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Captain Stobo

A novel by Ron Pearse

© Ron Pearse 2016

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Chapter 1: Vale Dictum

Chapter 2: Captive of the French

Chapter 3: Wolfe meets Stobo

Chapter 4: Stobo’s Story

Chapter 5: Stobo finds a Friend

Chapter 6: Stobo’s Escape

Chapter 7: Allied Generals Confer

Chapter 8: Wolfe and Stobo Confer

Chapter 9: Montcalm Faces Famine

Chapter 10: Cook takes Soundings

Chapter 11: Emergency!

Chapter 12: The Anse au Foulon

Chapter 13: Montcalm’s Pride

Chapter 14: The Battle

Chapter 15: The French Give Up Canada

Chapter 16: Stobo’s ‘Vale Dictum’



The pages which follow describe the mishaps and exploits ie the misadventures of Captain Stobo and are drawn from his memoirs though the author has used his imagination to fill in the blanks. Also, Stobo’s language is somewhat deferential even obsequious which suited his purpose and his times.

Moreover he considered the Colonial Militia of Virginia and other militia of the other colonies as somewhat below par to the regular British Army as indeed was the case for many colonial officers including George Washington and Stobo’s ambitions reflect this view.

Yet he was a remarkable soldier and in resisting his captors’ ‘persuasive’ methods proved himself both loyal to his home state and towards the Mother Country, England. In the words of *Mark Antony: “This was a man!”

*Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act V, Scene V.

Chapter 1

Vale Dictum

“Now, God be praised, I will die in peace.”

Such were the last words of Major-General James Wolfe as he lay back on an improvised couch made up of the greatcoats, another coat his pillow, of fellow soldiers on the Plains of Abraham, Quebec on the afternoon of September 13th, 1759.

For twenty decades thence his name evoked the place, and the place his name, as this exploit echoed down the centuries ranking among that of Clive, Hood, Marlborough, Rodney in the illustrious epoch of the 18th century. Yet, in modern day Canada there is another viewpoint regarding this famous victory.

Among tour guides in Quebec the talk is of treachery, and, it is true that the Canadian officer placed in charge of the cove where Wolfe made his break-through was serving punishment for a previous dereliction of duty. On the other hand, it was the very seclusion of this cove that appealed to Captain Robert Stobo, a captive of the French for years, who chose it for his tryst with the daughter of an important French official in Quebec.

Wolfe’s epic feat has been celebrated for two centuries and a half; yet, there is a part of the story deserving to be told which has never reached the general public – until now.

Chapter 2

Captive of the French

Five Years Earlier:

Sometime in June, 1754, a military expedition had set out from Wills Creek in Virginia to survey a possible western route to the Ohio valley. The colonial governor had for some time been receiving reports of armed incursions by natives, but more often by Canadians and natives. Intelligence told him the source of these incursions was Fort Duquesne (the future Pittsburg). It was the British view that sooner or later this fort must be eliminated which was the purpose of this expedition to survey the territory through which it passed with a view to constructing a road to take military supplies including heavy cannon.

The expedition’s surveyor would be Captain Robert Stobo whose father, a retail entrepreneur and recent emigrant from Scotland, had been appointed to supply the military with provisions which included liquor. His son, the captain had won rather a reputation for his garrison parties and having been appointed to the expedition saw fit to provide himself with a covered wagon with all the necessary perquisites to make the expedition as less arduous as possible. Apart from wine he took along with him guns and ammunition for game which he foresaw as enriching the meagre diet provided by the army.

Unfortunately, the officer commanding the expedition had one objective to survey the route and return with plans for a route to lay before the governor. Anything which diverted from this purpose, or anybody, was likely to meet some disapproval. After three days out the expedition camped in open country later to be given the name of Great Meadows. After sundown with his work done, Captain Stobo relaxed in a way that reflected his life-style at home.

“How far to go to the fort, Captain?”

Lieutenant Eagleton drained his pewter mug as he put the question to the chief engineer who was sitting like himself on a collapsible chair around the dying embers of a fire shared with other members of the group whose faces reflected its glow. Around them the night had closed in. Getting no answer the lieutenant nudged his drinking companion who fell over on to his side.

There were titters of laughter and the lieutenant glanced up at one of the faces wreathed in broad grins. It was Serjeant James who told his neighbour, Corporal Fraser, being the nearest, to help him up; he leaned over to do just that then over-balanced himself tumbling atop of the captain. Loud laughter now broke out which galvanized the captain. Pushing aside his comrade he made an effort to rise and seeing the lieutenant’s mug looked round, declaring:

“Where’s mine?”

“Here, sir!” It was trooper Williams who placed an empty mug into his hands getting an earful:

“An empty mug, ish nay use mon. Fill it up!”

“If there had been, old chap, don’t you think I would have filled mine. Look!”

With that speech the lieutenant showed his upturned mug putting his original query to the captain:

“How far to the fort, sir?”

“Heard you the first time, mon. How many kegs left? I’ll tell you. I brought a dozen of the best madeira so how many are left?”

“Serjeant, how many?”

“Corporal, how many?”

“Trooper, how many? Trooper!”

Trooper Williams kicked the lifeless form of his comrade and turning to answer, said:

“He’s not used to strong drink, corp. He falls over after a draught of piss-water, the QM doles out as beer.”

Suddenly the sound of a bugle was heard.

Trooper Williams said matter-of-factly:

“Lights out; but he’s gawn already.” Indicating his comrade.

“Captain Stobo!”

Stobo looked around to find an ensign standing, bugle in hand:

“What is it laddie?”

“Major Washington’s compliments, sir, would you join him in his tent.”

Stobo got up and stretched to his full six foot plus height straightening his dishevelled tunic. He shivered slightly in the cold night air and joined the ensign, with the words:

“Lead on Macduff!”

The ensign stopped and said in puzzlement:

“Ensign Macready, sir. You know me?”

