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- The Fighting Governor - 10/20 -


always remain a classic in the records of discovery. The Jesuits, who did not love La Salle, were no less brave than he, and the lustre of his achievements must not be made to dim theirs. Yet they had all the force of a mighty organization at their back, while La Salle, standing alone, braved ruin, obloquy, and death in order to win an empire for France. Sometimes he may have thought of fame, but he possessed that driving power which goes straight for the object, even if it means sacrifice of self. His haughtiness, his daring, his self-centred determination, well fitted him to be the friend and trusted agent of Frontenac.

Another leading figure of the period in western discovery was Daniel Greysolon du Lhut. Duchesneau calls him the leader of the coureurs de bois. There can be no doubt that he had reached this eminence among the French of the forest. He was a gentleman by birth and a soldier by early training. In many ways he resembled La Salle, for both stood high above the common coureurs de bois in station, as in talent. Du Lhut has to his credit no single exploit which equals La Salle's descent of the Mississippi, but in native sagacity he was the superior. With a temperament less intense and experiences less tragic, he will never hold the place which La Salle securely occupies in the annals of adventure. But few Frenchmen equalled him in knowledge of the wilderness, and none displayed greater force of character in dealing with the Indians.

What the mouth of the Mississippi was to La Salle the country of the Sioux became to Du Lhut--a goal to be reached at all hazards. Not only did he reach it, but the story of how he rescued Father Hennepin from the Sioux (1680) is among the liveliest tales to be found in the literature of the wilderness. The only regrettable circumstance is that the story should have been told by Hennepin instead of by Du Lhut--or rather, that we should not have also Du Lhut's detailed version instead of the brief account which he has left. Above all, Du Lhut made himself the guardian of French interests at Michilimackinac, the chief French post of the Far West--the rendezvous of more tribes than came together at any other point. The finest tale of his courage and good judgment belongs to the period of La Barre's government--when, in 1684, at the head of forty-two French, he executed sentence of death on an Indian convicted of murder. Four hundred savages, who had assembled in mutinous mood, witnessed this act of summary justice. But they respected Du Lhut for the manner in which he had conducted the trial, and admired the firmness with which he executed a fair sentence.

Du Lhut's exploits and character make him the outstanding figure of the war which Duchesneau waged against the coureurs de bois. The intendant certainly had the letter of the law on his side in seeking to clear the woods of those rovers who at the risk of their own lives and without expense to the government were gaining for France an unequalled knowledge of the interior. Not only had the king decreed that no one should be permitted to enter the forest without express permission, but an edict of 1676 denied even the governor the right to issue a trading pass at his unrestrained discretion. Frontenac, who believed that the colony would draw great profit from exploration, softened the effect of this measure by issuing licences to hunt. It was also within his power to dispatch messengers to the tribes of the Great Lakes. Duchesneau reported that Frontenac evaded the edict in order to favour his own partners or agents among the coureurs de bois, and that when he went to Montreal on the pretext of negotiating with the Iroquois, his real purpose was to take up merchandise and bring back furs. These charges Frontenac denied with his usual vigour, but without silencing Duchesneau. In 1679 the altercation on this point was brought to an issue by the arrest, at the intendant's instance, of La Toupine, a retainer of Du Lhut. An accusation of disobeying the edict was no trifle, for the penalty might mean a sentence to the galleys. After a bitter contest over La Toupine the matter was settled on a basis not unfavourable to Frontenac. In 1681 a fresh edict declared that all coureurs de bois who came back to the colony should receive the benefit of an amnesty. At the same time the governor was empowered to grant twenty-five trading licences in each year, the period to be limited to one year.

