American History and Genealogy Project


With Pepperrell at Louisburg

What American boy or girl whose grandfather served in the Civil War or whose father was a soldier in the war with Spain, has not climbed upon his knee and begged him to tell the story of his wonderful adventures in camp or on battlefield? And if no relative was a veteran, how eagerly have the children listened to stories told by Grand Army men at annual camp-fires on Memorial Day or at Fourth of July celebrations!

It was just the same with the O'Brien boys whose father, Morris O'Brien, fought with the colonial militia that captured the fortress of Louisburg in 1745, then the strongest fortification in America.

There were six boys in the O'Brien fami1y, Jeremiah, called Jerry, being the oldest. Then came Gideon, William, Joseph, John and Dennis. These boys had three sisters, Martha, Joanna and Mary.

Sir William Pepperrell

From the time Jerry was a sturdy lad and Dennis a mere toddler, these boys were never happier than when, gathered about the big fireplace in their home in Scarboro, their father related the story of General Pepperrell and the siege of Louisburg. Before he could begin the story of the great expedition, the boys always insisted that their father tell about his voyage across the sea in one of Pepperrell 's ships and his landing at Kittery where the first thing he saw was the General's fine mansion as it stood on the hillside facing the sea.

"You must know, my lads, that although I was bound out to a respectable tailor of Cork, my old home in Ireland, and had well learned his good trade, I was not satisfied to pass all my days cooped in a shop stitching away with thread and needle and pressing seams with an iron goose. I yearned to be out in the world, where brave deeds were being done and where a young man might win a fortune, such as was never made in a tailor's shop.

"One day" an American sea captain came to our shop and ordered a suit of clothes to be made within two weeks, when his ship would be ready for the homeward voyage. That was like the Americans, I thought, always wanting things in a hurry. But the master took the order, and gave the work to me, which, by dint of hard labor, I was able to finish at the appointed time.

"During the two weeks the captain was much at our shop, for he was most particular as to the set of his garments; and while I measured, fitted and stitched, he, being a genial man, talked much of his life on the sea, of his ship and her owner, William Pepperrell of Kittery in the Massachusetts Colony.

"When my work was finished, the captain had a suit of which to be proud, and so he seemed; for when he paid the master he slipped a half crown into my hand, saying that America was just the place for a young man who had so well learned his trade.

"From that day I determined to go to America, and the summer following, being twenty-five years old, I took passage with the same captain in another of the Pepperrell ships making her maiden voyage.

"I had many talks with the captain before we reached this side of the ocean and came to know much more concerning William Pepperrell, his ships and warehouses, his great estate including several towns and hundreds of acres of virgin forest between the two rivers, Saco and Piscataqua, whence came the timber of the vessels built in his own ship-yards at Kittery. I learned of the splendid mansion, Pepperrell's home, with the carved furniture and rich hangings, from whose windows the owner might see his ships discharging valuable cargoes from foreign lands and still other ships ready to launch from the nearby yards.

"When I reached America, I soon found that all the captain told was true. William Pepperrell was not only the richest man in the colony but also one of the most respected and beloved because of his noble character, kind and genial manner toward all, his devotion to the public welfare and the wisdom and faithfulness with which he performed every duty. The generous hospitality of his beautiful home was dispensed alike to neighbors and to guests of high degree.
"When a young man he had been appointed to responsible civil and military offices and now was president of the Governor's Council and Lieutenant Colonel of the York County regiment of militia.

"Often did I see the Colonel walking about the streets of Kittery dressed in a rich suit of scarlet and gold, with lace frills at wrist and neck and gold buckles at the knee. More often was he to be seen riding in his great coach with gay outriders and attendants.

Pepperrell Mansion, Kittery
As it looked in the days of Sir William.
It still stands, but has been remodeled

"One Sabbath, soon after my arrival, I went with others of the village to the Pepperrell mansion to listen to the famous Parson Whitefield, a great friend of the Pepperrell's and a frequent visitor at their home. The Colonel welcomed each guest on entering the great hall, and when he knew^ I was a stranger but lately come to Kittery bade me a friendly welcome and wished me well. From that moment I would have served him gladly, even at risk of my life.

"However, I did not remain long in Kittery, there being no need for another tailor. Upon looking about, I came to Scarboro and here at Dunstans' Corner I have had my shop all these years, busy years and happy too, for soon I met your mother and now you children are all here. Only once have I parted from home and dear ones and that was at the time when I went with other men of Scarboro to help capture the great French fortress at Louisburg."

