Villebon on the Saint John:
Joseph Robineau de Villebon, a French military officer, though of the new world, had spent the winter of 1689/90 at Paris. His orders for the spring were to return to Port Royal with reinforcements.1 Villebon set out from La Rochelle on May 4, 1690, sailing on the Union, a ship owned by the Company of Acadia. After a favorable crossing, the Union fetched up just off of Port Mouton and there the newly arrived Frenchmen pounced on a coastal fishing vessel which had come up from New England to make a living. After taking his time with the English prisoners (it would appear he let them go after questioning) Villebon sailed on to Port Royal arriving there on June 14th. To his surprise he found Port Royal had been under attack but days before. The fort was under an English flag; the church and other buildings had been destroyed; the town plundered; and its military, civil and religious leaders -- so he was to hear -- carried away to Boston as prisoners of Sir William Phips. Not an Englishman was to be found at Port Royal; but, nonetheless, Villebon felt obliged to set new plans for himself, on the spot. With Meneval captured, Villebon assumed the position as acting governor of Acadia. After taking charge, Villebon quickly determined that Port Royal was too vulnerable and open to further attack; he therefore elected to take those military forces under his command and head for the Saint John across the Bay of Francois (Fundy) where he thought there would be greater safety up-river.2 Before doing so, he determined to shore up what was left of Port Royal, as best he could.
"He immediately summoned the inhabitants from the out-settlements, in whose presence he soon afterwards took formal possession of the place and fort, and, indeed, of all Acadie, in the name of the French king. Mathieu de Goutin resumed the exercise of his duties as judge and commissary, and exhumed the 1,300 livres which he had buried on the approach of Phipps in the spring. Thus was the capital of Acadie once more in the possession of France."3
Sensing danger, Villebon crossed over to the mouth of the Saint John River on June 18th, a sail of but a few hours. In the Union, he passed into the harbour of Saint John (a dangerous business that needs the right winds, tides and visibility). Once in the harbour Villebon's men unload provisions4 brought from France into two smaller boats, pinnaces or long boats, which were likely uncrated and assembled on the spot. These two smaller vessels, much better at navigating the river than their mother boat, departing on the 27th, then proceeded up the Saint John to cover the distance to Jemseg, 40 miles or so up the river where Grand Lake meets the Saint John. In fact, because the pinnaces moved so slowly in their tracks, at some point on route, Villebon moved out ahead in a flotilla of canoes. At some waypoint or other, after waiting a longer time than he had expected to do, he, Villebon, with a renewed sense of danger, retraced his track in the canoes all the way back down the Saint John. At the mouth, inside the harbour, he surreptitiously observed the Union and the two missing pinnaces in the company of English ships, one with 18 guns and the other with 8. It might be presumed that the Union, with the best of her crew busy elsewhere, was no match for the 190 pirates that had arrived in two ships to take her. She was now flying an English flag. Perrot (the ex-governor) and de Saccardy5 were among those left behind on the Union; they had been made prisoners (Perrot was badly treated). These freebooters had followed Villebon by a few days, having picked up his scent at Port Royal, maybe earlier. These villains had arrived at Port Royal just after Villebon had left and squeezed information out of the struggling settlers by the simple expedient of hanging two of them and burning down their buildings -- in one of which, an entire family was "roasted."6 Having lost the Union and his supplies -- the pirates having sailed away with the works -- Villebon quit his plans for the Saint John and traveled up river and overland to get to Quebec.7
Villebon, apparently having returned to France on Frontenac's instructions in the fall of the previous year, is seen, in the spring of 1691, aboard the Soleil d'Afrique a naval French cruiser under the command of Simon-Pierre Denys de Bonaventure. The Soleil d'Afrique first arrived at Quebec in the summer of 1691 and there she stayed until Frontenac was satisfied she was no longer needed for the protection of Quebec. In the fall of 1691, she was permitted to descend the St Lawrence in order to go to Acadia, having aboard her the Acadian governor, Villebon, and supplies necessary to set up the governor's new headquarters on the Saint John. The Soleil d'Afrique arrived at the mouth of the Saint John River mid October, 1691.
Col. Edward Tyng:
While Villebon and Bonaventure were unloading the Soleil d'Afrique, an English merchant ship with Col. Edward Tyng aboard stumbled upon them. Col. Edward Tyng was appointed by the English to be the English Governor of Acadia and was on a little tour in an under-armed merchant ship.8 He was on his return to Boston when he thought to poke his nose into the mouth of the Saint John River to see if there were any Frenchmen about. (I remind the reader that while this is a good port, a safe entry or exit into Saint John Harbour can only be made mid-tide, during a period of slack water.) The French gun boat, Soleil d'Afrique, having unloaded her cargo, was lying in the stream and was out of sight to Tyng and his New England crew as they shot the narrows: they were immediately captured by superior forces and made prisoners of the French.
After Villebon got himself squared away at Jemseg he came back down the Saint John in order to make arrangements in respect to Tyng, his vessel and her captured New England crew. Captain Bonaventure, it would appear, was soon under way to return to France before bad weather set in. Villebon sent his river boat, again it would appear, down to Boston with Tyng and his captured crew with a view to trading English prisoners for French prisoners, those that Phips had taken at Port Royal in the previous year. (It is interesting to note that Villebon also sent a young girl down to Boston which the Indians had ransomed to a French lady, who, at this time was living on the Saint John River, Madame Damours.)
