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1754, 1755 The Signal of Battle

The defeat of Washington was a heavy blow to the Governor, and he angrily ascribed it to the delay of the expected reinforcements. The King's companies from New York had reached Alexandria, and crawled towards the scene of action with thin ranks, bad discipline, thirty women and children, no tents, no blankets, no knapsacks, and for munitions one barrel of spoiled gunpowder.[161]

The case was still worse with the regiment from North Carolina. It was commanded by Colonel Innes, a countryman and friend of Dinwiddie, who wrote to him: "Dear James, I now wish that we had none from your colony but yourself, for I foresee nothing but confusion among them." The men were, in fact, utterly unmanageable. They had been promised three shillings a day, while the Virginians had only eightpence; and when they heard on the march that their pay was to be reduced, they mutinied, disbanded, and went home.

[Footnote 161: _Dinwiddie to the Lords of Trade, 24 July, 1754. Ibid. to Delancey, 20 June, 1754._]

"You may easily guess," says Dinwiddie to a London correspondent, "the great fatigue and trouble I have had, which is more than I ever went through in my life." He rested his hopes on the session of his Assembly, which was to take place in August; for he thought that the late disaster would move them to give him money for defending the colony. These meetings of the burgesses were the great social as well as political event of the Old Dominion, and gave a gathering signal to the Virginian gentry scattered far and wide on their lonely plantations. The capital of the province was Williamsburg, a village of about a thousand inhabitants, traversed by a straight and very wide street, and adorned with various public buildings, conspicuous among which was William and Mary College, a respectable structure, unjustly likened by Jefferson to a brick kiln with a roof. The capitol, at the other end of the town, had been burned some years before, and had just risen from its ashes. Not far distant was the so-called Governor's Palace, where Dinwiddie with his wife and two daughters exercised such official hospitality as his moderate salary and Scottish thrift would permit.[162]

[Footnote 162: For a contemporary account of Williamsburg, Burnaby, _Travels in North America_, 6. Smyth, _Tour in America_, I. 17, describes it some years later.]

In these seasons of festivity the dull and quiet village was transfigured. The broad, sandy street, scorching under a southern sun, was thronged with coaches and chariots brought over from London at heavy cost in tobacco, though soon to be bedimmed by Virginia roads and negro care; racing and hard-drinking planters; clergymen of the Establishment, not much more ascetic than their boon companions of the laity; ladies, with manners a little rusted by long seclusion; black coachmen and footmen, proud of their masters and their liveries; young cavaliers, booted and spurred, sitting their thoroughbreds with the careless grace of men whose home was the saddle. It was a proud little provincial society, which might seem absurd in its lofty self-appreciation, had it not soon approved itself so prolific in ability and worth.[163]

[Footnote 163: The English traveller Smyth, in his _Tour_, gives a curious and vivid picture of Virginian life. For the social condition of this and other colonies before the Revolution, one cannot do better than to consult Lodge's _Short History of the English Colonies_.]

The burgesses met, and Dinwiddie made them an opening speech, inveighing against the aggressions of the French, their "contempt of treaties," and "ambitious views for universal monarchy;" and he concluded: "I could expatiate very largely on these affairs, but my heart burns with resentment at their insolence. I think there is no room for many arguments to induce you to raise a considerable supply to enable me to defeat the designs of these troublesome people and enemies of mankind." The burgesses in their turn expressed the "highest and most becoming resentment," and promptly voted twenty thousand pounds; but on the third reading of the bill they added to it a rider which touched the old question of the pistole fee, and which, in the view of the Governor, was both unconstitutional and offensive. He remonstrated in vain; the stubborn republicans would not yield, nor would he; and again he prorogued them. This unexpected defeat depressed him greatly. "A governor," he wrote, "is really to be pitied in the discharge of his duty to his king and country, in having to do with such obstinate, self-conceited people.... I cannot satisfy the burgesses unless I prostitute the rules of government. I have gone through monstrous fatigues. Such wrong-headed people, I thank God, I never had to do with before."[164] A few weeks later he was comforted; for, having again called the burgesses, they gave him the money, without trying this time to humiliate him.[165]

[Footnote 164: _Dinwiddie to Hamilton, 6 Sept., 1754. Ibid. to J. Abercrombie, 1 Sept., 1754._]

[Footnote 165: Hening, VI. 435.]

In straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, aristocratic Virginia was far outdone by democratic Pennsylvania. Hamilton, her governor, had laid before the Assembly a circular letter from the Earl of Holdernesse directing him, in common with other governors, to call on his province for means to repel any invasion which might be made "within the undoubted limits of His Majesty's dominion."[166] The Assembly of Pennsylvania was curiously unlike that of Virginia, as half and often more than half of its members were Quaker tradesmen in sober raiment and broad-brimmed hats; while of the rest, the greater part were Germans who cared little whether they lived under English rule or French, provided that they were left in peace upon their farms. The House replied to the Governor's call: "It would be highly presumptuous in us to pretend to judge of the undoubted limits of His Majesty's dominions;" and they added: "the Assemblies of this province are generally composed of a majority who are constitutionally principled against war, and represent a well-meaning, peaceable people."[167] They then adjourned, telling the Governor that, "As those our limits have not been clearly ascertained to our satisfaction, we fear the precipitate call upon us as the province invaded cannot answer any good purpose at this time."

[Footnote 166: _The Earl of Holdernesse to the Governors in America, 28 Aug. 1753._]

[Footnote 167: _Colonial Records of Pa._, V. 748.]

In the next month they met again, and again Hamilton asked for means to defend the country. The question was put, Should the Assembly give money for the King's use? and the vote was feebly affirmative. Should the sum be twenty thousand pounds? The vote was overwhelming in the negative. Fifteen thousand, ten thousand, and five thousand, were successively proposed, and the answer was always, No. The House would give nothing but five hundred pounds for a present to the Indians; after which they adjourned "to the sixth of the month called May."[168] At their next meeting they voted to give the Governor ten thousand pounds; but under conditions which made them for some time independent of his veto, and which, in other respects, were contrary to his instructions from the King, as well as from the proprietaries of the province, to whom he had given bonds to secure his obedience. He therefore rejected the bill, and they adjourned. In August they passed a similar vote, with the same result. At their October meeting they evaded his call for supplies. In December they voted twenty thousand pounds, hampered with conditions which were sure to be refused, since Morris, the new governor, who had lately succeeded Hamilton, was under the same restrictions as his predecessor. They told him, however, that in the present case they felt themselves bound by no Act of Parliament, and added: "We hope the Governor, notwithstanding any penal bond he may have entered into, will on reflection think himself at liberty and find it consistent with his safety and honor to give his assent to this bill." Morris, who had taken the highest legal advice on the subject in England, declined to compromise himself, saying: "Consider, gentlemen, in what light you will appear to His Majesty while, instead of contributing towards your own defence, you are entering into an ill-timed controversy concerning the validity of royal instructions which may be delayed to a more convenient time without the least injury to the rights of the people."[169] They would not yield, and told him "that they had rather the French should conquer them than give up their privileges."[170] "Truly," remarks Dinwiddie, "I think they have given their senses a long holiday."

[Footnote 168: _Pennsylvania Archives_, II. 235. _Colonial Records of Pa._, VI. 22-26. _Works of Franklin,_ III. 265.]

[Footnote 169: _Colonial Records of Pa._, VI. 215.]

[Footnote 170: _Morris to Penn, 1 Jan. 1755._]

