Attacked by a second Privateer — Outhouses fired — Breach in the wall — Wounded — Surrender — Carried away as a prisoner — Expostulate with captain — Ransomed — Peter left as a hostage — His deportment
With a constant apprehension of attack before us we lived on the “qui vive,” from the 1st. June 1704 until the 8th. October 1708, when with all our precautions we were actually taken by surprise.
A French Privateer entered the harbour during the night and anchored off Bear Haven, about five miles from our house, and entirely out of sight. At that time a company of soldiers was quartered among the Irish in the Half Barony, and the Captain who commanded them lodged and boarded at my house, but unluckily both he and the Lieutenant happened then to be absent at Bantry, and the Ensign was left in command of the company. He was an imprudent, inexperienced young man, entirely destitute of judgment.
The Privateer hoisted English colors by way of deception, and she succeeded to her wish, for the Ensign no sooner discovered her, than, concluding she was a vessel just arrived from America, he went down with two or three soldiers of his company, in great haste to be the first on board her, in order to regale himself with rum punch, a beverage of which he was unhappily much too fond. He was a prisoner from the instant he set his foot on board the vessel, but the Captain and officers behaved towards him with the greatest civility. He was a little shocked at first, but they made him so welcome, treating him to the best of wine and brandy that he soon lost the remembrance of his situation, and gave the Captain every information he wanted, and it was of a nature to encourage him exceedingly, for he told him that the soldiers were dispersed throughout the country and without any commander, the Captain and Lieutenant both being absent, and that he was sure nothing would be easier than to surprise me, for I had nobody with me but my own family. Upon the strength of this information the Captain had three boats prepared to go ashore, sent eighty men in them, commanded by his two Lieutenants, who were both Irishmen born within the Barony.
A great proportion of the crew were Irishmen, and amongst them was one Sullivan, whose life I had formerly saved, when he was proclaimed as a tory and a robber, and after he fled to France I had compassion on his unhappy wife whom he had left with seven or eight children, and I allowed her to live rent free upon my farm, and fearing the family might perish with hunger, I returned to her a milch cow and ten or twelve sheep, which I had received from Sullivan himself for rent before he went away. And this was the man who came to recompense me by acting as guide to the party; for he knew better than any one else the exact situation of my house and every thing belonging to it.
They quitted the ship at midnight, landed before it was light, and commenced their march about daybreak, in perfect silence and stooping very low, in order that they might be neither seen nor heard. An Irish servant who was fetching home the cows was the first person to discover them, marching in good order, and only, about the distance of a long musket shot from the house. He ran home as fast as he could, and cried out that we were all lost, for a number of armed men were in sight. We got up directly and I ordered every door to be shut; but there was so much bustle and confusion that they forgot to close the gates of the large court in front, and even the house door below the tower was left open; this the enemy perceived, as we afterwards learned, but dared not approach, thinking it was a feint, and that we must have a loaded cannon within, ready to fire upon them. When the men were near enough to hear me I hailed them through a speaking trumpet, and told them if they were friends to stop, and let us know who they were; and if enemies, I called upon them to come forward and we would receive them with vigor.
In the mean time my children were busily engaged loading our arms and putting them in order, and as the men still continued to advance I desired my oldest son to fire from the garret window our large gun whose barrel was six feet in length; this made them lower their heads; they then separated into different parties, and hiding themselves by means of the hedges and ditches contrived to get round to the back of the house. Their first act was to set fire to the malt house which was at the east, then to straw, and grain, and hay stacks which were at the north and east, and at last to the cow house, stable, and long fish press which were at the west of my house. These being of very combustible materials, in less than half an hour we were encompassed with flames on every side but one, and by reason of the fire and smoke between us and them, we were unable to see any of our enemies, and our lungs were dreadfully oppressed by the smoke which found its way in at every crevice.
I ordered the servants to fill all the tubs and buckets that could be found with water, which fortunately for us flowed into the kitchen, and then immerse sheep-skins with the wool upon them, and ox-skins, of which we had many in the house, and when thoroughly soaked to cover the windows with them, as being the most exposed parts of the house; the roof was slated and so there was little danger of the fire being communicated to us in that direction. My dear wife superintended this department.
