Capture of Louisbourg by the New England Militia


THE Peace of Utrecht left unsettled the perilous questions of boundary in North America, and they grew more perilous every day. Yet the quarrel between the rival powers was not quite ripe, and though the French governor, Vaudreuil, and perhaps also his successor, Beauharnois, seemed willing to precipitate it, the courts of London and Versailles still hesitated to appeal to the sword. Now, as before, it was a European, and not an American, quarrel that was to set the world on fire. The war of the Austrian Succession broke out in 1744. The news of its declaration reached Louisbourg some weeks before it reached New England, and Duquesnel, the French governor of the fortress, thought he saw an opportunity to strike an unexpected blow for the profit of France and his own great honor.

One of the inhabitants of Louisbourg has left a short sketch of Duquesnel,1 whom he calls “ capricious, of an uncertain temper, inclined to drink, and when in his cups neither reasonable nor civil.” He adds that he had offended nearly every officer in the garrison, and denounces him as the “ chief cause of our disasters.”

The first thought of Duquesnel, when he heard of the declaration of war, was to strike the English before they were warned of danger. The fishing station of Canseau was a tempting prize, being a near and inconvenient neighbor, at the southern end of the strait which separates the Acadian peninsula from the island of Cape Breton, or Isle Royale, of which Louisbourg was the place of strength. Nothing was easier than to seize Canseau, which had no defense but a wooden redoubt, built for the fishermen, and occupied by eighty Englishmen suspecting no danger. Early in May Duquesnel sent Captain Duvivier against it, with six hundred, or, as the English say, nine hundred, soldiers and sailors, escorted by two armed vessels. The English surrendered on condition of being sent to Boston, and the miserable hamlet, with its wooden citadel, was burned to the ground.

The governor next addressed himself to the capture of Annapolis, which meant the capture of all Acadia. Duvivier was again appointed to the command. His heart was in the work, for he was a descendant of La Tour, feudal claimant of Acadia in the preceding century. Four officers and ninety regular soldiers were given him, and three or four hundred Micmac and Malecite Indians joined him on the way. The Micmacs, commanded, it is said, by their missionary, Le Loutre, had already tried to surprise the English fort, but had succeeded only in killing two stragglers in the adjoining garden.

From the neglect and indifference of the British ministry, Annapolis was still in such a state of dilapidation that its sandy ramparts were crumbling into the ditches, and the cows of the garrison walked over them at their pleasure. It was held by about a hundred effective men under Major Mascarene, a French Protestant, whose family had been driven into exile by the dragonnades. Shirley, governor of Massachusetts, sent him a small reinforcement of militia ; but as most of them came without arms, and he had few or none to give them, they were of no great value.

Duvivier and his followers, white and red, appeared before the fort in August, made their camp behind the ridge of a neighboring hill, and marched down to the attack; but being met by a discharge of cannon shot, they gave up all thought of an immediate assault, began a fusillade under cover of darkness, and kept the garrison on the alert all night.

Duvivier had looked for help from the Acadians of the neighboring village, who were French in blood, faith, and inclination. They would not join him openly, fearing the consequences if his attack should fail ; but they did what they could without committing themselves, and made a hundred and fifty scaling ladders for the besiegers. Duvivier now returned to his first plan of an assault, which could hardly have failed if made with vigor. Before attempting it he sent Mascarene a flag of truce, to tell him that he hourly expected two powerful ships of war from Louisbourg, besides a reinforcement of two hundred and fifty regulars, with cannon, mortars, and other enginery of a siege. At the same time he proposed favorable terms of capitulation, not to take effect till the French reinforcement should have appeared. Mascarene refused all terms, saying that he would consider what to do when he saw the French ships, and meanwhile would do his best to defend himself.

The expected ships were the Ardent and the Caribou, then at Louisbourg. A French writer says that when Duquesnel told their captains to sail for Annapolis and aid in its capture they refused, saying that they had no orders from the court. Duvivier protracted the parley with Mascarene, and waited in vain for the promised succors. At last the truce was broken off, and the garrison, who had profited by it to get rest and sleep, greeted the renewal of hostilities with three cheers.

