A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.TOC
Part 2, "The English Takeover: 1690-1712"TOC
Chapter 9, "The Taking of Port Royal (1710)."

It's a September day on Annapolis Basin, it's 1710. We see French soldiers, ragged in appearance. Some are having an easier time of it standing guard on the earthen ramparts of the fort while others are hard at work piling up the ready building material hereabouts, alluvium; and while readily moveable by both man, and by nature: dirt, it should be pointed out, is not good fort building material. Suddenly, one yells out excitedly and points southwesterly, towards the gut, the narrow opening that lets the ocean waters into the basin. Ships are entering: a couple at first, then a couple more, and soon the basin is straddled with, with -- English ships! And, "Mon Dieu" -- they are coming at us again.1 There appears "36 transports, 4 ships of 60 guns each, 2 of 40 guns, 1 of 36 guns and two bomb galleys ... besides a number of open sloops for carrying of lumber and other utensils for the cannon."2 Imagine the terror of the French population as they run to the shore and to look out and to see such a crowd of sailing vessels; to see them, all in turn, rounding up and dropping anchors; then, to see, regiment after regiment of armed men streaming on to the shores in their "flat bottomed whale boats" newly built the year before: men from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island had come to do in the French. Of the 2,000 soldiers,3 400 hundred are of the regular English army, the rest colonial militia. The sight unfolding before the French gave every indication that a well planned military affair was underway.

The Commanders:
The 1710 British campaign against Port Royal was under the command of the 55 year old Englishman,
Francis Nicholson. The two other prominent officers in this campaign was a 42 year old gentleman from Edinburgh, Colonel Samuel Vetch and the Boston born Sir Charles Hobby, a 45 year old who had been knighted by the queen in 1705. The French, for their part, had one of their most capable leaders that they had ever sent to America, Daniel d'Auger de Subercase; but, the odds for Subercase this time around, were too long: 2,000 well exercised and supplied English troops4 versus his 300 (ill-equipped, tired, and discouraged); the French garrison gave up within ten days.

Unlike those of 1704 and 1707, the attack on Port Royal in 1710 had "royal support." This support, which consisted of ships-o-war and British regulars, accounted for its success in no small measure. This kind of direct military support was not only of considerable advantage when the invading forces came under enemy fire (regular forces were always steadier in the field than were militia) but served as a considerable inducement to the colonials to raise their forces to a higher level of discipline. A militia man was promised "a month's pay in advance, together with a coat worth thirty shillings ... and a Queen's musket ... which he might keep as his own forever." The officers, while on campaign, were to be kept in style: "... it was voted that a pipe of wine, twenty sheep, five pigs, and one hundred fowls be presented to the Honorable General Nicholson for his table during the expedition."5

On the 25th of September all the British were ashore.6 Several days were to pass before the British artillery and stores were landed; and, all along, cannons roared from both the French fort and the English bomb-ketch. By the 29th the English were ready to get down to their siege business. Within 24 hours, the French sent out a white flag of truce and the guns fell silent. Within 24 hours of that, terms were worked out and Port Royal capitulated. This is the short version of the taking of Port Royal in 1710. I now proceed to give some details.

The Queen's Warrant:
Port Royal had been taken before, indeed twice before, and both times by men from New England: under Major Robert Sedgwick in August of 1654 and under
Sir William Phips in May of 1690: in each case it had been restored to France by treaty. The taking of Port Royal in 1710 is particularly important to our story, for, with its capture came England's claims to all of Acadia. This is the time to acquaint ourselves with Francis Nicholson. This Yorkshireman had made powerful friends both in London and in the colonies. During the winter of 1709\10 Nicholson had befriended the Queen, herself. She became anxious (and thus so became everyone) to appease Nicholson for his great disappointment of the year before when a colonial effort to conquer Canada had to go by the boards because her majesty's senior military officers had determined to divert the forces intended for America, at the last moment, to the continent. Queen Anne, however, made up for things in her royal fashion: a warrant was given over her signature:

"Instructions for our trusty and well beloved Colonel Francis Nicholson Whom we have appointed to be Commander in Chief of out forces to be employ'd in the reduction of Port Royal and other places in Nova Scotia Given at our Court att St. James's the 18th of March ... In the 9th year of Our Reign [1710]."
Any review of the military expedition to take Nova Scotia in 1710 would include a look at the career of not only that of Nicholson, but also that of Vetch. The comparison of the characters of these two -- Francis Nicholson, the standoffish, bachelor Yorkshireman; and Samuel Vetch, the gregarious Scot -- would make for an interesting story in itself. Nicholson's commanding position, vis-a-vis Vetch, in 1710, it would appear, was just exactly reversed from that which would have been found at the top of the assembled forces, in 1709. While Nicholson had by royal warrant the command of the invading forces this time around, once the French capital had been taken, then, by the same royal warrant, Vetch was to take charge of the conquered territory: it was a formula that was bound to cause problems. Among the corps of English officers there was a 26 year old junior officer by the name of Paul Mascarene of whom we will hear much more as this history unfolds. This young French speaking officer (a very great asset to the English forces), mainly because of his affability, was to bring considerable relief to the strained relationship at the top of the English command.7

