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Knowles' Disparaging Letter

(NOTE: This letter, reproduced in support of blupete's history, was written by Charles Knowles (c.1704-77) governor of Louisbourg to the Duke of Newcastle. It, undoubtedly, had a large impact in the British discussions which led to the hand back of Louisbourg and the founding of Halifax, 1749.)

Louisbourg, 9 July 1746.

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR GRACE, Though my public letter will inform your grace of the general state of this place, yet I cannot help trespassing upon your grace's time by a more particular description of it in this manner. I conceive the first accounts your grace received of its strength and importance were written at a time while success warmed the breast (and then zeal is apt to run into enthusiasm). I have considered it in every shape in conjunction with all the commanding officers here and the engineer, and abstractly by myself. Could I ever prevail upon myself even to think it will answer the expense that must be laid out upon it (if we keep it), I would not presume to have given your grace the trouble of this.

[That] the fortifications are badly designed and worse executed I have already informed your grace. It may be said these are things that may be remedied. To which I answer not! For unless the climate could be changed it is impossible to make works durable. The frosts begin to cease towards the middle of May and are succeeded by fogs. These last till the end of July or beginning of August, with the intermission perhaps of one or two fair days in a fortnight. Towards the close of September or early in October the frosts set in again, and they continue with frequent snow till May or often the beginning of June. So that allowing the fortifications to be repaired with the best of materials and in the most workmanlike manner, your grace will observe, they have scarce two months in the year for the cement to dry in. [This] is impossible for it to do. Therefore it is certain, after the nation has been at the expense of perhaps more than 1 million [pounds], we should have to go on again with repairing where we had begun at first. As it will take upwards of twenty years to do it in, consequently the works [will] be rotten and tumbling down before that time, as they are now.

The next thing I beg leave to observe to your grace is the impossibility, as well as the impracticability, of making it the general rendezvous for all the West India and American trade to resort to, in order to be convoyed home: 1st. The West India trade (their first fleet) generally said the end of May or early in June. By the time they could reach the length of this place, it is the height of the foggy season. They may be off the port a fortnight or three weeks and not have an opportunity of getting in. All this time they are exposed to the dangers of winds, rocks and sands, against which no merchant will hazard his goods in foggy weather nor the prudent mariner his ships. The consequence would be [that] every year one-half of the fleet would be lost. There has been no less than three sail of small vessels, who are used to venture close in shore, lost this month.

2ndly. The second west India fleet generally sails about the beginning of October, as does the Carolina, Virginia and most of the northern colonies' trade. At this season of the year the west and NW winds set in so strongly that no ship can lay hold of the coast. From October to April (if not May) the sea is [so] covered with islands of ice that nothing can approach this place.

The careening of all American-stationed ships is another proposal which may be answered in very few words. There is but six weeks in the year that it can be done here... If ships stay till late in the year they may be stopped by the ice and chance to winter here. So that I leave your grace to judge the number of ships that may be cleaned in six weeks, where there is but one careening place (and that very bad), and each ship to clean after one another. Nor ware we sure of keeping our seamen. Experience shows us the contrary, for the New England sloops that come here with rum secretly carry them away...

Next we are the masters of the whole cod fishery in the world. A very good thing, if the world would let us quietly... The cod fish [here] are neither so plenty, so large, or so well-fed, as the fish upon the banks of Newfoundland and the neighbouring places. The reason is obvious. This island is all rocky and the other places sandy, where the best fish are generally caught. Add to this the number of days vessels may be off this port in a fog with their fish aboard, before they can meet with a fair one to see their way in, which is a great loss of time, as well as often spoiling their fish. Had this been a good and convenient place for fishing, your grace will incline to think (as well as myself) that the New England people, who were so exceedingly fond of it and who have had such vast promises and encouragement made them by both Mr. Warren and myself, should have flocked here in numbers to have followed that advantageous trade. I rather believe your grace will be surprised, when I tell you that there are but two fishermen settled here yet, and those through restraint rather than choice (I have obliged them to desist from selling rum).

As to the islands ever being planted by settlers..., it is impossible it should. For it is but here and there in the compass of many leagues that an acre of tolerable ground is to be found. The rest is either a barren, stony rock or swamps, morasses and lakes.

Your grace is sensible the French poor are much more industrious than the English, and used to live much harder. [Yet] even these complained of the barrenness of the country, and many rejoiced when it was taken. Nor can I ever believe the New England people will be brought to come here, but for their present gains. For every one I found here, from the general [Pepperrell] down to the corporals, were sellers of rum. Such a quantity of it had been introduced that, had not I put a stop to it, the king's troops must soon have followed their fate of last year. Though I deprived all the settlers of their licenses and secured 64,000 gallons of rum in the citadel casemates, yet for some weeks there were seldom less than a thousand men drunk a day.

The confused, dirty, beastly condition [in which] I found this place is not to be expressed... These New England folks were so lazy that they not only pulled down an end of the house in which they lived to [use as fuel], but even buried their dead under the floors and did their filth in the other corners of the house, rather than go out of doors int he cold. They were of so obstinate and licentious a disposition that, not being properly under military discipline, there was not keeping them in any order. As much as I rejoice at getting rid of them, so do I pity Mr. Warren, who was obliged to be so long amongst them before he was invested with this authority of governor. He began with the regulation about rum; but had not time to put it into execution, which I am doing, and have the pleasure to tell your grace the good effects are visible already.

The fur trade and bringing all the Indians into our interest is another benefit that is to arise from this important conquest, with many more great and national advantages (full as chimerical). Your grace, who knows the constitution of the people of England, is best sensible how patiently they would wait two centuries (as the French have done) to accomplish such a scheme!

What a nine days' wonder every new thing is with them! Give me leave to assure your grace, nothing ever was more so than this place. I doubt not of its being difficult to make many believe so. Indeed the French court was almost as much deceived in regard to its strength, which, I apprehend, they have concluded from the vast sums of money said to have been laid out upon the fortifications. Nothing is more certain than that one half (at least) must have been made private property on. What views may be pointing that way at present (should things go on here) your grace can discern better than me; but without such, I am confident no honest man can contradict what I have said. I know of no way of getting money, besides my pay, but from the enemy. Therefore no lucrative views shall ever make me say or do a thing which I know must prejudice my country. As I am sensible of the exigence of the state for money in this time of war, so am I sure the expenses of this garrison cannot be supported out of the annual supplies, without a particular grant by Parliament. [I] therefore will not proceed to do anything but lodging the officers and men, patching up the breach and laying in some fuel till I receive your grace's particular and positive instructions what to do, which shall always be my guide.

Now I have mentioned [fuel], I cannot but think your grace must look upon that article as a most immoderate expense (6,000 [pounds] a year), as I apprehend you must many others, which I confess frighten me to think of. All I can promise your grace is [that] I will pursue every method I can think of to retrench them. I hope your grace will approve of what I have done in regard to granting the inhabitants of the Ile St. Jean liberty to remain there sometime longer, as that is a saving of at least 6,000 [pounds]. The poor wretches [are] capable of doing [neither] harm [n]or good! Your grace will observe I did it by the advice of a council of war of the admiral and field officers. I beg to assure you I shall consult them upon everything that may conduce to the good of his Majesty's service, and particularly my good friend Col. Hopson, who[m] your grace knows to be an experienced officer.

(NOTE: Admiral Warren, the conqueror of Louisbourg, catching wind of Knowles' negative comments, wrote to one of his captains: "I am obliged to you for the hint you gave me about the ill representation that is sent home of Louisbourg. It is a weak thing, let it come from where it will. Though it is not a most desirable place for fine gentlemen to live at, yet I hope the importance of it to our country will have more weight with the ministry than their convenience." [Warren to Douglas, written at Boston on 15th of September, 1746, Navy Records Society, Vol. 118, 1973, p. 316.])


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