Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

General Brock
Chapter IV - In Canada

Regarde, me disait mon pfere
Ce drapeau vaillamment porté;
II a fait ton pays prospfcre
Et respecte ta liberte.

Un jour, notre bannifere auguste
Devant lui dut se replier;
Mais alors, s'il nous fut injuste,
II a su le faire oublier. *

Et si maintenant son pli vibre
A nos remparts jadis gaulois,
C'est au moins sur un peuple libre
Qui n'a rien perdu de ses droits.

Oublions les jours de tempetes.
Et, mon enfant, puisqu' aujourd'hui
Ce drapeau flotte sur nos tetes,
II faut s'incliner devant lui.

"Le Drapeau Anglais."—Frechette.

IT was early in the spring of 1802 that Isaac Brock with the 49th Regiment sailed up the St. Lawrence after a long and stormy journey across the Atlantic. One can well imagine the feelings of the young colonel as he gazed for the first time at the rocky height of Quebec crowned by that fortress, once the stronghold of French rule in America. In the forty years that had passed since the conquest, Quebec ihad changed but little.

There before him rose the craggy steep where Wolfe had climbed to victory. The grey wall, pierced with arched gateways and bristling with guns, still enclosed the town. On one side stood out the great cathedral whose bell had rung its summons for more than a century, regardless of the change of earthly monarchs. Here, too, was the Ursuline Convent to which Montcalm had been carried in his death agony. Above on the cliff rose the old, half-ruined Chateau St. Louis, bearing the traces of destruction by shot and shell. All spoke to Brock of stirring deeds which even then could be recounted by those who had taken part in them. He was fresh from fighting the French in the Old World, and the scene of England's triumph might well rekindle the ardour that a year's peace had not extinguished. Did a premonition come to him that on another height in this new land, he too would find fame and death? Perhaps not, for Brock was not given to much dreaming. He only knew that there was work to be done and as an apt pupil from the school of Nelson and Abercromby he was ready to do it in the best way possible.

When Brock arrived in Canada the administration of affairs there was in the hands of Sir Robert Shore Milnes, the lieutenant-governor. General Prescott, who had been governor and commander-in-chief from 1797, in succession to Lord Dorchester, had left Canada in 1799, and although he held his rank as governor until 1807, he never returned to service in the country.

Canada had been fortunate in the men entrusted with her government, and owing to their wise administration there had been very little discontent among the new subjects of His Majesty. The French Canadians had increased and prospered under British rule. First in the roll of governors stands James Murray, that good and true soldier who saved Quebec for England in the stormy year that followed Wolfe's death, when the Marquis de Ldvis brought all his consummate genius to the task of winning it back for France. While the army of Vaudreuil held the river at Montreal, and when it looked for many a weary month as if Amherst would never come to its relief, the half-starved sickly but gallant garrison at Quebec struggled through the terrible winter of 1759 and 1760. The story cannot be told too often of how Murray kept up the courage of his men, and cared also for the feeble folk who were left with him in the town; how, when spring came, both French and English watched the river for the coming sails, well knowing that the side to which food and arms came first would win the day; how, when it was the English ships that came, de Lévis' army melted away and Murray marched to join with Amherst at Montreal; and how Vaudreuil and his abler lieutenant laid down their arms, and the reign of France in the New World was over.

