Sketches of the Restigouche

By Irene Doyle


The Daily Sun, St John, N.B.
Wednesday Morning
January 13, 1883

By
Rev. J. C. Herdman, B.D., of Campbellton, N.B.

(Written as I have found it, grammatical errors and all)

        The period in which La Petite Rochelle flourished being a troublous one, this fact accounts sufficiently for the martial and military atmosphere in which the town seems to have lived. If some vague traditions can be trusted, privateers used to be fitted out here, and a half-legitimate, half-privateers warfare carried on with the British. Legends of buried treasure as a consequence are not wanting, and frequent excavations have been made at Officer's Brook and other places. A Mission Indian gave me two years ago an account, in firm faith, of an attempt made the night before to recover buried gold. He showed me the very spot: a hole newly dug underneath some trees on the river's bank - and assured me that the French ... after burying money there had killed one of their number, decapitated him, and buried his head with the gold, and his body near by , so that he might be compelled to keep eternal guard. Of course, only at 12 o'clock and on certain nights can the money be filched. Of course too, one of the money-seekers had incautiously spoken, just as a great chest came in sight, and as a sequel a headless body rose, struck at them with a sword, and they fled for their life.

        The place seems to have thriven up to the very hour of its destruction. For years preceding the capture of Quebec emigration from Nova Scotia to Chaleur and Restigouche freely proceeded. The position of affairs then was this: Acadie belonged to Britain, and New France to the French Crown. But a difficulty arose as to the limits of Acadie. The territory in dispute was Chaleur, Restigouche and the North Shore of New Brunswick. Of this great region the British were no doubt legally owners, but all the same, the French claimed it strenuously and fortified it strongly and fought for it stubbornly.

        The commission of 1750-53 failed to adjudicate the rival claims. Refugee Acadiens fled thitherward, especially after the proscription of 1755. It became increasingly evident that Great Britain could have to make a special conquest of this region ere she could enter upon any peaceful or definite possession of it.

        This brings us to the battle of 1760 and the fall of La Petite Rochelle. Despite the general ignoring of the fact by historians, it is to be noted that here in Restigouche was fought out the last battle on North American waters between Great Britain and France. As Restigouche anticipated Quebec in exploration by a year, so by the same length of time it outlived it in conflict.

        War between Britain and France, long impending, broke out decisively in 1755, Louisburg fell in 1758, and Quebec was taken ..... The hopes of French ascendancy now rested on Montreal. .Towards its succour? Louis xv. sent out from Bordeaux in May, 1760, a fleet of six frigates and twenty-two store ships. The number of sailors and soldiers scarcely answers to the accommodation, for the former seem to have numbered 400 and the latter 200 or 250. When this fleet arrived in the St. Lawrence, they learned from some English craft they had captured that Lord Colville's squadron was cruising these waters, whereupon they took refuge in Bay Chaleur. Commadore Byron, senior officer of H. B. M. warships then guarding the garrison at Louisburg, gave immediate chase. His own vessel was the "Fame," following it were the "Dorestshire," "Achilles," "Scarborough" and "Repulse." One French frigate was destroyed near Gaspe and another near Caraquet, Byron then, in quest of the enemy, sailed up to "a large river, called by the Indians Rustgiushi, " as the account in the London Magazine, under date of 8th September, 1760, has it . Here he found Admiral Bordon, captain of the "Marchault" (32 guns), along with the store ships and the remaining frigates, viz., the "Esperance" (60 guns), "Bienfaisant" (22), and the "Marquis de Marloze" (18).

        Here we may pause a moment to take in the situation of things, Restigouche, though at least partly if not wholly in Acadie, was as yet a place of exclusively French occupation. On the south of New Brunswick side, where Campbellton and Dalhousie now stand, a few houses have been found, and all, along down the Bay a straggling line of Acadians extended. On the north or Quebec side was La Petite Rochelle. This town had fortifications as follows: "Upper Battery" near its western limit, as local guardian of the settlement; "Little Battery", 11 miles below, on a bluff known to this day as "Battery Point"; and "Grand Battery 2 miles further down or about 11 miles from the entrance of the river, on a promontory that runs but boldly from the coast line and is approximately called "Point a la garde".

        The French commander was thus in the midst of friends. Upon the approach of the hostile fleet he proceeded further up stream, past the two lower batteries, which he thus placed between himself and danger. Between these headlands, and upwards, the channel keeps closely in-shore. The batteries, according to one report, were manned by 250 soldiers, 700 Acadians, and 800 Indians. (These latter figures are probably exaggerated.)

