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English Use French Wars To Stake Claim To Canada

In 1620, while the French crown was preoccupied with civil wars at home and ignored Acadia, the English crown decided to take advantage of the situation.  King James I declared that Massachusetts, where the Pilgrims had just landed, included all of New France and the Acadian peninsula.

He based his assertion on the explorations of John Cabot, who sailed along the coast for England in 1497 and, King James said, claimed all of the land for England.  On September 20, 1620, the king granted Acadia and the rest of Canada to William Alexander, a Scot who was a poet and tutor to Prince Henry, the eldest of the king's sons.

Alexander's interest was roused by a promoter named Sir Ferdinando Gorges, leader of an English group called the Council for New England, which held the right to parcel out North American lands between the 40th and 48th parallels.  Unfortunately, a big piece of that territory was in Canada and was claimed by France.  Gorges didn't want to spend the money or invite the headaches that it would require to take it from the French, so he decided to concentrate on undisputed lands and let the Scots worry about the French.

Alexander liked the idea, and was given authority to "erect cities, appoint fairs, hold courts, grant lands, and coin money."  All he had to do was to find the wherewithal to get to North America and claim his prize.

"My countrymen," he said, "would never adventure in such an Enterprise, (except that there is) a New France, a New Spain, and a New England, (and) we might likewise have a New Scotland...which they might hold of their own Crown and where they might be governed by their own laws."

Alexander had no money, so he divided his new lands with men who did.  He created the Knights Baronet of Nova Scotia, which is Latin for New Scotland.  Any man of property who would put up money or who would himself settle in North America would get his title and a piece of land six miles wide and three miles deep.  The Knights Baronet would also have the right to wear "an orange tawny ribbon" from which hung a coat of arms.

At first, nothing much came of Alexander's plans, except the settling of small groups of Scotsmen here and there around the Bay of Fundy and the creation of much ill will between the newcomers and the Acadians already at Port Royal.  But after the death of King James in 1625 and the beginning of another religious war in France, Alexander began to take his colonial enterprise more seriously, raised more money among merchants and financiers in London, and made plans to take control of his Canadian lands.

As part of the effort, the merchants raised 60,000 pounds to equip three ships for an expedition against the French in Canada.  The ships were placed under the command of David, Lewis, and Thomas Kirke, the sons of Gervase Kirke, who was one of the English investors.

The Kirke brothers seized a French post at Chaleur Bay and then sailed up the St. Lawrence River as far as the Saguenay River, where they stopped to demand that Samuel Champlain, in command there, surrender Quebec.  Champlain refused to give up, so the Kirke brothers decided to block the St. Lawrence River and starve the French out of their stronghold.

They got lucky.  Sailing into Gasp
é Bay, at the end of the Gaspé Peninsula, which forms a part of the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, they stumbled across a French fleet sent to bring more people and provisions to Quebec.

It was led by Admiral Roquement, who represented a powerful new organization formed in France by Cardinal Louis Francois Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, duc de Richelieu, the new chief minister to the king.  The organization was called the Company of New France and had been formed to take over Madame de Gurecheville's rights to Canada.  It had a 15-year monopoly on the fur trade in the St. Lawrence Valley but was required to send 300 new colonists to Quebec in exchange for that right.

Roquement was on his way to Quebec when he was forced by storms into Gasp
é Bay just before the Kirke brothers arrived there.  He had four convoy ships and 20 transports; the Kirkes had three ships.  But the French ships were at a disadvantage.  Roquement had not expected a fight and was not ready for one.

The French transport ships were crammed with men, women, and children who had been sent to settle at the Quebec colony.  The heavier French convoy ships could not maneuver in the tight spaces of the bay.  Besides, not expecting a fight, most of Roquement's cannons were lashed below deck.

The fleet made easy pickings for the Kirkes.  They burned some of the transports, loaded their prisoners and the captured supplies aboard the remaining ships, and sent them to Newfoundland and then to England.  More importantly, the Kirkes cleared the way for the occupation of Quebec.  Without the additional men and supplies that Roquement was supposed to deliver, the people of the little colony had no choice but to surrender.  The plan to starve them out worked.  When the English entered the town, the only food they found was a single tub of potatoes and roots.