A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia. TOC
Part 6, 1755: TOC
Ch.03 - Fort Beausejour:
3a - "The Attack" &
3b - "The Aftermath"

3a. - The Attack:-

The attack force consisted of approximately 2,000 provincials, which, as we have seen, were gathered together at Boston. The operation was under Colonel Robert Monckton; and the troops were divided into two battalions; one headed up by Colonel John Winslow and the other by Colonel George Scott. On May 23rd, 1755, the English forces sailed from Boston. "Forty sloops and schooners" were escorted in convoy by three small frigates; the Success, the Mermaid, and the Siren. The fleet was under the command of Captain John Rous.1 It arrived at Annapolis Royal on the 25th, "forty-one sail." "Here the expedition was joined by three transports from Halifax under convoy of the Vulture, Sloop of War, with a detachment of Artillery under the command of Capt. Broome, Mr. Bruce, Chief Engineer and others, The fleet sailed on June 1st, at 8 a.m. ..." The armada pushed up to the head of the Bay and before sunset the same day were anchored within nine miles of their objective.2

Winslow was to write in his journal:

June 1st: "Sailed from Annapolis Royal on board his majesty's ship Success, John Rouse, Esq., Commander the whole fleet consisting of forty one sail. Got out of the Gut at eight and stood up the Bay, the wind blew fresh. Passed by the Isle of Holt, Cape Chignecto, anchored about sun setting, about five miles distance from Fort Lawrence ..."3
The commander4 at Beausejour at the time, to whom we have already referred, was Louis du Port Chambon, Sieur de Vergor. The intelligence of a build up at Boston and the fleet's arrival at Annapolis Royal doubtlessly was patched through to Vergor. Given the slowness of the age, Vergor would not have had much lead time to fix up the defences of Fort Beausejour.5 Upon the English armada making its appearance in the basin, the fears of the French were considerably heightened: the descent of such a force could mean only one thing. A call went out to the able bodied Acadian men in the district to come into the fort for its defence; approximately 300 responded. At the time the English commenced its attack, Fort Beausejour had "twenty-one cannon and a mortar, and it was manned by one hundred and sixty-five officers and soldiers of the regulars ..."6

We have had preserved for us a contemporaneous French accounting of events. Jacau de Fiedmont7, a French officer who was behind the walls of Beausejour at the time, wrote:

"April - It was known, however, that their coast-guards had captured and taken to Chebucto a French ship, which had been loaded with munitions and food -supplies at Louisbourg for the King's post on the St. John river. We also learned about this time, that great preparations for war were being made throughout New England, and that all merchant ships had been held in their respective ports; even those which habitually brought provisions to their fort in this neighborhood, early in April, were being detained until June 1st. The confidence that peace would continue was so deeply impressed on the minds of those who lived in the district, that none of these reasons sufficed to awaken the slightest alarm, and we continued to enjoy a sense of security as perfect as though we were residing in the centre of Paris.
On June 2nd we realized our mistake. At 5 o'clock in the morning a settler who lived at Cape Maringouin, in the Bay of Fundy, about 2 leagues from Point Beausejour, came to warn M. de Vergor du Chambon, Commandant of the Fort, that an English fleet of about forty vessels, laden with men, had sailed into the cove on the inner side of the Cape, and was there awaiting the turn of the tide to enter Beaubassin. The commandant, who could no longer doubt the intentions of the English, dispatched couriers to Quebec, the St. John River, Louisbourg and the Island of St. John to solicit aid. The inhabitants from rivers dependent on this post, and from the surrounding country, were summoned to the Fort, raising to about six hundred the number of men under orders to take up arms and fire on the English whenever they should attempt to set foot in the King's domain, or to make an attack on our fort.
At 5:30 in the afternoon, the enemy's fleet composed of 37 sail made its appearance; three frigates, a snow, and two other vessels, equipped for fighting, which served as an escort, anchored at the entrance to Beaubassin; the transports were run aground close to Fort Lawrence, the English post, 1450 fathoms from our own. The troops landed at about 6:30 in the evening and the great majority of them passed the night under arms."
The English forces landed at a place9 which the French did not dispute was British territory, just to the south of the Missaguash River and below the English fort; and, soon thereafter there were 2,000 men camped in two lines of evenly spaced tents in the field below Fort Lawrence.10