New York was not much behind her sisters in contentious stubbornness. In answer to the Governor's appeal, the Assembly replied: "It appears that the French have built a fort at a place called French Creek, at a considerable distance from the River Ohio, which may, but does not by any evidence or information appear to us to be an invasion of any of His Majesty's colonies."[171] So blind were they as yet to "manifest destiny!" Afterwards, however, on learning the defeat of Washington, they gave five thousand pounds to aid Virginia.[172] Maryland, after long delay, gave six thousand. New Jersey felt herself safe behind the other colonies, and would give nothing. New England, on the other hand, and especially Massachusetts, had suffered so much from French war-parties that they were always ready to fight. Shirley, the governor of Massachusetts, had returned from his bootless errand to settle the boundary question at Paris. His leanings were strongly monarchical; yet he believed in the New Englanders, and was more or less in sympathy with them. Both he and they were strenuous against the French, and they had mutually helped each other to reap laurels in the last war. Shirley was cautious of giving umbrage to his Assembly, and rarely quarrelled with it, except when the amount of his salary was in question. He was not averse to a war with France; for though bred a lawyer, and now past middle life, he flattered himself with hopes of a high military command. On the present occasion, making use of a rumor that the French were seizing the carrying-place between the Chaudière and the Kennebec, he drew from the Assembly a large grant of money, and induced them to call upon him to march in person to the scene of danger. He accordingly repaired to Falmouth (now Portland); and, though the rumor proved false, sent eight hundred men under Captain John Winslow to build two forts on the Kennebec as a measure of precaution.[173]

[Footnote 171: _Address of the Assembly to Lieutenant-Governor Delancey, 23 April, 1754. Lords of Trade to Delancey, 5 July, 1754_.]

[Footnote 172: _Delancey to Lords of Trade, 8 Oct. 1754_.]

[Footnote 173: _Massachusetts Archives, 1754_. Hutchinson, III. 26. _Conduct of Major-General Shirley briefly stated. Journals of the Board of Trade, 1754_.]

While to these northern provinces Canada was an old and pestilent enemy, those towards the south scarcely knew her by name; and the idea of French aggression on their borders was so novel and strange that they admitted it with difficulty. Mind and heart were engrossed in strife with their governors: the universal struggle for virtual self-rule. But the war was often waged with a passionate stupidity. The colonist was not then an American; he was simply a provincial, and a narrow one. The time was yet distant when these dissevered and jealous communities should weld themselves into one broad nationality, capable, at need, of the mightiest efforts to purge itself of disaffection and vindicate its commanding unity.

In the interest of that practical independence which they had so much at heart, two conditions were essential to the colonists. The one was a field for expansion, and the other was mutual help. Their first necessity was to rid themselves of the French, who, by shutting them between the Alleghanies and the sea, would cramp them into perpetual littleness. With France on their backs, growing while they had no room to grow, they must remain in helpless wardship, dependent on England, whose aid they would always need; but with the West open before them, their future was their own. King and Parliament would respect perforce the will of a people spread from the ocean to the Mississippi, and united in action as in aims. But in the middle of the last century the vision of the ordinary colonist rarely reached so far. The immediate victory over a governor, however slight the point at issue, was more precious in his eyes than the remote though decisive advantage which he saw but dimly.

The governors, representing the central power, saw the situation from the national point of view. Several of them, notably Dinwiddie and Shirley, were filled with wrath at the proceedings of the French; and the former was exasperated beyond measure at the supineness of the provinces. He had spared no effort to rouse them, and had failed. His instincts were on the side of authority; but, under the circumstances, it is hardly to be imputed to him as a very deep offence against human liberty that he advised the compelling of the colonies to raise men and money for their own defence, and proposed, in view of their "intolerable obstinacy and disobedience to his Majesty's commands," that Parliament should tax them half-a-crown a head. The approaching war offered to the party of authority temptations from which the colonies might have saved it by opening their purse-strings without waiting to be told.

