Sir William Phips's Attack on Quebec
THE plan of a combined attack on Canada in 1690 seems to have been first proposed by the Iroquois, and New York and the several governments of New England, smarting under French and Indian attacks, hastened to embrace it. Early in May a congress of their delegates was held in the city of New York. It was agreed that the colony of that name should furnish four hundred men, and Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut three hundred and fifty-five jointly, while the Iroquois afterwards added their worthless pledge to join the expedition with nearly all their warriors. The colonial militia were to rendezvous at Albany and thence advance upon Montreal by way of Lake Champlain. Mutual jealousies made it difficult to agree upon a commander; but Winthrop of Connecticut was at length placed at the head of the feeble and discordant band.
While Montreal was thus assailed by land, Massachusetts and the other New England colonies were invited to attack Quebec by sea, a task formidable in difficulty and in cost, and one that imposed on them an inordinate share in the burden of the war. Massachusetts hesitated. She had no money, and she was already engaged in a less remote and less critical enterprise. During the winter her commerce had suffered from French cruisers which found convenient harborage at Port Royal, whence also the hostile Indians were believed to draw supplies. Seven vessels with two hundred and eighty-eight sailors were impressed, and from four to five hundred militiamen were drafted for the service. That rugged son of New England, Sir William Phips, was appointed to the command. He sailed from Nantasket at the end of April, reached Port Royal on the 11th of May, landed his militia, and summoned Meneval, the governor, to surrender. The fort, though garrisoned by about seventy soldiers, was scarcely in condition to repel an assault, and Meneval yielded without resistance, first stipulating, according to French accounts, that private property should be respected, the church left untouched, and the troops sent to Quebec or to France. It was found, however, that during the parley a quantity of goods belonging partly to the king and partly to merchants of the place had been carried off and hidden in the woods. Phips thought this a sufficient pretext for plundering the merchants, imprisoning the troops, and desecrating the church. “ We cut down the cross,”writes one of his followers, “ rifled their church, pulled down their high altar, and broke their images.” The houses of the two priests were also pillaged. The people were promised security to life, liberty, and property, on condition of swearing allegiance to King William and Queen Mary, “which,” says the journalist, “ they did with great acclamations,” and thereupon they were left unmolested.
Phips now sent Captain Alden, who had already taken possession of Saint Castine’s post at Penobscot, to seize upon La Hêve, Chedabucto, and other stations on the southern coast. Then, after providing for the reduction of the settlements at the head of the Bay of Fundy, he sailed with the rest of the fleet for Boston, where he arrived triumphant on the 18th of May, bringing with him as prisoners the French governor, fifty-nine soldiers, and the two priests, Petit and Trouvé. Massachusetts had made an easy conquest of all Acadia, a conquest, however, which she had neither the men nor the money to secure by sufficient garrisons.
The conduct of the New England commander in this affair does him no credit. It is true that no blood was split and no revenge taken for the repeated butcheries of unoffending and defenseless settlers. It is true, also, that the French appear to have acted in bad faith, but Phips, on the other hand, displayed a scandalous rapacity. Charlevoix says that he robbed Meneval of all his money; but Meneval himself affirms that he gave it to the English commander for safe-keeping, and that Phips and his wife would return neither the money nor various other articles belonging to the captive governor, whereof the following are specified: " six silver spoons; six silver forks; one silver cup in the shape of a gondola; a pair of pistols; three new wigs; a gray vest, entirely new; four pair of silk garters; two dozen of shirts; six vests of dimity; four nightcaps with lace edgings; all my table service of fine tin ; all my kitchen linen,” and many other items which give an amusing insight into Meneval’s housekeeping.
As Phips was to play a conspicuous part in the events which immediately followed, some notice of him will not be amiss. He is said to have been one of twenty-six children, all of the same mother; and was born in 1650 at a rude border settlement, since called Woolwich, on the Kennebec. His parents were ignorant and poor, and till eighteen years of age he was employed in keeping sheep. Such a life ill suited his active and ambitious nature. To better his condition he learned the trade of ship-carpenter, and in the exercise of it came to Boston, where he married a widow with some property, beyond him in years and much above him in station. About this time he learned to read and write, though not too well, for his signature is like that of a peasant. Still aspiring to greater things, he promised his wife that he would one day command a king’s ship and own a “ fair brick house in the Green Lane of North Boston,” a quarter then occupied by citizens of the better class. He kept his word at both points. Fortune was inauspicious to him for several years, till at length under the pressure of reverses he conceived the idea of conquering fame and wealth at one stroke, by fishing up the treasure said to be stored in a Spanish galleon wrecked fifty years before, somewhere in the West Indian seas. Full of this project he went to England, where, through influences which do not plainly appear, he gained a hearing from persons in high places and induced the admiralty to adopt his scheme. A frigate was given him and he sailed for the West Indies, whence after a long search he returned unsuccessful, though not without adventures which proved his mettle. It was the epoch of the buccaneers, and his crew, tired of a vain and toilsome search, came to the quarter-deck armed with cutlasses and demanded of their captain that he should turn pirate with them. Phips, a tall and powerful man, instantly fell upon them with His fists, knocked down the ringleaders, and awed them all into submission. Not long after there was a more formidable mutiny; but with great courage and address he quelled it for a time, and held his crew to their duty till he had brought the ship into Jamaica and exchanged them for better men.
