Rev. Adonijah Bidwell and the Siege of Louisbourg

This section of the series was put together by Rob Hoogs, President of the Bidwell House Museum Board of Trustees, and Heather Kowalski.  Thank you, Rob!

Last week, Bidwell Lore introduced you to the regional history that led to the expedition to Cape Breton and the eventual Siege of Louisbourg.  To supplement the history, we have included the entries from Rev.  Bidwell’s journal that he kept throughout the voyage.  Last week we ended with his ship approaching  Louisbourg.  Before moving on to the next part of the journal we want to give some additional context for this battle. 

View of the English landing on the island of Cape Breton to attack the fortress of Louisbourg. 1745.  Source, Wikipedia Creative Commons, Public Domain.

The Siege of Louisbourg was part of a conflict known as King George’s War.  The British interest in Canada had long focused on the fur trade but the New England colonists felt that the French Canadians were a more immediate threat to their commerce and fisheries. The colonists’ assault on the supposedly impregnable Louisbourg was conducted with neither military nor financial support from England. About 4000 citizen-soldiers embarked in the spring of 1745 with a fleet of merchant vessels laden with powder, shot, and every cannon they could find.  The colonists were aware that their armament was no match for the heavy guns of the French, so they optimistically brought along a supply of 42-pound cannonballs. These cannonballs were almost twice too large for the caliber of their own heaviest ordnance and would be useful only if they could capture some of the huge French cannons.  The strategy, as one observer remarked, was “like selling the skin of a bear before catching him.”

Siege of Louisbourg, 1745. Source: Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Dr. Warren Kump, “The Morgans”

The Americans landed at [Gabarus] bay just west of Louisbourg at the end of April.  They laboriously floated their cannon and supplies ashore, then even more laboriously and without any draft animals, dragged them through a swamp toward high ground overlooking the fortress.  Next they turned their attention to the enemy Grand Battery, a heavily armed outpost which the French had placed to provide a crossfire before Louisbourg in case of an attack from the sea by naval craft.  The Grand Battery, vulnerable to land based attack, was captured by the colonists’ forces and with it twenty of the huge cannons capable of firing the 42-pound balls which the hopeful amateurs had brought along!  

Source: The Morgans, by Dr. Warren Kump,

As chaplain, Rev. Bidwell observed the battle and kept his journal throughout.  Last week we read his entries from late April 1745.  Today’s entries begin as they approach Louisbourg at the very end of April and continue until Mid-June.  The final installment in this series will be in next week’s 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 continued…
to prevent our landing, but we fired upon them from Several Sloops &
began to land our men about 12 a’clock under the Canons and then the
French retreated, but ye English pursued and hunted them as dogs hunt
foxes in ye woods. They killed some French that day in ye woods,
wounded others whom they took prisoners & several more prisoners they
took not wounded.
At the same time Commodore Warren with his men of war engaged and
battered one of their forts.
Also ye same day a small town, & all yt houses, without ye walls of ye city
were burnt to ashes.

