top of page

The Capture of Louisbourg 1745

Anchor 3

The War of Austrian Succession had begun in 1740 and eventually drew France and England, once again, into conflict .


By the spring of 1745 the New England colonies were busy preparing to launch an expedition against the French fortress of the Atlantic, Louisbourg  on Cape Breton Island. Louisbourg was the capital of the colony of Ile Royale and Ile St Jean.


The British had established forts at Annapolis Royal and Canso in Nova Scotia and were somewhat vulnerable to the French in Louisbourg. The Micmac Indians were also encouraged to cause trouble for the British. The French struck at Canso, which was sixty miles from Louisbourg, 350 soldiers under Captain Francois Du Pont Duviver. The British with only 87 soldiers quickly faltered and surrendered who were interned at Louisbourg.


The next phase of the conflict escalated into a sea war with French and English privateers raiding each other's shipping until the French were finally bottled up in Louisbourg.


The centre of attention in this Atlantic Seacoast theatre shifted back to the land and Annapolis Royal once again. The French encouraged the Micmac to attack the fortress and between July 13 to July 16 they attacked the English. The attacks by the Micmac failed and reinforcements from Boston arrived in Annapolis Royal. Additional French forces and natives arrived and the fort was threatened through the summer but did not fall and the French were forces to retreat in October.


There was a realisation in New England that the key to the Atlantic theatre was Louisbourg and that as long as the French held it there would be a dagger pointed at the heart of the English Colonies. In the winter of 1744 - 45 the debate over Louisbourg developed into the question of whether to continue reacting to French actions or invade Cape Breton and take Louisbourg. On the 5th of February, the House of Representatives in Massachusetts voted on a motion to participate in an action to sail for Louisbourg and attack it, with the support of other colonies.


The argument had centred on the believed strength of the Louisbourg and the impenetrable defences that the colonists would have to face. This point was overcome by information from many New Englanders who had visited the fortress on business and testified to the many weakness and issues the French were having such as low morale and masonry weakness in the building of the walls.

Governor Shirley of Massachusetts took the lead and assembled a force of more than 4,000 or 7 regiments and Connecticut and New Hampshire each contributed 1 regiment. At that time Maine was a part of Massachusetts and so their security was the most at risk from the French.

The leader of the expedition, William Pepperrell, left for Canso where the men would be landed as the first part of the invasion plan. The fleet was scattered by storms but the ships eventually trickled into Canso and training was imposed upon the men in preparation for the attack on Louisbourg.


May 3 brought good news with the arrival of the HMS Eltham. Several additional British warships, including HMS Superb, were to arrive and join in the attack. This scale of preparation for attack had all escaped the notice of the French in Louisbourg who had a very low opinion of the ability of the British colonies to act in concert and launch an attack without the British. They had sent messages to France asking for additional forces and believed they would arrive before the British could arrive to lead the colonist against them.


On 7th May the French commander of Louisbourg, Louis Du Pont Duchambon received word that the British had captured Canso. During that winter, a detachment f Swiss and 8 companies of French Marines had mutinied and their reliability was questionable. Duchambon was unsure of when the British would come and whether his position was would be defensible. He had little time to prepare because on May 11th the British fleet arrived and quickly sent troops ashore in long boats. The French raced to the landing spot to oppose the assaulting New England militia, but were quickly pushed back and retreated into the Fortress.


The colonists then turned upon the fort and began to advance in a rather unorganized manner and were brutally met by French canon which forced their hasty retreat. That ended the hostilities for day one and the following days saw both sides preparing for the main assault that was sure to come. The French withdrew from the Royal Battery which lie outside the main fortress and required almost 1/3 of the troops available for defence.


The British prepared for the siege by surrounding Louisbourg and moving canon into position while insuring that Louisbourg was isolated. They slowly built canon emplacements closer and closer to the walls of Louisbourg and keep up a steady stream of fire on the fort. The New Englanders suffered few combat casualties but many fell sick from dysentery.


The French attempted to send relief supplies and support from France but the 32 gun frigate Renommée which had left France in February was unable to enter the harbour at Louisbourg and was forced to return to France. The 2nd relief ship, the Vigilante, left France in April and tried to fight her way into the Fortress but was captured by the Superb with her 500 man crew.


The battle ground on through June with various attacks and counter attacks. The unceasing combat was taking its toll on the French who were running low on gunpowder, were exhausted from fighting and repairing damage to the fortress and fewer and fewer operational canons.


Finally, on 26th June Pepperrell was ready to make a massive assault with the navy supporting the attack. Duchambon realised that his situation was desperate with no relief in sight and decided that he would need to negotiate surrender. The capitulation was arranged and according to its terms the French were permitted to march out from Louisbourg with honours and the civilians were to be sent back to France for repatriation.


The reaction in France was one of stunned surprise. The fact that New England colonists had conducted most of the operation and been the main English combatants was very discouraging to the French government in Paris. The reverse was true in Boston and London where the celebrating and joy were overwhelming. This success of the colonial militia should have been a lesson well learnt by the British military authorities but was quickly forgotten by 1775.


Although the number of casualties was relatively minor from combat, for the colonists, the number that died over the next year from garrison duty was almost 600. This made the news that the peace treaty, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle,  to end the war had given Louisbourg back to the French in exchange for Madras in India. The British did take action to counter the presence of Louisbourg after this war by building the great naval base of Halifax, a short distance along the Nova Scotia coast. The war had not solved the tense situation but had only put it off until the next war which was to come soon.



Superb — (Captain's log 933) 1745, April 16 to June 23.

26 Maine at Louisburg in 1^45

.....American waters, and was then at his station in the West Indies. Warren properly declined to accede to the Governor's earnest appeal until orders were received from England. When these at length came, he at once proceeded northward, and While on the way to Boston, ascertaining from the captain of a schooner that the expedition had already sailed for Canso, he hurried his ships thither.


The first vessel of the squadron, the frigate Eltham, forty guns, arrived at Canso, April 22, and Commodore Warren, in the Superb of sixty guns, with the other vessels, the Mermaid and the Launceston of forty guns each, came into the harbour the following day. Warren was most heartily welcomed by Pepperrell, and after an exchange of greetings the Commodore proceeded at the close of the day to join Tyng and the provincial squadron in the blockade of the harbour of Louisburg.


Superb — (Master's log 722) 1745, June 24 to July 8, & Aug 17 to

Oct. 8.

34 Maine at Louisburg in iy 4S

the war vessels off the harbour. About noon a French 64 gun-ship, the Vigilant, loaded with stores and munitions of war, was discovered approaching in the endeavour to bring relief to the garrison and town of Louisburg. The British war ships Superbe, Mermaid, Eltham, together with the Massachusetts Frigate and Shirley Galley of Tyng's squadron, at once bore down upon her, and coming up to her in the evening, after a gallant fight, and a loss of eighty men, the Vigilant lowered her flag.' Her capture was most opportune, inasmuch as Pepperrell's supply of powder, shot and shell was now well-nigh exhausted.


bottom of page