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The Siege of Fort Beauséjour

To the late John Clarence Webster, whose efforts
secured Fort Beauséjour for future generations and
whose passion for the story still inspires.

Map of New Brunswick and region, showing the locations of key places and the strategic situation in 1755.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

CHAPTER ONE

The Building of Fort Beauséjour

Early Conflict in Nova Scotia, 1604-1749

Fortifying the Isthmus

CHAPTER TWO

Assembling the British Expedition

CHAPTER THREE

The British Assault Begins

June 2-8, 1755

The British Army Advances

The Battle for Pont à Buot, June 4, 1755

Establishment of the British Siege Camp

Consolidation of the British Camp

CHAPTER FOUR

The Siege

June 8-16, 1755

The First Battle of Butte à Charles

The Days of Waiting and Preparation

The Second Battle of Butte à Charles

The Formal Siege Begins

Rain Delay, June 14

The Bombardment Renewed, June 15-16

Despair Inside the Fort

Surrender, June 16

Monckton’s Five Terms

The Surrender of Fort Gaspereau

CHAPTER FIVE

Peoples and Empires in the Balance

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

INDEX

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

My first thanks goes to the University of New Brunswick Military and Strategic Studies Program for supporting the research and encouraging my interest in the Fort Beauséjour story. I particularly wish to thank Dr. Marc Milner for the supervision of my thesis, the encouragement that helped me complete it, and the editing of the manuscript of this book. The people of Parks Canada have been extremely helpful, especially Juliette MacLeod at Fort Beauséjour and Regan Oliver at the Atlantic Service Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Heather Gillis and Sue Surgeson, of Parks Canada, also helped with illustrations, as did Janet Bishop, of the New Brunswick Museum, Sandra Powlett, of the British Library, and Maurice Basque, of the Centre d’études acadiennes de l’Université de Moncton. Lewis Parker kindly allowed me to use his wonderful paintings of the fort. Thanks to Mike Bechthold and David Fraser for the maps, and to Ron Bagnell, of Service New Brunswick, and Kevin Legere, of the Nova Scotia Geological and Cartographic Service, for providing the topographical information. Thanks also to the staff of Goose Lane Editions for their wonderful production and editing, to Bill Hamilton and Jorge Sayat of the UNB Arts Faculty computer centre, to the New Brunswick Military Heritage Project for the opportunity, and to the Canadian War Museum for their financial support. Finally, thanks to Jane, Sarah, and William for their support at home.

This book is the work of many people, but the errors and omissions remain mine alone. There is much we still do not know about those tumultuous days in 1755, and I hope this book encourages others to continue the search.

image

A Mi’kmaq warrior, circa 1750. Such fighters, allied with the French, caused the British much trouble in Nova Scotia from 1713 until the 1760s. The French also drew on Maliseet and Abenaki in the defence of Fort Beauséjour. FRANCIS BLACK, PC

CHAPTER ONE

The Building of
Fort Beauséjour

At two-o-clock in the morning on June 2, 1755, the Marquis Louis Du Pont Duchambon de Vergor, French commandant of Fort Beauséjour, awoke to the news that a British fleet lay at anchor at the entrance to Beaubassin, now known as Cumberland Basin. According to legend, Vergor dressed quickly and went to the southern bastion, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ships. Had the day been clear, he would have been able to see well down into the Bay of Fundy. However, the bay was cloaked in a thick fog, and Vergor probably did not see the British until they were well into the basin. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Monckton, leader of the British expedition, recorded that the French failed to notice them until they were directly below the fort.

Vergor immediately dispatched couriers to Louisbourg, Quebec, and Fort Menagoueche at the mouth of the St. John River, informing them that he was under imminent attack and asking for help. Since a native runner took about a week to reach Quebec using the Petitcodiac – St. John River – Lake Temiscouata portage route, it was unrealistic to expect help from New France. Vergor’s higher headquarters at Louisbourg was closer: three days’ travel if a ship stood ready at Baie Verte. Then it would take at least another week for any sort of assistance to arrive from Cape Breton. As Vergor watched Monckton land his 2,500 men later that evening, he must have asked himself if he could possibly hold out that long.

Early Conflict in Nova Scotia, 1604-1749

The 1755 British assault on Fort Beauséjour was both the final act in the long battle between Britain and France for control of Acadia and the opening act of the final struggle between the two great empires for North America itself. Since its founding in 1604, the French colony comprising what is now the Maritime Provinces of Canada had been a battleground and changed hands often. By the end of the 1600s, however, the area was decidedly French, with settlements of lowland farmers clustered around Port Royal and the Minas Basin, in present-day Nova Scotia, and the headwaters of the Bay of Fundy, in the present border region between that province and New Brunswick. These were prosperous settlements based largely on land reclaimed from the sea. Their economy was well integrated within the trading patterns of eastern North America, and their produce fed English and French colonists alike. These small and often isolated Acadian settlements were also vulnerable to attack and to the shifting tides of imperial power. Indeed, in 1713, after nearly twenty-five years of continuous war, France ceded Acadia to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in exchange for territories lost in Europe.

However, the French and English disagreed over what actually made up Acadia. The British claimed all of historic Acadia, which included the peninsula of Nova Scotia, the current province of New Brunswick, and parts of the current state of Maine. The French, on the other hand, conceded Nova Scotia proper but refused to concede what is now New Brunswick and northern Maine, as well as modern Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton. The French chose to limit British ownership along the Chignecto Isthmus, and they also harboured ambitions to win back the peninsula and most of the Acadian settlers, who, after 1713, became subjects of the British Crown.

The de facto frontier between the two imperial powers lay along the Chignecto Isthmus, a neck of low, fertile marshlands and parallel ridges that joins the peninsula of Nova Scotia to mainland North America. At its narrowest point, the isthmus is less than twenty kilometres wide, separating the Bay of Fundy to the south from the Northumberland Strait on the north. In addition to being a natural boundary, the isthmus was critical for French imperial transportation and communications in North America. When ice closed the St. Lawrence River in November, the frozen rivers of New Brunswick became the only connection between New France and the outside world. Without the isthmus and the river system to the west, France’s greatest colony along the St. Lawrence River would be completely cut off from November to April. As the historian Will Bird observed, “Chignecto was the very key to old Acadia; her importance was recognized by all claimants, the halfway house between Quebec and Louisbourg.” It was only a matter of time before one side or the other secured its claim by establishing a fort at Chignecto.

In 1721, the British governor of Nova Scotia, Paul Mascarene, suggested that “a small fort could be built on the neck, held with a garrison of 150 men.” He suggested two possible locations on the Fundy side of the isthmus, either the ridge of land at the Acadian town of Beaubassin (now Fort Lawrence), one of the largest and most successful of Acadian settlements, or further west on the more prominent Beauséjour ridge. However, for various reasons, a British fort on the isthmus at this time never materialized. In the meantime, British attempts to develop their new colony of Nova Scotia were hampered by an ongoing and brutal war with the Mi’kmaq, who were incited and abetted by French imperial agents.

In 1744, during the War of Austrian Succession (called King George’s War in North America), Beaubassin became the staging point for French raids against British Nova Scotia. In 1746, the French commander in the region, Chevalier Pierre La Corne conducted several expeditions against the British using French regulars, militia, and native allies. The most notorious of these was the surprise attack on the British blockhouse at Grand Pré where the garrison was slaughtered and scalped. That winter the French forces stayed at Beaubassin, and La Corne used this time to pay an official visit to the region. In his report, he recommended the Beauséjour ridge as a suitable site for a fort.

It is quite probable that the French were already using Beauséjour as a camp during the 1744 raids. Not only was the ridge ideal for defence, but it was a safe distance from the Acadian inhabitants at Beaubassin, who were extremely reluctant to harbour regular French troops in their midst. Since the British claimed Beaubassin and maintained a tenuous administrative control over the settlement, the Acadians feared British reprisals. If in fact the French periodically used the Beauséjour ridge for military camps, then it is also reasonable to assume that they would have constructed the first fortifications on the isthmus. These were most likely some sort of expedient field defences, such as fascines or pickets, and perhaps even the minor earthworks that were standard at the time for any encampment. All of these would have been temporary, and no evidence of such works survive onsite or in the written records.

The War of Austrian Succession ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. While the French had done well in Europe, they lost a key part of their North American empire when the governor of Massachusetts, William Shirley, captured the fortress at Louisbourg in 1745. But the French understood that leaving Louisbourg in British hands meant abandoning Quebec; Acadia and Cape Breton were essential to the viability of the French empire in North America. Louisbourg was exchanged for conquests in the Netherlands and the Indian city of Madras. The British responded by establishing a new, heavily fortified capital and naval base at Halifax in 1749. The battle for Acadia — indeed for North America — was about to intensify.

With the establishment of Halifax, the French saw their chances of re-conquering Nova Scotia slipping away. Concerned about Louisbourg’s increasing isolation, they sought to hinder and disrupt the British settlement of Nova Scotia as much as possible without resorting to open warfare. Consequently, the low-intensity French-sponsored Anglo-Mi’kmaq war was intensified, and the colonists in Halifax suffered constant hostility from Natives and Acadians disguised as Natives. The new governor of Nova Scotia, Edward Cornwallis, rightly believed that the Indian war was nothing more than French action against the British without a formal declaration. “The warlike preparations of the French,” Cornwallis wrote, “plainly evinced their hostile designs upon the British North American colonies.” To forestall Acadian support for this clandestine war, Cornwallis wrote to Acadian representatives within Nova Scotia stating that he was disturbed by the goings-on and the obvious support that the French were giving the Indians. He told them in 1749 that “certain officers and missionaries who came from Canada to Chignecto last autumn have been the cause of all our troubles during the winter.” A frustrated Cornwallis informed his Acadian subjects:

We have given you also every possible assurance of the enjoyment of your religion and free and public exercise of the Roman Catholic religion. When we arrived here, we expected that nothing would give you so much pleasure as the determination of His Majesty to settle this province. Certainly nothing more advantageous to you could take place. You possess the only cultivated lands in the province; they produce grain and nourish cattle sufficient for the whole colony. It is you who would have had all the advantages for a long time. In short we flattered ourselves that we would make you the happiest people in the world.

Cornwallis was convinced that Nova Scotia would continue to languish as long as the French freely conducted clandestine activities and prevented the British assimilation of Nova Scotia’s Acadian inhabitants. The unsettled and ill-defended boundary between French and British Acadia was a major cause of Cornwallis’s problems.

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