Bishop Lavel
Chapter XVI Massacre of Lachine


THE virtue of Mgr. de Laval lacked the supreme consecration of misfortune. A wearied but triumphant soldier, the venerable shepherd of souls, coming back to dwell in the bishopric of Quebec, the witness of his first apostolic labours, gave himself into the hands of his Master to disappear and die. "Lord," he said with Simeon, "now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word." But many griefs still remained to test his resignation to the Divine Will, and the most shocking disaster mentioned in our annals was to sadden his last days. The year 1688 had passed peacefully enough for the colony, but it was only the calm which is the forerunner of the storm. The Five Nations employed their time in secret organization; the French, lulled in this deceptive security, particularly by news which had come from M. de Valrennes, in command of Fort Frontenac, to whom the Iroquois had declared that they were coming down to Montreal to make peace, had left the forts to return to their dwellings and to busy themselves with the work of the fields. Moreover, the Chevalier de Vaudreuil, who commanded at Montreal in the absence of M. de Callitres, who had gone to France, carried his lack of foresight to the extent of permitting the officers stationed in the country to leave their posts. It is astonishing to note such imprudent neglect on the part of men who must have known the savage nature. Rancour is the most deeply-rooted defect in the Indian, and it was madness to think that the Iroquois could have forgotten so soon the insult inflicted on their arms by the expedition of M. de Denonville, or the breach made in their independence by the abduction of their chiefs sent to France as convicts. The warning of their approaching incursion had meanwhile reached Quebec through a savage named Ataviata; unfortunately, the Jesuit Fathers had no confidence in this Indian; they assured the governor-general that Ataviata was a worthless fellow, and M. de Denonville made the mistake of listening too readily to these prejudices and of not at least redoubling his precautions.

It was on the night between August 4th and 5th, 1689 ; all was quiet on the Island of Montreal. At the end of the evening's conversation, that necessary complement of every well-filled day, the men had hung their pipes, the faithful comrades of their labour, to a rafter of the ceiling; the women had put away their knitting or pushed aside in a corner their indefatigable spinning-wheel, and all had hastened to seek in sleep new strength for the labour of the morrow. Outside, the elements were unchained, the rain and hail were raging. As daring as the Normans when they braved on frail vessels the fury of the seas, the Iroquois, to the number of fifteen hundred, profited by the storm to traverse Lake St. Louis in their bark canoes, and landed silently on the shore at Lachine. They took care not to approach the forts; the darkness was so thick that the soldiers discovered nothing unusual and did not fire the cannon as was the custom on the approach of the enemy. Long before daybreak the savages, divided into a number of squads, had surrounded the houses within a radius of several miles. Suddenly a piercing signal is given by the chiefs, and at once a horrible clamour rends the air; the terrifying war-cry of the Iroquois has roused the sleepers and raised the hair on the heads of the bravest. The colonists leap from their couches, but they have no time to seize their weapons; demons who seem to be vomited forth by hell have already broken in the doors and windows. The dwellings which the Iroquois cannot penetrate are delivered over to the flames, but the unhappy ones who issue from them in confusion to escape the tortures of the fire are about to be abandoned to still more horrible torments. The pen refuses to describe the horrors of this night, and the imagination of Dante can hardly in his "Inferno" give us an idea of it. The butchers killed the cattle, burned the houses, impaled women, compelled fathers to cast their children into the flames, spitted other little ones still alive and compelled their mothers to roast them. Everything was burned and pillaged except the forts, which were not attacked; two hundred persons of all ages and of both sexes perished under torture, and about fifty, carried away to the villages, were bound to the stake and burned by a slow fire. Nevertheless the great majority of the inhabitants were able to escape, thanks to the strong liquors kept in some of the houses, with which the savages made ample acquaintance. Some of the colonists took refuge in the forts, others were pursued into the woods.

Meanwhile the alarm had spread in Ville-Marie. M. de Denonville, who was there, gives to the Chevalier de Vaudreuil the order to occupy Fort Roland with his troops and a hundred volunteers. De Vaudreuil hastens thither, accompanied by de Subercase and other officers; they are all eager to measure their strength with the enemy, but the order of Denonville is strict, they must remain on the defensive and run no risk. By dint of insistence, Subercase obtained permission to make a sortie with a hundred volunteers; at the moment when he was about to set out he had to yield the command to M. de Saint-Jean, who was higher in rank. The little troop went and entrenched itself among the ddbris of a burned house and exchanged an ineffectual fire with the savages ambushed .in a clump of trees. They soon perceived a party of French and friendly Indians who, coming from Fort Rdmy, were proceeding towards them in great danger of being surrounded by the Iroquois, who were already sobered. The volunteers wished to rush out to meet this reinforcement, but their commander, adhering to his instructions, which forbade him to push on farther, restrained them. What might have been foreseen happened: the detachment from Fort Rmy was exterminated. Five of its officers were taken and carried off towards the Iroquois villages, but succeeded in escaping on the way, except M. de la Rabeyre, who was bound to the stake and perished in torture.

