The Compagnies Franches de la Marine of Canada

1690: A Key Year

Massachusetts troops, around 1690

Caption: Massachusetts troops, around 1690

The French General Staff at Quebec approved the views of Hertel and other Canadians on the tactics that should be adopted: attack the English colonies by land, in winter and through the woods, "in the Canadian fashion." Frontenac ordered that an attack be mounted simultaneously and as quickly as possible from the three cities of Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Quebec. Three mixed expeditionary corps composed of Canadian officers, some soldiers, some volunteer militiamen and Amerindian allies, prepared for imminent departure.

The Montreal group commanded by Jacques Le Moyne de Sainte-Hélène and Nicolas d'Ailleboust approached the village of Schenectady, north of Albany, in January 1690. They awaited nightfall before approaching the fortifications. One of the gates was ajar, blocked by the snow. No guards were on duty. The Montrealers entered without making a sound and soon surrounded every house in the village. At a war-cry signal, the attackers knocked down the doors. The surprise was total and only a few inhabitants succeeded in escaping. Schenectady was razed, although the survivors were spared. They would not be tortured at the hands of the Amerindians.

Two months later, on the night of March 27, the expedition that had left Trois-Rivières commanded by Hertel de La Fresnière himself, attacked the fort and village of Salmon River, near Portsmouth, Massachusetts. Two hours later, nothing remained. About 30 colonists had been killed and 50 taken prisoner. The Massachusetts militia arrived and set off in pursuit of the attackers. However, they were far behind and Hertel took advantage of this to set a trap. A narrow bridge crossed the Wooster River. Lying invisible in the bush, the commander and his men waited for the English to make their way onto the bridge. At a signal, they fired, killing 20 militiamen and sending the rest fleeing for their lives, terrified by the war cries. The expedition then set off to join that of Commander Portneuf, which had left Quebec and was headed for Casco, in the present state of Maine. This third target was taken and razed in May.

The Baron de Saint-Castin, who had come from Acadia with a group of allied Abenakis, joined in the expedition against Casco. Already much interested in Amerindian tactics, he took advantage of the occasion to exchange views with Hertel de La Fresnière on how they were being changed. He took these ideas back to Acadia and soon put them into practice, in what is now Maine, in numerous raids against the Americans.