French Privateers Swarm the Sea Like Locusts:
"The French are come to a new way of fighting, they set out no Fleet, but their Privateers swarm and cover the Sea like Locusts, they hang on our Trade like Horse-Leeches, and draw from it more Blood than it is well able to spare, whilst we go on as we did, without new Methods to counterman them; the French King breeds up a Nursery of Seamen at our Charge, whilst his Subjects are made Rich by our Losses ..."1In the busy French port of La Rochelle, on April 8th, 1694, we see well-armed French naval vessels: La Bonne (Baptiste) and the Bretonne (Bonaventure). It may be they first headed for Quebec, but by the beginning of the summer, La Bonne and the Bretonne were in Acadian waters to assist in a significant French military effort which in 1694 was to unfold in Acadia. While it seems by the first of the summer plans had been laid to sail to Placentia, a little cruise first to the south was in order. Natives were supplied to assist; 30 aboard Bretonne and 15 aboard the French corvette, La Bonne. Within a couple of weeks prizes were being brought back to Acadia. One brought into Saint John had particularly valuable cargo aboard. She had been headed to Boston from Barbados and had the misfortune to run into Baptiste. Thus it was, that Acadia was to be awash in rum and molasses in this season, while Boston was running dry. At one point while Baptiste was on the high sea with a number of prizes in tow he was come upon by two armed English vessels. The English had the best of the ensuing sea battle and Baptiste was soon the prisoner of the English. The following day Baptiste however made his escape when all these vessels (the count seems to be six, all together some likely roped together) were countered attacked by yet another French privateer (La Ronde) who just happened to have come upon the scene2
After escaping the English, Baptiste in the La Bonne, in July of 1694, we see where,
"M. Baptiste left for Minas, where he has a substantial credit to revictual for another raiding expedition. I sent letters by him to the leading settlers whom I can trust, telling them to make it appear that provisions were only given him under duress, in order to relieve them of responsibility if the English should learn of it; if they do what I suggest, as I believe they will, Baptiste will take two aboard and will hold them as prisoners until he has been provided with what he requires in the way of supplies. He has taken to them all the goods which they might need."3
After having revictualled at Minas, on September 2nd, Baptiste was back at Saint John, but he ran into trouble, as Villebon describes it: "he struck a squall, and had much difficulty in saving his corvette, which ran aground; he is putting her in order so that he may go back to his raiding at the end of the month."4 These early sailors were very ingenious and were able to get their wooden sailing vessel back in trim without having much in the way of equipment and supplies. By November 3rd, 1694, Baptiste "set out in his corvette with a crew of 45 men."5
The losses, for the year 1695, were over one hundred British vessels to French Privateers. This most likely took place in the English channel, but certainly there were losses along the coast of New England. French privateers worked out of Acadian ports in the late 17th and early part of the 18th centuries. It best be stated, however, that not all Acadians who owned a sea going vessel are to be categorized as privateers. Some simply ran trading vessels. For example, there was Abraham Boudrot of Port Royal. Boudrot was a mariner like Baptiste, but, unlike Baptiste, earned his living in a legitimate way; he was a trader running back and forth from Boston under licences from both the English and the French authorities.6
These privateers did not restrict themselves to fairweather sailing. We saw Baptiste set out fresh, in the face of an Acadian winter, in November of 1694; and where he came in with prizes (more sugar, more rum) during January and in March, 1695. In May, he was still bringing prizes in; but he knew himself to be a marked man and suspected that English gun boats would soon be off the coast looking for him. He did not leave his corvette at the mouth of the Saint John, as apparently was his practise;7 but, rather, ran her down to a harbour "three leagues from the Saint John River."8 If the aim of Baptiste was to hide his vessel from the British gun boats, he missed; as, towards the end of May, 1695, he was bottled up in Musquash Harbour by two English battle ships. To avoid capture Baptiste ran La Bonne up on shore, and he and his crew deserted her.9 This was during the month of May, 1695, when we would have seen Baptiste and his crew running up the beach and then to disappear in the adjacent woods. In the background, in Musquash Harbour, we might have seen, too, the English busy lowering their longboats in order to give chase -- to no avail. Historical detail is missing, but it certainly seems that it did not take long for Baptiste to be under sail again: In February of 1696 he had in his command a sloop, Deux Frères.10
Baptiste, for the balance of 1695, seems to disappear from the historical record. We do see, however, references to Bonaventure and of François Guyon11. By August, 1695, Guyon had relieved Bonaventure in respect to a regular run that had been established between Minas and the Saint John. Previously, on July 12th, we see Bonaventure at the harbour at Saint John. His ship had been "entirely stripped of its rigging and its masts were much damaged." Apparently, Bonaventure, was in a fight and Villebon was of the view that the English must have received the worst of it.12 Within ten days Bonaventure had re-rigged and had slipped her moorings at Saint John. By August 1st, Bonaventure was at Baie Verte; the next day he was off, up the St. Lawrence to Quebec.
