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Champlain
Chapter X The Capitulation of Quebec. 1629


WE have somewhat anticipated events, so we now retrace our steps, and place ourselves within Champlain's defenceless stronghold as its fatal hour approached. On Thursday, July 19th, 1629, a savage named La Nasse by the French, and Manitougatche by his own people, informed the Jesuits that three English ships were in sight off the Island of Orleans, behind Point Ldvis, and that six other vessels were anchored at Tadousac. Champlain was already aware that some ships were at Tadousac, but he was surprised to learn that the enemy had approached Quebec, and at first he thought that they might be French ships. There was no one in Fort St. Louis at the time he received this news, as every one had gone out in search of plants which were used as food ; he therefore sent for Father Le Caron and the Jesuits to consult with them as to what measures should be taken. In the meantime the English fleet was steadily approaching, and at length drew up at a certain distance from the city. A shallop was then sent out from the admiral's ship, carrying at her mainmast a white flag. Champlain caused a similar flag to be run up over the fort, and Kirke's emissary came ashore and presented to Champlain the following letter:—

"Monsieur:—In consequence of what our brother told you last year that sooner or later he would have Quebec, if not succoured, he has charged us to assure you of his friendship as we do of ours ; and knowing very well the extreme need of everything in which you are, desires that you shall surrender the fort and the settlement to us, assuring you of every kind of courtesy for you and yours, and also of honourable and reasonable terms, such as you may wish. Waiting your reply, we remain, monsieur, your very affectionate servants,

"Louis and Thomas Quer. "On board the Flibot, this July 19th, 1629." Champlain immediately prepared his answer, the terms of which had previously been agreed upon by the fathers. Kirke's representative did not understand a word of the French language, but he had a fair knowledge of Latin. Father de la Roche d'Aillon was therefore requested by Champlain to act as interpreter, and he asked the following questions:—"Is war declared between France and England?" "No," replied the English representative. " Why, then, do you come here to trouble us if our princes live in peace ?" he was asked.

Champlain then requested Father de la Roche to go aboard the English vessels to ascertain from the chiefs what they intended to do. The interview between Father de la Roche and Louis Kirke was courteous, but the answers of the latter were far from being satisfactory. " If Champlain," said the English captain, " gives up the keys of the fortress and of the habitation we promise to convey you all to France, and will treat you well; if not we will oblige him by force." Father de la Roche tried to obtain fifteen days' delay, or even eight days, but it was of no avail.

"Sir," said Louis Kirke, "I well know your miserable condition. Your people have gone out to pick up roots in order to avoid starvation, for we have captured Master Boulld and some other Frenchmen whom we have retained as prisoners at Tadousac, and from whom we have ascertained the condition of the inhabitants of Quebec."

"Give us a delay of eight days," said Father de la Roche. "No," replied Thomas Kirke, "I shall at once ruin the fort with my cannon." " I desire to sleep to-night in the fort," added his brother Louis, "and, if not, I shall devastate the whole country." "Proceed slowly," said Father de la Roche, " for you are deceived if you believe you will easily gain the fort. There are a hundred men there well armed and ready to sell their lives dearly. Perchance you will find your death in this enterprise, for I assure you that the inhabitants are determined to fight, and they derive courage from the conviction that your invasion is unjust, and that their lives and property are at stake. Once more I warn you that an attack might prove dangerous to you."

Captain Louis Kirke seemed a little disheartened on hearing this firm and vigorous language. After having consulted the chief officers of his fleet he asked Father de la Roche to attend a council of war at which an ultimatum was presented in these words:—"Champlain must surrender at once, but he shall have the privilege of dictating the terms of capitulation." Three hours were granted within which his reply was to be given. The Rdcollets were promised protection, but no conditions were accorded to the Jesuits, as it was the admiral's intention to visit their convent, which he believed to contain a quantity of beaver skins.

Father de la Roche returned to Fort St. Louis, and gave an account of his interview. It was plainly evident that it would be useless to rely upon delays in the face of an enemy determined to see the end of the affair. Food was almost exhausted, and it was calculated that there were not more than ten pounds of flour in Quebec, and not more than fifty pounds of gunpowder, which was of inferior quality. Opposition would have been not only useless, but ridiculous. Champlain realized this, and at once resolved to surrender.

