Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Frontenac, Louis de Buade, Comte de
|←Fromentin, Eligius||Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography
Frontenac, Louis de Buade, Comte de
|Edition of 1900. Written by Francis Parkman. See also Louis de Buade de Frontenac on Wikipedia, and our Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography disclaimer.|
FRONTENAC, Louis de Buade, Comte de, governor of New France, b. in France in 1620; d. in Quebec, 28 Nov., 1698. His father held a high post in the household of Louis XIII., who became the child's godfather. At fifteen, young Louis, who had shown an uncontrollable passion for military life, was sent to serve in Holland, under the Prince of Orange. He distinguished himself in various battles and sieges, and at twenty-three was made colonel of the regiment of Normandy. Three years later, after being several times wounded, he was raised to the rank of brigadier. He soon afterward became enamored of Mademoiselle de la Grange-Trianon, and married her at Paris in spite of the opposition of her relatives. Madame de Frontenac conceived an aversion for her husband, who was self-willed and violent, and she presently left him to follow the fortunes of the famous Mademoiselle de Montpensier. Being, however, almost as wilful as Frontenac himself, she at last quarrelled with the princess, and was dismissed from her service. A partial reconciliation followed between her husband and her self.
In 1672, having gained a high military reputation, Frontenac was made governor of Canada, with all the other countries thus included under the name of New France. Some say that he sought the appointment because he could not endure his wife; others, that his wife, unable to tolerate him, used her influence at court to send him into an honorable banishment; others, again, that the king, jealous of his attentions to Madame de Montespan, who is said to have smiled upon him, sent him to Canada to get rid of a rival. On arriving at Quebec he proceeded to model his government after the old feudal pattern. This revival of by-gone liberties excited the ire of Louis XIV., and Frontenac was sharply rebuked. He next quarrelled with the Jesuits, then all-powerful in Canada, and soon afterward fell into a dispute with Perrot, the governor of Montreal, whom he charged with insubordination, rebellion, and unlawful trade in furs. This brought him into collision with the priests of St. Sulpice, feudal proprietors of Montreal, and scenes ensued that were more lively than edifying. He had thus far ruled alone, but the court now sent him a colleague in the person of Duchesneau. The government of Canada was of a dual nature; the governor held the place of honor and the military command, while the civil administration was the proper function of the intendant, who was designed as a check, and even as a spy, upon his military partner. Hence their relations were always critical, and on this occasion they quarrelled bitterly. Duchesneau sought support from the bishop and the priests. Frontenac set at defiance intendant, bishop, and ecclesiastics alike. Sometimes the contest was for precedence at church and in public ceremonies; sometimes it took the form of charges of maladministration and mutual accusations of illegal trade in furs, accusations well founded on both sides. Rebukes and warnings proving useless, the king in 1682 recalled both contestants. In spite of his outrageous temper, Frontenac had shown great abilities and gained the confidence of the Canadian people; for, while quarrelling with those in power, he was considerate and friendly toward the humbler classes of the colonists. In his dealings with the Indians he mingled haughtiness with conciliation, and showed an extraordinary power of commanding both their respect and their affection. Never, probably, was any white man at once so much feared and loved by them.
He was succeeded by Le Febvre de la Barre, followed by the Marquis de Denonville. The government of the former was disastrous to the colony, and that of the latter brought it to the brink of ruin. Denonville waged against the Iroquois a war meant to humble, but which served only to enrage them. In 1689 they descended in force on the colony, burned and ravaged all the upper part of the island of Montreal, threatened the town itself, and spread blood and havoc everywhere. Canada seemed paralyzed, and terror turned almost to despair when it became known that war with England had begun, and that both white men and red men were arming for her destruction. Since his recall Frontenac had lived in France, poor and half forgotten. The crisis drew him from his obscurity. It was plain that he, and he alone, was the man for the hour. He was summoned before the king and charged once more with the government of New France. In spite of his sixty-nine years, he did not hesitate, accepted the burden and the peril, sailed for the St. Lawrence, and, reaching Quebec, found the whole colony plunged in dejection and distress. The first necessity was to revive the courage of the colonists and impose respect on the haughty and triumphant Iroquois. To these ends he sent three war parties of French and Indians against the English borders. The first advanced on snowshoes, in the dead of winter, against Schenectady, approached it toward midnight during a snowstorm, entered it undiscovered, roused the sleeping villagers with the war-whoop, killed sixty on the spot, captured ninety, and burned the place to the ground. The second party, after toiling for three months in the snow-clogged forests, fell by night on the hamlet of Salmon Falls, and surprised, captured, and destroyed it. The third attacked a small wooden fort that stood within the limits of what is now the city of Portland, Me., and, after an obstinate defence, captured and burned it. These successes compelled the respect of the Iroquois, but were far from daunting the English. On the contrary, they roused them to reprisals which placed Canada in imminent danger. Sir William Phips sailed up the St. Lawrence with thirty-two vessels and twenty-two hundred men, anchored before Quebec, and sent an officer with a summons to surrender. Frontenac received him in the hall of the Château St. Louis, and, enraged by his peremptory tone, the fiery old man bade him return whence he came, and tell those who sent him that his cannon should give them his answer. Phips opened fire, but, as his guns were light, his ammunition scanty, and the fortifications of Quebec, from their lofty position, impregnable to artillery from the river, the bombardment did little harm. At the same time he landed fifteen hundred men below the town, but, after spirited efforts, they were unable to cross the river St. Charles, and were forced to re-embark. Frontenac triumphed, and Phips retired discomfited.
Meanwhile the governor did not neglect his Indian allies, and, at a grand council of the friendly tribes, took up a hatchet, brandished it in the air, and sang the war song, his officers following his example. The Christian Indians of the neighboring missions rose and joined them, and so also did the Hurons and the Algonquins of Lake Nipissing, stamping and screeching like a troop of mad men, while Frontenac led the dance, whooping like the rest. The delighted savages, roused to martial frenzy, promised war to the death, and several years of conflict followed. The sufferings of the colony, infested by Iroquois war parties, were extreme. The fur-trade, which formed its only resource for subsistence, was completely cut off, and a great accumulation of furs remained in the trading posts of the upper lakes, prevented from descending by the watchful enemy. At length, after three years of destitution and misery, Frontenac broke the blockade of the Ottawa; the coveted treasure came safely to Montreal, and the colonists hailed him as their father and deliverer. In 1696, when seventy-six years old, he led in person an invasion of the Iroquois country. At his approach the warriors burned their chief town, Onondaga, and fled into the forests. After destroying the town of Oneida the expedition returned. The Iroquois were never again a peril to the colony which, during the past half century, they had repeatedly threatened with destruction. But Frontenac was near his end. Overcome at last by age, toils, and passions, he closed his stormy life in 1698, beloved by the Canadian peasantry and hated by the ecclesiastics, except always, his favorites and protégés, the Recollet friars. With all his faults, he had done priceless service to the colony, and his name stands in its annals as that of the most remarkable man who ever represented the crown of France in America.