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John Bradstreet

John Bradstreet's father, Edward Bradstreet, of Irish descent, was, it would appear, with the British forces when they attacked and took Port Royal in 1710. Edward stayed on at Annapolis Royal, as Port Royal was to be renamed, where the British maintained a holding garrison. The young British officer was to meet and marry a French girl by the name of, d'Agathe de St Etienne de la Tour. From this union came two sons: Simon, born in 1713; and John, born in 1714. His father was not to live long after that, having died "after a lingering sickness," in 1718.1

As to John's early life, we might only speculate. We know that after his father's death, his mother was to remarry, yet, another British army officer, Hugh Campbell (who was to die before John was nineteen). The Bradstreet boys likely had the run of Fort Ann as they grew up at Annapolis Royal and undoubtedly dreamed of following in their father's footsteps. In 1735, their mother bought both of the boys commissions in "The Fighting Fortieth."2 As a young British officer who could fluently speak French, John was to make a number of visits to Louisbourg, we see, particularly during the years of 1736 and 1738. In 1744, with the outbreak of war, John Bradstreet was stationed at Canso when that place was attacked and destroyed. Having been brought to Louisbourg as a prisoner, he, shortly thereafter, was returned to Boston on a prisoner exchange.3

John Bradstreet was to play a significant role in the The Taking of Louisbourg in 1745. His greater part was likely to be that which he played in the planning stage. He was at Boston during the winter season of 1744/45 and because of his intimate knowledge of Fortress Louisbourg he was to give both Shirley and Pepperrell invaluable information. He was, of course, that year, to be with the attacking New Englanders. It was before the walls at Louisbourg that John Bradstreet was to first make his reputation. His biographer, Wm. G. Godfrey, wrote:

"At Louisbourg he had contributed to the shaping of the basic strategy applied during the siege and demonstrated considerable foresight and in ingenuity.
... For a young man, barely thirty years of age, he seemed to move with uncanny ease into the confidence of a colonial governor [Shirley] and a Massachusetts general [Pepperrell] while at the same time winning the respect of the English
Admiral Warren. It was a masterful performance. Admittedly, his cocky attitude, confident expectations and suggestions, and impressive knowledge of Louisbourg's strengths and weaknesses worked to his disadvantage as well as to his advantage. To the rank and file of the New England force, who lacked the wider and more appreciative vision of their superiors, these same traits and knowledge -- ability spawned rumours, suspicions, and criticisms."4
After the success at Louisbourg in 1745, Bradstreet was made a captain; and, after that, he was appointed the Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland arriving there at St. John's in August of 1747. Bradstreet was to stay at his post until the fall of 1751, when at that time, he took a ship for England. In 1755, Bradstreet was back in America having come over with General Braddock; he was, yet, still holding the rank of Captain, an example of how difficult it was for "a colonial boy" to obtain advancement. His biographer, Godfrey, observed, "It was a much more polished, discrete, and aware John Bradstreet who sailed for the American colonies in 1755."5 This, presumably, was because Bradstreet had spent close on to four years in England becoming more polished: he was, in 1755, 44 years of age. The story of Bradstreet's career, thereafter, proves to be a very interesting study, being one that deals with the frustrations of a colonial trying to achieve high rank in the British army, one dealt with already6 and one which goes beyond the scope of my work. Sufficient to say that Bradstreet was very much involved in the British campaign against the French in America which lead to their defeat, one that started in 1755 with those plans as were laid down during the Council at Alexandria. Bradstreet was sent off to Oswego in order to prepare the way for Shirley who was assigned the job of taking Fort Niagara. While Bradstreet performed admirably in getting supplies overland from Albany, with his bateau-men so to better establish and to strengthen the British bridgehead on Lake Ontario; Shirley was not able to use it, as was intended, as a spring board, at least not in 1755, to get at the French located at the western end of Lake Ontario at Fort Niagara. In 1756, Bradstreet was pretty much headquartered at Albany, during which time Fort Oswego was lost to the forces of Montcalm.

