Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV

Author: Francis Parkman

Show Summary





Amid domestic strife, the war with England and the Iroquois still went on. The contest for territorial mastery was fourfold: first, for the control of the west; secondly, for that of Hudson’s Bay; thirdly, for that of Newfoundland; and, lastly, for that of Acadia. All these vast and widely sundered regions were included in the government of Frontenac. Each division of the war was distinct from the rest, and each had a character of its own. As the contest for the west was wholly with New York and her Iroquois allies, so the contest for Acadia was wholly with the “Bostonnais,” or people of New England.

Acadia, as the French at this time understood the name, included Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the greater part of Maine. Sometimes they placed its western boundary at the little River St. George, and sometimes at the Kennebec. Since the wars of D’Aulnay and La Tour, this wilderness had been a scene of unceasing strife; for the English drew their eastern boundary at the St. Croix, and the claims of the rival nationalities overlapped each other. In the time of Cromwell, Sedgwick, a New England officer, had seized the whole country. The peace of Breda restored it to France: the Chevalier de Grandfontaine was ordered to reoccupy it, and the king sent out a few soldiers, a few settlers, and a few women as their wives. [Footnote: In 1671, 30 garcons and 30 filles were sent by the king to Acadia, at the cost of 6,000 livres. Etat. de Depenses, 1671.] Grandfontaine held the nominal command for a time, followed by a succession of military chiefs, Chambly, Marson, and La Valliere. Then Perrot, whose malpractices had cost him the government of Montreal, was made governor of Acadia; and, as he did not mend his ways, he was replaced by Meneval. [Footnote: Grandfontaine, 1670; Chambly, 1673; Marson, 1678; La Valliere, the same year, Marson having died; Perrot, 1684; Meneval, 1687. The last three were commissioned as local governors, in subordination to the governor-general. The others were merely military commandants.]

One might have sailed for days along these lonely coasts, and seen no human form. At Canseau, or Chedabucto, at the eastern end of Nova Scotia, there was a fishing station and a fort; Chibuctou, now Halifax, was a solitude; at La Heve there were a few fishermen; and thence, as you doubled the rocks of Cape Sable, the ancient haunt of La Tour, you would have seen four French settlers, and an unlimited number of seals and seafowl. Ranging the shore by St. Mary’s Bay, and entering the Strait of Annapolis Basin, you would have found the fort of Port Royal, the chief place of all Acadia. It stood at the head of the basin, where De Monts had planted his settlement nearly a century before. Around the fort and along the neighboring river were about ninety-five small houses; and at the head of the Bay of Fundy were two other settlements, Beaubassin and Les Mines, comparatively stable and populous. At the mouth of the St. John were the abandoned ruins of La Tour’s old fort; and on a spot less exposed, at some distance up the river, stood the small wooden fort of Jemsec, with a few intervening clearings. Still sailing westward, passing Mount Desert, another scene of ancient settlement, and entering Penobscot Bay, you would have found the Baron de Saint-Castin with his Indian harem at Pentegoet, where the town of Castine now stands. All Acadia was comprised in these various stations, more or less permanent, together with one or two small posts on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the huts of an errant population of fishermen and fur traders. In the time of Denonville, the colonists numbered less than a thousand souls. The king, busied with nursing Canada, had neglected its less important dependency. [Footnote: The census taken by order of Meules in 1686 gives a total of 885 persons, of whom 592 were at Port Royal, and 127 at Beaubassin. By the census of 1693, the number had reached 1,009.]

Rude as it was, Acadia had charms, and it has them still: in its wilderness of woods and its wilderness of waves; the rocky ramparts that guard its coasts; its deep, still bays and foaming headlands; the towering cliffs of the Grand Menan; the innumerable islands that cluster about Penobscot Bay; and the romantic highlands of Mount Desert, down whose gorges the sea-fog rolls like an invading host, while the spires of fir-trees pierce the surging vapors like lances in the smoke of battle.

Leaving Pentegoet, and sailing westward all day along a solitude of woods, one might reach the English outpost of Pemaquid, and thence, still sailing on, might anchor at evening off Casco Bay, and see in the glowing west the distant peaks of the White Mountains, spectral and dim amid the weird and fiery sunset.

Inland Acadia was all forest, and vast tracts of it are a primeval forest still. Here roamed the Abenakis with their kindred tribes, a race wild as their haunts. In habits they were all much alike. Their villages were on the waters of the Androscoggin, the Saco, the Kennebec, the Penobscot, the St. Croix, and the St. John; here in spring they planted their corn, beans, and pumpkins, and then, leaving them to grow, went down to the sea in their birch canoes. They returned towards the end of summer, gathered their harvest, and went again to the sea, where they lived in abundance on ducks, geese, and other water-fowl. During winter, most of the women, children, and old men remained in the villages; while the hunters ranged the forest in chase of moose, deer, caribou, beavers, and bears.

Their summer stay at the seashore was perhaps the most pleasant, and certainly the most picturesque, part of their lives. Bivouacked by some of the innumerable coves and inlets that indent these coasts, they passed their days in that alternation of indolence and action which is a second nature to the Indian. Here in wet weather, while the torpid water was dimpled with rain-drops, and the upturned canoes lay idle on the pebbles, the listless warrior smoked his pipe under his roof of bark, or launched his slender craft at the dawn of the July day, when shores and islands were painted in shadow against the rosy east, and forests, dusky and cool, lay waiting for the sunrise.

The women gathered raspberries or whortleberries in the open places of the woods, or clams and oysters in the sands and shallows, adding their shells as a contribution to the shell-heaps that have accumulated for ages along these shores. The men fished, speared porpoises, or shot seals. A priest was often in the camp watching over his flock, and saying mass every day in a chapel of bark. There was no lack of altar candles, made by mixing tallow with the wax of the bayberry, which abounded among the rocky hills, and was gathered in profusion by the squaws and children.

The Abenaki missions were a complete success. Not only those of the tribe who had been induced to migrate to the mission villages of Canada, but also those who remained in their native woods, were, or were soon to become, converts to Romanism, and therefore allies of France. Though less ferocious than the Iroquois, they were brave, after the Indian manner, and they rarely or never practised cannibalism.

