King George’s War is the European name given to the operations that formed the 1744–1748 War of the Austrian Succession. It was the third of the four French and Indian Wars. Also known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear, it officially began when a Spanish commander chopped off the ear of English merchant captain Robert Jenkins and told him to take that to his king, George II.
The Siege of Louisbourg was the major battle in this war that took place on North American soil. Loisbourg was the capital of the French province of Île-Royale (present-day Cape Breton Island).
War broke out in 1739 between Spain and Britain, but was confined to the Caribbean Sea and the British Province of Georgia. The war widened in Europe with the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1744, in which France and Spain were allied against Britain.
On the death of Charles VI, emperor of Austria, in 1740, the male line of the House of Hapsburg became extinct, and his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, ascended the Austrian throne. But there were other claimants, and the matter brought on a war of tremendous dimensions, embroiling nearly all the nations of Europe.
Again we find France and England on opposite sides, war being declared between them in the spring of 1744. Of this great war we have little to record here, as little of it occurred in America.
The French and the Wabanaki Confederacy continuously attacked Northern New England in numerous Northeast Coast Campaigns, but just one great event marks King George’s War — the capture of Louisbourg. Louisbourg was built on a point of land on Cape Breton Island. The Fortress commanded the chief entrance of Canada, and threatened to ruin the fisheries, which were nearly as vital to New England as was the fur-trade to New France.
It had cost six million dollars, and was twenty years in building. Its walls of solid masonry, with a hundred cannon, were from twenty to thirty feet high, and their circumference was two and a half miles. The fort was the pride of the French heart in America.
It was looked upon as an impregnable fortress, that would keep out every intruder and baffle every foe; yet it was reduced and captured by a fleet of little fighting strength, bearing a few thousand soldiers, chiefly New England farmers and fishermen.
Although the Fortress of Louisbourg’s construction and layout was acknowledged as having superior seaward defences, a series of low rises behind them made the Fortress vulnerable to a land-attack. The low rises provided attackers places to erect siege batteries. The fort’s garrison was poorly paid and supplied, and its inexperienced leaders mistrusted them. The colonial attackers were also lacking in experience, but ultimately succeeded in gaining control of the surrounding defences.
New Englanders’ concern increased after a French and Wabanaki Confederacy force sailed from Louisbourg in the summer of 1744 to the nearby British fishing port of Canso, attacking a small fort on Grassy Island and burned it to the ground, taking prisoner 50 English families. This port was used by the New England fishing fleet as it was the closest mainland North American British port to the fishing grounds; however, the Canso Islands (including Grassy Island) were contested by both Britain and France.
The prisoners taken during the Canso raid were first brought to Louisbourg, where they were given freedom to move around. Some of the military men took careful note of the fortress design, layout and condition, as well as the size and condition of its garrison and armaments. These men were eventually released to Boston, where their intelligence, along with that provided by merchants who did business at Louisburg, proved useful in planning the attack.
The French, military and civilian alike, were not in the best of condition at Louisbourg. Supplies were short in 1744, and the fishermen were reluctant to sail without adequate provisions. The military rank and file claimed that it was promised a share of the spoils from the Canso raid, which had instead gone to officers, who sold those same provisions and profited in the endeavour.
In December 1744, the troops mutinied over the poor conditions and pay that was months overdue. Even after acting Governor Louis Du Pont Duchambon managed to quiet the discontent by releasing back pay and supplies, the following winter was extremely tense, as the military leadership maintained a tenuous hold on the situation.
Duchambon was even reluctant to send for help, fearing the message would be intercepted and spark further unrest. Word of the unrest did, however, make its way to Boston.
In 1745, the governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, William Shirley, secured by a narrow margin the support of the Massachusetts legislature for an attack on the fortress. He and the governor of the Province of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth, sought the support of other colonies. Connecticut provided 500 troops, New Hampshire 450, Rhode Island a ship, New York ten cannons, and Pennsylvania and New Jersey funds.
The force was under the command of William Pepperrell of Kittery (in the portion of the Massachusetts colony that is now the state of Maine), and a fleet of colonial ships was assembled and placed under the command of Captain Edward Tyng.
