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The Adventures of Canada

Charles Lalemant, superior of the Jesuit mission, had no sooner landed on the shores of New France than he became convinced that the mission and the colony itself were doomed unless there should be a radical change in the government. The Caens were thoroughly selfish. While discouraging settlement and agriculture, they so inadequately provided for the support of the colony that the inhabitants often lacked food. But the gravest evil, in Lalemant's mind, was the presence of so many Huguenots. The differences in belief were puzzling to the Indians, who naturally supposed that different sets of white men had different gods. True, the Calvinist traders troubled little with religion. To them the red man was a mere trapper, a gatherer of furs; and whether he shaped his course for the happy hunting ground of his fathers or to the paradise of the Christian mattered nothing. But they were wont to plague the Jesuits and Recollets at every opportunity; as when the crews of the ships at Quebec would lift up their voices in psalms purposely to annoy the priests at their devotions. Lalemant, an alert-minded ecclesiastic, came to a swift decision. The trading monopoly of the Huguenots must be ended and a new company must be created, with power to exclude Calvinists from New France. To this end Lalemant sent Father Noyrot to France in 1626, to lay the whole matter before the viceroy of New France. But from the Duc de Ventadour Noyrot got no satisfaction; the viceroy could not interfere. And Louis XIII was too busy with other matters to listen to the Jesuit's prayer. The king's chief adviser, however, Cardinal Richelieu, then at the height of his power, lent a sympathetic ear. The Huguenots were then in open rebellion in France; Richelieu was having trouble enough with them at home; and it was not hard to convince him that they should be suppressed in New France. He decided to annul the charter of the Caens and to establish instead a strong company composed entirely of Catholics. To this task he promptly set himself, and soon had enlisted in the enterprise over a hundred influential and wealthy men of the realm. The Company of New France, or, as it is better known, the Company of One Hundred Associates, thus came into being on April 29, 1627, with the great Richelieu at its head.

The One Hundred Associates were granted in feudal tenure a wide domain--stretching, in intention at least, from Florida to the Arctic Circle and from Newfoundland to the sources of the St Lawrence, with a monopoly of the fur trade and other powers practically unlimited. For these vast privileges they covenanted to send to Canada from two to three hundred colonists in 1628 and four thousand within the next fifteen years; to lodge, feed, and support the colonists for three years; and then to give them cleared land and seed-grain. Most interesting, however, to the Jesuits and Recollets were the provisions in the charter of the new company to the effect that none but Catholics should be allowed to come to the colony, and that during fifteen years the company should defray the expenses of public worship and support three missionaries at each trading-post.

Now began the preparations on a great scale for the colonization of New France. By the spring of 1628 a fleet of eighteen or twenty ships belonging to the company assembled in the harbor of Dieppe, laden deep with food, building materials, implements, guns, and ammunition, including about one hundred and fifty pieces of ordnance for the forts at the trading-posts. Out into the English Channel one bright April day this fleet swept, under the command of Claude de Roquemont, one of the Associates. On the decks of the ships were men and women looking hopefully to the New World for fortune and happiness, and Recollets and Jesuits going to a field at this time deemed broad enough for the energies of both. Lalemant, who early in 1627 had followed Noyrot to France, was now returning to his mission with his hopes realized. A Catholic empire could be built up in the New World, the savages could be Christianized, and the Iroquois, the greatest menace of the colony, if they would not listen to reason, could be subdued. The Dutch and the English on the Atlantic seaboard could be kept within bounds; possibly driven from the continent; then the whole of North America would be French and Catholic. Thus, perhaps, dreamed Lalemant and his companions, the Jesuit Paul Ragueneau and the Recollets Daniel Boursier and Francois Girard, as they paced the deck of the vessel that bore them westward.

But there was a lion in the path. The revolt of the Huguenots of La Rochelle had led to war between France and England, and this gave Sir William Alexander (Earl of Stirling) the chance he desired. In 1621 Alexander had received from James I a grant of Nova Scotia or Acadia, and this grant had been renewed later by Charles I. And it was Alexander's ambition to drive the French not only from their posts in Acadia but from the whole of North America. To this end he formed a company under the name of the Adventurers of Canada. One of its leading members was Gervase Kirke, a wealthy London merchant, who had married a Huguenot maiden, Elizabeth Goudon or Gowding of Dieppe. Now when war broke out the Adventurers equipped three staunch privateers. Captain David Kirke, the eldest son of Gervase, commanded the flagship Abigail, and his brothers, Lewis and Thomas, the other two ships. The fleet, though small, was well suited for the work in hand. While making ready for sea the Adventurers learned of the much larger fleet of the One Hundred Associates; but they learned, too, that the vessels were chiefly transports, of little use in a sea-fight. David Kirke was, on the other hand, equipped to fight, and he bore letters of marque from the king of England authorizing him to capture and destroy any French vessels and 'utterly to drive away and root out the French settlements in Nova Scotia and Canada.' The omens were evil for New France when, early in the spring of 1628, the Kirkes weighed anchor and shaped their course for her shores.

