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D'Iberville's Raid on Newfoundland - 1696



The following is chronicled in Alan F. Williams, Father Baudoin's War: D'Iberville's Campaigns in Acadia and Newfoundland 1696, 1697, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1987.  This detailed study is dedicated to the courage and fortitude of the Newfoundland settlers and the initiative of a soldier of New FranceIt also a major event in Newfoundland prior to the settlement of John Chafe in 1705.

In the 1690's a few thousand hardy soles lived along the shores of the Avalon and Bonavista Peninsulas. All but one Pierre Le Moyne Sieur d'Iberville (1661-1706) community were English settlements.  Plaisance was the lone French community on the Newfoundland coast. From 1689 to 1697 France and England were opponents in King William's War.  Newfoundland's French Governor de Brouillon ordered a French naval squadron under Chevalier Nesmond to lay siege to St. John's in retaliation for previous English attacks.  In 1694 a squadron of ships was massed at Plaisance and sailed to St. John's. The French siege of St. John's was unsuccessful. However a plan was made to attack the English colonies for a second time. On September 12, 1696, thirty five year old French-Canadian Captain Pierre Le Moyne Sieur d'Iberville (born 1661 in Montreal) arrived in Newfoundland (Sep 12) under the direction of Quebec's Governor Frontenac. The previous August, d'Iberville had just secured Fort William Henry at Pemaquid, on the coast of Maine.  

Until the time of d'Iberville, no European was ever recorded to have walked across the Avalon. D'Iberville's attack plan was novel. By attacking communities from their unfortified landward flanks, d'Iberville was able to bypass the formidable gun batteries that protected St. John's and Ferryland. From there d'Iberville planned to destroy the vast majority of English settlements on the Avalon Peninsula. In addition, vessels commanded by Sieur de Brouillan were to supply his force and also bombard from offshore.  

From September 9 to October 31 de Brouillan bombarded Ferryland and Bay Bulls but failed to enter St. John's harbour. D'Iberville left Placentia on All Saints' Day (Nov 1) with his detachment of 124 men; soldiers, Acadia Canadians and Indians. It was a gruelling, 80 kilometre, nine-day march across the Avalon Peninsula. On November 10, the troops sacked Ferryland. Meanwhile, the one hundred and ten people of Ferryland fled to Bay Bulls and set about fortifying it. D'Iberville set out against Bay Bulls using the small boats he had taken in Ferryland. Cape Broyle is captured Nov 12th. He then captured Bay Bulls on the 24th, including a 100-ton merchant ship.

After a three-hour march from Bay Bulls (Nov 24), he met up with his group of 20 scouts who had been sent to study the approaches to St. John's. He encountered a detachment of 30 English soldiers posted on a hilltop near Petty Harbour (Nov 26). D'Iberville charged and the enemy surrendered immediately. D'Iberville and his men were in command of the small port just eight kilometres south of St. John's. However, some Petty Harbour colonists managed to escape and reach St. John's, where they alerted residents.  As d'Iberville marched into St. John's from Petty Harbour, English residents marched out the Waterford Valley to meet and repel the French. A pitched battle occurred in the Waterford Valley (Burnt Wood) and on the Heights of Kilbride (Nov 28). Of the 88 English defenders, 34 died in the battle. The English broke ranks and hastily retreated to St. John's. 

As the French and Indians approached St. John's, the English settlers scattered. Many sailed away, others escaped to the forests. However, a number of settlers and soldiers took refuge in Fort William. For two days the French laid siege to Fort William. But d'Iberville was impatient and on the third day, in order to induce the English to surrender, ordered one of his Indian soldiers to scalp an English settler named William Drew. Drew was ordered to approach Fort William, scalp in hand, to warn the English settlers and soldiers, that surrender was their only option. The English Commander, Governor Miners surrendered (Nov 30) on condition that the English be granted free and unmolested passage out of St. John's. To this d'Iberville agreed. Some 230 men, women and children were sent off in a ship and duly arrived in Dartmouth. However a further 80 refugees were drowned when their ship floundered off the coast of Spain. After destroying St. John's, the French marched on Torbay (Dec 2), Portugal Cove (Dec 5 and Jan 13).  Internal struggles between de Brouillan and d'Iberville over the spoils of war followed.  On December 25 when de Brouillan left for Plaisance.  The French burnt 80 shallops in the harbour (Jan 2). 

The villages on Conception Bay were the next targets. Holyrood (Jan 19) was first followed by Harbour Main (Jan 20) and Port de Grave (Jan 23). The Battle of Carbonear saw two hundred residents of Carbonear (Jan 24) withdraw to Carbonear Island where they successfully stave of the French and Indian soldiers (Jan 31). D'Iberville at this point had only 70 men, the rest dispersed in local skirmishes, holding villages and prisoners. Leaving Carbonear d'Iberville then attacked Old Perlican (Feb 4), Bay de Verde (Feb 6), Hants Harbour (Feb 7), New Perlican and Hearts Content (Feb 9). In many cases the local fishermen had fled to Carbonear. He made one more attempt to capture Carbonear by diplomacy (Feb 11-Mar 25) without success. There was an unsuccessful attempt at a prisoner exchange (Feb 18). Frustrated, d'Iberville then sacked Brigus (Feb 11) and Port de Grave (Feb 11). He had Carbonear torched on Feb 28, and then headed to Heart's Content before walking in a small group across the Avalon Peninsula isthmus. He arrived March 4 at Plaisance. D'Iberville then picked up his spoils of war, his scattered troops and 200+ prisoners at Bay Boulle (Mar 18-May 18). French attacks by sea on the remnants of the settlements continued into the spring (Mar 27-Apr 19).  

D'Iberville never returned to Newfoundland. Records show that there was about an eighty percent turnover in the family names of settlers on a census from circa 1680 - 1713. Twenty-three settlements were destroyed. This turnover is attributable, in no small part, to the efficiency of d'Iberville in compromising English interests in Newfoundland during King William's War. By Father Baudion's account, the French killed between 104 and 200 individuals. This represents between 5 to 9% of the estimated 2260 planters and men.

D'Iberville continued his battles with the English. He was assigned to capture the forts on James Bay in the Canadian north.  After leaving Newfoundland, d'Iberville and his troops sailed north along the Labrador coast and into Hudson's Bay. On September 5, 1697, his ship Le Pélican, leading a convoy of four ships, came under attack. D'Iberville sunk one ship, seized another and sent a third one fleeing. Fort York fell on September 13, 1697.

The damage caused by d'Iberville stimulated the British government to provide a permanent defence force for the island. A strong British relief force of 1500 troops reoccupied St. John's in the summer of 1697.  They found the town abandoned, pillaged and every building destroyed. The following year construction began on the well-engineered fortification of Fort William.  The fort was completed in 1700 and had brick-faced ramparts, bombproof parapets, powder magazines and proper barracks.  Newfoundland's population re-established itself quickly.  By 1698 the population of Newfoundland was 2640 planters, servants, women and children.

The Treaty of Ryswick, signed later in September, enshrined English dominance in Hudson's Bay and French hegemony in James Bay. France held on to Port Royal and Placentia but had to yield Pemaquid in Maine and part of Acadia. D'Iberville's conquests were for naught. On March 2, 1699, he succeeded where Robert Cavelier de la Salle failed by discovering the mouth of the Mississippi. Three consecutive expeditions, in 1699, 1700 and 1701, allowed him to build the forts of Maurepas (Biloxi), Mississippi and Saint-Louis (Mobile).  He terrorized, pillaged and neutralized the islands of Nevis and St. Christopher. However on July 9, 1706 in a stop in Havana, he died on board the Juste, likely from yellow fever.

Feb 1690 45 freebooters from Ferryland led by Herman Williamson attack Plaisance by land. The English left in April with the colony's supplies.
Fall 1692 The English attack Plaisance under the command of Commodore Williams, with five ships armed with 62 cannon and nearly 800 men. On September 23 the fleet withdraws.
Fall 1692 A small group of French raid Trinity Bay and another group attacks Trepassey. 
Aug 1693 Francis Wheeler's attacks Plaisance with 19 ships. A storm in September forces the fleet to leave.
1694 Governor Jean-Jacques de Brouillan de Monbeton mobilizes a frigate and eight ships to attack St. John's. He does not take St. John's but captures prisoners and takes possession of fishing boats and fish.  In August, William Holman successfully defends Ferryland harbour from French attack.
Fall 1696/7 De Monbeton and Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville marches overland from Plaisance to attack the English settlements in a devastating winter campaign.
Aug 1702 40-50 French attack Sillicove.
1702 Captain John Leake destroys French fishing properties at Trepassey, St. Mary's, Colonet and St. Lawrence and the fort at St. Pierre.  Graydon's fleet in St. Mary's Bay stops plans to attack Plaisance. 
1703 Daniel Auger De Subercase leads a raid on Ferryland and takes prisoners from whom he learns of an imminent attack on Plaisance.
Mar-Sep 1703 English ships under Col. Rivers threatens Plaisance but cannot capture the town.
Aug 1704 150 French and Indians raid Bonavista Harbour. New England skipper Michael Gill and his 24-man crew and 14-gun vessel,  successfully fought off the attackers.
Jan 1705 Bay Bulls and Petty Harbour attacked by 450 men under De Subercase. In February St. John's is attacked and burned but Fort William is not captured. In August 144 French attack Bonavista Harbour. In the overall campaign 1200 prisoners are taken.
Jul 1707 John Underdown ordered to attack lucrative fishery to White Bay and destroys the French fishing activities in the area.
1708 With seven warships, England opts for a naval blockade in an attempt to starve Plaisance into submission.  
Jan 1709 Saint-Ovide de Brouillan, with a force of 170 men, French, Canadians and Indians, take St. John's, captures 800 prisoners and destroys the town's defences. 
1711 Abortive British attack on Plaisance. English blockade of harbour. 
Apr 1713 Treaty of Utrecht and the end of Queen Ann's War.
Jun 1762 A French force of 760 French and 161 Irish soldiers under Charles-Henri-Louis d'Arsac de Ternay and the Comte d’Haussonville land and occupies St. John's.  On  September 15, Col. William Amherst's force of 1559 soldiers land.  Two days later the French fleet escapes in the fog. Amherst retakes the city September 18 and captures 709 soldiers at the Fort William. 
Aug 1796 A French squadron under Admiral de Richery threatens St. John's, destroys Petty Harbour and Bay Bulls, and disrupts the bank fishery.

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April 20, 2020