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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
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THE FORTRESS OF LOUISBOURG
© Nimbus Publishing
When people think of Louisbourg, they often think of high walls looming in the fog, or sentries guarding one of the town gates, or a solitary soldier standing on the ramparts. What people today may consider picturesque, however, the people of the 18th century regarded as essential. But of course, the long-ago residents would have said, every stronghold has to have its walls and soldiers and its gates and ramparts. Those things are there to defend us.
LOUISBOURG AS A FORTIFIED TOWN
Ones initial impression of Louisbourgs fortifications depends largely on ones experiences. This was also true in the 18th century.
The New England soldiers who besieged the fortress in 1745 thought Louisbourg was formidable. But then, few New Englanders had ever seen a fortification more elaborate than a blockhouse, a stockade fort, or perhaps an earthwork battery.
French visitors to Louisbourg, however, saw the town through different eyes. Used to the elaborate fortresses of Europe, in particular the strongholds of France, they thought Louisbourg was a simply fortified town.
Still, on the North American continent, Louisbourg was one of the largest and most impressive military strongholds. Its defences took more than two decades to construct, and when at last they were finished, Louisbourg was a fully enclosed ville fortifiée (fortified town). No one could enter, except through one of its guarded gates. There were high walls on the landward side, and more than 100 cannons standing ready on the ramparts.
THE FORTRESS CONTEXT
Louisbourgs defences were conceived and built according to the general fortification principles of the 17th and 18th centuries. These principles had been perfected in Europe by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), the chief engineer of Louis XIV. Vauban constructed or modified more than 100 fortresses along Frances borders.
The fortifications of the preceding era - the late Middle Ages - had called for castles, towers, and other high-walled defences. These had offered the most effective protection against catapults and scaling ladders.
With the introduction of artillery in the 16th century, however, those defences became outmoded. The high walls were vulnerable to cannons firing iron balls. A castle that had withstood countless attacks during medieval times could be reduced to rubble in hours by artillery fire.
The new approach to defence called for lower and thicker walls. These walls had to be protected or hidden from direct cannon fire. To achieve that protection, fortification engineers developed an earthwork called a glacis. The glacis was gently sloped away from the fortress so that defenders could see approaching enemy soldiers.
The walls of the new defences were angled as well, to maximize the field of fire against attackers. These angles were carefully calculated by engineers. The most common shape used in these new defences was that of the bastion.
THE BASTION SYSTEM
Eighteenth-century fortresses were works of careful geometry. The actual outline or trace of the fortifications depended on many factors, the two most important of which were the terrain and the theories of the designing engineers.
Many defences were star-shaped; others were odd-sided polygons. Whatever the shape, engineers took care to calculate every angle at the design stage to take maximum advantage of the terrain.
Common to almost every fortress were bastions. These were projections in the surrounding walls. A full bastion had two faces and two flanks. These were also half- or demi-bastions.
Engineers usually placed bastions relatively close to each other, so that cannnon and musket fire from one would protect the other. In larger fortresses, engineers added outer works - redoubts, ravelins, and demi-lunes - to give additional protection to the main walls. Some of Louisbourgs engineers proposed adding elaborate outer works to the towns defences, but a shortage of funds resulted in only the simplest earthworks being built.
Fortification terminology is specialized, with dozens of terms. Listed are some of the more common ones:
Banquette: A step running inside the parapet that the troops stand on while firing.
THE LOUISBOURG DEFENCES
When the French first settled on Île Royale, the name of Cape Breton Island between 1713 and 1758, colonial officials thought Louisbourg would be too difficult to fortify. The terrain was marshy, and there were no dominant hills on which to build a commanding fort.
It soon became apparent, however, that the fishery and trade were making Louisbourg the largest and most important settlement on the island. The town also became the administrative capital of Île Royale. Therefore, it had developed into a settlement that required major fortifications. It had to be transformed into a military stronghold.