Though there was some illegal trading going on with Boston, (see Perrot) a substantial amount of the supplies needed by those at Port Royal and at Jemseg were supplied by French privateers operating out of the mouth of the Saint John and at Port Royal (a long time haven). For example, we see that on January 5th, 1692, as cold as it was and with ice on the rails, where Baptiste called into the Saint John with a prize in tow, taken off the coast of New England. Outfitting himself at Port Royal, according to Villebon9, Baptiste, from December 1691, through to May 1692, indeed, took eight English ships, one of which was laden with salt, a valuable cargo back in the days of salted fish.10
The Chevalier of Port Royal:
As for Port Royal: After its sack, in 1690 -- and after its governor, the 58 soldiers that had been stationed there, and the community's two priests had been carried off to be placed in Boston prisons -- Phips swore in, on an English flag, a few key Frenchmen to govern Port Royal.11 It is at this juncture, that a curious little development is observed (history is full of curious little developments). The history books thereafter refer not to La Tour as the central authority, though Phips had sworn him in as the council's president, but rather to someone dubbed "M. Chevalier." In English that would be like calling somebody "Mr. Gentleman." We are therefore left wondering who this "M. Chevalier" really was. There is some suggestion that it was just a French Sergeant to whom Phips took a shine: a point not to be easily determined. "M. Chevalier" did a good job of running the fine line of keeping both the English and the French authorities content with his performance at Port Royal. While generally Baptiste and his operations were winked at, Baptiste was held somewhat in check; certainly Chevalier required Baptiste not to be too obvious about his piratical activities.12 As for the local population, Chevalier seemed to have their complete confidence. Importantly, for the English, and for the exposed people at Port Royal, Chevalier was able to deliver on his promise to the English that no Acadian (at Port Royal, at least) would raise any arms against the English.13 During these times, Port Royal was a free port, full of intrigue with both the French and the English coming and going, both learning the secrets of the other. During this period, 1690-98, it would appear that the French flag was pretty much restricted to the Saint John River. "The settlers of Port Royal do almost no trade with the French of the Saint John River because of their fear that if the English learned of it, they would be burned out."14
"... the post at Port Royal would be as advantageous and even more so for the welfare of the garrison and for the king's subjects living in the settlements on the Bay of Fundy, provided that it were safeguarded from attacks by enemies; help could be given easily to the settlers of Minas and Beaubassin, and obtained from them, as well, in case of need; the garrison could secure food more easily; navigation is open all season, and, moreover, vessels coming to this country would have safe retreat. I have been assured that the Company's trade would be much larger than it is here [up the Saint John River], even the trade in pelts." (1697, Tibierge.)Attacks on New England:
Jemseg and Beaubassin:
While Villebon, during his governorship, 1690-1700, made Jemseg his headquarters, he treated the place, seemingly, as a potential hole to be scrambled into in the event of another major invasion from New England. The French fort at Jemseg, some 60 miles inland, while relatively safe from attack, especially in the winter with the Saint John frozen over, would not have been a position from which one could keep in communication with the other parts of Acadia. What was necessary, if Villebon was to keep up with his intelligence, was for him to travel about. We see that on November 29th, 1692, Villebon, after having been there for a short gubernatorial visit, sailed up the coast from Mount Desert in a small boat with a view to spending the winter at Beaubassin. From Beaubassin, Villebon could travel by sailing vessel to either Minas or Port Royal. At any rate, Villebon was under Frontenac's orders to meet Iberville and Bonaventure who had been sent down in the French ships, the Poli and the Envieux, from Quebec to spend their time on the open coast over the winter to see what they might do to get at English shipping. Villebon was to meet them at Baie Verte (though he preferred if they had come to the Saint John) and there he was to give them as much intelligence as possible. Villebon, however, made his temporary headquarters at Beaubassin which was a four-hour hike across the isthmus to Baie Verte; at Beaubassin, Villebon could spend the winter amongst an established Acadian population.19
Desperate Situation at Quebec (1692):
During 1692, we see Frontenac writing of the desperate situation the French find themselves in at Quebec. "What with fighting and hardship, our troops and militia are wasting away. ... The enemy is upon us by sea and land. ... Send us a thousand men next spring, if you want the colony to be saved. ... We are perishing by inches; the people are in the depths of poverty; the war has doubled prices so that nobody can live. ... Many families are without bread. The inhabitants desert the country, and crowd into the towns."20 But help could not be sent by mother France as she had suffered greatly at the hands of the English navy. Off the coast of France, during May of 1692, a much superior (90 to 50) Anglo-Dutch fleet engaged the French fleet under Admiral Tourville, and the Battle of Barfleur ensued (La Hogue). With hardly a loss on the allied side, the French fleet was scattered and many were burned, including transports which were being assembled to take the French army to England. In the result, to the great relief of most everyone in England, William's throne was saved; but, more than that, the French fleet was practically destroyed and "France ceased from that moment to exist as a great naval power; for though her fleet was soon recruited to its former strength, the confidence of her sailors was lost ..."21
[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 5 - French Privateers & Assaults Overland:]