General Murray remained as governor until 1767, when he was succeeded by Sir Guy Carleton, that gallant soldier and statesman, whose life reads like a romance, and who, with but a slight intermission, was to rule the country until 1796. It was he who led the grenadiers in 1759 on the Plains of Abraham and was wounded just before his general sank in death. It was he who, in 1775, as governor and commander-in-chief, drove back from Quebec the American invaders led by Montgomery and Arnold, and who, in spite of traitors around him and a people half sullen, half apathetic, encouraged the remnant to fight for their country and British rule. It was he who pleaded the cause of the old inhabitants before a committee of the English parliament. He understood the difficulties to be met with in the government of Canada when the population was so preponderatingly French, and he helped to draw up the Quebec Act of 1774, which gave to these new subjects the liberties and privileges that in time made them loyal to England. Even the English population (there were but two thousand, to a hundred thousand French) were a little sulky, and inclined to think that too much had been granted to the Gallo-Canadians, but time has proved the wisdom of the act. No wonder that Carleton was welcomed by priest and peasant when he returned as Lord Dorchester in 1792! It was Carleton, too, who, when the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists, had increased the number of English-speaking citizens, saw the difficulties under which they laboured, and revised the act of 1791, which gave to Upper Canada the laws it required. Between his two administrations, General Haldimand had been governor from 1778 to 1786. He too had been a gallant soldier, and had fought in the old French war in America, as well as on many a field in Europe. He was Swiss French by birth, and, speaking their language and understanding their customs, he was well fitted to be the governor of a French population. His administration was held under trying circumstances, during those dark days for England when her armies were waging an unsuccessful campaign in the neighbouring colonies, and when her prestige had fallen in the New World. Haldimand succeeded, however, in steering a very safe course through a stormy sea, and when he handed the government over to Lord Dorchester he left behind him many wise improvements that he had made in the condition of the country. Stern as his rule had been, this testimony has been paid him by Garneau, the French Canadian historian: "Good intents are recognizable on his part, through much of what he did, his chief aim really being to preserve Canada as a British dependency. It was he who recommended the conservation of the territory situated between the St. Lawrence and the United States frontiers, and caused Lord Sydney, contrary to the mind of Lord North, to adopt, in 1784, the right view of this matter. Now that we retrospectively view Haldimand's leaden tyranny without prejudice, now that we discern what was his master thought, few of us, perhaps, will refuse to pardon him for his rough but honest absolutism, out of regard for his efforts to preserve intact a portion of the soil reclaimed by aliens, which had been gained to civilization by our ancestors." After Lord Dorchester came Sir Robert Prescott, who was the titular governor when Brock arrived in 1802.

In England at this time Addington had succeeded Pitt as prime minister, and had concluded a delusive peace with the first consul, who had now taken upon himself the title of president of the Italian republic. In America, Jefferson had been elected president and Madison had been appointed his secretary of state. Both of these men were hostile to England and friendly to France.

Peace in Europe had made Bonaparte turn his attention to another quarter of the world. In 1801, Spain, by treaty, had handed back to France the immense territory of Louisiana, which had been ceded to Spain by France in 1763. It stretched from the Rio del Norte on the south to the boundaries of Canada on the north. The great dictator now dreamed of restoring the old colonial power of France in America. What would be easier than to send an army by the Mississippi and Ohio to reach, by that route, Lake Erie and the Niagara peninsula, while a fleet might ascend the St. Lawrence, where he fondly imagined the French population would 38 easily be seduced from their allegiance to Great Britain? The first step he took in the scheme was to plan an expedition to occupy the island of St. Domingo, which he intended to make a rendezvous for the French navy. The story of this expedition is an interesting one, and as it has a bearing on the events that happened afterwards in Canada, it may be as well to glance at it.

The eastern part of the island St. Domingo belonged to France, the western to Spain. Before the French Revolution it contained a population of six hundred thousand, over half a million being black slaves, while French planters and officials, with their families, numbered about fifty thousand, and mu-lattoes made up the remainder; The trade with it was very extensive. Its combined exports and imports were valued at one hundred and forty million dollars, while seven hundred ocean vessels with eighty thousand seamen were employed in the coffee, sugar, and indigo trade between France and the West Indies. After the revolution the white population remained royalist, while the mulattoes were republican. This involved the island in civil war, which led to a general rising of the negroes and a massacre of the whites in 1791. Slavery was then abolished in the French part by order of the national assembly. Then Spain attempted the conquest of the whole of the island, but the Spaniards were defeated and driven out of the country. Tous-saint L'Ouverture, the grandson of a negro chief, joined the forces of the French republic, and obtained the rank of general in 1798. He was a man of the Napoleon type, never resting, of boundless ambition and energy, and possessing also the same love of display—"The gilded African," as the first consul called him, while others named him "The Bonaparte of the Antilles."