Louisbourgs defences had two objectives. First, they had to protect the town. Walls were built, completely surrounding the settlement. The highest were located on the landward side and the lowest along the waterfront. In total, there were seven bastions joined by six curtain walls.
Second, Louisbourgs defences had to protect the harbour. For this purpose, various batteries were constructed. Two batteries were located inside the town - at either end of the waterfront - while two others protected the harbour entrance.
The responsibility for designing most French fortifications during the 18th century lay with the corps of engineers. Such was the case at Louisbourg as well.
Trained as architects, the Kings Engineers (ingénieurs du roi) enjoyed the status of an elite group. At Louisbourg, they planned and supervised all the fortification work. They also designed the government buildings and devised the town plan.
While the engineers were important, they were few in number. Usually, there was one chief engineer who had several assistants.
Three particularly well-known engineers worked at Louisbourg. Beginning in 1717, Jean-François de Verville laid out the plan for the town and its defences. Verville then supervised the early years of construction.
Étienne Verrier succeeded Verville in 1725 and remained the chief engineer until 1745. Verrier oversaw the construction of landward and seaward fortifications, the lighthouse, and many kings buildings.
Louis Franquet, who served at Louisbourg during the 1750s, was responsible for the fortifications of all New France. This meant he spent part of his time at Louisbourg and part at Québec City. Franquet submitted many ideas on ways to improve Louisbourgs defences, but a lack of money in the royal treasury meant that few improvements were actually made.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE FORTIFICATIONS
Civilian contractors from France built the fortifications and the kings buildings. Using the plans prepared by the kings engineers, they hired the workers needed to do the job. Many of the tradespeople and labourers were soldiers in the garrison. The soldiers received extra pay for their work on the fortifications.
The builders faced two major problems. First, some of the lime mortar was of poor quality: it had a high sandstone content, which weakened it. Moreover, sea salt in the sand prevented the mortar from setting properly.
Second, Louisbourg, like many seaside towns, had a damp climate. The mortar took a long time to dry in the changeable, wet weather, and the frost-thaw cycle damaged the already-weak mortar.
Because of these problems, the French were forced to carry out continual repairs. They sometimes applied new mortar, but even more effective, they discovered, was nailing wooden planks to the stone walls. The French also used iron crampons, which looked like giant staples, to seal the stones into place.
DEFENDING LOUISBOURG HARBOUR
As a major port of call, Louisbourg had to have a strongly defended harbour. The French feared a surprise attack by the British or the New England colonists. Several coastal defence works wer erected around the harbour as protection against such an assault. The cannons of the fortress were mounted on naval carriages, the same as those found on board a ship. There were four batteries:
1. Royal Battery: Its field of fire was directed at the harbour and towards the entrance.
2. Island Battery: It also covered the harbour and the entrance, though from a different angle.
3. Pièce de la Grave Battery: Its cannons, too, swept parts of the harbour.
4. Semi-circular Battery: Its field of fire swept the harbour as well.
When speaking of a field of fire, one must realize that accuracy declined dramatically the farther away the enemy target. The effective range of an 18th-century cannon was only about 1 500 metres, which is not far in modern terms. To hit and damage a moving target such as a ship, one had to be closer than that - or extremely lucky.
THE COST OF LOUISBOURG
Much has been said about the high cost of fortifying Louisbourg. Some writers believe that the money was foolishly spent. In the context of the era, however, that was not the case. The French wanted, and were willing to pay for, a strongly defended town. As well, the money spent on Louisbourg in any one year never exceeded the cost of outfitting a single warship for a six-month patrol of North Atlantic waters. Such patrols were considered essential, and so were well-fortified settlements on shore.
The actual cost of Louisbourg to the French treasury, for the period from 1713 to 1758, was 4 million livres* (spent on fortifications) and 16 million livres (spent on other public works).
