Soldiers of the Atlantic Seaboard

American Militiamen Take Louisbourg

British Marines, 1740s

Caption: British Marines, 1740s

Around 1740 Louisbourg, with population of about 4,000, was admirably fulfilling the task for which it had been established, namely to provide a large home port for the fishing fleet, and especially for the French merchant fleet. Maritime traffic had become considerable, and Louisbourg had risen to be the fourth most important port in North America after Boston, New York and Philadelphia. It competed with the shipping of the colonies to the south, threatening Boston.

Louisbourg was therefore besieged in 1745 by any army of militiamen from New England, supported by the Royal Navy. Participating in the siege were an artillery corps, seven infantry regiments from Massachusetts, one each from Connecticut and New Hampshire, and three companies from Rhode Island, supported by 800 marines from the Royal Navy. The expedition was led by a New Englander, William Pepperell. From a tactical point of view, the Americans relied on their knowledge of classical European siege warfare in order to take the fortress.

The Americans conducted the attack skillfully and with great determination, while the morale of the French garrison was not very high, partly because of bitterness left over from the mutiny the previous year. Nevertheless, the French held out for a month and a half, from May 1 to June 17, 1745, before they capitulated after a fairly poor defence of the fortress. The troops of Île Royale were nevertheless granted the honours of war and sent back to Rochefort, in France. The success of this operation surprised the Europeans, while the New Englanders overflowed with joy. The British parliament reimbursed them for the £185,000 spent on the expedition, and the king raised Pepperell to the nobility, making him the first American to become a baronet. Most importantly, the capture of Louisbourg demonstrated to the Americans the military strength they could muster when the various colonies acted in unison.

Shortly before the siege of Louisbourg in 1745, the size of the two militia companies in the town was increased to 90 men each, and about nine other companies were raised. Despite their ignorance of military matters - most had never touched a gun before being mobilized - the militiamen from the town acquitted themselves honourably during the siege. The surrender of Louisbourg included Île Saint Jean, although Lieutenant Duvivier succeeded in repulsing an English landing party with his small garrison of one sergeant and 15 soldiers, before evacuating the island and leaving for Quebec.

Additional Images

New England troops land at Louisbourg, 1745