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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Finding himself within hail of the Dunkerque


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governor of Canada was not mistaken. Where France established mere military posts, and as it were landmarks of her political dominion, the English colonists, cultivators and traders, brought with them practical civilization, the natural and powerful enemy of savage life. Already war was in preparation without regard to the claims of these humble allies, who were destined ere long to die out before might and the presence of a superior race. The French commander in the valley of the Ohio, M. de Contrecoeur, was occupied with preparations for defence, when he learned that a considerable body of English troops were marching against him under the orders of Colonel Washington. He immediately despatched M. de Jumonville with thirty men to summon the English to retire and to evacuate French territory. At break of day on the 18th of May, 1754, Washington's men surprised Jumonville's little encampment. The attack was unexpected; it is not known whether the French envoy had time to convey the summons with which he had been charged; he was killed, together with nine men of his troops. The irritation caused by this event precipitated the commencement of hostilities. A corps of Canadians, re-enforced by a few savages, marched at once against Washington; he was intrenched in the plain; he had to be attacked with artillery. The future hero of American independence was obliged to capitulate; the English retired with such precipitation that they abandoned even their flag.

justify;">Negotiations were still going on between London and Versailles, and meanwhile the governors of the English colonies had met together to form a sort of confederation against French power in the new world. They were raising militia everywhere. On the 20th of January, 1755, General Braddock with a corps of regulars landed at Williamsburg, in Virginia. Two months later, or not until the end of April, in fact, Admiral Dubois de la Motte quitted Brest with re-enforcements and munitions of war for Canada. After him and almost in his wake went Admiral Boscawen from Plymouth, on the 27th of April, seeking to encounter him at sea. "Most certainly the English will not commence hostilities," said the English cabinet to calm the anxieties of France.

It was only off Newfoundland that Admiral Boscawen's squadron encountered some French vessels detached from the fleet in consequence of the bad weather. "Captain Hocquart, who commanded the _Alcide,_" says the account of M. de Choiseul, "finding himself within hail of the _Dunkerque,_ had this question put in English: 'Are we at peace or war?' The English captain appearing not to understand, the question was repeated in French. 'Peace! peace!' shouted the English. Almost at the same moment the _Dunkerque_ poured in a broadside, riddling the _Alcide_ with balls." The two French ships were taken; and a few days afterwards, three hundred merchant vessels, peaceably pursuing their course, were seized by the English navy. The loss was immense, as well as the disgrace. France at last decided upon declaring war, which had already been commenced in fact for more than two years.

It was regretfully, and as if compelled by a remnant of national honor, that Louis XV. had just adopted the resolution of defending his colonies; he had, and the nation had as well, the feeling that the French were hopelessly weak at sea. "What use to us will be hosts of troops and plenty of money," wrote the advocate Barbier, "if we have only to fight the English at sea? They will take all our ships one after another, they will seize all our settlements in America, and will get all the trade. We must hope for some division amongst the English nation itself, for the king personally does not desire war."


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