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This Week in Canadian History – November Week 5

English: Statue of Frontenac from the National...

Statue of Frontenac from the National Assembly, QC City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fort Frontenac sign

Fort Frontenac sign (Photo credit: KirrilyRobert)

This is a repost and updated post that I published on November 28, 2012.

Count Frontenac dies at Quebec, but that doesn’t mean his heart stays put. Oh no.

Frontenac had been asked to return to Canada in 1689 and serve as governor for the second time. His instructions were to regain the respect of the Indians and to drive the British from New England and New York.

He did succeed with most of the Indians, but Frontenac was unable to take New England and New York for France. After eight years of war, Britain and France signed the Treaty of Ryswick on September 20, 1697. Actually, Ryswick meant little, and war was resumed five years later.

As there was supposed to be peace, however, Frontenac exchanged messages with the Governor of New York, and Captain John Schuyler arrived at Quebec as a peace emissary. He had led the raid on La Prairie, near Montreal, after the massacre at Schenectady, but old wounds were forgotten. Schuyler was honoured at a banquet in the château at which he proposed a toast to King Louis, while Frontenac toasted King William.

Not long afterwards winter began to close in, and the streets of Quebec were covered in snow. It was noticed that Frontenac seemed to be staying in his château. Then Bishop St. Vallier began paying visits there. This was strange because Frontenac and the Bishop had been at odds ever since the governor returned.

Shortly after the candles were lighted in the late afternoon of November 28, 1698, the reason for the visits became known. The old soldier had died, eyes bright and mind alert to the last.

In his will, he had asked that his heart be cut out, encased and sent to his wife, who had never accompanied him to Canada. The casket containing the heart did not arrive in France until shipping opened in the spring, but Madame Frontenac, a proud and beautiful woman, would not accept it. She said that she did not want a heart in death that had not been hers in life.

So the heart was returned to Quebec and replaced in Frontenac’s body, where it lay in the church of the Recollets.

To read more about today’s post, I suggest Encyclopedia Britannica, and Your Dictionary, as well as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Another interesting read, filled with anecdotes, is the Canadian Monthly and National Review, which you can get at Books on Google.


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Smart Deception Saves Montreal

Battle of the Chateauguay

Battle of the Chateauguay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems strange that films showing cowboys fighting Indians should be so popular on North American television.  Perhaps cowboys fared better than soldiers in the Indian wars, but certainly the Canadian Indians terrified American troops during the War of 1812.

A great French-Canadian military leader, Colonel Charles de Salaberry, probably saved Montreal from being captured in 1813 by using the Indians to scare off a strong American force.  While General Wilkinson was moving 8,000 American soldiers down the St. Lawrence  towards Montreal, General Wade Hampton was preparing to attack from Lake Champlain, with 4,000 regular infantry, a squadron of cavalry, and 10 guns.  After two days of heavy going through woods and marshes, his troops came to the Chateauguay stream in Canadian territory.

The British knew of the American plan and had sent de Salaberry to Chateauguay with four companies of his own Voltigeurs, (French militia, originally created by Napoleon I), Canadian Militia and 170 Indians.  De Salaberry established a strong defensive position, where the only road through the woods, led to a ford across the river.

The attack began on October 25 and continued through the following day.  Colonel de Salaberry  had his Voltigeurs defending an advance position and the ford.  At the same time he sent a company of militia, some Indians, and all his buglers into the woods across the river.   As de Salaberry expected, the Americans made a frontal attack on the forward position, while sending another force to try to take the ford.  They ran into strong opposition from the Voltigeurs in their defensive positions, who were deadly shots with their muskets.

Then the sound of bugles and the war cries of the Indians were heard, giving the impression that a military force was coming from Montreal.  The Americans were in such a state of panic that they began firing at each other!  General Hampton ordered them to withdraw, spent three days considering what his next move should be, and then decided to retreat.  Four thousand American soldiers had been turned back by 400 French-Canadians and their Indian allies.

When General Wilkinson heard that General Hampton had withdrawn, he also decided to give up.  Montreal had been saved.

Do you still want to read more about today’s post?  I can suggest a few sites to get you started.  There’s the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and the Royal Canadian Mint, and then the CBC’s Canada: a People’s History. And lastly I highly recommend you stop by the Government of Canada’s Heroes of the War of 1812.



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Just Like The Wedges of a Pie!

Portrait of Louis XIV

Portrait of Louis XIV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Jean Talon

English: Jean Talon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly I believe that one of the most remarkable men who played a part in Canada‘s history has to be Jean Talon.  He was the Intendant, or business manager, from 1665 to 1668; and on October 23, 1670, he began his second term, and remained until 1672. Jean Talon was the sort of man who liked to do things himself. Here’s an example:  When he first arrived at Quebec, there was a message for him from the nuns expressing their hope that he would protect them.  Later that day a man called at the Hotel Dieu, claiming he was the Intendant’s valet.  He wanted to know what the nuns needed in the way of protection.  But soon enough the nuns realized that the man they were talking to was in fact Jean Talon himself.  He would often disguise himself and go door to door in Quebec and Montreal, to learn something about the living conditions. Jean Talon worked directly with Louis XIV, and not through the governor or the bishop, as was expected of him back then.  As such, he was largely involved in bringing out “the King’s Daughters” in April 1671. Before the end of the following year, 1,100 babies were baptized! That was a big increase in a population of only seven thousand.

