1629: Pirates Try to Conquer Quebec & Other Quebec Curios

Pirates authorised by the King, that is. Part of Je me souviens: New France, 1534–1763

Our story begins with a simple man: David Kirke. Born and raised in Normandy, like many people of his time, little is known about this Englishman until his participation in the Thirty Years War. This particular religious and political war was confined more or less to Europe, but it did have its spillover to North America, more specifically, New France. Our connection to one of the bloodiest wars in history is David Kirke, a simple man with a simple idea: capture the city of Quebec and claim it for England.

The corsair, basically a pirate whose actions were authorised by Charles I, the king of England, sailed to the city of Quebec with a fleet of six ships. Kirke, in it for fun and mostly profit, wanted to trade along the Saint Lawrence River, had already led an invasion a couple years earlier that destroyed some supply ships headed towards Quebec. Branded a traitor by land of his birth, when the second time around came along, Kirke had an even more daring idea. Guided by a traitor of Samuel de Champlain’s, who would act as their guide through the treacherous Saint Lawrence, Kirke demanded the surrender of Quebec in 1628, a demand that Champlain refused. However, by the end of that year, the Quebec habitation was in a rapid state of decline. Champlain and his twenty men onsite, though aided by their Innu and Wendat allies, were on the brink of starvation, awaiting supplies from a French fleet that seemed further and further away. Kirke decided to bide his time and play the waiting game. Time eventually ran out, and one day, Kirke sprung and managed to take over the settlement with little to no resistance. Champlain’s city fell into English hands on July 19, 1629.

But even Quebec City, captured, was not brought to its knees as Kirke and his men might have hoped. In a valiant effort to save the very city he founded, Champlain sailed to London in October of 1629 and argued not with a gun, but with his words. He showed the British ambassadors that Quebec had in fact been taken illegally by Kirke and his men because the capture happened after a treaty declaring peace between Britain and France had been signed. This treaty, the Treaty of of Suza, had in fact been signed in April, making Kirke’s actions three months too late!

The British eventually warmed up to the idea that the seizure might have been a little bit illegal and the territory thus passed back to the French (or more specifically, the Company of One Hundred Associates) with the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1632. Champlain became commander of New France once more, but his own personal victory would be short lived: he would die three years later. David Kirke left New France in shame, but returned to Britain as a knight. Due to Kirke’s favourable association with the monarchy, he would later be imprisoned during the Commonwealth rule under Oliver Cromwell and is believed to have died in jail awaiting his trial.

Despite a bittersweet victory for the parties involved, New France was whole once more. The next major attempt at a conquest of New France by the British would occur almost one hundred and twenty-five years later during the French and Indian War.