It was the early morning of June 4th: the British tents were struck and the troops lined up in marching order.11 Following along in the tracks of this army was a train of "four short brass field guns, 6 pounders."12 The progress was slow as the army made its way east through the marsh grass, along the south bank of the Missaguash River.13 Their initial objective was get across the river and then proceed west along the north side in order to lay siege to the French fort. (See the plan showing the two forts and the route traced herein.) They thought it best to cross over at a place on the river called Pont-ô-Buot, a place where there is a bridge; or, rather, where a bridge had been, as, not unexpectedly, the French had destroyed it. The English engineers were simply going to throw another one up; they had brought the materials along for the job. This position was several miles east of Beausejour. It was an attack point which the French had anticipated and had built there a block-house.14 Monckton reports: "Upon our beginning to lay the bridge the enemy behind the works that lined the woods gave us a fire and the Indian Cry, they likewise fired some swivel guns from a log house."15 Between the British line and the French fort, on the northern side of the river, there was, seemingly, an entire French Acadian village, likely all erected since the Acadians were forced to flee Beaubassin five years earlier. There was at least 60 buildings and a church which were directly to the east of the French fort. These structures, it was calculated by the French would be used to some advantage by the advancing British troops; so, the French put the torch to every one of them before the British were to get into position.16

A contemporaneous French version of the events just above recited, as given by Fiedmont. It is as follows:

"Their artillery fire was directed especially at the emplacements of the four swivel-guns [mounted at the blockhouse at Pont-ô-Buot] which were ineffective and moreover, badly served; they were soon put out of commission. The Indians immediately abandoned the entrenchment and took up a position on a height beyond range of the cannon; nor, with two or three exceptions, did the settlers linger long before retreating into the woods; only a few soldiers remained in the entrenchment with the officers. M. de Baralon saved the swivel-guns, which were taken into the woods on a cart and sunk in a bog; he ordered the guard-house, storehouse and the buildings in the neighbourhood to be set on fire. ...
Orders were given to bring to the fort all the provisions which were in the storehouses and dwellings in the neighborhood, and to set fire to the buildings. Some cattle were also brought inside the palisades. Only a few men were engaged on the works, and a very small quantity of fascines and other material was collected, because the settlers were making use of their carts to save their portable property. ...
On the 5th, the settlers of Buot bridge and those who had been at the barricades and had remained in the woods since the action, joined forces and came to the fort. They reported that to establish their communication with Fort Lawrence, the enemy were constructing a bridge across the river opposite their camp. These men asked the Commandant's permission to fight in their own way."
By the evening18 of the 5th the English were encamped on the north side of the Missaquash some five miles from Fort Beausejour (see map). We can see from Winslow's journal that the English were to take the next couple of days to clear the land for their camp, build defences around it and bring up supplies. Many of the war materials were brought up in Cobb's vessel up the Missaquash, right under the noses of the French.19 A bridge, lower down the Missaquash, was built in order to have easier access to Fort Lawrence. "By the 7th all the tents were pitched." On June the 8th, Monckton sent out his engineers to reconnoitre and to determine the best emplacements for the siege cannon. On the 10th a number of the soldiers were employed making a road through the marsh in order that they might move their heavy cannons and munitions into place.20 A site for the cannons was chosen, it being up a rise above and to the north of the French fort. The French attempted to defend this place; but, Scott with 500 men took control of the place. During this skirmish "Engineer Tonge was badly wounded. Major Preble slightly. One private was killed and four wounded but not seriously. In the evening, Colonel Scott and his force broke ground for the entrenchments. The fort fired several cannon shots at them."21

Thus, the English had seized the high ground to the north of the fort. Amongst their preparations was the opening up of the siege trenches to within 700 feet of the walls of the French fort. The men creeped ever closer within the protection of their trenches, which teams of sappers had dug under the cover of night while their fellow infantrymen lay on their bellies ahead of them ready to return fire. The trenches were only started22 on the 12th and once advanced, a "13 inch mortar" was moved along under cover, ever closer, and closer. On the 16th, this mortar was to do its work, very well; though the English did not know it. The English likely thought they had weeks, maybe months, of work ahead, when, on the 16th, out of the gates came a group of French officers under a flag of truce: the English were surprised to learn that the French wished to capitulate.23

What the English did not know at the time was that the French defenders were a very dishearten group. As previously mentioned there was behind the walls of Fort Beausejour but 160 regulars. This force was supplemented, it is estimated, by 300 hundred Acadians24 which had been recruited from the local population, but, only with much difficulty. The work during these days was not just happening outside but also inside the walls as the French went about trying to improve their defences from within. The Acadians became increasingly more difficult as the time wore on and as the English came closer and closer.25 They knew what might well happen to them if the English were to succeed in their attack. The French commander, Vergor, promised them that reinforcements were on their way.26 This hope was shattered, when, on June 14th, French couriers managed to get into the fort with a message from Louisbourg that it feared for itself, in that an attack may be launched by the English against them; indeed, ships of Boscawen's fleet were cruising its mouth: Louisbourg could not afford to send help: Fort Beausejour was on her own. From this point onward the Acadians started to desert their posts,27 slipping over the walls and off into the woods to join their families which they had placed well away from the scene when the matter first started to unfold.