May 1. The English encamped erected a standard & hoisted two
English Flags west from ye town of Louisburg. At night the French
stop’d up the touch holes of the cannons of ye grand battery with hardened
steel & deserted the Fort. An English man viz Thos Leeds of Croton
with 18 Indians entered ye Fort & took possession of it & took two women
& a child.
      2.   The English hoisted ye English Colours in ye grand Fort & began
to drill ye steel out of Cannons. The French began to sling the bombs
into ye Royal Battery. This day General Wolcott landed, we went out &
spoke with Commodore Warren, returned at night, & anchored again in ye
bay. Ye French attempted to land in order to retake ye Royal Battery,
but were repulsed by the English who killed several of the French.
      3.   About 10 we came to Sail for a Cruize, lay off in sight of Louisburg
where we saw ye Town fire at ye Grand Fort & ye Grand Fort at ye Town
for several hours together.
      4.   We lay this day also off from ye Town & saw but little firing till 3
in ye afternoon, then they fired from the Grand Battery between 60 or 70
shots by Sun setting, but no firing from the Town till about 5, then ye
English Artillery began to play on ye Town with their Bombs & Cannons,
& so ye Town fired upon them. About 6 we were ordered by the
Commodore on a Cruize with a Man of war, Captn Ting. Captn Tomson,
Captn Smithers, & a schooner & sailed round Cape Breton on the East
      5.   This day came into a bay in ye head of which was very high land &
covered with snow, at night we laid to in ye Bay.
      6.   In ye morning we anchored at ye south end of this large bay, at ye
mouth of a bay yt runs southward & ye schooners went into ye Bay, tis
call’d St Anns Bay. In ye afternoon we sailed several miles up the bay to
a narrow Strait there were several houses on the east side & a meadow on
the west & a large bay beyond toward the southwest. We anchored and
several men went on shore.
      7.   This day ye men ransacked ye town & woods, burnt ye town of about
20 houses & about ye same number of shallops, took 12 or 15 Feather
Beds, 3 or 4 cases with bottles, Chests with Cloths, Iron Pots, Brass
Kittles, Candlesticks, Frying Pans, Pewter Plates & Spoons &c took one
      8.   About 4 weighed anchor, the Prince of Orange & the Defence stood
towards the North. About 1 took a shallop with one man, a woman and a
child, and carried them on board the Prince of Orange.   Snow, turned ye
shallop adrift.
      9.      Two boyes went on shore up Aganish Bay & burnt a Town of about
80 houses which stood up that bay, about noon stear’d for Louisburg.
      10.    This day the winds were high, towards night the storm was so
boisterous we brought too & lay till Sunday. We were eastward of Cape Br.
      11.    Cold with snow & rain.
      12.    It cleared up & we made Sail again.
      13.    About Sunrising met with Captn Fones. Arrived at Cape-roos
Bay about11 where we heard that St Peters was taken by the English &
Burnt.  the men taken prisoners & carried to Canso : also yt 17 English men
Kild by ye Indians on Cape Breton at ye taking of a small town & one man
was kill’d by ye taking of St Peters.
      P.M. A French Snow got into the harbour of Louisburg.
      14.    A cold easterly storm with rain, Snow & Hail.
      15.    About 8 a.m. we weighed anchor and sailed out against ye town of
Louisburg & lay of & on all day & saw firing both from ye Town &
Batteries at one another all day by turns.
      16.    This day the English hoised an English Flag at ye light house &
began to erect a Fascine Battery there & also they in erecting a battery at
ye northwest part of ye town so near yt the English killed a man yt  stood
on ye wall with a small arm. Ye English & French fired at each other all
day. Ye English fired two Bombs at night at ye town.
      17.    Captn Douse came to us & informed us that 4 men have been
killed, 1 or 2 by ye bursting of ye cannon, but ye men were generally
well in ye Camp, also in ye  afternoon they spy’d a company of French
which they pursued, killed some as they supposed, took one yt was wounded
by 2 shot. The English had one Indian wounded yt died presently after.
Of this we were informed by some of Col Gorham’s men yt came to us by
night in a boat.
      18.    This day we spied a brig eastward of Louisburg in ye morning
which Captn Fones pursued and took in Scatere Bay. She was from
France & had eight men on board.
      Sunday.     About two the Mermaid, Man of war, engaged a French ship
man of war of sixty 4 guns.  Commodore Warren being in sight gave
chase & took ye French Ship about 9.  She had upwards of 500 men on
board, 30 were killed, about so many wounded.  The English lost 4 men.
      20.    In ye morning, came to anchor in ye Caperoos bay, where we
were told that 13 men went on shore, to wood & water  7 were killed, 3 of
them scalped yt were killed, 3 men taken, 3 returned, 1 well, 2 wounded.
This was done ye Saturday before.
      21.    Captn Kinseleigh informed us two English men were killed on
Sunday last by two barrels of powder taking fire by accidence.  We heard
ye English were building a Facine battery north of ye City in fair shot of
ye City designing to have 6 of ye 48 pounders there at night.  2 men found
      22.    We hear by a whale boat yt ye English yesterday took 10 or 12
French, one a Doctor yt had digd up ye Corps of some English and had
Burned them—also 400 men marched and found a french fort deserted.  A
60 gun ship Man of War joined the fleet.
      23.    Heard one man had dy’d of Sickness viz Dodge.
      24.    Last night they gathered to attack the Island Battery, but did not
do it.  The Hector Man of war joined ye Fleet a ship of 40 Guns.  At
Night we anchored in Caperoos Bay.
      25.    Lay in the bay.
      26.    Sunday. In the morning sailed out against Louisburg.  Mr. Caulking
Came on board & informed us yt Major Newton dy’d on Friday & was
Buried on Saturday last.  The captn went on board the Commodore.
      27.    Cold & Foggy.
      28.    Foggy till four & then cleared off & we made for land.  A little
before sunset land appeared.
      29.    We lay off Louisburg harbor.
      30.    Very Foggy.
      31.    [We hear that 150 English men were killed & drowned in storming
ye Island Battery last Monday Night.  A Forty Gun ship man of war
joined the Fleet Note – this was crossed out in the original text

