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

Count Frontenac
Chapter IV The Commencement of Troubles

IT is difficult in the present advanced condition of all the arts and sciences which converge on the perfecting of our means of transport and communication to form an adequate idea of the toils, inconveniences, and perils encountered by those who in the seventeenth century attempted the task of colonizing this continent. To say nothing of the difficulties of land travel, the colonist, by the mere fact of crossing the ocean, placed a barrier of two or three months of perilous navigation between himself and the land that had been his home. To the dangers of the sea were added the yet more serious danger of infection on ill-ventilated and pest-breeding vessels. A ship coming to the St. Lawrence could in those days make but one trip to and fro in the year. It is easy to see, therefore, in how critical a position a colony would be that depended in any large measure on supplies brought from the other side. The wreck or capture of one or two vessels might bring it to the verge of starvation. Success in agriculture, again, can only be looked for where there is peaceable and secure possession of the land. If all the results of laborious tillage are liable to be carried off or destroyed at any moment by marauding foes, there is little encouragement to engage in that kind of industry. The population will, by preference, turn to the search for metals, or seek to trade in articles easily marketed. Thus it was that, in the early days, the Canadian settlers gave themselves up almost wholly to hunting and fur-trading. Later, when the French government began to interest itself directly in the settlement of the country, strong efforts were made to induce the colonists to apply themselves to agriculture. Lands were conceded on condition that they should be cleared and cultivated within a specified time, failing which, they should revert to the Crown. The same condition applied to any portion of a grant remaining unimproved after the stipulated period. Under these inducements agriculture began to make a little headway, particularly, as we have seen, after the lesson given to the Iroquois by Tracy.

Still, there was too much hunting and too much trading with the Indians in the woods, as distinguished from legitimate trading in the settlements. Mention has already been made of the coureurs de bois. These were men who, instead of awaiting the arrival of the Indians at the posts of Montreal, Three Rivers, or Quebec, went out to meet them, in order that they might get the pick of the skins they possessed, and perhaps also get the better of them in a trade by first making them drunk. Two classes of coureurs de bois have been distinguished : on the one hand, the men who merely traded in the woods in the way described, and, on the other, those who attached themselves to different Indian bands, and lived the common life of their savage companions. This reversion to savagery had a great fascination for many of the Canadian youths ; and, as it led to great moral disorder, the clergy were quite as much opposed to it as the civil governors'. As a convert is generally more zealous than one born in the faith, so these converts from civilization to barbarism seemed bent on outdoing the original sons of the forest in all that was wild and unseemly. Like their bronzed associates they would sometimes spurn clothing altogether, even when visiting settlements, and would make both day and night hideous with their carousing and yelling.

Frontenac had received from the king strict instructions to repress the coureurs de bois by all means in his power. The law against them was severe, for the punishment was death. One of the first things Frontenac learnt on arriving in the colony was that Montreal was the headquarters of these lawless men, and that not only did the local governor, Perrot, make no effort to reduce them to order, but that he was commonly understood to be a sharer in their illicit gains. It was further stated that he had an establishment of his own on an island, which still bears his name, at the confluence of the Ottawa and St Lawrence, where his agents regularly intercepted the Indians on the way to Montreal, and took the cream of the trade. The king's instructions, it was well known, forbade any trading on the part of officials; but Perrot, whose family, as already mentioned, was influential, and whose wife was a niece of the late Intendant Talon, did not think that such a regulation was made for him. In passing through Montreal at the time of his expedition to Cataraqui, Frontenac had requested Perrot to see that the king's instructions respecting the coureurs de bois were obeyed. The latter promised compliance, but the promise was not redeemed. Frontenac at first thought he could get round the difficulty by appointing M. de Chambly as local governor for the district surrounding the Island of Montreal—Perrot's jurisdiction being limited strictly to the island—and thus establishing a kind of cordon by which the comings and goings of the coureurs de bois might be controlled. This arrangement was never put into operation, for the reason that, just about the same time, M. de Chambly received from the king 90 the appointment of governor of Acadia. Perrot, however, accompanied him as far as Quebec, and this gave Frontenac the opportunity of placing under the eyes of the Montreal governor the orders he had received from the court, and urging him to co-operate in giving them effect. Again Perrot promised to do his duty in the matter, but with what degree of sincerity events quickly showed. He had hardly returned to Montreal when the local judge, Ailleboust, who had received personal instructions from Frontenac in regard to carrying out the law, tried to effect the arrest of two offenders who were lodging in the house of one Carion, an officer. Carion refused to permit the arrest, and was upheld therein by Perrot, whereupon the judge took the only course open to him, namely, to notify the governor-general. It was now mid-winter; but, without a moment's hesitation, Frontenac deputed one Bizard, a lieutenant of his guard, to go to Montreal with three men, effect the arrest of Carion, and bring him to Quebec. He gave Bizard at the same time a letter to Perrot, but instructed him not to deliver it till he had first made sure of his prisoner. The lieutenant carried out his instructions, so far as the arrest of Carion was concerned; but, before he could leave Montreal, Perrot pounced down upon him and made him prisoner in turn, asking him how he dared to make an arrest in the limits of the government of Montreal without first notifying him. The scene was witnessed by two prominent residents of Montreal, Lebert, the merchant, and La Salle, of whom we have already heard; and a report of the matter, attested by them, was despatched to Quebec. The choleric Perrot, hearing of this piece of officiousness, as he regarded it, put Lebert also into prison. La Salle, thinking the same treatment might be meted out to him, lost no time in taking the road to Quebec.