At the first of the year, 1757, Bradstreet was active in Boston bringing together the necessary supplies to support Lord Loudoun, who's intention it was to attack Louisbourg.7 In another part, we have dealt with The Gathering at Halifax in 1757. The inept leader, Loudoun, at the last moment, called the whole thing off. It is interesting to note that Bradstreet, given his firsthand knowledge of Louisbourg, gave his views at "The Council of War" at Halifax: he thought that the British should get on with it and attack: his views, however, did not prevail. Bradstreet, with a sizable portion of the gathered troops, left Halifax that summer for Boston, where he wrote up his ideas on the Louisbourg expedition. These "suggestions and plans" were sent off to London, which, I understand were considered by Pitt that winter8 who determined to get a military force together once again to attack Louisbourg in 1758; but, this time, Pitt was to put a set of decisive commanders in place, including: Boscawen, Amherst and Wolfe.

Bradstreet, however, was not with Amherst in the assault on Louisbourg in 1758. Instead, he was with General James Abercromy who had taken over from his former boss, Lord Loudoun; but Abercromy proved to be just as incompetent as Loudoun. Bradstreet performed well, for example he "took up the slack left by the death of Howe";9 and gave excellent advise to Abercromy which was not accepted. Ticonderoga, as historians know, for the British, was an unmitigated disaster.10

After the retreat of the British, in August of 1758, Bradstreet went with a detachment under his command to Lake Ontario; it was there that he was to achieve an outstanding success, one for which he is most remembered. With an army of 3,100 men in 123 bateaux and 95 whaleboats he went across Lake Ontario and attacked Fort Frontenac (Kingston) long a French stronghold, and, succeeded in taking it away from the French.

For the years 1759 and 1760, while his family lived at Boston, Bradstreet was to be mostly headquartered in Albany.11 There he carried out the job of supplying Amherst's army as it advanced on Montreal.12 After The Seven Years War Bradstreet continued in his career as a British army officer; there was much to be done. The French had been effectively canceled out in America; but there was another great race of men which took issue with British claims. As the English pushed to Detroit and the eastern edges of the Mississippi the tribes found a leader, Pontiac.13 Bradstreet was much involved in the campaign against Pontiac and the resulting intrigues between the white Indian agents, and in particular, Sir William Johnson, with whom, Bradstreet was in conflict.

As a British army officer in service in America, John Bradstreet was equaled by few; he was industrious; he was a doer. The difficulty was that he lacked a sense of what was fitting and proper in dealing with others, especially his fellow officers. In the result he often gave, to those who could most assist him, offence. He lacked skill or judgment in negotiating difficult or delicate situations; he simply lacked the faculty of saying or doing the right thing at the right time.14 Even in his early career Bradstreet was generally disliked and the subject of much correspondence. "He was a man of unlimited self confidence and of great ambitions ..."15 These character traits were interpreted by his superiors as ones all too peculiar to those born in America. It was rare for a colonial officer, who managed to make his way into the British officer corps in the first place, to advance to a high position. Like so many young British officers of American birth,16 Bradstreet's life was one long struggle, "an unceasing battle for vindication, recognition, and preferment ..."17

Sick, and very much a broken man, his old friends in London, Jeffrey Amherst among them, finally convinced the authorities to give what John Bradstreet long deserved. At the age of 61, in 1771, he received his promotion to major general. In 1774, John Bradstreet died; his remains lie at Trinity Church, New York City.


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[1] There is a biography on Bradstreet, John Bradstreet's Quest, by Wm. G. Godfrey (1941-) (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1982). Reference to Edward Bradstreet's death is made at p. 3.

[2] We see from Godfrey's biography, at pp. 4-5, that Agathe, as a la Tour, received 2,000 lb. settlement for a claim that she had made for "seigneurial rights." With it, apparently, she bought two commissions for her two sons and then went off to retire in Kilkenny, Ireland to be near the relatives of her first husband. John, and his brother Simon, as young officers, were much in competition with one another, and, there is evidence that there was not much love between them. Simon, however, died early: in December of 1745 the ship Rousby came to grief off the coast of Cape Breton and among those who drowned was Simon Bradstreet.