The Fleet Sets sail:
The fleet of fifty or sixty sailing vessels, having set sail on Wednesday, September 18th, 1710, made their way up the coast from Boston. The next day, on Thursday, the fleet, in order to weather a storm, came to anchor at Passamquoddy Bay in behind Campobello and Deer Islands, approximately 60 miles or so from their objective just across the Bay of Fundy. On Saturday, the 23rd, they "arrived at Port Royal River and entering in at the Gutt, a parcel of Indians fired several volleys of small shot at them." A few blasts of the big cannon from the ships, however, sent the Indians scurrying for cover. The whole fleet came to anchor above Goat Island west of the town and the fort. One of the ships, the Caesar ran aground in the process and "the wind rising with a violent swelling sea bulg'd the ship." The captain of the Caesar, her pilot, a sailor and 23 soldiers were drown.

The Landing:
The fort was strategically built on a small point of land stuck into the south side of the river. Just opposite on the north side is a smaller point of land. The points of land come together throttling the Rivière Dauphin
8 at its mouth; at this point the shores of the river are but a shot away. The invading troops landed on both sides of the river, well below and away from the guns of the fort. Each column advanced up their respective shores, using the cover which the trees would have provided. On the south side was General Nicholson and his forces. On the north, Colonel Vetch. Vetch was thus faced with the challenge of getting his troops across the river under the guns of the French so to meet up with Nicholson on the other side; and, so, to be all assembled before the fort. As Nicholson explained in his diary, he "marched up near to brick-kilns in a single file, the way was so bad that in many places they were forc'd to cut their way, and in the evening we encamped in the adjoining woods ..." Next day, Tuesday, the 26th, the two forces met up "in sight of the Fort with Drums beating, and Colours flying" and then "the rest of the Army came up, and we dined." The French and their Indian allies kept up their efforts with small arms especially against the posted sentries; but the French and their Indian allies were far less in number than the English and their Indian allies. Nicholson determined to clean out the snipers and ordered a regiment to attack and force the French to go in behind their walls. A "hot skirmish" developed as the French forces fired "from their Houses, Fences and Gardens with their small arms." Soon the French were locked up behind their fort walls; the task being accomplished without too much of a loss on either side. A proper siege was now to commence.

By Friday, the 29th, the British had unloaded the needed "stores of War" and the English cannons were unlimbered, set up on their emplacements, leveled and aimed at the fort. But these big guns were not heard from; by having been thus set up they had served their purpose. "After Diner two French officers9 an Ensign and Sergeant with a Drummer came out of the Fort with a flag of truce, and brought our General a letter from Monsieur Subercase ..." The letter read as follows:

"Sir, Although I have not the Honour of knowing you I do notwithstanding address you with a full assurance that you will grant me one favour, since especially it is in behalf of our women, some of which are noble; Sire they did all along Flatter themselves that they could hear and bear the noise of your bombs without fear, but they now find themselves a little mistaken. One is our Major's Lady, the others are our officers Wives, who have two maiden servants to follow them; my prayer is that you grant them your Protection in your camp, and that you order that nothing that is uncivil or abusive be offer'd to them. Farther, as you have the Character of being a most Gallant and very honest Gentleman. I still presume to crave your farther favour for a few more of our Lady's who are gone into the Woods, our Lieutenant Governor's Lady is one of them, so that as its possible they may come into your camp or be taken by some of your out Scouts. You'l please to protect them in some place or other where you shall judge fit, and I shall be extremely obliged to you as being really, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant, Subercase.
Nicholson Detects a Ruse:
The etiquette of such proceedings required that the officer coming from one camp to another under a flag of truce is to be announced by a peculiar drum roll (a chamade) and come but half way and hold up, there to be met by an officer of the other camp. The officer who came to treat would then be blindfolded and lead into camp. Nicholson returned a letter but kept the French officer. "I had just now the honour of receiving yours of this day and am concerned that you did not take the proper methods, for as I conceive before your officers came out of your Garrison you should have caused a Chamad to have been beat upon the ramparts to know if it were agreeable to me or not, such methods being observed amongst Soldiers, it should have been so done if you had anything to ask of me."
10 Numerous letters were passed between the commanders, each trying to out-psyche the other. Subercase was trying to get the release of his officer, but Nicholson sent one of his own into the fort, the French officer which was initially sent to Nicholson was kept by Nicholson, and he observed that he found the French officer was quite versatile being able to converse in English, though initially he pretended not to know the language. Subercase was aghast at the accusation that he had sent a spy and maintained he but wanted to save the French ladies from the horrors of war and meant only to put them under the protection of an honourable English general, and, indeed, one of them was with child. To which Nicholson replied that he was only too willing to keep the French ladies safe, "the Queen my royal Mistress hath not sent me hither to make War with Woman, especially in their condition. ... I leave it to your choice to send them or not, ... but I cannot part with your officer, believing you would imagine me but little experienced in War, should I send him to inform you what he has discovered he coming into the body of our encampment before he was blinded, I am also more inclined to believe him a spy, because you are more desirous of his discharge than the Lady's ... You have one of my Officers and I've one of yours, so that now we are equal." With that Subercase threw in his hand.11

