Attacked by a French Privateer — Defence — Letter to the Duke of Ormond — Ammunition furnished by government — Build a small fort — Visit Dublin — London — Obtain a pension — Copy of warrant — Return home
Early in the morning of the first day of June 1704, a French privateer hove in sight, she floated gently towards the house in a perfect calm, she had on board four of my Irish neighbours to act as guides, in addition to eighty men of her own. She mounted ten guns. I watched her progress, and thought the intention was to bring her to the south of my house, so that her guns would bear directly upon the front and have full scope at high water. I would prevent this if it were possible, and so I mustered all the men I could find, exactly twenty in number, I gave the Protestants muskets, and the Papists clubs on their shoulders, which made them at a distance look like armed men. I ordered them to follow me and do as I did. We went round the little cove, stooping very low as if we wished to hide ourselves, though in reality I made choice of the highest ground in order that we might certainly be seen from the privateer. I then placed all the men behind a large rock near the shore, while I stood alone on the top of it, within sight of the vessel; I ordered them all to appear on one side of the rock, as if they were peeping out of curiosity, while I was looking the other way; then I turned, and made angry gesticulations as if I were finding fault and striking some of them, and at the same time I told them all to show their heads on the other side of the rock; I turned again, and appeared to be very anxious that they should conceal themselves. The enemy, having seen (as they thought) forty men behind the rock, did not deem it expedient to effect their landing at a point so well guarded; thus my manoeuvre produced exactly the effect I intended it should, and they turned about towards the mouth of the creek upon which my house stood; and there they were opposite to one corner of the house, from which point their fire would be comparatively without effect. They dared not venture up the creek for fear of getting aground at low water.
When I saw that they had decided upon their position, I took my men back by a low path, and this time I really made them hide themselves, so that those in the vessel could not see one of us returning from the rock. I took the Protestants into the house to assist in our defence, and sent the Papists away. The privateer cast anchor about a long musket shot distant from the house, and the lieutenant landed with twenty men. I had seven men with me in addition to my wife and children; four or five of these were of very little use. I placed them all at different windows, I posted myself in one of the towers over the door, and as the Lieutenant was advancing with every appearance of confidence in his mien, I fired at him with a blunderbuss loaded with small leaden balls, one of which entered his neck above the shoulder blade, and another his side. He took aim at me before he fell, but his fire went too high. While I was gone to fetch another loaded piece from the next room, his men took him up, crossed the ditch, and carried him back to the ship.
The Captain, furious at such unexpected resistance from a minister, sent twenty more men ashore, with another commander, and two small cannon; these they placed under cover of the rocks and hedges, and cannonaded the house from the north, while the guns on board the vessel fired upon us from the south east. I must acknowledge that being unaccustomed to this sort of music, I felt some little tremors of fear when the first cannon ball struck the house, but I instantly humbled myself internally before my Maker, and having committed myself both soul and body to his keeping, my courage revived, and I suffered no more from fear. I put my head out of the window see what effect the ball had produced on our stone wall, and when I perceived it had only made a slight scratch, I cried out with joy. “Courage my dear children, their cannon balls have no more effect on our stone walls than if they were so many apples!”
An officer was then in my house, with whom I had been conversing the evening before on what would be my prospect of success, if I were to defend myself on such an occasion as the present; and he thought I should have no chance, because he said a cannon would overthrow my house with as much ease as if it were a castle of cards; and this opinion of his I verily believe occasioned me the apprehension of which I have just now spoken, but which was only perceptible to myself and my Heavenly Father, who, in answer to my petition, had dissipated my fears.
John McLiney, a brave Scotchman, who was stationed at a window which overlooked the cannon on shore, having fired repeatedly without any apparent effect, at last put a double charge of powder into his musket, and killed a man who was pointing the cannon. This obliged them to alter the position of their battery, and they moved their cannon to the foot of the wall, and sheltered themselves behind a rock about thirty paces from the north east corner of the house, where every one was protected from our fire except the men who reloaded the cannons. The new position was much more favourable for us, because being at one corner of the house they could not strike the walls or injure any thing but the slates on the roof. During the whole battle there were two or three hundred Irishmen collected on a neighbouring height watching the conflict, rejoicing in the anticipation of our defeat, and waiting impatiently for the moment when they might come down and help to plunder.
A Frenchman named Paul Roussier, a brave man, and a skilful soldier, was in the garret opposite to the enemies’ battery, he constructed a sort of rampart of sheep’s fleeces, then made a hole through the slates, and from thence he fired without the slightest intermission; a fresh loaded piece being handed to him from below directly after he had fired; and he killed one of them. They on their part also kept up a continual fire with the cannons against the house, and the pirates from the vessel fired with small arms upon our windows, which we had barricaded with mattresses and large books.