Our whole garrison consisted of our children, your mother and myself, and four servants, two of the latter were mere cow boys, and the other two had never seen a battle. We fired haphazard as fast as we could load; I say so, because we could actually see nothing but fire and smoke. My great apprehension was that they might seize our cannon, and turn them against ourselves, and therefore I thought the best thing I could do was to fire my large blunderbuss every few minutes in the direction of the cannon; and once after I had fired I thought I discovered that they had been making an attempt, for there was much noise and confusion, and it was evident they were carrying away a wounded man. I could hear them very distinctly, but I saw nothing; however I continued from time to time to fire in the same direction.
After a while we perceived that the door of which I have already spoken was open, and I sent some one to shut it, and continued firing at random.
I caught a glimpse of one of the enemy setting fire to the covering of the fish press, and took deliberate aim at him with my blunderbuss loaded as usual with swan shot, and wounded him in several places but not seriously.
While the stacks of grain were burning and we were being suffocated with the smoke, our adverseries raised a little mound of turf and wood, and intrenched themselves behind it, and they set to work with long poles to detach the slates from the roof of the north-east tower. As soon as they had uncovered a portion, they attached burning straw to the end of their poles, and in that way set the roof on fire three several times, and we as often extinguished it from within.
About two o’clock in the afternoon, they succeeded in making a breach in the wall of this same north-east tower, and as we could see them at work with iron bars, my children took one of those large baskets used in the country for peat to the corner opposite the hole that was made, put a mattress on the top of the basket, and kneeling behind this rampart they fired one after the other as fast as they possibly could; they were hard at work all the time but did not dare to show their noses. The enemy did not relax at all in their efforts to fire the roof with long poles armed with fire brands, and at last, the smoke subsiding a little, I hit upon a position from which I could see to take aim at their hands as they raised them above the intrenchment to guide the poles, and I fired, apparently with some success. Seeing however that they still persevered I began to think it probable that I had not put a sufficient charge in my piece, and when I loaded it again I determined to use a double quantity of powder. I had no sooner put in the charge, than I had an opportunity of trying it, for I saw a hand raised, and I fired. The piece being overcharged, burst, and I was thrown down with great violence, three of my ribs and my right collar-bone were broken, and the flesh of my right hand was very much torn. I was so completely stunned that I had no power to move or even to breathe for some seconds. My wife saw the fall and supposed I had received a ball from the enemy, she ran to my assistance, and raised me up without making the slightest noise. As soon as I was able to speak I explained to her that I was wounded by the bursting of my own piece. I was now completely “hors de combat,” but I had already done my part, for during the course of the morning I had fired five pounds of swan shot from my now disabled piece. While I was prostrated, my dearest wife had an eye to every thing, she went round to furnish ammunition and to give courage to all, as well by her exhortations as by her example.
In the mean time, the enemy had enlarged the breach until it was from four to five feet square; nevertheless, they derived no advantage from it, my sons kept up such an incessant fire from behind their mattress rampart. At last, a grenade was thrown it at the breach which ran under the basket, exploded, and overturned the whole affair, without (thanks be to God) doing any harm except giving my sons a fright which made them abandon their post for a very short time. One of them ran to me, in great dismay, to tell me that the hole was as large as any door, and that the enemy were entering by it; the other boys were still firing from the dormer windows.
I immediately rose from the bed, asked for a pistol ready loaded and cocked, which I took in my left hand, the right being useless. I called my children together, and said to them, “I see, my dear children, that we must inevitably fall a sacrifice to the number of our enemies, but do not let them kill us like dogs, rather let us sell our lives dearly and die like lions;” and while I was speaking I continued advancing towards the room into which the breach was made.
A melancholy sight it was, but at the same time a gratifying one, to behold these poor boys, as soon as I had done speaking, re-enter the room and take their old position without a word or a gesture indicative of fear; they replaced their basket and mattress exposed to the fire of more than ten muskets. Blessed be thou oh God! who preserved them untouched amid such a shower of balls.
When they began to fire, the enemy retreated from the breach, and dared not raise their heads again, or even so much as their hands, and thus their fire was all thrown away; for by not raising the butt ends of their muskets, they carried too high and went far above us every time. Seeing that we did not give way in the least, they began to tire of our obstinate resistance. It was possible they might have overheard my address to the children, added to which, they were under the impression that we had at least twenty men from the constant fire that was kept up in every direction, as well as upon the main point of attack. They called out to us to surrender and we should have good quarter.
I held a consultation with my wife and children, and we determined at any rate to listen to their proposal. We ceased firing, they did the same, and I advanced to the breach to hold a parley with them. One of the Irish Lieutenants came forward and took aim at me, my second son Peter saw him before I did and immediately caught hold of me and drew me aside, barely in time to save me from this treachery, for the ball passed within three inches of my stomach.