June 1.    Foggy we weather.
      2.      In ye morning we anchored of ye Camp.  Captn came here from
Boston.  Lord Montegue in ye Mermaid Man of War took a French
Brigandine from Nante in France bound to Lewisburg.
      Monday, 4.            We hear yt a sloop from Canada loaden with provision for
Lewisburg was taken by Captn Griffith yesterday east of the light house.
Also Mr Robinson belonging to the Commodore cam on board us & told
yt a Frigas with 19 more French was taken yesterday at night at or near
Scatere.  Today Captn Edwards in ye Princess Mary retook a ship of
about 200 tun, twas an English ship from Carolina taken by Le Vigilant yt
64 gun ship which ye Mermaid took 19th of May.
      5.      We weighed anchor & went out eastward of ye Light house.
      6.      We spoke with Captn Furnel in a privateer Sloop of 10 guns yt lay
at an anchor east from ye Light house yt informed us yt a French ship with
200 men on board was taken yesterday by some of our Fleet & also yt a
French Man of War last Tuesday night deserted ye City Lewisburg &
came to our General & informed yt 40 or 50 men had been killed & about
so many wounded in ye city since ye siege& yt was three thousand & six
hundred men women & children in the city & yt they had bread enough but
no meat.  Also yt 1160 English were taken in storming ye Island Battery.
      7.      We carried the French Captn of Le Vigilant with 6 more on board
Captn Gaton who was designed for Boston.
      8.      Anchored in Caperoos Bay.
      9.      We hear that Captn Champman has lost a man with sickness named
Kellogg.  Two Lurtzers deserted & came to our English Army.  Yesterday
a Flag of truce went in ye city of Lewisburg.
      10.    Yesterday a fifty gun ship man of war joined ye Fleet who informed
yt 4 day before they parted with 2 Sixty gun shps yt were bound here &
yt they had took a French Privateer of 20 guns.—Today Captn Gaton
with a Fleet & 700 prisoners sailed for Boston A.M.  One Englishman
killed at ye Light House P.M.  Began to fire a ye Light House Battery.
      12.    Anchored near Laten with Captn Fletcher, went on shore &
plundered.  Killed on French man accidentally.
      13.    Yesterday ye Canterbury, ye Sunderland, & ye Lark joined ye Fleeet.
To day all ye transport ordered out of Caperoos Bay.
      14.    Lieut Gross with about 70 men go on board ye Superbe.
      15.    A French Flag of Truce came out to Genl Pepperel, ye Commodore
being with ye General at ye same time.
      Sunday, 16.  A Flag of Truce comes on board ye Commodore. 

The story continues next week….

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

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