A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.TOC
Part 5, "The Intermission"TOC
Chapter. 2, "The d'Anville Armada (1746)."

The Grand Plan
The French totally exasperated by the loss of Louisbourg, set out, in 1746, to put the matter straight. There was to be a lesson taught to those who thought they could interfere with the might of France. The teacher was to be Admiral Jean-Batiste, De Roye de la Rochefoucauld, Duc d'Anville, a French aristocrat, in his thirty seventh year, a man "worthy to be loved and born to command."1 He carried "the French king's commission to retake and dismantle Louisbourg, effect a junction with the army of Bay Verte, and expel the British from Nova Scotia, consign Boston to flames, ravage New England, and waste the British West Indies."2 Alas, this powerful French Armada, was to suffer every disaster known to the seafarer: all, at the hands of nature.

The Fleet
The fleet consisted of 20 warships, 32 transports and 21 smaller auxiliary vessels.
3 On the transports were 3,000 veteran troops4 which, when added to the naval hands of 10,000, made for a grand total of 13,000 men.5 In addition, four more large warships under Conflans,6 which at this time were cruising the West Indies, were ordered to join up with d'Anville at their gathering place, the harbour of Chebucto, present day Halifax. (See map.)

This military force, short possibly of the Spanish conquistadors of a previous century, was, I believe, the largest ever to venture into American waters up to 1746. The plan germinated in the minds of the French military planners when news was first received, in 1745, that Louisbourg, thought impregnable to the sallies of New Englanders, was taken. Louisbourg could not be left in the hands of the English. For, what then would be next? Quebec? Was Canada and 150 years of French development in North America now at risk? What was needed, if France's world reputation was to be maintained, was to launch such a strong force, that, in quick order: Louisbourg would be retaken; then Annapolis Royal; and then, with a massive force, before they knew what hit them, a bombardment of Boston and of New York; and, then, to travel down into the West Indies and take certain of the English plantations. Such a force must be that massive as to accomplish these objectives in one season, so massive that sustained resistance to it would be impossible, so massive that these English colonists would think long and hard before attempting any further attacks on New France.

Throughout the late fall of 1745 and through the winter and the spring of 1746, this massive French armada was formed. The French countryside was combed; military stores and men were being concentrated in the ports. Though it was soon to be obvious to all, including the English, that the French were getting ready to make a large amphibious attack,7 only a few at the top of the military hierarchy knew that it was intended that this attack was to be on the English northeastern coast of North America, beginning with a recapture of Louisbourg.

The Delay
Advance scouting ships, two of them, at different times, set sail for Nova Scotia early in April. I think it had been expected that d'Anville and his fleet would follow within weeks of that; but, delay after delay was to be experienced. All it took was for one contractor not to make his promised date and the missed material or supplies would cause the entire project to shift this way and then that. Ships at the last minute were condemned. Men and cargoes had to be shifted; and, then, yet another missed date. More despatches from Paris, more delays. Another contractor fails in a delivery, or is short, or delivers the wrong material. More problems. Troops are put on board and then taken off again as another delay is announced. Time, precious time considering the difficulties of a late Atlantic crossing, melted away. Finally, on May 22nd, this very impressive French fleet gets under way and departs Brest.
8 Head winds are encountered and the fleet determines to put in and wait for more favourable winds. They make their way into another French port south of Brest, Rochelle. More despatches are sent and received. Certain men are taken off the vessels; others put on. The ships are topped up again with water and supplies. More time passes. More despatches. On June the 20th, the fleet got under way a second time and clears Rochelle. The men on board were already tired and beginning to be sick, and this even before the coast of France faded from their view over their sterns, to the east, as the seventy plus seagoing sailing vessels made their way westward into the great expanse of the Atlantic ocean.

Canadian Forces Gather
The Quebec authorities had received despatches and knew that there was to be a great fleet of French ships and would make Chebucto at some point during the summer. Land forces were to be sent down from Quebec to coordinate activities between the French allies the
Micmac and the local French population, the Acadians. Fresh supplies and pilots were to be ready at Chebucto to assist the French sailors and soldiers who would need help after their long trans-Atlantic voyage. At some point during the summer, about 150 of de Ramezay's men were in place at Chebucto scanning the sea horizon for French ships.9 On June 7th, 1746, the first of two advance ships arrived.