[3] An interesting side note, is, that, when Bradstreet was released and transported to Boston a condition was imposed that he was not to bear arms against the French for a period of time -- a common condition for the release of prisoners back in those days. Being William Pepperrell's chief officer in his regiment, "The First Massachusetts," Bradstreet was one of the first officers to make the grand entry into Louisbourg after its capitulation in 1745. His presence was to anger the French considerably.

[4] Godfrey's biography, at pp. 30-1.

[5] Ibid. at p. 55.

[6] See Godfrey's biography, op. cit.

[7] Loudoun had a pretty impressive force, there, at Halifax. There were upwards to 9,400 soldiers organized in "six battalions." They floated up the coast from New York in over 100 vessels, including: 87 transports, 2 hospital ships, a horseship, 12 victualers, and 3 packets. Not long after, Vice-admiral Holburne, after an eight week transoceanic voyage which had originated in Cork, Ireland, arrived at Halifax with an additional 5,200 regulars aboard 45 transports, escorted by 15 men-of war. All of this great expense and trouble was for naught: though all set to make his move from Halifax with this great force, Lord Loudoun changed his mind, disassembled his forces and retired to New York -- an action for which Loudoun was very much criticized.

[8] Our colonial soldier, who was long overdue for a promotion, was to be awarded, presumably because of a good word from Pitt: "On December 27, 1757, a message from the war office to Pitt's secretaries confirmed a number of Promotions including that of 'Captain John Bradstreet ... to be a deputy Quarter Master General of His Majesty's Forces in North America and to take the Rank of lieutenant Colonel of Foot.'" (See Godfrey's biography, op. cit., p. 111.)

[9] Godfrey, (op. cit., p. 120.) in quoting John Shy's work, James Abercromby And The Campaign of 1758.

[10] The "loss of 1610 Regulars 334 Provincials killed and wounded ..." (Godfrey, op. cit., p. 120.) There was panic at Abercromby's head quarters, insufficient knowledge of the enemy's position, an unsupported frontal assault (Abercromy left his cannon in the rear), a hasty abandonment of the attack; and this in light of the fact that Abercromby had an army of 14,000 versus Montcalm's 3,000. (Ibid.)

[11] John Bradstreet married the widow of his cousin, who, was also named John Bradstreet -- which, of course, causes confusion to amateur genealogists. The widow's maiden name was Mary Aldridge. Mary was to have two children by the first John Bradstreet: Samuel and Elizabeth. And by the second John Bradstreet (our hero), two daughters: Agatha and Martha. (See Godfrey's biography, at p. 10.) "... in 1764 or 1765, his wife Mary had departed from Boston with daughters Agatha and Martha and stepdaughter Elizabeth, bound first for Ireland and then for England. ... never to return." Godfrey continues, (ibid., pp. 251-2) to point out that by this time Bradstreet, at Albany, had taken up with another woman, Catherine Schuyler, the wife of his close friend.

[12] There was a train of men and boats continually on the move from up the Hudson to Albany and then from there two lines were fed; one going up the Mohawk valley to Oswego, the other over to the waiting boats on Lake George and on Lake Champlain. It was Bradstreet who oversaw the work at Albany: "bateaux building, procuring bateau-men, carpenters, 'wagoners & ox team drivers,' arranging horses, carries and oxen ..."

[13] See Parkman, The Conspiracy of Pontiac.

[14] Bradstreet's biographer (op. cit.) makes a number of references to Bradstreet's failing, see, in particular at p. 177, "his tactlessly straightforward fashion."

[15] See Louis de Forest's introduction to "The Journal of John Bradstreet, Louisbourg Journals (New York: Soc. of Colonial Wars, 1932) pp. 140-1.

[16] George Washington is another. Washington fought as a British officer during The Seven Years War with much distinction, only to be denied advancement.

[17] Godfrey's biography, op. cit., p. 234.


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Peter Landry
1999 (2014)