The Marquis de Denonville had, like his predecessor, manifested his incapacity for dealing with the critical situation in New France, and the veteran Count Frontenac, now in his seventieth year, was deemed the only man able, at such a moment, to save the harassed and terrified colony. Accepting the appointment, notwithstanding his age and former experiences, he reached Canada with the autumn winds, to meet an enthusiastic welcome. He found a panic-stricken people most inadequately supplied with troops ; he visited the blackened site of Lachine, and heard its tragic tale of massacre and ruin, and he learned, to his intense exasperation, that the destruction of Fort Frontenac had been ordered by his predecessor, in response to an insolent Iroquois demand. In the hope of yet saving a fortress he deemed so important, he hurried off a detachment of three hundred men to avert its doom, but scarcely had they set out when the Commandant of the fort, M. Valrenne appeared with his garrison and the unwelcome tidings that the order for its destruction had been but too effectually obeyed. The fort had been gutted by fire, the cannon thrown into the river, the three vessels pertaining to it sunk, the walls and bastions mined, and, as was believed, completely destroyed in the explosion which followed its evacuation. The demolition, however, turned out not so complete as the garrison supposed, and the ruins were at once occupied by the Iroquois, who found therein a large store of abandoned munitions and supplies.
It would lead us too far from our main subject to follow the eventful history of New France during the troubled years that followed, during which Cataraqui now and then emerges into prominence. Frontenac soon found that his still respected name was no longer the spell to conjure with, which it had been of old. In vain he sought to influence the Iroquois through the mediation of a famous Cayuga Chief named Ourehaoue, one of the captives he had brought back from France, and whose confidence and devotion he had won, who sent three other returned captives to Onondaga with a message dictated by Frontenac, begging his people not to act “like foolish children, forgetting their obedience to their father,” and promising that he himself would return to them as soon as they should ask for this in respectful and filial terms.
But though the envoys did their best to secure a pacific reply, the Iroquois, instigated by agents from Albany, proved obdurate to the exhortation of Ononthio. They reminded him that their Council-fire at Fort Frontenac had been quenched in blood ; declared that the Council-fire now burned at Albany; demanded the immediate return of Ourehaoue and the rest of the captives, and informed him that they had made peace with the tribes of Michillimackinac, and that there they would continue the war till their countrymen should be sent back to them.
The next few years were perhaps the most distracted and unhappy in the history of New France, the period of the “Three War Parties” and Phipps attack on Quebecwhen a sanguinary border warfare, bringing destruction, famine and misery in its train, raged between the frontier settlements, keeping the unhappy settlers under a reign of terror, often afraid to venture out of their stockades for the tilling of their fields; while an Iroquois blockade of the Ottawa River intercepted the transport of beaver-skins from Michillimackinac, cutting off from the colony its chief dependence for support. When at length, in consequence of Frontenac’s exertions and the moral effect of the defeat of Phipps at Quebec, the water-way was again open, and the accumulation of furs reached Quebec, the colonists could hardly find expression for their joy and gratitude to “the Father of the people and preserver of the country.”
But raid and reprisal between settlers and savages still continued to disturb the public peace, the cruelties perpetrated by the former being sometimes as great as those of the latter. The Hurons were still kept in wavering and unrest by the fear that their French allies could not, or would not, in the last resort, protect them from their Iroquois foes. Frontenac felt strongly that one course alone could be effectualto humble the Iroquois by some really decisive defeat, and thus to reassure the Hurons; and with this end in view he determined, in 1696, to rebuild Fort Frontenac.
But, as usual, a storm of opposition arose from those who feared lest the re-establishment of the fort might interfere with their own interests, opposition which found expression in the counter-representations of the Intendant, De Champigny. Frontenac had sent home, in 1695, his reasons for rebuilding the fort, which De Champigny sought to counteract by a parallel set of reasons to the contrary. Frontenac dwelt on its importance as an entre-pot of trade, a storehouse for provisions, a place for repairing weapons and implements, a headquarters for expeditions, a retreat in case of danger, and a hospital for sick or wounded soldiers. De Champigny, on the other hand, objected that it would be a useless expense to reestablish a fort which lay out of the direct course of either trade or war, which could furnish protection only to the men within its walls, and which, from its contiguity to poisonous swamps, was so unhealthy that eighty-seven men out of eight hundred composing the garrison had died in one year.