“Go on with ye, mon.” Said a chaffing Stobo, adding, “at least you’re a Scot.”

The ensign turned to say:

“Irish, sir.”

By now the two had reached the major’s tent and the ensign pulled back the flap to address the occupant:

“Captain Stobo, sir.”

Thank you ensign, that will be all. You played lights out. Off to your bunk. Goodnight. Come in, Captain!”

Stobo entered a candlelit tent, the sole illumination resting on the table. It was spooky and gloomy, and just as well for in the major’s voice was a hint of barely controlled rage. His opening words betrayed it:

“Captain! For a member of the Royal Virginian Regiment you demonstrate a most unmilitary attitude. My ensign is no laddie, he’s not a Macduff; he is an ensign of his Britannic Majesties forces. Please remember that.”

“If that is your business with me, Major, I bid you goodnight.”

Stobo barely had time to move a muscle as the major leapt from his chair:

“No, it is not, sir. It has been reported to me that you have been drinking wine with your subordinates and common soldiers. I will not have it. Do you understand, Captain Stobo?”

“I do, sir. If, that is all?”

“Captain Stobo you will leave when I give you leave. I can tell you that had I not Governor Dunwiddie’s orders to follow and you, sir, not our only surveyor, you would be riding back to Wills Creek. Where are your survey reports?”

“In my saddlebag, Major. Did you want to see them?”

“Another time. At the start of this expedition, Captain, you allowed me to understand that you had but few kegs of wine. I was deceived. I am minded to destroy the remainder and shall do if your conduct does not improve. Well, sir?”

“You must do what you think fit, Major. But, if you do there will be a commensurate charge on the Commissariat.”

Washington stared barely seeing him in the flickering light. He sat down and looked at the papers before him still trying to control his undiminished anger. Eventually he said:

“The object of this investigation, sir, is to survey a route through to Fort Duquesne in order that a suitable road can transport heavy cannon across the Alleghenies. Anything which detracts from that Captain, I will not tolerate. Do you understand me?”

“Perfectly, Major Washington.”

Stobo had resigned himself to the dressing down wanting to get it over as quickly as possible, but the major was not through with him. Evidently things had been simmering for some time now and had come to a head. Washington still had something on his mind for he stared at the papers on the table. At last he said:

“Mr Van Braam’s purpose on this expedition is to guide us through the territory and find a suitable mountain pass. He was chosen owing to his knowledge of this country. Yet you choose to argue with him. Do you know better, sir?”

Stobo felt himself on surer ground ignoring prudence, explaining: “The Dutchman’s route is not necessarily the optimum route for a road, a load bearing road.”

“What do you mean, Captain?”

“Our present camp, sir, is on the Susquehanny flood plain. I would hope that the projected road would follow drier ground. I would not like to dig trenches here.”

“You are out of order, sir.”

“They would fill with water, Major. Do you not see that…?”

He was not allowed to continue as the major barked:

“Captain, you forget yourself. Your job is to survey. That is all. Write out your recommendations. It will be for the governor to decide. In future you are not to contradict Mr Van Braam unless you have first spoken to me. Is that clear, sir?”

Stobo seethed inwardly himself at this moment but held his tongue asking himself how engineers could find common ground with laymen. He nodded:

“Perfectly, sir.”

“You are dismissed, Captain.”

It was normal practice for the scout to ride ahead often several miles. He would return within an hour to report to the major. On the following day however, the scout Van Braam had returned around midday with the alarming news that he had sighted a large party of Canadians and Indians who were in number at least three times as large. He was unsure of the possibility that he had been spotted himself.

On receiving this news the major ordered an immediate halt calling on Captain Stobo to organize entrenching operations which filled the captain with dismay for it was soon evident his prediction the previous night was justified for the trenches soon filled with water. At daybreak however a messenger was seen approaching with a white flag; he delivered a message to the officer commanding the upshot being that Van Braam was called to see Major Washington who asked him to translate the message.

Then it was the turn of Captain Stobo who was called over to join the two men who were standing at some distance from the camp; the major said:

“It seems Major Vaudreuil has some idea of the sad state of our trenches plus the fact that we are surrounded, gentlemen. So, to avoid casualties, I have decided to accept the major’s terms which in essence means this expedition can return home with our weapons and supplies provided I offer up two hostages.”

The major paused and eyed both men in anticipation of a response. Stobo’s eyes fell on a document in the major’s hand; on the side nearest him was a seal in red; a large V stood out. He felt his sword belt nervously looking up to face the major whose eyes glinted in the sun. Finally the major spoke:

“You must take no weapons, Captain, I regret to say.”

‘You liar’, thought Stobo and he looked across at Van Braam whose face was set in a grim expression. At last, he blurted out:

“For how long, Major?”

Washington did not answer. He removed his headgear and wiped the perspiration from his brow as if to distract himself. At last, he said:

“I do not know, Mr Van Braam. But, rest assured I shall make representations on your behalf, rather the governor will, I’m sure, when I’ve placed the full facts before him.”

Van Braam nodded.

Washington said, “That would apply also to you, Captain. We will make every effort on your behalf.”

Stobo was still stunned, but alert as the major took him aside away from Van Braam to whisper: Captain Stobo! You are an engineer and able to notice things that a layman such as myself, for instance, would miss. That skill might prove invaluable.”

Stobo wanted to smile but could not; he just nodded. Washington held out his hand and shook both men’s warmly telling them to accompany the Canadian officer who approached at Washington’s signal; he said to Van Braam: “Tell him you two are the hostages, please.”

He gestured to the Canadian indicating Van Braam whom he heard confirm his previous statement, in French, which he did not speak.

Washington finally told them: “You must follow him on foot.”

Stobo took off his sword and belt and calling over Lieutenant Eagleton:

“Take good care of these, Tom!”

The Canadian lieutenant mounted his horse and spurred it proceeding at a walk as Washington told the hostages:

“Good luck, gentlemen!”

