Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

How a Bold Answer Saved Quebec

Quebec was founded, and for many years the little colony struggled on in the face of difficulties. There were many comings and goings between France and New France. Again and again Champlain crossed the sea to plead his cause with king and councillors, with merchant and with prince. But in spite of all his pains and trouble, New France grew but slowly, and after twenty years Quebec was still hardly more than a village.

Besides founding a colony, Champlain wished to make the wild Red Indians Christian. "To save a soul," he said, "is of more importance than to conquer a kingdom." So he brought priests and ministers from France, and tried to teach the heathen about Christ. But already Christian people had begun to quarrel among themselves about religion. They were divided into two parties. Those who kept to the old religion called Roman Catholics, those who followed the new were called Protestants. In France the Protestants were called Huguenots.

At first both Roman Catholics and Huguenots came to New France. But they hated each other. Even on board ship while they were sailing over the sea to teach the heathen to love each other, they would quarrel, and the quarrel often ended in a fight. Then the sailors would gather round to watch, some crying, "Down with the Huguenots," others, "Down with the Papists." The sailors thought that it was good fun, but it made Champlain sad. "I know not which was the bravest, or which hit hardest," he says, "but I leave you to think if it was very pleasant to behold."

On land things were not much better, and once, when a minister and a priest died at the same time, the sailors buried them in one grave "to see," they said, "whether being dead they would remain in peace, since they could so little agree whilst living."

At last, for several reasons, the King of France forbade any Huguenots to go to New France. This was a pity, for the Huguenots were good merchants, many of them were rich, and they would have been a great help to the new colony. Besides, the Huguenots were ready to go through much toil and to suffer many hardships for the sake of their religion. Had they been allowed to worship God in their own way in the new land, many would have gone there gladly, and the colony would have grown quickly. On the other hand the French Catholics had to be persuaded to go, as they were quite comfortable at home. So the colony grew slowly.

At this time the Stuart kings were ruling in Great Britain. They too, like the French king, tried to force all their people to be of one religion. But the people would not be forced, so many of them sailed away over the sea to the New World in the hope of finding freedom. They found it too, for although the Stuart kings were despots at home, they allowed much freedom to the colonies, indeed they paid little attention to them. So it came about that the British colonies grew much faster than the French. And soon the British wanted all the land in North America, even Canada which the French claimed.

In the year 1628 France and Britain were at war. For the people in Quebec, the winter had been long and hard. Nearly all the food which the colonists had had was eaten, and Champlain was anxiously looking for more from home, when bad news reached him. He heard that British ships were sailing up the river seizing all the French ships they met. A farm upon which Quebec depended for food had been attacked and burned, and all the cattle carried off. This was bad news indeed. As soon as Champlain heard it he prepared for battle. Each man in the fort was given a post. Guns were loaded and the walls strengthened as well as might be. When evening fell every man was ready for the foe.

That night all was quiet, but next day a little boat flying a white flag was seen sailing up the river. It brought a letter from Captain Kirke, the leader of the British ships. Calling all his chief men together, Champlain read the letter aloud to them.

It was very polite. It told how Captain Kirke had been sent by the King of Great Britain to take possession of all the country of Canada. It told how he had already taken many ships, and how, knowing that there was but little food within the walls of Quebec, he had also destroyed the farm. "And in order that no vessel may reach you, I have made up my mind to stay here till the end of the season so that you may get no more food. Therefore see what you wish to do, if you intend to give up the settlement or not. For, God aiding, sooner or later I must have it. I would desire for your sake that it would be by courtesy rather than by force, to avoid blood which might be spilt on both sides.

"Send me word what you desire to do.

"Waiting your reply, I remain, gentlemen,
"Your affectionate servant,

"David Kirke."

What was to be done? Yield? There was but fifty pounds of powder in all the fort, and hardly any food. Seven ounces of peas was all that was served out to each man daily. Weak, pale and thin, the French could not hope to hold out against the British for more than a few hours. But their hearts were stout and strong. Not a man was willing to yield without a struggle.

"If Captain Kirke wants to see us near at hand," they said, "he had better come, and not threaten us from so far off."

Then Champlain sat down and wrote as bold and polite a letter as that he had received. "My fort is well furnished with food," he said. "It and we are in good condition to resist you. My soldiers and I would deserve severe punishment from God and man did we yield without a fight. We will await you from hour to hour, and when you come will try to show you that you have no claim to our fort. Upon which I remain, sir, Your affectionate servant,

The letter was sealed and sent, and each man stood to his post, ready to sell his life as dearly as might be. But boldness won the day. When Captain Kirke read the letter he sat gravely thinking. No man, it seemed to him, who was in great straits would have answered as Champlain had answered. He must have been deceived. He was not strong enough to risk a siege and perhaps a defeat. So up sails, and away sped handsome, swaggering Captain Kirke, down stream.

The brave hearts at Quebec waited hour by hour for death which did not come. And at last the good news, that the British had sailed away, was brought to them. They were saved.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Founding of Quebec  |  Next: How the Union Jack Was Hoisted upon the Fort
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.