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Phips Before Quebec

 

On the morning of the 16th took place the famous episode of the flag of truce.  Phips sent to Frontenac a letter (carefully composed by the expedition's four chaplains) demanding the surrender of Quebec.  The messenger was one Major Thomas Savage.* The New England accounts call him "young Thomas Savage,” evidently to distinguish him from his father, another Major Thomas Savage, for he was a man of 50.  The reception he got is a part of Canadian legend,

 (The letter has been preserved and is published in Parkman.  Although Savage wrote an account of the campaign, which has also been preserved, he makes no mention of his mission to Frontenac. His impressions of the incident would have been interesting!)

 but unlike many legends it is fully supported by the evidence of the people who were there.  The emissary, blindfolded, was led up to Fort St. Louis, where he found himself, as reported later in a letter written by James Lloyd, a Boston merchant, "in a stately Hall full of brave Martiall men." He proceeded to present the ultimatum, which demanded an answer within an hour.  But the menaces concocted by the Puritan men of God did not have the effect Phips had hoped for.  Frontenac told Savage proudly that he would not keep him waiting as long as an hour; he did not recognize the new King (William III) in whose name the English came; and neither he nor his officers had any intention of surrendering Quebec.  When Savage asked for a written answer, the Governor made the haughty reply that has been familiar to generations of schoolboys: "No!  I have no answer for your General save from the mouths of my cannon and from my musketry; let him learn that this is not the way to summon a man like me.  Let him do his best, and I shall do mine The New Englander was taken back to his boat and reported to his commander.  If Lloyd is to be believed, Frontenac's bold attitude "startled" Phips' men, for they had been preached to other things."

However, an English council of war had prepared, or now prepared, a plan of attack, which is described both by Savage and by Major John Walley, the second-in-command of the expedition.  Like the planners of the raid on Dieppe in 1942, the Massachusetts men confronted a fortified town and a formidable coast; I. like them, they were faced with the choice between a frontal attack and encirclement from the flanks; and like them they tried to combine the two.  The scheme adopted was to land the main body of the troops on the section of the Beauport shore called La Canardiere, across the St. Charles east of the city.  The landing force was then to advance across the St. Charles, which was fordable, with the help of the fleet's boats, which were also to bring in the field guns and land them on the Quebec side of the St. Charles.  Walley writes:

... it was alsoe agreed that, when we were over the river, the men of warr were to sail up with the town, and when they perceived we were upon the hill, especially if we then fired a house, they were then to land 200 men under their guns, and were to make a brisk and resolute charge to enter the town; alsoe agreed that Shute and others of the larger vessels that were not men of warr, were to go beyond the town, that the enemy might think we had another army to land there ...

The weakness of this plan was that it was too complicated for the untrained and inexperienced forces that had to carry it out.  It required a degree of coordination between the force afloat and that ashore to which the New Englanders' discipline was not equal.

 


 


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