Now followed three weeks of desultory attacks, but Duvivier did not make the threatened assault. He waited for the ships which did not come, and kept the Acadians at work making ladders and fire arrows. Instead of help from Louisbourg, two small vessels arrived from Boston, bringing Mascarene a reinforcement of fifty rangers. This discouraged the besiegers, and towards the end of September they suddenly decamped and vanished. “ The expedition was a failure,” writes the Habitant de Louisbourg, “ though one might have bet anything on its success, so small was the force of the enemy.”

This writer thinks that the seizure of Canseau and the attack on Annapolis were sources of dire calamity to the French. “Perhaps,” he says, “the English would have let us alone if we had not first insulted them. It was for the interest of the people of New England to live at peace with us, and no doubt they would have done so if we had not taken it into our heads to waken them from their security. They expected that both they and we would merely stand on the defensive, without taking part in this cruel war that has set Europe in a blaze.”

Whatever might otherwise have been the inclination of the “ Bastonnais,” or New England people, the attacks on Canseau and Annapolis alarmed and exasperated them, and engendered in some heated brains a wildly audacious project. This was no less than the capture of Louisbourg, reputed the strongest fortress in French or British North America, with the possible exception of Quebec, which owed its chief strength, not to art, but to nature. Louisbourg was a standing menace to all the northern British colonies. It was the only French naval station on the continent, and was such a haunt of privateers that it was called the American Dunkirk. It commanded the chief entrance of Canada, and threatened ruin to the fisheries, which were nearly as vital to New England as the fur trade was to New France. The French government had spent twenty-five years in fortifying it, and the cost of its powerful defenses, constructed after the system of Vauban, is placed by Raynal at thirty million livres, while others reckon it still higher.

This was the fortress which William Vaughan advised Governor Shirley to attack with fifteen hundred raw militia. Vaughan was born at Portsmouth in 1703, and graduated at Harvard College nineteen years later. His father, also a graduate of Harvard, was for a time lieutenant-governor of New Hampshire. Soon after leaving college, the younger Vaughan, a youth of restless and impetuous activity, established a fishing station on the island of Matinicus, off the coast of Maine, and afterwards became owner of most of the land on both sides of the little river Damariscotta, where he built a garrison house, or wooden fort, established a settlement, and carried on an extensive trade in fish and timber. He passed for a man of ability and force, but was accused of a headstrong rashness, a self-confidence that hesitated at nothing, and a harebrained contempt for every obstacle in his way. Once, having fitted out a number of small vessels at Portsmouth for his fishing at Matinicus, he named a time for sailing. It was a gusty and boisterous March day, and old sailors told him that such craft could not carry sail. Vaughan would not listen, but went on board, and ordered his men to follow. One vessel was wrecked at the mouth of the river ; the rest, after severe buffeting, came safe with their owner to Matinicus.

Being interested in the fisheries, Vaughan was doubly hostile to Louisbourg, their worst enemy. He found a willing listener in William Shirley, the governor. Shirley was an English barrister, who had come out to Massachusetts in 1731, to practice his profession and seek his fortune. After filling various offices with credit, he was made governor of the province in 1741, and had discharged his duties with both tact and talent. He was able, sanguine, and a sincere well wisher to the province, though gnawed by an insatiable hunger for distinction. He thought himself a born strategist, and was possessed by a propensity for contriving military operations, which in the next war cost him dear. Vaughan, who knew something of Louisbourg, told him that in winter the snowdrifts were often banked so high against the rampart that it could be mounted easily, if the assailants could but time their arrival at the right moment. This was not easy, as that rocky and tempestuous coast was often inaccessible. Shirley therefore preferred a plan of his own ; but nothing could be done without first persuading his Assembly to consent.

On the 9th of January, 1745, the General Court of Massachusetts, a convention of grave city merchants and solemn rustics from country villages, were astonished by a message from the governor to the effect that he had a communication to make to them, so critical that he wished them to swear secrecy. The request was novel, but, being on good terms with the representative of the Crown, they took the oath, and sat with closed doors. Then, to their amazement, Shirley invited them to attempt the reduction of Louisbourg. The idea of an attack upon that redoubtable fortress was not new. Since the past autumn it had been proposed to petition the British ministry to attack it, under a promise that the colonies would give their best aid. But that Massachusetts should undertake the adventure alone, or with such doubtful help as she might get from her neighbors ; at her own charge, though already insolvent; without the approval or consent of the ministry, and without experienced officers or trained soldiers, was a startling suggestion to the sober-minded legislators of the General Court. Yet they listened with respect to the governor’s reasons, and appointed a committee of the two houses to consider them. The committee deliberated for several days, and then made a report adverse to the plan, and so also was the vote of the court.

