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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada


A.J.B. Johnston, The Summer of 1744: A Portrait of Life in 18th-Century Louisbourg (Ottawa: National Sites, Parks Service, Environment Canada. 1991)



The War: 

Failure at Annapolis, Partial Resurgence at Sea

On the surface it might appear that the policy adopted by the military strategists at Louisbourg for September had two objectives: first, to regain control of the waters off Isle Royale, thereby protecting France's fishing and commercial interests, and second, to capture Annapolis Royal, the only remaining British fortification in the vast area that was once Acadia. It was a month that witnessed both the commencement of regular patrols off the colonial coast by French men-of-war and the launching of a siege on the Nova Scotian capital. Yet, in reality, the colonial officials at Louisbourg had but one main objective that month: to drive British warships and New England privateers as far as possible from Isle Royale. By ordering the Ardent and Caribou to cruise the coast, not to proceed to Annapolis Royal, Duquesnel was reacting to the changed complexion of the war, demonstrating that the capture of the British fort was no longer a priority. Indeed, the only reason the attack on Annapolis went ahead at all was because Duvivier did not learn of the change in plans until early October, approximately a month after the decision was made at Louisbourg to concentrate on the war at sea.

In early September, after more than five weeks of travelling by sea and land, Duvivier's expeditionary force was at last approaching Annapolis Royal. [1] On 5 September de Renon, who had been dispatched by Duquesnel sometime during August, reached the expedition carrying news that Duvivier must have been eagerly awaiting. Duvivier was told that he could expect his naval support to sail into Annapolis Basin around 8 September. The information must have lifted Duvivier's spirits. Until that point the expedition had certainly not gone according to plan. The response of both the Acadians and the Micmacs was much less than had been expected, with the result that Duvivier was marching toward Annapolis with only some 280 men. Such a force was obviously insufficient [2] to compel the over 250 British within the fort to capitulate. The arrival of significant naval support, with heavy artillery, reinforcements and blockade potential, might yet bring about a victory.

Following de Renon's arrival, Duvivier began to manoeuvre his troops in preparation for the hostilities. He also set down detailed information on Annapolis harbour for the use of the French warships when they arrived. To improve the chances of that information reaching the captains of the warships, Duvivier gave one letter to an Acadian who was to sail by schooner to Cape Sable and another to a Micmac who was to travel overland to the same area. From there the letters were to be taken to Louisbourg, in the hope of encountering the Ardent and Caribou en route. On 8 September Duvivier made his presence known to the British by marching his force towards the fortifications and establishing a camp on a hill about a mile away. Painfully aware of his inadequate force, Duvivier attempted to deceive the British into thinking that he possessed twice as many troops as he really did. "He carefully arranged his men ... with outer ranks complete but the centre absolutely devoid of troops." [3] The deception worked so well that the lieutenant governor of Annapolis Royal, Paul Mascarene, was convinced that there were "Six or Seven hundred men" under Duvivier's command. [4]

The first attack on the fortifications was launched during the night of 9 September. To maximize the psychological impact on the besieged garrison as well as to "conceal the small numbers of the invading force," [5] the assault took place in darkness, commencing at nine o'clock in the evening and lasting until four o'clock the next morning. A second attack of roughly the same duration was made two nights later. In neither case was an attempt made to capture the fort. Their intent was simply to harass the garrison so that by the time the warships arrived, the British would be amenable to discussing capitulation terms. On 15 September Duvivier dispatched his brother, Ensign Joseph Du Pont Duvivier, to carry a letter to Mascarene. Duvivier's letter declared that the British position was nearly hopeless and that terms of surrender should be settled. According to Mascarene, Duvivier's letter

"intimated that he expected a Seventy, a Sixty and a Forty gunns Shipps, mann'd one third above their complement, with a Transport with two hundred and fifty men more of regular Troops with Cannon, mortars and other implements of war; that as he knew we could not resist that Force and must then surrender we could expect no other terms than to be made prisonners of Warr .... " [6]

Asserting that a French victory was a foregone conclusion, Duvivier offered Mascarene the possibility of an honourable surrender. All the British commander had to do was to sign a capitulation that would come into effect when the French warships arrived and it was shown that they were as strong as he had indicated.