The Advance Ships
The two advance ships of the d'Anville expedition were the l'Aurore, having left Brest on the 9th of April, and the le Castor which had gotten away about three weeks later.
10 By June these two vessels were at Chebucto, and, by turns, were patrolling the seas nearby. For weeks, they did this; and, no French ships were to be seen. By August the captains of these French men-of-war, I suppose, had concluded that the expedition had been called off. It was now getting to be too late to carry out the plans. Something has happened! But, what? On August 12th these two advance vessels departed and shaped up their courses for France. They were to arrive at Brest on the 22nd of September.11

In the meantime, the English knew the French, because of their activity throughout the winter, were up to something. It was war; attacks were to be expected. Was it to be at some point along the English coast. Maybe a landing in Scotland. Maybe in America. With the capitulation of Louisbourg during the summer of 1745, it was thought that the French would likely make a try at getting it back. So, too, they may attack other centres. The rumours were flying amongst the British colonists. The people were fearful (the British fleet not being in American waters) that the French would open up with their big seagoing guns and pour down fire and destruction on seaport after seaport along the New England coast; and, each time, to come ashore and have their way. As imaginations ran wild, both at Boston and New York, there was panic in the streets and prayers in churches. No one knew exactly when, or exactly how; but the French would not let the events of the previous year at Louisbourg go unrevenged.

So it was to be a summer of rumours. Indeed, French men-of-war were active off the coast of Nova Scotia during the summer. But, exactly what was their strength? Their plans? The first information of any substance that a French fleet might descend on Louisbourg was contained in a despatch which Admiral Townsend received at Louisbourg on the 5th of July. The despatch came in, aboard a ship detached from the British squadron cruising off of Brest. The following day a message is written and sent to Boston:12 There is "certain advice that a strong squadron of the enemy's men of war, frigates and fire ships with transports (on board which are a great number of troops) actually sailed from Brest 22 May, designed for great Britain, Ireland or Louisbourg."13

Longfellow expresses the feelings:

"A fleet with flags arrayed
Sailed from the Port of Brest
And the Admiral's ship displayed
The signal: "Steer southwest."
For this Admiral d'Anville
Had sworn by cross and crown
To ravage with fire and steel
Our helpless Boston Town.

There were rumors in the street,
In the houses there was fear
Of the coming of the fleet,
And the danger hovering near.
And while from mouth to mouth
Spread the tidings of dismay,
I stood in the Old South
Saying humbly: "Let us pray!"

"Oh Lord! we would not advise;
But if in thy Providence
A tempest should arise
To drive the French Fleet hence,
And scatter it far and wide,
Or sink it in the sea,
We should be satisfied,
and thine the glory be ...."

The Crossing
As it turned out: the prayers of the frighten New Englanders were answered. The French expedition of 1746 was a calamitous failure from beginning to end. The main fleet, as we have seen after extensive delays through the spring finally got underway on June 22nd. No sooner did they clear the shore, indeed while yet in the Bay of Biscay -- another problem literally blew in. A gale struck the flotilla. Like all storms, this one in the Bay of Biscay eventually subsided. Suffering from storm damage and seasick men, the French officers might have determined to run back into a French port. To do so would cause further delay. The officers determined to press on sail and keep to their westward course, sailing over the broad Atlantic, fixing their positions as they went. Never could they seer a straight course; the winds dictated which way they would go; zig sagging this way and that; worse yet, there would be, at times, no way to be had, at all, as the lines and sails flapped to the rhythm of the rolling seas with not a breath of air to move them along. Weeks passed. Catch a breeze, here; catch a breeze, there. More weeks went by. The men were sick; the drinking water putrid; the biscuit buggy; and the contents of the brine barrels gray, smelly and sour. Men began to die and their bodies were then stitched into canvas, together with a cannon ball, and the resultant white bag slipped into the deep. Over it went; and, the corpse inside, some would say, in a better state than those, who, with vacant eyes, watched the daily ceremony. More weeks went by and finally their destination was near as the thin line of Sable Island was spotted. Then, suddenly, another more dreadful storm hit the fleet and scattered it.