Meanwhile, in spite of the oath, the secret had escaped. It is said that a country member, more pious than discreet, prayed so loud and fervently at his lodgings for light to guide him on the momentous question that his words were overheard, and the mystery of the closed doors was revealed. The news flew through the town, and soon spread over all the province.

After the defeat in the Assembly, Shirley returned, disappointed and vexed, to his house in Roxbury. The merchant James Gibson says that, a few days later, he saw him “ walking slowly down King Street, with his head bowed down as if in a deep study.” “He entered my counting-room,”pursues the merchant, “ and said abruptly, ‘ Gibson, do you feel like giving up the expedition to Louisbourg ? ‘ ” Gibson replied that he wished the Assembly would reconsider their vote. “ You are the very man I want! ” exclaimed the governor. Gibson then drew up a petition for reconsideration, which he signed, promising to get the signatures of other merchants of Boston, Salem, and Marblehead. In this he was completely successful, as all New England merchants regarded Louisbourg as an arch-enemy. The petition was presented, and the question came again before the Assembly. There had been much intercourse between Boston and Louisbourg, which had largely depended on New England for provisions. The soldiers captured at Canseau, too, who had been sent to Boston as agreed at the capitulation, had made good use of their opportunities, and could give much information concerning the fortress. It was reported that the garrison was mutinous, and that provisions were falling short, so that the place could not hold out if not succored from France. Such relief, however, could be cut off only by blockading the harbor with a stronger naval force than all the colonies together could supply. The Assembly had before reached the conclusion that to take Louisbourg was beyond the strength of Massachusetts, and that the only reasonable course was to ask help from England.

The reports of mutiny, it was urged, could not be relied on; raw militia in the open field were no match for disciplined troops behind walls ; the expense would be enormous, and the credit of the province, already sunk low, would collapse under it; we should fail, and instead of sympathy get nothing but ridicule. Such were the arguments of the opposition, and there was little to answer except that, if we waited for help from England, Louisbourg would be reinforced and made impregnable. The irrepressible Vaughan put forth all his energy, and the plan was carried by a single vote.

The die was cast, and now doubt and hesitation vanished. All alike set themselves to push on the work. Shirley wrote to all the colonies as far south as Pennsylvania, to ask for aid. All excused themselves except Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. These, and Massachusetts above all, blazed with patriotic and religious zeal; for, as the enterprise was against Roman Catholics, it was supposed to commend itself in an especial manner to Heaven. There were prayers without ceasing in churches and families, and all was order, energy, and confidence, while the other colonies looked on with distrust and derision. When Benjamin Franklin, in Philadelphia, heard what was afoot, he wrote to his brother in Boston : “ Fortified towns are hard nuts to crack, and your teeth are not accustomed to it; but some seem to think that forts are as easy taken as snuff.”It has been said of Franklin that, while he represented some of the New England qualities, he had no part in that enthusiasm of which our own time saw a crowning example when the cannon opened at Fort Sumter, and which pushes to its end without reckoning chances, counting costs, or heeding the scoffs of ill wishers.

The prevailing hope and faith were, it is true, born largely of ignorance, aided by the contagious zeal of those who first broached the project; for, as usual in such cases, the initiate force of the enterprise was supplied by a few individuals. Vaughan rode express to Portsmouth with a letter from Shirley to Benning Wentworth, governor of New Hampshire. That pompous and self-important personage admired Shirley, who far surpassed him in talents and acquirements, and at the same time knew how to soothe his vanity. Wentworth was ready to do his part, but his province had no money, and the king had ordered him to veto the issue of any more paper currency. The same injunction had been laid upon Shirley ; but, with sagacious forecast, he had persuaded his masters to relent so far as to permit the issue of what were called bills of credit to the amount of £50,000 in case of any pressing military exigency. He told this to Wentworth, and succeeded in convincing him that New Hampshire might stretch her credit like Massachusetts, should a similar necessity arise. This enabled her to raise a regiment of five hundred men out of her scanty population, with the condition that a hundred and fifty of them should be paid and fed by Massachusetts.

