- Historic Sites
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
At that point, chance brought two enemy vessels to anchor near them to wait out the flood tide, one of them a sloop and the other, anchored at some distance, a schooner. The small company immediately resolved to capture both vessels, the nearer one first. At sundown, Stobo concealed two of his men in the bushes, attracted the attention of the sloop with a handkerchief tied on a stick, and signalled that they were friends in need of help. The obliging captain sent three of his men in a canoe. As they stepped ashore, Stobo demanded and got their surrender. By questioning he learned that both vessels were bound for Miramichi on the Gaspé to pick up provisions and some three hundred Indians who were to reinforce the garrison at Quebec. The sloop had two other men aboard; the schooner had six. The sloop’s captain, for unaccountable reasons, was not concerned when his three men failed to return. One suspects that he was drunk.
That night they bound two of the prisoners to trees, placed them under the guard of Mrs. Clark, and, taking the third prisoner as a pilot, set out in the leaky shallop to storm the schooner. (The ship’s boat was too small to hold six men.) Lakin and Denbo bailed furiously to keep the boat afloat; Clark stood at the helm, Stevens stood at the bow, and Stobo, a gun in his hand and a pistol and cutlass in his belt, placed himself in the middle, ready to board first.
At about 1 A.M., Stevens grappled the vessel. There was no watch. He leaped aboard and, seeing nobody, ran toward the companion doors. One of the crew now came out of the steerage; Stevens turned, levelled his weapon, and took the man prisoner.
Clark, second on deck, ran immediately to take the candle that lighted the compass and then headed for the captain’s cabin. Stobo, in the meantime, had become helplessly entangled in the ratlines of the shrouds and had dropped his cutlass and pistol. He managed to free himself and, in the ensuing confusion, killed the man to whom Stevens had given quarter. At this point the captain emerged from below decks and surrendered.
“I hope the Reader will excuse my being so very particular in this Affair,” wrote Stevens gravely in his account, “as Capt. Stobo has reported that he was the first that boarded the Schooner, and the only Instrument in taking her.”
After they had secured their prisoners, the conquerors weighed anchor, spread sail, and moved alongside the sloop. They ordered its two men to come aboard, hands raised. They refused. Stobo and company opened fire with small arms at short range, firing about twenty rounds and hitting no one, whereupon master and crewman surrendered. All except the two captains were locked with the other prisoners in the hold of the schooner.
The company was now in possession of two vessels, ten prisoners, one corpse, an arsenal of weapons, and ample food to complete the trip. They sailed the schooner, Stevens wrote, to our old Camp, sent the Boat on Shore, and bro’t off our Women and Prisoners, and what small Quantity of Provisions we had left. We set sail, and after we had sail’d about five Leagues, we put on Shore six of our Prisoners: We gave them three Days Provisions, one Gun, and some Ammunition. We kept on board the two Masters, with three Prisoners more, whom we ordered to carry the Vessel to St. John’s Island [now Prince Edward Island] where we all safe arrived (thank GOD) May 27th, 1759.
In Louisbourg, where they arrived on June 6 under friendly escort, the escaped men were welcomed as triumphant heroes. Within a matter of days their story had travelled down the seaboard to Boston and beyond. A correspondent of the Maryland Gazette wrote: “He [Stobo] is a Man of Most enterprising Genius. His Tale is very long and very romantic. … [He] appears to be a sensible Gentleman,” and followed with a long account of the Major’s adventures over the past five years.
On June 7, Stobo and Stevens reported to the military governor, Brigadier Edward Whitmore, who, with two admirals and a commodore attending, interrogated the men separately. Stobo’s estimate of the strength and disposition of French forces in Canada was detailed; for example, he listed the eight regiments of regulars by name.
Whitmore considered their stories important enough to be conveyed to William Pitt by express boat. He sent a copy to Jeffery Amherst, commander of all the British forces in North America, who was at Lake Champlain, preparing his n,ooo-man army for another attempt to take Ticonderoga. He sent another to General James Wolfe, who had begun a weary and apparently hopeless siege of the Great Rock of Quebec. (See “The Battle That Won an Empire” in the December, 1959, A MERICAN H ERITAGE .)
Both Stevens and Stobo volunteered to return to Quebec to make their knowledge available to Wolfe. They were transported by special vessel and arrived at Wolfe’s headquarters early in July.
According to the Memoirs, Stobo “constantly attended the general, and of his house made one.” He took part in the defeat at Montmorency Falls, where he was slightly wounded. Serving under Lieutenant Colonel Guy Carleton, he conducted Wolfe and a party of Highlanders and Royal Americans to Pointe aux Trembles, some sixteen miles upriver. He spearheaded the attack there in command of a force of three hundred men, capturing about sixty prisoners. Stobo was later able to give gallant protection and safe conduct back to Quebec to 150 ladies who had fled there to escape the terrible shelling of the city, among them a number of his former friends.