Governor Shirley sent to Commodore Peter Warren, the chief officer of the Royal Navy’s West Indies station, a request for naval support in the event of an encounter with French warships, which would significantly outclass any of the colonial ships. Warren at first declined this offer, lacking authorization from London to assist.
Only a few days later, he received orders from the Admiralty to proceed to protect the New England fisheries. The expedition set sail from Boston in stages beginning in early March 1745 with 4,200 soldiers and sailors aboard a total of 90 ships.
The force stopped at Canso to reprovision. There they were met by Commodore Warren, enlarging the expedition by 16 ships. In late March, the naval forces began to blockade Louisbourg, however ice fields were being swept from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the seas off Louisbourg that spring, presenting a considerable hazard to wooden-hulled sailing ships.
The poor weather and general state of disorganization of the New England naval forces resulted in numerous delays to the expedition, however, they kept busy harassing French fishing and shipping in the waters surrounding Île-Royale.
With the ice fields gone by late April, the siege began in earnest.
Pepperell’s land forces sailed in transports from Canso. On May 2, he besieged Port Toulouse (present-day St. Peter’s, Nova Scotia) as well as destroying several coastal villages in the area between Canso and Louisbourg.
On the first day of May, 1745, this motley fleet came under the walls of Louisburg.
Every effort of the French to drive them back was foiled. The artillery was managed by the master engineer, Richard Gridley of Boston, who was to figure in the same capacity in two far greater wars.
On May 11, John Gorham and his rangers led the charge to land troops on the shores close to the fortress. They tried to land their whale boats at Flat Point Cover while covered by the fire power of the Lord Montague, Boston Packet and Massachusetts. Gorham was repelled by 20 French troops that occupied the cove.
Gorham quickly regrouped with several other vessels and the operation was re-directed to Kennington Cove. The French troops were unable to re-position themselves in time to stop the landing of British troops. After 1500 British were already on shore, 200 French troops arrived to repel the British, led by Morpain and Le la Boularderie. Morpain retreated while DE La Boularderie gave himself up as a prisoner. The British would land 2000 troops by the end of the day.
Destroying the Fisheries
While most of the troops were employed at attacking the Royal Battery, the Island Battery and Fortress Louisbourg, others were scouting around the perimeter of the Fortress, destroying small fishing villages. On May 8, the Mi’kmaq defended against an attack on near-by Margaret’s Bay and killed 7 of Warren’s troops. On May 11, the English killed or took prisoner 17 French and the French wounded 3 English.
On May 19, the Tyne in the vessel Prince of Orange along with the ship Massachusetts destroyed St. Ann’s Bay, burning the town and shipping.They kill 20 people and taking 25 prisoners. The French killed one British troop.
On May 21, the Prince of Orange is joined by the Defense and they destroy Ingonish, burning a town of eighty houses. They continued to destroy the towns of Bradore and Bayonne.
On May 23, 20 British troops from Jeremiah Moulton’s Regiment attacked a small village. While they were in the village, they were surrounded by 100 fighters made up of French and Mi’kmaq. They killed 18 of the 20 British troops.
On May 30, the Mi’kmaq at Chapeau Rouge (L’Ardoise) attacked 13 English soldiers from Captain Fletcher’s crew on the Boston Packet, who were seeking wood and water.They killed seven English soldiers, three of whom were scalped. They also took three prisoners, two of whom were later found butchered and one later died of wounds.
The siege continued for six weeks, when a French war vessel of sixty-four guns, laden with military stores, came to the rescue of the fort; but she was captured by the English fleet in open view of the helpless besieged in the fort. This was the final stroke.
The French abandoned the Royal Battery and the British were able to take it over and begin to fire at the Fortress.
On the 17th of June the fort and batteries were surrendered, and the British flag soon waved over the walls of Louisburg.
On June 24, the Defence and the Boston Packet sent a plundering expedition on shore near Laten.The garrison could hold out no longer.
The Island Battery was the most formitable and took the New Englanders six weeks to silence. The Island Battery, which had 160 troops, needed to be defeated before the Royal Navy could enter the harbour.
On May 26, the 100 British troops under the command of Waldo turned the canons of the Royal Battery on the Island Battery and bombarded the Battery for days.
On June 6, Captain Brooks led 400 British troops against the Island Battery and were repulsed by the French troops. The French killed 60 British troops and took 116 prisoner.