Some of the French were as lawless as their Indian friends. Nothing is more strange than the incongruous mixture of the forms of feudalism with the independence of the Acadian woods. Vast grants of land were made to various persons, some of whom are charged with using them for no other purpose than roaming over their domains with Indian women. The only settled agricultural population was at Port Royal, Beaubassin, and the Basin of Minas. The rest were fishermen, fur traders, or rovers of the forest. Repeated orders came from the court to open a communication with Quebec, and even to establish a line of military posts through the intervening wilderness, but the distance and the natural difficulties of the country proved insurmountable obstacles. If communication with Quebec was difficult, that with Boston was easy; and thus Acadia became largely dependent on its New England neighbors, who, says an Acadian officer, “are mostly fugitives from England, guilty of the death of their late king, and accused of conspiracy against their present sovereign; others of them are pirates, and they are all united in a sort of independent republic.” [Footnote: Memoire du Sieur Bergier, 1685.] Their relations with the Acadians were of a mixed sort. They continually encroached on Acadian fishing grounds, and we hear at one time of a hundred of their vessels thus engaged. This was not all. The interlopers often landed and traded with the Indians along the coast. Meneval, the governor, complained bitterly of their arrogance. Sometimes, it is said, they pretended to be foreign pirates, and plundered vessels and settlements, while the aggrieved parties could get no redress at Boston. They also carried on a regular trade at Port Royal and Les Mines or Grand Pre, where many of the inhabitants regarded them with a degree of favor which gave great umbrage to the military authorities, who, nevertheless, are themselves accused of seeking their own profit by dealings with the heretics; and even French priests, including Petit, the cure of Port Royal, are charged with carrying on this illicit trade in their own behalf, and in that of the seminary of Quebec. The settlers caught from the “Bostonnais” what their governor stigmatizes as English and parliamentary ideas, the chief effect of which was to make them restive under his rule. The Church, moreover, was less successful in excluding heresy from Acadia than from Canada. A number of Huguenots established themselves at Port Royal, and formed sympathetic relations with the Boston Puritans. The bishop at Quebec was much alarmed. “This is dangerous,” he writes. “I pray your Majesty to put an end to these disorders.” [Footnote: L’Eveque au Roy, 10 Nov., 1683. For the preceding pages, the authorities are chiefly the correspondence of Grandfontaine, Marson, La Valliere, Meneval, Bergier, Goutins, Perrot, Talon, Frontenac, and other officials. A large collection of Acadian documents, from the archives of Paris, is in my possession. I have also examined the Acadian collections made for the government of Canada and for that of Massachusetts.]

A sort of chronic warfare of aggression and reprisal, closely akin to piracy, was carried on at intervals in Acadian waters by French private armed vessels on one hand, and New England private armed vessels on the other. Genuine pirates also frequently appeared. They were of various nationality, though usually buccaneers from the West Indies. They preyed on New England trading and fishing craft, and sometimes attacked French settlements. One of their most notorious exploits was the capture of two French vessels and a French fort at Chedabucto by a pirate, manned in part, it is said, from Massachusetts. [Footnote: Meneval, Memoire, 1688; Denonville, Memoire, 18 Oct., 1688; Proces-verbal du Pillage de Chedabucto; Relation de la Boullaye, 1688.] A similar proceeding of earlier date was the act of Dutchmen from St. Domingo. They made a descent on the French fort of Pentegoet, on Penobscot Bay. Chambly, then commanding for the king in Acadia, was in the place. They assaulted his works, wounded him, took him prisoner, and carried him to Boston, where they held him at ransom. His young ensign escaped into the woods, and carried the news to Canada; but many months elapsed before Chambly was released. [Footnote: Frontenac au Ministre, 14 Nov., 1674; Frontenac a Leverett, gouverneur de Baston, 24 Sept., 1674; Frontenac to the Governor and Council of Massachusetts, 25 May, 1675 (see 3 Mass. Hist. Coll., I. 64); Colbert a Frontenac, 15 May, 1675. Frontenac supposed the assailants to be buccaneers. They had, however, a commission from William of Orange. Hutchinson says that the Dutch again took Pentegoet in 1676, but were driven off by ships from Boston, as the English claimed the place for themselves.]

This young ensign was Jean Vincent de l’Abadie, Baron de Saint-Castin, a native of Bearn, on the slopes of the Pyrenees, the same rough, strong soil that gave to France her Henri IV. When fifteen years of age, he came to Canada with the regiment of Carignan-Salieres, ensign in the company of Chambly; and, when the regiment was disbanded, he followed his natural bent, and betook himself to the Acadian woods. At this time there was a square bastioned fort at Pentegoet, mounted with twelve small cannon; but after the Dutch attack it fell into decay. [Footnote: On its condition in 1670, Estat du Fort et Place de Pentegoet fait en l’annee 1670, lorsque les Anglois l’ont rendu. In 1671, fourteen soldiers and eight laborers were settled near the fort. Talon au Ministre, 2 Nov., 1671. In the next year, Talon recommends an envoi de filles for the benefit of Pentegoet. Memoire sur le Canada, 1672. As late as 1698, we find Acadian officials advising the reconstruction of the fort.] Saint-Castin, meanwhile, roamed the woods with the Indians, lived like them, formed connections more or less permanent with their women, became himself a chief, and gained such ascendency over his red associates that, according to La Hontan, they looked upon him as their tutelary god. He was bold, hardy, adroit, tenacious; and, in spite of his erratic habits, had such capacity for business, that, if we may believe the same somewhat doubtful authority, he made a fortune of three or four hundred thousand crowns. His gains came chiefly through his neighbors of New England, whom he hated, but to whom he sold his beaver skins at an ample profit. His trading house was at Pentegoet, now called Castine, in or near the old fort; a perilous spot, which he occupied or abandoned by turns, according to the needs of the time. Being a devout Catholic he wished to add a resident priest to his establishment for the conversion of his Indian friends; but, observes Father Petit of Port Royal, who knew him well, “he himself has need of spiritual aid to sustain him in the paths of virtue.” [Footnote: Petit in Saint-Vallier, Estat de l’Eglise, 39 (1856).] He usually made two visits a year to Port Royal, where he gave liberal gifts to the church of which he was the chief patron, attended mass with exemplary devotion, and then, shriven of his sins, returned to his squaws at Pentegoet. Perrot, the governor, maligned him; the motive, as Saint-Castin says, being jealousy of his success in trade, for Perrot himself traded largely with the English and the Indians. This, indeed, seems to have been his chief occupation; and, as Saint-Castin was his principal rival, they were never on good terms. Saint-Castin complained to Denonville. “Monsieur Petit,” he writes, “will tell you every thing. I will only say that he (Perrot) kept me under arrest from the twenty-first of April to the ninth of June, on pretence of a little weakness I had for some women, and even told me that he had your orders to do it: but that is not what troubles him; and as I do not believe there is another man under heaven who will do meaner things through love of gain, even to selling brandy by the pint and half-pint before strangers in his own house, because he does not trust a single one of his servants,—I see plainly what is the matter with him. He wants to be the only merchant in Acadia.” [Footnote: Saint-Castin a Denonville, 2 Juiliet, 1687.]

