Attacked by a French Privateer — Defence — Letter to the Duke of Ormond — Ammunition furnished by government — Small fort — Visit Dublin — London — Pension — Copy of warrant — Return home.
After having well deliberated, a force was brought to bear against me that, to all human appearance, would be amply sufficient to accomplish the purposes of my enemies.
Early in the morning of the first day of June, in the year 1704, a French privateer hove in sight; she floated gently towards my house, in a perfect calm. She had a force of eighty men on board, besides four of my Irish neighbors who acted as guides. She mounted ten guns. I watched her progress, and thought their object was to bring her to the south of my house, where at high water the guns would have full scope and bear directly upon the front. I would prevent that, if it were possible, and therefore I mustered all the men I could find, exactly twenty in number. I furnished all the Protestants with muskets, and the Papists with clubs to carry on their shoulders, which made them look like armed men when seen from a distance. I gave directions that all should 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 the more certainly be seen from the privateer. I then ordered all the men to go behind a large rock near the shore, while I stood alone on the top of it, within sight of the vessel. I told 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 round and made angry gesticulations, as if I were finding fault and striking some of them, and at the same time I directed them all to show their heads on the other side of the rock; I turned again, and appeared as if I were anxious that they should be concealed. 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. They turned about towards them south 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. Thus, my maneuvre produced exactly the change in their purpose which I had intended it should. They dared not venture up the creek for fear of getting a ground 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 the men on board the vessel could not see one of us on our way back to the house. I took all the Protestants in with me to assist in the defence, and sent the Papists away. The privateer cast anchor about a long musket-shot distant from the house, and presently the lieutenant landed with twenty men, and made haste, apparently with the intention of reaching the house before he thought I could have had time to return from the rock. I had seven men with me in addition to my wife and children; four or five of those were of very little use to me. 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 large shot, some of which entered his neck above the shoulder-blade, and the rest his side. He was taking aim at me as he fell, which made the fire go too high. I ran for another loaded piece which was in the next room, and during my short absence his men took him up, crossed the ditch and carried him back to the vessel.
The Commander was furious at such unexpected resistance from a Minister, and sent another officer on shore, with twenty more men and two small cannon. They placed these under cover of the rocks and hedges, and cannonaded the north side of the house, while the guns of the vessel bore up on the south-east. Being altogether unaccustomed to this kind of music, I must acknowledge that when the first cannon ball struck the house, I felt some tremors of fear. I instantly humbled myself internally, before my Maker, and having committed myself, both soul and body, to his keeping, my heart revived within me. I regained my courage, and suffered no more from fear. I popped my head out of the window to see what effect the ball had produced on our stone wall; and when I perceived that it had only made a slight scratch, I cried out joyfully, “Be of good courage, my children, their cannon-balls make no more impression on our stone walls, than if they were so many apples!”
I had an officer staying with me, with whom I had been conversing the night before this attack, as to the probable chance of my being able to offer successful resistance upon such an occasion as the present. His reply had been very discouraging; he thought a cannon would make as short work with us as if our habitation had been a castle of cards. I believe that it was the impression he had given me of our weakness, which occasioned the apprehension I felt when the ball struck the house, but which was perceptible to no one but myself and my Heavenly Father, who, in answer to my petition, had dissipated my fears.
John McLiney, a brave Scotchman, was stationed at a window which overlooked the cannon upon the shore. He had fired repeatedly, without effect; so at last he put a double charge of powder into his musket, fired again, and killed the man who was pointing the cannon. After this, they removed their battery to a more sheltered position; they placed themselves behind a rock, about thirty paces distant from the north-east corner of the house, where every one could be protected from our fire, except at the time of reloading the cannons, when we could take aim at the men so employed. The change of place was much more favorable for us, because, being at a corner of the house, the walls could not be injured by their fire; they could only strike the slates on the roof. During the whole time, there were two or three hundred Irish men collected on a neighboring height, watching the conflict, rejoicing in the anticipation of our defeat, and waiting impatiently for the moment when they might come down and participate in the plunder.
