On May 1st (o.s.), 1745, New Englanders were before the French walls of Louisbourg, and were so, in considerable force. In addition, her sea lanes were completely cut off by Warren's fleet. The terror of war was to be brought home to the inhabitants at Louisbourg.
In this war, it was not the New Englanders who started the hostilities; it was those at Louisbourg. The first military strike was made by the French. During May of 1744, a force of 357 French soldiers was carried in a flotilla of small boats to Canso to wage war on an English garrison which was unaware that war had been declared. This French force had no problem taking the place, and its occupants as their prisoners. Canso was then burnt to the ground. Then we saw, within months of the Canso raid, where the French proceeded to invest the only other English stronghold in Acadia, Fort Anne at Annapolis Royal. We have seen that during the course of the summer and fall of 1744 the French and their Indian allies had launched two separate attacks; but, due to luck and management (good or bad: depending on which side one found themselves on) the French were not successful in the taking of Fort Ann and had to retire as the cold winds heralded the coming of another Acadian winter. (See relative positions of Louisbourg[#15], Canso [#13] and Annapolis Royal[#1] on map. Louisbourg and Annapolis Royal are separated by approximately 300 miles as the crow flies.)
The retiring French forces had formed the intention of wintering over at Minas so as to get an early start in the spring (1745) in their offensive against Fort Anne; but, the "neutral" Acadians upon seeing the retiring French attackers in their midst spoke plainly to the French commanders: the supplies and accommodations in Acadia were insufficient to maintain both the inhabitants and a wintering army. The French, I think somewhat surprisingly, took no issue with the Acadians and left the countryside and returned to winter over at Louisbourg.
The defenders, after the last of the French besiegers retreated from the field, in October of 1744, were much relieved. These defenders, the English at Annapolis Royal, however, yet had their work cut out for them. They wanted to bolster the neutrality of the Acadians; get badly needed supplies up from Boston; and, importantly, to rebuild their defences at Fort Ann. From the contemporary correspondence we may see that the commander at the English fort, Mascarene was in communication with Governor Shirley and the Bostonians are seen to continue to take care of their hard pressed countrymen located at this protective northern post. Additional men and supplies were sailed up the coast to the relief of Annapolis Royal both during and after the sieges of 1744. As for the Acadians: Mascarene was to receive deputies from all areas, including those from Beaubassin (see #1 & #5 on map). The deputies, who came in on their own, gave continued assurances that the Acadians, while unwilling to take up guns in support of the English, would not do so for the French (and by and large they did not). As for the dirt and wooden walls of Fort Ann: they were rebuilt with the help of Acadian labour. As Mascarene was to write:
"I had also prevailed with the Deputies of the Inhabitants of this river to furnish the Engineer the materials requisite for our repairs at the stated price, which, they seemed to undertake and perform cheerfully, and tho' the season was far advanced when the enemy totally left us, two Bastions have almost entirely been revested before the winter set in ... We have had no Enemy about us and the Garrison has been pretty easy ... The French Inhabitants have in general behaved well though it can not be surprizing the Enemy has creatures amongst them."1
While the English were fixing defenses at Annapolis Royal; at Louisbourg, the French were making offensive plans. Communications were to pass between Quebec and Louisbourg. There was indeed to be a renewal of the effort to put all of Acadia under the Fleur de Lis. To achieve this, all that was necessary was to take Annapolis Royal. What was planned was to send out from Louisbourg an armed force similar in size and makeup to that force which it had sent out in 1744. At the same time Quebec would send down a number of soldiers which would meet up with those from Louisbourg somewhere on the peninsula: maybe Beaubassin (#5), more likely Tatamagouche (#7); or maybe Cobequid (#4). What unfolded was that on January 15th, 1745, a detachment of about "three hundred troops, chiefly Canadians" under the command of the Marins (Paul and his son Joseph) was sent overland to the east. They traveled, as it seemed always French raiders and their Indian allies did in those days: in a line together, all covered in furs, on snowshoes, assisting their dogs in the pulling of sledges or toboggans over snow and ice, day after day. After weeks of such travel the Marins and their company of Canadians arrived in Acadia, and there they held up to wait word from Louisbourg. Upon arrival the Martins had sent a messenger to Louisbourg advising that their Quebec contingent was in position and waiting to meet up with those from Louisbourg; together as a combined force they then could advance down the peninsula to attack Annapolis Royal, as presumably was their plan. The Martins did not know of Louisbourg's impending peril; presumably the authorities at Louisbourg did. The messenger arrived at Louisbourg, but was put none the wiser. We now pick up the story as told by The Anonymous Habitant:
"The messenger whom M. Marin sent to us asked on his part for provisions and munitions of war. We should have sent back the same messenger to urge this officer to come to our help, but we were without forethought and were so far from such wisdom that steps were taken in the month of April to comply with his requests; we did not send provisions, however, for he let us know that he recovered some. [From the Acadians?] He was urgent in requesting powder and balls, and in granting his wishes, we made two irreparable mistakes. In the first place, we deprived ourselves of the help which this officer [Martin] was able to bring us; instead of explaining our situation, as we should have done, we gave him to understand that we were strong enough to defend ourselves. In the second place, already short of ammunition, especially powder, we further diminished our supply."2
Thus, the message received by the Marins was that they should proceed to Annapolis Royal and attack, even though he could expect no additional help from Louisbourg. The senior Marin (one can imagine with a Gallic shrug of his shoulders) turned and marched his forces off to Annapolis Royal. Within two weeks of the Marins putting Fort Ann under siege (May, 1745) another messenger came paddling down the Annapolis River: Louisbourg was under attack and the Quebec forces were now needed.3 On May 24th, to the considerable relief of the English garrison at Annapolis Royal, the Marins and their forces packed up and got themselves going in the direction of Louisbourg.4
The Marin forces moved swiftly overland, likely getting assistance both from the Acadians and the Micmac. The Marins sent a message up the coast in a friendly French schooner, but she had the misfortune to be driven ashore just as she was coming about to go into Louisbourg harbour. The crew got away into the woods but the beached vessel was left to the English. Aboard was found a dispatch to Governor Du Chambon from Lieutenant Colonel Marin. Marin was on the march with 1,300 men, his own and a strong contingent of Indian allies,5 and would soon come up to a body of water, the Strait of Canso. Since the Strait needed crossing, Marin in this despatch (which fell into English hands) is seen asking the French governor to send as many small craft as possible down the coast so that the rescuing forces might be ferried over the Strait, and, so to be in a postion to "thrust across Cape Breton Island to the relief of the Fortress."6
Thus, another piece of good luck for the New Englanders. The English knew that all that was needed was to lie in wait and ambush the French rescuers. Pepperrell, upon reading the intercepted message, immediately send from Louisbourg to Canso, the Rhode Island gun vessel, Tartar (Capt. Fones). You will remember the heroic effort at Canso when the Tartar and her crew had led the French man-of-war, the Renommee, away from the transports. This time, when Captain Fones arrived at Canso, he was to find a British warship and two small brigs, which, apparently, had just put in. Off, they all went, this hunting flotilla, taking with them the Canso garrison. Clearing Chedabucto Bay, and sailing into the narrow channel of water which separates mainland Nova Scotia (see map), they headed northwest in a prevailing breeze to a point where St Georges Bay funnels into the Strait of Canso; with lookouts at all the mastheads. They soon spotted, at a place called Passe du Fronsac, a swarm of canoes and boats: More good luck, the crossing had just begun! These little boats dotted the waters; more were being launched.7 It was short work for the English in their vessels, it was a matter of leveling their big gun and then to mow down small gunless vessels, a convoy of canoes loaded down with men and supplies. Needless to say, the French rescuers were scattered; no more was to be heard from them.8
In his report, filed with the French authorities after the fall of Louisbourg, Duchambon gives his understanding of what happened to Marin and his men in the Straights of Canso:
"Finally about three or four hundred of them embarked, some in a boat of approximately 25 tons, others in about one hundred canoes. As they were weathering a promontory in the bay, they were attacked by a privateer carrying fourteen cannon and the same number of stone-cannon pierriers. Our officer held off the attack vigorously, and just as he had gotten himself into a position to board the privateer, another one of equal strength came to its aid, and M. Marin was forced to give up and make for shore."9
So it was, that the would be rescuers were disbursed before they got to their objective. There is evidence10 that some of them did get through to the outskirts of Louisbourg but not in sufficient numbers to make any difference to those behind the walls at Louisbourg. With the Marins and their forces having been thus turned away, the promise of deliverance in which the people behind the walls at Louisbourg had placed so much stock, was broken. Within a couple of weeks of the disheartening news that the Marins had been defeated on the Straits of Canso, the French at Louisbourg, as we shall see, sent a white flag out into the field.11
[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 8 - The Taking of The Royal Battery.]