Ancestor’s Military Service in King George’s War

King George II

John Brown (my maternal 6th great-grandfather as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. would say) in 1745 served in the British colonial army during the reign of King George II in what was known in North America as King George’s War.[1] Let us see how that came about.

In 1740 war broke out in Europe. The pretexual issue was whether Maria Theresa was eligible to succeed to the Hapsburg throne of Austria after the death of her father, Charles VI. This issue was created by Salic or Frankish law precluding royal inheritance by a woman. Thus, this war in Europe is known as the War of the Austrian Succession. This war eventually involved most of the European powers and other issues of a more real politik nature. By 1744 France and Great Britain were on opposite sides of this war, and in that year each declared war on the other.

North America. cir. 17

At that time (1744) both Britain and France had large colonial interests in North America. Britain then in the reign of King George II, of course, had the 13 colonies[2]  plus Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Hudson’s Bay. France had New France, which extended from Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island today) in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from what is now southern Ontario in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south.

Importantly, however, under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht the extant of New France had been reduced with France ceding to Britain what is now Hudson’s Bay, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, part of Maine and Newfoundland.

Isle Royale                     (Cape Breton Island)
Fortress Louisburg (model)

This loss of territory by France made Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island) very important to France as the guardian of the approach to the St. Lawrence River, which was the gateway to French Canada, and of the Grand Banks fisheries. As a result, between 1720 and 1740 France constructed the strongest fortress in North America, the walled city of Louisburg at the eastern end of Isle Royale. It became “the key and stronghold of French power” in New France.[3] It was designed and built to resist ship attacks from the sea, but as the French discovered in 1745 the hills behind the fortress made it vulnerable to bombardment by cannons on those hills.

Grand Banks of Newfoundland

For the British colonists in North America, however, Louisburg “menaced the lifeline of the New England colonies.” With this fortress, France could sweep the coast of New England and its ships with French expeditions. As a result, New England’s merchants were reluctant to risk putting their ships to sea and its fishermen were threatened from cod fishing in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, then and now one of the richest fishing grounds in the world.[4]

Once Great Britain and France had declared war against each other in Europe in 1744, military skirmishes between them occurred in North America, primarily on the frontier between their colonies. In 1744, French forces raided the British port at Canso, Nova Scotia not far from Louisburg and another British fort, Fort St. Anne, in New York. This became known in North America as King George’s War.

These French attacks and the existence of the war in Europe provided an opportunity (or excuse) for the colonists (with British assistance) to attack the French fortress at Louisburg. William Vaughan, a local fisheries and lumber baron, persuaded the Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay to seek colonial legislative authorization for just such an attack. That authorization was obtained by just one vote.[5]

Colonists attack                Louisburg, 1745
Colonists capture Louisburg, 1745

In March of 1745, a Massachusetts-led colonial force of 4,200 soldiers and sailors aboard 90 ships set sail from Boston to do just that. At Canso, Nova Scotia, they were joined by an additional 16 ships under the command of British Commodore Peter Warren. John Brown was in that expedition as a captain of one of the units and participated in the successful 47-day siege and bombardment of the fortress and its capture on June 18, 1745.

The Louisburg siege and capture turned out to be the most significant military engagement of King George’s War. It strengthened the colonists’ military spirit, provided a training school for their future fighting in the Revolutionary War and gave them a new awareness of their own capabilities.[6]

William Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts Bay
Duke of Newcastle

In October 1745, the Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, William Shirley, reported to the Duke of Newcastle, who was Britain’s  Secretary of State for the Southern Department, on the details of this significant military victory. In what undoubtedly was true at the time, but ironic in retrospect, the Governor concluded the report with these words:

  • “I hope that the Services of the New England troops in the Field, which seem to have equaled the Zeal of the Massachusetts Council and Assembly within their Province, for His Majesty’s Service, upon this Occasion, may be gracefully accepted by His Majesty, as a Proof of that perfect Duty and firm Loyalty which, I am persuaded, all the Colonies concerned in the reduction of this Place [the Louisburg Fortress] (but especially that of the Massachusetts Bay, for which I can more particularly answer) bear to His Majesty’s sacred Person, and to his Government.”[7]

The War of the Austrian Succession and its North American sideshow (King George’s War) lasted until 1748 when all of the parties negotiated the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Much to the consternation of the British colonists, Louisburg was returned to France under this treaty.

Louisburg Fortress (today)

The Fortress of Louisbourg is now a National Historic Site of Canada.


[1] Carol Willits Brown, William Brown–English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts, and His Descendants c. 1669-1994 at 6 (Gateway Press; Baltimore, MD 1994).

[2] The 13 colonies were Province of New Hampshire, Province of Massachusetts Bay, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, Connecticut Colony, Province of New York, Province of New Jersey, Province of Pennsylvania, the Lower Colonies on Delaware, Province of Maryland, Colony and Dominion of Virginia, Province of North Carolina, Province of South Carolina and Province of Georgia.

[3]  Samuel Adams Drake, The Taking of Louisburg 1745 at 13 (Boston; Lee & Shepard 1891) [“Drake”]; Fairfax Downey, Louisbourg: Key to a Continent at 1(Englewood Cliff, NJ; Prentice-Hall 1965) [“Downey”].

[4]  Drake at 46; Downey at 1.

[5] Downey at 55-57.

[6] Drake at 128.

[7] Letter, William Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts-Bay to Duke of Newcastle with journal of siege of Louisbourg (Oct. 28, 1745).