Perrot was recalled this very year; and his successor, Meneval, received instructions in regard to Saint-Castin, which show that the king or his minister had a clear idea both of the baron’s merits and of his failings. The new governor was ordered to require him to abandon “his vagabond life among the Indians,” cease all trade with the English, and establish a permanent settlement. Meneval was farther directed to assure him that, if he conformed to the royal will, and led a life “more becoming a gentleman,” he might expect to receive proofs of his Majesty’s approval. [Footnote: Instruction du Roy au Sieur de Meneval, 5 Avril, 1687.]

In the next year, Meneval reported that he had represented to Saint-Castin the necessity of reform, and that in consequence he had abandoned his trade with the English, given up his squaws, married, and promised to try to make a solid settlement. [Footnote: Memoire du Sieur de Meneval sur l’Acadie, 10 Sept., 1688.] True he had reformed before, and might need to reform again; but his faults were not of the baser sort: he held his honor high, and was free-handed as he was bold. His wife was what the early chroniclers would call an Indian princess; for she was the daughter of Madockawando, chief of the Penobscots.

So critical was the position of his post at Pentegoet that a strong fort and a sufficient garrison could alone hope to maintain it against the pirates and the “Bostonnais.” Its vicissitudes had been many. Standing on ground claimed by the English, within territory which had been granted to the Duke of York, and which, on his accession to the throne, became a part of the royal domain, it was never safe from attack. In 1686, it was plundered by an agent of Dongan. In 1687, it was plundered again; and in the next year Andros, then royal governor, anchored before it in his frigate, the “Rose,” landed with his attendants, and stripped the building of all it contained, except a small altar with pictures and ornaments, which they found in the principal room. Saint-Castin escaped to the woods; and Andros sent him word by an Indian that his property would be carried to Pemaquid, and that he could have it again by becoming a British subject. He refused the offer. [Footnote: Memoire presente au Roy d’Angleterre, 1687; Saint-Castin a Denonville, 7 Juillet, 1687; Hutchinson Collection, 562, 563; Andros Tracts, I. 118.]

The rival English post of Pemaquid was destroyed, as we have seen, by the Abenakis in 1689; and, in the following year, they and their French allies had made such havoc among the border settlements that nothing was left east of the Piscataqua except the villages of Wells, York, and Kittery. But a change had taken place in the temper of the savages, mainly due to the easy conquest of Port Royal by Phips, and to an expedition of the noted partisan Church by which they had suffered considerable losses. Fear of the English on one hand, and the attraction of their trade on the other, disposed many of them to peace. Six chiefs signed a truce with the commissioners of Massachusetts, and promised to meet them in council to bury the hatchet for ever.

The French were filled with alarm. Peace between the Abenakis and the “Bostonnais” would be disastrous both to Acadia and to Canada, because these tribes held the passes through the northern wilderness, and, so long as they were in the interest of France, covered the settlements on the St. Lawrence from attack. Moreover, the government relied on them to fight its battles. Therefore, no pains were spared to break off their incipient treaty with the English, and spur them again to war. Villebon, a Canadian of good birth, one of the brothers of Portneuf, was sent by the king to govern Acadia. Presents for the Abenakis were given him in abundance; and he was ordered to assure them of support, so long as they fought for France. [Footnote: Memoire pour servir d’Instruction au Sieur de Villebon, 1691.] He and his officers were told to join their war-parties; while the Canadians, who followed him to Acadia, were required to leave all other employments and wage incessant war against the English borders. “You yourself,” says the minister, “will herein set them so good an example, that they will be animated by no other desire than that of making profit out of the enemy: there is nothing which I more strongly urge upon you than to put forth all your ability and prudence to prevent the Abenakis from occupying themselves in any thing but war, and by good management of the supplies which you have received for their use to enable them to live by it more to their advantage than by hunting.” [1]

Armed with these instructions, Villebon repaired to his post, where he was joined by a body of Canadians under Portneuf. His first step was to reoccupy Port Royal; and, as there was nobody there to oppose him, he easily succeeded. The settlers renounced allegiance to Massachusetts and King William, and swore fidelity to their natural sovereign. [Footnote: Proces-verbal de la Prise de Possession du Port Royal, 27 Sept., 1691.] The capital of Acadia dropped back quietly into the lap of France; but, as the “Bostonnais” might recapture it at any time, Villebon crossed to the St. John, and built a fort high up the stream at Naxouat, opposite the present city of Fredericton. Here no “Bostonnais” could reach him, and he could muster war-parties at his leisure.