The new families needed homes.  A big problem was to give every home enough property to grow crops.  Another problem was that the houses could not be too far apart, or they would be attacked by the “Indians”.  So Talon solved these problems by shaping the new communities like pies.  The homes were in the centre, close together, but the properties stretched out behind them in the triangular shape of wedges of pie.

Talon sent survey parties throughout the country to look for precious metals.  He built the first iron foundry, tannery, brewery and fish-processing plants.  He also started a ship-building industry and developed trade with the West Indies. When he returned to France in 1672, the king made him secretary of his cabinet, and gave him the title of Comte d’Orsainville, a name derived from his estate in Canada.

To learn more about Jean Talon and today’s post, I suggest visiting the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and the Gutenberg Project to read “The Great Intendant : A Chronicle of Jean Talon in Canada, 1665-1672” by Chapais


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14 Year Old Girl Saves Fort Dangerous!

Français : À Verchères, monument en l'honneur ...

Français : À Verchères, monument en l’honneur de Madeleine de Verchères Érigé en 1927 Le bronze est signé: P. Hébert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This day belongs to Madeleine Jarret de Verchères, a fourteen-year-old girl who became Canada’s outstanding heroine.  She lived at Verchères, about 20 miles from Montreal, in “Fort Dangerous,” so-called because it was on a route used constantly by the Iroquois and was liable to be attacked.

The summer of 1692 had been quiet, and Madeleine’s father and mother decided that they could go away for a few days on business.  The Iroquois had waited for such an opportunity, and they suddenly attacked the fort on the morning of October 22.  Men and women were working in the fields, bringing in a bountiful harvest of pumpkins, melons, and fruit.  Most of them were killed immediately.  Madeleine was playing on a wharf when the massacre began, and she barely managed to elude one of the Indians as she dashed back to the fort and closed the gate.  There was panic inside.  Two soldiers, who had been left to guard the fort, were ready to blow it up than be captured and tortured by the Indians.  Madeleine told them they were cowards and made them go to their posts.

Then she put on a soldier’s hat to show that she had taken command, gave guns to her brothers, who were only twelve and ten years old, and told them to fight for their home and their religion.  She rallied the people in the fort through her courage, and ordered the women to stop wailing and crying, which would only encourage the Indians.  At her command a cannon was fired to warn the neighbours of the attack.

For eight days and eight nights, with little food or sleep, Madeleine organized a skilful defence of her home.  She had the people moving around in the fort, shouting to each other as if they were soldiers.  This led the Indians to believe that there were more people in the fort than was actually the case.

When help came from Montreal, Madeleine met the commanding officer at the gate, said, “I surrender my arms to you,” and collapsed!

Most holders of the Victoria Cross would have taken off their hats to this brave girl, had they seen her courageous action.  King Louis XIV granted a pension to her father in recognition of her bravery … why didn’t the King reward Madeleine Jarret de Verchères? – but I digress …

To learn more, I highly recommend visiting the Canadian Fontaine Genealogy Association to read to an account written by Madeleine herself (translated into English). After that, you might want to read more at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and Micheline’s Blog (I also suggest you browse through her posts; very interesting!).


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I Am The Best Man to Handle This

19th century print showing Quebec batteries fi...

19th century print showing Quebec batteries firing on William Phips’ squadron during October 1690. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The British made several attempts to destroy French power in North America before Amherst and Wolfe staged their successful campaigns from 1758 to 1760.  One of them was in 1690, and its leader was William Phips, a former ship’s carpenter and sailor.  He did not learn to read or write until he was thirty, when he went to live in Boston.  Then he got lucky.  he married a wealthy widow, and found a sunken Spanish ship which had a treasure of £300,000 of which he was allowed to keep £16,000.

Phips was now a great figure in the public eye, and early in 1690 was put in charge of an expedition to capture Port Royal in Acadia.  He was completely successful, made the inhabitants of that part of Acadia swear allegiance to William and Mary, and plundered them unmercifully.  He became an even greater hero.

In 1690, Phips was put in charge of an expedition against Quebec.  He accepted the task — modestly for him — saying, “The plan is well-formed and I am the best man to handle it.”  Actually he knew practically nothing about military tactics, and in this campaign he was up against a wily warrior, Count Frontenac.  When his armada of 32 ships arrived off Quebec on October 16, 1690, Frontenac was ready.