A Frenchman, named Paul Roussier, a very brave man, and a skilfull soldier, was posted in the garret, opposite to the battery of our enemy. He constructed a sort of rampart, with sheeps’ fleeces, that we had stored away there, and he then made an opening in the roof, through which he kept up an incessant fire. He was constantly supplied with arms ready loaded. As soon as he had fired, he handed his piece to one of the children, who gave him another in exchange, all ready to be fired. He killed one of the assailants. They on their part displayed equal activity, keeping up a constant fire with their cannons. The pirates on board the vessel fired against the windows with small arms. We did our best to barricade them 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, was in such a state of confusion, that he had actually put in the ball before the powder. My wife was here, and there, and everywhere, carrying ammunition, and giving encouragement to all, as well by what she said, as by her own calm deportment. When she came into the room where the officer had just made the mistake I have mentioned, he went up to her and took her by the hand, and said, “Alas! my dear lady, what must be done? We are ruined. It is the height of folly to attempt to resist any longer, for our arms are in bad order; here are no less than three useless muskets.”
I would observe to you that we had not less than eighteen muskets in the house, besides two blunderbusses and several pistols.
My wife replied to him with her usual composure, “We are in the hands of the Almighty, and nothing can happen to us without his permission. I trust he will not suffer us to fall into the hands of these wicked men; but we must not lose our courage; rather let us try if we cannot mend anything that is out of repair.”
She then came to me, and begged I would leave my post, and do away and go into the parlor, to encourage the men, with the alarm engendered by the fears this faint-hearted gentleman had expressed. I went immediately, and upon examining the useless muskets, I found that one of them 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 when I showed him how promptly the muskets were put in order, and there were no more complaints on that score. My wife was perfectly fearless. I wanted a needle to broach the muskets, which she went to fetch for me from a place where the balls were coming in at the window like hail, and she did not think of stooping to avoid them until I called out to her to do so.
The children were naturally very much frightened by the noise made, when the roof was struck, and slates were shivered by the balls, which she observed, and she said to them, “Take courage, my children, do not forget that we are in the hands of God. It is not our fear that will give us safety, on the contrary, God will bless our courage. If you are not able to fire upon the enemy yourselves, you can at least load the muskets for your father, and for others who are older and stronger than you are. Drive away fear from your hearts as much as possible, and leave the care of your persons to God.”
This address to the children was of much use to the older persons who were present; it appeared to inspire them with fresh confidence and courage. Ere long, however, we had a serious cause for anxiety; our powder was becoming so scarce, that we felt as if we ought to begin to use it more sparingly. We were in a state of great perplexity. If we did not continue the same fire, we thought the enemy would perceive the difference, and attack us with fresh vigor; and if we went on at the rate we had hitherto done, we should not have more than enough to last three hours. The whole stock, at the outset, was but twelve pounds. “Great God! It was then, in our moment of need, that thou didst discourage our enemies, and make them to turn their backs upon us in flight.”
Claude Bonnet, a French soldier, discovered that one of them was running away, so he went forward to fire upon him, and at that very 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 we were not invulnerable, and that if we had been spared, it was to God that we owed our preservation, and to Him we ought to return thanks.
My dear wife was the surgeon; she had him laid upon a bed without any noise, and applied the first dressing to his wound with her own hands. The engagement lasted from eight o’clock in the morning till four in the afternoon, and during the whole time there had never been the least cessation in the firing, except for a very few minutes after the first man was killed. We had no one wounded but Claude Bonnet, with the exception of a slight hurt one of the children received from a piece of slate striking against his thumb. The loss sustained by the enemy was three killed and seven wounded, as we afterwards ascertained from the Irishmen who were on board. When the assailants had returned to their vessel, we inspected the stations they had occupied on shore, and we found a quantity of blood which they had evidently tried to hide by treading earth and leaves into it.
