He Prayed And His Life Was Spared
Yarmouth Vanguard, June 27, 1989
We do not have his name, but only his initials "W.C.", with which he signed a letter that he wrote from Port Royal, September 18, 1703, to his minister, probably in New England, telling him that he had heard him say that God hears our ardent prayers and that he followed his advice, for which his life was spared.
He starts his letter by saying that the reason why he wrote is because he made a vow to Almighty God that he would let people know of his divine mercy towards him and that he would ask him, the Minister, to have the Holy Name of God blessed and praised in his Congregation for having heard his prayer. Then he goes on to tell his story.
This happened during the conflict that took place in Acadia, especially on the coast of South- western Nova Scotia, at the end of the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th, between the French and the Indians on the one part, and the fishermen of New England on the other. Acadia had been taken by the English in 1690. Even though it was redeemed to France in 1700 by the Treaty of Ryswick, the see-saw struggle between the two factions kept on for years. The reason for this struggle? The sempiternal question of fishing inside the prohibited limits. As today's sophisticated gadgets to measure distances had not yet been invented, the fishermen from New England had to rely on their eyes, as they were forbidden to fish as long as they could see the coast, which then, as today, was under surveillance by patrols.
We are not told, but most probably Mr. "W.C." was caught fishing inside the limits off Cape Sable. This was in January of 1703. He was being taken by a French cruiser to Port Royal. Being hampered by foiled weather, the cruiser was obliged to take refuge in one of the harbours of Cape Sable. It is then that the captain asked two of his men to take the prisoner to Port Royal.
It is incredible that they would have been sent to make this journey of well over 100 miles, on foot, in the Winter time, through the woods and bushes, rivers and swamps, hills and valleys, having brought with them, says the letter, but "very little bread."
They left in the evening and walked all night. the prisoner had no shoes nor stockings, having only a piece of skin wrapped around his feet. The snow was very deep, so much so that they advanced but very slowly. After a day or two their provisions ran out. Exhausted by fatigue and hunger, crawling day and night without food, lost that they were in the woods, not knowing in what direction to turn, they finally came to a halt.
It is then that one of the Frenchmen started to load his gun and pointed it towards the prisoner, telling him that it was impossible to reach Port Royal. "Thus there is nothing else to do, he told him, but to kill you and we will eat your flesh." The prisoner asked him to let him pray to God before dying, that wish was granted. "As I was praying", he writes to the minister, "I recalled that you had said from the pulpit that prayers can accomplish great and marvellous things, that it had shut the mouths of loins and quenched the violence of fire. So I started to beseech intensively God to manifest his great power by giving a better heart to those men who were to take my life."
He says that he had hardly pronounced those words that the Frenchman, who seemed to have tears in his eyes, told him to get up, that they would keep on for at least another day.
He was asked then to fetch some firewood. It was in the evening, when darkness was falling and objects were barely perceptible even at close range. Seizing the opportunity, he hid himself in the woods all night, being able to raffle all attempts at discovery, till next morning, when his captors left the place.
Being a fisherman, it did not take him long to find his bearings and reach the shore. There he found a lot of clams that he ate, not having eaten for a couple of days at least. We can be sure that the had reached Grosses Coques.
The two Frenchmen finally reached Port Royal, where they were put into prison for having lost their prisoner. The governor, who was then Jean-François de Bouillan, sent two other men to fetch the escapee, telling them not to dare come back without him. Luckily they did find him; this was four days after he had escaped. They brought him food and shoes, It [sic] was a miracle that he was still alive, after such an ordeal, poorly clothed all those days in the bitter cold of Winter and having only the trees to shelter him from the snow storms. He was too weak to walk. They had to carry him on their shoulders up to Port Royal.
The letter ends with these words: "This favor and many others did I receive from my Good God during my imprisonment. For that, may his Holy Name be blessed and forever honored. I beg you, Sir, let me know what I can do for the Great and Good God."
This story is taken from the Collection of the Massachusetts Historical society, Vol.46 (1874), in which the letter was published.