The English privateersmen arrived in the St Lawrence in July and took up their headquarters at Tadoussac. Already they had captured several Basque fishing or trading vessels. At Tadoussac they learned that at Cap Tourmente, thirty miles below Quebec, there was a small farm from which the garrison of Quebec drew supplies; and, as a first effort to 'root out' the French, David Kirke decided to loot and destroy this supply-post. A number of his crew went in a fishing-boat, took the place by surprise, captured its guard, plundered it, and killed the cattle. When his men returned from the raid, Kirke dispatched six of his Basque prisoners, with a woman and a little girl, to Quebec. By one of them he sent a letter to Champlain, demanding the surrender of the place in most polite terms. 'By surrendering courteously,' he wrote, 'you may be assured of all kind of contentment, both for your persons and your property, which, on the faith I have in Paradise, I will preserve as I would mine own, without the least portion in the world being diminished.'

Champlain replied to Kirke's demand with equal courtesy, but bluntly refused to surrender. In his letter to the English captain he said that the fort was still provided with grain, maize, beans, and pease, which his soldiers loved as well as the finest corn in the world, and that by surrendering the fort in so good a condition, he should be unworthy to appear before his sovereign, and should deserve chastisement before God and men. As a matter of fact this was untrue, for the French at Quebec were starving and incapable of resistance. A single well-directed broadside would have brought Champlain's ramshackle fort tumbling about his ears. His bold front, however, served its purpose for the time being; Kirke decided to postpone the attack on Quebec and to turn his attention to Roquemont's fleet. He burned the captured vessels and plundered and destroyed the trading-post at Tadoussac, and then sailed seaward in search of the rich prize.

Kirke had three ships; the French had eighteen. Numerically Kirke was outclassed, but he knew that the enemy's fleet was composed chiefly of small, weakly armed vessels. Learning that Roquemont was in the vicinity of Gaspe Bay, he steered thither under a favoring west wind. And as the Abigail rounded Gaspe Point the English captain saw the waters in the distance thickly dotted with sail. Dare he attack? Three to eighteen! It was hazarding much; and yet victory would bring its reward. Kirke was a cautious commander; and, desiring if possible to gain his end without loss, he summoned the French captain to surrender. In answer Roquemont boldly hoisted sail and beat out into the open. But despite this defiant attitude Roquemont must have feared the result of a battle. Many of his ships could give no assistance; even his largest were in no condition to fight. Most of the cannon were in the holds of the transports, and only a few of small caliber were mounted. His vessels, too, overloaded with supplies, would be difficult to maneuver in the light summer wind of which his foe now had the advantage. The three English privateers bore on towards the French merchantmen, and when within range opened fire. Far several hours this long-range firing continued. When it proved ineffective, David Kirke decided to close in on the enemy. The Abigail crept up to within pistol-shot of Roquemont's ship, swept round her stern, and poured in a raking broadside. While the French sailors were still in a state of confusion from the iron storm that had beaten on their deck, the English vessel rounded to and threw out grappling-irons. Over the side of the French ship leaped Kirke's pikemen and musketeers. There was a short fight on the crowded deck; but after Roquemont had been struck down with a wound in his foot and some of his sailors had been killed, he surrendered to avert further bloodshed. Meanwhile, Lewis and Thomas Kirke had been equally successful in capturing the only two other vessels capable of offering any serious resistance. The clumsy French merchantmen, though armed, were no match for the staunchly built, well-manned English privateers, and after a few sweeping broadsides they, too, struck their flags. The remaining craft, incapable of fight or flight, surrendered. In this, the first naval engagement in the waters of North America, eighteen sail fell into the hands of the Kirkes, with a goodly store of supplies, ammunition, and guns, Alas for the high hopes of Father Lalemant and his fellow-missionaries!--all were now prisoners and at the mercy of the English and the Huguenots. Having more vessels than he could man, Kirke unloaded ten of the smallest and burned them. He then sailed homeward with his prizes, calling on his way at St Pierre Island, where he left a number of his prisoners, among them the Recollet fathers, and at Newfoundland, where he watered and refitted. When the convoy reached England about the end of September, great was the rejoicing among the Adventurers of Canada. For had they not crippled the Romish Company of the One Hundred Associates? And had they not gained, at the same time, a tenfold return of their money?

