Although Frontenac had succeeded in building his fort, he was not by any means certain of the approval of his royal. master, to whom he diplomatically expressed his readiness to return to Katarakoui to demolish itshould that be His Majesty’s desirewith as much pleasure as he had built it. But the new outpost soon demonstrated its usefulness, and even the Montreal merchants became reconciled to it when they found that the following summer brought a largely increased number of Iroquois down the St. Lawrence to dispose of their furs. The first decade of the fort’s existence is, however, most intimately connected with the adventures of La Salle and his discovery of the Great West.
On the same day on which Frontenac’s second Council was held at CataraquiJuly 17th, 1873the explorer Louis Joliet, accompanied by the devoted missionary, Pere Marquette, having discovered tile Mississippi and followed its course as far as they deemed prudent, turned their canoes northward to tell tile tale of their successa tale which drew the mind of La Salle still more strongly to the further exploration of the great mysterious river in the discovery of which he had been thus forestalled. And, in order to carry out the far-reaching projects that filled his imagination, such a base as Fort Frontenac, the new “depot with defences” could supply, was absolutely essential.
For the task he had set himself, La Salle seemed exceptionally fitted. Chivalrous, brave, enthusiastic, persistent, endowed with indomitable resolution and inexhaustible endurance, with a naturally strong constitution, mental and physical, which had been hardened almost to iron by a novitiate with the Jesuits, it had become his ruling passion to explore the great unknown regions of the vast continent, taking possession of them, after the manner of explorers, in the name of the king of France. His early wanderings to north and west had forced him to give up his original hope of finding a water-way to the east in that direction; and by degrees he concentrated his aims and plans on the great unexplored Mississippi, of whose majestic course through rich and fertile lands he heard so much from wandering Indians. It was still uncertain whether it flowed into the Gulf of Mexico or the Vermilion Seai.e., the Gulf of California. In the latter case, it would furnish a waterway to the Orient; in the former, a channel by which the varied wealth of the western continent could be easily conveyed to France. To settle this question, and by colonising the banks of the great river, to establish the rule of France along its course, was now the purpose to which all his energies were to be applied, and all minor success subordinated.
Full of these projects, he sailed for France in the autumn of 1674, with a strong recommendation from Frontenac, and plans too extensive to be impressed in their entirety on a king too pre-occupied with ambitious schemes in Europe to be greatly concerned about the acquisition of a wild continent three thousand miles away. La Salle was, however, well received at Court, and his two formal petitions, accompanied by certain offers on his own part, were readily granted. One of these was for a patent of nobility, under the title of De La Salle, in consideration of the services he had already rendered as an explorer ; the other for the command of the new fort, named, in honour of its founder, Fort Frontenac, and for the grant of the adjacent land, to be constituted into a Seigniory, with himself as the Seignior.
The royal grant is dated Compiegne, May, 1675, signed by Louis and Colbert, and confers upon him, not only the command of the fort and four leagues of mainland adjacent, but also two large islands opposite, then called Ganounkouesnot and Kaounesgo, respectively Wolfe and Amherst Islands, with rights of hunting on the said lands, and of fishing in Lake Ontario (or Frontenac) and the adjoining rivers. Certain conditions were attached, the chief of these being that La Salle was to repay the sum expended in the erection of the fort, to rebuild it in stone, and maintain a sufficient garrison, equal to that at Montreal; to employ some fifteen or twenty men for ten years in clearing and improving his land; to remove all his own personal property thither, and form a French colony there, as well as a settlement of domesticated Indians, and, whenever the number of settlers should reach one hundred, to build a church and support one or more resident Friars. By a curious association, Louis the Magnificent, the builder of Versailles, is thus connected with the first primitive log-chapel built on the site of Kingston.
Soon after receiving his grant, La Salle returned to New France, accompanied by a young adventurer named La Foret, and also having as a fellow-passenger the erratic and versatile Pere Hennepin, better fitted by nature for an explorer than for an ecclesiastic. Both became La Salle’s companions at Fort Frontenac, the former as an efficient lieutenant and helper, the latter, by his own desire, as a resident Friar, undertaking, with another, Luc Buisset, to look after the spiritual interests of the little community. La Salle’s relatives and friends, including his worthy merchant cousin, Francois Plet, had advanced the necessary funds for repaying the sum expended on the fort and for fulfilling his contract to rebuild it in stone, a work which he prosecuted with such diligence, finding abundance of limestone on the spot, that, within two years, the original fort of logs was replaced by a substantial stone fortress, enclosed on the land side by ramparts and bastions of stone, and on the water side by palisades. It stood on nearly the same site as that now occupied by the Tete-de-Pont barracks, its greater length, however, extending westward to what is now the “old Haymarket.” Its landward gate was at the north-eastern corner, looking up the River Cataraqui, winding down, as now, between sloping shores, fringed with marshes inhabited by water-fowl, muskrat and beaver. On the river side, the fort and harbour were protected by the long point opposite from the eastern winds, and by the main shore curving southward into a more distinct point than now, from the winds sweeping down the lake from the west. To south and west, hill, headland and long wooded islands hemmed in the bright, lonely expanse of water.