The privateer remained at anchor for some time, and we feared they might be preparing for a second attack, for which we were in very poor condition, being so near the end of our powder. We determined, however, that if they should land again, we would not waste the little powder we had left, but only firewhen we could take aim. While we were waiting the development of their plans, we all took some nourishment, which we stood in much need of after our fatigue.
When we returned from the rock, first thing in the morning, I had given to each man one large glass of Sherry, and after that, during the whole action, I did not permit any one to taste a single drop of wine, spirit, or strong beer. In a short time we had the satisfaction of seeing the vessel draw up her anchor, and sail away; and we then returned most hearty thanks to God for our glorious deliverance.
I wrote immediately to Lord Cox, then Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and to the Duke of Ormond, the Lord Lieutenant. I gave them a full account of the whole affair. Before I mention the opening paragraph of my letter to the Duke, I should name, that about nine months previous to the attack, he had made a tour through a great part of Ireland, in company. When they were at Kinsale, Mr. Davis, one the Chancellor of my landlords, and I, went there to pay our respects to them. Before the interview, it had been agreed between Mr. Davis, the Chancellor, and myself, that if there should be any opening for it, I should contrive to say something in favor of erecting a fort in our neighborhood, and they would support me in it; for they were fully as anxious to have one as I was.
The Chancellor introduced us both to the Duke as Justices of the Peace,who did our duty. His Grace conversed with Mr. Davis for a few minutes; but when he found that I was a a French Refugee, he addressed himself more particularly to me, and he carried on the conversation in the French language. He asked me how long I had resided in this barbarous part of the country, what flock I had, &c., to all which I replied. He then inquired about the produce of the country, and how we managed to transact our business in this quarter. I told him what a fine harbor we had, and mentioned its particular advantages, and thinking the opportunity a good one for introducing the subject, I mentioned the danger to which we were exposed from the iniquitous practices of French privateers. I then said, “If the Government could only be induced to build a fort there for our protection, I am sure it would become a favorite place for the settlement of French Refugees; and I have no doubt it would also prove a safe guard to the commerce of the whole kingdom .”
According to our previous arrangement, the other gentlemen were ready to support what I had recommended with various arguments; but the Duke rather wittily cut short our discourse by saying: “Pray to God for us, and we will take care to defend you in return.”
This reply was so much to the purpose, that we were silenced; we had not another word to say. I felt a little confused, and the tittering of some of the Duke’s friends was annoying.
God having now given us this remarkable deliverance, I thought the time had arrived when I should be justified in reproaching his Grace with breach of promise. 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 the request you then made; 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 assistance I have had to defend myself from the attack of a French corsair, who,” &c., &c. I then went on to give him the particulars of the engagement, and of our glorious victory.
I inclosed this letter, unsealed, to my cousin, Arnauld, in London, and I begged him, after he had read it, to seal and deliver it. He had some hesitation about the expediency of delivering it; he thought it was too bold. Nevertheless, he complied with my request, sealed it, and then went with it to the door of the Duke’s hotel, and gave it to the first servant he saw, without waiting for any answer, or even ascertaining that it had reached its destination.
The good and generous Duke was delighted, seeing that the boldness of it was justified by the defence we had made. He inquired 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, as well as with my manner of relating it to him; and that, if it should ever be in his power to serve me, I might be assured he would take great pleasure in doing so.
In the mean time my name, and that of my wife also, became known throughout Europe, by means of the newspapers giving the history of our defence. I received a letter from Government, dated 10th June, 1704, complimenting me on my conduct, congratulating me on the happy result of the conflict, and adding, they would take care I should be better provided for defence in case of another attack. A warrant was inclosed in the letter, directing the keeper of the magazine at Kinsale to deliver to me one barrel of gunpowder and two barrels of musket-balls. I had not asked any such supply.