On reading these details one cannot understand the inactivity of the French: it would seem that the authorities had lost their heads. We cannot otherwise explain the lack of foresight of the officers absent from their posts, the pusillanimous orders of the governor to M. de Vaudreuil, his imprudence in sending too weak a troop through the dangerous places, the lack of initiative on the part of M. de Saint-Jean, finally, the absolute lack of energy and audacity, the complete absence of that ardour which is inherent in the French character.

After this disaster the troops returned to the forts, and the surrounding district, abandoned thus to the fury of the barbarians, was ravaged in all directions. The Iroquois, proud of the terror which they inspired, threatened the city itself; we note by the records of Montreal that on August 25th there were buried two soldiers killed by the savages, and that on September 7th following, Jean Beaudry suffered the same fate. Finding nothing more to pillage or to burn, they passed to the opposite shore, and plundered the village of Lachesnaie. They massacred a portion of the population, which was composed of seventy-two persons, and carried off the rest. They did not withdraw until the autumn, dragging after them two hundred captives, including fifty prisoners taken at Lachine.

This terrible event, which had taken place at no great distance from them, and the news of which re-echoed in their midst, struck the inhabitants of Quebec with grief and terror. Mgr. de Laval was cruelly affected by it, but, accustomed to adore in everything the designs of God, he seized the occasion to invoke Him with more fervour; he immediately ordered in his seminary public prayers to implore the mercy of the Most High. M. de Frontenac, who was about to begin his second administration, learned the sinister news on his arrival at Quebec on October 15th. He set out immediately for Montreal, which he reached on the twenty-seventh of the same month. He visited the environments, and found only ruins and ashes where formerly rose luxurious dwellings.

War had just been rekindled between France and Great Britain. The governor had not men enough for vast operations, accordingly he prepared to organize a guerilla warfare. While the Abenaquis, those faithful allies, destroyed the settlements of the English in Acadia and killed nearly two hundred persons there, Count de Frontenac sent in the winter of 1689-90, three detachments against New England ; all three were composed of only a handful of men, but these warriors were well seasoned. In the rigorous cold of winter, traversing innumerable miles on their snowshoes, sinking sometimes into the icy water, sleeping in the snow, carrying their supplies on their backs, they surprised the forts which they went to attack, where one would never have believed that men could execute so rash an enterprise. Thus the three detachments were alike successful, and the forts of Corlaer in the state of New York, of Salmon Falls in New Hampshire, and of Casco on the seaboard, were razed.

The English avenged these reverses by capturing Port Royal. Encouraged by this success, they sent Phipps at the head of a large troop to seize Quebec, while Winthrop attacked Montreal with three thousand men, a large number of whom were Indians. Frontenac hastened to Quebec with M. de Calli&res, governor of Montreal, the militia and the regular troops. Already the fortifications had been protected against surprise by new and well-arranged entrenchments. The hostile fleet appeared on October 16th, 1690, and Phipps sent an officer to summon the governor to surrender the place. The envoy, drawing out his watch, declared with arrogance to the Count de Frontenac that he would give him an hour to decide. "I will answer you by the mouth of my cannon," replied the representative of Louis XIV. The cannon replied so well that at the first shot the admiral's flag fell into the water; the Canadians, braving the balls and bullets which rained about them, swam out to get it, and this trophy remained hanging in the cathedral of Quebec until the conquest. The Histoire de VHdtel-IHeu de Quebec depicts for us very simply the courage and piety of the inhabitants during this siege. " The most admirable thing, and one which surely drew the blessing of Heaven upon Quebec was that during the whole siege no public devotion was interrupted. The city is arranged so that the roads which lead to the churches are seen from the harbour; thus several times a day were beheld processions of men and women going to answer the summons of the bells. The English noticed them; they called M. de Grandeville (a brave Canadian, and clerk of the farm of Tadousac, whom they had made prisoner) and asked him what it was. He answered them simply: 'It is mass, vespers, and the benediction.' By this assurance the citizens of Quebec disconcerted them; they were astonished that women dared to go out; they judged by this that we were very easy in our minds, though this was far from being the case."

