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The Great Struggle

During the period which separates his two terms of office Frontenac's life is almost a blank. His relations with his wife seem to have been amicable, but they did not live together. His great friend was the Marechal de Bellefonds, from whom he received many favors of hospitality. In 1685 the king gave him a pension of thirty-five hundred livres, though without assigning him any post of dignity. Already a veteran, his record could hardly be called successful. His merits were known to the people of Canada; they believed him to be a tower of strength against the Iroquois. At Versailles the fact stood out most plainly that through infirmities of temper he had lost his post. His pension might save him from penury. It was far too small to give him real independence.

Had either La Barre or Denonville proved equal to the government of Canada, it is almost certain that Frontenac would have ended his days ingloriously at Versailles, ascending the stairs of others with all the grief which is the portion of disappointed old age. Their failure was his opportunity, and from the dreary antechambers of a court he mounts to sudden glory as the savior of New France.

There is some doubt, as we have seen, concerning the causes which gave Frontenac his appointment in 1672. At that time court favor may have operated on his behalf, or it may have seemed desirable that he should reside for a season out of France. But in 1689 graver considerations came into play. At the moment when the Iroquois were preparing to ravage Canada, the expulsion of James II from his throne had broken the peace between France and England. The government of New France was now no post for a court favorite. Louis XIV had expended much money and effort on the colony. Through the mismanagement of La Barre and Denonville everything appeared to be on the verge of ruin. It is inconceivable that Frontenac, then in his seventieth year, should have been denominated for any other cause than merit. Times and conditions had changed. The task now was not to work peaceably with bishop and intendant, but to destroy the foe. Father Goyer, the Recollet who delivered Frontenac's funeral oration, states that the king said when renewing his commission: 'I send you back to Canada, where I expect you will serve me as well as you did before; I ask for nothing more.' This is a bit of too gorgeous rhetoric, which none the less conveys the truth. The king was not reappointing Frontenac because he was, on the whole, satisfied with what he had done before; he was reappointing him because during his former term of office and throughout his career he had displayed the qualities which were called for at the present crisis.

Thus Frontenac returned to Quebec in the autumn of 1689, just after the Iroquois massacred the people of Lachine and just before they descended upon those of La Chesnaye. The universal mood was one of terror and despair. If ever Canada needed a Moses this was the hour.

It will be seen from the dates that Denonville's recall was not due to the Lachine massacre and the other raids of the Iroquois in 1689, for these only occurred after Frontenac had been appointed. Denonville's dismissal was justified by the general results of his administration down to the close of 1688. Before Frontenac left France a plan of campaign had been agreed upon which it was now his duty to execute. The outlines of this plan were suggested by Callieres, the governor of Montreal, [Footnote: Louis Hector de Callieres-Bonnevue was a captain of the French army who became governor of Montreal in 1684, and succeeded Frontenac as governor of Canada in 1698. He received the Cross of St Louis for distinguished service against the Iroquois. Frontenac could not have had a better lieutenant.] who had been sent home by Denonville to expound the needs of the colony in person and to ask for fresh aid. The idea was to wage vigorous offensive warfare against the English from Albany to New York. Success would depend upon swiftness and audacity, both of which Frontenac possessed in full measure, despite his years. Two French warships were to be sent direct to New York in the autumn of 1689, while a raiding party from Canada should set out for the Hudson as soon as Frontenac could organize it.

In its original form this plan of campaign was never carried out, for on account of head winds Frontenac reached Quebec too late in the autumn. However, the central idea remained in full view and suggested the three war-parties which were sent out during the winter of 1690 to attack the English colonies.

Louis XIV had given Denonville important reinforcements, and with war clouds gathering in Europe he was unwilling or unable to detach more troops for the defense of Canada. Hence, in warring against the Iroquois and the English Frontenac had no greater resources than those at the disposal of Denonville when he attacked the Seneca. In fact, since 1687 there had been some wastage in the number of the regulars from disease. The result was that Frontenac could not hope for any solid success unless he received support from the Canadian militia.

