For several years after the close of the French and Indian War, the history of Massachusetts consists chiefly of the record of warm political disputes by which the growth of republican principles was greatly stimulated. Controversies, sometimes violent and sometimes conciliatory, were carried on between the governors and the representatives of the people, the former contending for prerogatives and salaries which the latter deemed inadmissible. These disputes were suddenly arrested when, late in the spring of 1744, news came that France had declared war against Great Britain. The colonists knew that the evident result would be hostilities between their respective colonies in America, and they prepared for the conflict which is known in our history as "King George's War." It was so called because King George the Second was then on the throne of England, and had espoused the cause of the Empress of Austria, the celebrated Maria Theresa, who fought for the crown of Austria against the Elector of Bavaria. The king of France espoused the cause of his opponent, and this led to war. In Europe it was known as "The War of the Austrian Succession."
This was not marked by any very stirring events in America, excepting some military and naval operations in the East. Before war was declared, some French soldiers from the island of Cape Breton, surprised, captured and carried to Louisburg a small English garrison at Canseau. Then some Indians attacked the dilapidated fort at Annapolis, but were repulsed. These things compelled the English colonists to contemplate retaliation, and they resolved to attempt to capture the fortress at Louisburg, and so secure an important advantage. The men taken from Canseau had been sent to Boston on parole, and gave a minute account of that fortress. It had been built by the French after the treaty of Utrecht at a cost of five and a half million dollars, and because of its great strength it was called "The Gibraltar of America."
At that time, William Shirley, a good soldier and energetic statesman, was governor of Massachusetts. He asked England for aid in the expedition against Louisburg. He appealed to the other colonies. The Legislature of Massachusetts made provision for the expedition. New York sent some artillery, and Pennsylvania some food. The New England colonies raised men, Massachusetts alone furnishing more than three thousand. So the common danger was extending the idea of a necessity for a political union of the English-American colonies long before it assumed a practical shape in 1754, and especially in 1774.
The colonists had reason to expect the co-operation of a British fleet then in the West Indies, under Admiral Sir Peter Warren. They waited some time for its appearance, but in vain. Finally, at the beginning of April, 1745, New England troops sailed from Boston for Canseau, under the general command of William Pepperell, a wealthy merchant of Maine, who was afterward made a baronet for his distinguished services. The ice was yet floating around Cape Breton in such huge masses that ships could not enter the harbor of Louisburg, and the expedition was detained at Canseau almost a month, when it was unexpectedly joined by five war-ships and soon afterward by others from England, under Admiral Warren. That officer had received instructions from home to give to Massachusetts all the aid in his power. On the day after Warren appeared, some vessels arrived from Connecticut with a considerable land force from that colony.
The New England vessels of all sorts now at Canseau numbered one hundred. Governor Shirley had instructed Pepperell to have all of these vessels arrive near Louisburg at the same hour, in the night; and no matter what might then be the condition of the surf, to land all the troops on the rocky shore before daylight, march at once through thickets and over morasses to the city and beyond it, and to take the fortress and town by surprise. Of course a strict compliance with these orders was impossible, but it was undertaken. The vessels all left Canseau, bearing about four thousand troops, and early in the morning of the 30th of April appeared in Gabarus Bay, eastward of Louisburg. The troops were disembarked on the same day, and most of the artillery, ammunition, and provisions were landed. The alarm bells of the city were rung, and cannon from the fortress were fired to warn the suburban inhabitants of danger.
The assailants had heavy work before them, with seemingly inadequate means for its execution. The walls of the fortress were forty feet thick at the bottom, of solid masonry, and from twenty to thirty feet in height. Around them was a ditch, filled with water, eighty feet wide. More than one hundred heavy cannon, and nearly eighty swivels and mortars, composed the armament of the fort. All the walls were swept by artillery from the bastions, and a garrison of sixteen hundred men defended these strong works. There were also batteries with many cannon outside the fort to defend the approaches to it. It seemed possible for two hundred men to defend it against five thousand. The heavy artillery of the assailants consisted of only eighteen cannon and three mortars.
