Read Canada Under Attack Online

Authors: Jennifer Crump

Tags: #JNF000000, #JNF025000

Canada Under Attack (3 page)

D'Iberville arrived at Ferryland to find that De Brouillan had already been there. His ships had set up a continual bombardment until the settlers begged for a truce,

[S]even sail of French ships of war and two fire ships landed about seven hundred men in Ferryland and attacked us on every side and after what resistance we could make against them (they being too many in number and too strong for us) we were forced to submit. And, for as much as we, your Majesty's most obedient and faithful subjects and petitioners, refused to take an oath of fidelity to the French king and take up arms against your most gracious Majesty, the said enemy dealt very hardly with us, and burnt all our houses, household goods, fish, oil, train vats, stages, boats, nets, and all our fishing craft to the value of twelve thousand pounds sterling [£12,000] and above and sent us away with our wives, children and servants, which are in number about 150 persons, who (through the mercy of God) are all safe arrived in this kingdom, although by reason of our said great loss reduced to great poverty and not able to subsist with our families without relief.

By the time D'Iberville arrived, the village was virtually abandoned; all of the able-bodied men had gone to Bay Bulls to rebuild a fort there in anticipation of the French invasion. All who remained were those unable to travel: women, children, and old men, and they were all terrified. They believed that D'Iberville's men were capable of all kinds of savagery and they expected the worst. One woman reportedly threw herself into the sea when she saw the French approach.
The English settlers had every reason to be terrified. Over the next few months D'Iberville's conquest of the English coast would rival that of some of the world's most infamous and savage conquerors.

De Brouillan and his ships had already left to shell communities farther up the coast. Within days of arriving at Ferryland, D'Iberville and his men set out on the three hour march to Bay Bulls. The settlement offered scant resistance but a few days later D'Iberville's troops were ambushed by a small group of settlers just outside of Petty Harbour. Although they were poorly armed and lacked military leadership or training, the settlers held the French off for more than an hour. Before it was over, the English had lost nearly half of their men. After securing the prisoners, D'Iberville continued his march overland to Petty Harbour. After a brief skirmish, it too fell to the French. While these battles raged, a steady stream of terrified refugees had poured into St. John's, the English capital. Although lightly armed and without adequate provisions, they refused to surrender. D'Iberville was unperturbed and decided to provide the citizens with a little more incentive to give up the battle. “Seeing the inhabitants were about to defend themselves,” wrote Baudoin, “we sent to Bay Boulle for the mortars and bombs and powder. On the night of the 29th and 30th MM. de Mins and de Montigny went with sixty Canadians to burn the houses near the fort.”
For three days, the citizens remained locked within the city walls, defying the French attackers. Then the French captured a hapless colonist by the name of William Drew. Holding him down, they ripped his scalp from his forehead to the nape of his neck and then sent it into the English fort with a warning that they would do the same to every Englishman there if they did not soon surrender.

This had the effect that D'Iberville was looking for,

The 30th, the day of St. Andrew, a man came from the fort with a white flag, to speak of surrender. Afterwards the Governor with four of the principal citizens came for an interview. They would not allow us to enter the fort, lest we should see the miserable plight to which they were reduced. It was agreed they should surrender on condition of being allowed to depart for England. The capitulation was brought in writing to the fort, and approved of by the principal citizens and signed by the Governor and M. de Brouillon.

Once the city had offered terms, D'Iberville quickly burnt it to the ground. As he had promised, he did send the citizens back to Britain but he forced all 224 men, women, and children to crowd onto a single tiny ship. The crossing, made in the dead of winter, must have been horrific for those aboard. Most would never return to Newfoundland. If they had, they would have found that the large, so phisticated settlement they had once called home had been completely destroyed.

The English capital on the great rock was no more. It seemed to be the end of English rule on the Atlantic seaboard. Indeed, as the British Board of Trade informed their king, William III, the French were masters of the entire island.

Master or not, D'Iberville was not yet finished. His orders had been to drive every Englishman from Newfoundland, and he was determined to do so. He dispatched small raiding parties to wreak terror across the remaining outposts of the English colony. No hamlet or cove — no matter how tiny and insignificant — was spared. His men burned, looted, and took prisoners, expelling every English man, woman, and child they encountered. In just four short months, D'Iberville destroyed 36 settlements. Only two managed to defy him: Bonavista and Carbonear Island. Of the latter, Baudoin wrote,

Around 9am we also left in five shallops for Carbonear. Passing in front of the point of the island of Carbonear, we saw the enemy lined up in great numbers. They fired a few canon shots at us. On this island were the people of Carbonear, of Harbour Grace, of Mosquito Cove, of other little harbours, and the refugees from St. John's. They seem to be about 200 men, already lodged in barracks which they have made since they started worrying we would come … We cannot attack unless we are insane, unless we have more than 200 men. “The abbé continued, somewhat ominously,” Besides which, there are still many other places to take.

But tiny Carbonear proved to be D'Iberville's undoing. When he left for France, still unable to take the island, the English Navy finally arrived, spurred to action by the report given to them by the English Board of Trade. New English forts were constructed and a significant military presence was permanently garrisoned on the island. By the spring of 1697, 1,500 British troops were guarding the island. The settlers were slowly enticed to return and in less than 12 years the population of the island exceeded what it had been when D'Iberville invaded.

Forts on Hudson Bay.

