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Madame De La Tour

No province of our Dominion has been buffeted about more in the storms of political changes than Nova Scotia. It had been the scene of many a bloody conflict before it received its present name. In 1621, Sir William Alexander, a favorite at the Court of King James the First, prevailed upon that monarch to grant to him the whole of the present province and a goodly portion of the mainland, and to gratify his sovereign's fondness for Latin, he called his newly-acquired possession Nova Scotia. Upon the death of King James, his successor confirmed Alexander's charter, and further permitted him to establish an order of Knights-Baronets of Nova Scotia. This title and eighteen square miles of land he could grant to anyone he desired upon payment of a substantial fee.

Claude de la Tour and his son Charles were already firmly established in Nova Scotia, having acquired their title through the French. While Champlain was besieged in Quebec, the elder de la Tour was captured and taken prisoner to England. He conceived the novel expedient of changing his allegiance to the English sovereign, and for a time was the lion of English society, married an English wife, and induced Sir William Alexander to create both himself and his son Charles Knights-Baronets of Nova Scotia. He returned to Nova Scotia with the glad tidings to his son, but Charles would have none of his English frills and the protection they guaranteed him. He stood upon his rights and defied his father, Sir William Alexander, and the whole English nation.

We can readily understand that from that day Charles de la Tour had no easy task in maintaining his possessions. But maintain them he did. By the treaty of St. Germainen Laye, Nova Scotia was ceded to the French, and, quite naturally, Charles de la Tour thought his claims to the governorship should be recognized by the French King. Great was his disappointment when Captain de Razilly was sent out as Governor. Razilly died the following year, having ceded all his rights to one Charnisay. A bitter enmity sprang up between Charnisay and de la Tour, and in vain the King endeavored to patch up their differences by limiting the territorial jurisdiction of each. Charnisay had the ear of the King, and obtained an order for the arrest of de la Tour, and in the spring of 1643 he proceeded to put it into execution. But this was not such an easy task. De la Tour had built a strong fort at the mouth of the St. John's River, which he named Fort de la Tour. Here he and his wife with a handful of followers defied Charnisay and a force of five hundred men, and successfully resisted their attack by land and sea. Charnisay then determined to starve them out, and accordingly besieged them by land and established a blockade at sea. The keen eye of de la Tour discovered an English ship through the blockade, and he and his wife, in a small boat with muffled oars, at dead of night ran the blockade and reached the ship. Now he made good use of his Eng-lish baronetcy, which he had previously spurned, and prevailed upon the captain to place the ship at his disposal. Sailing to New England, he secured the assistance of four more ships and seventy men, returned to Fort de la Tour, scattered the ships and forces of Charnisay, and followed him to his own stronghold at Port Royal, where he captured a shipload of rich furs.

Hostilities were brought to an end for a time through the intervention of de la Tour's New England allies; but he knew that peace could not last long. He at once set about strengthening his fortification, and dispatched his brave wife to France for assistance. Charnisay had gone home with the same object in view, and, learning that Madame de la Tour was in France, he endeavored to effect her arrest; but she managed to baffle him, and in so doing had many thrilling adventures. She finally returned in safety to her anxious husband. He again went to New England to obtain assistance. No sooner had he de-parted than Charnisay attacked the fort, think-ing it would be an easy matter to capture it in the absence of the commander. Little he knew of the brave heart of Madame de la Tour, who had already shared the perils of her husband and was prepared to take his place in his absence.

The brave woman immediately took charge and directed the movements of the little garrison. She gave the attacking party such a warm reception that they retired with chagrin, having lost thirty-three men. De la Tour's mission had been fruitless, and Charnisay awaited his return. His loyal wife was left alone to repel the attacks of the overwhelming foe, and he was powerless to assist her. Many weary, anxious days passed, and she longed in vain for the return of her husband with the needed reinforcements. She did not despair, for when Charnisay made a second attack upon the fort he found the brave little woman ready to receive him, and he was about to abandon the attempt to dislodge her. Then happened one of those incidents which may be in accord with the ethics of war, but to the ordinary mind smack of cowardice. A miser-able creature, an inmate of the fort, sold his wretched soul to the besiegers, and for a paltry bribe admitted the enemy through the outer gates. Driven to close quarters, our heroine yet held her own for three days. At last, seeing that further resistance meant more blood-shed, she surrendered the fort.

If ever a commander should have shown some sense of chivalry that man was Charnisay, but gallantry and he were strangers. When he discovered that the fort contained so few soldiers, he was enraged to think that he had been kept at bay so long, and he ordered the entire garrison to be murdered before the eyes of their late commander, about whose neck he placed a halter.

It is difficult to conceive by what process of reasoning he would attempt to justify this cowardly slaughter of prisoners of war, and no language can express the contempt every fair-minded reader must feel towards the man who heaped such an indignity upon a brave woman when she was defenseless and in his power. If he had any sense of shame, surely it must have been awakened when the woman's tender heart asserted itself and she fell fainting to the ground as she saw her faithful comrades butchered by their inhuman captor. He does not appear to have been moved by any such feeling, but carried her away a prisoner to Port Royal. Then the reaction set in. The terrible ordeal she had undergone had taxed her strength beyond its limit of endurance. She fell ill, and in three weeks' time passed beyond the reach of her tormentor.


Heroines of Canadian History, By W. S. Herrington, 1910

 

Canadian Heroines


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