The King's Soldiers

A "Royal" Garrison

Louis de Buade, Count Frontenac (1622-98)

Caption: Louis de Buade, Count Frontenac (1622-98)

Four companies of 75 men each, including officers, were kept in Canada. Two of these companies were assigned to Montreal and two to Chambly. Thirty men from the latter companies were detached to Saint-Jean and 20 to Fort Sainte-Anne. These four companies mounted guard until 1670, when they were reinforced by five companies of 50 men each, dispatched from France and commanded by officers of the Carignan-Salières Regiment. These troops apparently remained affiliated with their regiment back in France through a kind of detached company status. Intendant Jean Talon noted that Captain de Laubia "of Carignan-Salières" commanded one of the "companies ... sent back to Canada in 1670." 47 However, all these companies were disbanded in 1671, with the officers urged not to return to France and "all soldiers strongly encouraged to work on clearing and cultivating the land." 48

The dissolution of these companies certainly helped to increase the population of New France, but it also left a very thin garrison in place: two sergeants and 25 soldiers in Quebec and only 10 soldiers each in Trois-Rivières and Montreal. With the 20 Governor General's Guards and the 10 soldiers at Fort Frontenac, whom Sieur de La Salle had been obliged to maintain "at his expense" 49 since 1675, the total amounted to 77 men. The shortage of professional soldiers left the forts on the Richelieu practically undefended. Moreover, relations between the French and the Iroquois had been slowly deteriorating throughout this period.

The Iroquois, observing the weakening of French defences, realized that they could take up the war again. In order to avenge the humiliations they had suffered, they attempted after the peace was concluded to neutralize the new Amerindian allies of the French and to seize control of the fur trade. In the French colony, fears increased that the 2,500 Five Nations warriors, well equipped with English guns, would attempt to destroy the western tribes who were favourable to the French, as they had destroyed the Hurons. The French trading posts and Jesuit missions recently established at Michilimackinac and in Illinois were also threatened. The situation grew graver throughout the 1670s, but the danger was contained, thanks in large part to the diplomatic skills of Louis de Buade, Count Frontenac. However, he had scarcely been replaced as governor general by Joseph-Antoine Lefebvre de la Barre in 1682, when the Illinois, Miamis and Ottawas were attacked and forced to ask for French protection. By now the new governor general had only a handful of soldiers available to defend this vast territory and help his allies. His proposal for a general conference was contemptuously dismissed by the Iroquois. However, he could still draw on an important resource which the colony had been developing throughout the previous decade and which would be called upon to play a decisive role in its defence: a militia, numbering about 1,000 men.