Attacked by a second Privateer — Outhouses fired — Breach in the wall — Wounded — Surrender — Carried off to the vessel — Expostulation with captain — Ransom — Peter left as a hostage.
With a constant apprehension of attack before us, we lived on the “qui vive” from the first day of June, 1704, until the eighth day of October, 1708, when, with all our precautions, we were actually taken by surprise.
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 unfortunately, both he and the Lieutenant happened to be absent at that time, they had gone to Bantry, and the Ensign was left in command of the company. He was an imprudent inexperienced youth, without any sort of judgment.
A French privateer entered the harbor during the night, and anchored off Bear Haven, about five miles from my house, and entirely out of our sight. She 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 to board her, in order to regale himself with rum punch, a beverage of which he was unhappily much too fond. He was made a prisoner the instant his foot touched the deck of the vessel, but the Captain and the officers behaved towards him with the greatest civility. He was a little shocked at first, but they made him so very welcome, treating him to the best of wine and brandy, that he soon lost the remembrance of his situation, and gave the Captain all the information he wanted, and it was of a nature to encourage him to proceed. He told him that the soldiers were dispersed throughout the Barony, without any commander, for the Captain and Lieutenant were both absent, as well as himself, and that he was sure it would be very easy to surprise my house, for I had no one near enough to help me but my own family. Upon the strength of this information, the Captain had the boats prepared for going ashore. He sent eighty men in three boats, commanded by two Lieutenants, who were both Irishmen, natives of the Barony.
A great portion of the crew were Irishmen, and amongst them was a man named Sullivan, whose life I had formerly been the means of saving, when he was proclaimed as a tory and a robber. He fled to France, and I had so much compassionate feeling for his wife, whom he had left behind with seven or eight children to maintain, that I allowed her to live rent-free on my farm, and fearing the family might perish with hunger, I returned to her a milch cow and ten or twelve sheep, which Sullivan had made over to me for rent due before he went away. This was the man who came to reward me for my kindness to him and his, by acting as a guide to the party. No one knew better than he 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 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 confusion that the gates of the large court in front, and even the house door below the tower were forgotten and left open for some time. This was perceived by the enemy as we afterwards learned, but it was supposed to have been done on purpose as a feint, and that we must have a loaded cannon within ready to fire if any one approached. 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, 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. The men continued to advance; so I ordered my son James to fire upon them from a garret window with our largest gun, which was six feet long. This made them lower their heads; they then separated into six detachments and took various posts, and some of them, under cover of hedges and ditches, contrived to get round to the back of the house. They had determined to root us out this time, for their first act was to set fire to the malt-house, which was towards the east, then to the stacks of hay, straw and grain which were at the north and east, and after that to the cow-house, stable, and long fish-press which were at the west of my house. These were all very combustible, and 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 them and us we were unable to see our enemies, and we suffered much from the smoke, which found its way to us through every crevice.
I ordered the servants to put water in every tub and bucket that could be found, and then immerse sheep-skins with wool upon them, and ox-skins, of both which we had many in the house. When these were thoroughly saturated I had them placed in the windows, as being the most exposed parts of the house. My dear wife superintended these arrangements. The roof was slated, so there appeared but little danger of fire being communicated to us through that channel.
The whole garrison consisted of my wife and myself, our children and four servants; two of the latter were mere cowboys, and the other two had never seen a battle. We fired haphazard, as fast as we could load; we did so, because we could actually see nothing but fire and smoke, and therefore could not aim at our enemies. My chief apprehension arose from the fear that they might possess themselves of our cannon and turn them against ourselves, and therefore I thought that while unable to see what our assailants were doing, I could not employ myself better than in firing my large blunderbuss every few minutes in the direction of the cannon. Once after I had fired, I thought I discovered that they had been making the attempt, for there was much noise and confusion, and it was evident they were carrying off a wounded man. I could hear them very distinctly, but I could see nothing; I was encouraged, however, by what I heard, to fire from time to time in the same direction.
It was not until all that I have related had been done, that I became aware of the doors being open of which I have already spoken, and I sent some one to shut them.
While I was firing at random, I had a glimpse of a man setting fire to the covering of the fish-press; I took deliberate aim at him with my blunderbuss, loaded as usual with swanslot, and wounded him in several places, but not seriously. While we were blinded and suffocated by the smoke from the burning stacks, our adversaries raised a small mound of turf and wood, behind which they intrenched themselves, and set to work with long poles to detach the slates from the roof of the north-east tower. As soon as they uncovered a portion, they applied fire to it, by means of burning straw at the end of their poles, and in this way the roof was on fire three times, and we as often extinguished it from within. About two o’clock in the afternoon, they accomplished making a breach in the wall of this same north-east tower. We could see them at work with iron bars, and while they were so engaged my children fired upon them; they formed a sort of rampart with a mattress on the top of a large basket, such as is used in the country for carrying peat. They knelt behind this rampart, and fired as fast as they could one after the other, without daring to show their noses.