In return, France had a naval and commercial port, as well as a base for her fishery. Louisbourg was also a stronghold that served strategic ends. Expensive though the construction and maintenance of Louisbourg was, French colonial officials never doubted that it was worth it.
Like all fortified towns, Louisbourg required a large garrison. It needed soldiers to man its gates and guardhouses and to patrol its streets and walls. Even when off duty, the soldiers had to be close at hand in case of attack.
During the 1740s, soldiers made up about one-quarter of Louisbourgs population; that is, there were roughly 700 soldiers among the 2 500 to 3 000 inhabitants. During the 1750s, the military formed nearly one-half of the towns population. When the proportion of soldiers is that high, the community is called a garrison town.
Wherever one went in Louisbourg, there were military activities. Sentries stood guard in front of various Kings buildings, detachments of soldiers moved through the streets, sentinels patrolled the walls and stood at entry gates. There were military drum calls almost every hour.
The many garrison routines, along with the walls that enclosed the town, gave the people a feeling of order and security.
Throughout most of Louisbourgs history, the soldiers performed more construction work than military duties. The following, however, focuses on their military activities.
The military duties of the soldiers included:
The most common assignment was probably guard duty. There were five guardposts within the walls of the fortress and another two outside the walls (at the Royal and Island batteries). The soldiers assigned to these posts stayed there for 24-hour periods.
All soldiers on guard duty, including officers, had to remain near the guardhouse throughout their 24-hour shift. They also had to remain in uniform and have their weapons close at hand.
The sentries posted around the town came from the men assigned to the guardhouses. These sentries stood watch at key points in the fortress, as well as in front of certain Kings buildngs. In summer, sentries changed every two hours; in winter, every hour or at the discretion of the commanding officer. When not on sentry duty, the soldiers assigned to the guardhouse cut wood or cleaned their rooms.
THE MILITARY UNITS
As one of Frances many overseas colonies, Île Royale came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Marine. The Marine ministry was also responsible for Frances navy.
The troops that served in Frances overseas colonies were the Ministry of the Marines own forces. These were the troupes de la Marine, also known as the compagnies franches de la Marine, roughly meaning independent companies of the Marine.
The Marine troops were recruited in France specifically for the colonies. According to regulations, the soldiers were at least 16 years old and about 1 metre 62 centimetres tall. In practice, however, both younger and shorter soldiers were sent to Louisbourg. Because Louisbourg required so much construction work, Marine officials tried to recruit soldiers who had special skills or trades.
Unlike the French army, Marine troops were not organized into regiments. Instead, they were grouped into independent companies. The number and size of the units varied widely. During the 1740s, there were eight companies with 70 men each. Each company was named after its captain: for example, Captain Michel DeGannes unit was known as the DeGannes Company.
Not all Île Royale soldiers were stationed at Louisbourg. There were also small detachments at Port Dauphin (St. Anns) and Port Toulouse (St. Peters).
Besides the Marine troops, the Louisbourg garrison had an elite group of artillery specialists known as the canoniers-bombardiers. They formed a separate company of 30 men. These specialists attended an artillery school while at Louisbourg and were in charge of the many cannons in the fortress.
Finally, there was a mercenary regiment of Swiss and German soldiers. Ths was the Karrer Regiment, named after its colonel, Franz Joseph Karrer. The Karrer detachment numbered up to 150 soldiers.
The Karrer troops felt they deserved special privileges. Some of these privileges were specified in their contract with the King; others were not and were the subject of dispute.
In December 1744, the French soldiers of Louisbourg mutinied against their officers. The soldiers complained of unfair treatment, and many mentioned poor food rations. The officers, however, blamed the Karrer soldiers for starting the protest. As a result, the Karrer Regiment was not sent back to Île Royale when it was reoccupied by the French in 1749, following the British capture of Louisbourg in 1745.
The best-known events in Louisbourgs history are its sieges, which are lengthy army assaults on a fortified position. Twice Louisbourg was besieged, and twice it fell.