5th failed attack
Later on June 7 Gorham commanded 650 troops to attack but was forced to retreat. The French killed 189 New Englanders in the failed assault.
On June 9, 100 British troops fought 100 French and 80 Indigenous. The British killed 40 and took 17 prisoners. The French and Indigenous killed 6 British and wounded many more.
Careening Wharf Battle
Gorham and 40 rangers discovered 30 French canon at the Careening Wharf on June 9. The next day, the French Governor Du Chambon sent 100 inexperienced French troops under the command of Sieur de Beaubassin. Gorham and his rangers were able to launch a surprise attack on the French troops, killing five of them. One of Gorham’s (Indian) rangers was killed.(By June 11, Beaubassins force was decimanted with many Mi’kmaw fighters killed.)
By June 21 Gorham had built a Battery at Lighthouse Point. He had hauled 10 cannon from the Royal Battery. He shelled the Island Battery for five days and on June 27 the French Battery was silenced.
The French king was astonished at the fall of his great fortress in America, and determined to recapture it.
He sent D’Annville with a fleet for the purpose, but D’Annville died, and his successor committed suicide, and the project failed. The next year the king sent another fleet, but it was captured by the English; and then came the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
On June 27, French and native reinforcements led by Paul Marin were prevented from reaching Louisbourg in the Naval battle off Tatamagouche. The New Englanders’ landward siege was supported by Commodore Warren’s fleet and, following 47 days (six weeks and five days) of siege and bombardment, the French capitulated on June 28, 1745.
News of the victory reached Governor Shirley in Boston on July 3 which, coincidentally, was commencement day at Harvard (usually a day of celebration in itself). All of New England celebrated the taking of France’s mighty fortress on the Atlantic.
Losses to the New England forces in battle had been modest, although the garrison that occupied the fortress during the following winter suffered many deaths from cold and disease.
After the fall of Louisbourg, the New Englanders also assumed control of Port-La-Joye on present-day Prince Edward Island (which the French regained in battle the following year).
Despite the British conquest of Louisbourg, the French and Wabanaki Confederacy attacks continued on Northern New England in the campaigns of 1745, 1746, and 1747.
Duchambon’s actions in the mutiny and siege were the subject of inquiries upon his return to France in August 1745. Duchambon was protected from reprisals by the actions of François Bigot, Louisbourg’s civilian administrator, who deflected much of the blame onto others.
Duchambon retired from the service with a pension in March 1746. William Pepperrell and Peter Warren were both richly rewarded for their efforts.
Warren, in addition to profiting from prize money, was promoted to rear admiral. Pepperrell was made a baronet by King George II and given a commission as colonel of a new regiment, numbered 66th at the time (but not to be confused with the later 66th Regiment of Foot).
Governor Shirley was also given a colonel’s commission to raise his own regiment. Both France and Britain planned expeditions to North America in the wake of the capture.
The great Duc d’Anville Expedition led by Admiral Jean-Batiste, De Roye de la Rochefoucauld, Duc d’Anville was dispatched from France to retake Louisbourg and recover Acadia in 1746. However it was destroyed by storms, disease and British naval attacks and never reached the fortress.
The British government made plans, based on suggestions by Shirley and Warren, for a follow-up expedition to seize Quebec. For a variety of reasons, including a late start and contrary winds, the 1746 expedition did not leave European waters, and was instead diverted to raid the French port of Lorient. The Battle of Quebec didn’t occur until 1759.
Although the idea was also considered for the 1747 campaign season, it again failed to bear fruit.When the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, Louisbourg was returned to France in exchange for the return of Madras to Britain, and the withdrawal of French troops from the Low Countries.
The decision to withdraw from Louisbourg came under fierce attacks in London from opponents of the Pelham Ministry, but it went ahead nonetheless.
A wave of indignation swept over the English colonies when they learned that the fruit of their great victory had been quietly handed back, without their knowledge or consent, to the enemy from whom it had been taken; and here we find one of the many remote causes that led the colonists in later years to determine that American affairs must be managed in America and not by a corps of diplomats three thousand miles across the sea, who had little interest in the welfare and future of their kindred in the New World.
In 1758 the fortress was captured again by the British during the French and Indian War, this time permanently, as Île-Royale and much of New France was ceded to Britain under the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris.