A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.TOC
Part 4, "First Siege of Louisbourg (1745)"TOC
Chapter. 5, "Colonials at Canso."

Shirley's colonial fleet left Boston on March 24th and arrived at Canso on the 4th of April. Over three thousand men stepped ashore at Canso.1 At that time the place was deserted, having been burnt to the ground the year before by the French. The decision had been taken to not send the colonial fleet directly to Louisbourg but rather to first stop by at Canso (map, #13) on the northern tip of peninsular Nova Scotia. Canso was British territory and it was there that they would gather and regroup before they made the final run up the east side of the French island of Ile Royale (Cape Breton). Their objective, Louisbourg (#15), in the right conditions, was just a half day's sail away from Canso.

It was a mixed fleet,2crammed full of siege supplies3 and eager men. The voyage up from Boston took approximately two weeks, so when the men arrived they were only too happy to wade ashore to the stony beaches of the islands at Canso. Many of the sailing vessels were working boats, I imagine, normally employed by the owners in the fishery. These transporting vessels, therefore, would have been impregnated with the juices and parts of long since dead fish and thus were giving off an unmistakable odor. During their voyage, these men would have been very uncomfortable: the motion of the ocean, the smell of fish, the crammed quarters, the wet clothes, the cold food: sure, they were glad to come ashore.4

Seth Pomeroy was to lose no time in getting a letter off to his wife, Mary:

Canso, April the 6th,1745.
My Dear Wife:
It is with great satisfaction and pleasure [that I seize] every opportunity to inform you of my welfare. I, yesterday, arrived safe at Canso which was the 14th day since we embarked. Thirteen days of being seasick, in the highest degree. Twenty four hours often without a drop or mouth full to eat or drink, once 48 hours without. [For] days together without one mouthful of meat or anything to pass through me. The smell was more than I could bear. I do not know if a body can die of seasickness [in any event] I believed I would [and might have preferred it if the voyage] had continued a little longer. We are now in a good harbour and I feel much better. How long we shall stay here I cannot tell. Our fleet are not all yet arrived but I counted 68 sail of vessels at anchor. ... The Connecticut forces are not yet come, they are - and Warren with his men of war from Antigua, daily expected. ... If you should write to me, send it to Mr. Caleb Lyman at Boston. There will be opportunity by vessel that will pass and repass from the fleet to Boston every week. ... My company are all with good appetite and our provisions are good and very plenty and the daily allowance is sufficient for each man so that no body can complain ... My dear wife, my hearty love to you and the children and am your loving husband.
Seth Pomeroy.5
An interesting side story concerning the transport of the troops can now be told. The colonial leaders courted risk by sending transports up the coast; not only the risk of bad weather (something to which these New Englanders who made their living on the sea could likely readily adjust) but also of the risk of running into big French gun ships that might just be lurking about (it was after all a time of war). However, since generally war ships were called to their European ports for the winter, it was thought that there was no great risk of running afoul French war ships so early in the season. In fact, the colonials did send, to assist in the military task of convoying the transports, "eleven armed privateers from 12 to 30 guns." Apparently the fleet of transports bearing the Connecticut men6 had not far from them, but out of sight, a gun vessel, (a colonial gun vessel, generally, it should be stated, was no match for a man-o-war). The point of my side story is that the Connecticut boys might have been all shot out of the water like so many ducks had it not been for the quick thinking of a certain Captain Fones of the Rhode Island gun vessel, Tartar. It just so happened that a French naval cruiser, the Renommee, getting an early start on the season, had just come over from France. She could not get into the ice-bound harbour of Louisbourg, so, she determined to kill a little time by cruising down the coast to see what she could see. Its a big ocean, and certainly history will show that massive fleets can sail right by each other without knowledge of the other; but, in this case, the Renommee fell in with the Tartar. The Tartar, while being a vessel equipped with "fourteen cannon and twelve swivels,"7 was no match and spent no time engaging the more powerful French man-of-war; however, the Tartar proved to be a most enticing decoy and led the Renommee away from the provincial invasion fleet, and, later, in the dark of night, slipped herself away from the guns of the Renommee.8

Once the fleet of transports were safely in at Canso9 and likely after Captain Fones had an opportunity to tell his fellow captains of his adventure: certain of the captains of the colonial gun ships, determined to go chase the Renommee. As Pomeroy was to write:

"She was chased by Sneling, Tyng, Rouse and Smithers which were 16: 18: & 20 guns several more smaller ones & some hundreds of cannon fired at her yet got away from them all. The chase continued upward of 30 hours. She was about 30 gun ship, a smart sailor."10
Though the build up of men and supplies was to continue throughout the month of April, many of the New Englanders, as we shall see, were to spend a month at Canso. The weather for the first couple of weeks of their arrival did not lend itself to camping out in the wild. By the 15th, however, the weather seemed to break and it became "pleasant and warm which seems very delightful to us all." There sprung up at Canso during the month of April a camping community that extended to over 3,000 men.11 Families of men were to gather nightly around their respective fires; and larger groups came together at times throughout the week as was required for organizational matters. On Sundays, all the men would come together to hear their preachers.12 On the 13th, a "block house" was erected, one that had been precut and ready to go up in the course of a day or two; it was armed with eight-pounders; and, when finished, christened, Fort Cumberland. Sailing vessels of all kinds kept coming in to Canso; and, a regular run was established so that there was to be continuing contact with the administrators back in Boston and missed supplies could be ordered or reordered. The arrival of any vessel from back home was always welcomed and when a "prize" was towed in the news rippled through the encampment and a large crowd gathered at the shore ever so ready to lend a hand in getting the goods ashore.13

