King George's war



In 1744 another war, known in America as "King George's War," broke out between France and England, and at once brought the colonists into hostile relations. The most important event of this war was the capture of Louisburg, a powerful stronghold founded by the French in 1720 on the island of Cape Breton and intended to be made impregnable. The town grew until it contained several thousand inhabitants and was a mile in length.

{The following is an excerpt from Garneau}

France and Britain were now on the eve of war, chiefly for the good pleasure of the German king of the latter, as the chief of a petty Continental principality, who set about trimming what was called the "balance of power in Europe." This had been deranged, it appeared, by the part which the French king had taken against the Empress Theresa when a coalition was formed against her by Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, etc., in Germany, with Spain and Sardinia. In January, 1745, a treaty of alliance was signed between the empress (already at war with the French), the King of Great Britain, the King of Poland, the Elector of Saxony, and the United States of Holland, against France.

As on former occasions, the colonial dependencies of the two great nations had perforce to go to war also, whether they understood the points in dispute which led to hostilities between their mother-countries or not. There was also a "balance of power" between New France and New England, getting more and more difficult every year satisfactorily to adjust. Canada, however, like the snorting war-horse, seemed to scent the coming hostilities while yet distant; for her administrators had already repaired and munitioned all the frontier posts, especially Fort St. Frederic and Fort Niagara. The defensive works of Quebec, also, were augmented. Other demonstrations were made, about the same time, by the Canadian government and its colonists, which showed that a continued state of peace with the British plantations was neither expected nor desired.

After the belligerents were in full tilt in Europe, for the king of Britain and his favorite son were battling, not with much honor to either, on that eternal fighting-ground, Flanders, there was no appearance, for a time, of either government sending any expedition against the North American dependencies of the other.... During its early stages the war in America between the two rival races was carried on almost entirely without European aid.

In a few months after the declaration of war, the American waters swarmed with French privateers. Several were equipped at Louisburg, Cape Breton, with amazing despatch, and made a great number of prizes before vessels of war could arrive to protect the British colonial shipping. Louisburg became, in all respects, a kind of hornets' nest in regard to New England, its trade and fisheries, which it was now determined to dig out if possible.

Meanwhile, M. Duquesnel, governor of Cape Breton, embarked part of the garrison of Louisburg with some militia and made a descent upon the settlement of Canso, in Acadia, which he burnt, and made the garrison and settlers prisoners of war. He then summoned Annapolis, but was deterred from investing it by the arrival of a reinforcement from Massachusetts. Duquesnel returned to Louisburg, where he died shortly thereafter. Governor Shirley had for some time conceived the project of taking possession of Cape Breton, now rightly regarded as the seaward bulwark of Canada, and a highly-important post as a safeguard to the French fisheries and to American trade. The fortifications of Louisburg, the capital, even in their uncompleted state, had taken twenty-five years to construct, at a cost, it was reported, of thirty million livres (nearly one million five hundred thousand pounds sterling). They comprised a stone rampart nearly forty feet high, with embrasures for one hundred and forty-eight cannon, had several bastions, and strong out-works; and on the land-side was a fosse fully fourscore feet broad. The garrison, as reported afterwards by the French, was composed of six hundred regulars and eight hundred armed inhabitants, commanded by M. Duchambois. Upon the same authority we may mention here that at this time there were not more than one thousand soldiers in garrison, altogether, from the lower St. Lawrence to the eastern shore of Lake Erie.

At a council held by Governor Shirley, it was decided that an effort to take Louisburg would be too costly and hazardous. But the colonists, learning of the scheme, were so enthusiastic that the council was forced into it. In a few weeks more than four thousand militia were raised in the several colonies, and placed under the command of a New England merchant, named Pepperel. The expedition sailed about the last of March, and reached Canso on April 5, 1745.