The four Irishmen who had acted as guides to the French were very much alarmed; they feared that if I discovered them I should hand them over to justice; so they prudently determined to be beforehand, and they came voluntarily before me, and made oath that the French had taken them by mainforce. They furnished us with the information I have given already of the extent of the loss sustained by the French. They told us that the lieutenant, whom we had slain, was a near relation of the Captain, who was so furious at his death, that he swore 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 answer 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 the creek.
My Irish neighbors were much chagrined at the unexpected issue of the attack, which they had felt certain was to rid the country of me for ever. They were more and more annoyed as they saw the progress of my preparations for future defence. They tried to alarm me; they said to me that perhaps I was not aware there was an Act of Parliament which forbade any person to erect a fortification, or mount guns without the special permission of Government. I replied to them that I knew all about the Act of Parliament quite as well as they did, but I had no fear of disturbance in my work, after the decided evidences I had received of the other friendship and esteem of the Government. “Were it wise,” said I, “I would much rather fall into the hands of an English jury than those of French pirates.”
I made an application to the Government for ammunition when I had completed my fort. I was promptly furnished with five hundred cannon balls, four barrels of gunpowder, and the greatest abundance of matches. I required no stronger proof of approbation.
By the month of November I had completed everything, and finding that the Lord Lieutenant had returned to Dublin, I thought it would be right that I should go and wait upon him, and present a full report of what I had done. During my residence at Bear Haven, I had from time to time been able to render material assistance to merchant vessels, and more than once to ships of war, in distress. I took with me certificates of these facts.
Upon my arrival in Dublin I was received by the Council with the utmost kindness. They voted the sum of £50 to me at once, as a temporary assistance until something better could be done for me, and they recommended me most strongly to claim a pension for my services, and they themselves brought my case officially before the Lord Lieutenant. After a while he issued an order to the Secretary of State for Ireland, to give me a letter addressed to the Secretary of Lord Godolphin, then Lord High Treasurer of England.
I went to England with my documents in the month of April, 1705, and while I was still in London, urging my claims, the Duke of Ormond, the Lord Lieutenant, came there, and was of essential service to me in gaining my pension. He treated me at all times with every possible kindness.
This warrant for my pension was presented to me on the 17th October, 1705, and here follows a copy of the document.
To our right trusty, and right entirely beloved Cousin and Councillor, 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 Councillor, 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 are port made by you upon said petition, wherein you testify 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 favor 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, authorize 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 expenses 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’s, 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. Woodeson, Dep.”
My inventive genius had now entirely forsaken me, but the providence of God had not. The same God who at first called light out of darkness, had now shown his power in frustrating the designs of our enemies, and turning to our honor and advantage the very enterprise by which they had hoped and expected to seal our ruin. If it had not been for their cruel attack, we should never have become known to persons who have proved most kind friends to us. Let us never forget that we are indebted to our Heavenly Father for inclining towards us the heart of a kind and charitable earthly sovereign. The signal failure of our adversaries’ schemes reminded me of the enigma of Samson in the Bible; “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”
I must not omit to mention the kindness and hospitality of my cousin, John Arnauld. I was his guest during the whole time I was in London, and he not only declined accepting any compensation for my board, but he lent me nearly £30 to further my views in applying for a pension, and at a time, too, when he saw little chance of my ever being in a situation to repay him. Thanks be to God, I have since that time so far prospered in my school as to be able to return him this money.
During my absence from home, privateers had been occasionally seen hovering about the mouth of the harbor. One of them had approached the house, and appeared to be taking the same course that had been followed by the vessel that attacked us. My wife was on the alert, she had all the cannons loaded, and one of them fired off, to show that all was in readiness for defence, and when they saw this, they veered about, landed on Great Island, stole some cattle, and sailed away.
After my return we had occasional alarms. Vessels would approach now and then and seem to threaten a descent; but it ended in nothing but giving us a little fright, and making us brush up our arms, for when they saw that we were in a state of preparation they went off, contented with stealing whatever they could lay their hands upon.
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).