Though the leaky condition of the frigate compelled him to abandon the search, it was not till be had gained information which he thought would lead to success; and on his return he inspired such confidence that the Duke of Albemarle, with other noblemen and gentlemen, gave him a fresh outfit and dispatched him again on his Quixotic errand. This time he succeeded, found the wreck, and took from it gold, silver, and jewels to the value of three hundred thousand pounds sterling. The crew now leagued together to seize the ship and divide the prize, and Phips, pushed to extremity, was compelled to promise that every man of them should have a share in the treasure, even if he paid it himself. On reaching England he kept his pledge so well that after redeeming it only sixteen thousand pounds were left as his portion, which, however, was an ample fortune in the New England of that day. He gained, too, what he valued almost as much, the honor of knighthood. Tempting offers were made him of employment in the royal service, but he had an ardent love for his own country, and thither he presently returned.
Phips was a rude sailor, bluff, prompt, and choleric. He never gave proof of intellectual capacity, and such of his success in life as he did not owe to good luck was due probably to an energetic and adventurous spirit, aided by a blunt frankness of address that pleased the great and commended him to their favor. Two years after the expedition to Port Royal, the king, under the new charter, made him governor of Massachusetts, a post, for which, though totally unfit, he had been recommended by the elder Mather, who, like his son Cotton, expected to make use of him. He carried his old habits into his new office, cudgeled Brinton, the collector of the port, and belabored Captain Short of the royal navy with his cane. Far from trying to hide the obscurity of his origin, he leaned to the opposite foible and was apt to boast of it, delighting to exhibit himself as a self-made man. New England writers describe him as honest in private dealings, but in accordance with his coarse nature he seems to have thought that anything was fair in war. On the other hand, he was warmly patriotic and was almost as ready to serve New England as to serve himself.1
When he returned from Port Royal, he found Boston alive with martial preparation. A bold enterprise was afoot. Massachusetts of her own motion had resolved to attempt the conquest of Quebec. She and her sister colonies had not yet recovered from the exhaustion of Philip’s War, and still less from the disorders that attended the expulsion of the royal governor and his adherents. The public treasury was empty, and the recent expeditions against the eastern Indians had been supported by private subscription. Worse yet, New England had no competent military commander. The Puritan gentlemen of the original emigration, some of whom were as well fitted for military as for civil leadership, had passed from the stage, and by a tendency which circumstances made inevitable they had left none behind them equally qualified. The great Indian conflict of fifteen years before had, it is true, formed good partisan chiefs, and proved that the NewEngland yeoman, defending his family and his hearth, was not to be surpassed in stubborn fighting; but since Andros and his soldiers had been driven out there was scarcely a single man in the colony of the slightest training or experience in regular war. Up to this moment New England had never asked help of the mother country. When thousands of savages burst on her defenseless settlements, she had conquered safety and peace with her own blood and her own slender resources; but now, as the proposed capture of Quebec would inure to the profit of the British crown, Bradstreet and his council thought it not unfitting to ask for a supply of arms and ammunition, of which they were in great need. The request was refused, and no aid of any kind came from the English government, whose resources were engrossed by the Irish war.
While waiting for the reply, the colonial authorities urged on their preparations in the hope that the plunder of Quebec would pay the expenses of its conquest. Humility was not among the New England virtues, and they considered it a sin to doubt that God would give his chosen people the victory over papists and idolaters; still, they spared no pains to insure the divine favor. A proclamation was issued calling the people to repentance, a day of fasting was ordained, and, as Mather expresses it, “ the wheel of prayer was kept in continual motion.” The chief difficulty was to provide funds. An attempt was made to collect a part of the money by private subscription, but as this plan failed, the provisional government, already in debt, strained its credit yet further and borrowed the needful sums. Thirty-two trading and fishing vessels, great and small, were impressed for the service. The largest was a ship called the Six Friends, engaged in the dangerous West India trade and carrying fortyfour guns. A call was made for volunteers and many enrolled themselves; but as more were wanted a press was ordered to complete the number. So vigorously was it applied that, what with voluntary and enforced enlistment, one town, that of Gloucester, was deprived of two thirds of its fencible men. There was not a moment of doubt as to the choice of acommander, for Phips was imagined to be the very man for the work. One John Walley, a respectable citizen of Barnstable, was made second in command, with the modest rank of major, and a sufficient number of ship-masters, merchants, master-mechanics, and substantial farmers were commissioned as subordinate officers. About the middle of July the committee charged with the preparations reported that all was ready. Still there was a long delay. The vessel sent early in spring to ask aid from England had not returned. Phips waited for her as long as he dared, and the best of the season was over when he resolved to put to sea. The rustic warriors, duly formed into companies, were sent on board, and the fleet sailed from Nantasket on the 9th of August. Including sailors, it carried twenty-two hundred men, with provisions for four months, but insufficient ammunition and no pilot for the St. Lawrence.
While Massachusetts had been making ready to conquer Quebec by sea, the militia of the land expedition against Montreal had mustered at Albany. Their strength was even less than was at first proposed, for after the disaster at Casco, Massachusetts and Plymouth had recalled their contingents to defend their frontiers. The rest, decimated by dysentery and small-pox, began their march to Lake Champlain with bands of Mohawk, Oneida, and Mohegan allies. The western Iroquois were to join them at the lake, and the combined force was then to attack the head of the colony while Phips struck at its heart.
