Cape Cod – The French Wars – Pt. 2

ALL these fifty years since the accession of William and Mary had been complicated by more or less participation in the foreign wars of the mother country; and the hereditary hatred of France and England lived on, with new occasions, in their colonies. Those of France had been planted and fostered by the crown; those of England largely by her rebels; Catholic France never could sympathize with the English heretics; and now that the power of Spain was broken, French and English traders and fishermen were the chief rivals for domination of the new countries and the seas, east and west, north and south, the world over. In 1689 the principle of colonial neutrality had been proposed by France and rejected, to her considerable subsequent cost, by England. And at the beginning of “King William’s War,” so-called, Massachusetts, commanded by the Governor, Sir William Phips, set forth on her adventure for the reduction of Port Royal and Quebec. Port Royal fell, its loot paying for the expedition, but was retaken by the French. France’s reply was an invasion of the border, assisted by her Indian allies; and now and thereafter throughout the French wars there was great apprehension, particularly by Cape Cod in its defenceless state, of French sea-raids on the New England coast. After the Peace of Ryswick, in 1697, France claimed all the fisheries east of the Kennebec and all English boats there found were forfeit by order of the king fruitful cause, one may suppose, for fresh quarrels. And no later than 1702 “Queen Anne’s War” revived the Indian raids, and the sacking of Deerfield roused the colonies to a holy war. On the Continent, meantime, “Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre” and in 1713 the Peace of Utrecht ended the French wars for thirty-three years’ breathing space; in the new world France lost forever Newfoundland, Nova, Scotia, and the Hudson Bay Territory.

In these wars five expeditions had been fitted out by the colonies to attack the enemy on the east, under Colonel Benjamin Church, and in his command were found the Cape Cod men. Thomas Dimmock, of Barnstable, fell, fighting gallantly, at the battle of Canso. He would not shelter himself, as did the other officers, but stood boldly out in the open cheering on his men — a conspicuous mark for sharpshooters. Major Walley, son of the old minister, was another officer — a gallant figure, handsome and debonair, as a portrait of him, in fine surtout, ruffles and periwig, testifies; and there was Caleb Williamson in command of the Plymouth forces, and Captain Gorham, later lieutenant-colonel, son of the old Indian fighter of Philip’s War. And Gorham, especially, did unique and valuable service in command of the “whale-boat fleet.” These light-draft boats, manned by whale-men and Indians, could transport men and supplies up the shallow bays and rivers to the spot where they were most needed; and without such a device, the enemy, stationed for the most part where the trans-ports could not land troops, would have been hard come at by marches overland through the wilderness. At night, or in bad weather, the boats were taken ashore and turned over to serve as shelter. In 1704 Church called for fifty of these boats, and that winter visited every town on the Cape to recruit men. “For years after,” writes Amos Otis, “these old sailors and soldiers, seated in their roundabout chairs, within their capacious chimney-corners, would relate to the young their adventures in `the Old French Wars.

In 1739 there was an abortive war with Spain when Cape men enlisted for an expedition to the Spanish Main where many died of disease, and there was no result beyond a further impoverishment of the country. And by 1745 England and France, drawn as they were into the War of the Austrian Succession, were fighting out in America “King George’s War.” In April of that year thirty-five hundred troops, chiefly “substantial persons and men of beneficial occupations,” sailed from Boston under another fighting Governor, Sir William Pepperell, to attack Louisburg, the “Gibraltar of America.” In this force the Seventh Massachusetts was known as the “Gorham Rangers” under the command of a Gorham of the third generation. With him, as it chanced, was a descendant of Richard Bourne, William by name, whom an Indian medicine-man had cured in childhood when white doctors had given him up as dying. William came scathless through the wars to die in old age, rich and respected, at Marblehead.

In the following June Louisburg fell. Colonel Gorham commanded a whaleboat fleet as had his father under Churchill; and the first man to enter the Grand Battery, was one of the thirteen Indians in Captain Thacher’s Yarmouth contingent, who, for the bribe of a bottle of brandy, crawled through an embrasure and opened the door to the besiegers. The exploit was the less glorious as it was apparent that the enemy had evacuated the place.

