King George’s War-1744-1748

 

 

Sketch of King George II-King George's War-1744-1748
Sketch of King George II

King George’s War (George II) is the fourth in a series of five early colonial wars we are reporting on. Like two of the earlier wars, King George’s War was the colonial theatre of a war in Europe. The heaviest fighting and most of the casualties occurred in the northern British colonies of New York, Massachusetts Bay (including Maine), New Hampshire (including Vermont), and Nova Scotia. Casualties were also very high in the Ohio Valley. As in previous wars, Indian tribes allied with the colonists and suffered the heaviest casualties. The Wabanaki Confederacy was allied with the French and the Iroquois tribes were allied with the British. 

War began between Spain and Britain in 1739. This war was mostly maritime and confined to the Caribbean, Spanish Florida, and the British colony of Georgia. Georgia had been established to serve as a buffer between the Carolinas and Spanish Florida and was doing the job. Spanish privateers operating from St Augustine effectively attacked British shipping from the Carolinas and Georgia for years causing significantly increased trade costs. 

The European conflict, the War of the Austrian Succession, began in 1740. It was nominally over the legitimacy of the accession of Maria Theresa to the Austrian throne. The conflict involved all the Continental European monarchies who were always grasping for more power and property. Britain and France were involved, but initially tried avoid the fighting. This ended in 1743 when British troops that had been sent to the continent were attacked by the French. 

Although Britain and France began fighting in 1743, war between them was not officially declared until 15 March 1744. When news of the war declarations reached the French colonists at Fortress Louisbourg on 5 May they acted quickly to protect their overland supply lines to Quebec. They attacked and destroyed the important British fishing port of Canso, Nova Scotia. Fifty British families were taken prisoner and held at Fortress Louisbourg.  

The French attacking force had sailed from Fortress Louisbourg located on Cape Breton Island. This fort protected the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, which provided access to the Atlantic Ocean for important French outposts of Quebec and Montreal. The fort was also an important base for privateers who were effectively harassing and plundering British shipping. The British quickly recognized that they needed to destroy or neutralize this fort. 

The French and their Indian allies that destroyed Canso also planned to recapture Annapolis Royal (previously French Port Royal), the British capital of Nova Scotia. However, they were unable to execute the plan so in July they opted to attack Fort Anne. This fort protected the Annapolis Royal harbor.  

The Fort Anne garrison was prepared, and the French siege plan failed. The French lacked adequate heavy weapons and withdrew after a few days. In mid-August, the French again attacked Fort Anne and again were unsuccessful. 

Governor William Shirley-King George's War-1744-1748
Governor William Shirley

In 1745, Massachusetts Governor William Shirley raised 4,000 troops and the money to finance them. These troops were to be commanded by Maine Colonel William Pepperell. Their daunting but critical objective was to capture or destroy Fortress Louisbourg. This fort was one of the strongest in North America. It featured strong masonry walls 20 to 30 feet high and was defended by 100 cannon. 

The British attackers had an ace in the hole. They were armed with detailed information about the fort’s defenses and troop morale. This intelligence had been obtained by former British prisoners from Canso who had been held in the fort. The prisoners had been allowed to roam the fort freely and those with past military experience collected the information. 

In April, the British force sailed to Fortress Louisbourg. Vice Admiral Sir Peter Warren’s Royal Navy fleet was wisely positioned to block any French reinforcements. The fort had formidable defenses seaward, but the land approach had much weaker defenses. The French believed a land attack was unlikely. (This thinking is reminiscent of British defense of Singapore in World War II.)  

On 28 June, after a six-week siege followed by a ground assault, the British captured Fortress Louisbourg. This was the most important strategic victory by either side during King George’s War. It also crippled the lucrative French fur trade that had been contributing to the treasury of France. 

Colonel Sir William Pepperell-King George's War-1744-1748
Colonel Sir William Pepperell

Colonel Pepperell was later rewarded by King George II with the title of Baronet. The first American colonial to be honored this way 

Indian allies of the French retaliated for the loss of Fortress Louisbourg by launching their Northeast Coast Campaign. This was a series of attacks on British settlements on the border of Acadia in Maine. About 30 settlers were killed or captured, and many structures were destroyed. Skirmishes and raids were also happening along the northern British colonies and New France border. 

Royal Army Major Geneal Sir William Johnson-King George's War-1744-1748
Royal Army Major Geneal Sir William Johnson

The Ohio Valley frontier was claimed by both Britain and France, and the French were slightly more successful in that area. Their strong position at Crown Point on Lake Champlain was used as a staging base for Indian attacks on British settlements. Royal Army Major General Sir William Johnson retaliated by organizing Iroquois strikes against French positions. Losses on both sides in the Ohio Valley were extremely high but no clear winner emerged.  

On 28 November 1745, a unit composed of 400 French troops and 220 Indians attacked the western frontier village of Saratoga, New York. They killed 30 British colonists, took 100 prisoners, and destroyed the village. The British then abandoned their settlements north of Albany, New York because they could no longer be defended. 

In 1746, the French assembled a large force that was tasked to recapture Fortress Louisbourg and then move against Boston, Massachusetts. However, a major storm scattered the French fleet, and the plan had to be abandoned. A force of 900 French and Indians then raided the Hoosic River Valley near Williamstown, Massachusetts, and captured Fort Massachusetts. 

In 1747, French and Indians attacked Grand Pre, Nova Scotia killing about 70 British soldiers. In 1748, Indian allies of the French conducted an ineffective raid on Schenectady, New York. 

King George’s War ended when France, Britain and the Dutch Republic signed the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle on 18 October 1748. The treaty established that all land, places, and possessions seized during the war in the colonies be returned to the original owners. Most borders between French and British colonies were left unsettled. 

The colonists had no voice in the treaty negotiations and the British colonists were infuriated about returning Fortress Louisbourg to the French. The French and British colonists hated each other and both mother countries wanted total control of North America. War in the colonies never really stopped, it just returned to the lower level of conflict along borders and Indian raids on the frontier. It was essentially guerrilla warfare and very brutal. Encroachment on Indian land continued and resulted in small but extremely brutal conflicts. 

Iroquois Warrior-King George's War-1744-1748
Iroquois Warrior

Soon after the treaty was signed France and Britain began to quarrel over borders and over ownership of the Ohio River Valley. King George’s War, like earlier wars, had settled nothing. Many, especially Indians, had died in vain, and it was only a matter of time until the next war. 

The next official war, the French and Indian War, exploded on the scene only six years later. It involved larger numbers of French and British regular troops, colonial militias, and Indian tribes. It was even more bloody and brutal than earlier wars. 

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