With the opening of the new year, on January 15th, 1694, Governor Villebon dispatched his brother, M. de Neuvillette "over the snow to Quebec" to see if he might get Frontenac interested in sending him 50 soldiers for a spring and summer offensive. In his despatch he indicated that the French had the full support of the local natives; further, he explained to Frontenac, "I am still without a single soldier for active service ..."13 We can see by the activities that unfolded that year, that Neuvillette's plea did not fall on deaf ears.
By May 16th, 1694, Neuvillette was back from Quebec. By June, we see Des Groutins ferrying supplies across to the Saint John from Minas: a French offensive was being staged.
New England, as we have seen, suffered cargo losses at sea; on land, New England was to lose settlers. On July 27, 1694, with the encouragement of the French governor, Villebon, and under the direct leadership of their priests and a French military man, Villieu,14 a united force of 230 Indians attacked a small English settlement at Oyster Pond (now Durham, twelve miles from Portsmouth, New Hampshire). "... the attack was made on the sleeping people, 104 of whom were ruthlessly slaughtered, the majority being women and children; twenty-seven were taken prisoners and more than 60 homesteads were burnt."15 Webster, in his short sketch on Father Thury,16 reports that this priest was among those who led the Indians and "said Mass in the midst of smoking houses and the bodies of the slain."
On June, 1695, Governor Villebon reported: "The Indians of Kennebec, Pentagoet, Meductic and Madazasia17 arrived here with the leading chiefs from all their lodges." Feasts and presents followed. In all, there were 14 chiefs; Father Thury acted as the interpreter. The Micmacs of Richibucto (their chief was known as Hiarim) were not at this grand meeting; they had gone to Cape Sable to prey on English fishermen (Cape Sable, it should be noted, on the south eastern part of peninsular Nova Scotia, was a good deal further away from Richibucto than is the Saint John River).18 Villebon, while he was thus entertaining his native allies19 and convincing them of the virtues of fighting the English, kept open for himself certain valuable English connections. A quantity of Beaver skins were moved from Governor Villebon's store house, up the Saint John River, through Port Royal (a free port); and, then, down to New York on a trading vessel; flour was exchanged in addition to money.20
Fort William Henry (February, 1696)
It now becomes necessary to make reference to an event which was to bring on repercussions which were felt well into the following century. Fort William Henry, the most northern outpost of New England, was situated at Pemaquid (present day State of Maine). It has been described21 as the strongest fortress in New England, at the time. It was built in 1694 by Phips with his influence and money. And so here it is, February, 1696: We see a group of natives approaching the gates of Fort William Henry. Among the group were two chiefs, Egeremet and Taxous. The natives were there to request an exchange of prisoners.22 The commandant of the English fort went out with his group apparently to parley but suddenly the English raised their guns and fired. After the smoke cleared Egeremet and two of his sons lay on the ground shot to death. Taxous managed to escape.23
The Sea Battle: Envieux, Profound, Newport and the Sorlings
Last we saw of Bonaventure he was headed for Quebec in August of 1695. It must be that he was assigned to convoy protection and returned to France in the fall of 1695. Parkman writes of Bonaventure return in 1696:
"Early in 1696 two ships of war [likely July], the Envieux and the Profound, one commanded by Iberville and the other by Bonaventure, sailed from Rochefort to Quebec, where they took on board eighty troops and Canadians; then proceeded to Cape Breton, embarked thirty Micmac Indians, and steered for the St. John. Here they meet two British frigates [the Newport and the Sorlings] and a provincial tender belonging to Massachusetts. A fight ensued. The forces were very unequal. The Newport, of twenty-four guns, was dismasted and taken; but her companion frigate along with the tender escaped in the fog."24July 15, 1696: Just a day after their battle with the English, the French vessels enter Saint John Harbour. After discharging stores for Fort Nashwaak, the French, on August 2, 1696, set sail for Pentagoet.25 I now turn to Hannay:
"At St. John the Profound and the Envieux took on board fifty more Micmacs and father Simon, the Recollect Missionary of the St. John. At Penobscot, where they arrived August 7th, they found Villieu and Montigny with twenty-five Canadians, Thury [Father], St. Castin [Sr.] and three hundred savages waiting for them. On the 14th August the whole party commenced the investment of Fort William Henry, at Pemaquid, by land and sea."26Fort William Henry (August, 1696)
Benjamin Church's Raid on Beaubassin (September, 1696)