I was extremely indignant and cried out, “Ah ! Traitors! was it then to surprise me that you called me to parley with you? Fire upon these traitors my sons, fire;” which the poor boys did without loss of time and with all their hearts.
I had foolishly exposed myself to imminent danger, by placing confidence in the good faith of an enemy whom I might have been sure was altogether destitute of such a virtue, but a watchful and kind providence interposed for my deliverance.
We kept up an incessant fire for another quarter of an hour, and then they called to us again, and made a second offer of good quarter. I reproached them with their recent perfidy, and told them I could not trust people who had already attempted to betray the confidence I had reposed in them. They then made a threat that if we did not surrender they would throw a barrel of powder in the breach and blow us up.
“I have three or four at your service,” said I, “and I intend to scatter their contents over this door and the inner hall, and whenever you are pleased to approach, I will throw a lighted turf upon it and make you dance. You may depend upon one thing that I will not perish without you.”
This desperate reply induced them to offer good quarter once more.
I said, “I do not know what you mean by good quarter, but this I know that I am resolved not to surrender unconditionally, I would rather perish with all my family than do so.”
They then left off firing and called to me to order my people to do likewise, so we had a cessation of hostilities on both sides. Their proposition was that they should be allowed to plunder, to which I consented, for with our lives we must of course lose our goods. I demanded life and liberty for myself and all who were with me; but as they spoke English, I said, “I do not choose to have any thing to do with English or Irishmen in making the treaty. I look upon myself as a British subject, and as such I will only treat with the French who are at war with England, and I request the French Commander will put his head to the breach, and I assure him that he may do so with perfect safety, for we have no traitors in our ranks.”
Then came forward one of those rascally Irish Lieutenants, Carty, alias La Touche, who was commander of the party and could speak French as well as I could. I told him that as an Irishman I placed no reliance upon him, and that I would treat with him only as the authorised agent of the French Captain. I repeated to him in French the terms of capitulation. Life and liberty guaranteed to all of us, and strictly honorable deportment on their part while in possession, and they were to have the plunder.
They swore to the observance of this as French men and men of honor. After which, I said, “I am now going to open the door for your admittance, and I warn you beforehand that I will allow no one to enter by any other way, and should you attempt to come in by the breach I shall shoot you directly.”
This was agreed to also, and I had the doors opened and ranged myself, my wife, my sons, and four servants in regular order to surrender our arms to the commander as he entered.
“Thou knowest, Oh God! our preserver! and none else can know, what was the state of my feelings at that moment, to see my beloved wife and dear children at the mercy of enemies, fourteen of whom we had wounded. Oh! what everlasting praises do we owe to thee for our preservation. It was thou who restrained these bloodthirsty wretches from executing the vengeance they had sworn against us. Oh God! I beseech thee to sanctify the lives which thou hast so miraculously preserved, and assist us to devote them to thy service.”
When the commander and a good many of his men had entered, they looked anxiously around seeing only five youths and four cow-herds, and asked me where all my people were, evidently suspecting that I had laid an ambush.
“You need not fear any thing dishonorable from me,” I said, “you see all our garrison.”
“Impossible ! “ said he, ‘‘these children could not possibly have kept up all the firing.”
My wife then spoke, and said “I am in hopes, Sir, that the fact of so few persons having made so gallant a defence will be an inducement to you, whom I trust we shall find a man of honor, to treat us with the more consideration. Are you,” added she, “the commander of this party?”
“I am, Madam,” said he.
She then handed him her keys, and intreated him to restrain his followers within strict bounds, which he promised to do. I told him, that I had forgotten to stipulate for my books, but that as they would be altogether useless to them, I hoped he would grant me the indulgence of retaining them in my own possession. He promised that they should be spared, and for a time he kept a guard at my study door, but soon after they entered it and plundered there as elsewhere, taking all the handsomest books, and leaving behind a few that looked old and were badly bound. The house was very completely furnished, and as we had never thought of a surrender until it actually took place, we had not had time or opportunity to secrete anything. We were stripped of every article both of furniture and clothing even to our coats, for in the heat of action we had taken them off to have more freedom in the use of our arms.
