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General Brock
Chapter IX - Affairs in Europe, 1808


EARLY in 1808, Colonel Brock left Quebec to take command in Montreal. Shortly afterwards he was appointed acting brigadier-general by Sir James Craig, an appointment which was confirmed in September. In a letter to his brother, Brock wrote that, although General Ferguson had been newly appointed major-general, he thought he would not likely come, as was intended, to Canada, but that he (Brock) would succeed him both in rank and command at Quebec. Montreal, in 1808, was both a lively and a hospitable place. The magnates of the North-West Company were established there, and entertained with a lavishness that was not to be found elsewhere. The fame of the Beaver Club has remained unrivalled in Canada.

Montreal, the old Ville Marie, once the fortified Indian stronghold of Hochelaga, was founded in 1642 by Maisonneuve. Soon afterwards the hospital or Hotel Dieu was established by Madame de Bouillon, and in 1650, the cathedral of Notre Dame was founded by Marguerite de Bourgeois. Montreal can therefore claim an antiquity almost equal to that of Quebec.

For more than fifty years a struggle continued between the French settlers and their Indian foes. Atone most critical time in 1660, the whole island, up to the palisades that surrounded the town, was swept by war parties, and only the sacrifice of Dollard (sometimes called Daulac) and his seventeen associates, saved the place. In 1665 the Marquis de Tracy arrived with the Carignan Regiment and established forts at Ste. Th£r£se, Sorel, and Chambly, naming the two latter places after officers in his regiment.

Montreal soon became the centre of the great fur trade with the North-West. Unlike its sister city, Quebec, whose narrow, steep streets with the bristling fortifications that towered above, kept the characteristics of a century before, Montreal, by 1808, had already put on the appearance of a modern town. The old wall that had once surrounded it had been removed in 1801. On the banks of the river St. Lawrence, which flowed around it, were fine warehouses in which were stored the costly skins destined for the markets of Frankfort and St. Petersburg. There were colleges and churches and taverns, too, of no mean repute, and scattered here and there were the fine mansions and spacious gardens of the "Lords of the North."

Here lived James McGill, to whom the Montreal of to-day owes its famous university. He had a beautiful house on the slope of Mount Royal, which he bequeathed with an endowment of ten thousand pounds to trustees for the purpose of establishing an English college—the first in Canada. Here also lived William McGillivray and Simon McTavish, whose names are familiar in the annals of the "great company."

Brock was quartered at the Chateau de Ramezay, then much out of repair. When Montreal was occupied by the Americans in 1776, this had been the headquarters of the leaders of the invasion. Benjamin Franklin, Bishop Carroll, and Mr. Chase, when they came from congress on their mission to the French Canadians, had also been sheltered by its walls.

General Brock, with the bonhomie that was natural to him, seems to have entered very heartily into the gaieties of the place. His friend, Colonel Thornton, writes to him from Quebec, "You ought never to feel uneasy about your friends, for in your kindness and hospitality no want of comfort can ever be felt by them; in this I am fully supported by all the accounts from Montreal."

News came at this time that Sir George Prevost had been appointed lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, and had also been made second in command to Sir James Craig in North America. He arrived in Halifax in January, 1808, bringing with him the 7th, 8th, and 23rd Regiments of Foot.

During this year there seems to have been very little correspondence between General Brock and his family. He complains to one of his brothers that although he had written to all of them since navigation opened, lie had heard only from Irving, "who, to do him justice, is the most attentive and regular correspondent amongst you." It was not always the fault of the correspondents that letters from England were so few and far between, for each vessel now on the high seas was liable to capture, and sometimes even when the coveted mail did arrive, an accident, such as the upsetting of a canoe, would deprive the colony of the longed-for home news. Official letters from England by way of Halifax and Quebec took four and sometimes six months to reach Toronto. There was only irregular communication between that place and Montreal, and it took a month—sometimes longer —for the carriage of letters.

Brock, in his letter, tells his brother that he is getting on pretty well at Montreal, although "the place in summer loses the advantage it had over Quebec in winter." One thing he rejoices in—"not a desertion for sixteen months in the 49th, except Hogan, Savery's former servant. He was servant to Major Glegg, at Niagara, when a fair damsel persuaded him to this act of madness."