The rage of Frontenac at this open defiance of his authority may be imagined. Was it for this that he had come to Canada, to be flouted and set at nought by a subordinate officer ? The worst of it was that there was no immediate remedy. The only thing to do at the moment was to summon the culprit to appear before the Sovereign Council at Quebec. But would he come ? If he refused, Frontenac had no force to compel him. The force was all on the other side; the governor-general had but his body guard, whereas Montreal was full of men accustomed to Indian warfare, who would probably obey Perrot's orders, especially as there was a standing jealousy between Montreal and Quebec. At this point in his reflections, the count bethought him of writing a letter to the Abbd deF^nelon, Sulpician, of Montreal, who had accompanied him to Cataraqui, and with whom he was on very friendly terms, asking him to represent to Perrot what a serious thing it would be if he aggravated his former misconduct by refusing to go to Quebec. Rightly or wrongly, M de F&ielon understood this letter as signifying that the governor, while desirous of vindicating his authority, was prepared to compromise the difficulty to some extent, and consequently gave Perrot to understand that, if he would obey the order to go to Quebec, the matter would in all probability be amicably adjusted. He offered to accompany him; and the two set out towards the close of January on a snowshoe tramp to Quebec over the frozen St. Lawrence. They arrived at the capital on the 29th of the month. Perrot at once sought an interview with the governor; but the discussion, far from taking a friendly turn, soon became extremely violent; and the result was that Perrot found himself in an hour's time placed under arrest.

The surprise and chagrin of the Montreal official may be imagined. As for the abbe, his indignation at what he regarded as a breach of faith knew no bounds.1 Sharp words passed between him and the governor, and he returned to Montreal in a most agitated and rebellious state of mind. A few weeks later, having to preach on Easter Sunday in the parish church, he slipped into his sermon some observations which could only be construed as an attack on the king's representative. Speaking of those who are invested with temporal authority, he said—according to a summary of his discourse given by the Abbé Faillon—that the magistrate who was animated by the spirit of the risen Christ would be strict, on the one hand, to punish offences against the service of his Prince, and prompt, on the other, to overlook those against his own dignity; would be full of respect for the ministers of the altar, and would not treat them harshly when, in the discharge of their duty, they strove to reconcile enemies and establish general good-will; would not surround himself with servile creatures to fill his ears with adulation, nor oppress under specious pretexts persons also invested with authority who happened to oppose his projects; further that such a ruler would use his power to maintain the authority of the monarch, and not to promote his own advantage, and would content himself with the salary allowed him without disturbing the commerce of the country or ill-using those who would not give him a share of their gains ; finally, that he would not vex the people by unjustly exacting forced labour for ends of his own, nor falsely invoke the name of the monarch in support of such proceedings.

In every sentence there was a sting. The last words referred to the expedition to Lake Ontario, and the unpaid labour of the men by whom the fort at Cataraqui had been constructed. The preacher, in fact, may be said to have summed up the charges which certain Montrealers were at the time making against the governor, and which the Abbé Faillon, swayed perhaps in some measure by sympathy with a fellow Sulpician, does not hesitate to say were well founded.

The church on that Easter Sunday was filled to its utmost capacity, over six hundred persons being present. Amongst these was the watchful La Salle, who, not only took it all in himself, but by his gestures and movements called the attention of as many persons as possible to what was being said, and its obvious import. It was not only the friends of Frontenac, however, who recognized the drift of the sermon, for the curd of the parish, the Rev. M. Perrot, said to M. de Fénelon as he came down from the pulpit: "Really, sir, you have entered into details which have caused me a great deal of trouble." Other ecclesiastics were affected in the same manner, amongst them La Salle's own brother, an ecclesiastic of the Seminary, who went at once to the Superior, the excellent M. Dollier de Casson, to tell him what had happened. The latter, in turn, foreseeing trouble, sent to tell La Salle that the Seminary had no responsibility whatever for M. de Fenelon's sermon, as it had not been submitted beforehand for approval, and no one had the least notion what he intended to say. The same communication was made in the most earnest terms' to M. de la Nauguere, who was temporarily filling the place of governor of Montreal by Frontenac's nomination, with a request that he would convey the assurance to the governor-general.