Shirley was less fortunate in Rhode Island. The governor of that little colony called Massachusetts “ our avowed enemy, always trying to defame us.” There was a grudge between the two neighbors, due partly to notorious hard treatment by the Massachusetts Puritans of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, and partly to one of those boundary disputes which often produced bad blood among the English colonies. The Rhode Island Assembly forgot past differences, and voted to raise a hundred and fifty men for the expedition, till, learning that the project was neither ordered nor approved by the home government, they prudently reconsidered their action. They voted, however, that the colony sloop Tartar, carrying fourteen cannon and twelve swivels, should be equipped and manned for the service, and that the governor should be instructed to find and commission a captain and a lieutenant to command her.

Connecticut promised five hundred and sixteen men and officers, on condition that their commander, Roger Wolcott, should have the second rank in the expedition. Shirley accordingly commissioned him as major-general. As Massachusetts was to furnish above three thousand men, or more than three quarters of the whole force, she had a natural right to name a commander-in-chief. It was not easy to choose one. The province had been at peace for twenty years, and, except some grizzled Indian fighters of the last war and a few survivors of the Carthagena expedition, nobody had seen service. Few knew well what a fortress was, and nobody knew how to attack one. Courage, energy, good sense, and popularity were the best qualities to be hoped for in the leader. Popularity was indispensable, for all the soldiers were to be volunteers, and they would enlist only under a commander whom they liked. Shirley’s choice was William Pepperell, a merchant of Kittery. Knowing that Benning Wentworth thought himself the man for the place, the governor made an effort to placate him, and wrote that he would gladly have given him the chief command but for his gouty legs. Wentworth took fire at the suggestion, forgot his gout, and declared himself ready to serve his country and assume the burden of command. Shirley’s position was awkward, and he was forced to reply : “On communicating your offer to two or three gentlemen in whose judgment I most confide, I found them clearly of opinion that any alteration in the present command would be attended with great risk, both with respect to our Assembly and the soldiers being entirely disgusted.”

The painter Smibert has left us a portrait of Pepperell, — a good bourgeois face, not without dignity, though with no suggestion of the soldier. His spacious house at Kittery Point still stands, curtailed in some of its proportions, yet sound and firm. Not far distant is another noted relic of colonial times, the not less spacious mansion built at Little Harbor by the disappointed Wentworth. I write these lines at a window of this curious old house, and before me spreads the scene familiar to Pepperell from childhood. Here the river Piscataqua widens to join the sea, holding in its gaping mouth the large island of Newcastle, with attendant groups of islets and island rocks, battered and worn with the rack of ages, half clad with patches of whortleberry bushes, sumac, and wax myrtle, green in summer, red with the touch of October. The flood tide pours strong and full around them, only to ebb away and lay bare a desolation of rocks and stones buried in a shock of brown, drenched seaweed, broad tracks of glistening mud, sand banks black and rough with mussel beds, and half-submerged meadows of eel-grass, with myriads of minute shellfish clinging to its lank tresses. Beyond all these lies the main or northern channel, more than deep enough, even when the tide is out, to float a line of battle ship. On its farther bank stands the old house of the Pepperells, still wearing an air of dingy respectability. Looking through its small, quaint window panes, one saw across the water the huts of fishermen along the shore of Newcastle, and the neglected earthwork called Fort William and Mary that feebly guarded the river’s mouth. In front, the Piscataqua, curving southward, widened to meet the Atlantic between rocky headlands and foaming reefs, and in dim distance the Isles of Shoals seemed floating on the pale gray sea.