BACKGROUND TO THE 1745 SIEGE -
THE SUMMER OF 1744
The first assault on Louisbourg occurred during a European conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). This war had broken out when the Holy Roman Emperor died without leaving a male heir. Some European powers tried to seize Austrian lands, while others fought to keep the existing boundaries.
The war did not involve Louisbourg until 1744. In the spring of that year, the kings of France and Great Britain declared war on each other. This meant that the French and British colonies in North America were also at war. Soldiers, sailors, and townspeople of Louisbourg had to prepare for a possible attack by New England or British forces. Similarly, the British settlements on mainland Nova Scotia - Annapolis Royal and Canso - had to be on the lookout for a French attack.
Word of the outbreak of war reached Louisbourg in early May 1744. Governor Jean-Baptiste Le Prevost Duquesnel and his military officers swiftly planned an attack on the New England fishing base at Canso. On May 23, an expedition of 350 men, sailing in 17 vessels, left Louisbourg. The following morning, the tiny fleet arrived at Canso and began its assault. The settlers there were unaware that war had been declared, so they resisted only briefly and then surrendered.
Following the conquest of Canso, Louisbourg officials turned their attention to privateering. Privateering was a form of warfare at sea in which privately owned ships were licensed to attack and plunder enemy vessels.
Throughout late May and early June 1744, Louisbourg privateers captured many fishing boats and merchant ships from New England. As the summer progressed, however, British warships and New England privateers began to fight back, eventually gaining the upper hand. By September 1744, many French boats and ships had been taken as prizes.
In the war on land, the capture of Canso in May led the French to consider an assault on the only other British settlement in Nova Scotia: Annapolis Royal. The French launched two sieges against Annapolis Royal, one in July and one in the fall. But Louisbourg could not send the naval support necessary to force the British to surrender. Therefore, though twice attacked, Annapolis Royal did not fall to the French in 1744.
The events of 1744 - the French capture of Canso, the privateering, and the two assaults on Annapolis Royal - led directly to the attack on Louisbourg in 1745. Having seen how vulnerable British settlements and ships were to attack from Louisbourg, the New Englanders, under the leadership of Massachusetts governor William Shirley, decided to attempt the capture of the French fortress.
THE DECISION TO ATTACK - 1745
In the spring of 1745, New England raised an army of more than 4 000 men for an expedition against Louisbourg. William Pepperrell of Kittery, Maine, was placed in command. Great Britain offered naval support, and New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania gave money, arms, and supplies.
In April, the expedition set sail from the American colonies. It sailed first to Canso, to begin preparations for the assault on Louisbourg. At the same time, part of the British fleet set out to blockade the French port. Spring draft ice delayed the attack for a while, but at last, by early May, conditions were right for the assault to begin.
During the first siege, Louisbourgs defenders had to deal with several weaknesses. First, troop morale was low because of the mutiny that had taken place the preceding winter. Second, the garrison itself numbered fewer than 700 soldiers, with perhaps another 900 militia - not a large force given the extent of the towns fortifications. Third, the defences had weak points: the Royal Battery was under repair, and there were hills close to the major bastions, from which enemy cannoneers could bombard the town. Fourth, Louisbourg was extremely vulnerable to a naval blockade. The port could survive only for as long as it had supplies. Without reinforcements or additional provisions, Louisbourg would fall.
The New England attack force approached the siege with strength and confidence. The land force consisted of approximately 4 000 soldiers organized into 11 regiments. For some of these soldiers, the assault on Louisbourg was a bit like a religious crusade. They saw themselves as militant Protestants setting out to capture a Roman Catholic stronghold.
The naval force numbered more than 100 vessels, the most impressive of which were 12 British warships. The British naval squadron was under the command of Sir Peter Warren.
