NEARLY a century has elapsed since the fall of Louisburgh. The great American fortress of Louis XV. surrendered to Amherst, Wolfe, and Boscawen in 1758. A broken sea-wall of cut stone; a vast amphitheatre, inclosed within a succession of green mounds; a glacis; and some miles of surrounding ditch, yet remain — the relics of a structure of which the treasury of France paid Thirty Millions of Livres!
We enter where had been the great gate, and walk up what had been the great avenue. The vision follows undulating billows of green turf that indicate the buried walls of a once powerful military town. Fifteen thousand people were gathered in and about these walls; six thousand troops were locked within this fortress, when the key turned in the stupendous gate.103
A hundred years since, the very air of the spot where we now stand, vibrated with the chime of the church-bells and the roll of the stately organ, or wafted to devout multitudes the savor of holy incense. Here were congregated the soldiers, merchants, artisans of old France; on these high walls paced the solemn sentry; in these streets the nun stole past in her modest hood; or the romantic damsel pressed her cheek to the latticed window, as the young officer rode by, and martial music filled the avenues with its inspiring strains; in yonder bay floated the great war-ships of Louis; and around the shores of this harbor could be counted battery after battery, with scores of guns bristling from the embrasures.
The building of this stronghold was a labor of twenty-five years. The stone walls rose to the height of thirty-six feet. In those broken arches, studded with stalactites, those casemates, or vaults of the citadel, you still see some evidence of its former strength. You will know the citadel by them, and by the greater height of the mounds which mark the walls that once encompassed it. Within these stood the smaller military chapel. Think of looking down from this point upon those broad avenues, busy with life, a hundred years ago!
Neither roof nor spire remain now; nor square 104 nor street; nor convent, church, or barrack. The green turf covers all; even the foundations of the houses are buried. It is a city without an inhabitant. Dismantled cannon, with the rust clinging in great flakes; scattered implements of war; broken weapons, bayonets, gun-locks, shot, shell or grenade, unclaimed, untouched, corroded and corroding, in silence and desolation, with no signs of life visible within these once warlike parapets except the peaceful sheep, grazing upon the very brow of the citadel, are the only relics of once-powerful Louisburgh.
Let us recall the outlines of its history. In the early part of the last century, just after the death of Louis XIV., these foundations were laid, and the town named in honor of the ruling monarch. Nova Scotia proper had been ceded, by recent treaty, to the filibusters of Old and New-England, but the ancient Island of Cape Breton still owned allegiance to the lilies of France. Among the beautiful and commodious harbors that indent the southern coast of the island, this one was selected as being most easy of access. Although naturally well adapted for defence, yet its fortification cost the government immense sums of money, insomuch as all the materials for building had to be brought from a distance. Belknap thus describes it: “It was environed, 105 two miles and a half in circumference, with a rampart of stone from thirty to thirty-six feet high, and a ditch eighty feet wide, with the exception of a space of two hundred yards near the sea, which was inclosed by a dyke and a line of pickets. The water in this place was shallow, and numerous reefs rendered it inaccessible to shipping, while it received an additional protection from the side-fire of the bastions. There were six bastions and eight batteries, containing embrasures for one hundred and forty-eight cannon, of which forty-five only were mounted, and eight mortars. On an island at the entrance of the harbor was planted a battery of thirty cannon, carrying twenty-eight pound shot; and at the bottom of the harbor was a grand, or royal battery, of twenty-eight cannon, forty-two pounders, and two eighteen-pounders. On a high cliff, opposite to the island-battery, stood a light house, and within this point, at the north-east part of the harbor, was a careening wharf, secure from all winds, and a magazine of naval stores. The town was regularly laid out in squares; the streets were broad and commodious, and the houses, which were built partly of wood upon stone foundations, and partly of more durable materials, corresponded with the general appearance of the place. In the centre of one of the chief bastions was a stone building, with 106 a moat on the side near the town, which was called the citadel, though it had neither artillery nor a structure suitable to receive any. Within this building were the apartments of the governor, the barracks for the soldiers, and the arsenal; and, under the platform of the redoubt, a magazine well furnished with military stores. The parish church, also, stood within the citadel, and without was another, belonging to the hospital of St. Jean de Dieu, which was an elegant and spacious structure. The entrance to the town was over a drawbridge, near which was a circular battery, mounting sixteen guns of fourteen-pound shot.”
