Fortress Louisbourg (fr. Forteresse de Louisbourg) is a Canadian National Historic Site and the location of a partial reconstruction of an 18th century French fortress at Louisbourg, Nova Scotia.
French settlement on Île Royale (now Cape Breton Island) can be traced to the early 17th century following settlements in l'Acadie that were concentrated on Baie François (now the Bay of Fundy) such as at Port-Royal and other locations on present-day peninsular Nova Scotia.
A French settlement at Ste-Anne (now St. Anns) on the central east coast of Île Royale was established in 1629 and named "Fort Ste-Anne", lasting until 1641. A fur trading post was established on the site from 1650-1659 but Île Royale languished under French rule as attention was focused on the St. Lawrence River colony of Nouvelle France (now Quebec) and the small agricultural settlements of l'Acadie.
The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 gave Britain control of part of l'Acadie (peninsular Nova Scotia) and Newfoundland, however France maintained control of its colonies at Île Royale, Île Ste-Jean (now Prince Edward Island), and Nouvelle France, with Île Royale being France's only territory directly on the Atlantic seaboard (now controlled by Britain from Newfoundland to Florida) and it was strategically close to important fishing grounds on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, as well as protecting the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
That year, in 1713, France set about constructing "Fort Dauphin" and a navy base at the former site of Fort Ste-Anne, however the winter icing conditions of the harbour led the French to a harbour on the extreme southeastern part of Île Royale. The harbour, being ice free and well protected, soon became a winter port for French naval forces on the Atlantic seaboard and they named it Havre Louisbourg after the King.
In 1719, France began construction on a fortified town located along the sheltered southwestern shore of Havre Louisbourg, naming the settlement Louisbourg. Construction would only be finished by the eve of the first British siege in 1745. The sheer volume of the French investment in construction and a growing economy based almost entirely on the Grand Banks fishery, coupled with some out-migration of Acadiens living in the British colony now named Nova Scotia, soon saw the town of Louisbourg (Fortress Louisbourg) become a thriving community. The mounting costs for construction (http://www.blupete.com/Hist/NovaScotiaBk1/Part3/Ch02fn.htm#fn19) also led to King Louis XV's famous musing to his ministers (to whom he had authorized the fortress's construction) if he should one day be able to see Louisbourg rising over the western horizon from his palace at Versaille.
As construction progressed and the settlement and its economy grew, Fortress Louisbourg soon became an important hub for commerce between France, Nouvelle France, and French colonies in the West Indies. The fog-bound harbour at Louisbourg was a year-round hazard to shipping so a lighthouse was constructed on the southeastern headland opposite the town in 1734. A cross-fire battery was also built at this location to aid in harbour defences. While Louisbourg thrived, world geo-political events continued to evolve with the eventual deterioration in 1740 into the War of the Austrian Succession, with military operations in North America between French and British forces being referred to as King George's War.
Siege of 1745
While Louisbourg's construction and layout was acknowledged as having superior seaward defences, its landward defences were vulnerable to siege batteries as they were overlooked by a series of low rises.
The declaration of war between France and Britain was seen as an opportunity by British colonists in Massachusetts who were increasingly wary of the threat Louisbourg posed to their fishing fleets working the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The wariness bordered on an almost fanatical paranoia or a religious fervour, stirred by false accounts of the size and scale of Louisbourg's fortifications and the general anti-French sentiment shared among most British colonists at the time.
New Englanders' paranoia increased after a small French force sailed from Louisbourg in the summer of 1744 to the nearby British fishing port of Canso, attacking a small fort on Grassy Island and burning it to the ground. This port was used by the New England fishing fleet as it was the closest mainland North American British port to the fishing grounds, however the Canso Islands offshore (including Grassy Island) were contested by both Britain and France.
In 1744-1745, the governor of Massachusetts William Shirley, issued a call for volunteers in surrounding British colonies to join an expedition to take Fortress Louisbourg, however the force was largely raised in New England. Under the command of William Pepperrell of Kittery (in what is now Maine), the Massachusetts expedition set sail from Boston in stages beginning in early March 1745 with 4,200 soldiers and sailors aboard a total of 90 ships.
The force, beginning to take on the air of a religious crusade, stopped at Canso to reprovision and were augmented by a small number of British army and Royal Navy regulars. In late March the naval forces began to blockade Louisbourg, however the ice fields of the Gulf of St. Lawrence were being swept by winds off Louisbourg that spring, presenting a considerable hazard to wooden-hulled sailing ships. The poor weather and general state of disorganization of the New England naval forces saw numerous delays to the expedition, however they kept themselves busy harassing French fishing and shipping in the waters surrounding Île Royale, as well as destroying several coastal villages opposite from Canso.
With the ice fields gone by late April, the naval siege began in earnest on April 28 and Pepperell's land forces sailed in transports from Canso, landing 8 km west of Louisbourg at "Fresh Water Cove" in a flanking manoever and preceded overland with their cannon to the series of low hills overlooking the west walls of the fortress. Pepperell's land forces were aided by the fact that conditions for French soldiers inside Louisbourg were almost mutinous over lack of pay and poor provisions. The French were not helped by the fact that the government in Paris had had prior warning of the New Englanders' intentions to attack but the decision was made not to augment defences or send reinforcements. The French defenders were seriously outmanned, and French commanders kept their soldiers within the walls of the fortress, rather than confronting the British forces at the landing site, fearing that the French troops would defect.
The New Englanders' landward siege joined their naval counterparts on May 1 and following 46 days of siege and bombardment, French forces at Louisbourg capitulated on June 16, 1745. News of the victory reached Governor Shirley in Boston on July 3 and New Englanders celebrated as they controlled France's mighty fortress on the Atlantic.
The New Englanders' victory turned to disgust 3 years later when the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, signed on October 18, 1748 ended the War of the Austrian Succession and stipulated the restitution of Fortress Louisbourg to France by the New England occupation forces (more likely a small garrison was maintained at the fortress). The New England forces left, taking with them the famous Louisbourg Cross which hung in the fortress chapel. This cross was only rediscovered in the Harvard University archives in the latter half of the 20th century.
France, while not having control of the Atlantic seaboard (aside from the newly reinstated Île Royale), did control vast amounts of North America - far more than Britain. At the time of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, France claimed all territories from the Alleghenies to the Rockies and from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Pole. France also controlled the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. And the French wanted to keep the British penned in on the Atlantic coast to prevent the separation of Nouvelle France from their Louisiana territory.
Britain's response in 1749 to the reinstatement of Louisbourg was to create their own fortified town on Chebucto Bay which they named Halifax. It soon became the largest Royal Navy base on the Atlantic coast and hosted large numbers of British army regulars as well.
Britain's North American (American) colonies were getting restless and the efforts by French forces, with aid from their First Nations allies, to seal off the westward passes and approaches through which American colonists could move west soon led to the skirmishes which would develop into the French and Indian War in 1754 and devolve into the larger Seven Years' War by 1756, which also involved all the major European powers.
Siege of 1758
In 1758 a British expedition under General Jeffrey Amherst besieged the fortress, beginning on June 8. The British had 39 ships with about 14,000 sailors, and a further landing force of 12,870 soldiers. The fortress was defended by 10 French ships with 3,870 sailors, and another 3,920 soldiers inside the fortress itself.
The 48-day siege by Admiral Edward Boscawen and General Amherst ended with the French surrender on July 26, clearing the way for a British expedition to take Nouvelle France at Quebec the following summer. That expedition, led by General James Wolfe (a colonel in the Louisbourg expedition) succeeded at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759 giving Britain control of the entire Atlantic seaboard.
Following the surrender of Louisbourg, British forces and engineers set about methodically destroying the fortress with explosives to ensure it never returned to French hands in the event of another "Aix-la-Chapelle." By 1760 the entire fortress was left as mounds of rubble, however the Treaty of Paris signed on February 10, 1763 ending the Seven Years' War never saw the French territories returned by Britain.
National Historic Site
In 1961 the government of Canada undertook a historical reconstruction of one quarter of the town and fortifications with the aim being to recreate Louisbourg as it would have been at its height in the 1740s. The work required an inter-disciplinary effort by archaeologists, historians, engineers, and architects. The reconstruction was aided by unemployed coal miners from the industrial Cape Breton area, many of whom learned French masonry techniques from the 18th century and other skills to create an accurate replica. Where possible, many of the original stones were used in the reconstruction.
Today, the entire site of Fortress Louisbourg, including the 1/4 reconstruction, has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada with guided and unguided tours available. The fortress has also greatly aided the local economy of the town of Louisbourg as it has struggled to diversify economically with the decline of the North Atlantic fishery.
- Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site - Parks Canada (http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/ns/louisbourg/index_e.asp)
- Louisbourg Institute (http://fortress.uccb.ns.ca/)
- Account of New England vessels used against Louisbourg in 1745 (http://fortress.uccb.ns.ca/search/Chapin.html)