Canada: Peeps at History - Beatrice Home

A Half-Century of Conflict Between New France and the English Colonies

With the death of Count Frontenac the Five Nations ceased to cause any anxiety to New France. But rivalry with the English colonies led to almost continuous strife during the first half of the eighteenth century. In this conflict the savage tribes were used as allies by both European Powers.

It was the misfortune of France that her explorers were too daring. They ventured far into the unknown continent and annexed vast territories, greatly beyond the power of the colony to maintain. Had the French been content to develop quietly the land which they had first discovered, and to have filled it with a sturdy population, they would in all probability have retained their hold upon Canada to this day.

During Frontenac's Governorship of Canada, the Mississippi had been discovered. Father Marquette, accompanied by Jolliet, a Canadian trader, were the first white men to paddle their canoes along the muddy stream of the "Great Water." They only got as far as the Arkansas River, for, finding that the main stream was leading due south, and therefore would not reach the Pacific Ocean, as they had hoped, they turned back to tell of their wonderful discovery. Nine years later, in 1682, the intrepid La Salle, whose name stands high on the roll of explorers, traversed the whole length of the Mississippi, reaching its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. All the enormous tract of country watered by the Mississippi and its tributaries was annexed by France under the name of Louisiana.

La Salle's fate was a tragic one. He went to France in 1684, told the King of his important discovery, and started off the same year with a considerable expedition to found a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. Misled by fogs, the colonists were landed far to the west of the intended site, and had to endure great suffering as they toiled through swamps and endless prairies in a wild effort to reach Canada by land. Heroic in enduring suffering himself, La Salle seems to have demanded the same from his followers. They rebelled against his stern measures, formed a plot, and murdered their bold leader, who thus pitiably ended a life full of ceaseless adventure and tireless energy.

From the time of La Salle's discovery, it was the aim of the French to keep the English behind the range of the Alleghanies, to allow them no entrance into the interior of the continent, but to confine them to the narrow strip of eastern coast. By spreading their frontier over such a vast area, the French weakened their forces. The scheme was a great one, too great to be fulfilled.

War broke out in Europe in 1682 over the succession to the Spanish throne. England and Austria objected to the grandson of Louis XIV. becoming King of Spain, fearing that the union of the two countries would mean French supremacy. The trouble in Europe was naturally reflected in America, though the warfare was petty in comparison with the great campaigns of Marlborough.

Port Royal during this war fell once again, never to be restored to France. The English Commander, Colonel Nicholson, changed its name to Annapolis Royal, in honour of Queen Anne, who then sat upon the English throne.

An attempt was also made against Quebec, which ended in a disastrous failure. Fifteen battleships, under the command of Admiral Walker, having on board some of Marlborough's victorious troops, left England for the St. Lawrence. Unfortunately Walker had no skill as a commander, and, through his scorn of the pilot's warnings, allowed eight vessels of his fine fleet to become total wrecks upon the rocks at the entrance of the river. After this great loss the expedition sailed home ingloriously.

Meanwhile England had been victorious in Europe, and at the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, obtained many concessions in America. France gave up Acadie, Newfoundland, and the Hudson Bay Territory to the English, who thus showed for the first time their increasing strength in the New World.

Yet France, though England had gained in prestige, had a great future before her. The two great rivers of the continent were hers. Cape Breton Island guarded the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the whole West lay open to her through the Great Lakes. A fort had been erected at Detroit, between Lakes Huron and Erie, by which communication was kept up between Canada and Louisiana.

With the thirty years of peace that followed the Treaty of Utrecht, Canada progressed steadily. The fur-trade—the chief source of wealth—increased, but shipbuilding and the manufacture of hemp and flax began to occupy a considerable number of the inhabitants. Unfortunately, the population grew very slowly. Quebec contained 7,000 people, a little less than half the entire population of the colony.

During this period of progress the knowledge of the Far West also grew. A settlement had been made in 1731 near Lake Winnipeg, on the site of the flourishing city of that name. Some adventurous explorers discovered the Missouri in 1742, and, continuing up its broad stream, had seen the Rocky Mountains.