At some distance from their camp Stobo looked over to his companion:

“How is the major to find his way back home, without you, Van Braam?”

The Dutchman smiled knowingly before responding:

“He has your notes, Captain Stobo. He doesn’t need me, anymore.”

Stobo flushed at his own stupidity and changed his mind about Major George Washington, then and there.

Neither Captain Stobo nor Mr Van Braam could know that the major viewed their departure with foreboding for he had begun to suspect that Van Braam was a French spy for Major Vaudreuil in his note had stipulated the names of the hostages. How could he have known their names unless he was informed beforehand?

Washington suspected that Van Braam had notified Fort Duquesne even before their departure and that their encounter at Great Meadows was arranged beforehand. Even had he not given his undertaking to return, the major could not carry on as he had lost his scout and his surveyor. His mission was pointless.

Historical footnote: Major Vaudreuil’s stratagem would help his promotion prospects in the short term yet he would one day rue the day he had captured the man who would help spell the end of the French in Canada. His own day of destiny would be five years hence on September 9th, 1760, at Montreal.


The Great Meadows (in today’s Fayette County, Pennsylvania) encounter was just another incident experienced by Major Washington who had been in private life a land surveyor himself. He would soon return to the scene of the action to construct a store-house (Fort Necessity) to hold gunpowder, flour and other necessities so that a future survey party, needing to transport fewer supplies, would be that much more mobile.

Governor Dinwiddie authorised a new force of some 300 Colonial soldiers commanded once again by Major George Washington; unfortunately, many were in Washington’s own words, “loose and idle’.


Yet, what of the French! What was their motive in stirring up hostilities between the Indians and the Colonists to the south? It might shed some light by citing evidence from an entirely neutral observer.

The Swedish naturalist, Peter Kalm, visiting the St Lawrence valley region in 1749, a decade earlier, wrote:

The countryside is quite beautiful everywhere and it’s a pleasure to see how prettily it is inhabited, so densely on both sides of the river; one could almost say that it forms a continuous village which begins at Montreal and extends as far as Quebec.”

He goes on in similar vein to praise the people “whether peasant or gentleman, farm wife or great lady”. That description relates to a nation called, La Nouvelle France, New France, brought to such a condition by the successful transplantation of the old world’s culture and values, and, moreover, into a land 3000 miles distant by the venturesome spirit, hard work and industry of French people both from high and low estates. They have much to lose.

So, there is their motive.

Yet, the question remains: how was it possible that such a flourishing colony should be brought to an end so completely by the British? Why could not two peoples, the English to the south in the so-called thirteen colonies, and the French settlers in Canada, live in peace?

Unfortunately it soon transpired that neither colony, French nor British, could live and prosper without involvement of the home country of either nation. French trappers sold their skins to importers in France using their capital receipts to purchase necessities such as knives, ploughs, kitchen utensils so as to make their life in New France more tolerable.

To demonstrate the value of the beaver pelt, there is the verbatim report of an Algonquin Indian who said, after meeting an English settler: “The English have no sense; they trade twenty knives for one beaver skin.” Yet, one can have too much of a good thing for the French market was soon flooded with beaver and the price fell leading to poverty in New France among the trapper community.

The English settlers, on the other hand, discovered that fresh capital to develop the land could be raised by exporting tobacco to London. Tobacco brought a handsome return encouraging more immigrants and soon Virginia became a byword for quality tobacco bringing a premium which, in turn, encouraged settlers to build finer houses. Unfortunately this expansion brought settlers into conflict with the native Indians who needed wide open spaces for hunting – and food.

The French as early as 1701 had made peace with the Iroquois who looked upon France as its ally and protector when they encountered difficulties with the English settlers. Friction was inevitable especially when they learned that the two nations were hostile to each other, even in times of peace. Yet it was not one-sided. In April 1710 four Iroquois leaders, representing the Five Nations Confederacy, travelled to England and were received by Queen Anne who listened to their petition in some surprise, and, admittedly, delight for they begged the Queen to support the British colonies, militarily.

The British, involved in the War of the Spanish succession, were fully stretched and could only provide funds to purchase warships and transports. It seems this was enough for on October 13th, 1710, fifteen hundred New Englanders mounted an assault upon the French privateer stronghold. After a siege it was captured and renamed Annapolis, after the Queen. Emboldened by this success the Queen funded an expedition to capture Quebec. The Tory Parliament, tired of a war which, to them, brought glory only to one man, the Duke of Marlborough, would not fund the expedition. It sailed without Parliamentary approval which is the reason the Queen instructed the commander not to raise the British ensign until clear of territorial waters. On August 22nd, 1710 the expedition’s fleet was largely destroyed by a storm off Sept-Iles in the St Lawrence Gulf. The French were safe for very nearly a half-century.

It is an odd anomaly that whereas emigrants from England were either Protestants escaping Catholic persecution, or vice-versa, once in the New World both lived together in harmony. It was, for a large part, either work or die, though another external enemy brought them together, one was the hostile native, the Indian, but the enemy with far greater resources was France whose ambitions seemed to reflect King Louis XIV’s ambitions in mainland Europe.

The French built a great number of forts at Niagara, Ticonderoga, Duquesne and others which were manned by some regular soldiers but also, because of their remoteness from civilization, by natives, in particular the Iroquois and the Huron, though not living together, for the two tribes were as hostile to the other as any two European nations. Another disquieting factor was that the French could not always control their native allies. Readers familiar with Fennimore Cooper’s tale of The Last of the Mohicans will recall that the French, having recaptured Ticonderoga from the British, could not hold the Huron to their word that the British could leave the fort unharmed for once clear of their ally the French commander, the Huron massacred the British men, women and children.

