26: Part 2: Chapter XVI
<< 25: Part 2: Chapter XV || 27: Part 2: Chapter XVII >>
The first care of the new Company was to succor Québec, 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 Québec, 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 Québec 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 Québec, 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.
Québec was incapable of defence. 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 Québec. 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 Québec 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 Québec, and after his victory
employed himself in cruising for French fishing-vessels along the
borders of the Gulf.
Meanwhile, the suffering at Québec 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, Québec was on the verge of
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 Québec.
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 Québec 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." His fevered mind, acting on his diseased body,
often excited him to transports of fury, in which he cursed
indiscriminately the people of St. Malo, against whom he had a grudge,
and the Jesuits, whom he detested. On one occasion, Kirke was conversing
with some of the latter.
"Gentlemen," he said, "your business in Canada was to enjoy what
belonged to M. de Caen, whom you dispossessed."
"Pardon me, sir," answered Brebeuf, "we came purely for the glory of
God, and exposed ourselves to every kind of danger to convert the
Here Michel broke in: "Ay, ay, convert the Indians! You mean, convert
"That is false!" retorted Brebeuf.
Michel raised his fist, exclaiming, "But for the respect I owe the
General, I would strike you for giving me the lie."
Brebeuf, a man of powerful frame and vehement passions, nevertheless
regained his practised self-command, and replied: "You must excuse me. I
did not mean to give you the lie. I should be very sorry to do so. The
words I used are those we use in the schools when a doubtful question is
advanced, and they mean no offence. Therefore I ask you to pardon me."
Despite the apology, Michel's frenzied brain harped the presumed insult,
and he raved about it without ceasing.
"Bon Dieu!" said Champlain, "you swear well for a Reformer!"
"I know it," returned Michel; "I should be content if I had but struck
that Jesuit who gave me the lie before my General."
At length, one of his transports of rage ended in a lethargy from which
he never awoke. His funeral was conducted with a pomp suited to his
rank; and, amid discharges of cannon whose dreary roar was echoed from
the yawning gulf of the Saguenay, his body was borne to its rest under
the rocks of Tadoussac. Good Catholics and good Frenchmen saw in his
fate the immediate finger of Providence. "I do not doubt that his soul
is in perdition," remarks Champlain, who, however, had endeavored to
befriend the unfortunate man during the access of his frenzy.
Having finished their carousings, which were profuse, and their trade
with the Indians, which was not lucrative, the English steered down the
St. Lawrence. Kirke feared greatly a meeting with Razilly, a naval
officer of distinction, who was to have sailed from France with a strong
force to succor Québec; but, peace having been proclaimed, the
expedition had been limited to two ships under Captain Daniel. Thus
Kirke, wilfully ignoring the treaty of peace, was left to pursue his
depredations unmolested. Daniel, however, though too weak to cope with
him, achieved a signal exploit. On the island of Cape Breton, near the
site of Louisburg, he found an English fort, built two months before,
under the auspices, doubtless, of Sir William Alexander. Daniel,
regarding it as a bold encroachment on French territory, stormed it at
the head of his pike-men, entered sword in hand, and took it with all
Meanwhile, Kirke with his prisoners was crossing the Atlantic. His
squadron at length reached Plymouth, whence Champlain set out for
London. Here he had an interview with the French ambassador, who, at his
instance, gained from the King a promise, that, in pursuance of the
terms of the treaty concluded in the previous April, New France should
be restored to the French Crown.
It long remained a mystery why Charles consented to a stipulation which
pledged him to resign so important a conquest. The mystery is explained
by the recent discovery of a letter from the King to Sir Isaac Wake, his
ambassador at Paris. The promised dowry of Queen Henrietta Maria,
amounting to eight hundred thousand crowns, had been but half paid by
the French government, and Charles, then at issue with his Parliament,
and in desperate need of money, instructs his ambassador, that, when he
receives the balance due, and not before, he is to give up to the French
both Québec and Port Royal, which had also been captured by Kirke. The
letter was accompanied by "solemn instruments under our hand and seal"
to make good the transfer on fulfillment of the condition. It was for a
sum equal to about two hundred and forty thousand dollars that Charles
entailed on Great Britain and her colonies a century of bloody wars. The
Kirkes and their associates, who had made the conquest at their own
cost, under the royal authority, were never reimbursed, though David
Kirke received the honor of knighthood, which cost the King nothing.
<< 25: Part 2: Chapter XV || 27: Part 2: Chapter XVII >>