Chronicles of America 

The French Entrenchment at Louisburg

In America both sides had long seen that the war was inevitable. Never had French opinion been more arrogant in asserting France's right to North America than after the Treaty of Utrecht. At the dinner-table of the Governor in Quebec there was incessant talk of Britain's incapacity, of the sheer luck by which she had blundered into the occupation of great areas, while in truth she was weak through lack of union and organization. A natural antipathy, it was said, existed between her colonies and herself; she was a monarchy while they were really independent republics. France, on the other hand, had grown stronger since the last war. In 1713 she had retained the island of Cape Breton and now she had made it a new menace to British power. Boston, which had breathed more freely after the fall of Port Royal in 1710, soon had renewed cause for alarm in regard to its shipping. On the southern coast of Cape Breton, there was a spacious harbor with a narrow entrance easily fortified, and here France began to build the fortress of Louisbourg. It was planned on the most approved military principles of the time. Through its strength, the boastful talk went, France should master North America. The King sent out cannon, undertook to build a hospital, to furnish chaplains for the service of the Church, to help education, and so on. Above all, he sent to Louisbourg soldiers.

Reports of these wonderful things reached the English colonies and caused fears and misgivings. New England believed that Louisbourg reflected the pomp and wealth of Versailles. The fortress was, in truth, slow in building and never more than a rather desolate outpost of France. It contained in all about four thousand people. During the thirty years of the long truce it became so strong that it was without a rival on the Atlantic coast. The excellent harbor was a haven for the fishermen of adjacent waters and a base for French privateers, who were a terror to all the near trade routes of the Atlantic. On the military side Louisbourg seemed a success. But the French failed in their effort to colonize the island of Cape Breton on which the fortress stood. Today this island has great iron and other industries. There are coal-mines near Louisbourg; and its harbor, long deserted after the fall of the power of France, has now an extensive commerce. The island was indeed fabulously rich in coals and minerals. To use these things, however, was to be the task of a new age of industry. The colonist of the eighteenth century--a merchant, a farmer, or a fur trader--thought that Cape Breton was bleak and infertile and refused to settle there. Louisbourg remained a compact fortress with a good harbor, free from ice during most of the year, but too much haunted by fog. It looked out on a much-traveled sea. But it remained set in the wilderness.

Even if Louisbourg made up for the loss of Port Royal, this did not, however, console France for the cession of Acadia. The fixed idea of those who shaped the policy of Canada was to recover Acadia and meanwhile to keep its French settlers loyal to France. The Acadians were not a promising people with whom to work. In Acadia, or Nova Scotia, as the English called it, these backward people had slowly gathered during a hundred years and had remained remote and neglected. They had cleared farms, built primitive houses, planted orchards, and reared cattle. In 1713 their number did not exceed two or three thousand, but already they were showing the amazing fertility of the French race in America. They were prosperous but ignorant. Almost none of them could read. After the cession of their land to Britain in 1713 they had been guaranteed by treaty the free exercise of their religion and they were Catholics to a man. It seems as if history need hardly mention a people so feeble and obscure. Circumstances, however, made the role of the Acadians important. Their position was unique. The Treaty of Utrecht gave them the right to leave Acadia within a year, taking with them their personal effects. To this Queen Anne added the just privilege of selling their lands and houses. Neither the Acadians themselves, however, nor their new British masters were desirous that they should leave. The Acadians were content in their old homes; and the British did not wish them to help in building up the neighboring French stronghold on Cape Breton. It thus happened that the French officials could induce few of the Acadians to migrate and the English troubled them little. Having been resolute in acquiring Nova Scotia, Britain proceeded straightway to neglect it. She brought in few settlers. She kept there less than two hundred soldiers and even to these she paid so little attention that sometimes they had no uniforms. The Acadians prospered, multiplied, and quarreled as to the boundaries of their lands. They rendered no military service, paid no taxes, and had the country to themselves as completely as if there had been no British conquest. They rarely saw a British official. If they asked the British Governor at Annapolis to settle for them some vexed question of rights or ownership he did so and they did not even pay a fee.

This is not, however, the whole story. England's neglect of the colony was France's opportunity. Perhaps the French court did not follow closely what was going on in Acadia. The successive French Governors of Canada at Quebec were, however, alert; and their policy was to incite the Abenaki Indians on the New England frontier to harass the English settlements, and to keep the Acadians an active factor in the support of French plans. The nature of French intrigue is best seen in the career of Sebastien Rale. He was a highly educated Jesuit priest. It was long a tradition among the Jesuits to send some of their best men as missionaries among the Indians. Rale spent nearly the whole of his life with the Abenakis at the mission station of Norridgewock on the Kennebec River. He knew the language and the customs of the Indians, attended their councils, and dominated them by his influence. He was a model missionary, earnest and scholarly. But the Jesuit of that age was prone to be half spiritual zealot, half political intriguer. There is no doubt that the Indians had a genuine fear that the English, with danger from France apparently removed by the Treaty of Utrecht, would press claims to lands about the Kennebec River in what is now the State of Maine, and that they would ignore the claims of the Indians and drive them out. The Governor at Quebec helped to arouse the savages against the arrogant intruders. English border ruffians stirred the Indians by their drunken outrages and gave them real cause for anger. The savages knew only one way of expressing political unrest. They began murdering women and children in raids on lonely log cabins on the frontier. The inevitable result was that in 1721 Massachusetts began a war on them which dragged on for years. Rale, inspired from Quebec, was believed to control the Indians and, indeed, boasted that he did so. At last the English struck at the heart of the trouble. In 1724 some two hundred determined men made a silent advance through the forest to the mission village of Norridgewock where Rale lived, and Rale died fighting the assailants. In Europe a French Jesuit such as he would have worked among diplomats and at the luxurious courts of kings. In America he worked among savages under the hard conditions of frontier life. The methods and the aims in both cases were the same--by subtle and secret influence so to mold the actions of men that France should be exalted in power. In their high politics the French sometimes overreached themselves. To seize points of vantage, to intrigue for influence, are not in themselves creative. They must be supported by such practical efforts as will assure an economic reserve adequate in the hour of testing. France failed partly because she did not know how to lay sound industrial foundations which should give substance to the brilliant planning of her leaders.

To French influence of this kind the English opposed forces that were the outcome of their national character and institutions. They were keener traders than the French and had cheaper and better goods, with the exception perhaps of French gunpowder and of French brandy, which the Indians preferred to English rum. Though the English were less alert and less brilliant than the French, the work that they did was more enduring. Their settlements encroached ever more and more upon the forest. They found and tilled the good lands, traded and saved and gradually built up populous communities. The British colonies had twenty times the population of Canada. The tide of their power crept in slowly but it moved with the relentless force that has subsequently made nearly the whole of North America English in speech and modes of thought.

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