Brock writes in July from Montreal to his friend Cuthbert as to the equipment of the volunteer force he had raised: "Be assured the general has very substantial reasons for objecting to any issue of arms at this time. Were your corps the sole consideration, be satisfied he would not hesitate a moment, but he cannot show you such marked preference without exciting a degree of jealousy which might occasion unpleasant discussions. I am sorry you have deprived yourself of the very handsome dagger your partiality induced you to send me. No such proof was needed to convince me of your friendship. We have not a word of intelligence here more than what the Quebec papers give. The Americans appear to me to be placed in a curious and ridiculous predicament. War with that republic is now out of the question, and I trust we shall consider well before we admit them as allies."

A letter from Sir James Craig to Lord Castle-reagh, of August 4th, gives the possible reason why he delayed equipping Cuthbert's company, and shows that the prejudices he had formed thirty years before were still strong. He says: "The militia have hitherto been only contemplated in theory, except in the town of Quebec. Lord Dorchester could not assemble any in 1775. In the following year I commanded the largest body ever brought together, but I was then in pursuit of a flying enemy. Since then no attempt to assemble them has been made. The Canadians of to-day are not warlike; they like to make a boast of their militia service, but all dislike the subordination and constraint. If the seigneurs possessed their old influence it might be different. Lawyers and notaries have now sprung into notice, and with them insubordination. The members returned to the new House consist of fifteen lawyers, fourteen farmers, and only seven seigneurs. In the event of having to contend with a French force no help is to be expected from this province. On the contrary, arms in their hands would be dangerous. They are French at heart yet."

From the time of his arrival Sir James Craig was possessed with the idea that the French Canadians, their leaders especially, were hostile to British suzerainty, and were to be distrusted in all things. At his elbow was the partisan secretary, always magnifying local disputes, and increasing his suspicion of hidden conspiracies. However, at the opening of parliament in January, 1808, the governor's address was conciliatory. He spoke warmly of the zeal and the loyalty of the militia, and said that all appearances gave promise that if the colony were attacked it would be defended in such a manner "as was to be expected of a brave race who fight for all that is dear to it." The session was taken up with the question of Jews and judges sitting in parliament. A resolution was passed excluding the former, and by a vote of twenty-two to two the assembly passed a bill excluding judges as well. This bill was rejected by the legislative council, and a hostile feeling arose between the governor and the assembly, whose speaker, M. Panet, he looked on with special aversion as a shareholder in Le Canadien.

The first session of Sir James Craig's administration was the last of the fourth parliament, and a new election took place in May. Shortly afterwards the governor took the impolitic step of dismissing from the militia Lieutenant-Colonel Panet (the speaker), Captains Bddard and Taschereau, Lieutenant Borgia and Surgeon Blanchet. The letter of dismissal to each, signed by H. W. Ryland, stated that the reason of the dismissal was that His Excellency could place no confidence in the services of a person whom he had good ground for considering as one of the proprietors of a seditious and libellous publication.

As to the opinion expressed by Brock in his letter of July, 1808, that war with the United States was now out of the question, it may be well to glance at the condition of affairs in Europe, and to find out what had produced the change of feeling in America. Russia, in 1807, had vainly struggled to free herself from the power of France, but after an unsuccessful campaign had concluded the Treaty of Tilsit with Napoleon. By its secret articles France allowed Russia to take Finland from Sweden, and Russia, on her part, promised to close her ports against British vessels. Napoleon's Berlin decrees had not really gone into force until the summer of 1807, when he ordered them to be executed in Holland, and in August a general seizure of neutrals took place at Amsterdam. From that time trade with the continent ceased. The seizure of their vessels had been a severe blow to the United States, and had roused in that country a feeling of distrust in Napoleon's friendship. Then followed the British orders-in-council, by which all neutral trade was prohibited from Copenhagen to Trieste. No American vessel was to enter any port of Europe from which the British were excluded, unless it had first cleared from a British port. Truly, neutrals were in a very difficult position.

In July, 1807, England sent a large naval expedition to Copenhagen under command of Lord Gambier, with transports containing twenty-seven thousand troops under Lord Cathcart. This expedition was sent with a peremptory request to the Prince Regent to deliver up the Danish fleet. From September 1st to the 5th, Copenhagen was bombarded. Scarcely any resistance was offered, and the fleet was surrendered, while Danish merchant vessels worth ten millions of dollars were confiscated. These arbitrary measures were taken in order to protect British trade and to defeat the designs of Napoleon to form a powerful navy. In consequence, the Russian fleet was shut up at Cronstadt, and the Baltic remained under the control of Great Britain. The naval combination carefully prepared by Napoleon in the Treaty of Tilsit utterly failed.

