A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.TOC
Part 4, "First Siege of Louisbourg (1745)"TOC
Chapter. 3, "The Colonial Call."

As we can see from the earlier part of our history, the people of New England and of New France were constant enemies of one another. The suspicion and dislike between these two European peoples came about as a natural consequence of centuries of fighting with one and other; it could not be expected that it should be any different for their sons in America.

Though the directing heads of the French forces located in America were at Quebec, and while it was recognized that the taking of Quebec would be the taking of French America, in practical terms, in the days of forest paths and sailing vessels, the French at Acadia were much easier to get at than those located at Quebec. Whether, as a first step in the total elimination of the French in America, or as a step worthwhile in itself, the removal of the overhanging threat of Louisbourg, it is clear, was for the New Englanders a worthwhile objective. It made no difference to them whether this was to be a primary objective or a secondary one. The outbreak of war between France and England, for New Englanders, simply meant that it was high time to capture Louisbourg and burn out this nest of French pirates, this nest of "papists." It will be remembered that no such pretense had existed since early in the 18th century when indeed the English had successfully wrested Port Royal away from the French. But the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713, ended any opportunity for either the French or the English to make a direct attack on one another in North America (though the French through their Indian allies continued to attack them along the English frontier, westwardly advancing, as it was, into what the French considered was their territory). With the outbreak of war (The War of the Austrian Succession, 1744) both the people of New England and New France had the excuse they both had been waiting for; and, as we have seen, it was the French forces at Louisbourg who got in the first licks with their raids on both Canso and Annapolis Royal in 1744.1

An official call to arms was made in the form of a proclamation by "His Excellency William Shirley, Esqr. Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over His Majesty's Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England."2 An able bodied man was to receive twenty-five shillings per month, one month's pay in advance, and a blanket was to be allowed to him. It was to be short term service (so optimistic they were) and then the volunteers were to be released so to go back to their families and regular occupations. To further entice these men, it was announced that, should a man serve in the Louisbourg campaign, he would not be pressed into His Majesty's service for two years following.3 A further plus, and only spoken about in the ranks and amongst themselves, is the plan to have some good old fashion fun that such an outing should provide: camping with the boys; the taking of loot; and, of course, the ladies, the French ladies.4 The New England boy proved to be no different than any other boy who is going off to war; what was missing, as we will see, was some military training and discipline.

At this time, and really right up to the outbreak of the American Revolution, there were few regular British officers and men stationed in America; some navy ships would come in during the spring and disappear in the fall of the year, like geese heading south. The militia existed, -- as it exists in any domestic community since time immemorial. It arose spontaneously among the people throughout the New England colonies; a development encouraged by the central authorities. Now, one cannot secretly call up the militia, on the contrary, the proclamation, copied and recopied on vellum paper, had to be spread by horse and sail and then turned into loud words by literate men standing on boxes in town squares. My point is: the people of Louisbourg were soon to know, most likely before the month of February was out, and, most certainly, by the time the spring trading ships came in with the March melts; the Messieurs les Bastonnais were up to no good. While they knew they ought to brace themselves, the French took courage (and maybe too much ease) because of feelings of satisfaction and security in behind their impressive stone walls.

During 1744, with the outbreak of war and the raids against Canso and Annapolis Royal, the hot topic for discussion in the influential households of New England was whether a colonial expedition might be got together and sent to Louisbourg. Through the winter of 1744/45 the discussions turned from if, to how it might be done. An army was needed. However, none was to be immediately found in the American colonies. One was to be formed out of the existing colonial structure: farmers and fishermen, for soldiers; merchants and lawyers, for officers. Such an ambitious project, the taking of fortress Louisbourg, provoked much laughter in Boston. The few officers and men of the regular British forces who could be found in the colonies, snickered to themselves.5 The colonial office back in London became increasingly more amused as the tardy and scanty reports of these organizing activities came ashore from newly arrived sailing vessels from America.

Generally, it is a difficult proposition to get independent people to move with a common purpose, particularly when it comes to political questions. The sense of independence which led to the American revolution did not spring suddenly from the collective American mind in 1776. The sense of political independence which fueled the rebellion in the New England colonies was rooted in the very nature of an Englishman's heart whether he lived in England or was re-rooted in foreign lands. Each of the English colonies were to take full benefit of the political freedom which bloodlessly came to all Englishmen and which was reaffirmed with the Glorious Revolution of 1688. A great number of English people came to North America to avoid religious persecution and were certainly varied in their creeds. They all carried the same ideas about popular government and how political power was to properly belong to the people and not exclusively to those with royal connections. Each of the English colonies in America had its own legislature in which would be found the people's representatives. These legislative assemblies were known by different names, for example, the popular assembly in Massachusetts was known as the "General Court," in Virginia the "House of Burgesses." The executive officer in an English colony was the royal governor as appointed by the ministers of the crown back in England.6

While it was principally the leaders of Massachusetts who promoted the plan to attack Louisbourg, "the response of the other Northern Colonies was considerable and prompt."7 New Hampshire promised 500 men, and Connecticut an equal number. Rhode Island authorized her sloop Tartar (Capt. Fones) to assist in the expedition8 and the raising of 150 men.9 New York loaned guns to Shirley and voted 5,000£. New Jersey, 2,000£. Pennsylvania, 4,000£.

After getting legislative authority10 for the attack on Louisbourg, recruitment was soon underway. In a short time, 3,250 had signed up. One of the recruits of the 4th Massachusetts keep a diary. He wrote:

"The news of our Government's raising an army, (together with the help of the other neighbouring Governments) in order to the reduction of Cape Breton, (Viz) Louisbourg, which was like to prove detrimental if not destroying to our Country. So affected the minds of many. (together with the expectation of seeing great things, etc.) - As to incline many, yea, very many to venture themselves and Enlist into the Service. Among whom, I was one, which was the, 14th of March, 1745. I, and having the consent of my friends, (and asking their prayers), (which was a great Comfort to me even all the time of my being absent.) I set out for Boston, Tuesday, March 19th. We was well entertained upon the road, and arrived, the Friday following. On Saturday we all appeared before Col. Pollard, to be viewed, both our persons and arms, Those that found their own, and those that had none, were ordered to Mr. Wheelwright's (Commissary General) to get equipment. That being done, we received our blankets at the same time, and returned to our lodging."11
Optimism ran high. For example, somebody discovered cannon balls in an old ordinance shed which were much too large for the portable cannon12 -- no matter, it was determined to take them. For, you see, as their intelligence revealed, these huge cannon balls would just fit certain of the big French guns -- why they would just have to storm one of the batteries and turn the captured guns, back on the French -- why, these balls will prove to be useful! (More surprising than this piece of optimism in regards to how these colonial cannon balls might be used, was, that they were indeed used, as we will see, just exactly as the optimistic colonials thought they might!)

The colonials convinced one another that Louisbourg would cave in directly they arrived; they passed sublime assurances back and forth to one and other.13 One wag was of the view that these campaign planners were like novice bear hunters, busy making arrangements to sell the bear's skin before one was even spotted. Benjamin Franklin was to sound a note of reality when in a letter to his brother he wrote: "Fortified towns are hard nuts to crack [especially when] your teeth are not accustomed to it; but some seem to think that forts are as easy taken as snuff."14 The enthusiastic military amateurs, however, were not deterred: they continued with their plans to take Louisbourg.

[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 4 - Warren's Fleet]

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