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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 - First Setbacks, Fresh Hopes

During the early days of July the people of Louisbourg more than likely looked ahead with optimism to a month of continued success in the war. At sea two Louisbourg-based privateers, the César and Cantabre, were expected to be sailing along the New England coast throughout the month intercepting profitable British merchant vessels. Everyone realized that captures would not come as easily as they had in June when unarmed fishing boats and schooners had been the prey, yet it was difficult not to remain optimistic. Both the César and Cantabre were well-armed and commanded by capable seamen (respectively Philippe Leneuf de Beaubassin and Joannis Dolabaratz), so there was good reason to hope that a number of prizes would be led into Louisbourg harbour during July.

By the first week of July the César and Cantabre were close to the Massachusetts coast. The two privateers became separated when they encountered a thick fog and as a result were to have drastically different destinies. On 5 and 6 July Beaubassin's César  captured three vessels carrying quantities of flour, fish oil and other supplies. At least one, but probably all three, of the captures were made off Cape Cod, approximately 12 leagues from Boston. His prizes were escorted back to Louisbourg, where they appear to have arrived by the middle of the month. Meanwhile, on 4 July the Cantabre, outfitted by Bigot, Duquesnel, Duvivier and Captain Dolabaratz himself at a cost of over 17 500 livres, was captured off Cape Cod by the Prince of Orange, a snow belonging to the Massachusetts govemment and commanded by Edward Tyng.[1]

The loss of the Cantabre signified the beginning of a more aggressive response by New England to French privateering. Throughout July, merchants in the American colonies outfitted privateers of their own to strike back at the French. G.A. Rawlyk has written that

"it has been estimated that by August no fewer than eight Rhode Island privateers were under sail against the French, five from Boston and one from New Hampshire.... By early August French privateers were no longer an immediate threat to Massachusetts. Instead the New England privateers had boldly forced their way into the French waters about Cape Breton and by September were playing havoc with French shipping to and from Louisbourg." [2]

The developments of August and September could hardly be forecast in July, but when word reached Louisbourg of the capture of the Cantabre it must have been regarded as a serious setback to the privateering effort. Most dismayed of all, of course, were the relatives and friends of the 80-man crew and the financial backers. The privateering war had by no means ended with the capture of a single Louisbourg corsaire, but it was henceforth to be increasingly curtailed.

In late July the news of the loss of the Cantabre was partially offset by the arrival in port of two British vessels taken by Morpain's Succès. On 8 July, while on one of its cruises as the coast-guard ship for Isle Royale, it gave chase first to the Nancy and later to the Kinsbury, capturing each one after a brief display of firepower. The two prizes and their cargoes were led into Louisbourg harbour in the latter half of the month. On the last day of July, François Bauchet de Saint-Martin, the privateer who had enjoyed great success in June, took two prizes off Long Island, New York, with the Signe. The first vessel taken, the Guillaume Mery (probably the William and Mary), had a "cargo" of a large quantity of coal and 45 Irish girls. The Signe was not carrying enough provisions to feed both its own crew and all the prisoners, so when a whaling ship was captured later that day, Saint-Martin transferred 28 of his prisoners to the whaler and let it go. [3]

As July came to a close, everyone in Louisbourg must have realized that the course of the war at sea had shifted. Less than half as many British prizes had been brought into the harbour during July as had been led in during June, and none of them had been captured after 8 July. To make matters worse, there were reports that more and more British and New England privateers were out at sea looking for French vessels. Late in the month the colonists probably learned that eight fishing boats from Louisbourg had been captured on the banks off Newfoundland. [4] Only the most optimistic colonist could not see that the time was not far off when enemy privateers would begin plying their trade in waters close to Isle Royale. A few days before the end of the month, Morpain was relieved of his duties with the coast-guard schooner, the Succès (which was given a new assignment), and given temporary command of the Caribou, a 52-gun king's ship recently arrived in port from Canada. The expectation was that with Morpain commanding the Caribou, the naval offensive of the colony would be greatly expanded.

Where July was the month in which New Englanders finally began to adopt an aggressive stance with respect to privateering, it was also the month in which they began to take seriously the possibility of a French attack on Annapolis Royal. An assault on Annapolis Royal had been expected by some British colonial officials as soon as they learned of the outbreak of war. In late May, when they were still unaware of the fall of Canso, rumours of an imminent Micmac-French attack circulated at Annapolis, causing "an unprecedented exodus of women and children" to New England. Fears of a French or a combined Micmac-French assault only increased when word of Canso reached the Nova Scotian capital. In Massachusetts the news had a similar effect, with the House of Representatives at last accepting Govemor Shirley's view that reinforcements had to be sent to Annapolis or it too would fall to the French. Authorized on 23 June and recruited during the next two weeks, the first re-inforcements (about 70 men) sailed from Boston on 12 July, the very day Annapolis Royal came under attack. [5]