Another flashpoint was trade, for Britain, by the end of the Stuarts, was the greatest manufacturing and trading country in the world and had built the ships to match its ambitions which in turn needed protection by the Royal Navy. One aspect of this trade was cod caught off the Newfoundland Banks whereby English ports despatched fishing vessels which caught, processed and dried the fish supplying not only home ports such as Plymouth and Bristol, but also Portugal, Spain, Italy as well as the English colonies. It was a lucrative trade that needed protection.

A war between Prussia and a host of its neighbours including France, was not going too well when William Pitt became Prime-Minister. He reasoned that Britain could best help its ally in Europe, besides helping itself, by diverting military resources from France which, he reasoned, must be anxious to assist its threatened colonies in Canada. That was the theory for when the governor of Canada, the Marquis de Montcalm, appealed to King Louis in Paris, he got short shrift though that news did not filter through to Pitt.

Nevertheless in the pursuance of the war, Pitt demanded of Parliament the advance of millions which was readily forthcoming not least to keep Frederick of Prussia in the war as well as to resolve finally a thorn in the flesh to the English colonists that of attacks by the forces of New France. In brief, Pitt would support his ally in Europe by fighting a war in Canada. A recent disaster of an assault on Rochefort, France had brought a certain officer to the attention of Pitt, who, in consultation with King George III, invited the officer to meet him at his chambers in Whitehall, London. The upshot was that the newly breveted Major-General James Wolfe was invited to command an expedition to capture Louisburg, Montreal and Quebec, by which event Canada would no longer be a danger to the Colonists.

Louisburg fell to British forces in 1756 which news brought comfort to a certain officer formerly in the service of the governor of Virginia. That officer had been in an expedition mounted against a French fort by the name of Fort Duquesne in command of which was a Major George Washington. The officer referred to was Captain Robert Stobo, already mentioned, who was, at the time of Louisburg’s capture, a prisoner of French forces in Canada, in particular, in a fort in Quebec.

Chapter 3

Wolfe Meets Stobo

Quebec was regarded by the governor of Canada, the Marquis de Montcalm, as impregnable. Following its loss to British forces he came under fire from Paris’s post-mortem for not carrying out a number of defensive plans which, on paper, he had deemed necessary to defend the colony against external attack. Particular omissions were seen as the failure to place batteries of cannon at certain strategic points, for instance, at Point Levis, at Cape Tourmente, and others.

Montcalm had recognised, but not adequately defended, other key spots which could spell destruction to any attacking naval force namely, at Cape Gaspe, Newfoundland, on the island of the Ile de Coudres, both north and south; upon the Ile d’Orleans, and, of particular vulnerability, at the head of the so-called, Traverse, a channel between the Ile d’Orleans and the headland on which stood Quebec itself.

Yet these proposals required resources which Montcalm did not command even upon appeal to Paris. Moreover even had batteries of cannon become available there was still the powder, ammunition, and, not least the trained manpower to operate them night and day. One extravagant idea was to sink ships in The Traverse though nobody thought to suggest where surplus ships might be found.

Yet, Montcalm was negligent in one respect, for, notwithstanding the failure to procure the resources to fulfil his defensive ambitions he did not give consideration to a French failure to hold these vital points, at all costs, for should any of them fall into enemy hands, that same enemy could wreak as much damage to the French as Montcalm had forseen as damaging to the enemy. And, thus it turned out.

Yet, against all these considerations, Quebec was still regarded by the marquis, and his subordinates, as having a very strong defensive position by reason of the cliffs surrounding it soaring to a height of two hundred feet from the St Lawrence River. As concerns the cliff-tops above Quebec, Montcalm had written to Viceroy, the Marquis de Vaudreuil that: “…the deployment of one hundred men could oppose an army.” By men he included the possibility of deploying Iroquois or the Huron who had been conducting operations of this kind against their enemies long before the French had arrived in Canada.

Below Quebec it was a different matter for there is a stretch of river with an accessible foreshore which might more easily be assaulted. Beyond the beach the terrain rises inland without natural strong-points though nonetheless able to be strongly defended by cannon, breastworks and entrenchments. And, there still remained the St Charles River to be crossed before the suburbs of the city could be invaded. It was the approach favoured by Admiral Phips of Virginia in 1690 who, though he managed to get his troops ashore, his forces were driven back. Later he claimed the French had overwhelming firepower though the French admitted some deception on that score.

Since that engagement the French had sunk huge boulders along the foreshore to inhibit the beaching of flat-bottom landing craft such as the shallow draught coaling barges known as ‘cats’ favoured by the British. Both commanders, Montcalm and Vaudreuil, chose to build their headquarters here at Beauport, the name of the settlement beyond the St Charles and Montmorency rivers. From their vantage point they were best able to observe approaching ships or boats carrying troops for assault operations from any direction on the St Lawrence River.

In July 1759 Wolfe mounted such an operation having infiltrated some 800 American rangers, who claimed the terrain was similar to the territory of New England, below Quebec They were to work their way past the Montmorency Falls and wait for Wolfe’s infantry and grenadiers. Having succeeded in their first task the Rangers decided they could take on the defensive positions further inland alone charging up the steep slope atop which were entrenchments hidden from their view.

The Indians could not believe their luck and charging down the slope, tomahawks in hand, succeeded in scalping most of the Rangers; the disaster was watched by Wolfe who was too far away to intervene. Montcalm was heard to remark to his senior officers that Wolfe was welcome to make more such attacks when he would be happy to oblige the general. “It will suit us very well.”

Soon after that failed assault the general was laid up with fever and doctors ordered him to bed suggesting to his fellow generals that his life was in danger. The one man Wolfe persisted in seeing was Captain Stobo who had made the hazardous journey from Louisburg (after an abortive visit) to seek him; he had vital information. Wolfe was convalescing on the Ile d’Orleans in a house commandeered by the British after their assault upon the island. From their first encounter, it was the custom of the general to invite the captain to walk with him on his perambulations around the grounds of his temporary home.