One thing was indispensable. A blow must be struck that would encourage and excite the Abenakis. Some of them had had no part in the truce, and were still so keen for English blood that a deputation of their chiefs told Frontenac at Quebec that they would fight, even if they must head their arrows with the bones of beasts. [Footnote: Paroles des Sauvages de la Mission de Pentegoet.] They were under no such necessity. Guns, powder, and lead were given them in abundance; and Thury, the priest on the Penobscot, urged them to strike the English. A hundred and fifty of his converts took the war-path, and were joined by a band from the Kennebec. It was January; and they made their way on snow-shoes along the frozen streams, and through the deathly solitudes of the winter forest, till, after marching a month, they neared their destination, the frontier settlement of York. In the afternoon of the fourth of February, they encamped at the foot of a high hill, evidently Mount Agamenticus, from the top of which the English village lay in sight. It was a collection of scattered houses along the banks of the river Agamenticus and the shore of the adjacent sea. Five or more of them were built for defence, though owned and occupied by families like the other houses. Near the sea stood the unprotected house of the chief man of the place, Dummer, the minister. York appears to have contained from three to four hundred persons of all ages, for the most part rude and ignorant borderers.

The warriors lay shivering all night in the forest, not daring to make fires. In the morning, a heavy fall of snow began. They moved forward, and soon heard the sound of an axe. It was an English boy chopping wood. They caught him, extorted such information as they needed, then tomahawked him, and moved on, till, hidden by the forest and the thick snow, they reached the outskirts of the village. Here they divided into two parties, and each took its station. A gun was fired as a signal, upon which they all yelled the war-whoop, and dashed upon their prey. One party mastered the nearest fortified house, which had scarcely a defender but women. The rest burst into the unprotected houses, killing or capturing the astonished inmates. The minister was at his door, in the act of mounting his horse to visit some distant parishioners, when a bullet struck him dead. He was a graduate of Harvard College, a man advanced in life, of some learning, and greatly respected. The French accounts say that about a hundred persons, including women and children, were killed, and about eighty captured. Those who could, ran for the fortified houses of Preble, Harmon, Alcock, and Norton, which were soon filled with the refugees. The Indians did not attack them, but kept well out of gun-shot, and busied themselves in pillaging, killing horses and cattle, and burning the unprotected houses. They then divided themselves into small bands, and destroyed all the outlying farms for four or five miles around.

The wish of King Louis was fulfilled. A good profit had been made out of the enemy. The victors withdrew into the forest with their plunder and their prisoners, among whom were several old women and a number of children from three to seven years old. These, with a forbearance which does them credit, they permitted to return uninjured to the nearest fortified house, in requital, it is said, for the lives of a number of Indian children spared by the English in a recent attack on the Androscoggin. The wife of the minister was allowed to go with them; but her son remained a prisoner, and the agonized mother went back to the Indian camp to beg for his release. They again permitted her to return; but, when she came a second time, they told her that, as she wanted to be a prisoner, she should have her wish. She was carried with the rest to their village, where she soon died of exhaustion and distress. One of the warriors arrayed himself in the gown of the slain minister, and preached a mock sermon to the captive parishioners. [2]

Leaving York in ashes, the victors began their march homeward; while a body of men from Portsmouth followed on their trail, but soon lost it, and failed to overtake them. There was a season of feasting and scalp-dancing at the Abenaki towns; and then, as spring opened, a hundred of the warriors set out to visit Villebon, tell him of their triumph, and receive the promised gifts from their great father the king. Villebon and his brothers, Portneuf, Neuvillette, and Desiles, with their Canadian followers, had spent the winter chiefly on the St. John, finishing their fort at Naxouat, and preparing for future operations. The Abenaki visitors arrived towards the end of April, and were received with all possible distinction. There were speeches, gifts, and feasting; for they had done much, and were expected to do more. Portneuf sang a war-song in their language; then he opened a barrel of wine: the guests emptied it in less than fifteen minutes, sang, whooped, danced, and promised to repair to the rendezvous at Saint-Castin’s station of Pentegoet. [Footnote: Villebon, Journal de ce qui s’est passe a l’Acadie, 1691, 1692.] A grand war-party was afoot; and a new and withering blow was to be struck against the English border. The guests set out for Pentegoet, followed by Portneuf, Desiles, La Brognerie, several other officers, and twenty Canadians. A few days after, a large band of Micmacs arrived; then came the Malicite warriors from their village of Medoctec; and at last Father Baudoin appeared, leading another band of Micmacs from his mission of Beaubassin. Speeches, feasts, and gifts were made to them all; and they all followed the rest to the appointed rendezvous.

At the beginning of June, the site of the town of Castine was covered with wigwams and the beach lined with canoes. Malecites and Micmacs, Abenakis from the Penobscot and Abenakis from the Kennebec, were here, some four hundred warriors in all. [Footnote: Frontenac au Ministre, 15 Sept., 1692.] Here, too, were Portneuf and his Canadians, the Baron de Saint-Castin and his Indian father-in-law, Madockawando, with Moxus, Egeremet, and other noted chiefs, the terror of the English borders. They crossed Penobscot Bay, and marched upon the frontier village of Wells.

Wells, like York, was a small settlement of scattered houses along the sea-shore. The year before, Moxus had vainly attacked it with two hundred warriors. All the neighboring country had been laid waste by a murderous war of detail, the lonely farm-houses pillaged and burned, and the survivors driven back for refuge to the older settlements. [Footnote: The ravages committed by the Abenakis in the preceding year among the scattered farms of Maine and New Hampshire are said by Frontenac to have been “impossible to describe.” Another French writer says that they burned more than 200 houses.] Wells had been crowded with these refugees; but famine and misery had driven most of them beyond the Piscataqua, and the place was now occupied by a remnant of its own destitute inhabitants, who, warned by the fate of York, had taken refuge in five fortified houses. The largest of these, belonging to Joseph Storer, was surrounded by a palisade, and occupied by fifteen armed men, under Captain Convers, an officer of militia. On the ninth of June, two sloops and a sail-boat ran up the neighboring creek, bringing supplies and fourteen more men. The succor came in the nick of time. The sloops had scarcely anchored, when a number of cattle were seen running frightened and wounded from the woods. It was plain that an enemy was lurking there. All the families of the place now gathered within the palisades of Storer’s house, thus increasing his force to about thirty men; and a close watch was kept throughout the night.

