Soldiers of the Atlantic Seaboard

Acadia And Newfoundland

A New British Policy for Newfoundland

The devastating French raids in Newfoundland in 1696 and 1697 shook the authorities in London out of their torpor. Throughout almost the entire seventeenth century, they had left the settlements in Newfoundland undefended by regular soldiers, even though colonists had been living there since the end of the previous century. The extent of the disaster now prompted them to dispatch a regiment of regular troops and a detachment of artillery to retake the English settlements. Colonel Gibbon's regiment was selected for this task. It consisted of 760 soldiers, who set sail on 13 ships. When the fleet arrived in St. John's in June 1697, the French had departed, leaving nothing but ruins. Assisted by 400 sailors from the fleet, the soldiers set to work building fortifications, a task which proved extremely arduous "because of the solidity of the rock, which [destroyed their] tools faster than [they could] replace them." 125

Nevertheless, under the direction of the engineer, Richards, a fort and artillery batteries were firmly in place by early September. The men were exhausted from their labours, and part of the regiment returned to England with the fleet. However, a large detachment remained in St. John's: 263 soldiers and officers of Gibbon's Regiment, two engineers and nine workers specialized in engineering, as well as two artillery officers and 17 artillerymen. This garrison was soon judged too large, however, and the next spring, the king recalled his soldiers. Fifty men were left to guard the fort and its batteries, gathered into an independent infantry company commanded by a lieutenant and an ensign, as well as a detachment of seven artillerymen.