Because the French had done their business at Fort William Henry, a certain captain from Boston, Benjamin Church was promoted and advanced as the man to take revenge on Acadia. In short order, Englishmen were proceeding up the coast in "open sloops and whale boats." Church and his four hundred men (50 to 150 of whom were Indians, likely Iroquois) came up to the head of the Bay of Fundy. They arrived off of Beaubassin on September 20th. They managed to get ashore and surprised the local inhabitants. Most of the terrified inhabitants fled into the woods. The braver came forth to confront Church with papers which had been drawn by Phips in 1690 showing that they had sworn fidelity to the English king. Church was not much impressed, particularly since he just finished reading a proclamation heralding the success of French arms, a proclamation which had been posted to the church door, and which inadvertently the hurried Acadians had forgotten to take down. Church immediately set fire to the church with its French proclamation on the door, and then stated that every other deserted building would be set afire. Knowledge of this forced many of the Acadians out of hiding. Nonetheless, a number of buildings were subsequently burned down at Beaubassin, to the ground. According to Governor Villebon: "The English stayed at Beaubassin nine whole days without drawing any supplies from their vessels, and even those settlers to whom they had shown a pretence of mercy were left with empty houses and barns and nothing else except the clothes on their backs."29 After this, on September 29th, Church and his men proceeded back down the bay arriving on the same day at the mouth of the Saint John; plans were put in place to go up the St John, 60 miles, in boats with their war supplies, to attack the fort situated where the Nashwaak enters into the Saint John, Fort St. Joseph. The English attack fell apart and Church's men were soon itching to get back down-river and sail back to their homes and farms in New England.30
A Shaky Peace
While Governor Villebon was expecting that the New Englanders were going to descend on Acadia in force during 1697, the English did not arrive. Any major plans for New England boys to go up to Acadia to teach these "Frenchies" some more lessons were likely set aside by the authorities on the European news of "peace" developments.31 Nevertheless, some battling activity both at sea and on land continued. Baptiste was captured and made a prisoner of the English in the Spring of 1697. Further, on November 15th, 1697, Villebon reported that French fishing vessels were being overpowered on the Grand Banks by a "brigantine fitted out at Boston, with six guns and eighty men" with the French fishermen being taken as prisoners to Boston.32 Villebon spent the year getting his defences ready; in feasting the Indians, and repositioning what few forces he did have under his command. Villebon wrote in his report that there was a "war-party of English and their Indians of Kennebec and Pentagoet" sent to Acadia. As to where and when this English party hit, the reviewed records do not reveal.
For the winter of 1697-98, Villebon, holding up at Fort Nashwaak up on the Saint John, kept his men busy in domesticated projects. He divided his soldiers into doing the two principle tasks of the winter: "sawing boards ... and cutting and hauling fire wood."33 With certain of these trees, Villebon was most impressed: "We have had a pine three feet in diameter cut for a mast ... which I intend to send to France as a specimen." Villebon wrote about other trees, too: elms ("suitable for pumps and guns mounts") and ash ("for pulleys").34 Further, in his report, we see: "... I asked the settlers of Minas to grind as much flour as they could for which I would send when the ice melted. We have wintered all our boats at Nashwaak for greater security, knowing well that very little was to be found at Port Royal."35
On April 21st, 1698, a ship from Boston arrives at the mouth of the Saint John and a runner was sent to Governor Villebon with a pack of official looking letters. Villebon was informed by Lt.-Governor William Stoughton that peace had come to the nations of France and England by the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick, signed the previous autumn: doubtlessly this was news to Villebon. The letter from the governor of Massachusetts to the Acadian governor was dated at Boston on March 3rd.36 Stoughton had released all prisoners at Boston and expected that Governor Villebon would do likewise. Lt.-Governor Stoughton recited the steps he had taken to make sure that all hostilities stopped and trusted that "you will issue and enforce the same orders as I have put into effect here; that none of the enemy, Indian or otherwise, shall be encouraged or assisted in any way ... that you will prevent and restrain these barbarous savages from further shedding of Christian blood ... that you will do your utmost to live like a good neighbour ..."
