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King George's War (1744-1748)

This war, known by the above name in America, was but the faint glimmer of the dreadful conflagration that swept over Europe at this time under the name of the War of the Austrian Succession. On the death of Charles VI, emperor of Austria, in 1740, the male line of the House of Hapsburg became extinct, and his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, ascended the Austrian throne. But there were other claimants, and the matter brought on a war of tremendous dimensions, embroiling nearly all the nations of Europe. Again we find France and England on opposite sides, war being declared between them in the spring of 1744. Of this great war we have little to record here, as little of it occurred in America. Aside from the usual Indian massacres, but one great event marks King George's War -- the capture of Louisburg.

Louisburg, as we have noticed, was built on a point of land on Cape Breton Island; it commanded the chief entrance to the greatest of American rivers, except only the "Father of Waters." It was a powerful fortress; it had cost six million dollars, and was twenty years in building. Its walls of solid masonry, from which frowned a hundred cannon, were from twenty to thirty feet high, and their circumference was two and a half miles. The fort was the pride of the French heart in America. It was looked upon as an impregnable fortress, that would keep out every intruder and baffle every foe; yet it was reduced and captured by a fleet of little fighting strength, bearing a few thousand soldiers, chiefly New England farmers and fishermen.

The father of the Louisburg expedition was William Shirley, governor of Massachusetts, and William Pepperell of Maine was made its commander. New England furnished the men, while Pennsylvania sent some provisions, and New York a small amount of artillery. The fleet was composed of something over a hundred vessels of various grades, and just before sailing these were joined by four English men-of-war from the West Indies, commanded by Commodore Warren. On the first day of May, 1745, this motley fleet came under the walls of Louisburg. A landing was soon made, and the "men flew to shore like eagles to their quarry." Every effort of the French to drive them back was foiled. The artillery was managed by the master engineer, Richard Gridley of Boston, who was to figure in the same capacity in two far greater wars. The siege continued for six weeks, when a French war vessel of sixty-four guns, laden with military stores, came to the rescue of the fort; but she was captured by the English fleet in open view of the helpless besieged in the fort. This was the final stroke. The garrison could hold out no longer. On the 17th of June the fort and batteries were surrendered, and the British flag soon waved over the walls of Louisburg.

The French king was astonished at tbe fall of his great fortress in America, and determined to recapture it. He sent D'Annville with a fleet for the purpose, but D'Annville died, and his successor committed suicide, and the project came to naught. The next year the king sent another fleet, but it was captured by the English; and then came the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

The peace, as arranged at Aix-la-Chapelle, restored to each power what it had possessed before the war -- save the great sacrifice of life and treasure -- and that meant that Louisburg must be restored to the French. A wave of indignation swept over the English colonies when they learned that the fruit of their great victory had been quietly handed back, without their knowledge or consent, to the enemy from whom it had been taken; and here we find one of the many remote causes that led the colonists in later years to determine that American affairs must be managed in America and not by a corps of diplomats three thousand miles across the sea, who had little interest in the welfare and future of their kindred in the New World.1


Footnotes

1But the English looked at the matter from a different standpoint. Chalmers complains bitterly Vol.11, p.253) that England in this war had lost her reputation and had expended 30,000,000 on which she must pay interest -- all for the colonists, who had lost nothing, and who gratefully continued to defraud the mother country by smuggling. He neglects to state that most of this expenditure took place in Europe and had no connection with American affairs.

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter VIII p. 168-170. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.




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