In the morning, no room was left for doubt. One John Diamond, on his way from the house to the sloops, was seized by Indians and dragged off by the hair. Then the whole body of savages appeared swarming over the fields, so confident of success that they neglected their usual tactics of surprise. A French officer, who, as an old English account says, was “habited like a gentleman,” made them an harangue: they answered with a burst of yells, and then attacked the house, firing, screeching, and calling on Convers and his men to surrender. Others gave their attention to the two sloops, which lay together in the narrow creek, stranded by the ebbing tide. They fired at them for a while from behind a pile of planks on the shore, and threw many fire-arrows without success, the men on board fighting with such cool and dexterous obstinacy that they held them all at bay, and lost but one of their own number. Next, the Canadians made a huge shield of planks, which they fastened vertically to the back of a cart. La Brognerie with twenty-six men, French and Indians, got behind it, and shoved the cart towards the stranded sloops. It was within fifty feet of them, when a wheel sunk in the mud, and the machine stuck fast. La Brognerie tried to lift the wheel, and was shot dead. The tide began to rise. A Canadian tried to escape, and was also shot. The rest then broke away together, some of them, as they ran, dropping under the bullets of the sailors.

The whole force now gathered for a final attack on the garrison house. Their appearance was so frightful, and their clamor so appalling, that one of the English muttered something about surrender. Convers returned, “If you say that again, you are a dead man.” Had the allies made a bold assault, he and his followers must have been overpowered; but this mode of attack was contrary to Indian maxims. They merely leaped, yelled, fired, and called on the English to yield. They were answered with derision. The women in the house took part in the defence, passed ammunition to the men, and sometimes fired themselves on the enemy. The Indians at length became discouraged, and offered Convers favorable terms. He answered, “I want nothing but men to fight with.” An Abenaki who spoke English cried out: “If you are so bold, why do you stay in a garrison house like a squaw? Come out and fight like a man!” Convers retorted, “Do you think I am fool enough to come out with thirty men to fight five hundred?” Another Indian shouted, “Damn you, we’ll cut you small as tobacco before morning.” Convers returned a contemptuous defiance.

After a while, they ceased firing, and dispersed about the neighborhood, butchering cattle and burning the church and a few empty houses. As the tide began to ebb, they sent a fire-raft in full blaze down the creek to destroy the sloops; but it stranded, and the attempt failed. They now wreaked their fury on the prisoner Diamond, whom they tortured to death, after which they all disappeared. A few resolute men had foiled one of the most formidable bands that ever took the war-path in Acadia. [3]

The warriors dispersed to their respective haunts; and, when a band of them reached the St. John, Villebon coolly declares that he gave them a prisoner to burn. They put him to death with all their ingenuity of torture. The act, on the part of the governor, was more atrocious, as it had no motive of reprisal, and as the burning of prisoners was not the common practice of these tribes. [Footnote: “Le 18me (Aout) un sauvage anglois fut pris au bas de la riviere de St. Jean. Je le donnai a nos sauvages pour estre brule, ce qu’ils firent le lendemain. On ne peut rien adjouter aux tourmens qu’ils luy firent souffrir.” Villebon, Journal, 1691, 1692.]

The warlike ardor of the Abenakis cooled after the failure at Wells, and events that soon followed nearly extinguished it. Phips had just received his preposterous appointment to the government of Massachusetts. To the disgust of its inhabitants, the stubborn colony was no longer a republic. The new governor, unfit as he was for his office, understood the needs of the eastern frontier, where he had spent his youth; and he brought a royal order to rebuild the ruined fort at Pemaquid. The king gave the order, but neither men, money, nor munitions to execute it; and Massachusetts bore all the burden. Phips went to Pemaquid, laid out the work, and left a hundred men to finish it. A strong fort of stone was built, the abandoned cannon of Casco mounted on its walls, and sixty men placed in garrison.

The keen military eye of Frontenac saw the danger involved in the re-establishment of Pemaquid. Lying far in advance of the other English stations, it barred the passage of war-parties along the coast, and was a standing menace to the Abenakis. It was resolved to capture it. Two ships of war, lately arrived at Quebec, the “Poli” and the “Envieux,” were ordered to sail for Acadia with above four hundred men, take on board two or three hundred Indians at Pentegoet, reduce Pemaquid, and attack Wells, Portsmouth, and the Isles of Shoals; after which, they were to scour the Acadian seas of “Bostonnais” fishermen.

At this time, a gentleman of Boston, John Nelson, captured by Villebon the year before, was a prisoner at Quebec. Nelson was nephew and heir of Sir Thomas Temple, in whose right he claimed the proprietorship of Acadia, under an old grant of Oliver Cromwell. He was familiar both with that country and with Canada, which he had visited several times before the war. As he was a man of birth and breeding, and a declared enemy of Phips, and as he had befriended French prisoners, and shown especial kindness to Meneval, the captive governor of Acadia, he was treated with distinction by Frontenac, who, though he knew him to be a determined enemy of the French, lodged him at the chateau, and entertained him at his own table. [Footnote: Champigny au Ministre, 4 Nov., 1693.] Madockawando, the father-in-law of Saint-Castin, made a visit to Frontenac; and Nelson, who spoke both French and Indian, contrived to gain from him and from other sources a partial knowledge of the intended expedition. He was not in favor at Boston; for, though one of the foremost in the overthrow of Andros, his creed and his character savored more of the Cavalier than of the Puritan. This did not prevent him from risking his life for the colony. He wrote a letter to the authorities of Massachusetts, and then bribed two soldiers to desert and carry it to them. The deserters were hotly pursued, but reached their destination, and delivered their letter. The two ships sailed from Quebec; but when, after a long delay at Mount Desert, they took on board the Indian allies and sailed onward to Pemaquid, they found an armed ship from Boston anchored in the harbor. Why they did not attack it, is a mystery. The defences of Pemaquid were still unfinished, the French force was far superior to the English, and Iberville, who commanded it, was a leader of unquestionable enterprise and daring. Nevertheless, the French did nothing, and soon after bore away for France. Frontenac was indignant, and severely blamed Iberville, whose sister was on board his ship, and was possibly the occasion of his inaction. [Footnote: Frontenac au Ministre, 25 Oct., 1693.]