There was, however, one prisoner which Lt.-Governor Stoughton was not immediately ready to release: Baptiste. He was more than a prisoner of war; he was, so the English thought, a common criminal. We saw earlier that Baptiste was made a prisoner of the English, in the Spring of 1697.37
Within the week, on April 28th, 1698, Villebon made out an official reply to Stoughton. In an equally official looking letter (elaborate ink markings on parchment with ribbons and seals pasted and strung to the bottom), Villebon, in his French manner, expressed his concern that Baptiste was not being treated as a prisoner of war. Villebon also warned Stoughton that the English best keep a good outlook for Indians, as it was unlikely that the message that peace had been achieved between England and France had gotten through to these French allies, indeed it was likely that war-parties had already left Quebec. Villebon concluded: "When I shall have received news from France, and the commands of the King, my master, in regard to the declaration of Peace, I shall not fail to inform you. In the meantime, you should give orders to your fishermen not to come to the shores of Acadia to fish; nor should your private merchants trade at the French settlements until the King has sent me instructions covering these matters." This reply was sent back down the river and delivered to the Master of the English vessel which was waiting.38
Some time was to pass before Villebon, on June 1st, 1698, received independent word of peace through fishermen from Quebec. It was at this point, with the coming of peace, much safer for French Acadian administrators to travel. Within a few weeks, on August 2nd, Villebon crossed over to Port Royal, the old capital of Acadia, which since 1690, was a “free port.”39 Port Royal was now clearly to be back once again under the French flag. Villebon put the straps of government on and declared that trade with the English without his permission would be a crime and the criminal’s goods would become goods of the state. The people of Port Royal did not take to kindly to this assertion of the state: “people murmuring about the interdiction of trade with the English.” State pomp and ceremony was used to quell any adverse emotions: on the 3rd, Villebon “ordered a salute to be fired in honour of peace and instructed the settlers in the line of conduct they were to follow.”40
Next, the French governor and his entourage,41 after leaving Port Royal, carried on to the only other two centers of Acadia: Minas (August 15th) and Beaubassin42 (August 21st). At each place, the ceremony and lectures as conducted and given at Port Royal, were repeated. Villebon, having made his flag tour of Acadia, arrived back at the Saint John on August 25th, 1698.43
In Acadia and New England the declared peace of 1696 was to take hold a year later. The French and English may not have been at war with one another, but these people, foreign to one another as they most certainly were, were not to be friends. Villebon did not want to see English ships in Acadian waters: he wrote the authorities at Boston: "Bonaventure ... who is this year Commandant of the King's ship, Envieux, has confirmed by sending back to you several of your fishing boats which he captured on his arrival on these shores, informing you, on the King's behalf, that if they should again return to fish or trade they would be considered as lawful prizes."44 While so establishing French rights at sea, seemingly having no faith in the declared peace, Villebon built his defenses on land. With the help of Bonaventure and his crew ("with 25 sailors to cut palisades") Villebon built his new headquarters at the mouth of the Saint John, which he was to move into that fall (1698) "leaving Fort Nashwakk in the care of two soldiers."45
The Death of Governor Villebon:
In the fall of 1699, we see where Villebon, this rough colonial diamond, made one of his last entries into his ongoing report to Pontchartrain. He was pleading for his men: "It would be better, Sir, another year, not to send biscuits as rations for the carpenters; flour would be more convenient... and brandy instead of wine would please them better." Further, he reported "only 77 soldiers in all" and suggested that "several of the soldiers, who have been here seven years, would be very suitable as settlers." And, further, suggested that "soldiers should be sent over from France, 40 would be a good number, and if some artisans could be included among the recruits, it would contribute greatly to the development of this country."46
On July 5, 1700: Villebon died at Fort Saint John and with his death the French capital of Acadia reverted, having had no government for ten years, back to Port Royal. Without a military presence on the Saint John River, a "vast territory was left to the Indians and for more than a generation no white man was seen there save those who travelled by way of the river in making the long journey between Quebec and the peninsular portion of Acadia."47
[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 6 - Dièreville (1700):]