Frontenac was at Quebec during most of the winter and the early spring. During the winter he had employed ganerg of men in cutting timber in the forests, hewing it into palisades, and dragging it to Quebec. Nature had fortified the Upper Town on two sides by cliffs almost inaccessible; but it was open to attack in the rear, and Frontenac, with a happy prevision of approaching danger, gave his first thoughts to strengthening this its only weak side. The work began as soon as the frost was out of the ground, and before midsummer it was well advanced. At the same time he took every precaution for the safety of the settlements in the upper parts of the colony, stationed detachments of regulars at thhe stockade forts which Denonville had built in all the parishes above Three Rivers, and kept strong scouting parties in continual movement in all the quarters most exposed to attack. Troops were detailed to guard the settlers at their work in the fields, and officers and men were enjoined to use the utmost vigilance. Nevertheless the Iroquois war parties broke in at various points, burning and butchering, and spreading such terror that in some districts the fields were left unfilled and the prospects of the harvest ruined.
Towards the end of July Frontenac left Major Prévost to finish the fortifications, and, with the Intendant Charapigny, went up to Montreal, the chief point of danger. Here he arrived on the 31st, and, a few days after, the officer commanding the fort at La Chine sent him a messenger in hot haste with the startling news that Lake St. Louis was “ all covered with canoes. ” Nobody doubted that the Iroquois were upon them again. Cannon were fired to call in the troops from the detached posts, when alarm was suddenly turned to joy by the arrival of other messengers to announce that the new-comers were not enemies, but friends. They were the Indians of the Upper Lakes descending from Michilimackinac to trade at Montreal.
On the next day they all came down the rapids and landed near the town. There were fully five hundred of them, Hurons, Ottawas, Ojibways, Pottawattamies, Crees, and Nipissings, with a hundred and ten canoes laden with beaver skins to the value of nearly a hundred thousand crowns. Nor was this all, for a few days after La Durantaye, late commander at Michilimackinac, arrived with fifty-five more canoes, manned by French traders and freighted with valuable furs. The stream of wealth, dammed back so long, was flowing upon the colony at the moment when it was most needed. Never had Canada known a more prosperous trade than now in the midst of her danger and tribulation. It was a triumph for Frontenac. If his policy had failed with the Iroquois, it had found a crowning success among the tribes of the lakes.
Having painted, greased, and befeathered themselves, the Indians mustered for the grand council which always preceded the opening of the market. The Ottawa orator spoke of nothing but trade, and with a regretful memory of the cheapness of English goods begged that the French would sell them at the same rate. The Huron touched upon politics and war, declaring that he and his people had come to visit their old father and listen to his voice, being well assured that he would never abandon them as others had done, nor fool away his time like Denonville in shameful negotiations for peace; and he exhorted Frontenac to fight not the English only but the Iroquois also, till they were brought to reason. “ If this is not done,” he said, “my father and I shall both perish; but, come what may, we will perish together.”
All seemed eager for war except the Ottawas, who bail not forgotten their late dalliance with the Iroquois. A Christian Mohawk of the Saut St. Louis called them to another council and demanded that they should explain clearly their position. Thus pushed to the wall they no longer hesitated, but promised like the rest to do all that their father should ask.
Their sincerity was soon put to the test. An Iroquois convert called La Plaque, a notorious reprobate though a good warrior, had gone out as a scout in the direction of Albany. On the day when the market opened and trade was in full activity, the buyers and sellers were suddenly startled by the sound of the death yell. They snatched their weapons, and for a moment all was confusion, when La Plaque, who had probably meant to amuse himself at their expense, made his appearance and explained that the yells proceeded from him. The news that he brought was, however, sufficiently alarming. He declared that he had been at Lake St. Sacrement, or Lake George, and had seen there a great number of men making canoes as if about to advance on Montreal.
The men whom La Plaque had seen were a part of the combined force of Connecticut and New York destined to attack Montreal. They had made their way along Wood Creek to the point where it widens into Lake Champlain, and here they had stopped. Disputes between the men of the two colonies, intestine quarrels in the New York militia, — who were divided between the two factions engendered by the late revolution, — the want of provisions, the want of canoes, and the ravages of small - pox had ruined an enterprise which had been mismanaged from the first. It was impossible to advance, and Winthrop, the commander, gave orders to return to Albany, leaving Phips to conquer Canada alone. But first, that the campaign might not Seem wholly futile, he permitted Captain John Schuyler to make a raid into Canada with a band of volunteers. Schuyler left the camp at, Wood Creek with twenty-nine whites and a hundred and twenty Indians, passed Lake Champlain, descended the Richelieu to Chambly, and fell suddenly on the settlement of La Prairie, whence Frontenac had just withdrawn with his forces. Soldiers and inhabitants were reaping in the wheat fields. Schuyler and his followers killed or captured twenty-five, including several women. He wished to attack the neighboring fort, but his Indians refused; and after burning houses, barns, and hay ricks, and killing a great number of cattle, he seated himself with his party at dinner in the adjacent woods, while cannon answered cannon from Chambly, La Prairie, and Montreal, and the whole country was astir. “We thanked the governor of Canada,” writes Schuyler, “ for his salute of heavy artillery during our meal.”