Thus far successful, the authorities of Boston undertook an enterprise little to their credit. They employed the two deserters, joined with two Acadian prisoners, to kidnap Saint-Castin, whom, next to the priest Thury, they regarded as their most insidious enemy. The Acadians revealed the plot, and the two soldiers were shot at Mount Desert. Nelson was sent to France, imprisoned two years in a dungeon of the Chateau of Angouleme, and then placed in the Bastile. Ten years passed before he was allowed to return to his family at Boston. [4] The French failure at Pemaquid completed the discontent of the Abenakis; and despondency and terror seized them when, in the spring of 1693, Convers, the defender of Wells, ranged the frontier with a strong party of militia, and built another stone fort at the falls of the Saco. In July, they opened a conference at Pemaquid; and, in August, thirteen of their chiefs, representing, or pretending to represent, all the tribes from the Merrimac to the St. Croix, came again to the same place to conclude a final treaty of peace with the commissioners of Massachusetts. They renounced the French alliance, buried the hatchet, declared themselves British subjects, promised to give up all prisoners, and left five of their chief men as hostages. [Footnote: For the treaty in full, Mather, Magnalia, II. 625.] The frontier breathed again. Security and hope returned to secluded dwellings buried in a treacherous forest, where life had been a nightmare of horror and fear; and the settler could go to his work without dreading to find at evening his cabin burned and his wife and children murdered. He was fatally deceived, for the danger was not past.

It is true that some of the Abenakis were sincere in their pledges of peace. A party among them, headed by Madockawando, were dissatisfied with the French, anxious to recover their captive countrymen, and eager to reopen trade with the English. But there was an opposing party, led by the chief Taxous, who still breathed war; while between the two was an unstable mob of warriors, guided by the impulse of the hour. [Footnote: The state of feeling among the Abenakis is shown in a letter of Thury to Frontenac, 11 Sept., 1694, and in the journal of Villebon for 1693.] The French spared no efforts to break off the peace. The two missionaries, Bigot on the Kennebec and Thury on the Penobscot, labored with unwearied energy to urge the savages to war. The governor, Villebon, flattered them, feasted them, adopted Taxous as his brother, and, to honor the occasion, gave him his own best coat. Twenty-five hundred pounds of gunpowder, six thousand pounds of lead, and a multitude of other presents, were given this year to the Indians of Acadia. [Footnote: Estat de Munitions, etc., pour les Sauvages de l’Acadie, 1693.] Two of their chiefs had been sent to Versailles. They now returned, in gay attire, their necks hung with medals, and their minds filled with admiration, wonder, and bewilderment.

The special duty of commanding Indians had fallen to the lot of an officer named Villieu, who had been ordered by the court to raise a war-party and attack the English. He had lately been sent to replace Portneuf, who had been charged with debauchery and peculation. Villebon, angry at his brother’s removal, was on ill terms with his successor; and, though he declares that he did his best to aid in raising the war-party, Villieu says, on the contrary, that he was worse than indifferent. The new lieutenant spent the winter at Naxouat, and on the first of May went up in a canoe to the Malicite village of Medoctec, assembled the chiefs, and invited them to war. They accepted the invitation with alacrity. Villieu next made his way through the wilderness to the Indian towns of the Penobscot. On the ninth, he reached the mouth of the Mattawamkeag, where he found the chief Taxous, paddled with him down the Penobscot, and, at midnight on the tenth, landed at a large Indian village, at or near the place now called Passadumkeag. Here he found a powerful ally in the Jesuit Vincent Bigot, who had come from the Kennebec, with three Abenakis, to urge their brethren of the Penobscot to break off the peace. The chief envoy denounced the treaty of Pemaquid as a snare; and Villieu exhorted the assembled warriors to follow him to the English border, where honor and profit awaited them. But first he invited them to go back with him to Naxouat to receive their presents of arms, ammunition, and every thing else that they needed.

They set out with alacrity. Villieu went with them, and they all arrived within a week. They were feasted and gifted to their hearts’ content; and then the indefatigable officer led them back by the same long and weary routes which he had passed and repassed before, rocky and shallow streams, chains of wilderness lakes, threads of water writhing through swamps where the canoes could scarcely glide among the water-weeds and alders. Villieu was the only white man. The governor, as he says, would give him but two soldiers, and these had run off. Early in June, the whole flotilla paddled down the Penobscot to Pentegeot. Here the Indians divided their presents, which they found somewhat less ample than they had imagined. In the midst of their discontent, Madockawando came from Pemaquid with news that the governor of Massachusetts was about to deliver up the Indian prisoners in his hands, as stipulated by the treaty. This completely changed the temper of the warriors. Madockawando declared loudly for peace, and Villieu saw all his hopes wrecked. He tried to persuade his disaffected allies that the English only meant to lure them to destruction, and the missionary Thury supported him with his utmost eloquence. The Indians would not be convinced; and their trust in English good faith was confirmed, when they heard that a minister had just come to Pemaquid to teach their children to read and write. The news grew worse and worse. Villieu was secretly informed that Phips had been off the coast in a frigate, invited Madockawando and other chiefs on board, and feasted them in his cabin, after which they had all thrown their hatchets into the sea, in token of everlasting peace. Villieu now despaired of his enterprise, and prepared to return to the St. John; when Thury, wise as the serpent, set himself to work on the jealousy of Taxous, took him aside, and persuaded him that his rival, Madockawando, had put a slight upon him in presuming to make peace without his consent. “The effect was marvellous,” says Villieu. Taxous, exasperated, declared that he would have nothing to do with Madockawando’s treaty. The fickle multitude caught the contagion, and asked for nothing but English scalps; but, before setting out, they must needs go back to Passadumkeag to finish their preparations.

Villieu again went with them, and on the way his enterprise and he nearly perished together. His canoe overset in a rapid at some distance above the site of Bangor: he was swept down the current, his head was dashed against a rock, and his body bruised from head to foot. For five days he lay helpless with fever. He had no sooner recovered than he gave the Indians a war-feast, at which they all sang the war-song, except Madockawando and some thirty of his clansmen, whom the others made the butt of their taunts and ridicule. The chief began to waver. The officer and the missionary beset him with presents and persuasion, till at last he promised to join the rest.