This cannon-studded harbour was the naval dépôt of France in America, the nucleus of its military power, the protector of its fisheries, the key of the gulf of St. Lawrence, the Sebastopol of the New World. For a quarter of a century it had been gathering strength by slow degrees: Acadia, poor inoffensive Acadia, from time to time, had been the prey of its rapacious neighbors; but Louisburgh had grown amid its protecting batteries, until Massachusetts felt that it was time for the armies of God to go forth and purge the threshing-floor with such ecclesiastical iron fans as they were wont to waft peace and good will with, wherever there was a fine opening for profit and edification.107
The first expedition against Louisburgh was only justifiable upon the ground that the wants of New England for additional territory were pressing, and immediate action, under the circumstances, indispensable. Levies of colonial troops were made, both in and out of the territories of the saints. The forces, however, actually employed, came from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire; the first supplying three thousand two hundred, the second five hundred, the third three hundred men. The coöperation of Commodore Warren, of the English West-Indian fleet, was solicited; but the Commodore declined, on the ground “that the expedition was wholly a provincial affair, undertaken without the assent, and probably without the knowledge, of the ministry.” But Governor Shirley was not a man to stop at trifles. He had a heart of lignum vitæ a rigid anti-papistical conscience, beetle brows, and an eye to the cod-fisheries. Higher authority than international law was pressed into the service. George Whitefield, then an itinerant preacher in New-England, furnished the necessary warrant for the expedition, by giving a motto for its banner: “Nil desperandum Christo duce” — Nothing is to be despaired of with CHRIST for leader. The command was, however, given to William Pepperel, a fish and shingle merchant, 108 of Maine. One of the chaplains of the filibusters carried a hatchet specially sharpened, to hew down the wooden images in the churches of Louisburgh. Everything that was needed to encourage and cheer the saints, was provided by Governor Shirley, especially a goodly store of New England rum, and the Rev. Samuel Moody, the lengthiest preacher in the colonies. Louisburgh, at that time feebly garrisoned, held out bravely in spite of the formidable array concentrated against it. In vain the Rev. Samuel Moody preached to the high stone walls; in vain the iconoclast chaplain brandished his ecclesiastical hatchet; in vain Whitefield’s banner flaunted to the wind. The fortress held out against shot and shell, saint, flag and sermon. New England ingenuity finally circumvented Louisburgh. Humiliating as the confession is, it must be admitted that our pious forefathers did actually abandon “CHRISTO duce,” and used instead a little worldly artifice.
Commodore Warren, who had declined taking a part in the siege of Louisburgh, on account of the regulations of the service, had received, after the departure of the expedition, instructions to keep a look-out for the interests of his majesty in North America, which of course could be readily interpreted, by an experienced officer in his majesty’s 109 service, to mean precisely what was meant to be meant. As a consequence, Commodore Warren was speedily on the look-out, off the coast of Cape Breton, and in the course of events fell in with, and captured, the “Vigilant,” seventy-four, commanded by Captain Stronghouse, or, as his title runs, “the Marquis de la Maison Forte.” The “Vigilant” was a store-ship, filled with munitions of war for the French town. Here was a glorious opportunity. If the saints could only intimate to Duchambon, the Governor of Louisburgh, that his supplies had been cut off, Duchambon might think of capitulation. But unfortunately the French were prejudiced against the saints, and would not believe them under oath. But when probity fails, a little ingenuity and artifice will do quite as well. The chief of the expedition was equal to the emergency. He took the Marquis of Stronghouse to the different ships on the station, where the French prisoners were confined, and showed him that they were treated with great civility; then he represented to the Marquis that the New England prisoners were cruelly dealt with in the fortress of Louisburgh; and requested him to write a letter, in the name of humanity, to Duchambon, Governor, in behalf of those suffering saints; expressing his approbation of the conduct of the English, and entreating similar 110 usage for those whom the fortune of war had thrown in his hands.” The Marquis wrote the letter; thus it begins: “On board the ‘Vigilant,’ ” where I am a prisoner, before Louisburgh, June thirteen, 1745.” The rest of the letter is unimportant. The confession of Captain Stronghouse, that he was a prisoner, was the point; and the consequences thereof, which had been foreseen by the filibustering besiegers, speedily followed. In three days Louisburgh capitulated.
Then the Rev. Samuel Moody greatly distinguished himself. He was a painful preacher; the most untiring, persevering, long-winded, clamorous, pertinacious vessel at craving a blessing, in the provinces. There was a great feast in honor of the occasion. But more formidable than the siege itself, was the anticipated “grace” of Brother Moody. New England held its breath when he began, and thus the Reverend Samuel: “Good Lord, we have so many things to thank Thee for, that time will be infinitely too short to do it; we must therefore leave it for the work of eternity.”
Upon this there was great rejoicing, yea, more than there had been upon the capture of the French stronghold. Who shall say whether Brother Moody’s brevity may not stretch farther across the 111 intervals of time than the longest preaching ever preached by mortal preacher?
In three years after its capture, Louisburgh was restored to the French by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Ten years after its restoration, a heavier armament, a greater fleet, a more numerous army, besieged its impregnable walls. Under Amherst, Boscawen, and Wolfe, no less than twenty-three ships of war, eighteen frigates, sixteen thousand land forces, with a proportionable train of cannon and mortars, were arrayed against this great fortress in 1758. Here, too, many of our own ancestral warriors were gathered in that memorable conflict; here Gridley, who afterwards planned the redoubt at Bunder Hill, won his first laurels as an engineer; here Pomeroy distinguished himself, and others whose names are not recorded, but whose deeds survive in the history of a republic. The very drum that beat to arms before Louisburgh was braced again when the greater drama of the Revolution opened at Concord and Lexington.
The siege continued for nearly two months. From June 8th until July 26th, the storm of iron and fire — of rocket, shot, and shell — swept from yonder batteries, upon the castellated city. Then when the King’s, the Queen’s, the Dauphin’s bastions were lying in ruins, the commander, Le Chevalier 112 de Drucour, capitulated, and the lilies of the Bourbon waved over Louisburgh no more.
And here we stand nearly a century after, looking out from these war-works upon the desolate harbor. At the entrance, the wrecks of three French frigates, sunk to prevent the ingress of the British fleet, yet remain; sometimes visited by our still enterprising countrymen, who come down in coasters with diving-bells and windlass, to raise again from the deep, imbedded in sea-shells, the great guns that have slept in the ooze so long. Between those two points lay the ships of the line, and frigates of Louis; opposite, where the parapets of stone are yet visible, was the grand battery of forty guns: at Lighthouse Point yonder, two thousand grenadiers, under General Wolfe, drove back the French artillerymen, and turned their cannon upon these mighty walls. Here the great seventy-four blew up; there the English boats were sunk by the guns of the fortress; day and night for many weeks this ground has shuddered with the thunders of the cannonade.
And what of all this? we may ask. What of the ships that were sunk, and those that floated away with the booty? What of the soldiers that fell by hundreds here, and those that lived? What of the prisoners that mourned, and the captors that 113 triumphed? What of the flash of artillery, and the shattered wall that answered it? Has any benefit resulted to mankind from this brilliant achievement? Can any man, of any nation, stand here and say: “This work was wrought to my profit?” Can any man draw such a breath here amid these buried walls, as he can upon the humblest sod that ever was wet with the blood of patriotism? I trow not.
A second time in possession of this stronghold, England had not the means to maintain her conquest; the fortification was too large for any but a powerful garrison. A hundred war-ships had congregated in that harbor: frigates, seventy-fours, transports, sloops, under the Fleur-de-lis. Although Louisburgh was the pivot-point of the French possessions, yet it was but an outside harbor for the colonies. So the order went forth to destroy the town that had been reared with so much cost, and captured with so much sacrifice. And it took two solid years of gunpowder to blow up these immense walls, upon which we now sadly stand, O gentle reader! Turf, turf, turf covers all! The gloomiest spectacle the sight of man can dwell upon is the desolate, but once populous, abode of humanity. Egypt itself is cheerful compared with Louisburgh!
“It rains,” said Picton.114
It had rained all the morning; but what did that matter when a hundred years since was in one’s mind? Picton, in his mackintosh, was an impervious representative of the nineteenth century; but I was as fully saturated with water as if I were living in the place under the old French régime.
“Let us go down,” said Picton, “and see the jolly old fishermen outside the walls. What is the use of staying here in the rain after you have seen all that can be seen? Come along. Just think how serene it will be if we can get some milk and potatoes down there.”
There are about a dozen fishermen’s huts on the beach outside the walls of the old town of Louisburgh. When you enter one it reminds you of the descriptive play-bill of the melo-drama — “Scene II.: Interior of a Fisherman’s Cottage on the Sea-shore: Ocean in the Distance.” The walls are built of heavy timbers, laid one upon another, and caulked with moss or oakum. Overhead are square beams, with pegs for nets, poles, guns, boots, the heterogeneous and picturesque tackle with which such ceilings are usually ornamented. But oh! how clean everything is! The knots are fairly scrubbed out of the floor-planks, the hearth-bricks red as cherries, the dresser-shelves worn thin with soap and sand, 115 and white as the sand with which they have been scoured. I never saw drawing-room that could compare with the purity of that interior. It was cleanliness itself; but I saw many such before I left Louisburgh, in both the old town and the new.
We sat down in the “hutch,” as they call it, before a cheery wood-fire, and soon forgot all about the outside rain. But if we had shut out the rain, we had not shut out the neighboring Atlantic. That was near enough; the thunderous surf, whirling, pouring, breaking against the rocky shore and islands, was sounding in our ears, and we could see the great white masses of foam lifted against the sky from the window of the hutch, as we sat before the warm fire.
“You was lucky to get in last night,” said the master of the hutch, an old, weather-beaten fishermen.