The English had little to boast in this affair, the paltry termination of an enterprise from which great things had been expected. Nor was it for their honor to adopt the savage and cowardly mode of warfare in which their enemies had led the way. The blow that had been struck was less an injury to the French than an insult; but, as such, it galled Frontenac excessively, and he made no mention of it in his dispatches to the court. A few more Iroquois attacks and a few more murders kept Montreal in alarm till the 1 Oth of October, when matters of deeper import engaged the governor’s thoughts.
A messenger arrived in haste at three o’clock in the afternoon and gave him a letter from Prévost, town major of Quebec. It was to the effect that an Abenaki Indian had just come overland from Acadia with news that some of his tribe had captured an English woman near Portsmouth, who told them that a great fleet had sailed from Boston to attack Quebec. Frontenac, not easily alarmed, doubted the report. Nevertheless he embarked at once with the intendant in a small vessel, which proved to be leaky and was near foundering with all on board. He then took a canoe, and towards evening set out again for Quebec, ordering some two hundred men to follow him. On the next day he met another canoe bearing a fresh message from Prévost, who announced that the English fleet had been seen in the river and that it was already above Tadoussac. Frontenac now sent back Captain de Ramsay with orders to Callières, governor of Montreal, to descend immediately to Quebec with all the force at his disposal, and to muster the inhabitants on the way. Then he pushed on with the utmost speed. The autumnal storms had begun and the rain pelted him without ceasing; but on the morning of the 14th he neared the town. The rocks of Cape Diamond towered before him; the St. Lawrence lay beneath them, lonely and still; and the basin of Quebec outspread its broad bosom, a solitude without a sail. Frontenac had arrived in time.
He landed at the Lower Town, and the troops and the armed inhabitants came crowding to meet him. He was delighted at their ardor. Shouts and cheers and the waving of hats greeted the old man as he climbed the steep ascent of Mountain Street. Fear and doubt seemed banished by his presence. Even those who hated him rejoiced at his coming and hailed him as a deliverer. He went at once to inspect the fortifications. Since the alarm a week before, Prèvost had accomplished wonders, and not only completed the works begun in the spring, but added others, to secure a place which was a natural fortress in itself. On two sides the Upper Town scarcely needed defense. The cliffs along the St. Lawrence and those along the tributary river, St. Charles, had three accessible points, guarded at the present day by the Prescott Gate, the Hope Gate, and the Palace Gate. Prévost had secured them by barricades of heavy beams and casks filled with earth. A continuous line of palisades ran along the strand of the St. Charles, from the great cliff called the Saut au Matelot to the palace of the intendant. At this latter point began the line of works constructed by Frontenac to protect the rear of the town. They consisted of a line of palisades strengthened by a ditch and embankment and flanked at frequent intervals by square towers of stone. Passing behind the garden of the Ursulines they extended to a windmill on a hillock called Mount Carmel, and thence to the brink of the cliffs in front. Here there was a battery of eight guns, near the present Public Garden. Two more, each of three guns, were planted at the top of the Saut au Matelot, another at the barricade of the Palace Gate, and another near the windmill of Mount Carmel, while a number of light pieces were held in reserve for such use as occasion might require. The Lower Town had no defensive works; but two batteries, each of three eighteen and twenty-four pounders, were placed here at the edge of the river.
Two days passed in completing these defenses under the eye of the governor. Men were flocking in from the parishes far and near, and on the evening of the 15th about twenty-seven hundred regulars and militia were gathered within the fortifications, besides the armed peasantry of Beauport and Beaupré, who were ordered to watch the river below the town and resist the English should they attempt to land. At length, before dawn on the morning of the 16th, the sentinels on the Saut au Matelot could descry the slowly moving lights of distant vessels. At daybreak the fleet was in sight. Sail after sail passed the Point of Orleans and glided into the basin of Quebec. The excited spectators on the rock counted thirty-four of them. Four were large ships, several others were of considerable size, and the rest were brigs, schooners, and fishing craft, all thronged with men.
The delay at Boston, waiting aid from England that never came, was not propitious to Phips, nor were the wind and the waves. The voyage to the St. Lawrence was a long one, and when he began, without a pilot, to grope his way Up the unknown river, the weather seemed in league with his enemies. He appears, moreover, to have needlessly wasted time. What was most vital to his success was rapidity of movement, yet, whether by his fault or his misfortune, he remained for three weeks within three days’ sail of Quebec. While anchored off Tadoussac with the wind ahead, he passed the idle hours in holding councils of war and framing rules for the government of his men; and when at length the wind veered to the east, it is doubtful if he made the best use of his opportunity.
He presently captured a small vessel commanded by Granville, an officer whom Prévost had sent to watch his movements. He had already captured near Tadoussac another vessel, having on board Madame Lalande and Madame Joliet, the wife and the mother-in-law of the discoverer of the Mississippi.2 When questioned as to the condition of Quebec they told him that it was imperfectly fortified, that its cannon were dismounted, and that it had not two hundred men to defend it. Phips was greatly elated, thinking that, like Port Royal, the capital of Canada would fall without a blow. The statement of the two prisoners was true for the most part when it was made; but the energy of Prévost soon wrought a change.
Phips imagined that the Canadians would gladly renounce despotism under French rule for freedom under another flag, for some of the Acadians had felt the influence of their New England neighbors and shown an inclination towards them. It was far otherwise in Canada, where the English heretics were regarded with abhorrence. Whenever the invaders tried to land at the settlements along the shore, they were met by a rebuff.