The extraordinary thing is that the reverend gentleman who had caused all this trouble, when spoken to on the subject by the Superior, gave his word as a man of honour and a priest, that he had no intention whatever of alluding to the governor-general, adding that those who so applied his remarks were doing much dishonour to that high officer. The Abbé Faillon does not like to call M. de Fdnelon's word in question, but he says that he manifestly lacked " one quality very important in a missionary, the prudence which directs the exercise of zeal, and keeps it within the bounds that circumstances require."

It was not only by this sermon that the Abb£ Fdnelon showed his lack of prudence. Madame Perrot had come out from France with her husband when he was appointed to the governorship of Montreal in 1669, and now that he was in trouble, and his case was likely to come before the king, she was anxious to get some testimonial from the people of Montreal in his favour. As to the kind of a governor Perrot had really been, we may safely rely on the judgment pronounced by the industrious author of the Histoire de la Colonie Franpaise en Canada, who says1: "This governor contributed more than any one else to that fatal revolution which changed entirely the moral aspect of this colony [Montreal]. . . . The whole course of his conduct in Canada justifies us in thinking that when, in 1669, he decided to come here, it was in the hope of making a great fortune through the influence of M. de Talon, whose niece, Madeleine Laguide, he had married." The abbd goes on to explain that the Seminary (as seigneurs of the Island of Montreal) would never have nominated Perrot had they known his true character, and would certainly not have retained him in office after his character became known, if they had been free to act in the matter. What stood in the way was that, through Talon's influence, his commission as governor had been confirmed by the king, and that he had thus, in a manner, been rendered independent of the Seminary authorities. " From that moment," the writer continues, " he considered himself free from all control in the matter of the traffic in drink which he was already carrying on with the savages to the great scandal of all the respectable inhabitants. ... It is certain that he himself gave open protection to the coureurs de bois, not only in his own island through M. Bruey, his agent, but also throughout the whole extent of the Island of Montreal. ... In order to have, without much expense, coureurs de bois under his orders, he allowed nearly all the soldiers in the island to desert and take to the woods, without either pursuing them, or notifying the governor-general of their desertion." It may be added that, when some of the most respectable inhabitants of Montreal ventured on a timid remonstrance respecting the irregularities that were taking place, he assailed them in the lowest and most ruffianly language, and put their principal spokesman, who at the time was the acting judge of Montreal, into prison.

This was the man, then, in whose interest, when Madame Perrot could not get any one else to do it, M. de Fénelon undertook to go round the Island of Montreal, and get the inhabitants to sign a petition. The petition, it is true, only stated that the signers had no complaints to make against M. Perrot; but its object was to throw dust in the eyes of the court, and it is impossible to think highly of the candour of the man—elder brother, though he was, of the great Archbishop of Cambrai—who was the chief agent in procuring it.

It is not surprising, in view of these proceedings, that M. de Fénelon received an order to repair to Quebec. Before summoning him, Frontenac had carried on a prolonged correspondence with the Seminary at Montreal. He first of all required them to banish Fénelon from their house as being a factious and rebellious person. To save his brethren trouble, Fénelon retired of his own accord, and took up parish work at Lachine. Frontenac then asked for signed declarations as to what had been said in the sermon. These the Sulpicians declined to give, saying they could not be called upon to testify against a brother. "Then send down a copy of the sermon," the governor said. The reply to this was that they had no copy of it. For form's sake they consented to ask the vicar-general at Quebec, the highest ecclesiastical authority in the absence of the bishop, to request M. de Fenelon to furnish the original. The vicar-general did so, and the abbé promptly replied that he would do nothing of the kind; he did not acknowledge himself to be guilty of any misdemeanour, but, if he were, he could not be required to furnish evidence against himself.

These pourparlers consumed considerable time, as letters were not exchanged in those days with modern rapidity between Quebec and Montreal. Moreover, Frontenac took a slice out of the summer in order to pay a visit to Montreal at the height of the trading season, not impossibly with some thrifty design, though it is known that he attended to the king's business to the extent of capturing, through his officer M. de Verch&res, no less than twelve coureurs de bois. It was not till some time in the month of August that M. de Fénelon appeared to answer for himself at Quebec.

