Chronicles of America 

Queen Anne's War, 1702-1713

A partial victory, however, such as the taking of Port Royal, was not enough for the aroused spirit of the English. They and their allies had beaten Louis XIV on the battlefields of Europe and had so worn out France that clouds and darkness were about the last days of the Grand Monarch now nearing his end. In America his agents were still drawing up papers outlining grandiose designs for mastering the continent and for proving that England's empire was near its fall, but Europe knew that France in the long war had been beaten. The right way to smite France in America was to rely upon England's naval power, to master the great highway of the St. Lawrence, to isolate Canada, and to strangle one by one the French settlements, beginning with Quebec.

There was malignant intrigue at the court of Queen Anne. One favorite, the Duchess of Marlborough, had just been disgraced, and another, Mrs. Masham, had been taken on by the weak and stupid Queen. The conquest of Canada, if it could be achieved without the aid of Marlborough, would help in his much desired overthrow. Petty motives were unhappily at the root of the great scheme. Who better to lead such an expedition than the brother of the new favorite whose success might discredit the husband of the old one? Accordingly General "Jack" Hill, brother of Mrs. Masham, was appointed to the chief military command and an admiral hitherto little known but of good habits and quick wit, Sir Hovenden Walker, was to lead the fleet.

Queen Anne's War

Two primary events occurred which had propagated the start of Queen Anne's involvement with the invasion of Canada:

  1. Deerfield Massacre 1704
  2. The march of Nicholson against Port Royal

The expedition against Quebec was on a scale adequate for the time. Britain dispatched seven regiments of regulars, numbering in all five thousand five hundred men, and there were besides in the fleet some thousands of sailors and marines. Never before had the English sent to North America a force so great. On June 24, 1711, Admiral Walker arrived at Boston with his great array. Boston was impressed, but Boston was also a little hurt, for the British leaders were very lofty and superior in their tone towards colonials and gave orders as if Boston were a provincial city of England which must learn respect and obedience to His Majesty's officers "vested with the Queen's Royal Power and Authority."

More than seventy ships, led by nine men-of-war, sailed from Boston for the attack on Canada. On board were nearly twelve thousand men. Compared with this imposing fleet, that of Phips, twenty-one years earlier, seems feeble. Phips had set out too late. This fleet was in good time, for it sailed on the 30th of July. Vetch, always competent, was in command of the colonial military forces, but never had any chance to show his mettle, for during the voyage the seamen were in control. The Admiral had left England with secret instructions. He had not been informed of the task before him and for it he was hardly prepared. There were no competent pilots to correct his ignorance. Now that he knew where he was going he was anxious about the dangers of the northern waters. The St. Lawrence River, he believed, froze solidly to the bottom in winter and he feared that the ice would crush the sides of his ships. As he had provisions for only eight or nine weeks, his men might starve. His mind was filled, as he himself says, with melancholy and dismal horror at the prospect of seamen and soldiers, worn to skeletons by hunger, drawing lots to decide who should die first amidst the "adamantine frosts" and "mountains of snow" of bleak and barren Canada.

The Gulf and River St. Lawrence spell death to an incompetent sailor. The fogs, the numerous shoals and islands, make skillful seamanship necessary. It is a long journey from Boston to Quebec by water. For three weeks, however, all went well. On the 22d of August, Walker was out of sight of land in the Gulf where it is about seventy miles wide above the Island of Anticosti. A strong east wind with thick fog is dreaded in those waters even now, and on the evening of that day a storm of this kind blew up. In the fog Walker lost his bearings. When in fact he was near the north shore he thought he was not far from the south shore. At half-past ten at night Paddon, the captain of the Edgar, Walker's flagship, came to tell him that land was in sight. Walker assumed that it was the south shore and gave a fatal order for the fleet to turn and head northward, a change which turned them straight towards cliffs and breakers. He then went to bed. Soon one of the military officers rushed to his cabin and begged him to come on deck as the ships were among breakers. Walker, who was an irascible man, resented the intrusion and remained in bed. A second time the officer appeared and said the fleet would be lost if the Admiral did not act. Why it was left for a military rather than a naval officer to rouse the Admiral in such a crisis we do not know. Perhaps the sailors were afraid of the great man. Walker appeared on deck in dressing gown and slippers. The fog had lifted, and in the moonlight there could be seen breaking surf to leeward. A French pilot, captured in the Gulf, had taken pains to give what he could of alarming information. He now declared that the ships were off the north shore. Walker turned his own ship sharply and succeeded in beating out into deep water and safety. For the fleet the night was terrible. Some ships dropped anchor which held, for happily the storm abated. Fog guns and lights as signals of distress availed little to the ships in difficulty. Eight British transports laden with troops and two ships carrying supplies were dashed to pieces on the rocks. The shrieks of drowning men could be heard in the darkness. The scene was the rocky Isle aux Oeufs and adjacent reefs off the north shore. About seven hundred soldiers, including twenty-nine officers, and in addition perhaps two hundred sailors, were lost on that awful night.