The Arrival At Chebucto
This long crossing and two Atlantic storms wrecked both men and ships. The men, so full of spirit but three months earlier, at least those who had not been relieved by death, were now exhausted, diseased and infested -- and, were soon to be faced with the shores of an American wilderness.
15 On September 10th, "three ships of the line and a few transports,"16 after having been upon the dreadful sea for three months, limped into Chebucto (Halifax), its intended assembly point. The men were sick and dying; indeed, their leader, d'Anville, succumbed from the disease which was now sweeping the fleet; he died within six days of having come into Chebucto.17

Vice-Admiral d'Estournelle18, the second in command, arrived with "four more ships of the line" on the very day that d'Anville died. There then followed a sad scene which was played out on a little grassy island in the harbour (George's Island in Halifax Harbour, or, as known by the French, Isle Racket). One can just imagine a small group of down trodden French naval officers (d'Estournelle and La Jonquiere being among them) being rowed by a ragged and sick crew of French seamen, with the remains of their shrouded leader, to the shore of this little bleak island in the middle of a huge bleak wilderness.19 This business being done, the officers were soon to gather in the main cabin of the Trident, in order to determine their course of action. The date was September the 31st and their was a nip in the air and the fall breezes announced to the experienced northern sailors that not too much time remained to carry out water born operations.

The Regrouping
At the Council of war being held aboard the Trident, d'Estournelle recommended that the expedition be abandoned. Not all of the fleet had come in, and, missing with them, were the necessary stores and war materials; further, 2500 men had already died.
20 Jonquiere, the third in command, and, it seems, the only experienced naval officer with any gumption, was opposed to just giving up; at least, he urged, Annapolis might be taken. D'Estournelle was taken back with this opposition. D'Estournelle also now had the news that the expected help from Quebec, had, but days before, returned to Quebec.21 D'Estournelle was heard to exclaim, over and over again, "All is lost; it's impossible."22 He suddenly left the meeting. Angered and bewildered he went to his cabin and left the officers at the table wondering what his final decision might be. At some point through the night groans were heard emanating from d'Estournelle's cabin and a call soon brought certain of the officers to the cabin door. They torn the door down, and there they were to find d'Estournelle, there on the wooden floor of his cabin in a pool of blood: d'Estournelle had thrown himself upon his sword.23

Jonquiere Takes Command
With d'Estournelle's attempted suicide and resignation, Jonquiere found himself in the lead. This dynamic officer (if only he had been put in charge in the first place) faced a huge challenge. He recognized that whatever the next step might be he had to regroup. "There were still forty-two vessels left, of which thirty were ships, but the strength of the land forces had dwindled away to one thousand efficient men." The first order of business was to revive the men. He brought most of the vessels well into Chebucto and anchored them along the western shore of the basin (Bedford Basin, near Birch Cove) and saw to the disembarkment of the suffering men. The sick were to be isolated and taken care of, to the extent possible. Certain of the large transports were made over to hospital ships. Shore camps were to be organized.
24 All of this was to take time, but the steps were unavoidable if the French forces were to get themselves up and out of Chebucto, no matter what their next objective might be. Maybe, just maybe they could get a small force assembled out of the mess so as to attack Annapolis. Through the balance of September and on into October those Frenchmen that could, were to carry out Jonquiere's commands. Food was to be brought in overland by way of a long establish route.25 These desperate Frenchmen were being served by their compatriots, the Acadians. The Acadian communities (Minas and Piziquid) were but 30 to 40 miles distant. So we would have seen oxen and men hauling carts of food, recently harvested, and driving animals along the broadened road from Minas to Chebucto (Windsor to Halifax).26 (See map.)