By that time, D'Iberville's attention had return to Canada's northern bays. He made one last, spectacular attempt to invade the James Bay coast, heading north on a perilous journey at the head of a flotilla of French ships. A deep fog settled on the Hudson Straight and D'Iberville's ship, the
, became separated from the rest of the fleet. He found himself surrounded by three English warships. D'Iberville knew that it was imperative that he prevent any English ships from reinforcing the English forts in the bay, so rather than attempting to flee the ponderous English vessels, he fired upon them. In the resulting firefight, D'Iberville managed to sink one of the English vessels and capture a second, which sank soon after. The third ship fled. By then the
was also sinking from damage caused by the English ships. D'Iberville managed to unload his ship just before it sank and just as the other ships from the French fleet arrived. Over the next few days the French and English engaged in several lively battles, but in the end the English governor surrendered to D'Iberville. As D'Iberville sailed out of the Bay for the last time, leaving it confidently in the hands of the French, a treaty was already being hammered out by representatives from Britain and France in the Dutch town of Ryswick. The treaty ignored what D'Iberville had achieved, giving Fort Albany and Hudson Bay to the British and the lower James Bay to the French.


The French and English were still battling for supremacy on the east coast almost 50 years later. The French had Louisbourg but the English had their New Englanders. The latter were just as determined to remove the French presence from the Atlantic coast as D'Iberville had once been to remove the English.

On the cloudy, moonless night of May 10, 1744, the English found their opportunity. Darkness had fallen early and as it did a motley collection of fishing boats, bateaux, and small merchant ships slipped their moorings outside of Canso, Nova Scotia. On board were a ragtag collection of would-be soldiers: students, clerks, and farm boys seeking adventure; and adventurers seeking booty. Few of the men had any military experience and though there were cannons on board, there were no trained gunners to man them. Fuelled by rivalry, revenge, and religion, the men headed toward Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, to capture the fortress and force the French Catholics out of the colonies.

Many people, including most of the colonists who had volunteered, considered the invasion a fool's errand. The fort was widely considered to be impenetrable. In a letter to his brother, the venerable Ben Franklin urged caution and warned that, “fortified towns are hard nuts to crack; and your teeth are not been accustomed to it … But some seem to think forts are easy taken as snuff.”

Louisbourg was the Gibraltar of the West, an impenetrable bastion designed with the lofty goal of ensuring the survival of the French Empire in the Americas.

The Treaty of Utrecht had stripped French North America bare. They had been forced to give up most of their prized possessions: Acadia, Rupert's Land, and Newfoundland. All that remained were Île-Saint Jean (Prince Edward Island) and Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), a tiny island of rock and bog upon which France's future in North America would rest. Upon that rock they began construction of a massive fortress, the largest and most indestructible in North America. They called the fortress Louisbourg, after their king.

The fortress stood guard over the St. Lawrence and controlled access to France's inland possessions, including Quebec City. The fortress also protected the French fishing boats that vied with the English for access to valuable fish stocks, and the numerous French privateers who preyed on vulnerable English colonial merchant ships. Unfortunately, Louisbourg served as a beacon, a constant reminder to the New Englanders and other English colonials of the French presence in North America. They viewed its creation with increasing irritation and a growing conviction that their duty to Britain lay in the destruction of Louisbourg, and of the French influence in North America.

It would not be an easy task. The fortress had cost the French treasury over 30 million livres
to build and its upkeep and repair were a constant strain, but by 1745 it loomed menacingly over the gateway to the St. Lawrence. Lying in front of the fortress was a deep harbour, protected on the south side by reefs and an island battery that functioned more like an independent fort. Only three boats could land at the single, small beach, and most of the time the surf prevented even that. To the northwest the French built another battery, the Royal Battery, with twin swivel guns mounted in its towers that could swing between the harbour and the fort. Twenty-eight more 42-pound guns were aimed directly at the harbour entrance. Larger ships were forced to enter the bay via a narrow, 152-metre wide channel, between the Island and Royal Batteries and under the watchful eyes of the battery gunners. At the edge of the island, Canada's first lighthouse provided direction along the craggy shore to the hundreds of boats that visited the fort every year. There were natural protections as well: the swells outside the harbour were unpredictable and the area was notable for the thick, impenetrable fogs that frequently blanketed the landscape.

The fortress itself was impressive. Outer walls that were 1.5 metres thick stretched for almost five kilometres around the site, enclosing just over 100 acres.

The fortress walls were nearly 11 metres thick and nine metres high. There were places for 148 cannon and a 25 metre wide moat encircled the entire fort. The defences to the rear of the fort were less intimidating, but the French engineers who built it were not anticipating a land invasion. Besides, several kilometres of thick swamp stretched across the land beyond the fort, swamp the engineers considered to be impassable.

The site was near perfect for defence.

The New Englanders watched as the fort grew in size and influence. They also saw the ships leaving the busy harbour of Louisburg bound for France, their holds filled with valuable cargoes of dried, salted cod, and returning loaded with wine, foodstuffs, and finery. By 1744, they felt they had seen enough. They began to make plans to invade and force the French Canadians from the shores of North America for good. One of the most ardent lobbyists for the invasion was Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts. Like many governors of the period, he was also a merchant and felt the losses inflicted by competing French merchants and French privateers.

There had been whisperings of an invasion for months. American merchants and politicians were lobbying hard, trying to convince the British and colonial governments to support their efforts to evict the French. But before any invasion could take place, the War of the Austrian Succession began, pitting France against Great Britain once more. By stroke of luck, the French Canadians received word of the war a full three weeks before their New England counterparts. They saw this as their opportunity to restore French North America to its former glory.

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