English attack Quebec; Quebec incapable of defense. Only fifty pounds of gunpowder were left in the magazine; and the fort, owing to the neglect and ill-will of the Caens, was so wretchedly constructed, that, a few days before, two towers of the main building had fallen.
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CHAPTER XVI. 1628-1629
The first care of the new Company was to succor Quebec, whose inmates were on the verge of starvation. Four armed vessels, with a fleet of transports commanded by Roquemont, one of the associates, sailed from Dieppe with colonists and supplies in April, 1628; but nearly at the same time another squadron, destined also for Quebec, was sailing from an English port. War had at length broken out in France. The Huguenot revolt had come to a head. Rochelle was in arms against the King; and Richelieu, with his royal ward, was beleaguering it with the whole strength of the kingdom. Charles the First of England, urged by the heated passions of Buckingham, had declared himself for the rebels, and sent a fleet to their aid. At home, Charles detested the followers of Calvin as dangerous to his own authority; abroad, he befriended them as dangerous to the authority of a rival. In France, Richelieu crushed Protestantism as a curb to the house of Bourbon; in Germany, he nursed and strengthened it as a curb to the house of Austria.
The attempts of Sir William Alexander to colonize Acadia had of late turned attention in England towards the New World; and on the breaking out of the war an expedition was set on foot, under the auspices of that singular personage, to seize on the French possessions in North America. It was a private enterprise, undertaken by London merchants, prominent among whom was Gervase Kirke, an Englishman of Derbyshire, who had long lived at Dieppe, and had there married a Frenchwoman. Gervase Kirke and his associates fitted out three small armed ships, commanded respectively by his sons David, Lewis, and Thomas. Letters of marque were obtained from the King, and the adventurers were authorized to drive out the French from Acadia and Canada. Many Huguenot refugees were among the crews. Having been expelled from New France as settlers, the persecuted sect were returning as enemies. One Captain Michel, who had been in the service of the Caens, “a furious Calvinist,” is said to have instigated the attempt, acting, it is affirmed, under the influence of one of his former employers.
Meanwhile the famished tenants of Quebec were eagerly waiting the expected succor. Daily they gazed beyond Point Levi and along the channels of Orleans, in the vain hope of seeing the approaching sails. At length, on the ninth of July, two men, worn with struggling through forests and over torrents, crossed the St. Charles and mounted the rock. They were from Cape Tourmente, where Champlain had some time before established an outpost, and they brought news that, according to the report of Indians, six large vessels lay in the harbor of Tadoussac. The friar Le Caron was at Quebec, and, with a brother Recollet, he went in a canoe to gain further intelligence. As the missionary scouts were paddling along the borders of the Island of Orleans, they met two canoes advancing in hot haste, manned by Indians, who with shouts and gestures warned them to turn back.
The friars, however, waited till the canoes came up, when they saw a man lying disabled at the bottom of one of them, his moustaches burned by the flash of the musket which had wounded him. He proved to be Foucher, who commanded at Cape Tourmente. On that morning, — such was the story of the fugitives, — twenty men had landed at that post from a small fishing-vessel. Being to all appearance French, they were hospitably received; but no sooner had they entered the houses than they began to pillage and burn all before them, killing the cattle, wounding the commandant, and making several prisoners.
The character of the fleet at Tadoussac was now sufficiently clear. Quebec was incapable of defense. Only fifty pounds of gunpowder were left in the magazine; and the fort, owing to the neglect and ill-will of the Caens, was so wretchedly constructed, that, a few days before, two towers of the main building had fallen. Champlain, however, assigned to each man his post, and waited the result. On the next afternoon, a boat was seen issuing from behind the Point of Orleans and hovering hesitatingly about the mouth of the St. Charles. On being challenged, the men on board proved to be Basque fishermen, lately captured by the English, and now sent by Kirke unwilling messengers to Champlain. Climbing the steep pathway to the fort, they delivered their letter, — a summons, couched in terms of great courtesy, to surrender Quebec. There was no hope but in courage. A bold front must supply the lack of batteries and ramparts; and Champlain dismissed the Basques with a reply, in which, with equal courtesy, he expressed his determination to hold his position to the last.
All now stood on the watch, hourly expecting the enemy; when, instead of the hostile squadron, a small boat crept into sight, and one Desdames, with ten Frenchmen, landed at the storehouses. He brought stirring news. The French commander, Roquemont, had despatched him to tell Champlain that the ships of the Hundred Associates were ascending the St. Lawrence, with reinforcements and supplies of all kinds. But on his way Desdames had seen an ominous sight, — the English squadron standing under full sail out of Tadoussac, and steering downwards as if to intercept the advancing succor. He had only escaped them by dragging his boat up the beach and hiding it; and scarcely were they out of sight when the booming of cannon told him that the fight was begun.
Racked with suspense, the starving tenants of Quebec waited the result; but they waited in vain. No white sail moved athwart the green solitudes of Orleans. Neither friend nor foe appeared; and it was not till long afterward that Indians brought them the tidings that Roquemont’s crowded transports had been overpowered, and all the supplies destined to relieve their miseries sunk in the St. Lawrence or seized by the victorious English. Kirke, however, deceived by the bold attitude of Champlain, had been too discreet to attack Quebec, and after his victory employed himself in cruising for French fishing-vessels along the borders of the Gulf.