At Fort Frontenac La Salle spent the most tranquil and prosperous years of his strenuous life, finding congenial occupation in the rebuilding of the fort and the construction of small sailing vessels for service on the lake, in the clearing of the land, and the fostering care of his two settlements. He gradually induced a number of his Iroquois friends to settle beside him, and, in course of time, to build for themselves small dwellings after the manner of the French. Here he reigned, in fact, like a feudatory king over his tiny kingdom. His censitaires cleared and cultivated the fields ; his fort and garrison ensured peace and tranquility for all ; his canoe-men were noted for their swiftness and skill, as they plied their paddles in all directions for traffic or for sport, and the white wings of his sailing vessels flecked the blue waters of the lake and brought home finny and furry spoil; while boundless hunting grounds, teeming with game, stretched around him. Here, could his ambition have been satisfied with the role of a prosperous Seignior and commander of an important outpost, he might, to all appearance, have lived a long and peaceful life, year by year amassing wealth from the generous profits of the fur trade.
To La Salle, however, his present position was but a step towards his cherished enterprise. And there were some threatening clouds on the horizon. The merchants of Montreal had, from the first, regarded the new fur depot with a jealous eye, though LeBer, one of the most aggressive, seems for a time to have hoped to secure its control. Their well-grounded suspicion, too, that Frontenac was to be a sharer in the profits of the enterprise strengthened their jealousy, and La Salle soon found that he and his patron occupied a more and more isolated position, since LeBer, LeMoyne, and other leading settlers, with the Intendant Duchesneau, were practically forming a “Ring,” in which he could expect to find no friends. Furthermore, as the fur traffic, which had hitherto flowed chiefly towards the settlements of New England, now began to find its way to Fort Frontenac, it was also partially diverted from some of the far western Jesuit missions which had hitherto drawn a large share of its profits in their vicinity. Complaints found their way to Quebec, and the astute Bishop Laval wrote to France, casting injurious imputations on both Frontenac and La Salle, while the Jesuits did not scruple secretly to undermine the good understanding between the latter and the Iroquois. They insinuated to the savages that their professed friend was strengthening the fort with the intention of making war upon them, even while they were writing to La Salle, in flattering terms, that, as he was their bulwark in that direction, he could not exercise too much vigilance over their Indian allies. In order to allay the uneasiness of the Iroquois, Frontenac came again in state to Fort Frontenac, where he propitiated the assembled savages with gifts, feasts and the “belles paroles” which he could use to such advantage, drawing from them the admission that their suspicious attitude had been due to the machinations of the “black-robes.” He assured them, on the contrary, that the completed and well-equipped fort would prove a centre of protection and profit to the tribes whose interests it was desired to serve, and expressed the hope that many of his Indian children would come to settle under the shield of its guns, which were mighty to protect as well as to destroy.
But the open opposition at Montreal increased in bitterness, and the secret machinations of the Jesuits continued to embarrass La Salle, sometimes interfering with his control of the garrison by encouraging deserters, until he felt it necessary to revisit Paris in order to vindicate himself and Frontenac from the charges of his enemies, and to lay his further projects before the king. Accordingly, in the autumn of 1677, he sailed again for France, leaving La Forel in charge at Fort Frontenac.
There he laid before Colbert a new report and memorial, recounting his discoveries in “the beautiful countries of the west,” whose rich fertility he contrasted with the severer conditions of New France, expressing his readiness to further explore and colonise these desirable regions. To this end he asked for the confirmation of his title to Fort Frontenac, and permission to establish, at his own cost, two other posts, with seigniorial rights over all lands which he might discover and colonise within twenty years; and also for a monopoly of trade in buffalo skins, at the same time agreeing to renounce all share in the established fur traffic of the Great Lakes.
In response to this petition he received from the king a patent authorising him, on his own terms, “to labour at the discovery of the western parts of New France” and to build forts at such places as he might think necessary, enjoying possession thereof under the same clauses and conditions as at Fort Frontenac, but making no mention of the project of colonisation, which Louis was not desirous of promoting at such a distance from his own immediate control.
La Salle at once proceeded to secure the men and material required for the building and equipment of a vessel intended to sail down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, and for this purpose procured advances of funds from his friends and relatives, while through his loyal friend, the Abbe Renaudot, he found in Prince Armand de Conti an influential patron. Through him he enlisted in his service the brave and chivalrous Henri de Tonti, destined to share the lot of his leader through many vicissitudes, loyal and faithful to the last. Accompanied by him, La Motte de Lussiere, and some thirty men, he returned to Canada in the following autumn, and spent the winter chiefly at the mouth of the Niagara, directing the building of the new vessel and of a fortified outpost, two miles above the great Cataract, which he and Hennepin visited for the first time with a “fearful joy” which seemed more awe than admiration.
Here, however, the heroic story of La Salle diverges to a great extent from that of Fort Frontenac, though its chivalrous Seignior returned to it from time to time in the course of his strenuous journeys by land and water. During the building of the Griffin at Cayuga Creek, and the fort and blockhouse near Niagara, he found himself obliged to undertake, in the depth of winter, a journey of two hundred and fifty miles on foot to Fort Frontenac, through forests deep in snow, or over the frozen lake, in order to replace a large part of the equipment of the new vessel, which had been lost, with the bark that carried it, through the carelessness of the crew. He and his two men had their baggage and provisions drawn on a sled by a dog which accompanied them ; but on the way the supplies fell short, and the travellers, after two days’ fasting, reached Fort Frontenac in a state of semi-starvation.
It would be too long a digression here to follow La Salle through the devious and weary wanderings of the next eight years, or to recount the tragic succession of misfortunes, beginning with the loss of the newly built Griffin, swallowed up, with her valuable cargo of furs, in the stormy waters of Lake Huron, while he was pushing on westward, building forts as he went. Nevertheless, so indomitable was his spirit, that after countless perils by land and water,after two most toilsome journeys, chiefly on foot, from the Illinois to Fort Frontenac,after losses and calamities and persecution which led him on one occasion to exclaim that “all Canada was against him, except only the Governor,”he finally succeeded in exploring the Mississippi to the sea, taking possession of the vast newly explored territory in the name of Louis XIV., and naming it, after him, Louisiana. Yet notwithstanding this gleam of satisfaction, his career was a tragedy even to its close. For when the success of his great project seemed almost within his grasp, when he had vindicated himself, at the Court of France, from the calumnies of his foeshad been formally authorised to begin the colonisation of Louisiana, and had led his band of colonists by sea to the Gulf of Mexicoby a strange fatality, as it seemed, the tireless explorer, in his anxious search for the mouth of the great river, missed his goal, through ignorance of its longitude, unconsciously sailed past it for some three hundred miles ; and finally, in a forlorn hope of finding it, landed his band of settlers on the barren coast of Texas, near Matagorda Bay. Thereafter losing his three vessels one by one, and the escorting ship having returned to Francehe toiled on for two years, under the pressure of accumulated disaster, to find by land the goal he had missed, or at least the Mississippi itself, whereby he might retrace his way to Canada, for needed succour for the stranded remnant of his expedition. It was while undauntedly working his way eastward, on his third and last attempt, that he perished, struck down by the shot of a mutinous follower, who, with other miscreants, had just murdered his nephew and servants in a petty squabble, and in desperation, had resolved to despatch their brave leader in order to escape the just punishment they feared. A rude cross in the wilderness, set up by the faithful Friar who witnessed his death, alone marked the last resting place of this dauntless explorer, one of the most heroic figures of early Canadian history, whose far-reaching projects, indomitable perseverance and inexhaustible endurance have led the French historian Margry to characterise him, as Polybius did Hannibal, as “a man whom fate alone was able to subdue.” And so, in March, 1687, this brave and patient hero, so closely associated with the first settlement at Cataraqui, finally disappears from the scene, and we turn back to Fort Frontenac and the prominent part which it continued to play during the remainder of the French regime in Canada.
While La Salle was thus braving perils and hardships innumerable, in the gallant endeavour to extend the rule of France over half a continent, his friend and patron, Count Frontenac, had been recalled by the king, wearied by the constant friction between Intendant and Governor, caused partly by the imperious conduct of the latter and partly by the jealous enmities that had grown out of his connection with La Salle and the fur traffic. His successor, the avaricious La Barre, readily influenced by La Salle’s enemies, had laid violent hands on his fort and Seigniory, on the flimsy pretext that he had weakened the garrison by withdrawing an escort for his expedition, which Frontenac had undertaken to replace. La Fork would have been left in command if he would have joined the “Combine” against his master, a proposal which he scornfully rejected, and soon after embarked for France. There he met his Chief, who, in presenting his last memorial, represented the highhanded injustice of La Barre with such effect that La Foret carried back to Canada the royal command to the Governor to make full restitution of the confiscated property, and to replace him, as La Salle’s lieutenant, in charge of Fort Frontenac.
Meantime the Iroquois had been growing bolder and more warlike in their attitude, and La Barre and his allies in genuine panic, as well as greed of gain, were willing to permit them to destroy the unfortunate Illinois whom La Salle had received into alliance with the French,in the hope of diverting their raids from the Hurons and Ottawas, with whom a profitable trade was conducted. While, however, La Barre was most anxious to postpone the threatened war, he made at least a show of preparation by building vessels at Fort Frontenac and sending thither canoes ostensibly laden with munitions of war, though his opponents declared that they often contained brandy for contraband sale to the Iroquois ; and the Intendant, De Meules, roundly declared that all this show of shipbuilding and armament was simply a screen for illicit trade.
La Barre’s greed in the end over-reached itself. In addition to Fort Frontenac, he had likewise seized La Salle’s fort of St. Louis, on the Illinois, and had hinted to the Iroquois that they might plunder the explorer’s canoes with impunity should they come in their way. But when, soon after, the Senecas plundered the Governor’s own canoes, on their way to the tribes of the Mississippi, and even attackedineffectuallythe well defended stronghold of St. Louis, he determined on immediate reprisals. Despite the remonstrances of the venerable Jean de Lamberville, missionary among the Onondagas, he mustered a large force of volunteers, regular soldiers and Indian allies, and began an official ascent of the St. Lawrence, which, unlike those of his predecessor, meant war, not peace. Once more there was a martial encampment at Cataraqui, under the palisades of Fort Frontenac, with parades and military music lending animation to the scene. But a malarial fever, arising from the neighbouring marshes, greatly weakened the French force, placing many hors-de-combat.
As the Iroquois refused to come to Fort Frontenac for conference, the Governor, through the mediation of Le Moyne, induced them to meet him at La Famine, on the other side of the lake, where, with his weakened force, he was hardly in a position to overawe the arrogant Iroquois. A nominal peace was patched up, the Onondagas promising compensation for the pillage of the canoes, but refusing to give up their threatened raid on the Illinois, and demanding that the “Council-fire” for future meetings should be at La Famine instead of Fort Frontenac. The truce seems to have pleased no one save the pacific Lamberville, and the general dissatisfaction almost culminated in open revolt. La Barre had clearly shown his unfitness for his position, and he was, shortly after, superseded by the Marquis De Denonville.
The new Governor found the situation complicated and harassing. The struggle for the domination of the continent was becoming more and more acute. Colonel Dougan, Governor of the colony of New York, was bent on frustrating the great scheme of French colonisation, which he saw, aimed at the entire possession of the interior. As Parkman sums up the opposition between the two contestants :”If his policy should prevail, New France would dwindle to a feeble province on the St. Lawrence ; if the French policy should prevail, the English colonies would remain a narrow strip along the sea.” The Hudson’s Bay Company on the north, the New England settlers on the east, and the colony of New York opposing the French advance to the south of the Great Lakes, were all seeking to encircle New France with a barrier to further progress. But Louis XIV. was now strenuous in defending his rights in the New World, while James II. of England was weak and wavering in his policy. Dougan, however, debarred from open hostilities, could at least carry on intrigues with the Iroquois, whom Denonville was determined to crush, by fair means or foul. Notwithstanding a treaty of neutrality concluded in 1678, he determined to follow previous instructions, and mustered a large and formidable force to attack the villages of the Iroquois, keeping his design secret, while professing that his purpose was solely to hold a peace conference at Fort Frontenac.
To promote his deception of the Iroquois, he made treacherous use of the unsuspecting missionary brothers Lamberville, to persuade the Onondaga Chiefs to meet him at the pretended Council, knowing well the terrible risk to which he was exposing these good Fathers, who had long served the interests of France among the savages ; while he deliberately perpetrated against the peaceful Iroquois near Cataraqui a piece of cold-blooded treachery which darkly stained his own regime and the fair fame of Fort Frontenac ;sowing dragons’ teeth, whence should spring vengeance and massacre for years to come.
In advance of his army of two thousand men, he sent the Intendant Champigny to invite the neighbouring Iroquois to a friendly feast at the fort. When some thirty braves, with about ninety women and children, had assembled in response to his bidding, they were suddenly surrounded and made prisoners by the garrison and the Intendant’s escort. The inhabitants of a peaceful village on the Bay of Quinte, and a few others quietly making their way up the river, were forcibly secured, and fifty-one Iroquois braves being thus entrapped, were fastened to stakes within the fort, and, instead of being provided with a feast, found themselves dependent for food on what their wives could procure. Of some hundred and fifty women and children, many fell victims to their terror and distress, or to disease. With a strange travesty of Christianity, the survivors were baptised and distributed in the nearest missions, while the men were also baptized, and, with the exception of a few claimed by nominally Christian relatives, were sent to France to labour as galley-slaves.
In bright contrast with the cruel perfidy of Denonville, shines out the conduct of the Onondagas to their friend, Jean de Lamberville, when they received from an escaped fugitive the tidings of the treacherous outrage. Lamberville, as much taken by surprise as the Iroquois themselves, expected nothing else than a cruel death, which, indeed, he barely escaped at the hands of the Oneidas; but, on the authority of Charlevoix, we are told that the Onondaga Sachems addressed him as follows : “We know you too well to believe that you meant to betray us. We think that you have been deceived, as well as we, and we are not unjust enough to punish you for the crime of others. But you are not safe here. When once our young men have sung the war-song, they will listen to nothing but their fury ; and we shall not be able to save you.” In this generous spirit they sent him secretly, with trusty guides, to join Denonville, which he did, to the Governor’s relief, before he and his troops reached Fort Frontenac. There, for a few days, all was life and activity, some two thousand regular soldiers, militia and Indians, being encamped in tents and wigwams in the shadow of the fort, previous to setting out for the rendezvous agreed on, at Irondequoit Bay, on the opposite side of the lake, and the borders of the Seneca country. The Nemesis of Denonville’s treachery was not, however, very long delayed ; for although the immediate effect of his destructive descent upon the Seneca country was to overpower and check the savages for a time, it was far from proving as effective as had been the expedition led by De Tracy thirty years before. And, emboldened by Dougan’s friendly attitude and the protective policy of King James, the Iroquois grew more imperious in their demands and more harassing in their raids, desolating the open country around Fort Frontenac by killing the cattle of the settler and setting fire to his grain with flaming arrows, and even besieging Fort Frontenac itself. Denonville found himself, owing to difficulty of maintaining communication, obliged to sacrifice the newly planted fort at Niagara, successor to that of La Salle, and also to send to France an urgent request that the captives entrapped at Fort Frontenac should be at once sent back to Canada. Others, who had been placed with their Christian relatives in the mission villages, he used as ambassadors to Onondaga to make overtures of peace. In this he succeeded so far as to induce the politic old Chief called “Big Mouth” to come with a few other Chiefs, backed by a strong body of his people, to meet him at Montreal, after a courteous reception at Fort Frontenac in passing. For a time the prospect of peace seemed hopeful, but as the envoys were on their way again to Montreal to arrange a general peace on behalf of the Five Nations, a cunning Huron Chief, Kondiaronk, nicknamed “The Rat, “having visited Fort Frontenac and there ascertained the situation, which he knew boded no good for the Ilurons, who were not included in the negotiations,laid an ambush for the ambassage at La Famine, and killed one Chief, making prisoners of the rest. Then pretending that he had been incited to this deed by Denonville, he presented the envoys with ammunition and sent them on their way with their old grudge stirred up to fiercer strife by what he had represented as a fresh instance of French perfidy. The negotiations proceeded no farther, and in the following August the smouldering vengeance of the Iroquois burst on New France like a thunder-bolt, in the frightful massacre of Lachine, when the savages landed at La Salle’s first Seigniory, and, by the torture and butchery of men, women and children, the burning of the village and the ravaging of the country, scattered devastation and terror over the whole island of Montreal and paralysed the colony for a time by the sudden shock of a bewildering calamity.
The Story Of Old Kingston:The Founding Of Fort FrontenacFort Frontenac Under The French RegimeThe Fall Of Fort FrontenacThe Coming Of The LoyalstsSettlement And Early DaysA Naval And Military Centre And First Seat Of Provincial GovernmentThe Cloud Of WarTo ArmsNaval Expeditions From KingstonAfter The WarRead More Articles About: The Story Of Old Kingston