Behind the Pepperell house was a garden, probably more useful than ornamental, and at the foot of it were the owner’s wharves, with buildings for salt fish, naval stores, and imported goods for the country trade. Pepperell’s father was a Welshman, who had migrated in early life to the Isles of Shoals, and thence to Kittery, where, by trade, shipbuilding, and the fisheries, he made a fortune, most of which he left to his son William. Young Pepperell learned what little was taught at the village school, supplemented by a private tutor, whose instructions, however, did not perfect him in English grammar. In the eyes of his self-made father, education was of no value except so far as it helped to make a successful trader ; and on this point he had reason to be satisfied, since his son passed, for many years, as the chief merchant and landowner in New England. He dealt in ships, timber, naval stores, fish, and miscellaneous goods brought from England ; and he also prospered greatly by successful land purchases, becoming owner of the larger part of the towns of Saco and Scarborough. When scarcely twenty-one he was made justice of the peace, whereupon he ordered from London what his biographer calls a law library, consisting of a law dictionary, Danvers’ Abridgment of the Common Law, the Complete Solicitor, and several other books. In law as in war his best qualities were good sense and good will. About the time when he became a justice he was commissioned captain of militia, then major, then lieutenant-colonel, and at last colonel, having command of all the militia of Maine. The town of Kittery chose him its representative in the General Court; Maine, it will be remembered, being then a part of Massachusetts. Finally he was made a member of the governor’s council, a post which he held for thirty - two years, during eighteen of which he was president of the board.

These civil dignities served him as educators better than tutor or village school, for they brought him into close contact with the chief men of the province ; and in the Massachusetts of that time, so different from our own, the best education and breeding were found in the official class. At once a provincial magnate and the great man of a small rustic village, his manners are said to have answered to both positions ‘ certainly they were such as to make him popular. But, whatever he may have become as a man, he learned nothing to fit him to command an army or besiege a fortress. Perhaps he felt this, and thought, with the governor of Rhode Island, that “ the attempt to reduce that prodigiously strong town was too much for New England, which had not one officer of experience, nor even an engineer.” Moreover, he was unwilling to leave his wife, children, and business. Being of a religious turn of mind, he was partial to the ministers, who, on their part, held him in high favor. One of them, the famous preacher George Whitefield, was a guest at his house when he heard that Shirley had appointed him to command the Louisbourg expedition. Whitefield had been the leading spirit in the late religious fermentation called the Great Awakening, which, though producing bitter quarrels among the ministers, along with other unedifying results, was still thought by many to make for righteousness. Pepperell, perplexed and hesitating, turned to his guest for advice, and got but cold comfort. Whitefield told him that the enterprise was a doubtful one, and that if he undertook it he must do so “ with a single eye,” prepared for obloquy if lie failed, and for envy if he succeeded.

Henry Sherburn. commissary of the New Hampshire regiment, begged Whitefield to furnish a motto for the expedition. The preacher, who, zealot as he was, seems to have cared little to mix himself with so madcap a scheme, at last consented, and suggested the words Nil desperandum Christo duce, which, being embroidered on one or more of the flags, gave the expedition the air of a crusade. It had, in fact, something of the character of one, emphasized by the lingering excitation of the Great Awakening. The cause was thought to be the cause of Heaven, crowned with celestial benediction. It had the fervent support of the ministers, not only in prayers and sermons, but in one case by a suggestion wholly temporal. A certain pastor, much esteemed for his benevolence, proposed to the new general a plan, unknown to Vauban, for confounding the devices of the enemy. His advice was to send two trustworthy persons to walk, under cover of night, along the front of the French ramparts. One of them was to carry a mallet, and hammer the ground with it at short intervals ; while the other laid his ear against the surface, which, as the clerical adviser thought, would sound hollow if the enemy had laid a mine under it. Whenever such secret danger was detected, a mark was to be set on the spot, to warn off the soldiers.