At the river Ouelle, Francheville, the curé, put on a cap and capote, took a musket, led his parishioners to the river, and hid with them in the bushes. As the English boats approached their ambuscade they gave the foremost a volley which killed nearly every man on board. It was the same when the fleet neared Quebec. Bands of militia, vigilant, agile, and well commanded, followed it along the shore and repelled with showers of bullets every attempt of the enemy to touch Canadian soil.
When, after his protracted voyage, Phips sailed into the basin of Quebec, one of the grandest scenes on the western continent opened upon his sight: the wide expanse of waters; the lofty promontory beyond, and the opposing heights of Levi; the cataract of Montmorenci; the distant range of the Laurentian Mountains; the warlike rock, with its diadem of walls and towers; the roofs of the Lower Town clustering on the strand beneath; the Château St. Louis perched at the brink of the cliff, and over all the white banner, spangled with fleurs-de-lis, flaunting defiance in the clear autumnal air. Perhaps as he gazed a suspicion seized him that the task he had undertaken was less easy than he had thought; but he had conquered once by a simple summons to surrender, and he resolved to try its virtue again.
The fleet anchored a little below Quebec, and towards ten o’clock the French saw a boat put out from the admiral’s ship, bearing a flag of truce. Four canoes went from the Lower Town and met it midway. It brought a subaltern officer who announced himself as the bearer of a letter from Sir William Phips to the French commander. He was taken into one of the canoes and paddled to the quay after being completely blindfolded by a bandage which covered half his face. Prevost received him as he landed, and ordered two sergeants to take him by the arms and lead him to the governor. His progress was neither rapid nor direct. They drew him hither and thither, delighting to make him clamber in the dark over every possible obstruction, while a noisy crowd bustled him and laughing women called him Colin Maillard, the name of the chief player in blind-man’s-buff. Amid a prodigious hubbub, intended to bewilder him and impress him with a sense of immense warlike preparation, they dragged him over the three barricades of Mountain Street, and brought him at last into a large room of the château. Here they took the bandage from his eyes. He stood for a moment with an air of astonishment and some confusion. The governor stood before him, haughty and stern, surrounded by French and Canadian officers — Maricourt, Sainte Helène, Longeuil, Villebon, Valrenne, Bienville, and many more — bedecked with gold lace and silver lace, perukes and powder, plumes and ribbons, and all the martial foppery in which they took delight, and regarding the envoy with keen, defiant eyes. After a moment he recovered his breath and his composure, saluted Frontenac, and, expressing a wish that the duty assigned him had been of a more agreeable nature, handed him the letter of Phips. Frontenac gave it to an interpreter, who read it aloud in French, that all might hear. It ran thus: —
Sir William Phips, Knight, General, and Commander-in-Chief in and over their Majesties’ Forces of New England by Sea and Land, to Count Frontenac, Lieutenant-General and Governor for the French King at Canada; or, in his absence, to his Deputy, or him or them in chief command at Quebeck: —
The war between the crowns of England and France doth not only sufficiently warrant, but the destruction made by the French and Indians, under your command and encouragement, upon the persons and estates of their Majesties’ subjects of New England, without provocation on their part, hath put them under the necessity of this expedition for their own security and satisfaction. And although the cruelties and barbarities used against them by the French and Indians might, upon the present opportunity, prompt unto a severe revenge, yet, being desirous to avoid all inhumane and unchristian - like actions, and to prevent shedding of blood as much as may be,
I, the aforesaid William Phips, Knight, do hereby, in the name and in behalf of their most excellent Majesties, William and Mary, King and Queen of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, and by order of their said Majesties’ government of the Massachuset’ colony in New England, demand a present surrender of your forts and castles, undemolished, and the King’s and other stores, unembezzled, with a seasonable delivery of all captives; together with a surrender of all your persons and estates to my dispose: upon the doing whereof you may expect mercy from me, as a Christian, according to what shall be found for their Majesties’ service and the subjects’ security. Which, if you refuse forthwith to do, I am come provided, and am resolved, by the help of God, in whom I trust, by force of arms to revenge all wrongs and injuries offered, and bring you under subjection to the crown of England, and, when too late, make you wish you had accepted of the favour tendered.
Your answer positive in an hour, returned by your own trumpet, with the return of mine, is required upon the peril that will ensue.3
When the reading was finished, the Englishman pulled his watch from his pocket and handed it to the governor. Frontenac could not, or pretended that he could not, see the hour. The messenger told him that it was ten o’clock, and that he must have his answer Indore eleven. A general cry of indignation arose, and Valrenne called out that Phips was nothing hut a pirate and that his man ought to be hanged. Frontenac contained himself for a moment and then said to the envoy, —
“ I will not keep you waiting so long. Tell your general that I do not recognize King William, and that the Prince of Orange, who so styles himself, is a usurper who has violated the most sacred laws of blood in attempting to dethrone his father-in-law. I know no King of England but King James. Your general ought not to he surprised at the hostilities which he says that the French have carried on in the colony of Massachusetts, for, as the king my master has taken the King of England under his protection, and is about to replace him on his throne by force of arms, he might have expected that his Majesty would order me to make war on a people who have rebelled against their lawful prince.” Then, turning with a smile to the officers about him, “Even if your general offered me conditions a little more gracious, and if I had a mind to accept them, does he suppose that these brave gentlemen would give their consent, and advise me to trust a man who broke his agreement with the governor of Port Royal, or a rebel who has failed in his duty to his king and forgotten all the favors he had received from him, to follow a prince who pretends to be the Liberator of England and the Defender of the Faith, and yet destroys the laws and privileges of the kingdom and overthrows its religion? The divine justice which your general invokes in his letter will not fail to punish such acts severely. ”
The messenger seemed astonished and startled; but he presently asked if the governor would give him his answer in writing.