So, what transpired inside the fort on the 16th of June, was this: as Le Loutre and Vergor sat in one of two "bomb-proof" shelters within the fort, a great explosion was heard from the other; an explosive shell hurled into the fort by the British rolled into the open door way and, going off, killed seven French officers in one terrible explosion.28 The effect was immediate. A white flag was sent out; and, whether it was by jigs, or tricks, or quirks, -- Vergor knew he was beaten; he intended, by that evening, to have the British officers over for supper.

Thus, it was, that on June 16th, 1755, the French surrendered Fort Beausejour to the English. Terms were worked out with the usual back and forth. Ultimately it boiled down to the French being allowed to march out with their bags and guns, their flags flying and their drums beating: they retired with honour and allowed to go to Louisbourg with the transport being laid on by the victor. Another condition was that there should be no retribution against the Acadians found behind the walls.29

As to what then happened, we turn to our French eye witness, Jacau de Fiedmont:

"The English took possession of the Fort at 7:30 in the evening on the fourth day after they had opened their trench. Their troops passed the night under arms, and did not touch any of the merchandise or the King's property which, because all the buildings had been destroyed, were scattered about the fort; when, however, they saw that our own people were pillaging, the English officers could no longer restrain their men. They did, however, safeguard a portion of it. Our garrison marched out the following day to embark on the transport vessels for Louisbourg."30

So, what conclusions might a historian make as to the reasons for the fall of Fort Beausejour?

The French at Beausejour did not have their hearts into the business of defending their position at the isthmus; they were lacking effective leadership; they were daunted by the numbers of the advancing English; and, the Acadians which had initially been pressed into service, as the battle wore on, became more interested in escaping than in fighting. With the word on the 14th that they could expect no support from Louisbourg; well, the faith in their ability to hold off the English, melted. What precipitated an immediate motion to surrender, was, however, a lucky shot from one of the English cannons. Sure, the French might of held out for a little longer, the fate of Fort Beausejour, however, was sealed directly 2,500 English soldiers took their position before it. The feelings of the time, were, as expressed by Jacau de Fiedmont, viz., that the capitulation was necessary: "in view of the impossibility of receiving assistance, ... the weakness of the garrison, the insecurity of the casemates, especially the powder magazine ..."31 Louis-Lenard, Sieur de Courville, the royal notary for Acadia who was stationed at Fort Beausejour at the time, wrote the following criticism:

"It was not necessary to remain in the Fort and await the enemy, especially as the Fort was overcrowded with a greater number than it was ever intended to hold. He [Vergor] could have camped in full view of the enemy, where he could observe and, at the same time, break up their plans: he could have disputed their crossing of the river Beaubassin [Missaguash]; he could have harassed them without cessation due to his advantageous position. He should have been able, without actually launching an attack, to have forced Colonel Monckton to adopt an aggressive policy before the Fort became actually besieged. And in this interval, he would have obtained aid from Canada."32
I should say, in conclusion to this section, that in all the confusion Le Loutre made good his escape. Traveling initially in the disguise of an Acadian woman, he managed to get himself overland to the St John, and, from there, to Quebec.33 Incidently, it is seen from a directive from Monckton to Winslow, that Winslow, when he went to demand the surrender of Fort Gaspereau, that he was to see if he could locate Le Loutre's chest, as Monckton had intelligence that it was stored with the priest at Baie Verte. Winslow was to use his "utmost endeavor to get his chest and take particular care of it as it will clear up and open many dark scenes to us."34 If such a chest existed it was not found; as, the priests located at Baie Verte had slipped over into French territory by boat, to Ile St. Jean (Prince Edward Island).35 At Quebec, we see where neither the civil or ecclesiastical authorities, for their own good reasons (he was neither fish nor fowl) were to give Le Loutre much time; so, soon thereafter, he was on a ship bound for France; he was never to return to America. It was with the fall of Fort Beausejour that Le Loutre's reign of terror in Acadia, came, finally, to an end.

3b. - The Aftermath:

It was more than a hill with a fort on top of it, an entire territory was taken by the British when they took Fort Beausejour. It was the linch-pin, and, with its surrender, all of those parts north of the isthmus slipped out of French control. However, to cinch the victory, it was necessary to take two subsidiary forts; one to the west and another to the east.

Colonel Winslow, on June 18th, was sent with 500 men36 to take Fort Gaspereau situated 12 miles on the other side of the isthmus. From Winslow's Journal we learn that he left Fort Beausejour at 11 o'clock of the morning of June 18th., and:

"Stopped at two by the side of a brook, refreshed ourselves and set forward. Came to Musaquash River at about three mile of the Bay Vert where the French had a fine bridge across; but now demolished, which retarded us some time til we could lay a new one which we accomplished & marched on all the way. A good cart road though wet. The land for the most part very good til we came near the bay where it grew worse. Past through the village at Bay of Verte. Arrived at the fort about sun set. Immediately entered and took possession. Monsr. Vilray commands with about thirty regulars and some artificers ..."37
As would be expected, the next day Winslow took an inventory, which, makes for interesting reading:
"4 cannon, 7 barrels of powder, one hundred weight musket balls, 8 hhds molasses, 3 barrels of pease, 6 barrels of flower, 230 barrels of pork, 3 barrels of tallow, 10 galls lamp oil, 9 doz. of cod lines, 1300 iron shot and about cartridges."38
Winslow then proceeds to give a bit of a description of Fort Gaspereau, and its condition:

"I take [it] to be one hundred and eighty foot square with four bad blockhouses one at each corner. A ditch partly dug. No ramparts nor glasses nor an extraordinary palisade. A large storehouse but not tight nor [having a] floor. neither is there one building in the whole, tenantable, Everything miserable to the last degree. ... We must be supplied with bread ... also ... camp kettles as I find no kind of vessels to dress their provisions ... I ... am told by the inhabitants that ... the garrison fetch their water at a large distance in carts."39

With such a description it will be no surprise that Winslow became, "persuaded it will be best to quit it. For it is situated so near the water that it must fall to the first attack that is made that way."40

After securing the fort, Winslow then sent 200 men to comb the village of Bay Verte. "This village," Winslow reports, "contains about twenty-five houses, a chapel and priest's house, well furnished. And the inhabitants of this village live in better form and more after the English manner than any I have seen in this province. And have an open communication with the Island of St. John & the inhabitants of Cape Breton, whom they furnish with lumber, Indian goods etc.; and from whom they receive all the conveniences of life in return."41

We know that it was Winslow's view that Fort Gaspereau was useless and should be abandoned, however, that was not Monckton's view. Monckton sent over a fresh detachment of 200 men under the command of Captain Thomas Speakman; and, ordered Winslow to return to Fort Cumberland, which, Winslow did on the 23rd.42

The French fort at St John proved to be more difficult. Captain Rous, glad now to have some activity, sailed down the Bay to deal with the French at the St John River. He left on June the 23rd, in company with the transports loaded with the French soldiers who were being returned to Louisbourg.43 On June 30th, Rous in three 20 gun ships44 and a sloop arrived off of the mouth of St John. Directly the French became aware of their presence, they "burst their cannon, blew up their magazine, and fled up river."45

The garrisons of both Fort Beausejour and of Fort Gaspereau were shipped off, by the way of the Bay of Fundy, to Louisbourg.46 The Acadians who were found behind the walls of Beausejour (they claimed that the French officers gave them little choice) were forgiven and released.

In July of 1755, Winslow, writing from the isthmus, was to observe that though the English forces had put an end to the French "pretensions," both at the isthmus and at the St. John River, the province was still left with the "neutrals" and "their brethren the Indians." Their submission to the English had been only "low and mean": they are, as Winslow was to further observe: not to be trusted. And that: they could never be good. Winslow doesn't suggest to his superior what course of action might be taken; but wonders -- now that the principal object has been met: the defeat of the French military at the Acadian borders -- as to what "our future operations" might be? Almost as a separate thought, Winslow then advises that his New England troops be "not kept in a state of indolence."47

The most significant impact of Monckton's victory at the isthmus, is this: the success, that is to say the early success in subduing the French at the isthmus, allowed Governor Charles Lawrence at Halifax, almost immediately, to carry out a plan, that, while it had been brewing for some time, could not be carried out for lack of resources. At the isthmus there was approximately 2,500 paid-for troops. Their job was done by the end of June: Lawrence had another job for them.

[NEXT: Pt. 6, Ch. 4 - "The Deportation of the Acadians: Introduction."]

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