Equally zealous, after another fashion, was the Reverend Samuel Moody, commonly known as Father Moody, or Parson Moody, minister of York, and senior chaplain of the expedition. Though about seventy years old, he was amazingly tough and sturdy. He still lives in the traditions of York as the spiritual despot of the village, and the uncompromising guardian of its manners and doctrine, ruling it like a little rustic pope. The comparison would have kindled his utmost wrath, for he abhorred the Holy Father as an embodied antichrist. Many are the stories told of him by the descendants of those who lived under his rod, and sometimes felt its weight; for he now and then corrected offending parishioners with his cane.2 When some one of the congregation, nettled by his pastor’s personalities, was walking in dudgeon towards the church door, Moody would shout after him, “Come back, you graceless sinner,— come back ! ” Or if any of his flock ventured to the alehouse of a Saturday night, the strenuous shepherd would go in after them, collar them, drag them out, and send them home with rousing admonition.3 Few dared gainsay him, by reason both of his irritable temper and of the thick-skinned insensibility that cased him like armor of proof ; and while his pachydermatous nature made him invulnerable as a rhinoceros, he had, at the same time, a rough-and-ready humor that supplied keen weapons for the war of words, and made him a formidable antagonist. This commended him to the rude borderers, who also relished the strong and sulphurous theology of their spiritual dictator, just as they liked the fiery potations that would have scorched more susceptible stomachs. What they did not like was the unconscionable length of his prayers, which sometimes kept them afoot above two hours, and were followed by sermons no less enduring; for the old man’s lungs were of leather, and his nerves of hammered iron. Some of the sufferers ventured to remonstrate, but this only exasperated him, till one parishioner, more worldly-wise than the rest, accompanied his modest petition for mercy with the gift of a barrel of cider; after which, it is said, the pastor’s ministrations were perceptibly less exhausting than before. He had a restless and eccentric conscience and a highly aggressive sense of duty. Whether from these, or out of an underlying kindness of heart, he was apt to forget that charity begins at home, and sometimes drove his household into vain protest against the excess of his almsgiving. He had a full share of the old Puritan fanaticism, and when he sailed for Louisbourg took with him an axe to hew down the altars of antichrist and demolish his idols.4

Shirley’s choice of a commander-inchief was, perhaps, the best he could have made, as Pepperell joined unusual popularity with as little military incompetence as anybody else who could be had. Popularity was indispensable, and even company officers were appointed with an eye to it. Many of them were well-known men in rustic neighborhoods, who had raised companies in the hope of being commissioned to command them. Others were militia officers recruiting under order of the governor. Thus, John Storer, major in the Maine militia, raised, it is said, in a single day a company of sixty-one, the oldest being sixty years of age, and the youngest sixteen. They formed about a quarter of the fencible population of the town of Wells, one of the most exposed places on the border. Volunteers everywhere offered themselves readily, though the pay was meagre, especially in Maine and Massachusetts, where, in the new provincial currency, it was twenty-five shillings a month, then equal to about fourteen shillings sterling, or less than sixpence a day,5 the soldier clothing himself and bringing his own gun. A full third of the Massachusetts contingent, or more than a thousand men, is reported to have come from the hardy population of Maine, whose entire fighting force was then but 2855. Perhaps there was not one officer among them whose experience of war extended beyond a militia drill on muster day, and the sham fight that closed the performance, when it generally happened that the rustic warriors were treated with rum at the expense of their captain, to put them in good humor, and so induce them to obey the word of command.

As the three colonies contributing soldiers recognized no common authority nearer than the king, Pepperell received three several commissions as lieutenant-general, — one from the governor of Massachusetts, and the others from the governors of Connecticut and New Hampshire; while Wolcott, commander of the Connecticut forces, was commissioned as major-general by the governors of his own province and of Massachusetts. When the levies were complete, it was found that Massachusetts had contributed about 3200 men, Connecticut 516, and New Hampshire 304 in her own pay, besides 150 paid by her less impoverished neighbor. Rhode Island had lost faith, and disbanded her 150 men ; but afterwards raised them again, too late to take part in the siege.

Each of the four New England colonies had a little navy of its own, consisting of from one to three or four small armed vessels; and as privateering— which, where Frenchmen and Spaniards were concerned, was sometimes a euphemism for piracy—was a favorite occupation, it was possible to extemporize an additional force in case of need. For naval commander Shirley chose Captain Edward Tyng, who had lately signalized himself by capturing a French privateer of greater strength than his own. Shirley authorized him to buy for the province the best ship he could find, equip her for fighting, and take command of her. Tyng soon found a brig to his liking on the stocks. She was fitted rapidly for her new destination, changed into a frigate, mounted with twenty-four guns, and named the Massachusetts. The rest of the naval force consisted of the ship Cæsar, of twenty guns; a vessel called the Shirley, commanded by Captain Rous, and also carrying twenty guns; another, of the kind called a snow, carrying sixteen guns ; one sloop of twelve guns, and two of eight gnus each; the Boston Packet, of sixteen guns; two sloops, hired in Connecticut, of sixteen guns each; a privateer of twenty guns, hired in Rhode Island ; the government sloop Tartar, of the same colony, carrying fourteen carriage guns and twelve swivels; and, finally, the sloop of fourteen guns which formed the navy of New Hampshire.