In 1800, L'Ouverture assumed the title of governor, and took possession of all the French territory ceded by Spain to France in the Treaty of Basel of 1795. He then declared it an independent republic. Bonaparte now determined to send an expedition there under the command of his brother-in-law, General Le Clerc, to subdue the insurgents. It sailed in November, 1801, from Brest, and landed in St. Domingo in January, 1802. At first LeClerc met with some success, though at an immense cost of men, but the island remained unconquered. Toussaint L'Ouverture took to the mountains and carried on a guerilla warfare, most harassing to the French troops. At last, by a stratagem, the rebel leader was seized and carried off to France, where he was imprisoned in the fortress of Joux in the Jura Mountains, and soon succumbed to the cold of the climate.

In the island, however, things went from bad to worse for the French. Fifty thousand troops had been sacrificed either in action or from the effects of the climate, and vast sums of money had been squandered. Plantations had ceased to be cultivated and anarchy ruled. In 1802 Le Clerc wrote that only four thousand men out of twenty-eight thousand were fit for duty. More men and money were needed. General Le Clerc died of fever in January, 1803, and Rochambeau was sent out, but met with no better luck than his predecessor. He demanded thirty-five thousand more men to get the French out of their predicament. At this time there was a feeling against France in Congress because Le Clerc had seized supplies belonging to American traders, and therefore America was not looking quite so kindly on the occupation of Louisiana by the French. Bonaparte had intended to send twenty thousand men there, but the demands of St. Domingo made this impossible. The United States had now begun to feel the need of obtaining possession of the mouths of the Mississippi, so as to have freedom of commerce by that river to supply the needs of Ohio and Kentucky. Spain had given American traders the right to land produce at New Orleans, but suddenly revoked the permission, and now Jefferson was determined to acquire that place for the United States. Monroe was therefore sent to France early in 1803 as a special envoy to negotiate for its transfer. His instructions were, in case of failure, to propose an alliance with England, so that the end might be gained. It was also proposed by Jefferson that the United States should obtain possession of Louisiana by purchase, and should grant commercial privileges to Great Britain. Monroe was very well received in London. The prime minister agreed that it would be well for the United States to obtain Louisiana, but if this were not possible they should prevent it from going to France. In the preceding year the United States had been quite content that France should occupy Louisiana, if only West Florida could be added to the republic. However, the question was soon settled by Bonaparte. He had become disgusted with his expedition to St. Domingo, and his fruitless outlay there of men and money. He could not afford to lose prestige in Europe, and he wanted to cover up the disasters that had overtaken him in the West Indies. He therefore suddenly determined to give up his plans in America and to sell his right to Louisiana to the United States. He then made a definite offer for the sale to Livingstone, the American minister in Paris. Livingstone replied that the United States did not want the country west of the Mississippi, but simply Florida and New Orleans. Negotiations, however, went on, and were completed on the arrival in Paris of Monroe. The price asked was one hundred millions of francs. This was not accepted, but finally the price was fixed at sixty millions, equal to about eleven million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Florida was not included in the purchase. The United States also agreed to meet the claims for damages at St. Domingo made by American merchants, amounting to about three millions in addition. Spain protested vainly against the sale, for on ceding the territory to France the stipulation had been that it should not be alienated. Livingstone strenuously endeavoured to have Florida included in the bargain but failed, though the first consul promised his support towards obtaining it for the republic.

The acquisition of Louisiana changed the whole attitude of the United States towards Great Britain,1 as now they would not require her assistance to secure the mouth of the Mississippi and the Floridas. From this time President Jefferson showed a spirit of animosity in his dealing with England.

The short-lived peace of Amiens was drawing to a close. In order to cover up his disasters Bonaparte resolved to renew hostilities in Europe. As an excuse he declared that he would not tolerate the British occupation of Malta. England had refused to give it up without a guarantee from the powers that it would be left in possession of the Knights of St. John, At a meeting of the corps legislatif on February 20th, 1803, these words were used: "The French government says with pride that England alone cannot struggle against France." This arrogant statement of course aroused the British lion, and on March 8th, George III sent a message to the House of Parliament, then assembled, that owing to the military preparations of the French he had judged it necessary to take precautions for the safety of his kingdom. On May 16th, 1803, England declared war, a war that was destined to last* more than twelve years, and to tax to the utmost the resources of the country.

Return to 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