As it turned out the colonial expeditionary forces gathered together were to be pretty much on their own in their effort to take Louisbourg, though Governor William Shirley, at the last moment, did get significant help from the British navy, and this due to the initiative of the commander of the North American station, Commodore Peter Warren.
Shirley did not expect any direct help from England. He knew that regular British forces were needed for engagements closer to England. In any event, it seems clear, the authorities had little faith in their colonial cousins when it came to matters of a military nature. Further, it was thought unlikely, in a country with such a short season, that the fortifications of Louisbourg would give way so easily, and certainly not if the attacking army was but a scratch force lacking in cohesion and control.
Warren was a naval officer with connections both back in London, and at Boston and New York. At this time, spring of 1745, his fleet was stationed in the West Indies.1 Warren was "fully alive to the importance of reducing the French power"2 and his views would have been known to Shirley. It was after hearing of Shirley's plans that Warren wrote London.3 London advised that, as the commander of the naval forces in North America, the decision to go to Louisbourg, or not, was to be his. What Shirley had asked of Warren was that he should free up "two fifty or forty gun ships" to be ready by March to go with the colonial forces to Louisbourg. Shirley, it should be pointed out, was prepared to go ahead with his plans whether he got British military help, or not. Indeed, at the time he sent his colonials off on this northern adventure he had no commitment from Warren.
It is plain that Warren wanted to help his colonial friends. This Irish naval officer had charmed his way deep into the colonial aristocracy. New York was as much his home as any other place in the world. He had "a familiarity with colonial politics." So too, we learn, that from his father-in-law, Etienne (Stephen) DeLancey, a very rich merchant of New York, that Warren had developed an "appetite for investments."4 While Warren would like to help Shirley, it was ultimately thoughts of French treasure that drove Warren to become involved. It will be recalled that in 1744, just months before Warren heard of Shirley's plan, that another navy man George Anson had just returned home to England, a hero, from an around the world cruise, the hold of his ship, the Centurion, full of Spanish treasure taken off of the Nuestra Senora de Covadonga.5 Warren knew (as indeed did every captain of a British naval ship) of Anson's success and of how Anson's naval adventure had led to personal riches, fame, and promotion. Anson was an example for any naval man to follow, a man possessed of a "rational calm which no adverse circumstance could shake."6 War between France and England was but less than a year old and prize law was in effect. Louisbourg was a destination for both commericial ships out-bound and a stopover for in-bound French treasure ships, and Warren knew it.7 Warren wanted to go to Louisbourg.
After getting clearance from London the next chore was to convince his captains that they should undertake this northern cruise. His captains were convened. They were not enthusiastic. Sending a spring run of two men-of-war up the coast, one to New York and the other to Boston, would be in order; but England would be better served if the fleet stuck to their regular routes which included a continuing presence in the West Indies. Besides, his officers8 pointed out, there's no anchorage off the hard coasts of Louisbourg. At any rate, the overall plan was fuzzy, made up by men inexperienced in military matters! Doomed it was! And, no self respecting naval officer should get himself involved in such a colonial adventure! Warren was not convinced by these arguments; his mind was made up; he announced he was going. In the exercise of his authority and proceeding under the instructions received from the Admiralty (they were not definite and Warren "interpreted them in the widest sense"9) Warren saw to the fitting out of three British men-of-war: the Superbe (60 guns), the Launceston (40 guns) and the Mermaid (40 guns). On March 13, 1745 these three splendid ships-of-war in company with two small armed vessels and ten sail of merchantmen proceeded up the coast to Boston.10
[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 5 - Colonials at Canso.]