“Yes,” replied Picton, surveying the grey head before him with as much complacency as he would a turnip; “and a serene old place it is when we get in.”
To this the weather-beaten replied by winking twice with both eyes.
“Rather a dangerous coast,” continued Picton, stretching out one thigh before the fire. “I say, 116 don’t you fishermen often lose your lives out there?” and he pointed to the mouth of the harbor.
“There was only two lives lost in seventy years,” replied the old man (this remarkable fact was confirmed by many persons of whom we asked the same question during our visit), “and one of them was a young man, a stranger here, who was capsized in a boat as he was going out to a vessel in the harbor.”
“You are speaking now of lives lost in the fisheries,” said Picton, “not in the coasting trade.”
“Oh!” replied the old man, shaking his head, “the coasting trade is different; there is a many lives lost in that. Last year I had a brother as sailed out of this in a shallop, on the same day as yon vessel,” pointing to the Balaklava; “he went out in company with your captain; he was going to his wedding, he thought, poor fellow, for he was to bring a young wife home with him from Halifax, but he got caught in a storm off Canseau, and we never heard of the shallop again. He was my youngest brother, gentlemen.”
It was strange to be seated in that old cottage, listening to so dreary a story, and watching the storm outside. There was a wonderful fascination in it, nevertheless, and I was not a little loth to 117 leave the bright hearth, when the sailors from the schooner came for us and carried us on board again to dinner.
The storm continued; but Picton and I found plenty to do that day. Equipped with oil-skin pea-jackets and sou’-westers, with a couple of fish-pughs, or poles, pointed with iron, we started on a cruise after lobsters, in a sort of flat-bottomed skiff, peculiar to the place, called a dingledekooch. And although we did not catch one lobster, yet we did not lose sight of many interesting particulars that were scattered around the harbor. And first of the fisheries. All the people here are directly or indirectly engaged in this business, and to this they devote themselves entirely; farming being scarcely thought of. I doubt whether there is a plough in the place; certainly there was not a horse, in either the old or new town, or a vehicle of any kind, as we found out betimes.
The fishing here, as in all other places along the coast, is carried on in small, clinker-built boats, sharp at both ends, and carrying two sails. It is marvellous with what dexterity these boats are handled; they are out in all weathers, and at all times, night or day, as it happens, and although sometimes loaded to the gunwale with fish, yet they encounter the roughest gales, and ride out 118 storms in safety, that would be perilous to the largest vessels.
“I can carry all sail,” said one old fellow, “when the captain there would have to take in every rag on the schooner.”
And such, too, was the fact. These boats usually sail a few miles from the shore, rarely beyond twelve; the fish are taken with hand-lines generally, but sometimes a set line with buoys and anchors is used. The fish are cured on flakes, or high platforms, raised upon poles from the beach, so that one end of the staging is over the water. The cod are thrown up from the boat to the flake by means of the fish-pugh — a sort of one-pronged, piscatory pitchfork — and cleaned, salted, and cured there; then spread out to dry on the flake, or on the beach, and packed for market. Nothing can be neater and cleaner than the whole system of curing the fish! popular opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. The fishermen of Louisburgh are a happy, contented, kind, and simple people. Living, as they do, far from the jarring interests of the busy world, having a common revenue, for the ocean supplies each and all alike; pursuing an occupation which is constant discipline for body and soul; brave, sincere, and hospitable by nature, for all of these virtues are inseparable from their relations to each 119 other; one can scarcely be with them, no matter how brief the visit, without feeling a kindred sympathy; without having a vague thought of “some-time I may be only too glad to escape from the world and accept this humble happiness instead;” without a dreamy idea of “Perhaps this, after all, is the real Arcadia!”
When I was indulging in these reflections, it was amusing to see Picton at work! The heads and entrails of the cod-fish, thrown from the “flakes” into the water, attract thousands of the baser tribes, such as sculpins, flounders, and toad-fish, who feed themselves fat upon the offals, and enjoy a peaceful life under the clear waters of the harbor. As the dingledekooch floated silently over them, they lay perfectly quiet and unsuspicious of danger, although within a few feet of the fatal fish-pugh, and in an element almost as transparent as air. Lobster, during the storm, had gone off to other grounds; but here were great flat founders and sculpin, within reach of the indefatigable Picton. Down went the fish-pugh and up came the game! The bottom of the skiff was soon covered with the spearings of the traveller. Great flounders, those sub-marine buckwheat cakes; sculpins, bloated with rage and wind, like patriots out of office; toad-fish, savage and vindictive as Irishmen in a riot. Down went the fish-pugh! 120 It was rare sport, and no person could have enjoyed it more than Picton — except perhaps some of the veteran fishermen of Louisburgh, who were gathered on the beach watching the doings in the dingledekooch.