The two men were of a similar age, 32 years, and, by virtue of the many meetings the two men had it was evident that Wolfe was charmed by Stobo. From Stobo’s diary it was evident Wolfe showed a keen interest because Stobo had inside knowledge of Quebec which Wolfe lacked. Indeed Stobo made contact with Wolfe just prior to the operation (mentioned above) whereby the captain was invited to join the general to point out possible entry points where the enemy was vulnerable.

The enemy fire proved too strong however exposing both Wolfe and Stobo and both had to withdraw. So, it was also fortunate that Stobo had arrived at a moment when the major-general felt at a low ebb for Stobo was optimism personified. At their next meeting, Wolfe began to quiz the captain closely:

“You mean to say that you were allowed to walk around the environs of the town unhindered.” (meaning Quebec)

“Well, you see sir,” responded Stobo, “it was a condition laid down by the French when Van Braam and I were surrendered to them that we should give our parole. From their viewpoint, therefore, my explorations of the countryside were undertaken when I was on a promise not to escape though my view was that I was on active service albeit a prisoner. Stobo could not help but notice the general’s demeanour at this admission and paused thinking he might want to pose a question. His host said:

“As I understand the matter, Captain, Major Washington had orders from Governor Dunwiddie to attack Fort Duquesne. Is that where the action took place?”

Stobo sighed:

“Alas sir, our intelligence was faulty and it was fortunate that our scout, Mr Van Braam, going on ahead, reported a large force of the enemy in our path and some way distant allowing our party to make some preparation for a defence.”

“How far were you from the fort?” Asked Wolfe to which Stobo replied:

“At the time we had no idea which was the reason the scout was sent ahead. Later I discovered the party of Canadians was several miles distant.”

Stobo looked at his feet ruefully and confessed:

“It was my poor legs which discovered the distance, sir.”

Wolfe smiled as he spoke:

“Did you suffer any casualties?

Stobo reddened at the remembrance blurting out:

“None, sir; there was no fighting. Night was on us quickly but the work had to go on, digging trenches; our noise must have alerted the enemy for the next morning under a flag of truce a note was passed to the major.”

Wolfe looked keenly at Stobo, but did not seem surprised when Stobo admitted he did not know, but, from what Van Braam had told him later, the enemy had a fair idea of their trenches. Wolfe looked puzzled; Stobo explained:

“It seems the ground is waterlogged so that our trenches were half filled with water. Their commander, Bougainville, knew the terrain if we didn’t. Knowing our pitiful condition the major reasoned that Major Washington would be willing to return the way he and his party had come without hostilities only demanding two hostages as a condition of the major’s undertaking of no further hostile action. So, Van Braam and I were to be the hostages against the good behaviour of the rest of the party.”

For a moment Stobo paused because his companion had stopped in front of a wooden bench and it was clear he wanted to sit, but, out of courtesy to his guest asked if he would like to sit with him to which Stobo gladly assented. Both men being seated, Wolfe was silent as he looked around posing a question:

“How do you like the garden?”

“These surroundings, sir, would not look out of place in my native Renfrew without of course those yonder masts I see passing above the treetops. They must be on the Traverse. And you, sir; do you like gardens?”

“My mother loves to pull on rubber boots and gardening gloves,” began Wolfe, adding, “to continue the good work my father started, alas, before his premature departure from this world. It’s good to visit Westerham on my return from campaign though I confess that there has been more campaigning than gardening, just lately, more’s the pity.”

“And what campaigns,” said Stobo turning to look at the general in admiration, “Dettingen, Fontenoy, Minden and you were at Culloden, sir.”

Wolfe looked ahead steadfastly his lips set grimly. Stobo however wanted to speak thanks for an action he was told about; he said:

“I can tell you in all honesty, sir. My nation is proud of you. I mean your disobedience of the Duke of Cumberland in refusing to shoot a Scot, defeated rebel though he was.”

He might have said more but Wolfe rebuked him, though kindly:

“No more of that, sir; come, a question!”


“What were your feelings on becoming a hostage, Captain?”

Stobo reflected a moment before admitting:

“Do you ken, sir, it was Mr Van Braam who, I recall, articulated a sense of grievance. He told me it was typical of the English that they surrendered a Scotchman and a Dutchman to the French and…”

His flow was interrupted by Wolfe:

“Were those your sentiments too?”

“Definitely not, sir,” Stobo was vehement in his denial, “I told him sir that it was the French who dictated the terms. They demanded a captain and a civilian.”

Wolfe had a little difficulty in response such was his laughter:

“Not just a civilian, captain, a scout, the scout. The major probably believed the party would lose their way without him.”

Stobo stiffened apprehensive of Wolfe’s next remark:

“Do you know what happened to the party subsequently?”

“No, sir.” Replied Stobo.

“Major Washington was taken prisoner.”

Wolfe turned to look at Stobo; he said:

“The French major rightly predicted that Washington, without the scout, and yourself, do not forget that, would get lost and somehow stray into French territory; indeed, that’s what happened. The British had to exchange Washington for a captured French officer. They were none too pleased.”

Wolfe fell silent which emboldened Stobo:

“May I ask a question, sir?”

“What is it?”

“Is Major Washington here with the Rangers?” Said Stobo, “If so, I’d certainly like to meet up with him again, sir, if you are agreeable.”

The general did not answer and then tapped his nose, saying:

“Between ourselves, Captain, my soldiers must have some experience of musketry and cannon fire which the major eschewed on the occasion of your capture; you recall our recent debacle was fairly hot You did well and how chary of me to omit to ask after your wound. What did the surgeon make of it?”

“It was nothing, sir, just bruising and painful to walk for a while which is why I appreciated your asking me to sit. Apart from that I’m fighting fit. God be praised. But, I came out of it scot-free, to coin a phrase.”

Stobo’s diary records that Wolfe and Stobo were standing on the forecastle of a cat beached on the Beauport shore when a length of timber, from a cannonball smashing against a gunwale, hit Stobo across the thigh.

