After this brief season of peace the colonists were obliged to face another long and murderous war. In character this war was similar to that which preceded it, a contest over Acadia and New France, consisting of surprises and bloody massacres. Early in the conflict the coast of Maine was swept by bands of savage red men and equally savage Frenchmen, and hundreds of men, women, and children were tomhawked or carried into captivity. On an intensely cold morning in February, 1704, at daybreak, a party of nearly four hundred French and Indians broke upon the town of Deerfield, and with their terrible war cry began their work of destruction and slaughter. Nearly fifty of the inhabitants were slain, and more than a hundred were carried into captivity.1 A few years later Haverhill, Massachusetts, met with a fate similar to that of Deerfield.
In 1704 the colonists made an unsuccessful attack by sea on Port Royal, Acadia, and another in 1707; and three years later the British government, having at last decided to aid the colonies, sent a small fleet under Colonel Nicholson, which was joined by an armament from Boston, and a third attack was made. This was successful Port Royal surrendered, and was named Annapolis in honor of the English queen, while Acadia was henceforth called Nova Scotia.
A beginning of English success was thus made, and the bold scheme of oonquering Canada was now conceived. Sir Hovendon Walker arrived at Boston with a fleet and an army, and these were augmented by the colonists at the bugle call of Governor Dudley of Massachusetts, until the fleet consisted of nine war vessels, sixty transports, and many smaller craft, bearing in all twelve thousand men. Nothing like it had ever before been seen in American waters. In August, 1711, this imposing fleet moved to the northward, and at the same time a land force of twenty-three hundred men under Colonel Nicholson started for Montreal by way of Lake Champlain.
It would seem that New France must certainly fall before such a power, and all Canada be added to the British dominions in America. But there was one fatal obstacle to success, and that was the want of ability in Admiral Walker. He not only lacked capacity to command such a force, but he was wanting in courage. The whole movement came to nothing. Walker lost eight ships and a thousand men in a dense fog at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and refused to go further, believing that the disaster was a blessing in disguise, a merciful intervention of Providence to save his men from “freezing, starvation, and cannibalism.”2 Nicholson, hearing of the return of the fleet, was greatly enraged, and burned his wooden forts, led his army to Albany, and disbanded it.
Vaudreuil, the governor-general of Canada, had heard of the enemy’s approach and had prepared for him as best he could. The people were thrown into a state of wild consternation; but when they heard of the disastrous failure of the fleet, they rejoiced and praised God that He had preserved them and dashed their enemy to pieces, and a solemn mass was ordered to be said every month for a year, to be followed by the song of Moses after the destruction of Pharaoh and his host.
Both nations were now weary of the war, and the Treaty of Utrecht was the result. By this treaty Acadia, Newfoundland, and the Hudson Bay territory were ceded by France to England; and the Five Nations were acknowledged to be British subjects. The aged king of France used the last efforts in his power to avoid giving up Acadia, but all to no purpose.
The Peace of Utrecht, like that of Ryswick sixteen years before, was but a temporary peace. The great problems in America were left unsettled. The treaty fixed no limits to Acadia, nor did it mark the boundary between the British colonies and Canada. These were questions that must sometime be settled; but there was another question of far greater importance, and that was whether France or England would obtain control of the great valley of the Mississippi. The embers of war were thus left unquenched, and the time was bound to come when they would burst forth into flame.4 The Treaty of Utrecht brought a nominal peace that was unbroken for thirty years; but meantime the two nations, like crouching tigers, made ready each to spring upon the other.
The king of France had sullenly given up his beloved Acadia, but he retained Cape Breton Island, still more important because it commanded the mouth of the St. Lawrence. Here, on a tongue of land in the southeastern portion of the island, the king determined to build a fortress far more imposing than any other in America, and to call it after his own name — Louisburg. This project was scarcely on foot when Louis XIV died, and the plan was carried out by his successors. The great object of this movement was to furnish a base from which to guard the St. Lawrence Valley against all comers, and to reclaim, if possible, the fair land of Acadia.
But the French did not stop with the founding of Louisburg; they spent this season of peace in strengthening their hold on the Mississippi Valley. As early as 1698 a naval officer named Iberville had been sent by his king to carry out the great work attempted by the ambitious La Salle — to plant a colony on the lower Mississippi. Iberville made great haste lest the English precede him to the coveted land. He reached the mouth of the great river, and ascended it for some distance. The chief of an Indian tribe gave him a letter that had been written thirteen years before by Tonty, while searching for the lost colony of La Salle. Iberville found no suitable place on the banks of the river, and settled his colony on Biloxi Bay. A few years later a colony was planted on Mobile Bay. In 1718 New Orleans was founded by Bienville, a brother of Iberville, and four years later it was made the capital of the vast region known as Louisiana.
France had now two heads, as Parkman puts it, to her great North American possessions — one amid the Canadian snows and the other in the tropical regions of the South. But two thousand miles of untrodden wilderness lay between the extremes of this boundless domain, and the French knew that to hold it something more than merely claiming it must be done. They began, therefore, the erection of a chain of forts, or military posts. They built forts at Niagara, Detroit, and other points, to guard the great lakes, and they even encroached on the soil of New York and built a fort at Crown Point. In the Illinois country they founded Vincennes and Kaskaskia, and pushed farther southward, while from the Gulf of Mexico they moved northward, establishing one post after another, until by the middle of the eighteenth century there were more than sixty forts between Montreal and New Orleans. France now claimed all of North America from Mexico and Florida to the Arctic Ocean, except the Hudson Bay region and the narrow English margin on the east between the mountains and the sea; and it must have seemed to human eyes that the future development of the continent must be modeled after the Latin civilization rather than the Anglo-Saxon. But a great struggle was yet to determine the trend of American civilization. Before treating of that, however, we must take note of another preliminary skirmish, known in our history as King George’s War.