Meanwhile Quebec was in grave peril. The colony faced starvation. There were no vessels on which Champlain with his garrison and the missionaries could leave New France even had he so desired, and there were slight means of resisting the savage Iroquois. Yet with dogged courage Champlain accepted the situation, hoping that relief would come before the ice formed in the St Lawrence.

But no relief was there to be this year for the anxious watchers at Quebec. On reaching England Lalemant had regained his liberty, and had hastened to France. He found that Father Noyrot had a vessel fitted out with supplies for the Canadian mission, and decided to return to Canada with Noyrot on this vessel. But nature as well as man seemed to be battling against the Jesuits. As they neared the Gulf of St Lawrence a fierce gale arose, and the ship was driven out of its course and dashed to pieces on the rocky shores of Acadia near the island of Canseau. Fourteen of the passengers, including Noyrot and a lay brother, Louis Malot, were drowned. Lalemant escaped with his life, and took passage on a trading vessel for France. This ship, too, was wrecked, near San Sebastian in the Bay of Biscay, and again Lalemant narrowly escaped death.

Meanwhile the English Adventurers were full of enthusiasm over the achievement of the Kirkes. The work, however, was not yet finished. The French trading-posts in Acadia and on the St Lawrence must be utterly destroyed. By March 1629 a fleet much more powerful than the one of the previous year was ready for sea. It consisted of the Abigail, Admiral David Kirke, the William, Captain Lewis Kirke, the George, Captain Thomas Kirke, the Gervase, Captain Brewerton, two other ships, and three pinnaces. On the 25th of March it sailed from Gravesend, and on the 15th of June reached Gaspe Bay without mishap. All save two of the vessels were now sent to destroy the trading-posts on the shores of Acadia, while David Kirke, with the Abigail and a sister ship, sailed for Tadoussac, which was to be his headquarters during the summer. The raiders did their work and arrived at Tadoussac early in July. Kirke then detached the William and the George and sent them to Quebec under the pilotage of French traitors.

At Quebec during the winter the inhabitants had lived on pease, Indian corn, and eels which they obtained from the natives; and when spring came all who had sufficient strength had gone to the forest to gather acorns and nourishing roots. The gunpowder was almost exhausted, and the dilapidated fort could not be held by its sixteen half-starved defenders. Accordingly Champlain sent the Recollet Daillon, who had a knowledge of the English language, to negotiate with the Kirkes the terms of capitulation; and Quebec surrendered without a shot being fired. For the time being perished the hopes of the indomitable Champlain, who for twenty-one years had wrought and fought and prayed that Quebec might become the bulwark of French power in America. On the 22nd of July the fleur-de-lis was hauled down from Fort St Louis to give place to the cross of St George. The officers of the garrison were treated with consideration and allowed to keep their arms, clothing, and any peltry which they possessed. To the missionaries, however, the Calvinistic victors were not so generous. The priests were permitted to keep only their robes and books.

The terms of surrender were ratified by David Kirke at Tadoussac on the 19th of August, and on the following day a hundred and fifty English soldiers took possession of the town and fort. Such of the inhabitants as did not elect to remain in the colony and all the missionaries were marched on board the waiting vessels1 and taken to Tadoussac, where they remained for some weeks while the English were making ready for the home voyage.

There were many Huguenots serving under the Kirkes, and the Huguenots, as we have seen, were bitterly hostile to the Jesuits. On the voyage to England Brebeuf, Noue, and Masse had to bear insult and harsh treatment from men of their own race, but of another faith. And they bore it bravely, confident that God in His good time would restore them to their chosen field of labor.

The vessels reached Plymouth on the 20th of November, to learn that the capture of Quebec had taken place in time of peace. The Convention of Susa had ended the war between France and England on April 24, 1629; thus the achievement of the Adventurers was wasted. Three years later, by the Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye, the Adventurers were forced not only to restore the posts captured in North America, but to pay a sum to the French for the property seized at Quebec.

Towards the end of November the missionaries, both Recollets and Jesuits, left the English fleet at Dover roads, and proceeded to their various colleges in France, patiently to await the time when they should be permitted to return to Canada.

1 There were in all eighty-five persons in the colony, thirty of whom remained. The rest were taken prisoners to England; these included the Jesuit fathers Ennemond Masse, Anne de Noue, and Jean de Brebeuf; the Recollet fathers Joseph Le Caron and Joseph de la Roche de Daillon; and several lay brothers of both orders.]

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Chronicles of Canada, The Jesuit Missions, A Chronicle of the Cross in the Wilderness, 1915


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