The Home Government, on its part, was but half-hearted in the wish that they should unite in opposition to the common enemy. It was very willing that the several provinces should give money and men, but not that they should acquire military habits and a dangerous capacity of acting together. There was one kind of union, however, so obviously necessary, and at the same time so little to be dreaded, that the British Cabinet, instructed by the governors, not only assented to it, but urged it. This was joint action in making treaties with the Indians. The practice of separate treaties, made by each province in its own interest, had bred endless disorders. The adhesion of all the tribes had been so shaken, and the efforts of the French to alienate them were so vigorous and effective, that not a moment was to be lost. Joncaire had gained over most of the Senecas, Piquet was drawing the Onondagas more and more to his mission, and the Dutch of Albany were alienating their best friends, the Mohawks, by encroaching on their lands. Their chief, Hendrick, came to New York with a deputation of the tribe to complain of their wrongs; and finding no redress, went off in anger, declaring that the covenant chain was broken.[174] The authorities in alarm called William Johnson to their aid. He succeeded in soothing the exasperated chief, and then proceeded to the confederate council at Onondaga, where he found the assembled sachems full of anxieties and doubts. "We don't know what you Christians, English and French, intend," said one of their orators. "We are so hemmed in by you both that we have hardly a hunting-place left. In a little while, if we find a bear in a tree, there will immediately appear an owner of the land to claim the property and hinder us from killing it, by which we live. We are so perplexed between you that we hardly know what to say or think."[175] No man had such power over the Five Nations as Johnson. His dealings with them were at once honest, downright, and sympathetic. They loved and trusted him as much as they detested the Indian commissioners at Albany, whom the province of New York had charged with their affairs, and who, being traders, grossly abused their office.

[Footnote 174: _N.Y. Col. Docs._, VI. 788. _Colonial Records of Pa._ V. 625.]

[Footnote 175: _N.Y. Col. Docs._, VI. 813.]

It was to remedy this perilous state of things that the Lords of Trade and Plantations directed the several governors to urge on their assemblies the sending of commissioners to make a joint treaty with the wavering tribes.[176] Seven of the provinces, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the four New England colonies, acceded to the plan, and sent to Albany, the appointed place of meeting, a body of men who for character and ability had never had an equal on the continent, but whose powers from their respective assemblies were so cautiously limited as to preclude decisive action. They met in the court-house of the little frontier city. A large "chain-belt" of wampum was provided, on which the King was symbolically represented, holding in his embrace the colonies, the Five Nations, and all their allied tribes. This was presented to the assembled warriors, with a speech in which the misdeeds of the French were not forgotten. The chief, Hendrick, made a much better speech in reply. "We do now solemnly renew and brighten the covenant chain. We shall take the chain-belt to Onondaga, where our council-fire always burns, and keep it so safe that neither thunder nor lightning shall break it." The commissioners had blamed them for allowing so many of their people to be drawn away to Piquet's mission. "It is true," said the orator, "that we live disunited. We have tried to bring back our brethren, but in vain; for the Governor of Canada is like a wicked, deluding spirit. You ask why we are so dispersed. The reason is that you have neglected us for these three years past." Here he took a stick and threw it behind him. "You have thus thrown us behind your back; whereas the French are a subtle and vigilant people, always using their utmost endeavors to seduce and bring us over to them." He then told them that it was not the French alone who invaded the country of the Indians. "The Governor of Virginia and the Governor of Canada are quarrelling about lands which belong to us, and their quarrel may end in our destruction." And he closed with a burst of sarcasm. "We would have taken Crown Point [_in the last war_], but you prevented us. Instead, you burned your own fort at Saratoga and ran away from it,--which was a shame and a scandal to you. Look about your country and see: you have no fortifications; no, not even in this city. It is but a step from Canada hither, and the French may come and turn you out of doors. You desire us to speak from the bottom of our hearts, and we shall do it. Look at the French: they are men; they are fortifying everywhere. But you are all like women, bare and open, without fortifications."[177]

[Footnote 176: _Circular Letter of Lords of Trade to Governors in America, 18 Sept. 1753. Lords of Trade to Sir Danvers Osborne, in N.Y. Col. Docs._, VI. 800.]

[Footnote 177: _Proceedings of the Congress at Albany, N.Y. Col. Docs._, VI. 853. A few verbal changes, for the sake of brevity, are made in the above extracts.]

Hendrick's brother Abraham now took up the word, and begged that Johnson might be restored to the management of Indian affairs, which he had formerly held; "for," said the chief, "we love him and he us and he has always been our good and trusty friend." The commissioners had not power to grant the request, but the Indians were assured that it should not be forgotten; and they returned to their villages soothed, but far from satisfied. Nor were the commissioners empowered to take any effective steps for fortifying the frontier.