The enemy still continued at work with their long poles and firebrands endeavoring to set the roof on fire. When the smoke had subsided a little, I hit upon a position from which I could see to take aim at their hands, as they raised them above their intrenchment to guide the poles. I fired, and I thought I hit them, but as they still persevered in their work, I began to think it probable that I had not put a sufficient charge in the piece, so when I loaded again I put in a double quantity of powder. I had no sooner loaded than I had the opportunity of aiming at a hand I saw raised; I fired, but my piece was overloaded, and it burst, by which unfortunate accident I was thrown down with much violence, three of my ribs and my right collar-bone were broken, and the flesh of my right hand was much torn. I was so completely stunned that I had no power to move, or even to breathe for some seconds. My wife saw me fall, and she naturally concluded I had been struck by a ball from the enemy. She ran to my assistance, and raised me up without making any noise whatever. As soon as I was able to articulate, I told her how it had happened. I was now completely “hors de com bat,” but I had already done much work, for I had fired five pounds of swan shot from my now disabled piece, during the morning. After I was prostrated, my dearest wife assumed the command; she had an eye to everything; she went round to furnish ammunition as it was required, and she gave courage as well by her exhortations as by her example.
In the mean time the enemy had been engaged upon the breach, which they had increased to four or five feet square: nevertheless, they derived no benefit from it; my sons defended it by an incessant fire from behind their mattress rampart. At last, a grenade was thrown in at the breach, which ran under the basket, and overturned the whole affair, but without doing any harm, thanks be to God, except giving the boys a fright which made them abandon their post; but only 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 dormar windows.
I immediately rose from my bed, and asked them to give me a pistol ready cocked and loaded, which I took in my left hand, the right being useless. I called my family around me, and I said to them,“I see, my dear children, that we must be overpowered by the great number of those who are attacking us; it is inevitable; but we will not stand quietly to be killed like dogs; let us rather sell our lives dearly, and die “like lions.” I was advancing towards the breach while I said these words.
As soon as I had done speaking, my poor boys re-entered the room, and took uр 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. It was, indeed, a melancholy sight! but, at the same time, I was gratified with their display of unflinching courage. Blessed be thou, O my God! who preserved them from injury amid such a shower of balls.
When they resumed the fire, the enemy retreated from the breach, and did not dare to show their heads, or even their hands, which caused all their fire to be thrown away; for, by not raising the butt-end of their muskets, they carried too high, and the shot went far above us every time. Seeing that we did not give way in the least, they began to tire of our obstinate resistance. They might possibly have heard me speak to the children, and it is very certain they overrated our force extremely; for, from the constant fire in all directions, as well as upon the main point of attack, they concluded that we must have at least twenty men. They called out to us to surrender, and they would give us good quarter.
I held a conversation with my wife and children, and we determined, at any rate, to hear what terms they offered. The firing was stopped on both sides, and I advanced to the breach to hold a parley with them. One of the Irish lieutenants came forward and took aim second at me; my son, Peter, saw what he was about, before I observed him, and he immediately caught hold of me and drew me one side, barely in time to save me from being the victim of their treachery, for the ball passed within two or three inches my stomach.
I was extremely indignant, and said, “Ah! You traitors! was it then merely with the view of surprising me, that you proposed a parley? Fire upon these traitors, my sons; fire, I say.” The boys obeyed me without loss of time, and fired upon the deceitful miscreants.
I had foolishly exposed myself to a very great danger, by placing confidence in the good faith of an enemy whom I might have known was destitute of all honorable feeling. The ever watchful providence of God again interposed for my deliverance.
We kept up an incessant fire for another quarter of an hour, when the enemy called out 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 persons who had already attempted to betray the confidence I had reposed in them.
They then threatened that, if we refused to surrender, they would throw a barrel of powder in the breach, and blow a us all up.
“I have three or four at your service here,” said I, “and I intend to scatter their contents over this floor and the inner hall, and whenever you are pleased to enter, I will throw a lighted turf up on it, and make you dance. You may depend upon it, I will not perish without you.”
The desperate tone of this reply made them repeat once more their offer of good quarter.
I said, “I do not know what you mean by gond quarter; but this I know, I am resolved not to surrender unconditionally. I would rather perish with my whole family.”