At the commencement of the action some of our muskets were a little out of order. The officer who was loading for Paul Roussier had put in the ball before the powder, (by which you may judge of his confusion) and seeing my wife enter the room, who was here, and there, and every where, carrying ammunition, and giving encouragement both by her words and her manner, he went up to her, and taking her by the hand, he said, “Alas! my dear lady, we are undone, it would be the height of folly to attempt to resist any longer when our arms are in bad order; here are no less than three useless muskets.” (Observe we had eighteen muskets, two blunderbusses and several pistols.)
My wife replied with her usual composure, “We are in the hands of the Almighty, and nothing can befall us without his permission; I trust he will not suffer us to fall into the hands of these wicked men. We must not lose our courage, but try if we cannot repair what is defective.”
She then came to me where I was on duty, and told me to go into the parlour directly to encourage the people, and do away the alarm caused by this faint-hearted gentleman. I went immediately and examined the three muskets; one wanted a flint, another had some dirt in the touch hole, and the third had two cartridges in it, one on the top of the other and a ball below both, next to the touch hole. I laughed at him a little, and from that time there was no further complaint of arms being out of order. My wife was so entirely free from fear, that when she went to fetch a needle for me to broach the muskets from a place where the balls were coming in at the window like hail, she did not think of stooping until I called out to her so to do. The children were a good deal alarmed when the balls struck the roof and made the slates fly, which she perceiving said to them “Courage my children, we are in the hands of God, and it is not fear that will insure our safety; on the contrary, God will bless our courage. If you cannot fire yourselves, you can load the muskets for your father and others who are older and stronger than you are; drive away all fear if you can, and leave the care of your persons to God.”
This address of hers to the children had a great effect upon the older persons present, and seemed to inspire them with new courage and confidence. Ere long however we had serious cause for anxiety, our powder was becoming so scarce that we felt as if we ought to be sparing in the use of it. We were in great perplexity; if we did not continue the same fire we thought the enemy would perceive the difference and attack with fresh vigor, and to go on at the rate we were using it, we had not more than enough for three hours; we had only had twelve pounds at the outset. “Great God! it was then that thou discouraged our enemies and showed us their backs.”
Claude Bonnet, a French soldier, seeing one of them run away, went forward to take aim at him, and just; at that moment a ball from the enemy struck against the house, rebounded, and entered the fleshy part of his arm without touching the bone. This showed us that if we had been spared, it was to God that we owed it, and to him we should return our thanks. My dear wife was the surgeon, she had him laid upon a bed without any noise, and applied the first dressing to the wound with her own hands. The battle lasted from eight o’clock in the morning till four in the afternoon, and during that whole time, there was never the least cessation in the firing except for a few minutes when the first man was killed. We had no one wounded but Claude Bonnet, and one of the children from a piece of slate striking against his thumb. The enemy had three men killed and seven wounded, as we learnt afterwards from the Irishmen who were on board. When the assailants had returned to the vessel, we visited the stations they had occupied, and found a quantity of blood which they had evidently tried to hide by treading earth and leaves into the ground.
The privateer remained at anchor for some time, and we were afraid they meditated a second attack, for which we were badly prepared being so near the end of our powder; but we determined if they did land again that we would only fire when we could take aim. While we were waiting the development of their plans, we took some nourishment, which was much needed after our fatigues. I had given each one a large glass of Sherry when we entered the house on our return from the rock, first thing in the morning; and after that, during the whole action, I did not permit any one to taste a drop of wine, or spirit, or strong beer.
We had the satisfaction in a short time of seeing them draw up their anchor and sail away, and we returned thanks to God for our glorious deliverance. I immediately wrote a full account of the affair to Lord Cox, then Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and to the Duke of Ormond who was Lord Lieutenant.
Before I mention the letter I wrote to the Duke, I should say that about nine months previous to the attack, he had made a tour through a great part of Ireland accompanied by the Chancellor. I went, with Mr. Davis, one of my landlords, to Kinsale for the purpose of paying our respects to them, and before the interview, it had been agreed between Mr. Davis, the Chancellor, and myself that if there was an opening I should say something in favor of building a fort in our neighbourhood, and they would support me in it, being fully as anxious as I was to have one erected. The Chancellor presented us both to his Grace as justices of the peace who did our duty.