The congress now occupied itself with another matter. Its members were agreed that great danger was impending; that without wise and just treatment of the tribes, the French would gain them all, build forts along the back of the British colonies, and, by means of ships and troops from France, master them one by one, unless they would combine for mutual defence. The necessity of some form of union had at length begun to force itself upon the colonial mind. A rough woodcut had lately appeared in the _Pennsylvania Gazette_, figuring the provinces under the not very flattering image of a snake cut to pieces, with the motto, "Join, or die." A writer of the day held up the Five Nations for emulation, observing that if ignorant savages could confederate, British colonists might do as much.[178] Franklin, the leading spirit of the congress, now laid before it his famous project of union, which has been too often described to need much notice here. Its fate is well known. The Crown rejected it because it gave too much power to the colonies; the colonies, because it gave too much power to the Crown, and because it required each of them to transfer some of its functions of self-government to a central council. Another plan was afterwards devised by the friends of prerogative, perfectly agreeable to the King, since it placed all power in the hands of a council of governors, and since it involved compulsory taxation of the colonists, who, for the same reasons, would have doggedly resisted it, had an attempt been made to carry it into effect.[179]

[Footnote 178: Kennedy, _Importance of gaining and preserving the Friendship of the Indians_.]

[Footnote 179: On the Albany plan of union, _Franklin's Works_, I. 177. Shirley thought it "a great strain upon the prerogative of the Crown," and was for requiring the colonies to raise money and men "without farther consulting them upon any points whatever." _Shirley to Robinson, 24 Dec. 1754_.]

Even if some plan of union had been agreed upon, long delay must have followed before its machinery could be set in motion; and meantime there was need of immediate action. War-parties of Indians from Canada, set on, it was thought, by the Governor, were already burning and murdering among the border settlements of New York and New Hampshire. In the south Dinwiddie grew more and more alarmed, "for the French are like so many locusts; they are collected in bodies in a most surprising manner; their number now on the Ohio is from twelve hundred to fifteen hundred." He writes to Lord Granville that, in his opinion, they aim to conquer the continent, and that "the obstinacy of this stubborn generation" exposes the country "to the merciless rage of a rapacious enemy." What vexed him even more than the apathy of the assemblies was the conduct of his brother-governor, Glen of South Carolina, who, apparently piqued at the conspicuous part Dinwiddie was acting, wrote to him in a "very dictatorial style," found fault with his measures, jested at his activity in writing letters, and even questioned the right of England to lands on the Ohio; till he was moved at last to retort: "I cannot help observing that your letters and arguments would have been more proper from a French officer than from one of His Majesty's governors. My conduct has met with His Majesty's gracious approbation; and I am sorry it has not received yours." Thus discouraged, even in quarters where he had least reason to expect it, he turned all his hopes to the Home Government; again recommended a tax by Act of Parliament, and begged, in repeated letters, for arms, munitions, and two regiments of infantry.[180] His petition was not made in vain.

[Footnote 180: _Dinwiddie Papers_; letters to Granville, Albemarle, Halifax, Fox, Holdernesse, Horace Walpole, and Lords of Trade.]

