Chronicles of America 

Frontenac and Phips

Frontenac's task was to make war on the English and their Iroquois allies. He had before him the King's instructions as to the means for effecting this. The King aimed at nothing less than the conquest of the English colonies in America. In 1664 the English, by a sudden blow in time of peace, had captured New Netherland, the Dutch colony on the Hudson, which then became New York. Now, a quarter of a century later, France thought to strike a similar blow against the English, and Louis XIV was resolved that the conquest should be thoroughgoing. The Dutch power had fallen before a meager naval force. The English now would have to face one much more formidable. Two French ships were to cross the sea and to lie in wait near New York. Meanwhile from Canada, sixteen hundred armed men, a thousand of them French regular troops, were to advance by land into the heart of the colony, seize Albany and all the boats there available, and descend by the Hudson to New York. The warships, hovering off the coast, would then enter New York harbor at the same time that the land forces made their attack. The village, for it was hardly more than this, contained, as the French believed, only some two hundred houses and four hundred fighting men and it was thought that a month would suffice to complete this whole work of conquest. Once victors, the French were to show no pity. All private property, but that of Catholics, was to be confiscated. Catholics, whether English or Dutch, were to be left undisturbed if not too numerous and if they would take the oath of allegiance to Louis XIV and show some promise of keeping it. Rich Protestants were to be held for ransom. All the other inhabitants, except those whom the French might find useful for their own purposes, were to be driven out of the colony, homeless wanderers, to be scattered far so that they could not combine to recover what they had lost. With New York taken, New England would be so weakened that in time it too would fall. Such was the plan of conquest which came from the brilliant chambers at Versailles.

New York did not fall. The expedition so carefully planned came to nothing. Frontenac had never shown much faith in the enterprise. At Quebec, on his arrival in the autumn of 1689, he was planning something less ideally perfect, but certain to produce results. The scarred old courtier intended so to terrorize the English that they should make no aggressive advance, to encourage the French to believe themselves superior to their rivals, and, above all, to prove to the Indian tribes that prudence dictated alliance with the French and not with the English.

Frontenac wrote a tale of blood. There were three war parties; one set out from Montreal against New York, and one from Three Rivers and one from Quebec against the frontier settlements of New Hampshire and Maine. To describe one is to describe all. A band of one hundred and sixty Frenchmen, with nearly as many Indians, gathers at Montreal in mid-winter. The ground is deep with snow and they troop on snowshoes across the white wastes. Dragging on sleds the needed supplies, they march up the Richelieu River and over the frozen surface of Lake Champlain. As they advance with caution into the colony of New York they suffer terribly, now from bitter cold, now from thaws which make the soft trail almost impassable. On a February night their scouts tell them that they are near Schenectady, on the English frontier. There are young members of the Canadian noblesse in the party. In the dead of night they creep up to the paling which surrounds the village. The signal is given and the village is awakened by the terrible war-whoop. Doors are smashed by axes and hatchets, and women and children are killed as they lie in bed, or kneel, shrieking for mercy. Houses are set on fire and living human beings are thrown into the flames. By midday the assailants have finished their dread work and are retreating along the forest paths dragging with them a few miserable captives. In this winter of 1689-90 raiding parties also came back from the borders of New Hampshire and of Maine with news of similar exploits, and Quebec and Montreal glowed with the joy of victory.

Far away an answering attack was soon on foot. Sir William Phips of Massachusetts, the son of a poor settler on the Kennebec River, had made his first advance in life by taking up the trade of carpenter in Boston. Only when grown up had he learned to read and write. He married a rich wife, and ease of circumstances freed his mind for great designs. Some fifty years before he was thus relieved of material cares, a Spanish galleon carrying vast wealth had been wrecked in the West Indies. Phips now planned to raise the ship and get the money. For this enterprise he obtained support in England and set out on his exacting adventure. On the voyage his crew mutinied. Armed with cutlasses, they told Phips that he must turn pirate or perish; but he attacked the leader with his fists and triumphed by sheer strength of body and will. A second mutiny he also quelled, and then took his ship to Jamaica where he got rid of its worthless crew. His enterprise had apparently failed; but the second Duke of Albemarle and other powerful men believed in him and helped him to make another trial. This time he succeeded in finding the wreck on the coast of Hispaniola, and took possession of its cargo of precious metals and jewels--treasure to the value of three hundred thousand pounds sterling. Of the spoil Phips himself received sixteen thousand pounds, a great fortune for a New Englander in those days. He was also knighted for his services and, in the end, was named by William and Mary the first royal Governor of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts, whose people had been thoroughly aroused by the French incursions, resolved to retaliate by striking at the heart of Canada by sea and to take Quebec. Sir William Phips, though not yet made Governor, would lead the expedition. The first blow fell in Acadia. Phips sailed up the Bay of Fundy and on May 11, 1690, landed a force before Port Royal. The French Governor surrendered on terms. The conquest was intended to be final, and the people were offered their lives and property on the condition of taking, the oath to be loyal subjects of William and Mary. This many of them did and were left unmolested. It was a bloodless victory. But Phips, the Puritan crusader, was something of a pirate. He plundered private property and was himself accused of taking not merely the silver forks and spoons of the captive Governor but even his wigs, shirts, garters, and night caps. The Boston Puritans joyfully pillaged the church at Port Royal, and overturned the high altar and the images. The booty was considerable and by the end of May Phips, a prosperous hero, was back in Boston.