It was said, with apparent reason, that one or two heavy French ships of war — and a squadron of such was expected in the spring — would outmatch the whole colonial navy, and after mastering it would hold all the transports at their mercy; so that the troops on shore, having no means of return and no hope of succor, would be forced to surrender or starve. The danger was real, and Shirley felt the necessity of help from a few British ships. Commodore Peter Warren was then at Antigua with a small squadron. Shirley sent an express boat to him with a letter stating the situation and asking his aid. Warren, who had married an American woman, and who owned large tracts of land on the Mohawk, was known to be a warm friend of the provinces. There is no doubt that he would gladly have complied with Shirley’s request, but, when he laid the question before a council of officers, they were of one mind that, unless ordered by the Admiralty, he would not be justified in supporting an attempt made without the king’s approval. He therefore saw no choice but to decline. Shirley, fearing that his refusal would be discouraging, kept it secret from all but Pepperell and General Wolcott, or, as others say, Brigadier Waldo. He had written to the Duke of Newcastle, in the past autumn, that Acadia and the fisheries were in great danger, and that ships of war were needed for their protection. On this the duke had written to Warren, ordering him to sail for Boston, and concert measures with Shirley “ for the annoyance of the enemy and his Majesty’s service in North America.” Newcastle’s letter reached Warren two or three days after be had sent back his refusal of Shirley’s request. Thinking himself now sufficiently authorized to give the desired aid, he sailed at once for Boston with his three ships, the Superbe, Mermaid, and Launceston. On the way he met a schooner from Boston, and learned from its officers that the expedition had already sailed, on which, detaining the master as a pilot, he changed his course, and made directly for Canseau, the place of rendezvous of the New England fleet; sending orders at the same time by the schooner that any king’s ships that might arrive at Boston should immediately join him.

Within seven weeks after Shirley issued his call for volunteers, the preparations were all made and the unique armament was afloat. Transports, such as they were, could be had in abundance ; for the harbors of Salem and Marblehead were full of fishing vessels thrown out of employment by the war. These were hired, and insured by the province for the security of the owners. There was a great dearth of cannon. The few that could be had were too light, the heaviest being of twenty-twopound calibre. New York lent ten eighteen-pounders ; but the adventurers looked to the French for their chief supply. A detached work near Louisbourg, called the Grand, or Royal, Battery, was known to be armed with thirty heavy pieces, and it was proposed to capture these and turn them against the town; which, as Hutchinson remarks, was like selling the skin of the bear before catching him.

Clearly the expedition must run for luck against risks of all kinds. Those whose hopes were highest based them on a belief in the direct intervention of Providence ; others were sanguine through ignorance and provincial selfconceit. As soon as the troops were embarked Shirley wrote to the ministry what was going on, telling them that, accidents apart, four thousand New England men would land on Cape Breton in April; and that, even if they should fail to capture Louisbourg, he would answer for it that they would lay the town in ruins, retake Canseau, do other good service for his Majesty, and then come safe home.6 On receiving the governor’s dispatch, the ministry resolved to aid the enterprise if there should yet be time; and several ships of war were ordered to sail for Louisbourg.

The sarcastic Dr. Douglas, then living at Boston, says that the expedition had a lawyer for contriver, a merchant for general, and farmers, fishermen, and mechanics for soldiers. In fact, there was in it something of the character of broad farce, to which Shirley himself, with all his ability and general good sense, was a chief contributor. He wrote to the Duke of Newcastle that, though the officers were without experience and the men without discipline, he would take care to provide against these defects ; meaning that he would give them precise directions how to take Louisbourg. Accordingly he drew up copious instructions to that end. These seem to have undergone a process of evolution, for several distinct drafts of them are preserved.7 The complete and final one is among the Pepperell Papers, copied entire in the neat commercial hand of the general himself.3 It seems to assume that Providence would work a continued miracle, and supply the expedition on all occasions with weather suited to its wants. “ It is thought,” says this singular document, “ that Louisbourg may be surprised if they [the French] have no advice of your coming. To effect it you must time your arrival about nine of the clock in the evening, taking care that the fleet be far enough in the offing to prevent their being seen from the town in the daytime.” He then goes on to prescribe how they are to land after dark at a place called Flat Point Cove, in four divisions, three of which are to march forthwith to the back of certain hills west of the town, where two of the three “ are to halt and keep a profound silence,” the third continuing their march “ under cover of the said hills till ” they come opposite the Grand Battery, which they are to attack at a concerted signal; while one of the two divisions behind the hills assault the West Gate, and the other follow to support them.

