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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

Peter Harrison (1716-1775)
By John Fitzhugh Millar, May 1999

Comments/contributions regarding this or any urban legend are welcome at:




In 1742, Harrison visited Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, where he assisted the local architect, Colonel Etienne Verrier (1683-1747) in solving the problem of how to complete the Watergate (the principal entrance to the city) without the finished stonework that was not going to be sent out from France. Harrison suggested completing the gateway with wood carved and painted to look like stone, and Verrier readily agreed, since Harrison had already used the technique in Surinam.

[Contribution pending]

On a voyage from Livorno, Italy to New England in 1744, Harrison was captured at sea by the notorious French privateer schooner Le Succès  commanded by Captain Pierre Morpain (ca. 1686-1747) and taken as prisoner of war to Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. Louisbourg was then the third largest seaport in North America and the strongest fortress in America, and the Canadian government has rebuilt much of it to look the way it did in 1744. Harrison was not thrown in with the other prisoners in the squalid dungeon; instead, he was guest for many months of Colonel Verrier. Using great courage and initiative, Harrison secretly copied detailed plans of the fortress and charts of the surrounding coastline, and, following the latest sartorial custom of the day of stuffing in one's coat lining, he his these documents in his coats. Peter Harrison (or perhaps I should say a Peter Harrison as I am not certain as to the evidence identifying him as the architect) was captain of the snow Nancy captured by Pierre Morpain of the schooner Le Succès on 8 July 1744. The prize was subsequently brought to Louisbourg and tried before the admiralty court. The Nancy was on a voyage for Livourne (Ligorno, Italy) to Boston. It carried a mixed cargo of salt, wine, oil, raisins, capers, anchovies, a case of velvet and two marble tables.

In the admiralty court documents, Harrison is describes as a "natif de Londres".

I did have some correspondence via e-mail with Millar some time ago to provide him information on this capture, but did not receive any footnoted information in reply. My reference is "Conseil de Prises, Louisbourg, 1745-46", Archives Nationales, Section Ancienne, G5, Carton 258, ff. 37-8.

[B. A. Balcom, Historian, Fortress of Louisbourg -]


Late in 1744, Harrison was released on a prisoner exchange, so he took his purloined documents to New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth ... and Wentworth introduced Harrison to Massachusetts Governor William Shirley (1694-1771) ... When Shirley presented the Harrison drawings to the legislators, permission was given for the assault ...

[Contribution pending]

He [Harrison] was influenced by Verrier's unexecuted project for the cupola on the King's Bastion, Louisbourg for Saint Paul's Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia ...


It is interesting to note that the steeple of St. Mather's Meeting House in Halifax seems to reflect the design of 1933 as built and rebuilt (Both are seen on Pl. 15 in Nova Scotia by Ch. P. de Volpi) [Yvon LeBlanc, Resident Architect (retired), Fortress of Louisbourg]
Only four actual drawings by Harrison have been found, and three of them are maps (of Louisbourg, Newport and Saint Augustine) ... The map collection (original and copied) of the Fortress of Louisbourg Archives does not hold any maps attributed to Harrison [Eric Krause, Historical Records Supervisior (retired), Fortress of Louisbourg]