly killed Washington, too.

Five years later, though, the tables had turned and the British forces seized the French capital of Montreal. The commander of the French forces wrote to Langlade on Sept. 9, 1760, "I must inform you, Monsieur, that I was compelled to surrender yesterday to the army of Gen. Amherst. This city is, as you know, defenseless. Our troops were greatly diminished, our means and resources totally exhausted. We were surrounded by three armies, numbering at least 80,000 men. ... The citizens and inhabitants of Michilimackinac [as well as Green Bay] will consequently be under the command of the officer that General Amherst will have detailed for this post." That officer was Lt. James Gorrell, whose diary (given here) is the first writing in English from Wisconsin.

:: Posted in Curiosities on February 1, 2013
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