It is not surprising that the colonists should have fought valiantly when their bishops and clergy set the example of devotion, when the Jesuits remained constantly among the defenders to encourage and assist on occasion the militia and the soldiers, when Mgr. de Laval, though withdrawn from the conduct of religious affairs, without even the right of sitting in the Sovereign Council, animated the population by his patriotic exhortations. To prove to the inhabitants that the cause which they defended by struggling for their homes was just and holy, at the same time as to place the cathedral under the protection of Heaven, he suggested the idea of hanging on the spire of the cathedral a picture of the Holy Family. This picture was not touched by the balls and bullets, and was restored after the siege to the Ursulines, to whom it belonged.

All the attempts of the English failed; in a fierce combat at Beauport they were repulsed. There perished the brave Le Moyne de Sainte-Hdl≠ there, too, forty pupils of the seminary established at St. Joachim by Mgr. de Laval distinguished themselves by their bravery and contributed to the victory. Already Phipps had lost six hundred men. He decided to retreat. To cap the climax of misfortune, his fleet met in the lower part of the river with a horrible storm; several of his ships were driven by the winds as far as the Antilles, and the rest arrived only with great difficulty at Boston. Winthrop's army, disorganized by disease and discord, had already scattered.

A famine which followed the siege tried the whole colony, and Laval had to suffer by it "as well as the seminary, for neither had hesitated before the sacrifices necessary for the general weal. "All the furs and furniture of the Lower Town were in the seminary," wrote the prelate; "a number of families had taken refuge there, even that of the intendant. This house could not refuse in such need all the sacrifices of charity which were possible, at the expense of a great portion of the provisions which were kept there. The soldiers and others have taken and consumed at least one hundred cords of wood and more than fifteen hundred planks. In brief, in cattle and other damages the loss to the seminary will amount to a round thousand crowns. But we must on occasions of this sort be patient, and do all the good we can without regard to future need."

The English were about to suffer still other reverses. In 1691 Major Schuyler, with a small army composed in part of savages, came and surprised below the fort of the Prairie de la Madeleine a camp of between seven and eight hundred soldiers, whose leader, M. de Saint-Cirque, was slain; but the French, recovering, forced the major to retreat, and M. de Valrennes, who hastened up from Cham-bly with a body of inhabitants and Indians, put the enemy to flight after a fierce struggle. The English failed also in Newfoundland; they were unable to carry Fort Plaisance, which was defended by M. de Brouillan; but he who was to do them most harm was the famous Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, son of Charles Le Moyne. Born in Montreal in 1661, he subsequently entered the French navy. In the year 1696 he was ordered to drive the enemy out of Newfoundland; he seized the capital, St. John's, which he burned, and, marvellous to relate, with only a hundred and twenty-five men he subdued the whole island, slew nearly two hundred of the English, and took six or seven hundred prisoners. The following year he set out with five ships to take possession of Hudson Bay. One day his vessel found itself alone before Fort Nelson, facing three large ships of the enemy; to the amazement of the English, instead of surrendering, d'lberville rushes upon them. In a fierce fight lasting four hours, he sinks the strongest, compels the second to surrender, while the third flees under full sail. Fort Bourbon surrendered almost at once, and Hudson Bay was captured.

After the peace d'lberville explored the mouths of the Mississippi, erected several forts, founded the city of Mobile, and became the first governor of Louisiana. When the war began again, the king gave him a fleet of sixteen vessels to oppose the English in the Indies. He died of an attack of fever in 1706.

During this time, the Iroquois were as dangerous to the French by their inroads and devastations as the Abenaquis were to the English colonies; accordingly Frontenac wished to subdue them. In the summer of 1696, braving the fatigue and privations so hard to bear for a man of his age, Frontenac set out from lie Perrot with more than two thousand men, and landed at the mouth of the Oswego River. He found at Onondaga only the smoking remains of the village to which the savages had themselves set fire, and the corpses of two Frenchmen who had died in torture. He marched next against the Onei-das; all had fled at his approach, and he had to be satisfied with laying waste their country. There remained three of the Five Nations to punish, but winter was coming on and Frontenac did not wish to proceed further into the midst of invisible enemies, so he returned to Quebec.

The following year it was learned that the Treaty of Ryswick had just been concluded between France and England. France kept Hudson Bay, but Louis XIV pledged himself to recognize William III as King of England. The Count de Frontenac had not the good fortune of crowning his brilliant career by a treaty with the savages; he died on November 28th, 1698, at the age of seventy-eight years. In reaching this age without exceeding it, he presented a new point of resemblance to his model, Louis the Great, according to whom he always endeavoured to shape his conduct, and who was destined to die at the age of seventy-seven.


Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast