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Concept: Margaret Carter, Heritage Research Associates Inc.
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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

Fortress of Louisbourg Timeline Site

Post Card: "Historic Louisbourg" Ruined Walls and Bombproofs. Louisbourg, N.S., Canada  Parks Canada / Parcs Canada




This peaceful neutrality ended in 1744 when Louis XV of France declared war on George II  of Great Britain   The first act of aggression in the New World occurred when an expedition from Louisbourg captured the British fishing settlement at Canso.  New England traders were incensed.  A party of 4000 militia from New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts descended on Louisbourg under the leadership of William Pepperrell of Kittery Maine to capture the town.[1]

The force was launched in early April 1745, but did not advance to Louisbourg until May 11.  By that time, a British warship commanded by Commodore Warren blocked the entrance to Louisbourg harbour.  Pepperrell's forces landed at Freshwater Cove, about four miles south and west of  the town, and advanced on Louisbourg across marshy land, hoping for immediate capture.  Under military governor Louis Duchambon, Louisbourg was ill equipped for the challenge.  By May, residents were existing on short rations.  Canon requested from France had not arrived, and the troops posted to the fortress remained ill-equipped.  Still, the French fended off invasion until May 18 when the New Englanders changed tactics and laid siege to the town.  During the next forty-seven days, British forces built their own batteries outside Louisbourg's defences and used them as platforms to strafe the area inside the walls.  Pepperrell later estimated that about 9,000 cannon shot and 600 mortar bombs were fired:  "'Never was a place so mauled with cannon and shells.'"[2]  All the while, a second battle raged for control of the harbour. The British captured several merchant ships and a rescuing man-of-war, the Vigilant.  They subdued the town's harbour defences one at a time.  When British land and sea forces gathered for a final assault on June 26th 1747, Louisbourg surrendered.   

Louisbourg was occupied by New England militia from 1747-48. That winter, 890 soldiers died from scurvy -- more than had been lost in the actual battle. The militia's task was to maintained the strategic position, repair and expand the town's defences to ward off a French counter-attack. In the end, it was not battle but diplomacy that defeated the New Englanders' efforts. Louisbourg was returned to France at the Treaty of  Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 in exchange for British retention of Madras (India).  Realizing a counterbalance to French influence at Louisbourg was essential, the British founded Halifax in 1749.  At Louisbourg, French merchants resumed their trading.

Peace lasted only a few short years, but during that time the British had an opportunity to reassess Louisbourg's place in the scheme of things.  Once they were operating from Halifax, the British Army quickly became frustrated with its inability to control the Acadian areas that had nominally been in British hands since 1713.  Acadians were given an opportunity to demonstrate allegiance, then deported to the British Colonies in 1755 - and throughout the period of war - along the Atlantic seacoast (Massachusetts to Georgia - Note: As well, after the war was over, an immigration to Louisiana occurred as a matter of choice by the Acadians.) The British also attempted with little success to make peace with France's Amerindian allies. Louisbourg's role as a focal centre for French sympathy was acknowledged.

When the Seven Years War had began in 1756, Louisbourg was identified as an important military target. This time, the attackers were seasoned British regulars.  Admiral Boscawen of the British Navy led a powerful fleet of one hundred and fifty-seven ships to attack the town by sea.  General Amherst, ably seconded by Brigadier-Generals Wolfe and Lawrence of the British Army, directed 16,000 troops on land.[3]  French forces fought valiantly under M. de Drucourt, but they were both outnumbered and outclassed.  The siege lasted seven weeks and ended on July 26 1758. 

Louisbourg's fall in 1758 has been called "The final triumph of British power in North America".**  Louisbourg became an occupied town.  Its merchants were returned to France in English ships, and its soldiers and officials transported to England as prisoners of war.  In 1760, on direct orders from William Pitt,  the town's defences were mined ending the possibility Louisbourg could be revived as a bastion of  resistance. Britain was determined to crush French influence for good.  This objective met when Cape Breton was formally ceded to the British in 1763 at the Peace of Paris. 

After 1763, Britain governed Cape Breton as a civil area. During the next few years, the rudiments of British law and order were put into place.  Land, the basis of British civil administration, was surveyed for allocation.  The Royal Engineers divided property in the Louisbourg area into lots, initially retaining the former townsite as military land.  When the garrison left Louisbourg in 1768 (because the British refused to maintain a military fort that could not provision itself), Louisbourg's townsite was declared surplus and sold as private property.  After 1768 Cape Breton residents had the same rights as other British subjects.  They were taxed on the basis of land, represented in Nova Scotia's Colonial Assembly, and subject to British justice.  Once this standard system of British civil administration was in place, Great Britain treated Louisbourg like any other colonial area.  It was a backwater village centre.  There was no longer a need for Louisbourg's strategic position, and its capability as a defensible site had been destroyed.

After the American Revolution, Nova Scotia was subided to accommodate the United Empire Loyalist population explosion.  Cape Breton became a separate province.  Louisbourg, which had continued to act as the administrative centre for such official activities as circuit court, was named provincial capital in 1784.  Just one year later, Cape Breton's capital was relocated to Sydney in response to pressure from the resident military garrison.  and Louisbourg surrendered all claim to being an administrative centre.


William Pepperell. 

Pepperell commanded a company of 4000 New England militia to take Louisbourg in 1745.  He has been described as "brought up to trade, and extensively engaged in commerce.  His affability, and the excellence of his character, made him very popular among these volunteer troops."[4]  For his accomplishment, he received the title of  baronet. 

Camp Colours

Colours used by the New Englanders who defeated Louisbourg in 1745. Their swift, enthusiastic action alerted Britain to Louisbourg's strategic importance in North America. 

A View of the Landing of the New England Forces of Expedition against Cape Breton, 1745

Once war began, Louisbourg became a base for privateers attacking British trading vessels.  The New England forces who both instigated and accomplished the 1745 attack owned most of these vessels.  

Pepperrell Sketch 

The New Englanders attacked Louisbourg from the landward side by hauling canon across a  marsh on huge sledges. Military strategists had considered the marsh -- and Louisbourg itself -- to be impenetrable.     

Excerpts from Yale sketch, 1745

- could go anywhere or everywhere  

Amerindian figure on Amherst's 1758 plan of attack

Inclusion of an Amerindian figure on Amherst's 1758 plan of attack recognizes that France co-ordinated relations with its native allies through Louisbourg. Many Amerindians had blood ties with the Acadians, and Acadian expulsion in 1755 stimulated a new wave of hostilities so vicious that the British refused to make peace with the native peoples after 1758.[5]  

Battle against  French ships in the harbour at Louisbourg, 1758

The defeat of Louisbourg in 1758 was largely a strategic battle.  The town surrendered after a fleet of 600 British Navy vessels invaded Louisbourg harbour, destroying the defending French warships.  The last of these were the Prudent and the Bienfaisant shown under attack here.  

Attack by land forces

As in the 1745, the British built their own siege batteries to overlook Louisbourg's walls in 1758.  Here British officers supervise the attack.  Among them is Amerherst who commanded the attack,  and Wolfe, who led veterans of this battle to capture Quebec the following year. 

Overview showing both elements of attack, land and sea could combine two comments above 

Louisbourg under siege

still view from the lighthouse.   

British medal struck on the capture of Louisbourg, 1758

By 1758, British officials acknowledged Louisbourg as an influential gathering point for both French activity and French sympathy in the New World.  In contrast to 1747, the 1758 capture was recognized as a significant event.   

Louisbourg in 1766

The fortification's walls were reduced to rubble when they were mined in 1760, but a town briefly persisted amidst the ruins characterized by the British barracks on the right. 

Cape Breton Council

When Cape Breton became a British colony in 1784, its first council met at Louisbourg.  


Town of Louisbourg after demolition of the ramparts by  George Sproule, 1767. 


Engineers plan showing the mines dug into the ramparts at Louisbourg, 1760. 

Chronology Items  

1746    - Bonnie Prince Charlie is defeated at Culloden

1749    - Halifax is founded as a British counterbalance to Louisbourg

1759    - British victory at Quebec

1760-68 - expulsion of the Acadians

1763    - Quebec falls &  Cape Breton is ceded to British in the Peace of Paris.

1771   -  Sir Richard Arkwright produces first spinning mill in England beginning the industrial revolution

1774    - Louis XV of France dies and is succeeded by his grandson, Louis XVI

1776-83 - American Revolution

1784    - Nova Scotia is subided into the separate colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Cape Breton  


[1]    For a detailed description of this campaign, see Raymond F. Baker, "A Campaign of Amateurs:  The Siege of Louisbourg, 1745",  Canadian Historic Sites (Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1978), Vol. 18, pp. 6-55.

[2]    Baker, "A Campaign of Amateurs", p.37.

[3]    John McGregor, British America (London: T. Cadell, 1832), p.379.

[4]    John McGregor, British America (London: T. Cadell, 1832), p.377.

[5]   Olive Patricia Dickason, Canada's First Nations (Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1992), p. 159-160.