In the early morning of May 11, 1745, the British fleet entered Gabarus Bay. Within hours, the New Englanders landed. The French force sent from Louisbourg to oppose them was too small and too late. The next day, the French decided to abandon the Royal Battery. With the enemy safely ashore down the coast, there was little hope that the French could defend the battery against an attack from the rear. Before they left, however, they drove spikes down the touch holes of their cannons so that they could not be reused. On May 13, the New Englanders took over the battery and soon repaired the French cannons.
Besides taking the Royal Battery, the besiegers established several new batteries of their own. As the siege progressed, the attacking cannon positions moved closer and closer to the fortress walls.
While the New Englanders captured the Royal Battery without a struggle, the same was not true of other French posts. A direct assault on June 6 against the Island Battery failed miserably, and the New Englanders suffered heavy loss of life. The attackers then changed their tactics and established a battery on Lighthouse Point, from which they could bombard the Island Battery. They succeeded, and the French cannons on the island fell silent on June 24. Two days later, all firing ceased, and the two sides negotiated the terms of surrender. On June 27, an agreement was reached. The New Englanders entered the town the following day with Colours ... flying, the Drums Beating, Trumpets Sounding, Flutes & Viols Playing.
According to the conditions of surrender, the French were permitted to keep many of their possessions. Within a few weeks, nearly all the inhabitants of Louisbourg boarded ships headed for France, where they would stay until a peace treaty (the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle) ended the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748. Under the terms of that treaty, Île Royale was returned to France. Louisbourg was reoccupied by the French during the summer of 1749. That same summer, the British established Halifax as a counterbalance to the French stronghold.
BACKGROUND TO THE 1758 SIEGE
The second siege of Louisbourg occurred during a worldwide conflict known as the Seven Years War. In 1756, Great Britain and France formally declared war on each other again. In North Ameria, however, the hostilities had begun in 1754. Then, in 1755, the British had captured Fort Beauséjour, and the deportation of the Acadians (le grand dérangement) had begun.
The formal outbreak of war in 1756 coincided with an important change in the British government. William Pitt took over as prime minister, and he adopted an aggressive policy towards winning a decisive victory in North America.
The first enemy efforts against Louisbourg were British blockades off the coast. These did not cripple the colony, but they did disrupt commercial, fishing, and naval traffic to and from the port. The British then attempted an assault on Louisbourg in 1757, but the attacking fleet arrived late and was eventually dispersed by a storm.
The beginning of the second siege saw the French in a far stronger position than in the first. There were approximately 3 500 soldiers and militia under the command of Governor Augustin de Boschenry Drucour. There was also strong naval support: six vessels of at least 50 cannons and four vessels with fewer than 50 cannons.
Although the general weaknesses of the fortifications remained, the damage suffered in 1745 had been repaired. Moreover, there were defensive positions along the coast, including a battery at Lighthouse Point, across the harbour from the fortress. A large number of Micmacs, allies to the French, were also at Louisbourg in 1758, which had not been the case in 1745.
The British attacking force of 1758 was much larger than the British-New England force of 1745. In fact, the combined army and naval force numbered approximately 27 000 men. Of that total, more than 13 000 troops were under the command of Major-General Jeffery Amherst. The naval support consisted of 23 vessels with at least 50 guns, and 11 warships with fewer guns. There were also smaller vessels and transports. This contingent of the Royal Navy was under the command of Admiral Edward Boscawen.
When the British fleet arrived in Gabarus Bay, the weather conditions were not right to attempt a landing. For six days, the ships waited offshore, with every move being watched by the French defenders at Kennington Cove. Finally, on June 8, 1758, the British tried to come ashore. Just when the French thought they had beaten them back, several boats landed in rough surf along a stretch of shore that was out of sight. The British surprised the nearest defenders, attacking them from an unexpected angle. The French in the immediate vicinity fled, and the other French positions soon gave way as well. Once the French had withdrawn to the fortress, the British landed the rest of their forces and built siege camps.