It was the end of June when Villieu and Thury, with one Frenchman and a hundred and five Indians, began their long canoe voyage to the English border. The savages were directed to give no quarter, and told that the prisoners already in their hands would insure the safety of their hostages in the hands of the English. [Footnote: Villebon, Memoire, Juillet, 1694; Instruction du Sr. de Villebon au Sr. de Villieu.] More warriors were to join them from Bigot’s mission on the Kennebec. On the ninth of July, they neared Pemaquid; but it was no part of their plan to attack a garrisoned post. The main body passed on at a safe distance; while Villieu approached the fort, dressed and painted like an Indian, and accompanied by two or three genuine savages, carrying a packet of furs, as if on a peaceful errand of trade. Such visits from Indians had been common since the treaty; and, while his companions bartered their beaver skins with the unsuspecting soldiers, he strolled about the neighborhood and made a plan of the works. The party was soon after joined by Bigot’s Indians, and the united force now amounted to two hundred and thirty. They held a council to determine where they should make their attack, but opinions differed. Some were for the places west of Boston, and others for those nearer at hand. Necessity decided them. Their provisions were gone, and Villieu says that he himself was dying of hunger. They therefore resolved to strike at the nearest settlement, that of Oyster River, now Durham, about twelve miles from Portsmouth. They cautiously moved forward, and sent scouts in advance, who reported that the inhabitants kept no watch. In fact, a messenger from Phips had assured them that the war was over, and that they could follow their usual vocations without fear.

Villieu and his band waited till night, and then made their approach. There was a small village; a church; a mill; twelve fortified houses, occupied in most cases only by families; and many unprotected farm-houses, extending several miles along the stream. The Indians separated into bands, and, stationing themselves for a simultaneous attack at numerous points, lay patiently waiting till towards day. The moon was still bright when the first shot gave the signal, and the slaughter began. The two palisaded houses of Adams and Drew, without garrisons, were taken immediately, and the families butchered. Those of Edgerly, Beard, and Medar were abandoned, and most of the inmates escaped. The remaining seven were successfully defended, though several of them were occupied only by the families which owned them. One of these, belonging to Thomas Bickford, stood by the river near the lower end of the settlement. Roused by the firing, he placed his wife and children in a boat, sent them down the stream, and then went back alone to defend his dwelling. When the Indians appeared, he fired on them, sometimes from one loophole and sometimes from another, shouting the word of command to an imaginary garrison, and showing himself with a different hat, cap, or coat, at different parts of the building. The Indians were afraid to approach, and he saved both family and home. One Jones, the owner of another of these fortified houses, was wakened by the barking of his dogs, and went out, thinking that his hog-pen was visited by wolves. The flash of a gun in the twilight of the morning showed the true nature of the attack. The shot missed him narrowly; and, entering the house again, he stood on his defence, when the Indians, after firing for some time from behind a neighboring rock, withdrew and left him in peace. Woodman’s garrison house, though occupied by a number of men, was attacked more seriously, the Indians keeping up a long and brisk fire from behind a ridge where they lay sheltered; but they hit nobody, and at length disappeared. [Footnote: Woodman’s garrison house is still standing, having been carefully preserved by his descendants.]

Among the unprotected houses, the carnage was horrible. A hundred and four persons, chiefly women and children half naked from their beds, were tomahawked, shot, or killed by slower and more painful methods. Some escaped to the fortified houses, and others hid in the woods. Twenty-seven were kept alive as prisoners. Twenty or more houses were burned; but, what is remarkable, the church was spared. Father Thury entered it during the massacre, and wrote with chalk on the pulpit some sentences, of which the purport is not preserved, as they were no doubt in French or Latin.

Thury said mass, and then the victors retreated in a body to the place where they had hidden their canoes. Here Taxous, dissatisfied with the scalps that he and his band had taken, resolved to have more; and with fifty of his own warriors, joined by others from the Kennebec, set out on a new enterprise. “They mean,” writes Villieu in his diary, “to divide into bands of four or five, and knock people in the head by surprise, which cannot fail to produce a good effect.” [Footnote: “Casser des testes a la surprise apres s’estre divises en plusieurs bandes de quatre au cinq, ce qui ne peut manquer de faire un bon effect.” Villieu, Relation.] They did in fact fall a few days after on the settlements near Groton, and killed some forty persons.

Having heard from one of the prisoners a rumor of ships on the way from England to attack Quebec, Villieu thought it necessary to inform Frontenac at once. Attended by a few Indians, he travelled four days and nights, till he found Bigot at an Abenaki fort on the Kennebec. His Indians were completely exhausted. He took others in their place, pushed forward again, reached Quebec on the twenty-second of August, found that Frontenac had gone to Montreal, followed him thither, told his story, and presented him with thirteen English scalps. [Footnote: “Dans cette assemblee M. de Villieu avec 4 sauvages qu’il avoit amenes de l’Accadie presenta a Monsieur le Comte de Frontenac 13 chevelures angloises.” Callieres au Ministre, 10 Oct., 1694.] He had displayed in the achievement of his detestable exploit an energy, perseverance, and hardihood rarely equalled; but all would have been vain but for the help of his clerical colleague Father Pierre Thury. [5]

THE INDIAN TRIBES OF ACADIA.—The name Abenaki is generic, and of very loose application. As employed by the best French writers at the end of the seventeenth century, it may be taken to include the tribes from the Kennebec eastward to the St. John. These again may be sub-divided as follows. First, the Canibas (Kenibas), or tribes of the Kennebec and adjacent waters. These with kindred neighboring tribes on the Saco, the Androscoggin, and the Sheepscot, have been held by some writers to be the Abenakis proper, though some of them, such as the Sokokis or Pequawkets of the Saco, spoke a dialect distinct from the rest. Secondly, the tribes of the Penobscot, called Tarratines by early New England writers, who sometimes, however, give this name a more extended application. Thirdly, the Malicites (Marechites) of the St. Croix and the St. John. These, with the Penobscots or Tarratines, are the Etchemins of early French waiters. All these tribes speak dialects of Algonquin, so nearly related that they understand each other with little difficulty. That eminent Indian philologist, Mr. J. Hammond Trumbull, writes to me: “The Malicite, the Penobscot, and the Kennebec, or Caniba, are dialects of the same language, which may as well be called Abenaki. The first named differs more considerably from the other two than do these from each other. In fact the Caniba and the Penobscot are merely provincial dialects, with no greater difference than is found in two English counties.” The case is widely different with the Micmacs, the Souriquois of the French, who occupy portions of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and who speak a language which, though of Algonquin origin, differs as much from the Abenaki dialects as Italian differs from French, and was once described to me by a Malicite (Passamaquoddy) Indian as an unintelligible jargon.