The Duke conversed for a few minutes with Mr. Davis, but when he found that I was a French Refugee minister, he addressed himself more particularly to me, speaking in French. He asked me how long I had lived in this barbarous part of the country, what flock I had, &c., to all which I replied; and he then enquired what was the chief produce, and how we managed matters in this quarter. I said much in favor of our harbor, dwelt on its conveniences, and then I told him of the iniquitous practices of the French privateers, and I thought the door was now open for me to suggest our plan, and I added that if government would but erect a fort there, it would be a great place for the settlement of French Refugees, and would also prove a safeguard to the commerce of the whole kingdom.
The other gentlemen were preparing according to agreement to support what I had said with various arguments, when the Duke rather wittily cut short our discourse by saying “Pray to God for us, and we will take care to defend you.”
This answer was so much to the purpose that I had not another word to say, though I was a good deal annoyed by the tittering of some of the Duke’s friends who were present.
I thought the time had now arrived when I should be justified in reproaching his Grace with breach of promise. And immediately after the battle, before the sun had set, on that very evening, I wrote him a letter, beginning as follows: —“Since I had the honor of paying my respects to your Grace at Kinsale, I have not failed to pray for you daily in conformity with your request, but you must allow me to complain that your Grace has not been equally true to the promise you then made of defending me, for without your aid I have had to defend myself from the attack of a French corsair,” &c. &c. I then gave him the particulars of the engagement and our glorious victory.
I enclosed this letter unsealed to my cousin Arnauld in London, and desired him, after reading, to seal and deliver it. He had some hesitation about delivering it because he thought it too bold, nevertheless he did seal it, and went to the Duke’s hotel and left it with the first servant he saw, without waiting for any answer, or even ascertaining that it reached its destination. The good and generous Duke was delighted, seeing that its boldness was justified by the defence we had made, and he enquired immediately for the person who had brought it, and as he was not forthcoming, he requested Colonel Boisron, who happened to be with him, to write an answer, telling me how much he was charmed with my conduct, and also with my manner of relating it to him, and that if it should ever be in his power to serve me, he would take great pleasure in doing so. In the mean time my name and my wife’s also, became known by means of the newspapers, throughout all Europe.
I received a letter from Government, dated 10th June, 1704, complimenting me on my defence, congratulating me on its happy result, and adding that they had taken care I should be better prepared in case of another attack, for they had issued an order to the keeper of the magazine at Kinsale (without my asking for it) to deliver to me one barrel of gunpowder and two barrels of musket balls. The warrant was enclosed in the letter.
The four Irishmen, who had assisted the French, became much alarmed, and fearing I should find them out and deliver them up to justice, determined to be beforehand and came voluntarily before me to make oath that the French had taken them by main force. It was from them that we learnt the extent of loss sustained by the French; they told us that after the death of the lieutenant, the captain was furious, being a near relation of his own, and swore that if he took me he would roast me alive and salt me.
After this I determined to build a kind of fortification at the back of my house, to serve the double purpose of protecting the lower floor from the guns of ships, and defending the mouth of the creek. I bought several six pounders which had been fished up from a vessel lost on the coast. I had three carriages made for them, and I raised a fortification of turf whose parapet was eighteen feet in thickness, and so situated as to command the entrance of the creek, and cover the lower story of my house entirely on the side next to the creek. My Irish neighbours, much chagrined at the unexpected issue of the attack, which they had felt certain was to rid them of me forever, were more and more annoyed to see my preparations for future defence. They tried to discourage and alarm me, saying that perhaps I was not aware that there was an Act of Parliament which forbade any person to erect fortifications or mount guns without the special permission of government. I answered them that I knew all about it as well as they did, but I had no fear of disturbance on that head after the marks of friendship and esteem I had received from the government, and even were it otherwise, I would much rather fall into the hands of an English jury than a French privateer.
I made an application to government for powder and ball for my cannons, and they promptly furnished me with five hundred cannon balls and four barrels of powder. I did not require any stronger proof of their approbation of my fort.
By the month of November I had completed all my preparations, and the Lord Lieutenant having returned to Dublin, I thought it might be for my advantage to go there, and tell him all that I had done. While at Bear Haven, I had from time to time been able to render material assistance merchant vessels in distress, and more than once to ships of war, and I took with me certificates of these facts.
Upon my arrival in Dublin I was received by the Council with the utmost kindness, and they at once voted me £50 as a temporary assistance till something better could be done for me, and they advised me to claim a pension for my services, and recommended me officially for that purpose to the Lord Lieutenant. After a while he ordered the Secretary of State for Ireland to give me a letter to the Secretary of Lord Godolphin, then Lord High Treasurer of England. I went to England with this introduction in April 1705, and while I was in London urging my claim, the Duke of Ormond came there, and was of essential service to me in obtaining the pension, and likewise treated me it all times with the most uniform kindness and attention.