Meanwhile, the suffering at Quebec increased daily. Somewhat less than a hundred men, women, and children were cooped up in the fort, subsisting on a meagre pittance of pease and Indian corn. The garden of the Heberts, the only thrifty settlers, was ransacked for every root or seed that could afford nutriment. Months wore on, and in the spring the distress had risen to such a pitch that Champlain had wellnigh resolved to leave to the women, children, and sick the little food that remained, and with the able-bodied men invade the Iroquois, seize one of their villages, fortify himself in it, and sustain his followers on the buried stores of maize with which the strongholds of these provident savages were always furnished.
Seven ounces of pounded pease were now the daily food of each; and, at the end of May, even this failed. Men, women, and children betook themselves to the woods, gathering acorns and grubbing up roots. Those of the plant called Solomon’s seal were most in request. Some joined the Hurons or the Algonquins; some wandered towards the Abenakis of Maine; some descended in a boat to Gaspe, trusting to meet a French fishing-vessel. There was scarcely one who would not have hailed the English as deliverers. But the English had sailed home with their booty, and the season was so late that there was little prospect of their return. Forgotten alike by friends and foes, Quebec was on the verge of extinction.
On the morning of the nineteenth of July, an Indian, renowned as a fisher of eels, who had built his hut on the St. Charles, hard by the new dwelling of the Jesuits, came, with his usual imperturbability of visage, to Champlain. He had just discovered three ships sailing up the south channel of Orleans. Champlain was alone. All his followers were absent, fishing or searching for roots. At about ten o’clock his servant appeared with four small bags of roots, and the tidings that he had seen the three ships a league off, behind Point Levi. As man after man hastened in, Champlain ordered the starved and ragged band, sixteen in all, to their posts, whence with hungry eyes, they watched the English vessels anchoring in the basin below, and a boat with a white flag moving towards the shore. A young officer landed with a summons to surrender. The terms of capitulation were at length settled. The French were to be conveyed to their own country, and each soldier was allowed to take with him his clothes, and, in addition, a coat of beaver-skin. On this some murmuring rose, several of those who had gone to the Hurons having lately returned with peltry of no small value. Their complaints were vain; and on the twentieth of July, amid the roar of cannon from the ships, Lewis Kirke, the Admiral’s brother, landed at the head of his soldiers, and planted the cross of St. George where the followers of Wolfe again planted it a hundred and thirty years later. After inspecting the worthless fort, he repaired to the houses of the Recollets and Jesuits on the St. Charles. He treated the former with great courtesy, but displayed against the latter a violent aversion, expressing his regret that he could not have begun his operations by battering their house about their ears. The inhabitants had no cause to complain of him. He urged the widow and family of the settler Hebert, the patriarch, as he has been styled, of New France, to remain and enjoy the fruits of their industry under English allegiance; and, as beggary in France was the alternative, his offer was accepted.
Champlain, bereft of his command, grew restless, and begged to be sent to Tadoussac, where the Admiral, David Kirke, lay with his main squadron, having sent his brothers Lewis and Thomas to seize Quebec. Accordingly, Champlain, with the Jesuits, embarking with Thomas Kirke, descended the river. Off Mal Bay a strange sail was seen. As she approached, she proved to be a French ship, in fact, she was on her way to Quebec with supplies, which, if earlier sent, would have saved the place. She had passed the Admiral’s squadron in a fog; but here her good fortune ceased. Thomas Kirke bore down on her, and the cannonade began. The fight was hot and doubtful; but at length the French struck, and Kirke sailed into Tadoussac with his prize. Here lay his brother, the Admiral, with five armed ships.
The Admiral’s two voyages to Canada were private ventures; and though he had captured nineteen fishing-vessels, besides Roquemont’s eighteen transports and other prizes, the result had not answered his hopes. His mood, therefore, was far from benign, especially as he feared, that, owing to the declaration of peace, he would be forced to disgorge a part of his booty; yet, excepting the Jesuits, he treated his captives with courtesy, and often amused himself with shooting larks on shore in company with Champlain. The Huguenots, however, of whom there were many in his ships, showed an exceeding bitterness against the Catholics. Chief among them was Michel, who had instigated and conducted the enterprise, the merchant admiral being but an indifferent seaman. Michel, whose skill was great, held a high command and the title of Rear-Admiral. He was a man of a sensitive temperament, easily piqued on the point of honor. His morbid and irritable nerves were wrought to the pitch of frenzy by the reproaches of treachery and perfidy with which the French prisoners assailed him, while, on the other hand, he was in a state of continual rage at the fancied neglect and contumely of his English associates. He raved against Kirke, who, as he declared, treated him with an insupportable arrogance. “I have left my country,” he exclaimed, “for the service of foreigners; and they give me nothing but ingratitude and scorn.”
– Pioneers of France in the New World Part II, Chapter 16 by Francis Parkman
Today’s installment, English Attack Quebec
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.
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