Chronicles of America 

King William's War, 1689-1697

Many centuries of European history had been marked by war almost ceaseless between France and England when these two states first confronted each other in America. The conflict for the New World was but the continuation of an age-long antagonism in the Old, intensified now by the savagery of the wilderness and by new dreams of empire. There was another potent cause of strife which had not existed in the earlier days. When, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the antagonists had fought through the interminable Hundred Years' War, they had been of the same religious faith. Since then, however, England had become Protestant, while France had remained Catholic. When the rivals first met on the shores of the New World, colonial America was still very young. It was in 1607 that the English occupied Virginia. At the same time the French were securing a foothold in Acadia, now Nova Scotia. Six years had barely passed when the English Captain Argall sailed to the north from Virginia and destroyed the rising French settlements. Sixteen years after this another English force attacked and captured Quebec. Presently these conquests were restored. France remained in possession of the St. Lawrence and in virtual possession of Acadia. The English colonies, holding a great stretch of the Atlantic seaboard, increased in number and power. New France also grew stronger. The steady hostility of the rivals never wavered. There was, indeed, little open warfare as long as the two Crowns remained at peace. From 1660 to 1688, the Stuart rulers of England remained subservient to their cousin the Bourbon King of France and at one with him in religious faith. But after the fall of the Stuarts France bitterly denounced the new King, William of Orange, as both a heretic and a usurper, and attacked the English in America with a savage fury unknown in Europe. From 1690 to 1760 the combatants fought with little more than pauses for renewed preparation; and the conflict ended only when France yielded to England the mastery of her empire in America. It is the story of this struggle, covering a period of seventy years, which is told in the following pages.

The career of Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, who was Governor of Canada from 1672 to 1682 and again from 1689 to his death in 1698, reveals both the merits and the defects of the colonizing genius of France. Frontenac was a man of noble birth whose life had been spent in court and camp. The story of his family, so far as it is known, is a story of attendance upon the royal house of France. His father and uncles had been playmates of the young Dauphin, afterwards Louis XIII. The thoughts familiar to Frontenac in his youth remained with him through life; and, when he went to rule at Quebec, the very spirit that dominated the court at Versailles crossed the sea with him.

A man is known by the things he loves. The things which Frontenac most highly cherished were marks of royal favor, the ceremony due to his own rank, the right to command. He was an egoist, supremely interested in himself. He was poor, but at his country seat in France, near Blois, he kept open house in the style of a great noble. Always he bore himself as one to whom much was due. His guests were expected to admire his indifferent horses as the finest to be seen, his gardens as the most beautiful, his clothes as of the most effective cut and finish, the plate on his table as of the best workmanship, and the food as having superior flavor. He scolded his equals as if they were naughty children.

Yet there was genius in this showy court figure. In 1669, when the Venetian Republic had asked France to lend her an efficient soldier to lead against the rampant Turk, the great Marshal Turenne had chosen Frontenac for the task. Crete, which Frontenac was to rescue, the Turk indeed had taken; but, it is said, at the fearful cost of a hundred and eighty thousand men. Three years later, Frontenac had been sent to Canada to war with the savage Iroquois and to hold in check the aggressive designs of the English. He had been recalled in 1682, after ten years of service, chiefly on account of his arbitrary temper. He had quarreled with the Bishop. He had bullied the Intendant until at one time that harried official had barricaded his house and armed his servants. He had told the Jesuit missionaries that they thought more of selling beaver-skins than of saving souls. He had insulted those about him, sulked, threatened, foamed at the mouth in rage, revealed a childish vanity in regard to his dignity, and a hunger insatiable for marks of honor from the King--"more grateful," he once said, "than anything else to a heart shaped after the right pattern."

France, however, now required at Quebec a man who could do the needed man's tasks. The real worth of Frontenac had been tested; and so, in 1689, when England had driven from her shores her Catholic king and, when France's colony across the sea seemed to be in grave danger from the Iroquois allies of the English, Frontenac was sent again to Quebec to subdue the indians and, if he could, to destroy in America the power of the age long enemy of his country.

Perched high above the St. Lawrence, on a noble site where now is a public terrace and a great hotel, stood the Chateau St. Louis, the scene of Frontenac's rule as head of the colony. No other spot in the world commanded such a highway linking the inland waters with the sea. The French had always an eye for points of strategic value; and in holding Quebec they hoped to possess the pivot on which the destinies of North America should turn. For a long time it seemed, indeed, as if this glowing vision might become a reality. The imperial ideas which were working at Quebec were based upon the substantial realities of trade. The instinct for business was hardly less strong in these keen adventurers than the instinct for empire. In promise of trade the interior of North America was rich. Today its vast agriculture and its wealth in minerals have brought rewards beyond the dreams of two hundred years ago. The wealth, however, sought by the leaders of that time came from furs. In those wastes of river, lake, and forest were the richest preserves in the world for fur-bearing animals.