While this is going on, the fourth division are to march with all speed along the shore till they come to a certain part of the town wall which they are to scale ; then proceed " as fast as can be ” to the citadel and “ secure the windows of the governor’s apartments.” Then follows page after page which must have stricken the general with stupefaction. The rocks, surf, fogs, and gales of that tempestuous coast are left out of the account ; and so, too, is the nature of the country, which consists of deep marshes, rocky hills, and hollows choked with evergreen thickets. Yet a series of complex and mutually dependent operations, involving long marches through this rugged and pathless region, was to be accomplished in the darkness of one April night by raw soldiers who knew nothing of the country. This rare specimen of amateur soldiering is partly redeemed by a postscript, in which the governor sets free the hands of his general thus : “ Notwithstanding the instructions you have received from me, I must leave you to act, upon unforeseen emergencies, according to your best discretion.”

On the 24th of March, the fleet, consisting of about ninety transports escorted by the provincial cruisers, sailed from Nantasket Roads, followed by prayers and benedictions, and also by toasts drunk with cheers in bumpers of rum punch.8

Francis Parkman.

  1. Lettre d’un Habitant de Louisbourg, contenant une Relation exacte et circonstanciée de la Prise de l’Isle Royale par les Anglois.
  2. Tradition told me at York by Mr. N. Marshall.
  3. Lecture of Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted by Cabot, A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson, i. 10.
  4. The worthy Moody found sympathizers in his iconoclastic zeal. Deacon John Gray, of Biddeford, wrote to Pepperell : “Oh that I could be with you and dear Parson Moody in that church [at Louisbourg] to destroy the images there set up, and hear the true Gospel of our Lord and Saviour there preached ! ”
  5. Gibson, Journal, Records of Rhode Island, v. Governor Wanton, of that province, says with complacency that, the pay of Rhode Island was twice that of Massachusetts.
  6. Shirley to Newcastle, 24 March, 1745. The home government was not wholly unprepared for this announcement; Shirley having before reported to it the vote of his Assembly consenting to the expedition. Shirley to Newcastle, 1 February, 1745.
  7. The first draft is in the manuscript volume lettered on the back “Siege of Louisbourg,” in the library of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The paper is entitled Mem° for the attacking of Louisbourg this Spring by Surprise. After giving elaborate instructions for every movement, it goes on to say that, as the surprise may possibly fail, it will be necessary to send two small mortars and twelve cannon carrying nine-pound halls, “so as to bombard them and endeavour to make Breaches in their walls, and then to storm them.”Shirley was soon to discover the absurdity of trying to breach the walls of Louisbourg with nine-pounders.
  8. It is printed in the first volume of the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Shirley was so well pleased with his plan that he sent it to the Duke of Newcastle, inclosed in his letter of 1 February, 1745. (Public Record Office.)
  9. The following extract of a letter of John Payne, of Boston, to Robert Hale, colonel of the Massachusetts regiment from Essex County, while it shows no sign of the prevailing religions feeling, illustrates well the ardor of the New England people for their rash adventure : —
  10. BOSTON, April 24, 1745.
  11. SIR, — I hope this will find you at Louisbourg with a Bowl of Punch a Pipe and a P—k of C—ds in your hand and whatever else you desire. We are very Impatiently expecting to hear from you, your Friend Luke has lost several Beaver Hatts already concerning the Expedition, he is so very zealous about it that he has turned Poor Boutier out of his House for saying he believed you would not Take the Place. — Damn his Blood, says Luke, let him be an Englishman or a Frenchman and not pretend to he an Englishman when he is a Frenchman in his heart. If drinking to your success would Take Cape Briton, you must be in Possession of it now, for its a standing Toast. I think the least thing you Military Gentn can do is to send us some arrack when you take ye Place to celebrate your Victory and not to force us to do it in Rum Punch or Luke’s bad wine or sour cyder.
  12. COLONELL ROBERT HALE. at {or near) Louisbourg.
  13. I am indebted for a copy of this curious letter to Robert H. Bancroft, Esq., a descendant of Colonel Hale.