Great was the joy throughout New England at the successful outcome of the siege, and not least in the Old Colony which had contributed so many men to the enterprise. Paeans of praise ascended from the pulpits; bards broke forth into verse. “The Wonder-working Providence” recites the prowess of certain heroes from the Cape:

” Lieutenant-Colonel Gorham, nigh of kin To his deceased Head, did honor win; Unite in nature, name, and trust, they stood — Unitedly have done their country good. May Major Thacher live, in rising fame Worthy of ancestors that bear his name, And copy after virtuous relations Who so well filled their civil, sacred, military stations. Now Captain Carey, seized with sickness sore, Resigned to death when touched his native shore; And Captain Demmick slain by heathen’s hand As was his father under like command.”

Rejoicing was shortly tempered by wholesome dread of reprisals. As a fact France, enraged at the loss of her stronghold, was sending out a great armament under command of the Due d’Anville, not only to retake Louisburg, but to ravage the New England coast. There were eleven ships of the line and thirty smaller vessels, as well as transports for three thousand men. But Providence was to intervene for the humbling of French pride and the salvation of the faithful. Storms reduced the armada one half before it could even make port, disease swept away most of the troops, the two commanders died suddenly, by suicide men were ready to say, and the remnant of the fleet, without striking a blow, sailed back to France. The Cape, especially, had been alarmed at the prospect of such a punitive expedition: she urged the danger to her long coast-line; Truro petitioned the General Court for protection, and received a four-pound cannon, some small arms and ammunition.

The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1748, ended the general conflict, and in the negotiations overseas hard-bought Louisburg, to the great displeasure of the colonists, was traded for more valuable considerations elsewhere. In America guerrilla warfare, a raid here, a raid there, continued; and in three years’ time, the greatest conflict of the series, when Washington and other young officers got their training for a greater war to follow, was raging all along the border. It terminated, in 1763, with the Peace of Paris, when France gave over to England her last American holdings. The colonies had learned painfully lessons to their great advantage in the struggle with the mother country that was even then beginning; and when the clash came, France was glad to range herself with the colonists for another blow at her old enemy England.

It was during this war that England broke up some of the French communities that had remained unmolested since Nova Scotia was ceded to her by the Peace of Utrecht; and the “neutral French,” as they were called, were scattered throughout the colonies from New Hampshire to Georgia. Longfellow’s poem of “Evangeline” tells the story of those pathetic exiles; and we know that in July, 1756, a little band of Acadians, ninety souls in all, men, women, and children, landed from seven two-mast boats at Bourne. They were tenderly received, we may believe, by the people who had never refused shelter to the unfortunate. Silas Bourne wrote to James Otis asking what should be done with them, and eventually their boats were sold and they were distributed among the neighboring towns. It is not improbable that Peter Cotelle, of Barnstable, was of this company — a Frenchman who lived in a gambrel-roofed cottage set in a pretty garden. He was a tinker by trade, and made shrewd use of his imperfect English, it is said, in driving a bargain.

The Cape seems to have furnished no leaders in this war where so many famous men fought, but, steadily, she gave her quota of men and her money; and Amos Otis has preserved for our delectation the stories of many of the humbler folk of the time. There was a Barnstable man who had shipped as carpenter aboard a privateer which soon brought into Boston as prize a Spanish ship laden with dollars and bullion. By some means the ship was made out to be French property, and the Yankee captain offered each of his men for prize money as much silver as he could carry from Long Wharf to the head of State Street, with the chance of forfeiting the whole if he stopped to rest by the way. Barnstable, apparently, cut his cloth to fit his stature and came off with some two thousand dollars and a little hoard of silver to boot which he discovered in a ship’s boat he had purchased. At any rate, he had enough to lay the foundation of a snug fortune which he augmented by becoming something of a usurer in his native town. As a young man his marriage had been delayed from year to year through a difference with his sweetheart as to where they should live. He preferred the village where he had learned his trade, she, being well-to-do, her own good farm at Great Marshes. In the end she prevailed; and no doubt, as one who knew her will and practised effective methods to obtain it, contributed her due share to the family fortune. The grandchildren, Otis implies, “having no reverence for antiquity or love of hoarding,” made the dollars fly.

A Gorham of this generation seems to have had an over-supply of such “reverence for antiquity”: he was so wedded to the-customs of his fathers that he would not use a tipcart because they had none, and drove his team with a pole as they had done; he farmed by their methods, and made salt, though it were bad salt, by their mode of boiling. He had other oddities, such as fastening his shirt in the back with a loop and nail, and eschewing rum in a time when the best kept tavern and drank thereat; he lived on salt-meat broth, bread and milk, hasty-pudding and samp; he was honest, industrious, a good neighbor and citizen, as valuable to the community, perhaps, as his more brilliant kinsmen.