Champlain drew up the following articles of capitulation, which were forwarded to the Kirke brothers:—

"That Quer (Kirke) should produce his commission from the king of England to prove that war actually existed between England and France; and also to show the power of his brothers, who commanded the fleet, to act in the king's name.

"That a vessel should be provided to convey Champlain, his companions, the missionaries, both Jesuits and Recollets, the two Indian girls that had been given to him two years before, and all other persons, to France.

"That the religious and other people should be allowed to leave with arms and baggage, and all their furniture, and that a sufficient supply of provisions for the passage to France should be granted in exchange for peltry, etc.

"That all should have the most favourable treatment possible, without violence to any.

"That the ship in which they were to embark for France should be ready in three days after their arrival at Tadousac, and a vessel provided for the transport of their goods, etc., to that place."

These articles were signed by Champlain and Pont-Gravd. After having read them Louis Kirke sent this answer: " That Kirke's commission should be shown and his powers to his brothers for trading purposes. As to providing a vessel to take Champlain and his people direct to France, that could not be done, but they would give them passage to England, and from there to France, whereby they would avoid being again taken by any English cruiser on their route. For the sauvagesses, that clause could not be granted, for reasons which would be explained. As to leaving with arms and baggage, the officers might take with them their arms, clothes, and peltries belonging to them, and the soldiers might have their clothes and a beaver robe each. As for the holy fathers, they must be contented with their robes and books.

"L. Kirke.

"Thomas Kirke.

"The said articles granted to Champlain and Du Pont, I accept and ratify them, and I promise that they shall be executed from point to point. Done at Tadousac, August 19th (new style), 1629.

"David Kirke."

The clause forbidding the soldiers to take their arms, coats and peltry, excepting a castor robe, was a severe trial to them, as many of them had bought skins from the Hurons to the extent of seven to eight hundred francs, and preferred to fight rather than lose their fortune.

Champlain had agreed to capitulate without firing. Some openly reproached Champlain, saying that it was not the fear of death that actuated his course, but rather the loss of the thousand livres, which the English had agreed to give him if he abandoned Quebec without striking a blow.

Champlain was informed of all the murmurs and discontent which were expressed amongst his people by a young Greek, who was charged to inform him that they did not wish to surrender, and even if they lost their fort, they desired to prove to the English that they were full of courage. Champlain was annoyed at these exhibitions of insubordination, and he instructed the Greek to give the people this answer:—"You are badly advised and unwise. How can you desire resistance when we have no provisions, no ammunition, or any prospect of relief ? Are you tired of living, or do you expect to be victorious under such circumstances ? Obey those who desire your safety and who do nothing without prudence."

Brother Sagard makes these remarks upon the condition of affairs:—"It is true that there was a great scarcity of all things necessary for the habitation, but the enemy, too, were weak, as Father Joseph perceived after having examined the whole crew, which consisted of about two hundred soldiers, for the most part, men who had never touched a musket, and who could have been killed as ducks or who would have run away. Moreover they were in a wretched condition, and of a low order. The weather was favourable to the French, as the tide was low, and the wind from the south-east was driving the vessels towards France, so that there was no assurance for either the vessels or the barques. Champlain, however, deemed it more expedient to surrender than to run the risk of his own life or of being made a prisoner while defending a fort so badly armed."

If, as the veracious Brother Sagard says, the fort and the habitation were distressed, it is not proved that the English could be easily defeated. There were at Quebec only fifty men capable of bearing arms, and only a small quantity of gunpowder in store, while provisions were absolutely wanting. How was it possible to sustain a siege without ammunition, without bread and without soldiers ?

On the enemy's side there were two vessels well equipped, and two hundred men. If the men were desperate or wretched, they would be the more dangerous. Even supposing that the two vessels had proved insufficient for a protracted siege, the four vessels at the disposal of David Kirke would have surely come to their assistance.

