A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia. TOC
Part 7,
The Second Siege of Louisbourg: 1758:
Ch.02 -- "Louisbourg (1749-1757)."

In the earlier parts of this history I have dealt with "The Founding and early development of Louisbourg. It will be remembered, too, that in 1745, it was put under siege by New Englanders, and how to everybody’s amazement, the keys to Louisbourg were handed over to the English. One of the consequences, however, of the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, signed in 1748, was, however, the return of Louisbourg back to the French. This was effected the following year, in 1749, a year that also saw the English build its military base at Halifax less than 200 miles down the coast from Fortress Louisbourg.

With its hand-back, Louisbourg returned to a place of refuge, a place for privateers to sell off their cargoes. There, at Louisbourg, were to be found helpful people who were ready, able and willing: to look the other way; to falsify papers; and, generally, to play booty. I quote from the work of C. Ochiltree Macdonald:

"Louisbourg was thus an important commercial centre as well as the greatest military stronghold on the northern coasts, and 'ships of all nations' rode at anchor in her ample port. In 1751 150 English vessels traded there, and the commerce of the city was increasing so rapidly that 30 Boston ships could sometimes be counted in the port.
An English traveler who visited the city found 30 sail of English ships loading and discharging there; 20 vessels from France lay at the quays, discharging wines, oils, cambrics, linens, silks, velvets, and, 'in short, an assortment of all the manufacturers of France'; and others arrived almost daily from the West Indies laden with rum, sugar, molasses, coffee, cotton, indigo and cocoa. These commodities were purchased on a large scale by the New England and other 'Colonial' merchants for the British 'Colonial' markets as far south as South Carolina. Most of them were paid for in good silver dollars; and as the trifling commodities the British traders could sell were chiefly lumber, the balance of trade was greatly in favour of France. Louisbourg was also the emporium of a fishing industry, which competed with the fishing industry of New England, employed fully 2,281 vessels, manned by 15,138 men, and is stated to have supported an export of 974,700 quintals of fish per annum."

The people of 18th century Louisbourg owed their existence to the sea. It was a station for trading ships returning from the south seas. Convoys of these trading vessels (not only from southern waters but also from Quebec) would be formed and escorted by French war ships from Louisbourg to their home ports in France. In between wars, local traders conducted a brisk business running goods back and forth to ports in New England.2 Numerous small fishing boats would set out to the close-by fishing banks and bring their catches back for drying on the shores surrounding Louisbourg. The dried fish would be bundled, tied and placed, like so much kindling wood, into the holds of the sailing transports. The population was fed by the fish caught and the produce which came from the Acadian farms located in English territory.3

These trading patterns, just described, had existed for years prior to 1745, and, were soon reestablished once Louisbourg was handed back in July of 1749. The new French governor, Des Herbiers, and his administrators, were soon installed. Des Herbiers had brought with him 500 troops and a number of "returning citizens."4 This, however, seemingly, was but an advance guard. Once the vestiges or traces of the former tenants were eliminated, and once the authorities back in France had determined the relative importance of Louisbourg: Frenchmen were to flood into Louisbourg, both significant in number and in importance. To quote McLennan: "There was to be a girding of the loins in the bureaux of the French Admiralty, when Louisbourg was again under its care. ... the raising of the garrison until it approached in number that of Canada, showed that a high value was set on Louisbourg and its security."5

On August 3rd, 1751, Comte de Raymond arrived at Louisbourg to take over his post as its new governor. The French authorities were intent not to commit the same errors which had brought the mighty fortress down and into the hands of Englishmen in 1745. Raymond was a military man. This was the first time that Louisbourg was to see an army officer as its governor; prior to him, the French governors had all been naval officers. With his appointment -- just so that everyone was to know the importance which the French authorities attached to the position -- came a promotion for Raymond: in addition to being appointed a governor, he was, at the same time, made a Major-general; his aids were to be high ranking military officers. Raymond's principal instruction was to "manage" the Indians; viz., turn them loose on the settlers at Halifax and threaten, albeit indirectly, the mainland Acadians that they too should fear the Indians and that in the circumstances all they might do is to relocate to French territory.6 Raymond proved to be quite a controversial figure, due, mainly, to his aristocratic nature; he did, in fact, not last long as he was recalled and returned to France in October of 1753.

Because of a census which Raymond7 had carried out in 1752, we are able to determine that the total population at Louisbourg, at that time was 5,845, which, likely, was a high for the town of Louisbourg. McLennan sets out detailed tables8 in his Louisbourg, but I found it difficult to follow the breakdown. The outlying areas (such as Ballaine, Scatary, and St. Esprit) where there had been, previously, significant populations (mostly fishermen, I suspect), in general, had suffered from decreased population levels, certainly when compared with the period prior to the English occupation. Though the French had taken over the fort two years before this count (this count in 1752), likely because of the continuing fear of a further attack, the people preferred the safety of the Louisbourg fortifications.9 Of the adult working men in Louisbourg, at least in 1752, most were employed in "civilian" jobs, 1600; the rest were either soldiers (1200) or fishermen (1100).10

During October of 1753, being relieved of his post, Raymond returned to France. Charles-Joseph d'Ailleboust (1688-1761), Raymond's chief officer at Louisbourg, took over as acting governor until the arrival of Chevalier de Drucour in 1754, who, of course was the governor at Louisbourg, when, in 1758, it fell for the second time into English hands. Drucour's appointment was made on February 1st, 1754. He sailed from Brest in June of 1754 and arrived at Louisbourg on August the 15th together with his wife, Marie-Anne Aubert de Courserac, and "eight domestics."

