New England Bravery
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This broadside celebrates the 1745 victory of British and colonial forces against the French fortress at Louisbourg. Some thirty years later, the illustration on this sheet appeared again, this time commemorating the flight of British forces from Boston after the Siege of Boston.
New England’s conquest
In June 1745, Bostonians greeted news of the capture of the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia by an amateur army of New Englanders with bell-ringing, bonfires, and fireworks. “New England’s Conquest” was announced by proclamations and public announcements, often published as broadsides (sheets of paper printed on one side, to be read aloud and/or posted). New England Bravery, published as a broadside, was a celebratory song giving a “full and true account” of the Siege of Louisbourg, to be sung to the tune of “Chivey Chace” (a popular old English song, “The Ballad of Chevy Chace”). While naively drawn, the large woodcut illustration at the top of the page shows the bombardment of the fortress city by a combined force of New England volunteers and ships of the Royal Navy, and depicts local landmarks mentioned in the song, such as the Island Battery and Light House Point.
Founded in 1713 on Cape Breton, the French fortress city of Louisbourg protected the French Atlantic fishery and communications with Canada. New Englanders saw it as a direct threat to their homes and livelihoods and to their outposts in Nova Scotia. In 1744, at the beginning of King George’s War (the War of the Austrian Succession), Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts planned a great colonial expedition against Louisbourg. Colonel William Pepperrell led a force of almost 3,000 New England troops who sailed from Boston on 4 April 1745. At Louisbourg, a Royal Navy squadron from the West Indies commanded by Commodore Peter Warren joined them. The combined forces easily defeated the understrength French garrison and on 17 June 1745, after a forty-nine-day siege, the fortress surrendered. Celebrations greeted the news throughout colonial America and England, but especially in New England.
New England’s conquest undone
The aftermath of the victory was not so happy. There had been friction between the Royal Navy and the colonial army during the siege, and the New England garrison suffered terrible losses from disease during the following winter. The 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that ended King George’s War returned Louisbourg to French control, leaving New Englanders with a sense of betrayal and distrust of British colonial policy. Ten years later, during the French and Indian War, the final round of the struggle of England and France for control of North America, Louisbourg was again besieged and captured by British forces. This time the British leveled the enemy base, only to have it rise again in the 1960s, as the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site—Parks Canada, a living history museum.
An engraving recycled, and recycled again
New England Bravery was printed by Thomas Fleet (1685-1758), whose home and family printing enterprise was located at “the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, Boston” from 1731 until 1764. Fleet was born in England and established himself as a printer in Boston about 1712. In 1732, Fleet began publishing a newspaper called The Weekly Rehearsal, which in 1735 became The Boston Evening-Post, Boston’s leading newspaper. Isaiah Thomas, a Boston printer and early historian of printing in America, praised the quality of Fleet’s work and added an interesting note to his sketch of Fleet in his The History of Printing in America, first published in 1810. According to Thomas, Fleet employed slaves in his printing shop, including a talented African American printer, later identified as Peter Fleet, who cut the woodblock engravings for “all the pictures which decorated the ballads and small books of his master.” It is very likely, then, that an early African American artist illustrated New England Bravery.
After his death in 1758, two of Thomas Fleet’s sons, Thomas, Jr. (1732-1797) and John (1734-1806), continued the family printing business. They remained in Boston through the siege of 1775-1776, although The Boston Evening-Post ceased publication at the beginning of the war. When the siege ended in March 1776, the Fleet brothers printed Two Favorite Songs Made on the Evacuation of Boston, by the British Troops on the 17th of March 1776 to celebrate the American victory, illustrating it with the same woodcut that had appeared on the New England Bravery broadside more than thirty years earlier. Woodcut illustrations were time-consuming to make and often were reused or even passed from the hands of one printer (or generation of printers) to another.
There is a second version of the Two Favorite Songs broadside, with a slightly different title: “by the British Troops on the 17th of March 1776” becomes “by the Britons, March 17th,” and some slight changes in the text. A third version, titled Two new Songs: On the disgraceful Flight of the Ministerial Fleet & Army from Boston and Bunker-Hill on March 17, 1776 does not include the woodcut illustration, but it reappears on a fourth broadside publication of the same Revolutionary song, published as On the Evacuation of Boston by the British Troops, March 17th. 1776, but with changes in spelling and type that suggest it may be the work of a different print shop.
The woodcut engraving of the attack on Louisbourg, which had been at best an impressionistic depiction of the combined assault on the fortress city, bears no resemblance to the geography or events of the Siege of Boston, but in an age with few illustrated publications, the veteran engraving proved perfectly adequate for use in the patriot cause.
A Revolutionary Peace: the 250th Anniversary of the Treaty of Paris
On 10 February 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed, putting an end to the Seven Years’ War (known as the French and Indian War in North America) and any lingering threat to New England from French Canada following the destruction of Louisbourg. Paradoxically, the treaty, which seemed to offer the promise of a new era of peace and prosperity, quickly led to a new crisis in the British Empire and sowed the seeds of the American Revolution. Through 7 October 2013, the Bostonian Society Museum, located in the Old State House in Boston, will display the original British copy of the Paris Treaty, together with artifacts and documents about the climax of the contest between the British and French for North America, including materials on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society. For more information on the exhibition, visit “Exhibitions at the Old State House” at the Bostonian Society website.
For Further Reading
Leach, Douglas E. “Brothers in Arms? Anglo-American Friction at Louisbourg, 1745-1746.” Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings 89 (1977), 36-54.
Louisbourg Expedition Records. The Massachusetts Historical Society holds manuscript records of the Louisbourg Expedition, 1744-1748. The records are available on microfilm and have been published in part in Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 1st Ser., Vol. 1 (Boston, 1792), 5-60, and 6th Ser., Vol. 10 (Boston, 1899).
Massachusetts Broadsides of the American Revolution. Ed. by Mason I. Lowance and Georgia B. Barnhill. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1976, 72-73.
Morison, Samuel Eliot. “Will of a Boston Slave, 1743.” Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Vol. 25 (Boston, 1924), 253-354.
Pitre, David W. “Thomas and John Fleet.” In Boston Printers, Publishers and Booksellers: 1640-1800. Ed. by Benjamin Franklin V. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980.
Thomas, Isaiah. The History of Printing in America: with the Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers. Ed. by Marcus A. McCorison from the 2nd ed. New York: Weathervane Books, 1970.
Winslow, Ola E. American Broadside Verse. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930, 148-149.
Witness to America’s Past: Two Centuries of Collecting by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1991, 73-78.