It would have been a foolish act to have resisted such a powerful enemy. Besides, Champlain had another foe to contend against, for Nicholas Marsolet, Etienne Bruld, Pierre Reye, and others, had betrayed him, and were leagued with Kirke. Champlain understood the difficulties of his position, and his responsibilities, for he had in his hands the lives of one hundred persons.

Of the eighty persons living in Quebec at this time, only two-thirds had private interests to safeguard, and it was a matter of indifference to them whether they remained in Canada or whether they returned to France. The families who had nothing to gain by leaving Quebec were those who deserved the governor's sympathy, and it was for their safety that Champlain would not agree to offer resistance, as the result must have proved disastrous to them. By the articles of capitulation these families would be able to live quietly at home, awaiting the issue of negotiations.

On the day following the preliminaries, Champlain went on board Louis Kirke's vessel, where he was to see the commission of Charles I, which empowered the Kirke brothers to take Quebec and the whole country by assault. Both parties then signed the articles of capitulation, and the English troops, conducted by Champlain, came in shallops near to the habitation. The keys were delivered to Louis Kirke, and then they all proceeded to the fort, which was delivered to the admiral. Quebec was definitely put under the authority of the English, who had not fired a single shot. Louis Kirke placed Le Baillif, who had been dismissed by Guillaume de Caen for his bad conduct, in charge of the storehouse. This was the first reward for his treason. Champlain asked the English commander to protect the chapel of Quebec, the convents, and the houses of the widow of Louis Hubert and of her son-in-law, Guillaume Couillard, and he offered him the keys of his own room within the fort. Louis Kirke refused to accept the latter, and left Champlain in possession of his room. This courteous action was followed by another one, when Kirke delivered to Champlain a certificate of all that he had found within the fort and the habitation. This document was found useful later on, when it was necessary to settle the value of the goods.

In the meantime the English crew robbed the convent of the Jesuits, but they did not find the beaver skins, as they expected. Kirke and the Lutheran minister took for their own use the nicest volumes of the library, and three or four pictures. The Recollets had filled a leather bag with the ornaments of their church, and had hidden it underground, far in the woods, thinking that they might return sooner or later.

On the Sunday following the capitulation, July 22nd, Louis Kirke hoisted the English flag over one of the bastions of the fort, and in order to render the official possession of Quebec more imposing, he placed his soldiers in ranks along the ramparts, and at a precise hour a volley was fired from English muskets. In the afternoon, Champlain, the Jesuits, and the greater number of the French took passage on the Flibot for Tadousac, leaving behind the families of Couillard, Martin, Desportes, Hubert, Hubou, Pivert, Duchesne the surgeon, some interpreters and clerks, and Pont-Gravd, who was too sick to leave his room. It was understood that all those who desired to return to France should start on the day fixed by Kirke.

The fate of the colony was thus decided. Those who had any authority, by reason of their character or their official mission, were compelled to leave. The others were at liberty to remain, especially the interpreters, who would be useful in trading with the Indians. Before Champlain's departure, some had taken his advice. Would they remain in Quebec under a new rdgime, with nothing to hope for? Who was this victorious Kirke, so captivating in appearance? Perhaps a lion clothed with the skin of a lamb ! They knew the Kirke brothers had been guilty of burning the habitation at Cape Tour-mente. Knowing that they were Protestants, they could not expect sympathy on the score of religion. A danger existed from every point of view. Nevertheless, Champlain advised many of them to remain at Quebec in order to save their property. The only objection was that they would be obliged to observe their religion for an indefinite time without the ministrations of their priests.

Three years were to elapse before a French vessel again appeared at Quebec, with authority to hoist the white flag of France. Champlain's advice was not prejudicial to any one, at least not in temporal matters. This small nucleus became the great tree whose branches and leaves extend to-day over the whole American continent. If France had seen the complete depopulation of Canada, perhaps the king would not have made the same efforts to have his colony restored. Champlain himself, in spite of his great zeal and his love for the country which he had founded, had been discouraged by the difficulties. He could foresee better than any other the obstacles which the future would present and it caused him much uneasiness, and offered little consolation. At his age most men would have preferred to rest after an agitated life of thirty years, in the pursuit of an idea which it seemed impossible to realize on account of the manifold difficulties by which it was constantly beset.


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