“No,” returned Frontenac, “I will answer your general only by the mouths of iny cannon, that he may learn that a man like me is not to be summoned after this fashion. Let him do his best, and I will do mine; ” and he dismissed the Englishman abruptly. He was again blindfolded, led over the barricades, and sent back to the fleet by the boat that brought him.
Phips had often given proof of personal courage, but for the past three weeks his conduct seems that of a man conscious that he is charged with a work too large for his capacity. He had spent a good part of his time in holding councils of war; and now, when he heard the answer of Frontenac, he called another to consider what should be done. A plan of attack was at length arranged. The militia were to be landed on the shore of Beauport, which was just below Quebec, though separated from it by the St. Charles. They were then to cross this river by a ford practicable at low water, climb the heights of St. Généviève, and gain the rear of the town. The small vessels of the fleet were to aid the movement by ascending the St. Charles as far as the ford, holding the enemy in check by their fire, and carrying provisions, ammunition, and intrenching tools for the use of the land troops. When these had crossed and were ready to attack Quebec in the rear, Phips was to cannonade it in front, and land two hundred men under cover of his guns to effect a diversion by storming the barricades. Some of the French prisoners, from whom their captors appear to have received a great deal of correct information, told the admiral that there was a place a mile or two above the town where the heights might be scaled and the rear of the fortifications reached from a direction opposite to that proposed. This was precisely the movement by which Wolfe afterwards gained his memorable victory; but Phips chose to abide by the original plan.
While the plan was debated, the opportunity for accomplishing it ebbed away. It was still early when the messenger returned from Quebec; but before Phips was ready to act, the day was on the wane and the tide was against him. He lay quietly at his moorings when, in the evening, a great shouting, mingled with the roll of drums and the sound of fifes, was heard from the Upper Town. The English officers asked their prisoner, Granville, what it meant. “Ma foi, messieurs,” he replied, “you have lost the game. It is the Governor of Montreal with the people from the country above. There is nothing for you now but to pack and go home.” In fact, Callières had arrived with seven or eight hundred men, many of them regulars. With these were bands of coureurs des bois and other young Canadians, all full of fight, singing and whooping with martial glee as they passed the western gate and trooped down St. Louis Street.
The next day was gusty and blustering and still Phips lay quiet, waiting on the winds and the waves. A small vessel with sixty men on board, under Captain Ephraim Savage, ran in towards the shore of Beauport to examine the landing, and stuck fast in the mud. The Canadians plied her with bullets and brought a cannon to bear on her. They might have waded out and boarded her, but Savage and his men kept up so hot a fire that they forbore the attempt, and when the tide rose she floated again.
There was another night of tranquillity; but at about eleven on Wednesday morning, the French heard the English fifes and drums in full action, while repeated shouts of “ God save King William ! ” rose from all the vessels. This lasted an hour or more, after which a great number of boats loaded with men put out from the fleet, and rowed rapidly towards the shore of Beauport. The tide was low and the boats grounded before reaching the landing-place. The French on the rock could see the troops through telescopes, looking in the distance like a swarm of black ants, as they waded through mud and water and formed in companies along the strand. They were some thirteen hundred in number and were commanded by Major Walley. Frontenac had sent three hundred sharpshooters, under Sainte Helène, to meet them and hold them in cheek. A battalion of troops followed; but long before they could reach the spot, Sainte Helene’s men, with a few militia from the neighboring parishes and a band of Huron warriors from Lorette, threw themselves into the thickets along the front, of the English and opened a distant but galling fire upon the compact bodies of the enemy. Walley ordered a charge. The New England men rushed in a disorderly manner but with great impetuosity up the rising ground, received two volleys which failed to cheek them, and drove back the assailants in some confusion. They turned, however, and fought in Indian fashion with courage and address, leaping and dodging among trees, rocks, and bushes, firing as they retreated, and inflicting more harm than they received. Towards evening they disappeared, and Walley, whose men had been much scattered in the desultory fight, drew them together as well as he could and advanced towards the St. Charles, in order to meet the vessels which were to aid him in passing the ford. Here he posted sentinels and encamped for the night. He had lost four killed and about sixty wounded, and imagined that he had killed twenty or thirty of the enemy. In fact, however, their loss was much less, though among the killed was a valuable officer, the Chevalier de Clermont; and among the wounded, the veteran captain of Beauport, Juchereau de Saint Denis, more than sixty-four years of age. In the evening a deserter came to the English camp and brought the unwelcome intelligence that there were three thousand armed men in Quebec.