This vast wilderness was not an unoccupied land. In those wild regions dwelt many savage tribes. Some of the natives were by no means without political capacity. On the contrary, they were long clever enough to pit English against French to their own advantage as the real sovereigns in North America. One of them, whose fluent oratory had won for him the name of Big Mouth, told the Governor of Canada, in 1688, that his people held their lands from the Great Spirit, that they yielded no lordship to either the English or the French, that they well understood the weakness of the French and were quite able to destroy them, but that they wished to be friends with both French and English who brought to them the advantages of trade. In sagacity of council and dignity of carriage some of these Indians so bore themselves that to trained observers they seemed not unequal to the diplomats of Europe. They were, however, weak before the superior knowledge of the white men. In all their long centuries in America they had learned nothing of the use of iron. Their sharpest tool had been made of chipped obsidian or of hammered copper. Their most potent weapons had been the stone hatchet or age and the bow and arrow. It thus happened that, when steel and gunpowder reached America, the natives soon came to despise their primitive implements. More and more they craved the supplies from Europe which multiplied in a hundred ways their strength in the conflict with nature and with man. To the Indian tribes trade with the French or English soon became a vital necessity. From the far northwest for a thousand miles to the bleak shores of Hudson Bay, from the banks of the Mississippi to the banks of the St. Lawrence and the Hudson, they came each year on laborious journeys, paddling their canoes and carrying them over portages, to barter furs for the things which they must have and which the white man alone could supply.

The Iroquois, the ablest and most resolute of the native tribes, held the lands bordering on Lake Ontario which commanded the approaches from both the Hudson and the St. Lawrence by the Great Lakes to the spacious regions of the West. The five tribes known as the Iroquois had shown marked political talent by forming themselves into a confederacy. From the time of Champlain, the founder of Quebec, there had been trouble between the French and the Iroquois. In spite of this bad beginning, the French had later done their best to make friends with the powerful confederacy. They had sent to them devoted missionaries, many of whom met the martyr's reward of torture and massacre. But the opposing influence of the English, with whom the Iroquois chiefly traded, proved too strong.

With the Iroquois hostile, it was too dangerous for the French to travel inland by way of Lake Ontario. They had, it is true, a shorter and, indeed, a better route farther north, by way of the Ottawa River and Lake Nipissing to Lake Huron. In time, however, the Iroquois made even this route unsafe. Their power was far-reaching and their ambition limitless. They aimed to be masters of North America. Like all virile but backward peoples, they believed themselves superior to every other race. Their orators declared that the fate of the world was to turn on their policy.

On Frontenac's return to Canada he had a stormy inheritance in confronting the Iroquois. They had real grievances against France. Devonvine, Frontenac's predecessor, had met their treachery by treachery of his own. Louis XIV had found that these lusty savages made excellent galley slaves and had ordered Denonville to secure a supply in Canada. In consequence the Frenchman seized even friendly Iroquois and sent them over seas to France. The savages in retaliation exacted a fearful vengeance in the butchery of French colonists. The bloodiest story in the annals of Canada is the massacre at Lachine, a village a few miles above Montreal. On the night of August 4, 1689, fourteen hundred Iroquois burst in on the village and a wild orgy of massacre followed. All Canada was in a panic. Some weeks later Frontenac arrived at Quebec and took command. To the old soldier, now in his seventieth year, his hard task was not uncongenial. He had fought the savage Iroquois before and the no less savage Turk. He belonged to that school of military action which knows no scruple in its methods, and he was prepared to make war with all the frightfulness practiced by the savages themselves. His resolute, blustering demeanor was well fitted to impress the red men of the forest, for an imperious eye will sometimes cow an Indian as well as a lion, and Frontenac's mien was imperious. In his life in court and camp he had learned how to command.

The English in New York had professed to be brothers to the Iroquois and had called them by that name. This title of equality, however, Frontenac would not yield. Kings speak of "my people"; Frontenac spoke to the Indians not as his brothers but as his children and as children of the great King whom he served. He was their father, their protector, the disposer and controller of mighty reserves of power, who loved and cared for those putting their trust in him. He could unbend to play with their children and give presents to their squaws. At times he seemed patient, gentle, and forgiving. At times, too, he swaggered and boasted in terms which the event did not always justify.

La Potherie, a cultivated Frenchman in Canada during Frontenac's regime, describes an amazing scene at Montreal, which seems to show that, whether Frontenac recognized the title or not, he had qualities which made him the real brother of the savages. In 1690 Huron and other Indian allies of the French had come from the far interior to trade and also to consider the eternal question of checking the Iroquois. At the council, which began with grave decorum, a Huron orator begged the French to make no terms with the Iroquois. Frontenac answered in the high tone which he could so well assume. He would fight them until they should humbly crave peace; he would make with them no treaty except in concert with his Indian allies, whom he would never fail in fatherly care. To impress the council by the reality of his oneness with the Indians, Frontenac now seized a tomahawk and brandished it in the air shouting at the same time the Indian war-song. The whole assembly, French and Indians, joined in a wild orgy of war passion, and the old man of seventy, fresh from the court of Louis XIV, led in the war-dance, yelled with the Indians their savage war-whoops, danced round the circle of the council, and showed himself in spirit a brother of the wildest of them. This was good diplomacy. The savages swore to make war to the end under his lead. Many a frontier outrage, many a village attacked in the dead of night and burned, amidst bloody massacre of its few toil-worn settlers, was to be the result of that strange mingling of Europe with wild America.

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