Between June 9 and June 18, the British established camps and began formal siege procedures (digging trenches and building batteries) against the town. Unlike 1745, in 1758 one of the first priorities was to silence the Island Battery. The British took over Lighthouse Point, erected their own battery there, and began bombarding the Island Battery. After a week of enduring bombardment, the French gave up the Island Battery, but they countered by scuttling four warships at the harbour entrance in an attempt to prevent the British vessels form entering the port.
The British then turned their attention to the main fortifications of Louisbourg. The bombardments were aimed at the Dauphin Gate area, which suffered heavy damage. A French frigate anchored in the harbour, the Aréthuse, was initially able to use its cannons to hinder British operations, but eventually it had to withdraw. On July 15, the Aréthuse escaped, eluding the blockade and sailing back to France.
The British intensified their attack on the remaining French ships. On July 21, a shell struck one of the French vessels, starting a fire that quickly destroyed three other ships. The following day, the Kings Bastion barracks were hit, and burned. On July 25, the British succeeded in burning and capturing the last two French ships. At the same time, the attacking batteries were opening great holes in the walls. The French bowed to the inevitable, and on July 26, the Louisbourg garrison surrendered unconditionally.
THE SIEGES - CONCLUSIONS
In both 1745 and 1758, the deciding factor was the superior strength of the attackers naval and land forces. Like any fortified town, Louisbourg could hold out for only a limited amount of time. It would eventually fall to a larger besieging force unless relief arrived, but the nearest source of French supplies or reinforcements was too far away. The distance, together with British naval strength, sealed the fate of the Fortress.
DID YOU KNOW?
Until 1752, France and Great Britain used different calendars. Both had the same 12 months, but the British one, known as the Julian calendar, did not accurately reflect the solar year. By the 18th century, the Julian calendar had fallen 11 days behind real astronomical time. The French calendar, on the other hand, was known as the Gregorian calendar - the same calendar used today, with 365-1/4 days a year. The addition of an extra day in February every four years - the leap year - makes the Gregorian calendar more accurate.
The differences between the two calendars meant that the events of the 1745 siege took place on different dates.
|Besiegers come ashore||April 30||May 11|
|Capture of Royal Battery||May 3||May 14|
|Surrender terms signed||June 16||June 27|
|British take possession||June 17||June 28|
When Britain switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, there was a great public debate in the country over whether that calendar should be adopted. Some people protested that by moving the calendar ahead, the government was cheating them out of 11 days of their lives.
By the 1758 siege, the British and the French were using the same calendar.
Mikmaq are Nova Scotias Aboriginal people. They were living in the region even before the European settlers and colonists arrived.
The Europeans brought diseases to which the native people had no immunity, and many Mikmaq died as a result. The Mikmaq population before the arrival of the Europeans is unknown. In 1611, a French Jesuit estimated that there were 3 000 - 3 500 Mikmaq in the Maritimes, but this was after many had already died.
Although their population was relatively small by European terms, the Mikmaq inhabited a large area. Their traditional homeland included all of what is now Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, the eastern half of New Brunswick, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Québec. They also made visits to Newfoundland and voyages to the Magdalen Islands to hunt seals and walrus.
MIKMAQ ON ÎLE ROYALE
When the French settled on Île Royale in 1713, there were between 25 and 30 Mikmaq families living on the island. Other Mikmaq arrived from the mainland over the next few years, adding to the population. The total Mikmaq population on the island during the Île Royale period (1713-58) was probably about 250.
The Mikmaq moved from place to place to take advantage of different food sources. The French hoped to encourage the Île Royale Mikmaq to settle in one location. First, they wanted them to settle at a mission built at Mirliguèche, not far from the present-day community of St. Peters. Later, the mission was located at Île de la Ste.-Famille (Chapel Island).