The splendid services of Du Lhut, covering a period of thirty years, are the best vindication of Frontenac's policy towards him and his associates. Had Duchesneau succeeded in his efforts, Du Lhut would have been severely punished, and probably excluded from the West for the remainder of his life. Thanks to Frontenac's support, he became the mainstay of French interests from Lake Ontario to the Mississippi. Setting out as an adventurer with a strong taste f or exploration, he ended as commandant of the most important posts--Lachine, Cataraqui, and Michilimackinac. He served the colony nobly in the war against the Iroquois. He has left reports of his discoveries which disclose marked literary talent. From the early years of Frontenac's regime he made himself useful, not only to Frontenac but to each succeeding governor, until, crippled by gout and age, he died, still in harness. The letter in which the governor Vaudreuil announces Du Lhut's death (1710) to the Colonial Office at Paris is a useful comment upon the accusations of Duchesneau. 'He was,' says Vaudreuil, 'a very honest man.' In these words will be found an indirect commendation of Frontenac, who discovered Du Lhut, supported him through bitter opposition, and placed him where his talents and energy could be used for the good of his country.

It will be remembered that Frontenac received orders from Colbert (April 7, 1672) to prevent the Jesuits from becoming too powerful. In carrying out these instructions he soon found himself embroiled at Quebec, and the same discord made itself felt throughout the wilderness.

Frontenac favoured the establishment of trading-posts and government forts along the great waterways, from Cataraqui to Crevecoeur. [Footnote: Fort Crevecoeur was La Salle's post in the heart of the Illinois country.] He sincerely believed that these were the best guarantees of the king's power on the Great Lakes and in the valley of the Mississippi. The Jesuits saw in each post a centre of debauchery and feared that their religious work would be undone by the scandalous example of the coureurs de bois. What for Frontenac was a question of political expediency loomed large to the Jesuits as a vital issue of morals. It was a delicate question at best, though probably a peaceable solution could have been arranged, but for the mutual agreement of Frontenac and the Jesuits that they must be antagonists. War having once been declared, Frontenac proved a poor controversialist. He could have defended his forest policy without alleging that the Jesuits maintained their missions as a source of profit, which was a slander upon heroes and upon martyrs. Moreover, he exposed himself to a flank attack, for it could be pointed out with much force that he had private motives in advocating the erection of forts. Frontenac was intelligent and would have recommended the establishment of posts whether he expected profit from them or not, but he weakened his case by attacking the Jesuits on wrong grounds.

During Frontenac's first term the settled part of Canada was limited to the shores of the St Lawrence from Lachine downward, with a cluster of seigneuries along the lower Richelieu. In this region the governor was hampered by the rights of the intendant and the influence of the bishop. Westward of Lachine stretched the wilderness, against whose dusky denizens the governor must guard the colony. The problems of the forest embraced both trade and war; and where trade was concerned the intendant held sway. But the safety of the flock came first, and as Frontenac had the power of the sword he could execute his plans most freely in the region which lay beyond the fringe of settlement. It was here that he achieved his greatest success and by his acts won a strong place in the confidence of the settlers. This was much, and to this extent his first term of office was not a failure.

As Canada was then so sparsely settled, the growth of population filled a large place in the shaping of public policy. With this matter, however, Duchesneau had more to do than Frontenac, for it was the intendant's duty to create prosperity. During the decade 1673-83 the population of Canada increased from 6705 to 10,251. In percentage the advance shows to better advantage than in totals, but the king had hardened his heart to the demand for colonists. Thenceforth the population of Canada was to be recruited almost altogether from births.

On the whole, the growth of the population during this period compares favourably with the growth of trade. In 1664 a general monopoly of Canadian trade had been conceded to the West India Company, on terms which gave every promise of success. But the trading companies of France proved a series of melancholy failures, and at this point Colbert fared no better than Richelieu. When Frontenac reached Canada the West India Company was hopelessly bankrupt, and in 1674 the king acquired its rights. This change produced little or no improvement. Like France, Canada suffered greatly through the war with Holland, and not till after the Peace of Nimwegen (1678) did the commercial horizon begin to clear. Even then it was impossible to note any real progress in Canadian trade, except in a slight enlargement of relations with the West Indies. During his last year at Quebec Duchesneau gives a very gloomy report on commercial conditions.

For this want of prosperity Frontenac was in no way responsible, unless his troubles with Laval and Duchesneau may be thought to have damped the colonizing ardour of Louis XIV. It is much more probable that the king withheld his bounty from Canada because his attention was concentrated on the costly war against Holland. Campaigns at home meant economy in Canada, and the colony was far from having reached the stage where it could flourish without constant financial support from the motherland.


The Fighting Governor - 10/20

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