In this crisis the habitants and their seigneurs accepted with courage the duties laid upon them. In the narrower sense they were fighting for their homes, but the spirit which they displayed under Frontenac's leadership is not merely that which one associates with a war of defense. The French soldier, in all ages, loved to strike the quick, sharp blow, and it was now necessary for the salvation of Canada that it should be struck. The Iroquois had come to believe that Onontio was losing his power. The English colonies were far more populous than New France. In short, the only hope lay in a swift, spectacular campaign which would disorganize the English and regain the respect of the Iroquois.

The issue depended on the courage and capacity of the Canadians. It is to their honor and to the credit of Frontenac that they rose to the demand of the hour. The Canadians were a robust, prolific race, trained from infancy to woodcraft and all the hardships of the wilderness. Many families contained from eight to fourteen sons who had used the musket and paddle from early boyhood, and could endure the long tramps of winter like the Indians themselves. The frontiersman is, and must be, a fighter, but nowhere in the past can one find a braver breed of warriors than mustered to the call of Frontenac. Francois Hertel and Hertel de Rouville, Le Moyne d'Iberville with his brothers Bienville and Sainte-Helene, D'Aillebout de Mantet and Repentigny de Montesson, are but a few representatives of the militiamen who sped forth at the call of Frontenac to destroy the settlements of the English.

What followed was war in its worst form, including the massacre of women and children. The three bands organized by Frontenac at the beginning of 1690 set out on snowshoes from Montreal, Three Rivers, and Quebec. The largest party contained a hundred and fourteen French and ninety-six Indians. It marched from Montreal against Schenectady, commanded by D'Aillebout de Mantet and Le Moyne de Sainte-Helene. The second party, proceeding from Three Rivers and numbering twenty-six French and twenty-nine Indians under the command of Francois Hertel, aimed at Dover, Pemaquid, and other settlements of Maine and New Hampshire. The Quebec party, under Portneuf, comprised fifty French and sixty Indians. Its objective was the English colony on Casco Bay, where the city of Portland now stands. All three were successful in accomplishing what they aimed at, namely the destruction of English settlements amid fire and carnage. All three employed Indians, who were suffered, either willingly or unwillingly, to commit barbarities.

It is much more the business of history to explain than to condemn or to extenuate. How could a man like Francois Hertel lead one of these raids without sinking to the moral level of his Indian followers? Some such question may, not unnaturally, rise to the lips of a modern reader who for the first time comes upon the story of Dover and Salmon Falls. But fuller knowledge breeds respect for Francois Hertel. When eighteen years old he was captured by the Mohawks and put to the torture. One of his fingers they burned off in the bowl of a pipe. The thumb of the other hand they cut off. In the letter which he wrote on birch-bark to his mother after this dreadful experience there is not a word of his sufferings. He simply sends her his love and asks for her prayers, signing himself by his childish nickname, 'Your poor Fanchon.' As he grew up he won from an admiring community the name of 'The Hero.' He was not only brave but religious. In his view it was all legitimate warfare. If he slew others, he ran a thousand risks and endured terrible privations for his king and the home he was defending. His stand at the bridge over the Wooster river, sword in hand, when pressed on his retreat by an overwhelming force of English, holding the pass till all his men are over, is worthy of an epic. He was forty-seven years old at the time. The three eldest of his nine sons were with him in that little band of twenty-six Frenchmen, and two of his nephews. 'To the New England of old,' says Parkman 'Francois Hertel was the abhorred chief of Popish malignant and murdering savages. The New England of to-day will be more just to the brave defender of his country and his faith.'

The atrocities committed by the French and Indians are enough to make one shudder even at this distance of time. As Frontenac adopted the plan and sent forth the war-parties, the moral responsibility in large part rests with him. There are, however, some facts to consider before judgment is passed as to the degree of his culpability. The modern distinction between combatants and non-combatants had little meaning in the wilds of America at this period. When France and England were at open war, every settler was a soldier, and as such each man's duty was to keep on his guard. If caught napping he must take the consequences. Thus, to fall upon an unsuspecting hamlet and slay its men-folk with the tomahawk, while brutal, was hardly more brutal than under such circumstances we could fairly expect war to be.