The tables had been overturned; and now it was to be the French who were to feel vulnerable. On October 22nd, a New England prize was taken by a French man-of war cruising off Chebucto. Aboard this prize was found a despatch from Shirley to Knowles advising that the English admiral, Lestock, with a fleet of 18 men-of-war, was due to arrive off the Nova Scotian coast, any day. This was cause of much concern. Also, at about the same time, an English schooner with a flag of truce came into Chebucto from Louisbourg with 40 French prisoners aboard.27 Intelligence was thereby gained that Louisbourg had a strengthened garrison of 2,000 regular soldiers and six British men-of-war. La Jonquiere, in addition, was to receive a third piece of discouraging news: de Ramezay and his Canadians -- who by then had been laying siege since the first week of October -- were having no noticeable success; for, Annapolis Royal had been strengthened and had over a 1,000 men under arms.28 The decision was made to get clear of Chebucto. The fleet would sail no matter their condition; and the Acadians and Micmac who had been with the French at Chebucto were to be sent overland to assist at Annapolis Royal.29

On October 12th, Jonquiere's fleet is pared down. Certain of the ships of the fleet were condemned, and, together with a number of English prizes, were run ashore and burnt in Bedford Basin.30 La Jonquiere "also distributed at least four English prizes, including a 16 gun snow, to Acadians and Indians to carry provisions to Canadians at Beaubassin." The assisting Acadians were told by Bigot to return to their farms and then to cart and drive fresh supplies (livestock) to Annapolis Royal to feed the men of the fleet, who, it was intended, would make their way there by sea.31

The Final Push
On October 13th (N.S.), "five weeks less a day" since it had hauled into Chebucto, the French fleet, or what was left of it, being 42 vessels or close to only half the number that had left France, made its way out of Chebucto.
32 Aboard these vessels the French had about "1,000 efficient soldiers," out of the 3,000 which had embarked at France. Their intended destination, now, was Annapolis Royal. The French Canadian force under de Ramezay, which amounted to possibly 1,000, was, just as Jonquiere was clearing Chebucto, setting up camp about two miles above Annapolis Royal.33 The plan was that Jonquiere would sail into Annapolis Basin with his sea born forces and there to meet up with the Canadians. The combined force would then attack the English fort at Annapolis Royal. Still, it was thought that Annapolis must surely fall; and to insure the safe arrival of every vessel, a large number of the French inhabitants who were familiar with Annapolis Basin, had come over from Mines to pilot the ships.34 But, this doomed French expedition was yet to suffer another disaster. Off Cape Sable (see map, at #8, Port La Tour), just before the fleet was to make its turn into the Bay of Fundy, another storm came crashing into the fleet. After it had subsided, the scattered fleet was gathered in; and, Jonquiere was to make his final assessment. The threat still existed of the English fleet under Admiral Lestock coming upon them; further, there was additional information coming to them from the runners on shore that Annapolis Royal had received even more help from Boston by way of men and ships.35 A decision was made. The French would abandon the planned attack on Annapolis; the Acadian pilots were to be landed; and, the fleet was to bear back to France.

The Sirene
Earlier we had seen where two advance ships, l'Aurore and le Castor, had made Chebucto during June and had spent weeks patrolling the seas nearby looking for the French fleet. They left Chebucto on August 12th, sure that the plans had been changed; on the 22nd of September they had hauled into Brest. An interesting side story can now be told. The captain of the le Castor was Lieutenant chevalier de Saliés. As he jumped to the dock at Brest he was immediately greeted by his superiors. What news of the North American expedition? This question together with other questions were but answered with questions. No one knew, what, had become of d'Anville's fleet. Though de Saliés had just completed a six week voyage, he was given a fresh crew and a new ship, la Sirene (30 guns) and ordered to make his way back across the Atlantic with dispatches for d'Anville. De Saliés returned to Chebucto, and, in record time, too; pulling in there on the 27th of October (
O.S.), just one day after the fleet had left for Annapolis Royal. La Jonquiere had left a message on shore for any French ship that should come into Chebucto to join the fleet by proceeding to Annapolis Royal; and, that, de Saliés did. De Saliés sailed right on by the fleet, missing it, possibly because the ships were sheltering in one of the many bays of the area, getting water and tightening things back down to ready themselves for their trip back across the Atlantic. In any event, de Saliés got himself into the Bay of Fundy. He did not however proceed into Annapolis Basin, for, his intelligence was, that there were three English gun ships in the Basin; he dared not venture in by himself. On November the 4th, having given up on meeting up with the fleet at Annapolis, de Saliés sailed the Sirene out of the Bay of Fundy and after casting about and looking for the fleet came to anchor at Port maltois (port Medway). During this period he came into contact with the French allies and was informed that the main fleet had left off and was making its way back to France.36 On November 20th, the Sirene pulled her anchors and departed for France.37