They not only filled their own three boats with the booty, but they took three of mine and loaded them also. When they were ready to depart they took me and my two oldest boys and two of the servants with them as prisoners. It was all in vain for me to remind them that it was an infraction of the treaty they had made with me previous to our surrender. Their reply was, that my name had made so much noise amongst the Privateers at St. Maloes that they dared not return to the vessel without me, the Captain’s order to-them was peremptory, not to come back unless they had me with them dead or alive. They promised me faithfully, however, that as soon as the Captain had seen me, I should be set at liberty. My remonstrances were of no avail, go I must, and by the time I reached the vessel I had become so entirely powerless from the effect of my wounds and fractures, that they were obliged to hoist me like a log; I could not assist myself the least in the world.
As soon as the crew saw me alongside, they all shouted “Vive le Roi,” and repeated it three times in grand chorus.
This roused me from my pain and depression; and when they ceased shouting, I raised my voice to its highest pitch, and said, “Gentlemen, how long it is since victories have been so rare in France, that you are glad to avail yourselves of such an occasion as the present to sing in triumph? I am ashamed, positively ashamed, of my native country, to hear rejoicings over such a victory. A glorious achievement truly! Eighty men all accustomed to warfare have actually been so successful as to compel one poor Minister, four cow-herds, and five children to surrender upon terms. And, furthermore, Gentlemen I would have you to know, that though I do appear before you as a prisoner, it is in direct violation of the treaty made with your commanding officer, and sworn to by him previous to our surrender. He cannot deny that he has broken his faith, and committed a flagrant offence against the established Law of Nations.”
I was then carried to the Captain’s Cabin, and I renewed my complaint, telling him of the treaty which his authorised agent had made with me, and I added, “Sir, I assure you that if I had had the least idea of being carried off as a prisoner, so far from surrendering, I would have resisted as long as I had breath in my body. I trust, under the circumstances, you will see the justice of restoring me to liberty immediately.”
He answered me with much courtesy of manner, and said, “I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have on board my vessel a man of such undaunted courage, and whose name has made so much noise.”
“You may indeed, Sir,” said I, “find to your cost that my name is pretty well known in England and Ireland. I have received so many marks of friendship from the Lords in Council at the Irish seat of government, that I feel certain as soon as they are aware of my situation, and especially of the fact that my being made a prisoner at all was contrary to a sworn treaty, they will send instructions to Kinsale to retaliate upon the French prisoners there, which may probably bring you into a little trouble.”
“What!” said he, “do you dare to make use of threats?”
“No, no, I only give you fair warning of what will most assuredly come to pass. This unjustifiable conduct of yours will be the occasion of many an honest man suffering hardships, to which the mere circumstance of his being a captive would not subject him; probably friends of your own may be among the number; and nobody will give you any thanks for what you are doing.”
“Never mind,” said he, “let us drink a glass of wine together now, and discuss these matters in the morning. “
“I want no wine,” said I, “ but I stand in great need of repose, and of having my wounds dressed.”
The surgeon was thereupon summoned, and he applied some linen dipped in brandy. Notwithstanding the number of good beds they had just brought from my house, it was with great difficulty that I could obtain a very poor one to lie down upon, and a coarse sheet and coverlid to throw over me. I was placed between decks with the bed resting upon some cordage. This was Saturday night, 8th October, 1708.
Our noble Ensign, who ought to have protected us, was still on board, as drunk as a hog; he was in excellent spirits, and on the best of terms with the Captain and crew, to whom he was infinitely grateful for indulging him in his vicious propensity. The next day being Sunday, he was sent ashore early in the morning without having received the least injury, or being deprived of any thing whatsoever. My two sons and the servants were sent away at the same time, and I alone detained. When the boat returned from landing them the Captain gave orders to raise the anchor.
My wife did not sit down quietly to bemoan and lament over her misfortunes, as many would have done in her situation, but was in action at once to endeavour to remedy them. She went early in the morning to the place where the Papists said Mass to see the Priest, and persuade him if possible to go after the vessel, and use his influence to obtain my liberty. He positively refused. She dwelt upon the many obligations that I had from time to time laid his people under, and the numbers of them I had saved from the gallows; but it was all in vain. Finding persuasion useless, she changed her tone and had recourse to threats, pointing out to him that he would inevitably expose himself to the resentment of those in power, if he persisted in refusing to assist a man who was so much and so deservedly esteemed by the Lord Lieutenant, and the Council. She succeeded no better than before, and seeing the vessel under sail, she determined to follow it by land as long as she could.