Chapter II.

"Tell us about Louisburg," the children pleaded.

"That is a long story," said Morris 'Brien.

"The news that France and England had declared war reached Louisburg several wrecks before it was known in Boston and the French Governor soon sent out a party of soldiers and Indians who captured the village of Canso in Acadia, burning the dwellings and taking eighty prisoners back to Louisburg,'' Morris O'Brien continued.

"When this became known in New England, the people, who remembered the last war with the French, were filled with terror at what might befall their homes and families at the hands of these French war parties.

"Our Colonel Pepperrell sent word to all his captains to be prepared for attacks and added, "I hope that he who gave us breath will also give us courage to behave ourselves like true-born Englishmen.' This message encouraged the people, but all felt that so long as Louisburg was a French stronghold there was no promise of safety.

"Moreover,' O'Brien continued, "merchants like Pepperrell, who had many vessels engaged in the fisheries and in trade with Europe and the West Indies, knew they would meet great losses; for the French warships would sail out from that safe harbor and capture their vessels, crews and rich cargoes.

"For these reasons, the people of the Colonies longed to see Louisburg captured and were willing to help reduce it. Our Governor Shirley and others were planning how this might best be accomplished when the Canso prisoners, who had been kept at Louisburg for several months, were sent to Boston, as the French had promised them.

"These men were eagerly questioned by the officials who wished to know more about the place and the strength of the fortifications. They replied that although the fort was strong and well fortified with powerful guns, the garrison was mutinous, the supplies of food were low and no more could be obtained until the ships came from France in the spring.
"So it was plainly seen that even a small army might capture Louisburg, if it attacked just as the ice was breaking up the following spring, before help arrived from France. And this was the plan decided upon by the Colonial authorities.
"When Governor Shirley called for volunteers and we heard that our beloved Colonel Pepperrell had been appointed to lead the expedition, there was excitement and enthusiasm everywhere, for we believed that, with Pepperrell as commander, we should be successful.

"You may be sure I was among the first of the Scarboro men to enlist and was in the first company of the General's own regiment.

"It was early in February when enlisting began and so rapidly were the regiments recruited and supplies obtained that within two months the forces were on transports in Boston Harbor ready to sail for Louisburg.

"Meanwhile a fleet of thirteen armed vessels had been collected and, with Capt. Edward Tyng of Falmouth as commodore, sailed in advance of the trans-ports to capture any French vessels that might try to get into Louisburg with supplies. The expedition was also joined by a small squadron of the Royal Navy, which had wintered in the West Indies, commanded by Sir Peter Warren. This proved of great importance during the siege, for with the colonial fleet a strict blockade of Louisburg Harbor was maintained and several French ships captured.

"It had been planned to surprise the French if possible, but when we reached Canso it was found that an immediate attack was impossible, for the waters around Cape Breton Island were still ice-bound. So the troops were landed at Canso. Here we passed three weeks impatiently waiting for the ice to clear. We used this time to good advantage in building a battery and block house, preparing necessary supplies and in daily drill.

"On April twenty-sixth word was brought by one of the cruisers that the ice had left Gabarus Bay and three days later we sailed for Cape Breton Island.

"Of course it was impossible to surprise the French, for they had seen our fleet and sent a force of soldiers from the fort to prevent our landing. General Pepperrell easily deceived them as to the place by sending out several boats towards Flat Point, but, when near to the shore, they suddenly turned and came back toward the transports. Other boats then joined them and they pulled at top speed for a small cove two miles above the point, and reached it sometime before the French could march around by land. "When they did arrive, enough of our men were ashore easily to drive the French back to Louisburg. Thus we were unopposed, and during the day landed two thousand men.

"General Pepperrell lost no time in finding out all that could be learned regarding the region around Louisburg. That first afternoon he sent Colonel Vaughan, one of his most fearless and resolute officers, with four hundred soldiers to reconnoiter.

"At night Vaughan sent all except thirteen of his men back to camp with his report, but he and the thirteen passed the night in the woods.

''In the morning occurred the most fortunate event of the siege. When Vaughan and his little company of men, on their return, came opposite the Royal Battery, nothing was to be seen of the garrison. One of his men, a Cape Cod Indian, was sent forward to investigate and found that the French had abandoned the Battery during the night after spiking the guns.

''Vaughan and his men took possession of the Royal Battery which the French had abandoned, and William Tufts, a lad of eighteen, climbed the flag-pole and fastened to its top his scarlet coat as a substitute for the British flag.