They left off firing, and begged I would order my people to do the same, that we might speak about terms; so we had a cessation of hostilities on both sides. Their proposition was, that they should have the plunder, to which I assented; for, with our lives, we should most certainly have lost our goods. I demanded life and liberty for myself and all who were with me. They spoke to me in English; and I said I would have nothing to do with Englishmen or Irishmen in making the treaty.
“I consider myself 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 to come forward, and put so with his head to the breach; I assure him that he may do perfect safety. We have no traitors in our ranks.”
One of the rascally Irish lieutenants then presented himself as the commander of the party. He went by the name of Carty in Ireland, and La Touche in France; he could speak French as well as I could. I told him, that as an Irish man, I had not the slightest reliance upon him, but it was as the authorized agent of the French commander, that I was willing to treat with him. I then repeated to him the terms of capitulation, speaking French all the time. He was to guarantee life and liberty to all of us, and to promise on their part the most strictly honorable deportment while in possession, and they were to have the plunder.
They swore to the observance of these terms as Frenchmen and men of honor. After which I had one thing more to say: “I am now going to open the door for your admittance, and I give you warning beforehand, that I will not suffer any one to enter but through the door. Whoever attempts to come in by the breach, will be shot down directly.”
This was agreed to likewise, and I then had the doors opened, and I ranged myself, my wife, my sons and four servants in regular order, to surrender our arms to the Commander, as he entered.
Oh, God! our Preserver! thou knowest, and none else can know the state of my feelings at that moment, to see my beloved wife and dear children, at the mercy of enemies, four teen of whom we had wounded. Oh! what everlasting praises do we owe to thee for our preservation. It was thou who restrained our blood-thirsty enemies from executing the vengeance which they had sworn against us. Oh, my God! I beseech thee to sanctify the lives which thou hast so miraculously preserved, and assist us to devote them to thy service.
The Commander, and a good many of the men came in, and seeing only five youths, and four cowherds, they looked anxiously around, and asked me where all my men were, evidently fearing an ambuscade.
“You need not fear anything dishonorable from me.” Said I, “you now see our whole garrison.” “Impossible,” said he, “these children could never have kept up all the firing.”
My wife then spoke to him, and said, “I am in hopes, sir, that the fact of so few persons having made this gallant defence, will be an inducement to you —whom I trust we shall find a man of honor to treat us with the more consideration.” She then said, “Are you the Commander of this party?”
“I am, Madam.”
“Wait a moment,” said she,“ and I will give you my keys.” As she handed them to him, she begged he would restrain his followers within the bounds of propriety. He promised to do so.
“In making terms with you, I forgot to name my library,” said I. “I hope that you will not take advantage of my omission, but allow me to retain my books, which are of great value to me, and can be of no use to you or your followers.”
He promised that they should be spared, and he placed a guard at the door of my study; but very soon the men forced their way there, as elsewhere, and took possession of all handsomest books, leaving behind but few, and those the shabbiest in external appearance.
My house was well furnished; and as we had not thought of a surrender until it actually took place, we had not had time or opportunity for secreting anything. We were stripped of everything, furniture, linen, clothing, even to our very coats, which, in the heat of action we had taken off to give more freedom in the movement of our arms.
They filled their own three boats quite full, and then they took three of mine, and filled them also with their booty. When they were ready to return with their rich prize to the vessel, they took me, my sons James and Peter, and two of the servants, prisoners. It was all to no purpose that I reminded the Commander of the terms upon which we had surrendered, and that it was a decided infraction of the treaty which he had sworn to observe. He replied that my name had become so notorious amongst the privateers of St. Malocs, that he dared not return to the vessel without me; the Captain’s order was most peremptory, not to think of coming back to the vessel unless he had me with him, dead or alive. He promised again, in the most faithful manner, that I should not be retained as a prisoner: he said that as soon as the Captain had seen me, I should be set at liberty.
Remonstrances were of no avail; I was obliged to go with them, and by the time I reached the vessel, my wounds and fractured bones had become so painful, that I lost all power of helping myself, and was obliged to be hoisted up like a log.
When the crew first saw me on the deck, they shouted with one accord,“Vive le Roi,” and repeated it three times in grand chorus.
This roused me from my pain and depression: and when their shouting ceased, I raised my voice to its highest pitch, and said, “Gentlemen, how long is it since victories have been so rare in France that you are glad to avail yourselves of such an occasion as this, 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, accustomed to warfare, have actually been so successful as to compel one poor minister, four cowherds, and five children, to surrender upon terms! 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. I told him the agreement which his authorized agent had sworn to, and I added, “Sir, I can 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 had any breath left in my body. I trust, under these circumstances, you will see the justice of restoring me to “liberty immediately.”