Late in 1807, Napoleon had stripped the elector of Hesse Cassel of his dominions on the plea that he had not joined him in the war against Prussia, and had done the same to the Duke of Brunswick on the ground that the duke had joined Prussia against him. Out of these domains the arch dictator 106 had created the kingdom of Westphalia, and had bestowed it upon his brother, Jerome Bonaparte. Soon after, because the Prince Regent of Portugal had refused to enforce the Berlin decrees against England, Napoleon sent Junot with thirty thousand men to take possession of Portugal, and announced in the Moniteur that the House of Braganza had ceased to reign in Europe. Junot entered Lisbon without opposition, to find that the Prince Regent and the court had embarked for Brazil, taking with them the ships that Napoleon coveted.

Then Tuscany was seized and added to France, and the Pope was ordered to declare war against England. Having refused to do this on the plea that he was a sovereign of peace, the French general, by Napoleon's orders, entered Rome in February, 1808, occupied the Castle St. Angelo, and took the papal troops under his own command.

Napoleon's next move was against Spain. The government there was in a most corrupt state, but up to this time the country had been the humble and submissive ally of France. Napoleon, still in the guise of friendship, took possession of her strongest fortresses, and having by a ruse got the king and queen and the heir Ferdinand into his power at Bayonne, he induced the old King Carlos IV. to resign his Crown in favour "of his friend and ally the Emperor of the French."

Napoleon then issued a decree appointing "his dearly beloved brother Joseph, King of Naples and Sicily, to the Crowns of Spain and the Indies." By another decree he bestowed the vacant Crown of Naples and Sicily on his "dearly beloved cousin, Joachim Murat." Thus having distributed the Crowns of Europe he turned his attention with redoubled energy to the humbling of his great enemy, England. "Great Britain shall be destroyed," he said at Fontainebleau, "I have the means of doing it and they shall be employed."

In the United States, President Jefferson had determined on a scheme of non-intercourse and had laid an embargo on American shipping. "The whole world," he said, "is laid under an interdict by these two nations (England and France) and our vessels, their cargoes and crews, are to be taken by one or the other, for whatever place they may be destined out of our limits. If, therefore, on leaving our harbours we are certain to lose them, is it not better for vessels, cargoes and seamen to keep them at home?" Gallatin, secretary of the navy, wished to limit the duration of the embargo, as he said he preferred war to a permanent embargo, but Jefferson was obstinate and said it should continue until the return of peace in Europe. He had not counted the cost.

The embargo continued in force all through 1808 in spite of its extreme unpopularity throughout the United States. As a substitute for war it proved a failure. By it every citizen was tempted to evade or defy the law. "It made men smugglers or traitors but not a single hero."

The embargo reacted in favour of the British provinces in America, partly by calling forth the energies of the population and making them acquainted with their own resources, and partly by means of the indirect trade that was carried on from Eastport in Maine, across the border, and by way of Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence. In order to avoid the embargo on the coasts, goods were smuggled over the frontier to be sent to the West Indies and Halifax. In spite of new regulations and restrictions put forth by the American government, smuggling flourished. Craft of all sorts and sizes crowded the river St. Lawrence, and Canadian merchants prospered. Immense rafts were collected near the boundary line on Lake Cham-plain. These rafts were said to be loaded with the surplus products of Vermont for a year, consisting of wheat, potash, pork and beef. The coasting vessels, which were the means of commerce between the states, used to try to evade the law by putting into some port in Nova Scotia or the West Indies on pretence of stress of weather, and then leaving their cargo.

Fresh and stricter regulations were now made. At first the embargo was not felt in the United States, but when supplies were consumed the outcry against it became violent. As the year went on it was found to have paralyzed the country. A reign of idleness was established, demoralizing to everybody. A traveller (Lambert) writes that the harbour of New York was full of shipping, but the ships were dismantled and laid up. "Not a box or a bale to be seen, on the wharves. Counting-houses all shut up, and merchants, clerks, porters and labourers walking about with their hands in their pockets.''