Mikmaq-French contact occurred mainly at the missions in the southeastern part of the Bras dOr Lakes - as the French had hoped - yet the Mikmaq never completely abandoned their traditional lifestyle. Occasionally, Mikmaq representatives visited Louisbourg, and once a year, French leaders went to Port Toulouse (St. Peters) to meet with the Mikmaq.
LIFE AMONG THE MIKMAQ
The Mikmaq of two and three centuries ago survived off the land. Today, such a lifestyle may be considered harsh, but to the Mikmaq then, it was normal.
From birth, Mikmaq boys and girls learned the skills of survival - how to hunt and fish, cook, build shelters, and make clothing, which they decorated with intricate quillwork. Indeed, Mikmaq designs with porcupine quills are greatly admired today.
The family was the basic social unit of the Mikmaq. A number of families usually grouped together to form a band. Each band occupied a particular area and had its own chief who co-ordinated activities and settled minor disputes. Serious crimes and major decisions were decided by the band elders. On Île Royale, there was only one band.
Occasionally, different bands came together for religious gatherings or to renew alliances or to wage war on a common enemy. In times of war, leaders were selected according to their reputation as warriors.
ALLIES TO THE FRENCH
French explorers and settlers attempted to form alliances with the native peoples they met in the New World. Such friendships helped them to survive in the strange new land. Native men also made excellent warriors, and France was eager to have them on its side in its fight against Britain.
When the French colonized Île Royale, they made sure they formed a strong bond with the islands Mikmaq. Missionaries played an important role in maintaining this alliance, and by the 18th century, many native people had been converted to the Roman Catholic faith.
A second reason for good French-Mikmaq relations was that the French treated the natives with respect. They regarded them as important allies, not as subservient people. For their part, the Mikmaq were careful not to be drawn into a subordinate position.
Each year the alliance between the French and the Mikmaq was renewed in formal ceremonies. The events took place between June and August at Port Toulouse, Port Dauphin (Englishtown), or Port Lajoie (Charlottetown, P.E.I.). The ceremonies involved native chiefs and French officials, with each side pledging friendship and aid to the other. The French hosted a feast for several hundred Mikmaq of all ages. After the feast, the French presented gifts of blankets, tooks, muskets, bullets, and gunpowder.
To the French, the Mikmaq were most valuable as military allies, and officials at Louisbourg made every effort to maintain this alliance. During wartime, they encouraged the Mikmaq to attack British soldiers and settlers on mainland Nova Scotia. Missionaries often carried the French requests for assistance to the chiefs of the bands.
Mikmaq used warfare to seek redress for their own grievances against the British. These initiatives sometimes upset the diplomatic efforts of the French. Whether fighting for their own interests or on behalf of the French, the Mikmaq were often successful in their military efforts.
European soldiers, French or British, were not used to the forest warfare practised by North American Indians. Instead, they were used to pitched battles on open fields or lengthy sieges of fortified towns. Surprise Mikmaq guerilla attacks and ambushes tended to catch the European soldiers off guard and gave an advantage to native warriors.
In addition to their military success on land, the Mikmaq were also skilled in handling canoes and other boats. They were even known to capture New England schooners and then cruise the coast in them.
In 1744, Mikmaq warriors took part in two attacks on Annapolis Royal. In 1745, they assisted in another assault on that British fort. In 1758, Mikmaq then helped the French prevent the British from coming ashore at the beginning of the second siege of Louisbourg.
Following the capture of Louisbourg in 1758, the Mikmaq on Île Royale (renamed Cape Breton Island about this time) made peace overtures to the British officials. The chief of the island Mikmaq was one of a number of band leaders who signed treaties with the British at Halifax in 1760-61. Mikmaq from mainland Nova Scotia had already signed treaties with the British in 1725 and 1752. During the early 1760s, the Mikmaq initiated contact with the French on St. Pierre and Miquelon. Although this annoyed British officials, many Mikmaq moved from Cape Breton Island to Newfoundland at this time.
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