The massacre of women and children is another matter, not to be excused on any grounds, even though Schenectady and Salmon Falls are paralleled by recent acts of the Germans in Belgium. Still, we should not forget that European warfare in the age of Frontenac abounded with just such atrocities as were committed at Schenectady, Dover, Pemaquid, Salmon Falls, and Casco Bay. The sack of Magdeburg, the wasting of the Palatinate, and, perhaps, the storming of Drogheda will match whatever was done by the Indian allies of Frontenac. These were unspeakable, but the savage was little worse than his European contemporary. Those killed were in almost all cases killed outright, and the slaughter was not indiscriminate. At Schenectady John Sander Glen, with his whole family and all his relations, were spared because he and his wife had shown kindness to French prisoners taken by the Mohawks. Altogether sixty people were killed at Schenectady (February 9, 1690), thirty-eight men, ten women, and twelve children. Nearly ninety were carried captive to Canada. Sixty old men, women, and children were left unharmed. It is not worth while to take up the details of the other raids. They were of much the same sort--no better and no worse. Where a garrison surrendered under promise that it would be spared, the promise was observed so far as the Indians could be controlled; but English and French alike when they used Indian allies knew well that their excesses could not be prevented, though they might be moderated. The captives as a rule were treated with kindness and clemency when once the northward march was at an end.

Meanwhile, Frontenac had little time to reflect upon the probable attitude of posterity towards his political morals. The three war-parties had accomplished their purpose and in the spring of 1690 the colony was aglow with fresh hope. But the English were not slow to retaliate. That summer New York and Massachusetts decided on an invasion of Canada. It was planned that a fleet from Boston under Sir William Phips should attack Quebec, while a force of militia from New York in command of John Schuyler should advance through Lake Champlain against Montreal. Thus by sea and land Canada soon found herself on the defensive.

Of Schuyler's raid nothing need be said except that he reached Laprairie, opposite Montreal, where he killed a few men and destroyed the crops (August 23, 1690). It was a small achievement and produced no result save the disappointment of New York that an undertaking upon which much money and effort had been expended should terminate so ingloriously. But the siege of Quebec by Phips, though it likewise ended in failure, is a much more famous event, and deserves to be described in some detail.

The colony of Massachusetts mustered its forces for a great and unusual exploit. Earlier in the same year a raid upon the coasts of Acadia had yielded gratifying results. The surrender of Port Royal without resistance (May 11, 1690) kindled the Puritan hope that a single summer might see the pestiferous Romanists of New France driven from all their strongholds. Thus encouraged, Boston put forth its best energies and did not shrink from incurring a debt of 50,000 pounds, which in the circumstances of Massachusetts was an enormous sum. Help was expected from England, but none came, and the fleet sailed without it, in full confidence that Quebec would fall before the assault of the colonists alone.

The fleet, which sailed in August, numbered thirty-four ships, carrying twenty-three hundred men and a considerable equipment. Sir William Phips, the leader of the expedition, was not an Englishman by birth, but a New Englander of very humble origin who owed his advancement to a robust physique and unlimited assurance. He was unfitted for his command, both because he lacked experience in fighting such foes as he was about to encounter, and because he was completely ignorant of the technical difficulties involved in conducting a large, miscellaneous fleet through the tortuous channels of the lower St Lawrence. This ignorance resulted in such loss of time that he arrived before Quebec amid the tokens of approaching winter. It was the 16th of October when he rounded the island of Orleans and brought his ships to anchor under the citadel. Victory could only be secured by sudden success. The state of the season forbade siege operations which contemplated starvation of the garrison.

