On July 25th, 1755, a Captain Morris, from New York, sailed into Halifax Harbour in his brig, the Lily. He bore news.1 The English general, Braddock had been defeated in the deep woods of Pennsylvania, just a few miles short of his objective, the French fort, Fort Duquesne, the site of present day Pittsburgh. Braddock with his regulars, trained for European warfare, were surprised by the French and their Indian allies. This had occurred on July 9th, 1755. The English had sustained a terrible defeat. Braddock himself had been mortally wounded and died at the camp to which he had retreated.2
Braddock's march on Fort Duquesne was one of four preemptive attacks that the English had launched against the French in America in that year. The French had claimed large parts of North American territory as their own, including the Ohio valley and all that land west and north at the Isthmus of Chignecto (defined, current day, as the Province of New Brunswick). The colonial governors were to meet on April 14th, 1755, at Alexandria on the Potomac (it became known in history as the Council at Alexandria). There, around the table, may have been seen: Dinwiddle of Virginia, Dobbs of North Carolina, Morris of Pennsylvania, Sharpe of Maryland, Delancy of New York, and Shirley of Massachusetts. It was there determined that the French were to be attacked, notwithstanding that the two countries were at peace, at four points at once: the general (Braddock) and his regulars were to attack Fort Duquesne; Governor Shirley, Fort Niagara; Colonel William Johnson, Crown Point; and Colonel Monckton, Acadia. Of all these military missions, only one was to meet with total success; and, that was Colonel Monckton's expedition to take Fort Beauséjour (see part 6, Ch. 4).
The most significant impact of Monckton's victory in Acadia, was 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. On the 28th of July, 1755, the governing Council at Halifax, resolved: "After mature consideration it was unanimously agreed, that, to prevent as much as possible their attempting to return and molest the [English] settlers that may be set down on their lands, it would be most proper to send them [the Acadians] to be distributed amongst the several colonies on the continent, and that a sufficient number of vessels should be hired with all possible expedition for that purpose." Thus it was determined that Acadia was to be cleared of its inhabitants; and, thereafter followed, the deportation of the Acadians.
On January 16th, 1756, the Westminster Convention was signed. This was an agreement which bound Austria and England in a common defence against Prussia and France. The Convention had been entered into with the primary aim of protecting Hanover against Prussia.3 The English ministers had come into possession of a secret letter written by the Swedish ambassador at Paris directed to his minister back in Stockholm to the effect that the court of Versailles, being vexed on account of this alliance between Austria and England, was now in the midst of making plans "... an expedition was to be sent against Minorca from Spanish harbours, which would be used with or without permission, while a simultaneous invasion was to be made of England, Scotland, and Ireland, though the attack upon these latter countries was to be nothing more than a feint. Apart from this the French fleet was to be brought up to the level of the English, English trade was to be destroyed by privateering, and strong reinforcements were to be sent out to the American troops."4
That the French had designs on Minorca was likely not new intelligence to the English; this latest French threat, however, was to drive the English into immediate action. It was during The War of the Spanish Succession or Queen Anne's War (1702-11), in 1708, that Port Mahon, in the Island of Minorca, was taken by the British; and, by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht (1711), England was to keep Minorca.5 From the twin posts of Gibraltar (taken away from the Spanish during the same war in 1704) and Minorca, the English, with her mighty navy, controlled the ancient seaway and avenue of trade: the Mediterranean. In May of 1755, the English admiral, John Byng (1704-57) was despatched with a fleet of war ships in order to bring relief to Minorca and to defend this valuable English posession. On his way there he was to meet the French Mediterranean fleet. Chambers sets forth a concise statement as to what then happened:
The Seven Years War was a war, which, for the English, had "disastrous beginnings."7 At its opening, in 1756, England was unprepared with but three regiments fit for service. Minorca fell immediately to the French; on the continent, the Duke of Cumberland with 50,000 men for the defence of Hanover fell back before a French army; in America the English were bested by the genius and activity of Moncalm, emphasized, as it was, with the defeat of Braddock in 1755. But England, as England always seems to do shortly after she goes to war, was to find a leader to defeat her enemies and bring her to glory: his name: William Pitt. At the end of 1756, William Pitt
"... [Byng] gave the signal to engage the enemy's fleet. The van under Rear-admiral West at once attacked, but the rear, under Byng, got into some disorder and hardly came within gunshot. The van suffered great loss, and Byng sailed away to Gibraltar and left Minorca to its fate. In England the public was furious, and Byng was brought home under arrest. Acquitted of cowardice or disaffection, he was found guilty of neglect of duty ..."6
On June the 9th, 1756, France declared war on England. Before the month was out Minorca fell to the French.
The Seven Years War was a war, which, for the English, had "disastrous beginnings."7 At its opening, in 1756, England was unprepared with but three regiments fit for service. Minorca fell immediately to the French; on the continent, the Duke of Cumberland with 50,000 men for the defence of Hanover fell back before a French army; in America the English were bested by the genius and activity of Moncalm, emphasized, as it was, with the defeat of Braddock in 1755. But England, as England always seems to do shortly after she goes to war, was to find a leader to defeat her enemies and bring her to glory: his name: William Pitt. At the end of 1756, William Pitt, First Earl of Chatham became "nominally secretary of state, but virtually, premier."
On December 16th, 1756, during a cabinet meeting which had to be one of Pitt’s first, “it was resolved that a force of 8,000 infantry, accompanied by an adequate fleet, should be sent to North America ... as soon as the necessary instructions could be issued. In consequence, a squadron of 16 ships of the line, 4 fireships, and 50 transport vessels was fitted out and placed under the command of Admiral Holburne. However, the equipment of the vessels and the mobilization of the troops required much time, and as it was thought advisable to await the more favourable season for sailing, the departure of the force was considerably delayed."8 To the six regiments sent out there was added two battalions of Scottish highlanders. A touch no doubt initiated or enthusiastically supported by Pitt (he had maternal lines that ran back to Scotland). This was a sure way to employ men, men of a warlike nature, that otherwise might prove to be a problem if left to roam the highlands. One of these battalions was to be headed up by Simon Fraser, the son of Lord Lovat who had been executed in 1746. The other Scottish battalion was headed up by Archibald Montgomery. In getting these troops together for their transport to North America, some concern was expressed about "bringing these redoubtable warriors into the neighbourhood of the English capital, the Irish town of Cork was made the starting point of the expedition."9
[NEXT: Pt. 7, Ch. 2 - "Louisbourg (1749-1757)."]