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"I will reply from the mouth of my cannons..."
Heroism can take many forms. Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, is the kind of swashbuckling hero who leaps out of history. At least, that is the image of the man that comes to us from his portraits and the romantic accounts of his exploits.
In the year 1689, the War of the Grand Alliance was raging in Europe, and in North America the little colony of New France on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River was suffering and demoralized. Attacked and menaced by the English garrisons and their Iroquois allies to the south, the Canadiens, as the colonists were called, rallied around Frontenac their governor, who had just arrived in the colony for his second term of office.
Organizing a programme of resistance to the aggressive British forces, Frontenac mounted a series of quick surprise attacks on outposts of the New England colonies. The success of Frontenac's tactics reassured the Canadiens, but it also spread terror throughout the English frontier settlements. In response, the British sent a fleet of 34 war ships out from Boston to capture the French colony.
In Montréal, Frontenac received the news of this new threat, and immediately set off for Québec, taking with him all the troops he could gather. The fortress of Québec was the gateway of the Saint Lawrence and guarded the rest of the colony. If it fell to the enemy, the whole colony of New France would be lost. Luckily, the British fleet was delayed by bad weather, giving Frontenac time to strengthen the fortifications and prepare the town's inhabitants for combat before the first British ships, under the command of Admiral William Phips, sailed into view.
The siege of Québec began on October 16, 1690. Hoping to avert a bloody assault, Phips sent his emissary, Major Savage, to order the governor to surrender the town. At this point Frontenac performed a brilliant tactical ploy. When the emmissary landed, he was immediately blindfolded and taken through the town to Frontenac's headquarters. Along the way citizens and soldiers raised a great commotion, giving the impression that the town was crowded with troops and bristling for a fight. Buffeted by the crowds in the streets, and confused by the noise of the surrounding activity, Savage was persuaded that the town was strongly fortified, with the colony's entire military force mobilized and assembled for the battle.
The blindfolded British emissary was finally brought before Governor Frontenac and his officers, who were dressed in their most elegant attire. When Savage delivered his message, Frontenac gave his now famous response. "My only reply to your general," said Frontenac, "will be from the mouth of my cannons!" The report that the emissary took back with him to Admiral Phips had the effect of a cold shower. It is even said that the message was punctuated by a cannon shot which took down the British flag.
The next day 1,400 British troops landed on the Beauport shore facing Québec, but were held off by less than 500 Canadiens. So effective was Frontenac's psychological ploy, and so solid the stand of his small but valiant defence force, that after three days the British beat a hasty retreat, leaving five of their six artillery pieces in the field.
The image of Count Frontenac, with his cape and sword, is the stuff of legend. The stories of his bravado and bravery make him one of Canada's most colourful heroes.
Excerpt from: The Heritage Post / Le Courrier du Patrimoine 2nd Edition / Winter 1990
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