Hopeful that the mere sight of his armada would compel surrender, Phips first sent an envoy to Frontenac under protection of the white flag. This messenger after being blindfolded was led to the Chateau and brought before the governor, who had staged for his reception one of the impressive spectacles he loved to prepare. Surrounding Frontenac, as Louis XIV might have been surrounded by the grandees of France, were grouped the aristocracy of New France--the officers of the French regulars and the Canadian militia. Nothing had been omitted which could create an impression of dignity and strength. Costume, demeanor, and display were all employed to overwhelm the envoy with the insulted majesty of the king of France. Led into this high presence the messenger delivered his letter, which, when duly interpreted, was found to convey a summary ultimatum. Phips began by stating that the war between France and England would have amply warranted this expedition even 'without 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.' Indeed, 'the cruelties and barbarities used against them by the French and Indians might, upon the present opportunity, prompt unto a severe revenge.' But seeking to avoid all inhumane and unchristian-like actions, Phips announces that he will be content with 'a present surrender of your forts and castles, undemolished, and the King's and other stores, unimbezzled, 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 favor 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.'

To this challenge Frontenac at once returned the answer which comported with his character. When Phips's envoy took out his watch to register the hour permitted by the ultimatum, Frontenac rejoined that he required no time for deliberation, but would return his answer by the mouth of the cannon. The ground which he assigned for the invasion of New England was that its people had rebelled against their lawful prince, the ally of France. Other more personal observations were directed towards the manner in which Phips had behaved at Port Royal. No word in writing would Frontenac send. The envoy (who was only a subaltern) received his conge, was blindfolded and led back to his boat.

Compliments having been thus exchanged, it remained for Phips to make good his challenge. If we compare the four English and American sieges of Quebec, the attack by Phips will be seen to have little in common with those of Kirke and Montgomery, but to resemble rather strikingly the attack by Wolfe. Without fighting, Kirke swooped down upon a garrison which was exhausted by starvation. Arnold and Montgomery operated without a fleet. But while Phips's attempt is unlike Wolfe's in that it ended in failure, the presence of the fleet and the attempt to effect a landing below the mouth of the St Charles present features of real similarity. It is clear that Phips received intelligence from prisoners of a possible landing above the town, at the spot where Wolfe carried out his daring and desperate coup de main. But, anticipating Wolfe in another quarter, he chose to make his first attack on the flats rather than on the heights.

The troops ordinarily stationed at Quebec were increased just after Phips's arrival by a force of seven hundred regulars and militiamen under Callieres, who had come down from Montreal with all possible haste. So agile were the French and so proficient in irregular warfare that Phips found it difficult to land any considerable detachment in good order. Thirteen hundred of the English did succeed in forming on the Beauport Flats, after wading through a long stretch of mud. There followed a preliminary skirmish in which three hundred French were driven back with no great loss, after inflicting considerable damage on the invaders. But though the English reached the east bank of the St Charles they could do no more. Phips wasted his ammunition on a fruitless and ill-timed bombardment, which was answered with much spirit from the cliffs. Meanwhile the musketeers on the bank of the St Charles were unable to advance alone and received no proper supply of stores from the ships. Harassed by the Canadians, wet, cold, and starving, they took to the boats, leaving behind them five cannon. After this nothing happened, save deliberations on the part of Phips and his officers as to whether there remained anything that could be done other than to sail for home, beaten and humiliated, with a heavy burden of debt to hang round the neck of a too ambitious Massachusetts. Thus ended the second siege of Quebec (October 23, 1690).

Frontenac had lost two of his best soldiers--Sainte-Helene, of the fighting Le Moynes, and the Chevalier de Clermont; but, this notwithstanding, the victory was felt to be complete. The most precious trophy was the flag of Phips's ship, which a shot from the ramparts had knocked into the river, whence it was rescued and brought ashore in triumph. Best of all, the siege had been too short to bring famine in its train. The loss of life was inconsiderable, and in prestige the soldiery of New France now stood on a pinnacle which they had never before attained. When we consider the paucity of the forces engaged, this repulse of the English from Quebec may not seem an imposing military achievement. But Canada had put forth her whole strength and had succeeded where failure would have been fatal. In the shouts of rejoicing which followed Phips's withdrawal we hear the cry of a people reborn.