The warrant for my pension was presented to me on the 17th October 1705, and here follows a copy of the document. (COPY. )
“To our right trusty and right entirely beloved Cousin and Counsellor James Duke of Ormond, our Lieutenant General and General Governor of our kingdom of Ireland, and to our Lieutenant Deputy or other chief governor or governors of that our kingdom for the time being.
“Right trusty and right entirely beloved cousin and Counsellor, we greet you well. Whereas James Fontaine, Clerk, did by his humble petition to us pray that we would be graciously pleased to bestow on him a pension of five shillings a day on our establishment of our kingdom of Ireland, in consideration of his good services in his defence against a French Privateer, and the great charge he is at in securing the remote port he lives in against the insults of the French, and whereas our High Treasurer of England hath laid before us a report made by you upon the said petition wherein you certify that the petitioner is settled in a very remote port, in Bear Haven, in our said kingdom, which place is very much infested with the privateers, that he hath built a very strong house with a small sort of sod fort, on which he hath the permission of our said government to mount five guns, that he hath often been in danger of being attacked by the Privateers, and that by the continuance of the said fort he hath protected several merchant ships, that there hath been produced to you several very ample certificates from the merchants of Dublin and of Cork of the commodiousness of that place for securing merchant ships, as also from the Captains of our ships the Arundel and the Bridgewater, and that upon the whole you are of opinion that the said James Fontaine very well deserves our favour and encouragement, in consideration of his said services and expenses, and in regard he is a French Refugee, you propose that a pension of five shillings a day may be inserted for him on the establishment, under the head of French Pensioner, to commence from Michaelmas 1705.
Now, we, having taken the premises into our Royal consideration, are graciously pleased to consent thereunto, and accordingly our will and pleasure is, and we do hereby direct, authorise, and command, that you cause the said pension or allowance of five shillings a day to be paid to him the said James Fontaine, or his assignees from Michaelmas last 1705, as aforesaid, for maintaining the said fort for the better preservation of our subjects of our said Kingdom against the insults of French Privateers, the same to continue during our pleasure, and to be placed for him in the list of French Pensioners on the establishment of our expense in our said kingdom, and paid in like manner as others the pensions within the said list are or shall be payable. And this shall be as well to you for so doing, as to our Lieutenant deputy or other chief governor, or governors of our said kingdom for the time being, and to our Receiver General, and all others concerned in making the said payments, and allowing thereof upon account a sufficient warrant, and so bid you very heartily farewell.”
“Given at our Court at St. James, the twelfth day of October, 1705, in the fourth year of our reign.”
“By her Majesty’s command.”
“Entered at the signet office on the 17th day of October, 1705. Geo.:
My inventive genius had now quite forsaken me, but you see, my dear children, that providence had not. It is the same God who at first called light out of darkness who frustrated the designs of our enemies, and turned to our profit and honor that enterprise by which they had expected to seal our ruin. If it had not been for their cruel attack we should never have become known to those persons who have shown us so much kindness; and let us never forget that it is to our Heavenly Father we owe all our gratitude for inclining towards us the heart of a kind and charitable earthly Sovereign. The signal failure of our adversaries’ schemes reminded me of Samson’s enigma “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”
I must not omit to mention that while I was in London I stayed the whole time at the house of my Cousin John Arnauld; he treated me with the greatest hospitality and kindness, and would never accept of a single farthing for my board, and moreover he lent me nearly £30 to further my views in obtaining a pension, and that too at a time when he saw little or no chance of my ever being in a situation to repay it. Thanks be to God, I have since been so successful in my school that it has enabled me to return him this money.
During my absence from home Privateers were occasionally seen hovering about the mouth of the harbor, one only approached near to the house, and appeared to be taking the same course that had been followed by the vessel that attacked us. My wife was very prompt in having the cannons loaded, and she had one of them fired to show that all was in readiness for defence, and when they saw this, they turned about, landed on Great Island, stole some cattle and sailed away.
After my return we were several times threatened with a descent, but it ended in nothing more than giving us a little fright, and making us brush up our arms, for when they saw we were in a state of preparation, they went off, contenting themselves with stealing whatever they could lay their hands on.
James Fontaine (1658) was the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of Jared Smith (Editor of the AHB). He wrote an autobiography, the material of which was compiled and published by some of his descendants. The first publication is called, ”A Tale Of The Huguenots Or Memoirs Of A French Refugee Family (De La Fontaine)” (1838). The second publication is called, “Memoirs Of A Huguenot Family” (1872).