The Fantastic Adventures Of Captain Stobo
Into seven crucial years of American colonial history, a young Scots-American officer packed more of the stuff that makes heroes than perhaps a dozen more illustrious men. Yet today his name has slipped into almost complete obscurity
August 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 5
His resolution was strengthened by three developments. Monsieur de Longueuil, now a high official at Montreal (who had befriended Stobo or van Braam or both at Fort Duquesne), caused the two prisoners to be quartered together again. Van Braam, though under no sentence, agreed to join the escape attempt. And, somewhat later, Longueuil decided that the men should be allowed to walk about in the corridor for exercise.
At about seven on the evening of May 1, 1757, a twenty-year-old domestic named Jeanne-Alin carried dinner to the two men in their room, set the table, observed that they seemed very gay, and departed after about fifteen minutes. At five o’clock the following morning, Charles Martigny, the jailer, entered the room, saw that the prisoners were apparently sleeping, lighted their fire, and “walked very quietly for fear of waking them.” Then, Martigny said, “there came two Acadians to ask for work from Mr. Stobo and Mr. van Braam, and I ascended to the room again to ask them if they had anything for the poor fellows to do. I was very much surprised to discover in the bed instead of a man, a beaver great-coat with a night cap and shirt which was made to resemble the head of a man. In the other bed [van Braam’s] there was a valise, likewise a bonnet and a cotton shirt.” He sounded the alarm and within a few hours was being questioned by the very angry military provost of Quebec. Said unhappy Jailer Martigny, “The great liberty which was given them to walk about wherever they pleased did not allow me to be as strict as is customary at all times with other prisoners.”
The inventory immediately taken of the chamber included books, much clothing, a saddle bag, a chess set, a pound of sugar, snuff, four pounds of smoking tobacco, lead and other equipment for making bullets, and an astonishing assemblage of tools: three files, two planes, two chisels, a punch, an iron crowbar, a gouge, a wedge, a level, scissors, and, in a small locked box, a set of tools for making keys. Thus amply equipped, the prisoners had easily opened a simple lock on a second-floor corridor door which led to the roof of a small shed in the courtyard. From this they had dropped onto a pile of dung, crossed the court, and unbolted a door leading out onto Rue Pauvres. The tools, it was determined in the investigation, had been furnished by M. de Longueuil’s son.
Both men were captured a few days later by a subcaptain and four militiamen at the river bank at St. Nicholas, just above Quebec. The inhabitants of the parish were paid the reward of 3,000 livres which had been promised.
Two months later, on July 17-18, Stobo escaped a second time. All that is known of this attempt is taken from a journal kept by a Father Jean-Filex Recher of Quebec. Stobo was alone; he succeeded in passing a guard who challenged but did not arrest him; he was recaptured by M. de Longueuil himself and a companion near St. Roch “where he did not know what to do”; and he was returned to the prison in a carriage without difficulty. “His spirit,” observed Father Recher, “was a little discourteous.”
For an unknown period following this escape, Stobo was kept in close confinement at Quebec and, according to other English prisoners returning to New England, was given “the most rigorous treatment.” By his own account, this so affected his health that at one point “my life was despaired of.”
By the early spring of 1759, however, Stobo was once more in good health. Now again, for some reason, he was allowed an extraordinary amount of freedom, especially for a twice-escaped prisoner under sentence of death—even though it had now become commonly known that the sentence “had been broke.” The Memoirs attributes this new liberty to the intercession of a young lady who had fallen in love with the prisoner. She is identified only as one who called Governor Vaudreuil “cousin” and as “a lady fair, of chaste renown, of manners sweet, and gentle soul; long had her heart confessed for this poor prisoner, a flame.”
The simplest explanation for Stobo’s freedom of movement in 1759 is the fact that other English prisoners—there were seven hundred of them in Canada at the time of Stobo’s trial—were allowed comparable liberty. Montcalm complained bitterly of this several times in letters to Versailles and in his journal. “The guarding of the English prisoners,” he wrote, “has always been as bad as the administration in general about them.” Again he refers to ”… this crowd which in Montreal and Quebec are as free as if they were in Boston.”
One of the prisoners thus detained was Simon Stevens, a young lieutenant in Major Robert Rogers’ Rangers who had been taken prisoner on Lake George in June, 1758, shortly before the bloody disaster inflicted by Montcalm on the English at Ticonderoga. Stevens lived in a room in the town on an allowance of five pence, one farthing, per day. He, like Stobo and many other officer prisoners in Quebec, was able to “draw his bills” on the generous-hearted Colonel Peter Schuyler of the New Jersey Regiment, taken prisoner at the fall of Oswego.