Chronicles of America 

The March of Nicholson Against Port Royal

It was only an occasional spirit in Massachusetts who made comprehensive political plans. One of these was Samuel Vetch, a man somewhat different from the usual type of New England leader, for he was not of English but of Scottish origin, of the Covenanter strain. Vetch, himself an adventurous trader, had taken a leading part in the ill-fated Scottish attempt to found on the Isthmus of Panama a colony, which, in easy touch with both the Pacific and the Atlantic, should carry on a gigantic commerce between the East and the West. The colony failed, chiefly, perhaps, because Spain would not have this intrusion into territory which she claimed. Tropical disease and the disunion and incompetence of the colonists themselves were Spain's allies in the destruction. After this, Vetch had found his way to Boston, where he soon became prominent. In 1707 Scotland and England were united under one Parliament, and the active mind of Vetch was occupied with something greater than a Scottish colony at Panama. Queen Anne, Vetch was resolved, should be "Sole Empress of the vast North American Continent." Massachusetts was ready for just such a cry. The General Court took up eagerly the plan of Vetch. The scheme required help from England and the other colonies. To England Vetch went in 1708. Marlborough had just won the great victory of Oudenarde. It was good, the English ministry thought, to hit France wherever she raised her head. In the spring of 1709 Vetch returned to Boston with promises of powerful help at once for an attack on Canada, and with the further promise that, the victory won, he himself should be the first British Governor of Canada. New York was to help with nine hundred men. Other remoter colonies were to aid on a smaller scale. These contingents were to attack Canada by way of Lake Champlain. Twelve hundred men from New England were to join the regulars from England and go against Quebec by way of the sea and master Canada once for all.

The plan was similar to the one which Amherst and Wolfe carried to success exactly fifty years later, and with a Wolfe in command it might now have succeeded. The troops from England were to be at Boston before the end of May, 1709. The colonial forces gathered. New Jersey and Pennsylvania refused, indeed, to send any soldiers; but New York and the other colonies concerned did their full share. By the early summer Colonel Francis Nicholson, with some fifteen hundred men, lay fully equipped in camp on Wood Creek near Lake Champlain, ready to descend on Montreal as soon as news came of the arrival of the British fleet at Boston for the attack on Quebec. On the shores of Boston harbor lay another colonial army, large for the time--the levies from New England which were to sail to Quebec. Officers had come out from England to drill these hardy men, and as soldiers they were giving a good account of themselves. They watched, fasted, and prayed, and watched again for the fleet from England. Summer came and then autumn and still the fleet did not arrive. Far away, in the crowded camp on Wood Creek, pestilence broke out and as time wore on this army slowly melted away either by death or withdrawal. At last, on October 11, 1709, word came from the British ministry, dated the 27th of July, two months after the promised fleet was to arrive at Boston, that it had been sent instead to Portugal.

In spite of this disappointment the resolution endured to conquer Canada. New York joined New England in sending deputations to London to ask again for help. Four Mohawk chiefs went with Peter Schuyler from New York and were the wonder of the day in London. It is something to have a plan talked about. Malplaquet, the last of Marlborough's great victories, had been won in the autumn of 1709 and the thought of a new enterprise was popular. Nicholson, who had been sent from Boston, urged that the first step should be to take Port Royal. What the colonies required for this expedition was the aid of four frigates and five hundred soldiers who should reach Boston by March.

The help arrived, though not in March but in July, 1710. Boston was filled with enthusiasm for the enterprise. The legislature made military service compulsory, quartered soldiers in private houses without consent of the owners, impressed sailors, and altogether was quite arbitrary and high-handed. The people, however, would bear almost anything if only they could crush Port Royal, the den of privateers who seized many New England vessels. On the 18th of September, to the great joy of Boston, the frigates and the transports sailed away, with Nicholson in command of the troops and Vetch as adjutant-general.

What we know today as Digby Basin on the east side of the Bay of Fundy, is a great harbor, landlocked but for a narrow entrance about a mile wide. Through this "gut," as it is called, the tide rushes in a torrential and dangerous stream, but soon loses its violence in the spacious and quiet harbor. Here the French had made their first enduring colony in America. On the shores of the beautiful basin the fleurs-de-lis had been raised over a French fort as early as 1605. A lovely valley opens from the head of the basin to the interior. It is now known as the Annapolis Valley, a fertile region dotted by the homesteads of a happy and contented people. These people, however, are not French in race nor do they live under a French Government. When on the 24th of September, 1710, the fleet from Boston entered the basin, and in doing so lost a ship and more than a score of men through the destructive current, the decisive moment had come for all that region. Fate had decreed that the land should not remain French but should become English.

Port Royal was at that time a typical French community of the New World. The village consisted of some poor houses made of logs or planks, a wooden church, and, lying apart, a fort defended by earthworks. The Governor, Subercase, was a brave French officer. He ruled the little community with a despotism tempered only by indignant protests to the King from those whom he ruled when his views and theirs did not coincide. The peasants in the village counted for nothing. Connected with the small garrison there were ladies and gentlemen who had no light opinion of their own importance and were so peppery that Subercase wished he had a madhouse in which to confine some of them. He thought well of the country. It produced, he said, everything that France produced except olives. The fertile land promised abundance of grain and there was an inexhaustible supply of timber. There were many excellent harbors. Had he a million livres, he would, he said, invest it gladly in the country and be certain of a good return. His enthusiasm had produced, however, no answering enthusiasm at Versailles, for there the interests of Port Royal were miserably neglected. Yet it was a thorn in the flesh of the English. In 1708 privateers from Port Royal had destroyed no less than thirty-five English vessels, chiefly from Boston, and had carried to the fort four hundred and seventy prisoners. Even in winter months French ships would flit out of Port Royal and bring in richly laden prizes. Can we wonder at Boston's deep resolve that now at last the pest should end!

It was an imposing force which sailed into the basin. The four frigates and thirty transports carried an army far greater than Subercase had thought possible. The English landed some fourteen hundred men. Subercase had less than three hundred. Within a few days, when the English began to throw shells into the town, he asked for terms. On the 16th of October the little garrison, neglected by France and left ragged and half-starved, marched out with drums beating and colors flying. The English, drawn up before the gate, showed the usual honors to a brave foe. The French flag was hauled down and in its place floated that of Britain. Port Royal was renamed Annapolis and Vetch was made its Governor. Three times before had the English come to Port Royal as conquerors and then gone away, but now they were to remain. Ever since that October day, when autumn was coloring the abundant foliage of the lovely harbor, the British flag has waved over Annapolis. Because the flag waved there it was destined to wave over all Acadia, or Nova Scotia, and with Acadia in time went Canada.

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