England at this time presented the phenomenon of a prime minister who could not command the respect of his own servants. A more preposterous figure than the Duke of Newcastle never stood at the head of a great nation. He had a feverish craving for place and power, joined to a total unfitness for both. He was an adept in personal politics, and was so busied with the arts of winning and keeping office that he had no leisure, even if he had had ability, for the higher work of government. He was restless, quick in movement, rapid and confused in speech, lavish of worthless promises, always in a hurry, and at once headlong, timid, and rash. "A borrowed importance and real insignificance," says Walpole, who knew him well, "gave him the perpetual air of a solicitor.... He had no pride, though infinite self-love. He loved business immoderately; yet was only always doing it, never did it. When left to himself, he always plunged into difficulties, and then shuddered for the consequences." Walpole gives an anecdote showing the state of his ideas on colonial matters. General Ligonier suggested to him that Annapolis ought to be defended. "To which he replied with his lisping, evasive hurry: 'Annapolis, Annapolis! Oh, yes, Annapolis must be defended,--where is Annapolis?'"[181] Another contemporary, Smollett, ridicules him in his novel of _Humphrey Clinker_, and tells a similar story, which, founded in fact or not, shows in what estimation the minister was held: "Captain C. treated the Duke's character without any ceremony. 'This wiseacre,' said he, 'is still abed; and I think the best thing he can do is to sleep on till Christmas; for when he gets up he does nothing but expose his own folly. In the beginning of the war he told me in a great fright that thirty thousand French had marched from Acadia to Cape Breton. Where did they find transports? said I.--Transports! cried he, I tell you they marched by land.--By land to the island of Cape Breton!--What, is Cape Breton an island?--Certainly.--Ha! are you sure of that?--When I pointed it out on the map, he examined it earnestly with his spectacles; then, taking me in his arms,--My dear C., cried he, you always bring us good news. Egad! I'll go directly and tell the King that Cape Breton is an island.'"

[Footnote 181: Walpole, _George II._, I. 344.]

His wealth, county influence, flagitious use of patronage, and long-practised skill in keeping majorities in the House of Commons by means that would not bear the light, made his support necessary to Pitt himself, and placed a fantastic political jobber at the helm of England in a time when she needed a patriot and a statesman. Newcastle was the growth of the decrepitude and decay of a great party, which had fulfilled its mission and done its work. But if the Whig soil had become poor for a wholesome crop, it was never so rich for toadstools.

Sir Thomas Robinson held the Southern Department, charged with the colonies; and Lord Mahon remarks of him that the Duke had achieved the feat of finding a secretary of state more incapable than himself. He had the lead of the House of Commons. "Sir Thomas Robinson lead us!" said Pitt to Henry Fox; "the Duke might as well send his jackboot to lead us." The active and aspiring Halifax was at the head of the Board of Trade and Plantations. The Duke of Cumberland commanded the army,--an indifferent soldier, though a brave one; harsh, violent, and headlong. Anson, the celebrated navigator, was First Lord of the Admiralty,--a position in which he disappointed everybody.

In France the true ruler was Madame de Pompadour, once the King's mistress, now his procuress, and a sort of feminine prime minister. Machault d'Arnouville was at the head of the Marine and Colonial Department. The diplomatic representatives of the two Crowns were more conspicuous for social than for political talents. Of Mirepoix, French ambassador at London, Marshal Saxe had once observed: "It is a good appointment; he can teach the English to dance." Walpole says concerning him: "He could not even learn to pronounce the names of our games of cards,--which, however, engaged most of the hours of his negotiation. We were to be bullied out of our colonies by an apprentice at whist!" Lord Albemarle, English ambassador at Versailles, is held up by Chesterfield as an example to encourage his son in the pursuit of the graces: "What do you think made our friend Lord Albemarle colonel of a regiment of Guards, Governor of Virginia, Groom of the Stole, and ambassador to Paris,--amounting in all to sixteen or seventeen thousand pounds a year? Was it his birth? No; a Dutch gentleman only. Was it his estate? No; he had none. Was it his learning, his parts, his political abilities and application? You can answer these questions as easily and as soon as I can ask them. What was it then? Many people wondered; but I do not, for I know, and will tell you,--it was his air, his address, his manners, and his graces."

The rival nations differed widely in military and naval strength. England had afloat more than two hundred ships of war, some of them of great force; while the navy of France counted little more than half the number. On the other hand, England had reduced her army to eighteen thousand men, and France had nearly ten times as many under arms. Both alike were weak in leadership. That rare son of the tempest, a great commander, was to be found in neither of them since the death of Saxe.

In respect to the approaching crisis, the interests of the two Powers pointed to opposite courses of action. What France needed was time. It was her policy to put off a rupture, wreathe her face in diplomatic smiles, and pose in an attitude of peace and good faith, while increasing her navy, reinforcing her garrisons in America, and strengthening her positions there. It was the policy of England to attack at once, and tear up the young encroachments while they were yet in the sap, before they could strike root and harden into stiff resistance.