Phips sent a young officer ashore to demand Frontenac’s surrender.  Frontenac had him blindfolded, and rushed through the streets to the summit.  The young officer said that he came in the name of William and Mary, King and Queen of England, to demand instant surrender.  Frontenac replied that he knew no William, a lawful king, but only William the usurper.  Then he added, “Ma défense se fera par la bouche de mes canons.” (Translation: My defense will come from the cannon’s mouth.”)

Phips bombarded Quebec for a few days, and tried to land troops at Beauport.  Although he had a far superior force, he did not have the military experience to cope with Frontenac, and had to give up the battle after a week of frustration.  The chapel at Quebec, Notre Dame des Victoires, commemorates the occasion.

To read more about today’s post, I would recommend going to the Place Royale, and the Canadian Military History, and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and finally the Barbara Martin‘s post: Conquest of New France: Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac.


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Their Hands Froze To Their Shovels

Montcalm leading his troops at Quebec.

Montcalm leading his troops at Quebec. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Wolfe won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759, the city was not occupied until September 19.  Wolfe had died on the field of battle, but Montcalm, fatally wounded but still mounted on his black horse, was brought back into Quebec supported by two men.

Before dying, he had time to send a message to General Townsend asking him to be kind to the French sick and wounded, and to carry out an agreement for an exchange of prisoners.  His body was placed in a crude wooden box and buried in a convent.  A British shell had come through the roof and blasted a hole in the ground large enough to make a grave. Wolfe’s death may have been due to the fact that he wore a new uniform, against the advice of his officers.  He was a marked man when he led the Louisburg Grenadiers in the attack.   Wolfe was wounded in the wrist and groin before the fatal bullet pierced his lungs.

By the middle of October it was time for the ships to sail for Britain or be frozen in the St. Lawrence for the winter.  Admiral Saunders sailed, taking Townsend with him and leaving General Murray in charge.  Murray was Governor of Canada until 1766, when he was recalled, although he continued to be paid as governor for eight years after that date.

The first winter in Quebec was miserable because the city had been so badly damaged by nearly ten weeks of bombardment.  Food and fuel were scarce.  Murray had nearly 7,000 troops to look after, as well as 4,000 citizens who  chose to stay in Quebec and take the oath of allegiance.  Murray was very strict with his troops.  Any soldier found guilty of robbing a French citizen was hanged.  Officers were instructed to lift their hats when a religious procession went by.  If they did not want to do that, they had to get out of sight until the procession passed.

Actually, the British soldiers got on well with the French and worked with them in the fields, helping to bring in the harvest.  They were not equipped for winter, however.  Their hands froze to the shovels when they had to go into the forests to get wood for fuel.  There was so much sickness that Murray’s forces had been reduced to half by the middle of winter.

To learn more about today’s post, I suggest visiting British Battles, and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, as well as the Canada Free Press.


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Bad Rap!

Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold (Photo credit: Marion Doss)

English: Benedict Arnold's Oath of Allegiance,...
Benedict Arnold’s Oath of Allegiance, 05/30/1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Benedict Arnold has been regarded for years as the biggest traitor in American history, yet he was one of the most brilliant American soldiers of all time.  His achievement in leading a force across the wilds of Maine to attack Quebec is considered by some to be even greater than Wolfe’s endeavour.

Arnold’s resentment gradually mounted when he was passed over in promotions, and constantly harried by charges of misconduct.  In 1780, he decided to work for the British and sent them information about West Point, the gateway to the Hudson River.  The British officer carrying the information was caught and Arnold barely managed to escape into British lines before his wrongdoing was discovered.

He was made a brigadier-general in the British army and was paid more than £6,000 compensation for the loss of his property.  He helped the British in the attacks on Richmond and New London, but could not find satisfactory employment when he went to London.

In 1787, he went to live in Saint John, New Brunswick, but even the Loyalists treated him with contempt.  He began a trading business with the West Indies, and contempt turned to anger when his warehouse burned to the ground.  His partner, Munsen Hoyt, said that Arnold had set it on fire to collect insurance.  There was a court case in which Arnold charged Hoyt with slander, and “blackening my character”.  Hoyt replied: “It is not in my power to blacken your character because it is as black as can be.”  Arnold was awarded 20 shillings damages.  A crowd gathered on King Street and burned him in effigy.  The mayor had to read the riot act to disperse the crowd.

On September 4, 1791, Arnold advertised in the Royal Gazette that he was selling “excellent feather beds, mahogany four-poster bedsteads, an elegant set of Wedgwood gilt ware, cabriole chairs covered with blue damask, and a lady’s elegant saddle and bridle.”  He left Saint John after the sale and went back to London where he fitted privateers for the war against France.  He died in 1801, after ten depressed years.

To read more about these events, I suggest going to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute for a very interesting article: Treachery of Benedict Arnold, and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography for another fascinating article.

Or, if you’d rather hold a book in your hands and read a more thorough account, the I would suggest Benedict Arnold: A Traitor in Our Midst.  Or, you can read THE TRAITOR AND THE SPY – Thanks J. G.!


Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Longer Entries, On This Day, postaday, September


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