The siege of Quebec and Schuyler's raid on Laprairie open up a subject of large and vital moment--the historical antagonism of New France and New England. Whoever wishes to understand the deeper problems of Canada in the age of Frontenac should read John Fiske's volumes on the English colonies. In the rise of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts one sees the certain doom which was impending over New France. It may be too much to say that Richelieu by conquering Alsace threw away America. Even had the population of Canada been increased to the extent called for by the obligations of Richelieu's company in 1627, the English might have nevertheless prevailed. But the preoccupation of France with the war against Austria prevented her from giving due attention to the colonial question at the critical moment when colonists should have been sent out in large numbers. And it is certain that by nothing short of a great emigration could France have saved Canada. As it was, the English were bound to prevail by weight of population. When the conflict reached its climax in the days of Montcalm and Wolfe, two and a half million English Americans confronted sixty-five thousand French Canadians. On such terms the result of the contest could not be doubtful. Even in Frontenac's time the French were protected chiefly by the intervening wilderness and the need of the English colonists to develop their own immediate resources. The English were not yet ready for a serious offensive war. In fact they, too, had their own Indian question.

It is a matter of some interest to observe how the conquest of Canada was postponed by the lack of cohesion among the English colonies. Selfishness and mutual jealousy prevented them from combining against the common foe. Save for this disunion and fancied conflict of interest, New France must have succumbed long before the time of Montcalm. But the vital significance of the conflict between New England and New France lies in the contrast of their spirit and institutions. The English race has extended itself through the world because it possessed the genius of emigration. The French colonist did his work magnificently in the new home. But the conditions in the old home were unfavorable to emigration. The Huguenots, the one class of the population with a strong motive for emigrating, were excluded from Canada in the interest of orthodoxy. The dangers of the Atlantic and the hardships of life in a wintry wilderness might well deter the ordinary French peasant; moreover, it by no means rested with him to say whether he would go or stay. But, whatever their nature, the French race lost a wonderful opportunity through the causes which prevented a healthy, steady exodus to America.

England profited by having classes of people sufficiently well educated to form independent opinions and strong enough to carry out the program dictated by these opinions. While each of the English colonies sprang from a different motive, all had in common the purpose to form an effective settlement. The fur trade did France more harm than good. It deflected her attention from the middle to the northern latitudes and lured her colonists from the land in search of quick profits. It was the enemy to the home. On the other hand, the English came to America primarily in search of a home. Profits they sought, like other people, but they sought them chiefly from the soil.

Thus English ideas took root in America, gained new vitality, and assumed an importance they had not possessed in England for many centuries. And, while for the moment the organization of the English colonies was not well suited to offensive war, as we may judge from the abortive efforts of Phips and Schuyler, this defect could be corrected. Arising, as it did arise, from a lack of unity among the colonies, it was even indicative of latent strength. From one angle, localism seems selfishness and weakness; from another, it shows the vigorous life of separate communities, each self-centered and jealous of its authority because the local instinct is so vitally active. It only needed time to broaden the outlook and give the English colonies a sense of their common interest. Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts, by striking their roots each year more deeply into the soil of America, became more and more self-supporting states in everything save name and political allegiance; while New France, which with its austere climate would have developed more slowly in any case, remained dependent on the king's court.

Thus Frontenac's task was quite hopeless, if we define it as the effort to overthrow English power in America. But neither he nor any one of that age defined his duties so widely. In 1689 Canada was in extremes, with the Iroquois at Lachine and Dongan threatening an attack from New York. Frontenac's policy was defensive. If he struck first, it was because he considered audacity to be his best safeguard. No one knew better than Frontenac that a successful raid does not mean conquest.

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Chronicles of Canada, The Fighting Governor, A Chronicle of Frontenac, 1915


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