        For a time the English fleet were uncertain how to act. Fearful of the batteries, Byron at nightfall organized an expedition to try whether any other channel existed by which he could work his way up river. From his endeavor, it seems probable that he must have had some definite knowledge both of the localities of the river, and also of the state of the enemy's defences, on which largely depended his chances of victory. He had employed a Dutch pilot to take his fleet up the river, and as it happened, the late R. (obert) Ferguson, Esq,. of Athol House, fell in with this very man during a visit of his to Nova Scotia a great many years ago; and his family tell me that Mr. F. brought back from the old Dutch pilot the following interesting incident, which may explain in what way Byron learned the state of the defences and the strength of the settlement up the river.

        The French vessels were at anchor at various points in the harbor that stretches between Campbellton and the site of La Petite Rochelle. (The charnel at that time was much deeper than now; at the head of the tideway). On board of one of the frigates were two English prisoner watching a chance for liberty, one of them leaped overboard one night and started down stream for the English ships: but when he had neared Oak Point the tide turned, and he dared not risk himself on shore, he turned with it, swam back to his vessel and got on board again, seemingly without detection. The next night, the other prisoner leaped overboard, but took the precaution of taking a piece of the hatchway with him which he secured to his chest: and so drifted and swam downwards. He passed Battery Point with considerable trepidation: but reached the British ships safely and communicated to the commander the state of things up the river.

        In pursuance of his purpose to ascend the river and attack the hostile fleet, Byron ordered a survey of a small channel, which leaves the main of north channel a little below Campbellton and keeps to the south side of the river. This same channel has since been partially choked up by Government orders, with a view of sending a stronger current down the main channel. A survey was then made with the aid of dark lanterns and a chart, said to be most accurate, drawn up: it was found, however, that vessels could not come up all the way. The late judge Thompson, of New Carlisle, had a nephew a midshipman in one of the survey-boats.

        Byron concluded to make a bold attempt and work his vessels up at all hazards. This was on the 8th July. In order that the attack on the French might be made both by sea and by land, it was important if possible to despatch a party to come in the rear of the batteries. As it happened a traitor was obtained - of unknown name. Led by him, a party of marines from the British fleet landed below Point a la Garde and marched round what is spoken of in some quarters as Braquette's Hill, over mountains, streams, ravines and densest forest, with extraordinary exertions and fatigue, but arriving at the rear of the batteries in time , to give efficient aid in the victory.

        Meanwhile the British ships opened fire on the French defences. These were not well served and were soon silenced. Of incidents connected with the encounter, this one on the authority of the old Dutch pilot may be inserted. On the beach at Battery Point stood, and still stands, a high, perpendicular rock, Behind this rock 16 French soldiers were posted with guns, and a trench; after 15 of them had been shot in succession by the English, the sole surviving hero of the forlon hope loaded and fired with unimpaired activity, cleverly sheltering himself behind the rock and so defying the British bullets.

        The batteries being thus silenced, Byron moved up to the harbor, and an engagement in the basin between La Petite Rochelle and where Campbellton now stands, took place between the hostile fleets. The French are reported to have fought gallantly, until Capt. Bordon of the "Marchault" was killed. His death and the explosion of one of the store ships filled with ammunition put an end to the contest. Byron then demolished La Petit Rochelle, and razed the fortifications, The French fleet was also destroyed , but there is obsecurity in the details, as to what for instance was done with the stores, the crews, the soldiers, and the prisoners. It seems probable that several ships were sunk, and a great many burnt, some of these perhaps by the French themselves, to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy. A few may have been taken away as a booty, and it is undoubted that in the early stages of the action between the fleets some storeships tried to escape but were captured down the Bay by another British squadron under charge of Capt. Wallis. The English loss in the encounter in Restigouche is said to have been only 12 killed, and as many wounded.

        Relics of this battle are not wanting. On both sides of the river, and especially where the lower part of Campbellton now stands, trees are spoken of by early British settlers, and have been seen until comparatively lately, perforated by balls of different calibre. The explanation of this fact given by some is this: that the French upon seeing that defeat was inevitable set fire to their ships, either to prevent them falling to the enemy or else as a sign of capitulation, and that the fire exploded their loaded guns, with result as above noted. Remains of French vessels - removed now by the influence of time and of relic-hunters - were visible till recently in the neighborhood of mission and Cross Points. Even yet, at extreme low tides, the remains of a frigate may be descried in the North Channel between Mission Point and Bordon, and from it cannon balls, musket balls, chain shot, bombshells, rudder irons and other ship materials have been taken. A mantelpiece in a private residence at Cross Point, in good keeping and ornamental, is formed of a piece of the wreck. Divers other articles have been fashioned in like manner from wreckage, and are kept as relics by parties in the neighborhood.

        We come now to the times of British occupation. (NEXTů.)

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