Bidwell Lore – 1745 Expedition to Cape Breton

This article was written by Bidwell House Museum Board Member and Bidwell descendant Rick Wilcox and edited by Heather Kowalski.  Thank you, Rick!

The Rev. Adonijah Bidwell graduated from Yale College in 1740, and in 1741 taught school at Hartford and Hartford West Division (now West Hartford).  He was ordained 5 Oct. 1744, and in that same year, he served as Chaplain on the Connecticut Colony sloop, a Royal Navy Warship, for 20 weeks. In 1745 he served in the same capacity for 39 weeks and in 1747 he served 18 weeks, making altogether 77 weeks for which he received 272 pounds as pay and 39 pounds as plunder (as he called it) or prize money.  It was during his service in 1745 that he was a witness to the expedition to Cape Breton Island, now part of Nova Scotia, and the siege of Louisbourg.  While on this journey, Rev. Bidwell kept a journal. 

The above is a sloop of war and is similar to the type of ship Reverend Bidwell would have sailed on this expedition.

Before exploring Rev. Bidwell’s very interesting-first person perspective, the reader will need to have it placed in the larger historical narrative with a brief background about the Siege of Louisbourg. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Americas were surrogate battlegrounds in the power struggles of the European powers: France, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, Austria, and others.  Below is an excerpt from A Campaign of Amateurs, The Siege of Louisbourg, 1745, by Raymond F. Baker and originally published by Parks Canada Canadian Heritage in 1978, which provides context for this expedition:

The fall of the Fortress of Louisbourg in 1745 was the culmination of events that began with another surrender 32 years before, in 1713, when France signed the Treaty of Utrecht ending Queen Anne’s War. By the terms of that treaty, France lost most of her North American empire. Acadia (comprising the present provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and much of the state of Maine), the vast Hudson’s Bay trading area and Newfoundland passed into English hands, leaving the rest of New France (Canada) virtually isolated and vulnerable to attack from the New England colonies. Louis XIV tried to retain Acadia and thus provide a buffer of sorts, but the best he could secure was Cape Breton, a rocky island off the coast of Nova Scotia.

This was not much of a gain, but it did give France a toe-hold on the Atlantic frontier; and the island’s strategic position at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, “the natural highway into the heart of Canada,” would, if defended by a large enough fleet, allow the French to maintain that vital lifeline to the interior. To ensure control of the St. Lawrence and to protect her North American commerce and commercial fisheries, France spent the next 30 years and ten million dollars building the fortified naval station of Louisbourg at Havre à l’Anglais on Cape Breton’s southeast coast. The fortifications were begun in 1719, based upon the principles of defense developed by the renowned French military engineer, Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban. They eventually enclosed a town area of some 57 acres with 30-foot-high masonry walls and a series of bastions …On the morning of 11 May 1745 a … naval squadron escorted some 90 transport vessels into Gabarus Bay on Cape Breton Island. Nine regiments of hastily raised citizen soldiers from the colonies of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut had come to conquer the French fortified town of Louisbourg. In 47 days they were to do just that, shattering the myth of invincibility that had begun to surround the ‘great fortress.’
 As chaplain, Rev. Bidwell became one of those men from the colony of Connecticut to undertake this voyage.  On this trip, he kept a journal, with short entries each day.  A sampling from the ten-page transcription done by Bidwell House Museum Board President Rob Hoogs is found in part below.  The rest of the story and the journal will be shared in the next two editions of Bidwell Lore.

Journal of the Rev. Adonijah Bidwell, Chaplain of the Fleet.
Transcribed from the original and communicated by Mr. E. M. Bidwell,
of Providence, R. I.

April 14. Sunday about eleven ye clock, the Connecticut Fleet
consisting of Seven transports under the convoy of Connecticut & Rhode
Island Colony sloops sailed from New London.
15.       At eleven anchored at Holmes hole.
16.       Rain & Easterly Winds.
17.       About five in ye morning we hoised sail. About one P.M we
anchored at Nantucket ten leagues from Holm’s hole.
18.       About Sun rising weighed anchor but ye wind heading us we
returned  & anchored at ye same place about ten.
19.       About twelve the wind being fair we hoised sail again.  past ye
sholes a little before night.
20.       Pleasant weather with a fair wind.
21.       Pleasant weather still with west winds crossing ye bay of Funda on
board ye sloop Charming Molly, it being Sunday I preached from Luke
2. 10. About half an hour after 4 we spy’d the land of Cape Sables,
which is 75 leagues from Cape Cod, at night pretty high wind at NW. The
Fleet scatter.
22.       In the morning but 2 Sail in sight, at sun setting near Cape Lambro
which is — leagues from Cape Sables.
23.       At night we anchored at ye harbour of Fair Bay about 10 or 12
Leagues southwest from Canso.
24.       Set sail from Fair Bay about Sun Rising, arrived at Canso about
Noon, & all ye rest of Connecticut flect ye same day, save Rhode Island
Colony sloop, which was chas’d all day before by 30 gun French Ship &
was supposed to be taken. At Canso lay ye Boston Fleet when we arriv’d
there. This Canso lies about 80 Leagues from Cape Sables, & 20 from
Cape Breton.
25.       Ariv’d ye Rhode Island Colony sloop about 1 of ye clock fir’d 5
26.       About 11 Captn Rouse & Captn Fones sailed on a Cruize in Quest
of ye French ship that chased Captn Fones.
27.       [Blank.]
28.       A.M. Preached on board from 1Tim. 1, 15.
P.M.  On Burying Island heard Mr N——– from 1 Kings 20. 11. Doct.
Tis very unbecoming any when preparing for a battle to behave themselves
as tho they had got the victory.
20.       About 5 or 6 in the morning the fleet weighed anchor at Canso &
sailed for Cape Breton. the fleet consists of about  or near an hundred sail,
including Commodore Warren’s Ships & W England Naval Forces, which
are now cruising off Cape Breton.  Warren has a sixty, a fifty & two
forty Gun ships.
      30. At. Sun rising Louisburg was alarmed, and fir’d about 6 or 7 Guns
from their Forts. About 10 we anchored in Cabaroosa Bay, about 4 or 5
miles from the town. The French came a company of them to the shore

The story continues next week….

Transcribed from the NEHGS copy by Robert Hoogs, May 9, 2020