Wolfe mused a while muttering:

“I lost some brave fellows there. One a major; would that I could exchange him for someone who shall be nameless.”

Stobo made no answer and the general turning to eye him said:

“Your silence does you credit.”

For a while all that could be heard was the twittering of birds in the trees. It was a warm day and vapour still rose as the ascending sun dried out the dew from the lush vegetation. The sound of footsteps broke the silence and the two men looked at each other and then towards the house. On the footpath was a man in naval uniform with heavy epaulettes. Perched on his head was the distinguishing hat of an admiral of the blue. Whilst still within earshot Wolfe turned to Stobo:

“Here’s my favourite admiral come to tell me he has seen a second lump of ice. Have you brought it with you, my dear Saunders, eh?”

The man thus addressed stopped in front of the general making a slight bow in greeting his opposite number:

“How is the patient, today?”

“Well, Admiral, in truth all the better in seeing your cheerful countenance notwithstanding that piece of ice you are about to present me.”

He turned to Stobo who was already on his feet feeling a little humble in the presence of the two highest officers of the expedition whereas the admiral noticing his somewhat modest stance tried putting him at ease:

“My hearty thanks, dear sir, for enlarging my fleet and reducing that of our enemies. By thunder would you not care to exchange your particular blue for the best navy in the world blue, and, no doubt you’ll be doffing a hat like mine ere long.”

Stobo reddened at the admiral’s generous compliment but was spared an answer by Wolfe addressing Saunders thus:

“I myself have plans for the captain, my dear Admiral, so you’ll just have to bide your time.”

Turning to Stobo, he said:

“I look forward to seeing you on the morrow, Captain Stobo. You’ll forgive a pair of warriors their tête-a-tête, eh?”

So the captain took his leave slightly disappointed not to sit in and overhear the two commanders for Stobo had already pondered the possibility of personal recollections and such a meeting as this would certainly add spice to his narrative though the fact that he was there at all was something special.

Chapter 4

Stobo’s Story

Daily at dawn the bombardment began and continued intermittently to nightfall. Monsieur Lemay, the mayor was ever on the move throughout the city comforting people whose houses had been destroyed by the incoming cannonballs fired from a battery upon Point Orlean on the Ile d’Orlean.

The noise from the crashing shells was something the population of Quebec had lived with since July and it was small comfort to be told that it could not last much longer as it was early September with ice already forming on the St Lawrence river, if only below the banks, so the English fleet would be forced out unless they wanted to spend the winter in Canada locked in the ice.

On the way to his office on the Rue des Jardins not too far from the chateau where he was allotted quarters and where he lived with his family, Monsieur Lemay had first broken ice underfoot days before and it was a regular occurrence. Indeed he had been forced to walk on the grass beside the road to avoid slipping on the slippery dew frozen as the temperature plummeted.

To prevent further injuries and deaths and after consultation with the military he had begun to first persuade and then compel people to leave their property which the artillery men told him was under the flight path of incoming shells. Soon after the English stationed a battery upon captured terrain at Point Levis directly opposite Quebec on the southern bank and whereas the shells from Point d’Orleans were nearly spent at such a distance the projectiles from Point Levis possessed a velocity and impact that devastated whatever habitation was struck.

The mayor, no stranger to death, for, as a pioneer in New France, he had lost friends and relatives to disease and privation over the years, had recently witnessed death and injury at close hand when visiting houses destroyed by bursting shells. Only yesterday whilst clearing away the rubble from a victim to place her on a stretcher he was splashed by the liquids from smashed bottles. For some bizarre reason the names on the bottles buzzed around his head.

The liquids were vinegar; one bottle said, Eschalot, another, Ratalia and a third, Cidre. Such strange remembrances filled him with shame especially as he could not remember the victim’s name. He had got her to hospital which was more important even though her vinegars were no more.

At first he had been comforted, for the sake of his family, that shells from either source aimed at the chateau had made little impact on account of the trajectory of the missiles many just bouncing off. Yet the fact that his family was not under fire affected his relations with citizens some of whom had moved in to the chateau though in limited numbers as Monsieur Vaudreuil had reminded him that the chateau housing troops occupying the citadel must not have its military role undermined.

Yet, these problems confronting him as mayor paled beside his concerns for his family though not from death or injury from enemy action but from the heartache on the part of his daughter for an enemy of the state. Three months earlier a certain prisoner living in the family had escaped which event produced ripples not only affecting his daughter, who had formed such a regard for him, but also, by disappointing his superiors, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, and, which grieved him the most, the estimable Marquis de Montcalm.

He had pledged his word on behalf of his beloved daughter to Monsieur Vaudreuil, and the memory of it brought a deep flush to his cheeks. That event would cloud his period as mayor for ever and he debated with himself whether that joyful event, his nomination as mayor and subsequent election in the spring, might not have been such a happy promotion in the light of the events since.

Mayor Lemay learned to his incredulity that his prisoner, treated as one of the family, was regarded by his superiors as a highly dangerous man. Moreover he was even more astounded when he was ordered to issue proclamations and posters towards his apprehension promising the sum of six thousand livres to his captor(s), alive or dead, as the reward. The sum was unprecedented and the only previous incident in his knowledge was from his homeland as related to him by his grandfather that the sum of three thousand livres had been offered for the capture of Malbrouk, a nickname for the Duke of Marlborough and that was half a century before.

However though these considerations fretted the brows of the mayor yet neither the amount nor the obloquy in which the escapee was regarded was of any concern for his daughter, Marie. These facts might even have lent a golden lining to the reputation of the former captive who was invited to enter the Lemay household.

It was sometime in January, 1758, the year before, that Marie, visiting the hospital in the company of the Sisters from the nearby priory, St Denis, had beheld the features of a man who, the party was told, had been recaptured near the Montmorency Falls. He was emaciated having not eaten for days, could scarcely stand from exhaustion , indeed it was likely the reason for his speedy recapture, and, he appeared also to be suffering from a high fever and was not expected to live. His name was Captain Robert Stobo.