French Ladies Up the River:
Incidentally, it is interesting to report, that certain of the ladies were not apparently in the fort but rather had already been sent up the river upon the sighting of the English fleet, to a place some four or five leagues up the river, 25 to 35 miles, to be in hiding somewhere around the present day village of Middleton. After the capitulation Nicholson sent two boats up the river "to fetch in the French Ladies that escaped for fear of our bombs." On Tuesday, the 3rd of October, "the French Ladies came down the River in the Boats which, the General sent for them, and came to our Camp, where they Breakfasted with the General, and were conducted into the Fort; Sir Charles Hobby led in Madam Bonaventure, and the rest were led in by other Officers."12

The officers on both sides during this affair treated one another with considerable courtesy, as was generally the case in the 18th century: the turnover went smoothly. On October 6th, two hundred New England soldiers marched to the fort gate and formed in two lines on the right and left. Nicholson and his entourage advanced between the ranks, with Vetch on one hand and Hobby on the other, followed by all the field-officers. Subercase came to meet them, and gave up the keys, with a few words of compliment.

"Sir, I'm very sorry for the misfortune of the King my master in losing such a brave fort, and the territories adjoyning; but count myself happy in falling into the hands of so noble and generous a General, and now deliver up the keys of the Fort, and all the magazines into your hands, hoping to give you a visit next Spring ..."13
The garrison, made up of about 200 hundred Frenchmen,14 then advanced out of the fort with drums beating and flags flying, and dragging a small mortar.15 They were proud but starving soldiers in rags and tatters, many of whom were no more than adolescents, a sight which sadden even the victors. Each saluted the English commander as they passed; then the English troops, in turn, marched in, raised the union flag, and drank the Queen's health amid a general firing of cannon from the fort and ships. Nicholson changed the name of Port Royal to Annapolis Royal; and Vetch, already commissioned as governor, took command of the new garrison, which consisted of two hundred British marines, and two hundred and fifty provincials who has offered themselves for the service.

The French Garrison Sent Home in Style:
On Friday, the 13th and Sunday the 15th of October, 1710, the first deportation of the Acadians took place at Port Royal (though this deportation did not apparently include any settlers, but only the military and administrative types found behind the walls of the fort at Port Royal). The defeated French were taken aboard three English transports: the Frigot (a total of 118 including Subercase, Bonaventure, Goutin, and their respective families), the Four Friends (71) and the John and Anne (69). A grand total of 258 Frenchmen were shipped out and over to France, an obligation the English created for themselves by the terms of the capitulation.16 The English did what they could to make the voyage as comfortable as they might for their friends, the French officers.

"Besides the Ship Provision on Board the Transports for France, General Nicholson ordered to be put on Board 4. Pipes of Wine, 4. Casks of Jamaica Sugar, and several sorts of spice for the women and children, and a hogshead of rum instead of beer. The General also gave to Monsieur Subercase out of his own store of all sorts of Liquor, besides wine and beer and other provisions to a considerable value, both for himself and others, to be disposed of as he thought proper."17

History does not blame Subercase, a veteran of more than thirty years' service, and who "borne fair repute as a soldier," for the loss of Port Royal to the English.18 There was, as we have seen no comparison between the forces of the defending French and the attacking English; further, some of the soldiers and many of the armed inhabitants deserted during the siege. The capitulation was signed on October 13th, 1710. Colonel Vetch, a man who was to play a considerable role in the first years of Nova Scotia as an English colony, was left behind at Annapolis Royal together with a "heterogeneous garrison of four hundred and fifty men"19 left in a fort in a ruinous state.


[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 10 - Annapolis Royal (1711-12):]

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