Colonel Pepperel having sent some shallops to ascertain whether the coast was clear of ice, and the report being favorable, the expedition resumed its voyage, and a disembarkation on Cape Breton Island was begun at Chapeau Rouge on the 27th of April. The garrison was, through the promptitude of the invaders, taken completely by surprise. The descent could not have been effected much earlier with safety; for till the end of March or beginning of April the ocean in that region is covered with thick fogs, while both the seaboard and the harbors of Cape Breton are choked with thick-ribbed ice. By this time Admiral Warren arrived with a few ships, and more were expected. His seamen assisted during fourteen days in dragging a siege-train of ordnance, through marshy ground, to the neighborhood of Louisburg, which was thought at first to be too strongly defended on the seaward side to be confronted by the fleet. Meanwhile, the garrison was in a state of revolt, having demurred to being employed to put the works into a proper state, a duty which had been too long postponed. The men had other grievances besides, being ill paid, and otherwise badly treated; but, their feelings of military honor being appealed to, they resumed their arms and prepared to defend the place.

During the night of May 13, Mr. Vaughan, son of the lieutenant-governor of New Hampshire, who knew the localities well, having visited the place the year before, landed with four hundred men, marched to the northeast part of the bay, and fired some buildings filled with brandy, etc., and naval stores. A party in a neighboring fort, thinking probably that the incendiaries were the van of a large attacking force, quitted their post and took refuge in the town. Next morning Vaughan was able to surprise a battery and hold possession of it until the arrival of a reinforcement.

A great mischance for the French now hastened the fall of the place. La Vigilante, a ship of sixty-four guns, with five hundred and sixty soldiers and supplies for the garrison on board, was captured by Admiral Warren. Had this succor reached its destination, it is very doubtful whether Pepperel could have captured the strongest fortress in America, and which was reported to be impregnable. The next operation was not so favorable to the besiegers, who, having tried, with four hundred men, to carry a battery on the island of St. John, which protected the entry of the harbor, were driven off, leaving sixty dead, and one hundred and sixteen of their men, wounded or whole, in the hands of the French. But this gleam of success only delayed the certain capture of the place, now that all further hope of succor from without was gone, and its defenders were as discouraged as they were malcontent before. In a word, Duchambois capitulated, and was allowed to march out with the honors of war. In terms of the capitulation, the garrison, and about two thousand people, the entire population of Louisburg, were embarked in British transports and landed at Brest.

Great was the exultation, naturally enough, at the success of this expedition thus admirably planned and spiritedly executed. Messrs. Shirley and Pepperel were rewarded with baronetcies; and the British Parliament voted a sum of money to repay the cost incurred by the colonists in getting up the enterprise. The discouragement in New France for the loss of Cape Breton was commensurate with the elation at its capture in New England and the other Anglo-American provinces.

An effort was made by the French to recapture the place, but their fleet was scattered by a storm, while a deadly epidemic broke out among the soldiers and marines. Acadia was at the same time assailed by the Canadians, with considerable success. A force of five hundred New England militia, sent to oppose them, was attacked by the French and Indians, and nearly half the men killed or wounded, and the rest forced to surrender.

Beginning with the autumn of 1745, the frontiers of the British plantations themselves were cruelly ravaged in twenty-seven successive raids of the Canadians during three years. Fort Massachusetts, fifteen miles above Fort St. Frederic, surrendered to M. Rigaud, who, with seven hundred colonists and savages, devastated the country for fifty miles beyond. M. Corne de St. Luc attacked Fort Clinton, and signally defeated an American corps. Saratoga was taken, and its people massacred. Fort Bridgman was taken by De Lery. In a word, the frontier-line, from Boston to Albany, being no longer tenable, the inhabitants fled into the interior, and left their lands at the discretion of the enemy.

A treaty of peace was concluded October 7, 1748. By its stipulations the British and French mutually gave up whatever territory each had taken, and greatly to the dissatisfaction of the English colonists, Cape Breton, with its fortress, was surrendered to its old masters, and the vigorous effort of the New-Englanders thus rendered useless. From that time peace prevailed in Europe, but hardly in America, hostilities scarcely ceasing during the interval from the treaty to the outbreak of the French and Indian War.





Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 1)