It would not be long before Marie knew his story feeling an injustice was taking place which she might alleviate if not rectify. She made it her mission to attend to the needs of the prisoner whom the hospital authorities were not over anxious to save having been advised that the patient’s possible demise might be conducive to state security.


For that same Robert Stobo, a twelvemonth before, had been under sentence of death by a military court in Canada, which would certainly have been carried out had King Louis ratified the sentence. It is thought likely that the king concluded having weighed up the evidence that the captain’s parole had been forced upon him as a condition of a truce on being taken prisoner.

Yet, the real reason for passing sentence of death at a court martial and likely withheld from the king was that the Canadian authorities, in particular, the future viceroy Vaudreuil, had been guilty of negligence. Stobo’s parole had terminated upon Major Washington’s party having returned to Virginia which, it was natural for Stobo to assume, must have happened within days. The negligence occurred when Stobo was allowed to wander around Fort Duquesne, whence he had been taken, and taking notes of their defences.

Stobo had drawn up a plan, being an engineer, signed it with his name, written a letter placing both in a package addressed to Wills Creek, the headquarters of the military in Virginia, and had bribed an Indian to convey it where it ended up in Philadelphia. The civil authority impressed with the documents had made copies passing one to the newly arrived General Braddock.

One can imagine the chagrin of Vaudreuil on opening his mail from Paris to be presented with the documents along with the question as to how such highly sensitive papers should be in English hands. It seems Braddock had been waylaid by an Indian war-party, killed and the documents taken from him and passed to someone who, perhaps joyfully to embarrass Vaudreuil, had sent them to Paris.

While awaiting sentence Stobo had been subject to some vile practices. He was taken regularly from his cell, which he describes in his memoirs as execrable in the extreme, his hands bound behind him, blindfolded while his guards talked about his approaching execution. He was left in the execution yard hearing groans from condemned men and the shots, which, he was meant to assume, had ended the life of some prisoner and being constantly reminded that it was his fate once the king had ratified his execution.

Once he was interviewed by a Frenchman speaking excellent English. He appeared to have some knowledge of both English and Scottish history. After some friendly preamble the interrogator asked him to reveal information on the grounds that he must hate the English for their having robbed Scotland of independence. When Stobo refused the interrogator told the captain that he must be an English stooge, a spy and must be dealt with accordingly. Stobo realised the Frenchman, not aware of the facts of his capture, had overplayed his hand. From that moment he made the decision to escape.

The French, in trying to punish the Scot, moved him to a large cell where, at first, he had a hard time. He mixed with the riff-raff of colonial society, common criminals in prison for stealing in all its guises: the pick-pocket, the burglar, the footpad and many more. Meals were brought in by guards in boxes and simply left there and Stobo, ignorant of prison routine, went hungry yet this harsh regime suited the Scot for he learnt the common lingo, low colloquial expressions common among the lower classes. He was a fast learner. His French was so fluent that he deliberately tried to conceal it so as to deceive his captors.

A year into his captivity Stobo began to learn the routine of the warders, the guards and soldiers though it was to no avail, for, when the prison governor failed to receive a plea from the Scot to be moved out, in other words, that the regime had failed to break his spirit, Stobo was once again moved to a cell, this time below ground where his only light was a square hole in an outside wall open to the weather but preventing escape by two thick iron bars from top to bottom embedded in the stonework.

Once more Stobo studied the routine of the warders and being left alone from a last meal in the evening to le petit dejeuner (breakfast) the next day, the lone prisoner, having contrived to ‘lose’ a small knife, set to work to scrape away the cement surrounding the iron bars. After a while he needed to insert something to make up for the missing sand and began to put bread aside for that purpose. First it had to be chewed then dried. After making good his night’s work one morning he was visited by the governor who leaned against the cell window while talking to Stobo who scarcely heard what he was saying by reason of his nerves: would the man notice his handiwork?

After one morning’s work when Stobo had managed to loosen the sandstone and cement bewteen both vertical bars he decided that night to make his break spending the day smearing mud over his uniform to obscure it as much as possible. Past midnight he removed all the crumbled stone between the bars, tied his silk kerchief around the bars applying pressure using his knife as a tourniquet. Fraction by fraction the two bars moved together until, being stripped to under-clothes and bare feet, Stobo dropped his bundle of clothes outside and proceeded to squeeze his head, his emaciated torso and legs through the gap while contriving to hang onto the bars.

He had needed to reduce weight to wrestle his way through the small gap; yet his emaciated condition would inhibit his stamina once having obtained his freedom. Yet again, although Stobo was in a poor condition his military training led him to observe the vulnerable places both in- and outside Quebec. The St Charles river proved no hindrance for he made his way across via the floating batteries which acted as a bridge and which were unmanned. Deciding his escape route was best using a boat he made his way down open country and forest towards and below the Montmorency Falls. It was here that a search party on horseback spotted him. He was soon recaptured after but a few days at liberty.

You might think that he would be taken to hospital but the authorities were brutally determined: their king might have spared him though he deserved to die which is the reason he spent weeks in another dungeon. When that failed to produce the desired outcome Stobo was prodded to his feet, his hands bound behind him in order to take him to a punishment cell beyond the milieu of other prisoners; it was to be his death dungeon or so his captors hoped.

But, it was not to be, for, in crossing the square accompanied by his guards, in order to reach Stobo’s final cell, he collapsed and was assisted by a party of nuns who insisted on looking after him. Stobo was placed in the bed where one day the visiting Marie Lemay would see him. She brought his condition to the attention of her father, the recently installed mayor, and when she insisted that the honour of La France was impugned by his condition and past treatment, her father made representations to his own superior, the newly appointed Viceroy, the Marquis de Vaudreuil.