Boston was aflame with zeal to go on and conquer Canada. By the middle of August Phips had set out on the long sea voyage to Quebec, with twenty-two hundred men, a great force for a colonial enterprise of that time, and in all some forty ships. The voyage occupied more than two months. Apparently the hardy carpenter-sailor, able enough to carry through a difficult undertaking with a single ship, lacked the organizing skill to manage a great expedition. He performed, however, the feat of navigating safely with his fleet the treacherous waters of the lower St. Lawrence. On the morning of October 16, 1690, watchers at Quebec saw the fleet, concerning which they had already been warned, rounding the head of the Island of Orleans and sailing into the broad basin. Breathless spectators counted the ships. There were thirty-four in sight, a few large vessels, some mere fishing craft. It was a spectacle well calculated to excite and alarm the good people of Quebec. They might, however, take comfort in the knowledge that their great Frontenac was present to defend them. A few days earlier he had been in Montreal, but, when there had come the startling news of the approach of the enemy's ships, he had hurried down the river and had been received with shouts of joy by the anxious populace.

The situation was one well suited to Frontenac's genius for the dramatic. When a boat under a flag of truce put out from the English ships, Frontenac hurried four canoes to meet it. The English envoy was placed blindfold in one of these canoes and was paddled to the shore. Here two soldiers took him by the arms and led him over many obstacles up the steep ascent to the Chateau St. Louis. He could see nothing but could hear the beating of drums, the blowing of trumpets, the jeers and shouting of a great multitude in a town which seemed to be full of soldiers and to have its streets heavily barricaded. When the bandage was taken from his eyes he found himself in a great room of the Chateau. Before him stood Frontenac, in brilliant uniform, surrounded by the most glittering array of officers which Quebec could muster. The astonished envoy presented a letter from Phips. It was a curt demand in the name of King William of England for the unconditional surrender of all "forts and castles" in Canada, of Frontenac himself, and all his forces and supplies. On such conditions Phips would show mercy, as a Christian should. Frontenac must answer within an hour. When the letter had been read the envoy took a watch from his pocket and pointed out the time to Frontenac. It was ten o'clock. The reply must be given by eleven. Loud mutterings greeted the insulting message. One officer cried out that Phips was a pirate and that his messenger should be hanged. Frontenac knew well how to deal with such a situation. He threw the letter in the envoy's face and turned his back upon him. The unhappy man, who understood French, heard the Governor give orders that a gibbet should be erected on which he was to be hanged. When the Bishop and the Intendant pleaded for mercy, Frontenac seemed to yield. He would not take, he said, an hour to reply, but would answer at once. He knew no such person as King William. James, though in exile, was the true King of England and the good friend of the King of France. There would be no surrender to a pirate. After this outburst, the envoy asked if he might have the answer in writing. "No!" thundered Frontenac. "I will answer only from the mouths of my cannon and with my musketry!"

Phips could not take Quebec. In carrying out his plans, he was slow and dilatory. Nature aided his foe. The weather was bad, the waters before Quebec were difficult, and boats grounded unexpectedly in a falling tide. Phips landed a force on the north side of the basin at Beauport but was held in check by French and Indian skirmishing parties. He sailed his ships up close to Quebec and bombarded the stronghold, but then, as now, ships were impotent against well-served land defenses. Soon Phips was short of ammunition. A second time he made a landing in order to attack Quebec from the valley of the St. Charles but French regulars fought with militia and Indians to drive off his forces. Phips held a meeting with his officers for prayer. Heaven, however, denied success to his arms. If he could not take Quebec, it was time to be gone, for in the late autumn the dangers of the St. Lawrence are great. He lay before Quebec for just a week and on the 23d of October sailed away. It was late in November when his battered fleet began to straggle into Boston. The ways of God had not proved as simple as they had seemed to the Puritan faith, for the stronghold of Satan had not fallen before the attacks of the Lord's people. There were searchings of heart, recriminations, and financial distress in Boston.

For seven years more the war endured. Frontenac's victory over Phips at Quebec was not victory over the Iroquois or victory over the colony of New York. In 1691 this colony sent Peter Schuyler with a force against Canada by way of Lake Champlain. Schuyler penetrated almost to Montreal, gained some indecisive success, and caused much suffering to the unhappy Canadian settlers. Frontenac made his last great stroke in duly, 1696, when he led more than two thousand men through the primeval forest to destroy the villages of the Onondaga and the Oneida tribes of the Iroquois. On the journey from the south shore of Lake Ontario, the old man of seventy-five was unable to walk over the rough portages and fifty Indians shouting songs of joy carried his great canoe on their shoulders. When the soldiers left the canoes and marched forward to the fight, they bore Frontenac in an easy chair. He did not destroy his enemy, for many of the Indians fled, but he burned their chief village and taught them a new respect for the power of the French. It was the last great effort of the old warrior. In the next year, 1697, was concluded the Peace of Ryswick; and in 1698 Frontenac died in his seventy-ninth year, a hoary champion of France's imperial designs.

The Peace of Ryswick was an indecisive ending of an indecisive war. It was indeed one of those bad treaties which invite renewed war. The struggle had achieved little but to deepen the conviction of each side that it must make itself stronger for the next fight. Each gave back most of what it had gained. The peace, however, did not leave matters quite as they had been. The position of William was stronger than before, for France had treated with him and now recognized him as King of England. Moreover France, hitherto always victorious, with generals who had not known defeat, was really defeated when she could not longer advance.

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