When, on the fourteenth of November, the King made his opening speech to the Houses of Parliament, he congratulated them on the prevailing peace, and assured them that he should improve it to promote the trade of his subjects, "and protect those possessions which constitute one great source of their wealth." America was not mentioned; but his hearers understood him, and made a liberal grant for the service of the year.[182] Two regiments, each of five hundred men, had already been ordered to sail for Virginia, where their numbers were to be raised by enlistment to seven hundred.[183] Major-General Braddock, a man after the Duke of Cumberland's own heart, was appointed to the chief command. The two regiments--the forty-fourth and the forty-eighth--embarked at Cork in the middle of January. The soldiers detested the service, and many had deserted. More would have done so had they foreseen what awaited them.

[Footnote 182: Entick, _Late War_, I. 118.]

[Footnote 183: _Robinson to Lords of the Admiralty, 30 Sept. 1754. Ibid., to Board of Ordnance, 10 Oct. 1754. Ibid., Circular Letter to American Governors, 26 Oct. 1754. Instructions to our Trusty and Well-beloved Edward Braddock, 25 Nov. 1754_.]

This movement was no sooner known at Versailles than a counter expedition was prepared on a larger scale. Eighteen ships of war were fitted for sea at Brest and Rochefort, and the six battalions of La Reine, Bourgogne, Languedoc, Guienne, Artois, and Béarn, three thousand men in all, were ordered on board for Canada. Baron Dieskau, a German veteran who had served under Saxe, was made their general; and with him went the new governor of French America, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, destined to succeed Duquesne, whose health was failing under the fatigues of his office. Admiral Dubois de la Motte commanded the fleet; and lest the English should try to intercept it, another squadron of nine ships, under Admiral Macnamara, was ordered to accompany it to a certain distance from the coast. There was long and tedious delay. Doreil, commissary of war, who had embarked with Vaudreuil and Dieskau in the same ship, wrote from the harbor of Brest on the twenty-ninth of April: "At last I think we are off. We should have been outside by four o'clock this morning, if M. de Macnamara had not been obliged to ask Count Dubois de la Motte to wait till noon to mend some important part of the rigging (I don't know the name of it) which was broken. It is precious time lost, and gives the English the advantage over us of two tides. I talk of these things as a blind man does of colors. What is certain is that Count Dubois de la Motte is very impatient to get away, and that the King's fleet destined for Canada is in very able and zealous hands. It is now half-past two. In half an hour all may be ready, and we may get out of the harbor before night." He was again disappointed; it was the third of May before the fleet put to sea.[184]

[Footnote 184: _Lettres de Cremille, de Rostaing, et de Doreil au Ministre, Avril 18, 24, 28, 29, 1755. Liste des Vaisseaux de Guerre qui composent l'Escadre armée à  Brest, 1755. Journal of M. de Vaudreuil's Voyage to Canada_, in _N.Y. Col. Docs._, X. 297. Pouchot, I. 25.]

During these preparations there was active diplomatic correspondence between the two Courts. Mirepoix demanded why British troops were sent to America. Sir Thomas Robinson answered that there was no intention to disturb the peace or offend any Power whatever; yet the secret orders to Braddock were the reverse of pacific. Robinson asked on his part the purpose of the French armament at Brest and Rochefort; and the answer, like his own, was a protestation that no hostility was meant. At the same time Mirepoix in the name of the King proposed that orders should be given to the American governors on both sides to refrain from all acts of aggression. But while making this proposal the French Court secretly sent orders to Duquesne to attack and destroy Fort Halifax, one of the two forts lately built by Shirley on the Kennebec,--a river which, by the admission of the French themselves, belonged to the English. But, in making this attack, the French Governor was expressly enjoined to pretend that he acted without orders.[185] He was also told that, if necessary, he might make use of the Indians to harass the English.[186] Thus there was good faith on neither part; but it is clear through all the correspondence that the English expected to gain by precipitating an open rupture, and the French by postponing it. Projects of convention were proposed on both sides, but there was no agreement. The English insisted as a preliminary condition that the French should evacuate all the western country as far as the Wabash. Then ensued a long discussion of their respective claims, as futile as the former discussion at Paris on Acadian boundaries.[187]

[Footnote 185: _Machault à  Duquesne, 17 Fév. 1755_. The letter of Mirepoix proposing mutual abstinence from aggression, is dated on the 6th of the same month. The French dreaded Fort Halifax, because they thought it prepared the way for an advance on Quebec by way of the Chaudière.]