The disaster was not overwhelming and Walker might have gone on and captured Quebec. He had not lost a single war-ship and he had still some eleven thousand men. General Hill might have stiffened the back of the forlorn Admiral, but Hill himself was no better. Vetch spoke for going on. He knew the St. Lawrence waters for he had been at Quebec and had actually charted a part of the river and was more familiar with it, he believed, than were the Canadians themselves. What pilots there were declared, however, that to go on was impossible and the helpless captains of the ships were of opinion that, with the warning of such a disaster, they could not disregard this counsel. Though the character of the English is such that usually a reverse serves to stiffen their backs, in this case it was not so. A council of war yielded to the panic of the hour and the great fleet turned homeward. Soon it was gathered in what is now Sydney harbor in Cape Breton. From here the New England ships went home and Walker sailed for England. At Spithead the Edgar, the flag-ship, blew up and all on board perished. Walker was on shore at the time. So far was he from being disgraced that he was given a new command. Later, when the Whigs came in, he was dismissed from the service, less, it seems, in blame for the disaster than for his Tory opinions. It is not an unusual irony of life that Vetch, the one wholly efficient leader in the expedition, ended his days in a debtor's prison.

Quebec had shivered before a menace, the greatest in its history. Through the long months of the summer of 1711 there had been prayer and fasting to avert the danger. Apparently trading ships had deserted the lower St. Lawrence in alarm, for no word had arrived at Quebec of the approach of Walker's fleet. Nor had the great disaster been witnessed by any onlookers. The island where it occurred was then and still remains desert. Up to the middle of October, nearly two months after the disaster, the watchers at Quebec feared that they might see any day a British fleet rounding the head of the Island of Orleans. On the 19th of October the first news of the disaster arrived and then it was easy for Quebec to believe that God had struck the English wretches with a terrible vengeance. Three thousand men, it was said, had reached land and then perished miserably. Many bodies had been found naked and in attitudes of despair. Other thousands had perished in the water. Vessel-loads of spoil had been gathered, rich plate, beautiful swords, magnificent clothing, gold, silver, jewels. The truth seems to be that some weeks after the disaster the evidences of the wrecks were discovered. Even to this day ships are battered to pieces in those rock-strewn waters and no one survives to tell the story. Some fishermen landing on the island had found human bodies, dead horses and other animals, and the hulls of seven ships. They had gathered some wreckage--and that was the whole story. Quebec sang Te Deum. From attacks by sea there had now been two escapes which showed God's love for Canada. In the little church of Notre Dame des Victoires, consecrated at that time to the memory of the deliverance from Phips and Walker, daily prayers are still poured out for the well-being of Canada. God had been a present help on land as well as on the sea. Nicholson, with more than two thousand men, had been waiting at his camp near Lake Champlain to descend on Montreal as soon as Walker reached Quebec. When he received the news of the disaster he broke up his force and retired. For the moment Canada was safe from the threatened invasion.

In spite of this apparent deliverance, the long war, now near its end, brought a destructive blow to French power in America. Though France still possessed vigor and resources which her enemies were apt to underrate, the war had gone against her in Europe. Her finest armies had been destroyed by Marlborough, her taxation was crushing, her credit was ruined, her people were suffering for lack of food. The allies had begun to think that there was no humiliation which they might not put upon France. Louis XIV, they said, must give up Alsace, which, with Lorraine, he had taken some years earlier, and he must help to drive his own grandson from the Spanish throne. This exorbitant demand stirred the pride not only of Louis but of the French nation, and the allies found that they could not trample France under their feet. The Treaty of Utrecht, concluded in 1718, shows that each side was too strong as yet to be crushed. In dismissing Marlborough, Great Britain had lost one of her chief assets. His name had become a terror to France. To this day, both in France and in French Canada, is sung the popular ditty "Monsieur Malbrouck est mort," a song of delight at a report that Marlborough was dead. When in place of Marlborough leaders of the type of General Hill were appointed to high command, France could not be finally beaten. The Treaty of Utrecht was the outcome of war-weariness. It marks, however, a double check to Louis XIV. He could not master Europe and he could not master America. France now ceded to Britain her claim to Acadia, Newfoundland, and Hudson Bay. She regarded this, however, as only a temporary setback and was soon planning and plotting great designs far surpassing the narrower vision of the English colonies.

It was with a wry face, however, that France yielded Acadia. To retain it she offered to give up all rights in the Newfoundland fisheries, the nursery of her marine. Britain would not yield Acadia, dreading chiefly perhaps the wrath of New England which had conquered Port Royal. Britain, however, compromised on the question of boundaries in a way so dangerous that the long war settled finally no great issues in America. She took Acadia "according to its ancient limits,"--but no one knew these limits. They were to be defined by a joint commission of the two nations which, after forty years, reached no agreement. The Island of Cape Breton and the adjoining Ile St. Jean, now Prince Edward Island, remained to France. Though Britain secured sovereignty over Newfoundland, France retained extensive rights in the Newfoundland fisheries. The treaty left unsettled the boundary between Canada and the English colonies. While it yielded Hudson Bay to Britain, it settled nothing as to frontiers in the wilderness which stretched beyond the Great Lakes into the Far West and which had vast wealth in furs.

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