"This Royal Battery was indeed a prize for it not only commanded the harbor, and if held by the French could easily have kept off our blockading ships, but it contained thirty-five cannon of which we were in sore need. These had been hastily spiked, but Major Pomroy, a gunsmith by trade, soon had them drilled open and before night they were ready to use against the fortress.

"Soon a tremendous difficulty presented itself. General Pepperrell had ordered a battery of our guns, which had been landed from the transports, placed on Green Hill, the first in the range north of the fortress. This hill was two miles from our camp and the intervening land was a low, wet swamp. When we tried to drag the first gun across this swamp, the wheels of the carriage at once sank to the hubs in moss and mud, and, before long, carriage and gun had disappeared. What could be done? Our difficulty was solved by Colonel Meserve of the New Hampshire regiment. He had been a ship-builder and his knowledge of such work now served a good purpose, for he ordered built rude sledges of heavy timbers and on these we placed the guns. We had no oxen or horses to haul the sledges, nor would they have been of much help for they also would have sunk in the spongy soil. So we formed great teams of two hundred each, and, harnessed to the sledges with rope and breast-straps and traces, we dragged the guns along, wading to our knees in the muck. In this manner with prodigious labor we got the guns into place and in four days or rather nights, for we had to work under cover of darkness to escape the French cannon balls, a battery of six guns was planted on Green Hill and began at once to return the French fire.

"As all other means had failed, it was decided to try a midnight attack. Four hundred men under Captain Brooks, on the night of May twenty-sixth, put off in boats from the Royal Battery and nearly reached the island before they were discovered by the French. At once shot and shell fell upon the boats as the guns of the French battery were turned on them. Although some of our men reached the island and made a dash for the works with scaling ladders, they were driven back by the terrific fire of the enemy and many were killed. Others were driven into the sea and drowned, but the largest number were made prisoners, only a few returning safely to the Royal Battery. This was our severest loss of the siege and proved that the Island Battery could not be captured by a sortie. So another plan was tried.

"At the right of the harbor entrance just opposite the Island Battery and only half a mile distant, a new battery was planted under command of Colonel Gridley. As this point was too far from camp to drag the guns by the team method, it was necessary to take them around by boat, then hoist them up the steep, rough cliffs and so get them into position. By June fourteenth six guns were ready, and at noon, they joined with all our other guns in a salute in honor of King George, that day being the anniversary of his accession to the throne.

"On the day following Commodore Warren came ashore for a council with General Pepperrell and his officers. It was planned by them to make a combined attack upon the fortress; the fleet coming into harbor and bombarding while our forces attacked from the land. Just as Sir Peter was about to return to his flagship, Duchambon, the French commander, sent out a messenger under flag of truce, asking for suspension of hostilities and terms of surrender.

"On May seventh, when the siege had but begun, Pepperrell and Warren had sent Duchambon a summons to surrender. He had replied that his king had confided the command of the fortress to him and his only reply must be by the mouth of his cannon. Now, however, he was ready to surrender for the French were in a perilous condition. The accurate and incessant fire of our guns had wrought appalling destruction to the walls and gates of the fortress. The town was a ruin. Reinforcements from Canada had not arrived and the ships sent from France with supplies of food and ammunition had been captured by our cruisers. Sensing all this the French could do naught but capitulate, accepting the terms offered by our commanders w4io assured them of 'humane and generous treatment.'

"That was a happy day for us you may be sure, and a proud one, too, for we had accomplished that which the French had considered impossible. In six weeks the strongest fortifications in America had fallen, not to veterans with trained leaders, but to a small force of raw, provincial militia commanded by a merchant. Yes, our victory was complete. No longer could Louisburg shelter our enemies or endanger our liberties.

"King George showed his appreciation of Pepperrell's services by creating him a Baronet of Great Britain, and of Warren's services by making him a Rear Admiral. Later Pepperrell and Governor Shirley were made Colonels in the British Army, though never called into active service."

When Morris 'Brien finished his story he arose and took from the high shelf over the fireplace the only relic of the siege that he had brought back from Louisburg. This was a brass mortar and pestle which some French housewife had left in her hasty departure from the town.

Perhaps listening to this story made the 'Brien boys brave and daring, for after the family had moved to Machias and Jerry and Gideon had become young men, they were leaders in the capture of the British cutter "Margaretta" in Machias Bay, June 12, 1775, the first naval battle of the Revolution.

Beulah Sylvester Oxton

Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

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