New England was in a worse plight. The people believed that Jefferson was sold to France. Wheat in the Middle States fell from two dollars to seventy-five cents a bushel. The chief burden however fell on the Southern States, especially on Jefferson's own state—Virginia. Tobacco there was worthless. Planters were beggared. The country was deprived of tea, coffee, sugar, salt, molasses and rum.

During 1808, the feeling in the country against France became stronger. By Napoleon's Milan decree, which reached America in March, "every ship which should have been searched by a British vessel, or should have paid any duty to the British government, or should come from or be destined to any port in the British possessions in any part of the world should be good prize." It was after the Milan decree that the question was mooted in the United States of an alliance with England, and it was announced by Secretary Madison that an order had been issued to discharge all British subjects from national ships. The non-intercourse and embargo had done England immense harm and were working havoc among certain classes of the population. The artizans of Staffordshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire were reduced to the verge of famine, while quantities of sugar, coffee, etc., overfilled the warehouses of London. Under the orders-in-council the whole produce of the West Indies, shut out from Europe by Napoleon's decrees, and from America by the embargo, came to England, until the market was overstocked. English merchants sent their goods to Brazil until the beach at Rio de Janeiro was covered with property perishing for want of buyers and warehouses.

While this war of trade was going on, Napoleon, by every means in his power, by taunts, and threats, and cajolery, was trying to force America into a declaration of war against England. He said, "The United States, more than any other power, have to complain of the aggressions of England. In the situation in which England has placed the continent, His Majesty has no doubt of a declaration of war against her by the United States." He wrote to his secretary of war, Champagny, "In my mind, I regard war as declared between England and America from the day when England published her decrees." Again he wrote, "Let the American minister know verbally that whenever war shall be declared with England, and whenever, in consequence, the Americans shall send troops into the Floridas to help the Spaniards and repulse the English, I shall much approve of it. You will even let him perceive that in case America shall be disposed to enter into a treaty of alliance and make common cause with me, I shall not be unwilling to intercede with the court of Spain to obtain the cession of these same Floridas in favour of the Americans." So the tempting bait of Florida was held dangling before Jefferson, whose cherished hope it was to see that territory added to the United States.

General Armstrong, the American minister in Paris, does not seem to have been deceived by Napoleon's manoeuvres. He writes: "With one hand they offer us the blessing of equal alliance, with the other they menace us with war if we do not accept the kindness, and with both they pick our pockets with all imaginable dexterity, diligence, and impudence."

Napoleon during this year (1808) was not having the success in Spain that he had expected. A patriot party had arisen there, aided by English troops and gold, and had driven Joseph Bonaparte from his ill-gotten throne. Arthur Wellesley had landed, and at the battle of Vimiera, on August 21st, had defeated Junot, who at Cintra consented to evacuate Portugal on the consideration that his army of twenty-two thousand men should be conveyed by sea to France. In August, also, news came to the emperor that General Dupont's army had been captured by the Spaniards, and eighty thousand French troops were thrown back on the Pyrenees. Napoleon was stung to anger at this ill-success, and in September sent a fresh army of two hundred and fifty thousand men across the mountains, and announced that he himself was departing in a few days in order to crown Joseph as king of Spain in Madrid, and to plant his eagles on the fort of Lisbon. It was not the probable loss of Spain and Portugal that he cared for then, but the loss of their fleets that were to have given France the supremacy of the ocean.

Napoleon left Paris October 29th, 1808, and in November began his campaign. He occupied Madrid on December 4th, and learned that Sir John Moore had marched from Portugal to the north of Spain. He then hurried over the mountains to cut off his retreat, but was out-generalled. Moore escaped to his fleet, and Napoleon, in January, 1809, leaving Soult to march to Corunna, abandoned Spain forever.

England at this time was defiant, and fondly hoped that the power of the devastator of Europe was on the wane. She passed a new order-in-council in December, doing away with export duties on foreign articles passing through England. It was her object now to encourage Americans to evade the embargo by running produce to the West Indies or South America. England had to feed her own armies in Spain, and the Spanish patriots also, and did not want to tax American wheat or salt pork on their way there. By the end of 1808 the embargo was so unpopular in America that its repeal was decided on. Jefferson wished to be spared the humiliation of signing the repeal, and hoped that it would continue in force until June, 1809, when the new president, James Madison, would be in power, but public opinion was too strong, and its withdrawal was signed as the last act of his administration.


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