[Footnote 186: _Ibid._]

[Footnote 187: This correspondence is printed among the _Pièces justificatives_ of the _Précis des Faits_.]

The British Court knew perfectly the naval and military preparations of the French. Lord Albemarle had died at Paris in December; but the secretary of the embassy, De Cosne, sent to London full information concerning the fleet at Brest and Rochefort.[188] On this, Admiral Boscawen, with eleven ships of the line and one frigate, was ordered to intercept it; and as his force was plainly too small, Admiral Melbourne, with seven more ships, was sent, nearly three weeks after, to join him if he could. Their orders were similar,--to capture or destroy any French vessels bound to North America.[189] Boscawen, who got to sea before La Motte, stationed himself near the southern coast of Newfoundland to cut him off; but most of the French squadron eluded him, and safely made their way, some to Louisbourg, and the others to Quebec. Thus the English expedition was, in the main, a failure. Three of the French ships, however, lost in fog and rain, had become separated from the rest, and lay rolling and tossing on an angry sea not far from Cape Race. One of them was the "Alcide," commanded by Captain Hocquart; the others were the "Lis" and the "Dauphin." The wind fell; but the fogs continued at intervals; till, on the afternoon of the seventh of June, the weather having cleared, the watchman on the maintop saw the distant ocean studded with ships. It was the fleet of Boscawen. Hocquart, who gives the account, says that in the morning they were within three leagues of him, crowding all sail in pursuit. Towards eleven o'clock one of them, the "Dunkirk," was abreast of him to windward, within short speaking distance; and the ship of the Admiral, displaying a red flag as a signal to engage, was not far off. Hocquart called out: "Are we at peace, or war?" He declares that Howe, captain of the "Dunkirk," replied in French: "La paix, la paix." Hocquart then asked the name of the British admiral; and on hearing it said: "I know him; he is a friend of mine." Being asked his own name in return, he had scarcely uttered it when the batteries of the "Dunkirk" belched flame and smoke, and volleyed a tempest of iron upon the crowded decks of the "Alcide." She returned the fire, but was forced at length to strike her colors. Rostaing, second in command of the troops, was killed; and six other officers, with about eighty men, were killed or wounded.[190] At the same time the "Lis" was attacked and overpowered. She had on board eight companies of the battalions of La Reine and Languedoc. The third French ship, the "Dauphin," escaped under cover of a rising fog.[191]

[Footnote 188: Particulars in Entick, I. 121.]

[Footnote 189: _Secret Instructions for our Trusty and Well-beloved Edward Boscawen, Esq., Vice-Admiral of the Blue, 16 April, 1755. Most secret Instructions for Francis Holbourne, Esq., Rear-Admiral of the Blue, 9 May, 1755. Robinson to Lords of the Admiralty, 8 May, 1755_.]

[Footnote 190: _Liste des Officiers tués et blessés dans le Combat de l'Alcide et du Lis_.]

[Footnote 191: Hocquart's account is given in full by Pichon, _Lettres et Mémoires pour servir à  l'Histoire du Cap-Breton_. The short account in _Précis des Faits_, 272, seems, too, to be drawn from Hocquart. Also _Boscawen to Robinson, 22 June, 1755. Vaudreuil au Ministre, 24 Juillet, 1755_, Entick, I. 137.

Some English accounts say that Captain Howe, in answer to the question, "Are we at peace, or war?" returned, "I don't know; but you had better prepare for war." Boscawen places the action on the 10th, instead of the 8th, and puts the English loss at seven killed and twenty-seven wounded.]

Here at last was an end to negotiation. The sword was drawn and brandished in the eyes of Europe.