The besieging force at Annapolis on 12 July consisted of about 300 Micmac warriors and a few French, including Jean-Louis Le Loutre, a missionary to the Micmacs of Nova Scotia. They had arrived near Annapolis on or before 11 July. On the morning of the 12th the first assault on the town began. The attack appears to have been over quickly as British artillery and musket fire drove the Micmacs away before much damage could be done. A few buildings were set on fire and two British soldiers who, contrary to orders, had been outside the fortifications were killed. Having demonstrated their intentions, the Micmacs retreated to " a hill about a mile from the fort. Here most of them decided to await the arrival of the promised reinforcements from Louisbourg." [6] Four days later two vessels sailed into the harbour at Annapolis. The Micmacs believed them to be carrying the expected French reinforcements; the ships were flying British flags but the Micmacs, and presumably Le Loutre and the other Frenchmen, thought that the flags were simply a ruse. They were rushing down to the shore to greet the soldiers when they discovered their mistake. The vessels were the ones that had left Massachusetts on 12 July (one was the Prince of Orange and the other was a transport vessel) and between them they carried the 70 soldiers to reinforce the British garrison. Not surprisingly, the Micmacs "betook themselves to precipitate Flight."[7] Later that day the siege was suspended and the 300 Micmacs and their French advisers retreated to Minas.

The failure of this initial attempt to capture Annapolis Royal cannot be blamed on any single individual. Obviously the Micmacs were expecting French naval support and reinforcements from Louisbourg soon after they laid siege to the fort, naval support and reinforcements that were never sent. The explanation for the apparent French bad faith probably lay in the communication difficulties faced by the authorities at Louisbourg in contacting their allies in Nova Scotia. The liaison person for such contacts was the Abbé Le Loutre. Le Loutre had been in Louisbourg for several days in May 1744 [8] and it is likely that during his stay he discussed the possibility of an attack on Annapolis Royal by his Micmac parishioners. Judging by the Micmac response to the arrival of the British vessels at Annapolis on 16 July, Duquesnel must have led Le Loutre to believe that he could expect assistance from Louisbourg by mid-July. Le Loutre and the Micmac chiefs evidently went ahead with an attack plan based on that assumption. Unfortunately for the French and Micmac cause, Duquesnel could not keep his promise.

When Le Loutre was in Louisbourg in May, Duquesnel believed that two warships, the Caribou (52 guns) and the Ardent (64 guns) would be in the capital during June or early July. Sometime later he learned that the ships would not be arriving as early as planned. Because of the urgent need for privateers and a coast-guard ship, no other suitable vessels could be pressed into service at the timc for an expedition to Annapolis Royal. Presumably Duquesnel sent word to Le Loutre of the need to postpone the attack, but either that communication was disregarded by the missionary and the Micmac chiefs or, as is far more likely, it did not reach its destination before the assault commenced on 12 July. The result was a short and ineffective siege that probably left the Micmac allies "discontented and disillusioned and the Acadians unimpressed by French power." [9]

When Duquesnel and the senior officers in the Louisbourg garrison learned of the premature siege and subsequent withdrawal at Annapolis Royal, they were annoyed and disappointed but unwilling to give up the idea of capturing the only remaining British settlement in Nova Scotia. In spite of the setback and the arrival of reinforcements from New England, the likelihood of success was still strong provided the various pieces in the puzzle could be properly coordinated. Of all the pieces, the provision of effective naval support was the most difficult one to grasp or count on. Until the Caribou and Ardent actually sailed into Louisbourg harbour there was no guarantee that an expedition to Annapolis would enjoy their protection. At last, towards the end of July, the Caribou arrived in port. Duquesnel apparently believed that the Ardent would also soon be in the capital and able to continue on to the Bay of Fundy because late in the month he gave orders for a new expedition against the Nova Scotian capital.

The plan to which Duquesnel gave his support in late July was one that combined the elements of two different proposals submitted during the 1730s. In brief, the plan adopted in 1744 was to send a contingent of regular troops from Isle Royale to land at the Chignecto Isthmus. From there they were to proceed overland to Annapolis Royal, picking up volunteers as they passed through the many Acadian settlements on route. At Annapolis the French force was to be joined by several hundred Micmac allies. Additional troops, needed siege supplies and naval support would be provided when the Caribou and Ardent arrived at Annapolis. Aside from the supplies and troops they would carry, the warships were essential to the scheme because they would virtually ensure that no more British reinforcements would reach the Nova Scotian capital. In theory it was a workable plan with every chance for success; in practice difficulties could arise in many areas.

On 29 July the first step in the plan to seize Annapolis Royal was taken when five vessels sailed from Louisbourg bound for Isle Saint-Jean and then Chignecto. In command of the expedition was Captain François Du Pont Duvivier, the successful leader of the May attack on Canso. Also assigned to the expedition were three junior officers: Louis Du Pont Duchambon de Vergor, enseigne en pied, Michel Rousseau, enseigne en second, and Gobet (more than likely de Caubet), enseigne en second. Duvivier was aboard the schooner Succès, the coast guard for Isle Royale until assigned to escort this expedition to Isle Saint-Jean. The remainder of the force - the junior officers, nine cadets, one sergeant and 19 soldiers - travelled in four smaller boats. By early August all five vessels had reached Port Toulouse. [10] The first leg on the journey to Annapolis and the attempt to recapture Acadia was over. The most difficult stages still lay ahead, in August and September.