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

How the Union Jack Was Hoisted upon the Fort of St. Louis

By his boldness, Champlain had saved Quebec. But almost at once another misfortune fell upon the brave little garrison. As Kirke sailed down the river he met a fleet of ships bringing food, powder, shot, fresh soldiers and colonists to Quebec. These he attacked and after a desperate fight he captured every one of them. Some of the ships Kirke burned and sank, two he sent back to France with the new colonists who had just come from there, and the rest he carried in triumph to England.

Months went on. In those days news travelled but slowly. The little garrison at Quebec knew nothing of what had happened to their ships, and they waited in vain for the promised food from home. The men haunted the woods for roots and berries. They trapped wild animals and fished the river. But soon they had few hooks or lines left and their powder they dared hardly use for killing game. It was a terrible time. The little children in the fort cried with hunger, and their mothers had nothing to give them. At last the famine became so dreadful that some of the settlers left the fort and went to live among the wild Indians until help should come.

Then one July morning a ship came sailing up the river. A white flag, in sign of peace, floated from the mast. Champlain, as soon as he saw it, hoisted a white flag upon the fort too. The ship came to anchor. A little boat put off and made for the shore. A young British officer sprang to land and asked to be led to Governor Champlain. He was the bearer of a letter from Kirke's two brothers, Louis and Thomas.

"Sir," said this letter, "our brother told you last year that sooner or later he would have Quebec. He has charged us to assure you of his friendship as we do of ours. Knowing very well the extreme need in which you are, he desires that you shall surrender the fort to us. We assure you that you will receive every courtesy from us, and honourable terms."

The state of the garrison was desperate. Yet Champlain would not give in without a struggle. So he sent a priest to talk to Louis and Thomas Kirke. But nothing he could say would move the swaggering, reckless British sailors.

"If Champlain gives up the keys of the fortress," said Louis, "we will treat you well and send you all home to France. If he will not give them up peaceably we will take them by force."

"Give us fifteen days' grace then," begged the priest.


"Eight days."

"No sir, not a day. I know well your miserable condition. You are all starving. Your people have gone to gather roots in the forest lest you die of hunger."

"Still give us a few days," begged the priest.

"No, no," said Thomas, "yield the fort or I shall ruin it with my cannon."

"I want to sleep within it to-night," said Louis, "and if I do not I shall waste the whole country round."

"Have a care," said the priest proudly. "You deceive yourselves if you think that you can win the fort so easily. There are a hundred men within it well armed and ready to sell their lives as dearly as may be. You may not conquer so easily. You may find defeat and death instead of victory. Once more I warn you. Be careful."

Once again, as a year before, bold words had an effect. Thomas and Louis Kirke hesitated. Could it really be as the priest said? Was the garrison still so strong? They were doubtful what to do, so they asked the priest to go aside a little while they talked to their officers. These all agreed that Champlain must be made to give in at once. "Let him have three hours in which to make up his mind," they said.

So the priest returned to the fort with this sad news. Champlain now saw that it was useless to hold out any longer. Indeed it was worse than useless, for if he yielded without firing a shot the Kirkes had promised that every man should be spared, but if they resisted they need hope for no mercy. Champlain had only fifty men and they were weak and ill. There was not ten pounds of flour left in the fort and hardly any gun powder. To fight would only mean the throwing away of life. So he decided to yield.

But the people were angry. They still believed that they could fight the British. "Even if we lose the fort," they said, "let us show them that we have courage."

"How can you be so foolish?" replied Champlain. "Are you tired of living? We cannot hope to win. We have no food, no powder or shot, and no hope of getting any. Would you throw your lives away?"

Truly, how could the strongest fort hold out when in its walls there were neither soldiers, shot, nor food?

When at last the bitter talk, this way and that, was over, it was evening, so no more could be done that night. The worn-out garrison spent a last sad night within the fort. The British lay in their ship opposite. Next morning Champlain stepped on board the waiting vessel. There he gave up the keys and signed away his right to the town which he had founded, and cherished, and loved. So without the firing of a shot Quebec became a British possession. The fleur-de-lis  of France was hauled down from the Fort St. Louis, as the house which Champlain had built for himself was called, and in its place floated the Union Jack.

This is called the first siege of Quebec, although it was really no siege, for not a shot was fired.

In their own rough way the conquerors treated Champlain with courtesy. They made a list of all that was found in the fort and gave Champlain a receipt for it. "As for a list of provisions," said Kirke, with grim humour, "we will not need to waste paper and ink upon it. I am not sorry, for it is a great pleasure to us to give you all that you need."

"I thank you," said Champlain bitterly, "but you make us pay dearly for it."

Some of the Frenchmen went back to France, others chose to remain with their new masters. Louis Kirke took possession of Quebec and Thomas sailed triumphantly homeward with the spoils of war. But his triumph was short-lived, for as he landed, he was greeted with the news that in April peace between France and Great Britain had been signed. Quebec had been taken in July. It must therefore be handed back to France, as it had been taken unlawfully when the two countries were at peace.

But Charles I. did not lightly let go what he had seized. He was bland and courteous, promised much and delayed much. Meanwhile the British kept possession of Quebec and of Canadian fur trade. Not until three years had come and gone did Champlain once more land upon the shores of his beloved New France as governor. He was then sixty-six years old. As a soldier, as a sailor, as a traveller and explorer, he had suffered all the hardships of life. He had endured bitter cold, scorching heat, wounds and famine, but, in spite of all, he was as eager as ever to fight and labour for New France.

If Champlain was glad to return, his people were no less glad to receive him. Frenchmen and Indian alike joined to welcome him home. As the grey-haired governor stepped on shore the air was rent with cheers. Then with drums beating and colours flying they led him up the steep and winding pathway to his old fort of St. Louis. There once more he received the keys which three years before he had given up with so much bitterness of heart.

Three years later, after nearly thirty years of labour and hardship, Champlain died. He died as he would have wished, in the service of his country, still Governor of New France.

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