The weather was clear, calm and mild. Our Captain proceeded to the Island of Durzey and found my wife waiting upon the promontory till the vessel got opposite to it. She made a signal with her apron tied to the end of a stick, and a boat was despatched to hear what she had to say. She had taken the precaution of borrowing a speaking trumpet, and thus she was able to carry on conversation, from the cliff on which she was standing, with those who were below in the boat. After a great deal of bargaining, and many difficulties raised, they at last agreed to set me at liberty upon the payment of £100 sterling. All this time I was stretched on my pallet between decks, and was in total ignorance of what was going forward.
The privateer remained off the Island of Durzey waiting for my wife’s return with the money, and she was gone to try to borrow it. She was unable to procure more than £30, and the greater part of this sum I had paid to Boyd for rent only five days before we were attacked. Unable to raise more she came back to the vessel accompanied by our second son Peter, several of our tenants, and our friend Mr. Hutchins of Bear Haven.
The Captain agreed to give me up on condition of his having the £30 she had brought with her, and retaining one of my sons as a hostage for the payment of the remaining £70. He paid her many compliments upon the courage she had displayed, and told her he looked upon her as a second Judith.
She replied, “I should have felt more honored if you had compared me to Deborah; but I am far from being surprised that you should not be well versed in books that you are prohibited from reading.”
My deliverance was accomplished, but it was upon hard terms, and I felt melancholy indeed at leaving my poor dear boy in my stead.
When we came away, that traitor, Sullivan, of whom I have already spoken, took me upon his shoulders, and climbed with me up the rocks. He had waited upon me the whole time I was on board the privateer, for I was literally as helpless as an infant. I reproached him with his treachery. “How could you find in your heart, after all that I had done for you and yours, to act the part of guide to my enemies?”
He tacitly acknowledged his ingratitude, for he replied, “I have not a word to say in excuse for my conduct.”
It was late on Monday night, almost Tuesday morning, when I was ransomed by the exertions of my wife and the tenderness of my sons; I say sons, because, though only one was left, they were all equally anxious to have taken my place. James could not be spared, he was old enough to look after the farm and take care of the few cattle remaining to us. Peter, being next in age, would not hear of any one but himself being selected.
On the night of Tuesday, the eleventh day of October, I slept at Bear Haven at the house of Mr. Hutchins, and the next day I went in a boat to Bantry, in order to have the requisite surgical assistance, and in going there we passed near enough to have a view of our now desolate mansion.
My wife waited to see me comfortably settled under the care of a skilful French surgeon, and she then went to Cork to endeavour to raise the £70 for the payment of which Peter was retained as a hostage. The Bishop lent her twenty guineas, and she could easily have borrowed the remainder from other friends, but the merchants of Cork, upon bearing the particulars of the affair, set their faces against any payment being made, and assured her that our son would soon be liberated without it, and their reasoning seemed to her so sound that she returned the Bishop what he had kindly lent to her, and declined borrowing any more. She also contrived to have a letter sent privately to Peter, exhorting him to keep up his courage, and have patience, and that she had no doubt he would soon be set at liberty without ransom, but advised him to appear ignorant of it.
The privateer hovered about the Island of Durzey for a long time, waiting for the money. Peter conducted himself remarkably well on board the ship, and evinced much more both of prudence and courage than might have been expected from so young a lad. The steadiness of his deportment attracted the attention of the Captain, and he placed so much confidence in him as to give into his charge the key of the liquors, and this caused the whole crew to pay court to him.
While he was in the privateer she was one day chased by a British man of war; it was proposed to him to hide himself in the hold, which he declined; a musket was then offered to him that he might assist in the defence, but he said, “No, I would rather fight for the English than against them, for I regard them as my friends and countrymen.”
The English vessel was inferior in point of sailing and thus they escaped from her.
The Captain had a son with him about Peter’s age, a vain, disagreeable boy, much disliked by the officers of the ship; he came to Peter one day, being intoxicated at the time, and with a drawn sword in his hand threatened to kill him. Peter seized a sword to defend himself, and succeeded in disarming the drunken boy, and lowering his importance, much to the satisfaction of the bystanders.
When they reached St. Maloes, the Governor of Brest condemned the Captain very much for his misconduct in bringing a hostage away with him, in direct contravention of the Law of Nations, and he would not suffer Peter to be landed and placed with the other prisoners.
The poor Captain was sadly perplexed, and nothing would have pleased him so much as Peter running away, and thus getting him out of his dilemma, and he had it hinted to him that he was a great fool not to make his escape; but after the letter he had received from his mother, he very properly considered that it would be an act of great folly to leave the vessel in a foreign country, when he had every reason to expect that he would be taken home again. After remaining a while at St. Maloes, the vessel went out on another cruise, Peter still in her.
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).