[1] “Comme vostre principal objet doit estre de faire la guerre sans relache aux Anglois, il faut que vostre plus particuliere application soit de detourner de tout autre employ les Francois qui sont avec vous, en leur donnant de vostre part un si bon exemple en cela qu’ils ne soient animez que du desir de chercher a faire du proffit sur les ennemis. Je n’ay aussy rien a vous recommander plus fortement que de mettre en usage tout ce que vous pouvez avoir de capacite et de prudence afin que les Canibas (Abenakis) ne s’employent qu’a la guerre, et que par l’economie de ce que vous avez a leur fournir ils y puissent trouver leur subsistance et plus d’avantage qu’a la chasse.” Le Ministre a Villebon, Avril, 1692. Two years before, the king had ordered that the Abenakis should be made to attack the English settlements.

[2] The best French account of the capture of York is that of Champigny in a letter to the minister, 5 Oct., 1692. His information came from an Abenaki chief, who was present. The journal of Villebon contains an exaggerated account of the affair, also derived from Indians. Compare the English accounts in Mather, Williamson, and Niles. These writers make the number of slain and captives much less than that given by the French. In the contemporary journal of Rev. John Pike, it is placed at 48 killed and 78 taken.

Two fortified houses of this period are still (1875) standing at York. They are substantial buildings of squared timber, with the upper story projecting over the lower, so as to allow a vertical fire on the heads of assailants. In one of them some of the loopholes for musketry are still left open. They may or may not have been originally enclosed by palisades.

[3] Villebon, Journal de ce qui s’est passe a l’Acadie, 1691, 1692; Mather, Magnalia, II. 613; Hutchinson, Hist. Mass., II. 67; Williamson, History of Maine, I. 631; Bourne, History of Wells, 213; Niles, Indian and French Wars, 229. Williamson, like Sylvanus Davis, calls Portneuf Barneffe or Barniffe. He, and other English writers, call La Brognerie Labocree. The French could not recover his body, on which, according to Niles and others, was found a pouch “stuffed full of relics, pardons, and indulgences.” The prisoner Diamond told the captors that there were thirty men in the sloops. They believed him, and were cautious accordingly. There were, in fact, but fourteen. Most of the fighting was on the tenth. On the evening of that day, Convers received a reinforcement of six men. They were a scouting party, whom he had sent a few days before in the direction of Salmon River. Returning, they were attacked, when near the garrison house, by a party of Portneuf’s Indians. The sergeant in command instantly shouted, “Captain Convers, send your men round the hill, and we shall catch these dogs.” Thinking that Convers had made a sortie, the Indians ran off, and the scouts joined the garrison without loss.

[4] Lagny, Memoire sur l’Acadie, 1692; Memoire sur l’Enlevement de Saint-Castin; Frontenac au Ministre, 25 Oct., 1693; Relation de ce qui s’est passe de plus remarquable, 1690, 1691 (capture of Nelson); Frontenac au Ministre, 15 Sept., 1692; Champigny au Ministre, 15 Oct., 1692. Champigny here speaks of Nelson as the most audacious of the English, and the most determined on the destruction of the French. Nelson’s letter to the authorities of Boston is printed in Hutchinson, I. 338. It does not warn them of an attempt against Pemaquid, of the rebuilding of which he seems not to have heard, but only of a design against the seaboard towns. Compare N. Y. Col. Docs., IX. 555. In the same collection is a Memorial on the Northern Colonies, by Nelson, a paper showing much good sense and penetration. After an imprisonment of four and a half years, he was allowed to go to England on parole; a friend in France giving security of 15,000 livres for his return, in case of his failure to procure from the king an order for the fulfilment of the terms of the capitulation of Port Royal. (Le Ministre a Begon, 13 Jan., 1694.) He did not succeed, and the king forbade him to return. It is characteristic of him that he preferred to disobey the royal order, and thus incur the high displeasure of his sovereign, rather than break his parole and involve his friend in loss. La Hontan calls him a “fort galant homme.” There is a portrait of him at Boston, where his descendants are represented by the prominent families of Derby and Borland.

[5] The principal authority for the above is the very curious Relation du Voyage fait par le Sieur de Villieu ... pour faire la Guerre aux Anglois au printemps de l’an 1694. It is the narrative of Villieu himself, written in the form of a journal, with great detail. He also gives a brief summary in a letter to the minister, 7 Sept. The best English account is that of Belknap, in his History of New Hampshire. Cotton Mather tells the story in his usual unsatisfactory and ridiculous manner. Pike, in his journal, says that ninety-four persons in all were killed or taken. Mather says, “ninety four or a hundred.” The Provincial Record of New Hampshire estimates it at eighty. Charlevoix claims two hundred and thirty, and Villieu himself but a hundred and thirty-one. Champigny, Frontenac, and Callieres, in their reports to the court, adopt Villieu’s statements. Frontenac says that the success was due to the assurances of safety which Phips had given the settlers.

In the Massachusetts archives is a letter to Phips, written just after the attack. The devastation extended six or seven miles. There are also a number of depositions from persons present, giving a horrible picture of the cruelties practised.


Related Resources

Francis Parkman

Download Options

Title: Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Francis Parkman, "CHAPTER XVI.," Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV Original Sources, accessed December 3, 2022,

MLA: Parkman, Francis. "CHAPTER XVI." Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV, Vol. 5, Original Sources. 3 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Parkman, F 1877, 'CHAPTER XVI.' in Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV. Original Sources, retrieved 3 December 2022, from