To follow in detail the incidents of the abortive inquiry into Perrot's insubordination, and the equally unsatisfactory proceedings in the case of the refractory abbé, would be tedious and unprofitable. Two of the councillors, Tilly and Dupont, were appointed a commission to examine Perrot. The latter made no objection at first to answering their questions, but a few days later he took it into his head to protest the competency of the council to try the charges against him. The governor, he said, was his personal enemy, and the members of the council, holding office during his good pleasure, could only be considered as his creatures. The council disregarded the protest, and continued the inquiry; but on each subsequent occasion Perrot refused to answer any question till his protest had been duly entered in the minutes. One of his answers almost betrays a sense of humour. He was asked why he had not arrested the coureurs de bois who made his private island their headquarters. "Because," he said, " I had no jurisdiction; my government does not extend beyond the Island of Montreal." In other words, he had chosen a spot for his illegal operations where, in his private capacity, he could, so to speak, snap his fingers in his own face in his official capacity. Possibly it was an attempt on Frontenac's part to repay humour with humour, when he caused one of these very coureurs de bois, a man whom Perrot probably knew very well, to be hanged directly in front of his prison window.

During the summer a despatch was received from the minister for the colonies which somewhat disquieted Frontenac, and doubtless had some effect also on the minds of the councillors. In order to lay an account of Perrot's rebellious conduct at the earliest possible moment before the king, Frontenac had taken the unusual course of sending a letter by way of Boston in February, hoping that it might reach the minister's hands in time to be answered by the ship leaving in the spring or early summer. Colbert wrote under date the 17th May 1674, evidently without having received the letter, for he terminated his despatch with these words: "His Majesty instructs me to recommend to you particularly the person and interests of M. Perrot, governor of Montreal, and nephew of M. Talon, his principal valet de chambre." Nothing could well have been more awkward, considering that the person so warmly recommended was at that moment, and had been for months, in durance vile, as a rebel against the governor's authority, and indirectly against his Majesty's.

The Abbé Fenelon, when he appeared before the council, was more defiant by far than Perrot He was told to stand up. He said, No, he would sit down, as he was not a criminal; and, if he were, he could only be tried by an ecclesiastical court. He was asked to remove his hat; to which he replied by jamming it harder on his head, saying that ecclesiastics had a right to keep their heads covered. In the end the council began to fear that the governor was getting them into trouble; and they consequently determined, in both cases, that they would confine themselves to taking evidence, and leave the court to pronounce judgment. This conclusion was not pleasing to Frontenac, who wished to have a distinct decision of the council in his favour. He, too, was "weakening," however, as we may see by his letter to-the minister, dated 14th November 1674, and despatched by the same vessel by which the governor of Montreal—released at last after ten months' confinement—and the fiery abbé sailed for France. " I am sending," he says, " M. Perrot and M. de Fdnelon to France, in order that you may judge their conduct. For myself, if I have failed in any point of duty, I am ready to submit to his Majesty's corrections. A governor in this country would be much to be pitied if he were not sustained, seeing there is no one here on whom he can depend ; and should he commit any fault he might assuredly be excused, seeing that all kinds of nets are spread for him, and that, after avoiding a hundred, he is liable to be caught in the end. So, My Lord, I hope that, should I have had the misfortune to take any false step, his Majesty will be kind enough to sympathize with me, and to believe that the error was due to an excess of zeal for his service, and not to any other motive."

The tone of this communication, it must be confessed, is not quite what one would expect from a man of Frontenac's character and antecedents. It shows what influence at court counted for in that day. The letter was accompanied by a docket of enormous proportions containing the charges against Perrot and the abbé, and all the evidence taken in the course of the prolonged investigation at Quebec. He received replies both from the king and the minister. In regard to Perrot the king wrote: "I have seen and examined all you have sent me concerning M. Perrot; and, after having seen all that he has put forward in his defence, I have condemned his action in imprisoning the officer you sent to Montreal. To punish him I have sent him for some time to the Bastille, in order that this discipline may not only render him more circumspect for the future, but may serve as an example to others. But, in order that you may thoroughly understand my views, I must tell you that, except in a case of absolute necessity, you should not execute any order within the sphere of a local government without having first notified the governor of the locality. The punishment of ten months' imprisonment you inflicted on him seems to me sufficient; and that is why I am sending him to the Bastille for a short term only, in order to vindicate in a public manner my violated authority." His Majesty added that he was sending Perrot back to his government, but that he would instruct him to call on the governor-general at Quebec and apologize for all his past offences ; after which Frontenac was to dismiss all resentment, and treat him with the consideration due to his office.

As regards Fénelon, he was not allowed to return to Canada; and he was censured by the Superior of his order for having busied himself with things with which he had no concern. At the same time Frontenac was informed that he was wrong in instituting a criminal process against that ecclesiastic, as well as in calling upon his brethren of the Seminary to give evidence against him. The king made it clear that he thought Frontenac had been unduly harsh and autocratic in his proceedings generally. It would have been well for that dignitary if he could have taken the admonition more deeply to heart.

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