The French sent out a force to oppose the landing, but they were soon put to flight. On the following morning, Lieutenant-Colonel Vaughan, of New Hampshire, a resolute volunteer, full of zeal and courage, conducted a small advance column through the woods within sight of Louisburg, and with three cheers greeted the first sight of the fortress. The same evening he marched to a part of the harbor where there were large warehouses containing a vast amount of naval stores, and set them on fire. The smoke, driven by a strong wind into the grand battery situated near, so terrified its garrison that they spiked their guns and fled into the city. Vaughan took possession of the battery, and held it until he was reinforced, in spite of a resolute effort of a French force to retake it. The guns of the battery were unspiked by Major Seth Pomeroy, a Massachusetts blacksmith, who afterward became a useful officer in the French and Indian war. "It looks as if our campaign would last long," the gallant Pomeroy wrote to his wife; "but I am willing to stay till God's time comes to deliver the city into our hands." "Suffer no anxious thought to rest on your mind about me," answered that patriotic New England woman. "The whole town is much engaged with concern for the expedition, how Providence will order the affair, for which religious meetings every week are maintained. I leave you in the hand of God." Such was the spirit of the descendants of the Puritans. The New Hampshire troops bore on their banners the motto given them by the eminent Whitefield-- "Nil desperandum Christo subduce" --Nothing is to be despaired of with Christ for the leader. It inspired many of them with the zeal of crusaders, for they regarded it as an efficacious benediction by a highly gifted and holy man; a true servant of heaven.
The English troops encamped in a semicircle around Louisburg. The heavy cannon and mortars, under the charge of Captain Richard Gridley (who was conspicuous in the siege of Boston thirty years afterward, as an engineer), were dragged on sledges across morasses; trenches were dug by the zealous soldiers; batteries were erected, and on the last day of May a regular siege was commenced. Meanwhile Warren had captured a French seventy-four gun ship, with five hundred men and a large quantity of military stores.
Finally, a combined attack of the fleet and army was made, and on the 17th of June, the city, the fort and garrison, and the batteries, were surrendered to the English, together with the Island of Cape Breton. The value of the stores and prizes then captured was a little less than five million dollars. On the day of surrender New England ministers preached in the chapel of the fortress; and in view of the amazing strength of the place, one of them said from the pulpit: "God has gone out of the way of his common providence, in a remarkable and almost miraculous manner, to incline the hearts of the French to give up, and deliver this strong city into our hands."
The pride of France was deeply mortified by the results of this daring and successful expedition. Her rulers determined to recover the lost city and fortress, and to desolate the colonies of the English in America. For that purpose a powerful fleet was sent to Cape Breton, under the command of the Duke d'Anville. His vessels were dispersed, and several of them were wrecked by violent storms; and disease wasted hundreds of his men. He was compelled to abandon the enterprise without striking a blow, and with two or three ships--the remnant of his fleet--he took shelter in the harbor of Chebucto (now Halifax) in Nova Scotia. There he died, it is believed, from the effects of self-administered poison; and his lieutenant who succeeded him, committed suicide because of mortified pride. As in the case of the capture of Louisburg, the New Englanders now regarded this delivery as the interposition of a special providence; and the bells of Boston and other towns rang out merry peals of joy, while thousands knelt in the meeting-houses and poured out thanksgivings to God for his evident favors.
Hostilities continued two years longer, but the Americans suffered very little from the war, excepting from incursions by the French and Indians, on their frontiers. In October, 1748, a treaty at Aix-la-Chapelle put an end to the war, when it was agreed that all prisoners taken by either party should be released, and all acquisitions of property or territory by either party should be restored. So Cape Breton and its fortress passed into the possession of the French by peaceful means, and the colonies were paid by the British government for their expenditures in capturing them, amounting to more than a million dollars. Both the principals in the contest were heavy losers. Nothing had been gained. Humanity had severely suffered.
National animosities, religious differences, and recent causes for irritation, had created the most intense hatred between the English and French colonists; and the acts of horrid cruelty by the Indians made the people on the frontiers regard them as almost as obnoxious as ravenous beasts of prey. Yet, firm in their allegiance to the crown of Great Britain, and loyal to the duty of obedience, the people of New England, and especially of Massachusetts, were impelled to a restraint of their resentment while England and France were at peace. But it was not long before disputes about territorial boundaries began which soon led to preparations for hostilities in America between the three races who occupied the country. At about the middle of the last century, they came to blows, and then began the fierce struggle of the English and French for dominion on this continent, known in history as "The French and Indian War."
Return to Our Country, Vol. I