A somewhat younger man than he, born in 1739, a doctor by profession, who seldom practised; had no such antipathy to rum, though it is said he never got drunk save at another’s charge. At such times he obliged the` company with “Old King Cole,” his only song, and also with well-worn stories of some earlier adventures in Maine. There is record of a certain Christmas party at Hyannis when at mid-night, song sung and story told, he was helped on his old gray mare for the journey home. Left to herself the mare would have taken him safe there, but he must needs turn into a narrow lane, where, in the brilliant moonlight he spied the mild phosphorescence of a rotten log. A fire, thought he, very likely his own fire, and drew off his boots to warm his chilled feet. Resuming his journey, at dawn he came upon the highway and Iashed his mare to the gallop, but, as it chanced, in the wrong direction. “Gentlemen,” cried he, drawing up to accost some early travellers, “can you tell me whether I am in this town or the next?” They answered cavalierly enough: “You’re in this town now, but ‘t won’t be long before you’re in the next at that rate.” And perceiving his state, they saw to it that he straightway had breakfast and boots. Nor was this the end of the affair, which the village boys improved for their amusement. A ring at his bell: “Doctor, just wanted to ask if you’d found your boots.” — “Doctor, am I in this town or the next?” And they never failed to dodge the lash of his whip which he kept handy to the door for such visitors. He was the first village postmaster, and during the wars, when men were eager for the news which came bi-weekly from Boston, it was on mail nights that the boys and men of the village gathered about his fire and listened to his old stories of Maine. He was a genial soul, a little simple-minded, one who liked to make a show of business by laying out spurs and saddle—bags of a night as if ready for a call. The village library was kept at his house, and administered his daughter.

The stories go on, with a touch here and a touch there to accent the village flavor. The Bodfishes, huge father and huge sons, lived a patriarchal life on their farm; for more than seventy years their estate was held in common, the father acting as trustee and granting his sons only as much as would qualify them for voters. And a scion of the less illustrious branch of a prominent family was ready to argue his claim for preeminence: “We’ll discuss that,” he would thunder with swelling port. And won the sobriquet of “Scussion Sam” for his pains. There was another member of the same family whose shrewd humor served as well as roguery. He was master of the little packet nick-named Somerset after the British man-of-war, which carried to Boston onions, among other cargo, for the West Indies market. “Gentlemen,” said he persuasively to some possible buyers, “these are what are called ` tarnity’ onions; they’ll keep to all eternity.” But a week out of port on their way to the south, the onions had to be thrown overboard. At another time he outsailed a neighbor who was shipping onions to a Salem trader, and presented his own cargo in their stead. “But how about Huckins?” asked the trader. “My son-in-law,” returned the captain glibly. “Here are the onions.” One may fancy that tavern and living-room buzzed with the news of this trick when the discomfited Huckins made the home port. Still another member of the family was of different mould — one who gloried in the ease his poverty gave him. “I’m thankful I don’t own that number of cattle,” commented he, watching a neighbor laboring over his stock on a snowy day. “Squire and I,” said he again genially, “keep more cows than any other two men in town.” Squire, his brother, had twenty cows, he one.

But the account of Barnabas Downs best typifies, perhaps, the tranquil village life that flowed on amid the outer turmoil of war and politics and finance. He was born in 1730 and lived long and laborious years on his thirty-acre farm, which supported some cattle, a horse or two, a large flock of sheep, and produced sufficient grain and vegetables. His stock ran at large through the summer; his winter hay he cut in the salt meadows. His clothing was made from the wool of his sheep; the surplus produce of his farm he traded for groceries at the village shop, and exchanged labor for labor with blacksmith, shoemaker, and carpenter.

Sometimes he shipped onions to Boston; but he had little money, and needed little. And at this time his class of small farmers made perhaps more than half the population in any one of the Cape towns except those, like Truro, where practically every man in the community “went to sea” — simple, industrious creatures, who lived comfortably by another standard than ours, and were not unmindful of larger interests than their own. “He was the most independent of men,” is the comment of Otis. “Six days he labored and did all his work, and the seventh was a day of rest.”