Meanwhile Phips, whose fault hitherto had not been an excess of promptitude, grew impatient and made a premature movement inconsistent with the preconcerted plan. He left his moorings, anchored his largest ships before the town, and prepared to cannonade it; but the fiery veteran who watched him from the Chateau St. Louis anticipated him and gave him the first shot. Phips replied furiously, opening fire with every gun that, he could bring to bear, while the rock paid him back in kind, and belched flame and smoke from all its batteries. So fierce and rapid was the firing that La Hontan compares it to the volleying of musketry, and old officers who had seen many sieges declared that they had never known the like. The din was prodigious, reverberated from the surrounding heights and rolled back from the distant mountains in one continuous roar. On the part of the English, however, surprisingly little was accomplished beside noise and smoke. The practice of their gunners was so bad that many of their shot struck harmlessly against the face of the cliff. Their guns, too, were very light, and appear to have been charged with a view to the most rigid economy of gunpowder, for the balls failed to pierce the stone walls of the buildings and did so little damage that, as the French boasted, twenty crowns would have repaired it all. Night came at length and the turmoil ceased.
Phips lay quiet till daybreak, when Frontenac sent a shot to waken him, and the cannonade began again. Sainte Helene had returned from Beauport, and he, with his brother, Maricourt, took charge of the two batteries of the Lower Town, aiming the guns in person, and throwing balls of eighteen and twentyfour pounds with excellent precision against the four largest ships of the fleet. One of their shots cut the flag-staff of the admiral, and the cross of St. George fell into the river. It drifted with the tide towards the north shore, whereupon several Canadians paddled out in a birch canoe, secured it, and brought it back in triumph. On the spire of the cathedral in the Upper Town had been hung a picture of the Holy Family as an invocation of divine aid. The Puritan gunners wasted their ammunition in vain attempts to knock it down. That it escaped their malice was ascribed to miracle, but the miracle would have been greater if they had hit it.
At length one of the ships which had suffered most hauled off and abandoned the light. That of the admiral had fared little better, and now her condition grew desperate. With her rigging torn, her main-mast half cut through, her mizzenmast splintered, her cabin pierced, and her hull riddled with shot, another volley seemed likely to sink her, when Phips ordered her to be cut loose from her moorings, and she drifted out of fire, leaving cable and anchor behind. The remaining ships soon gave over the conflict and withdrew to stations where they could neither do harm nor suffer it.
Phips had thrown away nearly all his ammunition in this futile and disastrous attack, which should have been deferred till the moment when Walley with his land force had gained the rear of the town. Walley lay in his camp, his men wet, shivering with cold, famished, and sickening with the small-pox. Food and all other supplies were to have been brought him by the small vessels which should have entered the mouth of the St. Charles and aided him to cross it. But he waited for them in vain. Every vessel that carried a gun had busied itself in cannonading, and the rest did not move. There appears to have been insubordination among the masters of these small craft, some of whom, being owners or part owners of the vessels they commanded, were probably unwilling to run them into danger. Walley was no soldier, but he saw that to attempt the passage of the river without aid, under the batteries of the town and in the face of forces twice as numerous as his own, was not an easy task. Frontenac, on his part, wished that he should do so, confident that the attempt would ruin him. The New England men were eager to push on; but the night of Thursday, the day of Phips’s repulse, was so cold that ice formed more than an inch in thickness, and the half-starved militia suffered intensely. Six field-pieces with their ammunition had been sent ashore, but they were nearly useless, as there were no means of moving them. Half a barrel of musket powder and one biscuit for each man were also landed, and with this meagre aid Walley was left to capture Quebec. He might, had he dared, have made a dash across the ford on the morning of Thursday and assaulted the town in the rear while Phips was cannonading it in front; but his courage was not equal to so desperate a venture. The firing ceased and the possible opportunity was lost. The citizen soldier despaired of success, and on the morning of Friday he went on board the admiral’s ship to explain his situation. While he was gone his men put themselves in motion and advanced along the borders of the St. Charles towards the ford. Frontenac, with three battalions of regular troops, went to receive them at the crossing, while Sainte Helène, with his brother Longueuil, passed the ford with a body of Canadians and opened fire on them from the neighboring thickets. Their advance parties were driven in and there was a hot skirmish, the chief loss falling on the New England men, who were fully exposed. On the side of the French, Sainte Helene was mortally wounded, and his brother was hurt by a spent ball. Towards evening the Canadians withdrew and the English encamped for the night. Their commander presently rejoined them. The admiral had given him leave to withdraw them to the fleet, and boats were accordingly sent to bring them off, but as these did not arrive till about daybreak, it was necessary to defer the embarkation till the next night.
At dawn, Quebec was all astir with the beating of drums and the ringing of bells. The New England drums replied, and Walley drew up his men under arms, expecting an attack, for the town was so near that the hubbub of voices from within could plainly be heard. The noise gradually died away, and except by a few shots from the ramparts the invaders were left undisturbed. Walley sent two or three companies to beat up the neighboring thickets, where he suspected that the enemy was lurking. On the way they had the good luck to find and kill a number of cattle, which they cooked and ate on the spot, whereupon, being greatly refreshed and invigorated, they dashed forward in complete disorder and were soon met by the fire of the ambushed Canadians. Several more companies were sent to their support, and the skirmishing became lively. Three detachments from Quebec had crossed the river, and the militia of Beauport and Beaupre had hastened to join them. They fought like Indians, hiding behind trees or throwing themselves flat among the bushes, and laying repeated ambuscades as they slowly fell back. At length they all made a stand on a hill behind the buildings and fences of a farm, and here they held their ground till night, while the New England men shouted curses at them for cowards who would never fight except under cover.