Fighting, in the main, was to take place at Louisbourg, but there was some excitement to be had at Canso. Indians were lurking about, just waiting for their chance. On the 14th of April, Capt. David Donahew "came in with eight Indians; one of them a king, one of them a Queen."14 On April, the 21st, Sunday, four New Englanders while ashore gathering wood were ambushed by an Indian and two Frenchmen.15 Pomeroy writes that these men were unarmed and one was shot at by a Frenchman, the ball having grazed one finger and carried through his coat sleeve. They gave themselves up to the French group and were then force-marched through the woods. After having traveled about ten miles they stopped for a rest and during this stop the New Englanders overpowered their capturers. Of the three, the Indian made his escape. The best that the New Englanders could do with the seized French muskets was to get off a couple of shots at their running target. The New Englanders, and their two French prisoners, were of the belief that the Indian was hit and likely died in the bush. The next day there was discovered "their canoe that they [the two Frenchmen and the Indian] came in and a bottle of rum in it."

Another source of excitement for the New Englanders was when they attacked the small village of St. Peters, just a few miles away across the open water. (See #13 & #14 on the map.) On the 21st, "Two sloops with 70 men sent to St. Peters. ... The sloops return from St. Peters, they did nothing but burnt a few houses and brought away a small sloop, there being more French and Indians than expected." Talk was then obviously had about how they ought to go back and do a proper job of it. On the 29 of April, the same day that the main invasion fleet had set out for Louisbourg, a significant number of vessels made St. Peter's their objective. "This morning the fleet sailed from Canso to Louisbourg, Colonel [Jeremiah] Moulton with a detachment of about 400 men were ordered to St. Peters to demolish it under convoy of Capt. [John] Furnell in the New Hampshire sloop."16

Having left Antigua in the West Indies on March 13th, as we have seen, Warren's fleet made its way up the Atlantic coast from the Caribbean, and, on April 10th, fell in with a schooner from Marblehead. The Captain of the Marblehead schooner was to inform Warren "that a Fleet of 63 Sail had sailed 14 days on Sunday last with 5,000 Men for Canso under the Command of Generall Pepperrell."17 Being unfamiliar with the waters, Warren took the schooner master on board the Superbe to act as pilot; and, leaving his accompanying merchantmen to go into Boston harbour, took his fleet to Canso. Warren's fleet was to arrive off Canso on the 23rd of April.18

Warren's fleet laid off shore and did not come into the harbor, though it undoubtedly was spotted by any number of the gawking colonials on the shores at Canso. Warren determined not to spend any time getting into Canso but rather kept his crews at their sailing quarters with a view to reaching his objective as soon as possible, now but just a few miles up the coast. Warren was keen to cut off access into Louisbourg Harbor so as to prevent any French war ships from getting in (in this objective he was to be entirely successful). He was also interested in preventing any supply vessels from getting in (in that regard he was not successful, but mostly so). From my reading of the accounts, the first English man of war to arrive was the Eltham under the command of Phillip Durrell. The Eltham "had wintered in Boston and now returning after acting as convoy to 'mast ships' from Piscataqua."19 Warren had gotten a message through to her, in care of Boston, that directly she was properly provisioned and made ready for sea, she was to join him off the coast of Louisbourg. Durrell, in fact, arrived at Canso, just a day before Warren's fleet arrived. Durrell in the Eltham came but "to the mouth of the harbour." Our journalist confirms with his entry of April 23rd that "Admiral Warren with three ships came by the harbour bound to the Cape he lay to one night for to speak with us."20 So, we see, ready to do their important blockading work, four of England's finest men-of-war, of whom we shall hear more: Superbe (415 men, 60 guns), Eltham (250 men, 44 guns), Mermaid (250 men, 40 guns) and the Launceston (250 men, 40 guns). With the arrival of these powerful armed vessels, you might imagine all the colonials were further pumped and primed. As Seth Pomeroy was to write on the 23rd: "this was a fair day."21

This was April in Nova Scotia and many of the inlets and harbours around Canso (though Canso itself was clear) were still iced in. Our colonial evaders were keen and anxious, and all wondered what the conditions were like at Louisbourg but fifty miles further up the coast. On the 21st, a New England sloop was sent up the coast and she put her nose into Louisbourg harbour and found it "full of ice." On the 24th, in came to Canso the Connecticut men, 500 in number.22 This latest contingent were to be met by the some 3,500 that had been there since the first of the month. All, at this point, were resolved to go to Louisbourg, surely the ice must be melted by now; all that was now needed was the right wind. Within a few days the right time arrived. On April 29th, with a 100 vessels23 transporting them, this enthusiastic crowd headed up the coast and then into Gabarus Bay.24

[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 6 - Colonials on the Beaches.]

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