The English Reaction
The English had expected that the French might make a descent on Louisbourg during 1746; and, as we have seen, the first indication that this was likely to occur was as an official English despatch received at Louisbourg during July. Within days of d'Anville's arrival, in September, the English were to know of it. A French prize was brought into Louisbourg, and, with a little persuasion, her captain was to tell the story. He had sailed from Rochelle on June 22nd (N.S.) in the company of "70 sail of ships, men-of-war and transports under the command of the Duc d'Anville, with 8,000 troops on board. Fourteen ships were of the line, from 50 to 70 guns. He left them on 15 July in the latitude of 44º 22'."
38 Also, a Marblehead fishing vessel was to come into Louisbourg, and, aboard her there was a Frenchman which the Marblehead fishermen had rescued. This Frenchman had been cast away on Sable Island on September 3rd (O.S.). His story was that he had been on one of the ships in d'Anville's fleet which was separated by a "hard gale of wind." He knew nothing of the plans but he did know that the French "were very sickly and had buried a great many men." And yet, another report came into Louisbourg from a captain that "fell in with three sail of large ships about 40 leagues to the westward of a place called Jeddore." The continuing intelligence, which flowed into both Louisbourg and Annapolis as October started to pass, showed that the French were sticking to Chebucto. Was it that they were going to mount an overland attack against Annapolis Royal? Were they going to winter over? The local English commanders prepared for the worst.39

The fear initially was that this mighty French armada would take Louisbourg, then take Annapolis Royal and then proceed down the coast and bombard Boston and New York. As time passed and summer wore on this fear was to become less and less. Only during the first part of September was there to be any positive proof of the French presence on the shores of Nova Scotia. The news included reports that the French expedition was in serious difficulty because of sickness and storm damage. Thus, fears were to subside further, to the point, as September passed, that the people at Boston started to relax. More time passed: Louisbourg started to rest easier:40 fears at Annapolis Royal, however, continued.41 Warren reports, in a letter dated 24th October (O.S.), that an "express" had just arrived in from Annapolis Royal and the report, is, that "all was well there, that not one of the enemy's ships had appeared, but that the French and Indians ... were still about the garrison. I do not hear that they had any cannon or had much molested them. As the French fleet sailed the 13th from Chebucto and had not got to Annapolis by the 20th (nor any of them seen by the vessel from thence), it strengthened my former opinion that they will not venture to go in there."42 Shortly after, November 4th, 1746 (N.S.), Ramezay's forces, which had been besieging Annapolis Royal, break camp and retreat up the valley as the first licks of winter are felt. The French threat to Nova Scotia, at least for 1746, was over.

Contemporary Wrap Ups
And now what remains, is to give a few contemporary wrap ups:
Admiral Townsend who was anxious to leave Louisbourg with his British fleet so to return home before winter was to sock him in, on October 24th, concludes:

"... the enemy are retired from Chebucto. They have not appeared in these parts. If you [Warren and Shirley] have heard nothing of them at Boston nor from Annapolis Royal, I shall take it for granted we shall hear no more of them in these parts this year. If we may depend upon the intelligence we have received, they are gone off in a miserable, shattered condition, having lost their duc and a great many men, a very considerable number remaining sick. Soon after they put out of Chebucto, they were overtaken by a violent gale of wind, [in referring to one of his own ships which had been caught out in it] which sprung the ship's mainmast and bowsprit and broke her fore yard. She was in such imminent danger that they [the English crew] were obliged to throw over four of her guns, by which we may judge the enemy suffered not a little."43
Mascarene, the closest English commander to the scene, has given us his intelligence of the events, gathered, at the time, and reported to Warren and Shirley in a despatch to them dated at Annapolis Royal, 26th October:
"I have acquainted you before of the French admiral duc d'Anville being dead with grief, soon after his arrival at Chebucto with a small part of his fleet, on his believing the rest either lost or scattered as not to reinstate... the intended projects. His death is confirmed. [In] addition, on the arrival of the rest of the fleet in that harbour, in a council held by the several commanders great divisions arose. The person who was appointed by the court of France next in command fell distracted and stabbed himself, but, his wound not being mortal, and coming to himself, was made to sign a declaration that he judged himself not capable of undertaking the command of the fleet. This command fell on M. La Jonquiere, a chef d'escadre. All relations agree that their fleet was extremely sickly. Besides the men thrown overboard at sea (which is said to be above 1,000) they buried above 1,500 at Chebucto, and sent 500 sick in six ships to France. They set out however from Chebucto on Monday the 13th instant for this place, as will appear by what follows. Coming abreast of Cape Sable [they] were met by a violent [northeast] gale of wind, which I think was on the 17th. When [they] again came together (except two ships missing) they came to a resolution not to prosecute their intended course hither, but to bear away for the West Indies. In consequence, having given two vessels to some inhabitants of Minas whom they had taken [as pilots from here] to send them home and [tell] the Canadians that they were not to expect the fleet, they sailed away from this coast. The Canadians received this intelligence on the 23rd and began to march away that same evening. The next morning two of the deputies of this river came to acquaint me with it. Their several scattered parties had begun to draw off early that morning and marched after their leaders up the river, on their return to Minas. I stopped the deputies and sent for Col. Gorham to take 200 men and follow the enemy, which was immediately executed."44
Edward How gives his version:
"The best intelligence I can learn of the motions of the French fleet is as follows. They grew very sickly soon after they set out from France. They had 2,000 men die in the passage, besides a 50 gun ship foundered at sea and one lost on Sable Island. They dropped into Chebucto in small numbers until at last they all met together there, to the number of thirty-five men of war and transports. They found there two Canada frigates, who had been there all summer and had taken many prizes - amongst which was a ship that carried down a chaise and horses for Gov. Knowles. They say they had sent 200 English prisoners to Canada. The duc d'Anville died of grief soon after his arrival. There were two competitors for the command after his death, which occasioned a great quarrel between them and great disturbance among the whole fleet. [They] lay in Chebucto until the 13th instant [October], at which time they sent an officer express to advise the commander in chief of their troops here, whose name is de Ramezay, that he might expect them very soon. They buried 1,800 men whilst they lay at Chebucto. Some time before they set out, they sent six ships to France with their sick men.
On the 17th they were off Cape Sable, where they met with a northeast storm which dispersed them for a while. On the 19th, they all met again, except two. As they had Minas pilots on board, they put them on board [two] schooners and sent them home with a letter to M. de Ramezay, to acquaint him that they were put away through sickness to the West Indies, and that he might make the best of his way home, which he punctually obeyed ..."45
And, so it was -- but, only a single solidary French warship, la Sirene, was to come close to one of the prescribed destinations. A fleet of 70 ships had carried proud Frenchmen bent on a military mission to recover Louisbourg and revenge France by bombarding New England. This was the last of it, as la Sirene showed her stern and sailed over the eastern horizon; and, as her top sails disappeared, so did the last traces of the French threat of 1746. The mission had come to an ignoble end: not a shot was fired at the English.46

On December 5th, 1746, five commissioned merchantmen come into Chebucto Harbour laden with supplies that had long since been gathered up at Quebec as part of its contribution to the grand effort.47 There they were, lying at Chebucto, with 570 tons of supplies; but, -- no French fleet, -- no grand army. All that could be seen on the deserted shores are ragged camps; deserted; blown in the wind; and, maybe, a few lingering natives to tell the sad story.48

[NEXT: Pt. 5, Ch. 3 - Battle at Grand Pre (1747)]

(Now Available As A Book)

Found this material Helpful?

[The Lion & The Lily -- Book 1 (1500-1763)]
[Settlement, Revolution & War -- Book 2 (1760-1815)]
[The Road To Being Canada -- Book 3 (1815-1867)]

2011 (2020)