He replied to me with much suavity and courtesy of manner,“I cannot tell you how much I am delighted to have you on board my vessel, a man of such undaunted courage, and whose name has made so much noise.”
“You may, perhaps, sir,” said I, “find to your cost, that my name is pretty well known in England and Ireland. I have received so many proofs of friendship from the Lords in Council, at the Irish seat of Government, that I feel certain, as soon as they become aware of my situation, and especially that my being a prisoner at all is contrary to the sworn terms of a treaty, they will send instructions to Kinsale to retaliate upon the French prisoners there, which may probably bring you into trouble.”
“What is it you say? Do you dare to make use of threats to me?”
“No, no,” said I, “I only give you fair warning of that which will most assuredly come to pass. This unjustifiable conduct 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 among the number, and nobody will give you any thanks for what you are doing.”
“Never mind, 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 the assistance of someone to dress my wounds.”
The surgeon was therefore summoned, and he applied some linen dipped in brandy. Notwithstanding the number of good beds they had brought from my house, I had great difficulty in obtaining a very poor one to lie down upon, and a coarse sheet and coverlet to throw over me. I was placed between decks, with the bed resting on some cordage. This was Saturday night, the 8th October, 1708.
Our noble Ensign, who ought to have been our protector from the enemy, was still on board as drunk as a hog. He was in excellent spirits, on the best of terms with the Captain and crew, to whom he was infinitely obliged for having indulged him in his vicious propensity. The next day was Sunday; he was sent ashore early in the morning, without having received the least injury or having been deprived of anything whatever. My two sons and the servants were sent away at the same time, and I alone was detained. As soon as the boat was taken on board after landing them, the Captain gave orders to raise the anchor and make sail.
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 endeavor to find a remedy. She went, early in the morning to the place where the Papists said mass, to see the priest, whom she hoped to persuade to follow the vessel, and use his influence to obtain my discharge. He positively refused. She dwelt upon the many obligations under which I had laid his people from time to time, and reminded him of those whom I had saved from the gallows; but it was all in vain. Finding persuasion useless, she changed her tone and had recourse to threats; she pointed out to him that he would be very likely to bring upon himself the resentment of those in power, if he still 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 by land, and keep it in sight as long as she could.
The weather was clear, calm and mild. The Captain proceeded to the Island of Durzey, and found my wife waiting upon the promontory for the vessel to get opposite of it. She made a signal with her apron tied to the end of a stick, and a boat was dispatched 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 stood, with those who were in the boat below. After a great deal of bargaining, and many difficulties being raised and smoothed away, she at last persuaded them to agree to my restoration to liberty upon the payments of £100 sterling. During this discussion I was stretched on my pallet between decks, and I was in total ignorance of what going forward.
My wife went away to borrow the money, and the Privateer waited off the Island of Durzey expecting her to return with it. She was unable to procure more than £30, the greater part of which was from Mr. Boyd, to whom I had paid it for rent only five days before we were attacked. Unable to raise more, she came back to the vessel with that sum, accompanied by our 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 liberty was restored to me, but it was upon very painful conditions, and I felt melancholy indeed at having to leave my poor boy in my stead.
When I left the ship, it was that traitor, of whom I spoke before, Sullivan, who took me on his shoulders and climbed up the rocks. He had waited upon me all the time I was on board the Privateer, for I was as helpless as an infant. I reproached him with his ingratitude and treachery. “How could you find in your heart,” said I, “after all that I had done for you and yours, to act the part of guide to my enemies?”
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 him self 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 long enough to see me comfortably settled under the care of a skillful French surgeon, and she then went to Cork to endeavor to raise the £70, for the payment of which Peter had been 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 hearing the particulars of the affair, set their faces against the payment of anything more, and they assured her that our son would be liberated without it. Their reasoning on the subject was so convincing, that she returned to the Bishop what he had so kindly lent to her, and she declined borrowing anything further. She also contrived to have a letter privately sent 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 longtime, 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 in so young a lad. The steadiness of his deportment attracted the attention of the Captain, who 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 on board, the Privateer 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 the age of Peter, a vain, disagreeable boy, much disliked by the officers of the ship. He came to Peter one day, in a state of intoxication, and with a drawn sword in his band, threatened to kill him. Peter seized a sword to use in self defence, 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 Brestcon condemned the Captain very much for his misconduct in bringing a hostage with him, contrary to 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 that Peter should runaway, and thus get him out of his dilemma, and he contrived to have it whispered to Peter that he was a great fool not to make his escape. He recollected the advice given to him in his mother’s letter, and 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).