Walley, who with his main body had stood in arms all day, now called in the skirmishers and fell back to the landing place, where as soon as it grew dark the boats arrived from the fleet. The sick men, of whom there were many, were sent on board, and then, amid floods of rain, the whole force embarked in noisy confusion, leaving behind them in the mud five of their cannon. Hasty as was their parting, their conduct on the whole had been creditable, and La Hontan, who was in Quebec at the time, says of them, “ They fought vigorously, though as ill disciplined as men gathered together at random could be; for they did not lack courage, and, if they failed, it was by reason of this entire ignorance of discipline and because they were exhausted by the fatigues of the voyage.” Of Phips he speaks with contempt, and says that he could not have served the French better if they had bribed him to stand all the while with his arms folded. Some allowance should, nevertheless, he made him for the unmanageable character of the force under his command, the constitution of which was fatal to military subordination.
On Sunday, the morning after the reembarkation, Phips called a council of officers; and it was resolved that the men should rest for a day or two, that there should be a meeting for prayer, and that, if ammunition enough could be found, another landing should be attempted; but the rough weather prevented the prayer-meeting, and the plan of a new attack was fortunately abandoned.
Quebec remained in agitation and alarm till Tuesday, when Phips weighed anchor and disappeared with all his fleet behind the Island of Orleans. He did not go far, as indeed he could not, but stopped four leagues below to mend rigging, fortify wounded masts, and stop shot-holes. Subercase had gone with a detachment to watch the retiring enemy, and Phips was repeatedly seen among his men, on a scaffold at the side of his ship, exercising his old trade of carpenter. This delay was turned to good Use by an exchange of prisoners. Chief among those in the hands of the French was Captain Davis, late commander at Casco Bay, and there were also two young daughters of Lieutenant Clark, who had been killed at the same place. Frontenac himself had humanely ransomed these children from the Indians, and Madame de Champigny, wife of the intendant, had with equal kindness bought from them a little girl named Sarah Gerrish, and placed her in charge of the nuns at the Hotel Dieu, who had become greatly attached to her, while she on her part left them with reluctance. The French had the better in these exchanges, receiving able-bodied men, and returning, with the exception of Davis, only women and children.
The heretics were gone and Quebec breathed freely again. Her escape had been a narrow one; not that three thousand men, in part regular troops, defending one of the strongest positions on the continent and commanded by Frontenac, could not defy the attacks of two thousand raw fishermen and farmers led by an ignorant civilian; but the numbers which were a source of strength were at the same time a source of weakness. Nearly all the adult males of Canada were gathered at Quebec, and there was imminent danger of starvation. Cattle from the neighboring parishes had been hastily driven into the town, but there was little other provision, and before Phips retreated the pinch of famine had begun. Had he come a week earlier or stayed a week later, the French themselves believed that Quebec would have fallen; in the one case for want of men, and in the other for want of food.
The Lower Town had been abandoned by its inhabitants, who bestowed their families and their furniture within the solid walls of the seminary. The cellars of the Ursuline convent were filled with women and children, and many more took refuge at the Hotel Dieu. The beans and cabbages in the garden of the nuns were all stolen by the soldiers, and their wood - pile was turned into bivouac fires. “We were more dead than alive when we heard the cannon, ” writes Mother Juchereau; but the Jesuit Fremin came to console them, and their prayers and their labors never ceased. On the day when the firing was heaviest, twenty-six balls fell into their yard and garden, and were sent to the gunners at the batteries, who returned them to their English owners. At the convent of the Ursulines the corner of a nun’s apron was carried off by a cannon shot as she passed through her chamber. The sisterhood began a novena, or nine days’ devotion, to St. Joseph, St. Ann, the angels, and the souls in purgatory, and one of their number remained day and night in prayer before the images of the Holy Family. The bishop came to encourage them, and his prayers and his chants were so fervent that they thought their last hour was come.
One great anxiety still troubled the minds of the victors. Three ships, bringing large sums of money and the yearly supplies for the colony, were on their way to Quebec, and nothing was more likely than that the retiring fleet would meet and capture them. Messengers had been sent down the river, who passed the English in the dark, found the ships at St. Paul’s Bay, and warned them of the danger. They turned back and hid themselves within the mouth of the Saguenay, but not soon enough to prevent Phips from discovering their retreat, He tried to follow them, but thick fogs arose, with a persistent tempest of snow, which completely baffled him, and after waiting live days he gave over the attempt.
Phips returned crest-fallen to Boston late in November, and one by one the rest of the fleet came straggling after him, battered and weather-beaten. Some did not appear till February, and three or four never came at all. The autumn and early winter were unusually stormy. Captain Rainsford with sixty men was wrecked on the Island of Anticosti, where more than half their number died of cold and misery. In the other vessels, some were drowned, some frost-bitten, and above two hundred killed by smallpox and fever.
- An excellent account of Phips will be found in Professor Bowen’s biographical notice. His Life by Cotton Mather is excessively eulogistic.↩
- “ Les demoiselles Lalande et Joliet.” The title of madame was at this time restricted to married women of rank. The wives of the bourgeois, and even of the lesser nobles, were called demoiselles.↩
- See the letter in Mather, Magnalia, i. 186. The French kept a copy of it, which, with an accurate translation, in parallel columns, was sent to Versailles, and is still preserved in the Archives de la Marine. The text answers perfectly to that given by Mather.↩