The Compagnies Franches de la Marine of Canada

Phips At Quebec

Sir William Phips before Quebec in October 1690

Caption: Sir William Phips before Quebec in October 1690

The fleet arrived at Quebec, where Frontenac and his troops were waiting, on October 16, 1690. Phips rather presumptuously gave the count an hour to surrender, before he would attack. Frontenac's hot temper gave rise to one of the most famous phrases in Canadian history: "The only response I have for your general is through the muzzles of my cannons." 68 These words perfectly summarized the feelings of the officers and men, both from the regular troops and the militia.

The Massachusetts battalions landed to the east of the city, marching in a line with their drums beating and their flags flying in the wind - a beautiful sight according to observers from both camps - before being raked over by defenders lying in ambush. In their haste to get back on their ships, the Americans left five of their six artillery pieces on the field. The two sides bombarded each other, and the American flagship was damaged, losing its colours, which fell into the hands of the French. On October 24, the fleet weighed anchor and returned to Boston.

Thus ended the first American attempt to invade Canada. But the story was not over yet in Boston. When the expedition returned without the expected booty, the debt owed by Massachusetts rose to some £50,000 - an enormous sum for the times. The coffers were empty. In order to "calm the clamour of the soldiers and sailors" 69 demanding their pay, the authorities, fearing an armed insurrection, had bills of credit printed for the veterans, while raising taxes considerably. Unfortunately for the veterans, however, the bills lost value quickly and were soon worth only half their face value. These rude awakenings, both military and financial, calmed bellicose spirits, and nothing so ambitious would again be undertaken against Canada without the assistance of regular army and naval forces from the mother country.

Additional Images

Quebec batteries firing on Phipp’s ships during October 1690