The War of the Austrian Succession broke the peace in 1744. The Emperor, Charles VI., having no son, obtained the consent of the European Powers to the succession of his daughter, Maria Theresa, to the throne of Austria, in spite of the Salic Law, which prevailed in the country. But on his death France, Spain, and Bavaria withdrew their sanction, leaving the young Empress surrounded by foes. England came to her assistance, partly from a sense of chivalry, and partly to protect her colonies from the greed of France and Spain.

In America an attempt was at once made to recapture Acadie. Annapolis was stormed, but, owing to the courage and resourcefulness of its Governor, it resisted all the efforts of the French, who gave up the siege in disgust.

[Illustration] from Peeps at History - Canada by Beatrice Home


The chief event of the war was the capture of Louisbourg by the New Englanders in 1745. Louisbourg had been built by the French on Cape Breton Island, after they had lost Acadie. No money was spared to make the place absolutely invincible, its position being regarded as the key to the St. Lawrence. Vauban, the great French engineer, designed the fortifications.

Yet this strong fortress fell to the untrained men of New England, led by a commander who had had no previous military experience. Shirley, the Governor of Massachusetts, was responsible for the brilliant, not to say reckless, scheme. Four British battleships, under the command of Commodore Warren, assisted William Pepperell, who led the New England army. In spite of a brave resistance on the part of the French, the town was captured. Nothing could resist the boyish enthusiasm of the New Englanders, who had pushed on the siege with tireless activity.

Bitter was the humiliation of the French at the loss of Louisbourg. A great fleet, under the Duke d'Anville, was sent out to recapture it. Storms scattered the fleet, which, after a series of disasters, returned unsuccessfully to France. Another expedition was rapidly equipped, but it had not left Europe, on its way to America, before it was destroyed, off Cape Finisterre, by an English fleet.

Much to the indignation of New England, Louisbourg was restored to France at the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. So important was the fortress regarded, that France had readily given up her conquests in Europe and India in exchange for it.

The Governors of Canada found the vast territory over which they ruled a very serious responsibility. English traders were carrying goods up and down the valley of the Ohio, and if once they were allowed to get any hold over the country, they would cut off Louisiana from Canada. Therefore the Marquis de la Galissoniere, the Governor-General in 1749, sent Celeron de Bienville, a colonial officer, with a small force to fix a boundary line beyond which the English were not to advance. Once the boundary was decided, it was to be guarded by a series of forts, Celeron de Bienville drew a line all round the valley of the Ohio, marking it by nailing a sheet of tin with the arms of France to a tree, and burying underneath it a leaden plate, proclaiming Louis XV. as the owner' of the land.

[Illustration] from Peeps at History - Canada by Beatrice Home

Ever since the acquisition of Acadie in 1713 England had tried to gain the loyalty of the people. Her Governors showed great patience and forbearance. Those Acadians who wished to leave were given time to do so, while those who remained were allowed free exercise of their religion, provided they took an oath of allegiance to King George. Had it not been for the persistent efforts of the French priests, backed up by the rulers of Canada, the people would no doubt have soon settled down under the English Government. Abbe Le Loutre, the Vicar-General of Acadie, fanned the hatred of the Acadians to the English by his own fierce fanaticism. Anyone who wavered was refused the offices of the Church, till the poor superstitious people meekly obeyed the dictates of the priests, who forbade allegiance to the English.

There was scarcely any English population in Acadie until 1749, when the town of Halifax was founded. Over two thousand colonists were sent out, and before the winter closed in a well-built town had arisen on Chebucto Harbour, on the southern coast of the peninsula.

Disputes were constantly arising concerning the boundary-line of Acadie. Before it became English the French had placed the frontier much west of New Brunswick, but when they lost it, they declared that Acadie was confined to the peninsula, and that the Missiguash River, on the isthmus of Chignecto, was the true boundary. Two forts faced one another across the marshy stream—Fort Beausejour on the French side, and Fort Lawrence on the English.