Mascarene balked at signing such an agreement and so informed Duvivier by noon on 16 September. Much to Mascarene's disappointment, all but three or four of the British officers in the garrison were "very ready to accept of the proposal, the dread of being made prisoners of war having no small influence with most." Due to the attitude of his officers, Mascarene allowed preliminary surrender negotiations to continue for several days, until he felt that he could prove to his officers that Duvivier had "no other intention than to entrapp us by sowing division amongst us and after further discourse ... it was unanimously resolv'd to break all parley With him......"To signal the end of the truce two shots were fired from the fort. [7]

Duvivier had little choice but to resume the harassment tactics he had employed earlier. On 23 September he began the night attacks again; however, this time the effect was different. Where before the raids and war cries had unsettled the defenders, this round of assaults was more or less dismissed by the British as a desperate move by a besieger without sufficient troops to force a surrender. In Mascarene's words, "their nightly attacks and daily skirmishes ... became more and more contemptible to the Garrison, as we found little more harm accruing to us than the disturbance in the night." [8] The siege had lasted more than two weeks and the expected French warships had still not arrived. Duvivier and his fellow officers must have gradually realized that further support would not be coming, that there had been some change in plans after de Renon left Louisbourg. 

On 26 September their sagging spirits were givcn a temporary lift when they saw the sails of two vessels making for the harbour, but their joy ended when they realized that the approaching brigantine and sloop were British and were carrying reinforcements (53 Amerindians and rangers under Captain John Gorham)[9] from Boston. As in the mid-July Micmac siege of the fort, Governor Shirley had once again sent reinforcements to Annapolis Royal that by sheer luck arrived when the fort was under siege. The responses of the two sides to this development were predictable. On the one hand, the French and their native allies were bitterly disappointed and grew increasingly doubtful about their chances for success; on the other hand, the British were exultant and spent most of the night of 26 September "singing and enjoying them-selves thoroughly. [10]

The arrival of the enemy reinforcements did not prompt Duvivier to withdraw. He had been sent to attack Annapolis Royal and was committed to stay until he received further orders from Duquesnel. The siege dragged on for another week until 2 October, a day Duvivier described as a "Jour malheureux," when Compagnies franches Captain Michel de Gannes de Falaise arrived from Louisbourg with word that the warships would definitely not be sailing to Annapolis Royal that fall and hence it was pointless to continue the siege. Duvivier was to return to Louisbourg and then sail to France where preparations for a spring 1745 attack on Annapolis were to be made over the winter. De Gannes himself, with 50 regular soldiers, had been ordered to winter in the Acadian settlements of Nova Scotia. The new instructions came as a disappointment to Duvivier. He had invested much time and effort in the expedition and knew that victory might have been his had the ships arrived when they were supposed to. Even as things stood, Duvivier felt there remained a chance for success as he believed the British garrison was running out of provisions. Yet the orders were clear so the following day, 3 October, the siege was lifted and the expeditionary force retreated towards Minas.

In Louisbourg, interest in the Nova Scotian campaign must have dropped off markedly since it had become apparent that enemy warships and privateers were imposing a virtual blockade on Isle Royale. The success or failure of Duvivier's expedition was of far less consequence to most of the residents of Louishourg than the opening of the sea lanes to and from their colony. With armed British ships so close to the coast, pillaging raids became a strong possibility. Such a raid took place sometime during the late summer or early fall at the abandoned settlement of Petit de Great, where the British went ashore to burn all of the houses and buildings. [11] When the Ardent and Caribou and some of the other warships in port began to cruise off the coast in September, the colonists, particularly the merchants, undoubtedly breathed sighs of relief Although it was too much to hope that the warships would re-establish the kind of domination French vessels had enjoyed in May and June, it was not at all unreasonable to expect that they would be able to capture several enemy vessels and drive away most of the others. It would seem that the French were fairly successful in meeting the latter goal. The only recorded capture of the month took place on 11 September when the Ardent, commanded by Meschin, intercepted a brigantine north of Scatarie. October was better in that four British vessels were taken by Louisbourg ships, none particularly close to Isle Royale. [12]

The relatively small number of prizes captured and the fact that by October Louisbourg privateers and warships were once again sailing in British waters indicates that the September patrols off Isle Royale had a significant impact in driving away enemy vessels. Thus September came to a close with some of the colonists feeling that the war at sea was beginning to shift slightly in their favour again; however, the more perceptive understood that the enemy vessels were being driven away mostly by the visiting warships, none of which was normally based at Louisbourg for any great period of time. The arrival and extended stay of the Compagnie des Indes ships was the major factor that had prompted the French authorities to commit so many warships to Louisbourg during the summer of 1744. Nothing guaranteed that they would be able, or indeed willing, to send the colony the same number of heavily armed vessels the following year. And without adequate naval protection in time of war, the fate of Isle Royale could never be secure.