It is quite probable that, in those days, when a long stretch of swampy soil, long since filled in, extended along the shore of the Cataraqui up to the walls of the fort, malaria did prevail, althoughthis condition having been greatly changedKingston is now considered one of the most salubrious places in Canada. But the usefulness of the fort as a means of checking the incursions of the Iroquois was beyond a doubt, and the savages themselves were so much concerned at the prospect of its restoration that they appealed to the Governor of New York to prevent it, which he vainly undertook to do. Nevertheless De Champigny’s representations produced such an effect in France that the Minister, Pontchartrain, wrote to Frontenac that the plan must be absolutely abandoned. The Governor, however, had taken care not to wait for this veto, but had already despatched a force of seven hundred men for the work of restoration, and notwithstanding the Intendant’s demand for their recall, the fort was, in a short time, repaired and garrisoned by forty-eight soldiers, with supplies for a year.
As now restored, the fort was a somewhat imposing structure, having four curtains of stone, each twenty feet long, with four square bastions at the angles, the north and south bastions being almost on the present line of Ontario Street, the eastern on the present Barrack Square, and the western on what has long been known as “the Haymarket.” On the western side it was defended by an embankment and ditch, the gate being situated near the present barrack wharf. Some years later a wooden gallery was built within, from one bastion to another, the latter rising from sunken wooden piles, and the curtains were loop-holed for musketry, the water side being, as before, defended by palisades. Barracks for the men, a mill, a bakery and a well, with, of course, a powder magazine, occupied the interior.
Once again, in July, the veteran Governor led a formidable expedition from Montreal to Fort Frontenac, this time on an errand of war, not of peace. His force numbered twenty-two hundred men, led by a fleet of Indian canoes. Next, in martial order as before, came the bateaux, filled with the regular troops, then Frontenac and his suite, followed by a body of volunteers under Ramezay, the rear being composed of regular soldiers and volunteer Indian allies, commanded by Vaudreuil. Once more the white surges of the rapids had to be faced and overcome. Frontenac, septuagenarian though he was, would have plodded on with the rest ; but here, as later at the Falls of the Oswego, the Indians lifted him and his canoe on their shoulders, and singing their war-songs, carried him through the dark shades of the forest.
After a few days’ rest, Frontenac, with his little army, crossed the lake to the south of the Oswego River, and began his march to the Indian town of Onondaga, which they found almost deserted, the panic-stricken Indians having saved themselves by flight. After destroying this village and that of Oneida, the expedition, encountering no foe, was obliged to return as it came, having at least over-awed the savages for the time. Two years later the stalwart old Governor died, in the Chateau at Quebec, like his predecessor, Champlain, at nearly eighty years of age, having firmly pursued his own vigorous policy to the end, despite weakening orders from the king. In pursuance of that policy, he had steadily refused to comply with repeated directions from headquarters to abandon Fort Frontenac. His strong hand on the reins had saved New France at the critical moment. The power of the Iroquois to harass the colony was in a great measure broken ; the all but shattered Indian alliances had been cemented anew, and the claims of the English settlers to suzerainty over the Iroquois emphatically repudiated. The western forts were maintained, and in fulfilment of the cherished dream of La Salle, the colony of Louisiana attained an actual existence, and the Gulf of Mexico was brought into direct communication with the St. Lawrence through the pioneering energy of Le Moyne d’Iberville, and other sons of New France.
But the French supremacy in America was short-lived. The English colonies were fast growing in strength, while the power of France was weakening at home, and in the middle of the seventeenth century the final struggle for the possession of Canada reached its crisis, and the figures of Wolfe and Montcalm appeared in the forefront of the long, harassing war. Fort Frontenac, one of the most important French posts, on account of its command of Lake Ontario, played no unimportant part in the sharp struggle. In the summer of 1749 it was used as a resting-place by Celoron de Bienville, who was sent with some two hundred menmostly Canadiansand a band of Indians, to defend the French possessions in the valley of the Ohio ; the Marquis de La Galissonniare, then Governor, being determined to maintain French domination in Canada as a barrier against English ambition, sinceif the latter nation should become preponderant in Americathe wealth which they would draw from their colonies would soon make them dominant in Europe.
Three years later we catch another glimpse of the condition of Fort Frontenac, in the diary of Father Picquet, the “apostle of the Iroquois,” as he was styled, though he was as much a politician as an apostle, who made a journey thither from his mission of “La Presentation,” on the site of the present City of Ogdensburg. He and his belongings were paddled up through the mazes of the ” Thousand Islands” by six Canadians, some of his Indian converts following in another canoe. At Fort Frontenac they saw very few of the former Indian settlers, as most of these found the English post of Oswego a more attractive resort. M. Picquet did not remain long at the fort, where he found such provisions as they had”bread and milk, pork and baconvery poor,” and “not brandy enough to wash a wound.” He crossed the lake with his company to one of the neighbouring islands, where a band of Indians lived, to whom M. Picquet gave a feast, along with a discourse of religious exhortation, which proved persuasive enough to induce them to remove to his new mission. He also entertained there a party of visitors from the fort, consisting of the chaplain, the storekeeper and his wife, with three young ladies, doubtless well pleased to vary the monotony of the outpost by such an excursion. “My hunters,” Picquet relates, “had supplied me with the means of giving them pretty good entertainment. We drank, with all our hearts, to the health of the authorities, temporal and ecclesiastical, to the sound of our musketry, which was very well fired, and delighted the islanders.”
On his return from his further expedition to Niagara he again visited Fort Frontenac, and thus described the scene on his arrival :”Never was a reception more decorous. The Nipissings and Algonquins, who were going on a war-party with Monsieur Beletre, formed a line of their own accord, and saluted us with three volleys of musketry and cries of joy without end. All our little bark vessels replied in the same way. Monsieur de Vercheres and Monsieur de Valtry ordered the cannon of the fort to be fired, and my Indians, transported with joy at the honour done them, shot off their guns incessantly, with cries and acclamations that delighted everybody.” M. Picquet had the further satisfaction of leading back a considerable number of willing proselytes to his mission at La Presentation, which, with the partiality of a founder who had overcome much opposition to his scheme, he regarded as a key to the colony.
But the last hour of Fort Frontenac was drawing near. The two great powers which had so long been silently contending for the sovereignty of the continent were gradually approaching each other across the slopes of the Alleghanies and the valley of the St. Lawrence, and the capture of many French vessels by British cruisers hurried on the crisis, though the first shots had been fired in the wilds of Virginia. La Jonquiere, Governor of Canada in 1751, appreciating the strategic value of Fort Frontenac, did all he could to repair and strengthen it for the impending conflict.
In 1755, when the international struggle was growing more acute and critical, we find Captain John Shirley, second son of the General, unfolding to Governor Morris of Pennsylvania his project of capturing the fort, which at this time was garrisoned by a French force of fourteen hundred regulars and Canadians, ready to descend upon Fort Oswego as soon as Shirley should have left it in order to attack Niagara, whereby he would be cut off from his supplies, with the French in his rear. “We are not more,” writes Shirley, “than about fifteen hundred men fit for duty ; but that, I am pretty sure, if we can go in time in our sloop, schooner, row-galleys and whale-boats, will be sufficient to take Fort Frontenac, after which we may venture upon the attack of Niagarabut not before. I have not the least doubt, myself, of knocking down both these places yet this fall, if we can get away in a week. If we take or destroy their two vessels at Frontenac, and ruin their harbour there, and destroy that fort and Niagara, I think we shall have done great things.” But the time for this was not yet. The proposed movement on Niagara was checkmated by the exceptional strength of the garrison at Fort Frontenac ; the weather was bad; the means of transportation not half sufficient, and the attempt was considered too rash to be made that season.
The events of 1756, however, proved the wisdom of Shirley’s project; for during that year Fort Frontenac once more resounded with martial preparations and the tread of armed forces, as it became a principal point of departure for military sorties against Fort Oswego. Early in spring Captain de Villier led from it a body of three hundred men, who entrenched themselves among the woods near Oswego, to harass the garrison, intercept supplies, and, if possible, to surprise the fort. Meantime Montcalm himself arrived in Canada, and, in July, hastened in person to Fort Frontenac, where for days large bodies of troops continued to arrive, destined to push the siege of Fort Oswego. On the 4th of August he left Cataraqui for Sackett’s Harbour, the general rendezvous, where an army assembled more than 3,000 strong, and after stealthy night-marches through the woods, succeeded in surprising the important post, forcing the garrison to surrender, and taking sixteen hundred prisoners of war, besides six war-sloops and a large quantity of cannon, ammunition and supplies.
This success seemed to turn the tide of war completely in favour of the French, and subjected the hapless British frontier settlements to many harassing attacks. Late in November a detachment of French and Indians from Fort Frontenac penetrated into the valley of the Mohawk, captured some small forts, and after killing forty men, carried off 150 prisoners and returned to Cataraqui laden with valuable spoils.
This seems to have been the last victorious foray from Fort Frontenac. In the following summer the centre of hostilities was shifted to Lake Champlain. The “Seven Years’ War” had now nearly run its course, for, in 1758, ,Britain, determined to succeed by increasing her forces, sent out large bodies of troops, raising the tale of the army in America to 80,000 fighting men. And one of the Brigadiers, chosen by Pitt himself, bore the name of James Wolfe.
A few months later Louisbourg had been won, and hope rose high, but was sadly damped by the ignominious defeat of Abercromby at Ticonderoga (Fort Carillon), when he was forced to retreat with heavy loss, leaving nearly 2,000 men dead or wounded on the field. The gallant Bradstreet, who did what he could to retrieve the fortunes of the day, had previously planned an attempt to capture Fort Frontenac, and knowing that the greater part of its garrison had been drawn off to Ticonderoga, he now so strongly urged his project, that, under pressure of a Council of War, Abereromby granted him 3,000 men and eleven guns for the enterprise. Its arduous nature will be realised when we reflect that these 3,000 men, nearly all Provincial militia, had to be conveyed in bateaux and whale-boats up the Mohawk and down the Onondaga Riverwith a portage betweento Oswego, and thence across the lake. On August 25th he landed about a mile from the important “quadrangle, defended by thirty guns and sixteen small mortars,” and garrisoned by only 120 soldiers and 40 Indians. It was commanded by the veteran De Noyan, who had vainly warned De Vaudreuil of the danger, and begged for reinforcements. Bradstreet at first took up his position at 500 yards from the fort, but finding that distance too great and the firing from the fort weak, he cautiously approached and established himself in an old entrenchment, afterwards the site of the “Market Battery,” in front of the present City Hall, from whence he opened fire early on the morning of the 27th. De Noyan, we are told, was “brave as a lion,” but the weak and dispirited garrison, cannonaded at such short range, could not possibly hold out against the overwhelming odds, and, seeing no prospect of succour, he surrendered himself and his men as prisoners of war. He stipulated, however, for the safe transport of his troops to Montreal, specifying also the condition that the ornaments and sacred vessels of the “chappel” should be removed in his own baggage. These conditions were honourably fulfilled by Bradstreet, who withstood the entreaties of the Oneidas to be allowed to scalp the prisonerssuggesting that he should follow the example set by the French on several occasions, i.e., “turn his back and shut his eyes ;” and compelled them to refrain from any act of violence, granting them, however, a generous share of the plunder.
Over and above the strategic importance of the place, it was no mean prize that thus, without the loss of a single man, fell into British hands. The cannon and mortars were used in battering down the walls which they were meant to defend, and some nine armed vessels, of from eight to eighteen guns*, a large quantity of naval stores, artillery and munitions, were by Abercromby’s orders burned or destroyed, with the exception of the two largest brigs, which were required to carry across the lake a large quantity of valuable furs also found in the fort. The victorious troops returned to Oswego, and having burned the two reserved brigs, made their way to Albany. When the tidings reached the camp of Abercromby, depressed by the recent reverses, Chaplain Cleaveland wrote in his diary : “This is a glorious piece of news, and may God have the glory of the same !” To the French, on the other hand, the fall of Fort Frontenac was an ominous calamity indeed, fully justifying in its results the apprehensions expressed in announcing its loss to Paris. Its surrender ruined the military career of the unfortunate De Noyan, who was obliged to retire from the service as the scape-goat of De Vaudreuil’s neglect to send the reinforcements which he asked for in vain. After Louisbourg, Fort Frontenac was the first Canadian post over which the red-cross banner was unfurled, and its fall was one of the main events which resulted in the conquest of Canada, eventually consummated by the victory of Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham.
The dismantled walls were, indeed, re-occupied during the summer by the French, and some attempts made to strengthen the post. But its day was over. A few days after De Vaudreuil’s capitulation at Montreal, in 1760, which ended the French regime in Canada, we hear of the place incidentally, owing to a halt made there by a small British force on its way to take possession of the French posts on the lakes, in order to supply itself with game and venison brought thither by an Indian hunting-party. Three years later, apparently with a view to restoring this important position, General Haldimand sent the Government Surveyor, Holland, to report on its condition. As to this, he says that “the vaults still remain entire, with part of the walls of the fort, barrack, etc., and are in such repair as will lessen the expense of re-establishment. The works or lines begun by the French on the commanding grounds near the fort, will cover a sufficient space for a town.” Nothing further, however, seems to have been then done, Carleton Island forming for a number of years the British post in that vicinity.
So the old fort was left deserted and in ruins, though its walls and one of its towers long survived, and some vestiges of it were found when the Grand Trunk Railway line was opened into the city, while the position of the old tower can still be traced in the square of the Tete-de-Pont barracks. And thus, through the fortunes of war, the site of a fortress which had seen so much life and so many vicissitudes during nearly a century of existence, was now forsaken and left in almost primeval silence and solitude. A few French and Indian families still lingered near the spot, but the clash of arms, the sentry’s tramp and the reveillee, were heard no more until another generation had nearly rim its course, and the advent of the United Empire Loyalists had opened the British chapter of its history.
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