In common with many bureaucratic administrations, a high profile subject, in this case, Stobo, though a dangerous person, slipped below the horizon of vital considerations. In the weeks and months following Mam’selles ministrations the captain was allowed to walk around the grounds of the hospital, and eventually, the mayor indulged his daughter by allowing him to walk upon the ramparts of the chateau provided he was at all times in view of the sentries. Climbing steps exhausted him and it is not hard to imagine that the proximity of her family’s quarters in the chateau persuaded her to allow him to rest, meet her mother, take tea and enjoy his conversation. As concerns the captain’s newly acquired facility with her language, it soon became her wish to smooth away its rough edges.

Around this time an American trading ship had lost its way striking rocks in the vicinity of the Belle Isle Straights. Unfortunately the survivors had barely reached land when they were attacked by Iroquois suspecting it was a spy ship (England and France were at war) and killing some survivors before Canadians appeared on the scene taking the rest of the passengers and crew into custody. One of the victims was a child of an English colonist and his wife, the Clarks; their other children, a lieutenant Stevenson of an American Rangers Regiment and others were taken prisoner. All the survivors were taken to Quebec and it was not long before they became acquainted with Captain Robert Stobo.

Chapter 5

Stobo Finds a Friend

Mademoiselle Marie Lemay looked back to January of last year, 1758, with some nostalgia for it was then that she had first set eyes upon the handsome Scottish officer, Captain Robert Stobo. It was the first time she had met somebody from that country although her mother often sent her to sleep with the romantic tales surrounding a young princess of Scotland married to the dauphin of France who tragically had died compelling her to return to the land of her birth and becoming Queen. To Marie, her namesake, Mary Queen of Scots was the most romantic heroine of any history, French or Scottish.

Seeing the sick man in his bed and learning his one-sided story from the hospital authorities quickened her resolve to see that he recovered aiding it by supplementing his meagre diet with her own food. She was beside him as he made his first steps persuading her father also to help in his convalescence by welcoming him into their household. He was soon almost one of the family.

After a while the authorities seemed to forget about him and she would take long walks with him. One particular walk he favoured was along Abraham’s Way leading to a lonely part of the woods where they discovered a hidden cove. Talking of their discovery later with Babette, her maid, she learned the name of the cove, Anse au Foulon (Fulling Cove), for it was discovered that clay from the cove was more than useful in scouring the grease from clothes.

In her memory was the homespun tales of Robert growing up in his native Fife so that whenever something local was observed his mind inevitably returned to comparisons in his native land. She recalled his description of his antics learning to row on the river Clyde comparing them with his attempts to launch and paddle a canoe on the St Lawrence, chuckling to herself as in recall, he tipped over more than once, so that by the time he reached shore his uniform needed some fulling clay.

She was reminiscing in bed as was her custom nowadays for lately she had neglected her usual rounds with the nuns. Although the incoming shells did not disturb the family too much, their noise was ever present and many people even far beyond the trajectory of the missiles, were too low in spirits to venture out. Morale was low as confirmed by the numbers of people leaving the town moving further inland where the problem for the authorities in Quebec was housing and feeding them.

For Madame Lemay it was also difficult though her spirits were lower than usual on account of the misery being suffered by her daughter and she had given up trying to persuade her to resume her charitable work. She beseeched their maid, Babette, to beg her to persuade Mam’selle to rise and partake of some le petit dejeuner, some breakfast, listening hopefully to the maid’s knocking on the bedroom door, hearing a muffled response, and, forcing herself to smile in anticipation of success, she left Babette to her work and resumed her crochet.

“Bon jour, ma petite,” called Babette as she opened the door, “it’s such a beautiful day. Shall we go for a walk?”

Babette stopped herself realising that walks had become no longer possible during the bombardment being somewhat taken aback when her young mistress responsed positively.

“C’est une bonne idee!”

A good idea thought Babette: I must be out of my mind. She walked towards a wardrobe. Opening it she inspected the gowns. She would go along with the idea if only to raise mam’selle from her bed. She turned back to ask:

“Shall it be the turquoise, Mam’selle, then you might also wear your emeralds. It’s been such a long time since…”

To Babette’s astonishment her mistress confirmed her choice brightly commenting:

“Yes, whatever you say, my dear Babette. We must go through the motions. I daresay Madame has sent you to me, but no matter, I must do something, I know, to take my mind off things.”

She allowed herself to be stripped of her night attire submitting to her servant’s ministrations regarding her toilette, did as she was softly told to raise a leg, stick out an arm. So, Babette dressed her with camisole and corset before standing upright with eyes closed as Babette dropped the emerald gown over her. Babette smiled with radiance and her enthusiasm provoked a smile from Marie. The next words tripping off her tongue however made her servant sigh inwardly as she heard:

“It will be three months, one week, two days and nine and a half hours since he slipped out of my life. You see Babette, I haven’t got over him, but, as you see, I can, we can, go through the motions.”

Babette, the optimist, said:

“Mother Superior would be so pleased to see you again, Mam’selle Marie. She stopped me only last week to enquire of your health.”

“I should have worn the black dress,” retorted Marie, scolding her servant, “you’re not thinking straight, dear Babette, and, if so…”

She stopped whispering something conspiratorially into her servant’s ear and realising it was silly to whisper tailed off: “We could go his way to the rendezvous, just like the old days.”

For, in her reminiscing she had conveniently forgotten that Babette was always there in the background being not much older than herself and with the energy to match. Marie looked at her servant’s stern demeanour feeling let down and then lifted when Babette’s face creased into a smile as she spoke the magic words:

“Why not?”

A thousand reasons assailed Babette’s mind but in the euphoria of creating enthusiasm in her young mistress, she demurred from raising practical matters except to add in tapping her nose like a plotter:

“Between ourselves, little miss, hmm?”

This last was an Americanism frowned on by the elder Lemays. Babette’s heart suddenly was pounding as she ushered her charge downstairs intoning ‘Hail Marys’ one after the other anxious over what she had been persuaded to do.

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