Drucour, this proud French military man, used to the trappings of his high position in society, must have been distraught upon seeing Louisbourg; nothing but bleak northern bogs to one side and foggy seas to the other. The winter was soon upon them and with it more boredom, yet. Winter came and the cooped people became sick, an occurrence all too common at Louisbourg no matter the nationality of its residents. That winter, the winter of 1754/5, Smallpox was in amongst the population; and, a great number, as was the case for the winter before -- men, women and children -- were to die of this scourge of the age.11 The returning spring was to bring its usual effects, effects appreciated by northern people: a greening countryside and every bush ready to burst. Men responded as spring's delights encircled all. Ships from Europe would soon arrive with eagerly awaited supplies, and, just as eagerly awaited for, news from home. The season slowly advanced and spring flowers blossomed, and, "Look, see there! On the sea horizon, -- full blown sails of oceangoing ships." A French fleet had been dispatched from France; and, its first call would be Louisbourg. But, while these ships closed with the coast: they hang there, out of gun range: they sail back and forth. "What do you suppose?"

As it so happened, earlier that year, the English cabinet had authorized the sending of a naval squadron to cruise off Louisbourg, with instructions to "fall upon any French ships of war that shall be attempting to land troops in Nova Scotia or to go to Cape Breton or through the St. Lawrence to Quebec." We know, that by June, the British fleet under Boscawen was in position off of Louisbourg: its presence represented the first toll of trouble from which Louisbourg was to suffer during the next three years, its last three years as a French citadel in America.

A large French fleet under de la Motte had left Brest on May 3rd, 1755. Aboard were six battalions of French soldiers, 3,000 men in all. Most were meant for Quebec, however, some were to be left off at Louisbourg so as to strengthen that garrison.12 As it happened, de la Motte did manage to get part of his fleet into Louisbourg and delivered the needed supplies and troops. Not without incident: as Boscawen did in fact snare two of de la Motte's ships: see "The Taking of the Alcide and the Lys." The Alcide was brought into Halifax with a number of officers and French soldiers of the regiment of Languedoc, who were in the Lys, with the eight companies."13

In addition to the activity off the shores of Louisbourg which would have been either directly observed by Drucour or at least reported to him by the French fisherman or sailors as they came in from sea, there was the overland despatches being received from Fort Beauséjour. On June 2nd, 1755, Vergor, the French commander at Fort Beauséjour had sent a message off to Louisbourg that he was under attack and that they needed immediate help. Drucour sent off a return message which was received by Vergor on June 14th that the seas off of Louisbourg were full of English war ships: Fort Beauséjour was on her own. This, of course was Boscawen's fleet. Nonetheless, just on June 14th, de la Motte's ships, or at least most of them, made it into the fortified harbour of Louisbourg. Just short of a month later, on July 6th, aboard English transports, the troops of the captured French garrisons of Fort Beauséjour and Fort Gaspereau (Bay Verte) were to arrive at Louisbourg.14 And, to complete the picture for that summer (1755): on August 15th, the French admiral, de La Motte, left Louisbourg and was to take his fleet safely back home to France; and, so as to avoid the marauding British, he did so via the Strait of Belle Isle.

War came in 1756. The people of Louisbourg needed no written declaration of the fact, particularly, since just the year before the English had taken by force both, French forts and French ships. But in spite of these preemptive attacks, the French did naught but shake their finger at the English. However, in June of 1756, war was declared, and before the summer was out their respective military men in America were to know of it. New military generals were sent to America: the Earl of Loudoun arrived at New York and the Marquis of Montcalm at Quebec, both in July of that year. That summer Holmes with a squadron of ships was on blockade duty off Louisbourg. Towards the latter part of July, 1756, after having successfully delivered Montcalm15 and reinforcements to Quebec, M. Beaussier (1701-65), a French naval captain who had been with de la Motte the previous year, arrived off Louisbourg with his small fleet. Having come upon two British ships under the command of Charles Holmes, and after having sailed into Louisbourg to leave off supplies, Beaussier came back out of the harbor and joined in battle. The action was indecisive and he retired back to the safety of Louisbourg Harbour.16 During 1756, though they were then at war, this mixup at sea between Holmes and Beaussier was the only conflict to be observed in Nova Scotia. Thus, the first year of the Seven Years War was to pass. Louisbourg was threatened and a blockading English fleet was lying off her shores but no enemy was at her walls. With the arrival of 1757, however, the English were to ratchet things up.

[NEXT: Pt. 6, Ch. 3 - "The Gathering at Halifax (1757)."]

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