The unhappy Acadians were torn between two masters. Their priests ordered them to remain loyal to France, under severe penalties, while the English governors urged them to take the oath of allegiance to King George. When the secret influences to which they were exposed at last roused the Acadians, it led to hostilities at the frontier. Then Governor Lawrence called the Acadians together and tried to persuade them to take the oath. Though he told them that this time they must decide between loyalty and banishment, they had had so much experience of English toleration that they relied upon it once too often.

[Illustration] from Peeps at History - Canada by Beatrice Home


Inspired by their spiritual teacher, Le Loutre, the Micmac Indians attacked English colonists in Acadie, having been supplied with powder and ammunition by the French in Canada. A dastardly deed of treachery was committed by these Indians, though Le Loutre denied all knowledge of the affair. Among the officers at Fort Lawrence was a Captain Howe, who had, by his influence over the Acadians, won the dislike of Le Loutre. He was lured out of the fort by the appearance of a French officer—really an Indian in disguise—waving a flag of truce. Howe, with a few others, went out to meet him, when a number of Indians sprang from hiding and fired upon Howe. His companions picked up their dying leader, and succeeded in getting back to the fort amidst the fire of the Indians.

This perpetual danger from both the inhabitants of Acadie, and the French beyond the border, could no longer be endured. Fort Beausejour was blockaded, and fell an easy victim, owing to the cowardice of Vergor, its Governor.

Exile of Acadians


Then followed the sad banishment of the Acadians in 1755. English troops suddenly surrounded their towns and villages, and a proclamation was read to them, announcing that, after fifty years of indulgence, the King ordered their immediate removal, with all their household goods, out of the country. Six thousand people were exiled from their homes, going down in sad little family groups to the ships that were to convey them to New England. Some of the exiles made their way into Canada; others travelled into Louisiana; and some eventually got back to their beloved Acadie, where they were allowed to remain. The English, in expelling the Acadians, had been prompted by no desire for their lands, since some years elapsed before the deserted farms of the misguided Acadians were occupied by English colonists.

While these events had been taking place in Acadie, history was moving in the Ohio Valley. The Marquis Duquesne, then Governor of Canada, sent an expedition to build forts along the boundary marked out by Celeron de Bienville. The Indians, hitherto more or less friendly to the English, were won over by the French, and vowed fidelity to them.

Naturally the English colonies became alarmed at this encroachment of their rivals. A race, to see who could be the first to build forts, was begun. The English built one at the junction of the Monongahela with the Alleghany River, on the site of the present city of Pittsburg. Unfortunately they left it insufficiently garrisoned, so that it was easily taken by the French, who rebuilt it, calling it Fort Duquesne.

All this time peace was nominally maintained, but both England and France winked at the warlike operations in America. Two English regiments were sent out from England under General Braddock. It was agreed at the council of colonial governors that Forts Duquesne, Niagara, and Crown Point (on Lake Champlain), were to be seized. Braddock led the expedition against Fort Duquesne, his troops consisting of 1,000 regulars and 1,200 Virginia militia. He was a man ill-fitted for his post, for, though personally brave and honest, he relied too much upon the regular troops, having a very mean opinion of the capacity of the colonials, who were trained to bush warfare.

As the English army was marching through the woods a few miles from Fort Duquesne, they were set upon suddenly by the French and Indians, who were swarming all round them. Conspicuous in their scarlet and blue, the English soldiers made a splendid mark for their unseen foes. The Virginian militia, understanding the Indian tactics, spread out, and fought from behind trees. But Braddock, regarding this as cowardly, ordered them back into line. Confusion and panic reigned among the crowded mass of men, who could see nothing at which to fire. When nearly 900 men lay dead or dying, Braddock gave the order to retreat. He himself was mortally wounded as he was striving to keep his men from a headlong flight. Four days later, when he lay dying, he was heard to murmur: "We shall know better how to deal with them another time." He was buried in the road, the whole army passing over his grave that the Indians might not discover it.

No great credit is due to the French for this victory. It was almost entirely won by the Indians, who suffered the most loss. Only about twenty Frenchmen were among the killed and wounded.