1707 – First Siege of Port Royal

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Sieges >> 1707 – First Siege of Port Royal

The campaign took place from May to June 1707


After the unsuccessful attempt against Port Royal in Acadia during the summer of 1704, The French settlement remained a source of illicit gain to some persons in Boston, it was also an occasion of loss by the privateers and corsairs it sent out to prey on trading and fishing vessels, while at the same time it was a standing menace as the possible naval base for one of those armaments against Boston which were often threatened, though never carried into effect. Hence, in 1707 the New England colonists made, in their bungling way, a serious attempt to get possession of it.

In Massachusetts, the enemies of Governor Joseph Dudley raised the old cry that at heart he wished Port Royal to remain French, and was only forced by popular clamor to countenance an attack upon it. The charge seems a malicious slander.

Early in March 1707, Governor Dudley proposed the enterprise against Port Royal to the General Court of Massachusetts; and the question being referred to a committee, they reported that 1,000 soldiers should be raised, vessels impressed, and her Majesty's Deptford (48), with the province galley, employed to convoy them. On 21 March, an Act was passed accordingly.

Two regiments were soon afoot, one uniformed in red, and the other in blue; one commanded by Colonel Francis Wainwright, and the other by Colonel Winthrop Hilton. Rhode Island sent 80 more men, and New Hampshire 60, while Connecticut would do nothing. A company of Native American warriors from Cape Cod was also recruited.


On 13 May, the expedition sailed. It included 1,076 soldiers, with about 450 sailors. The soldiers were nearly all volunteers from the rural militia, and their training and discipline were such as they had acquired in the uncouth frolics and plentiful New England rum of the periodical "muster days." There chanced to be one officer who knew more or less of the work in hand. This was the English engineer Rednap, sent out to look after the fortifications of New York and New England. The commander-in-chief was Colonel John March, of Newbury, who had popular qualities, had seen frontier service, and was personally brave, but totally unfit for his present position. Most of the officers were civilians from country towns, — Ipswich, Topsfield, Lynn, Salem, Dorchester, Taunton, or Weymouth. In the province galley went, as secretary of the expedition, that intelligent youth, William Dudley, son of the governor.

New England has been blamed for not employing trained officers to command her levies; but with the exception of Rednap, and possibly of Captain Samuel Vetch, there were none in the country, nor were they wanted. In their stubborn and jealous independence, the sons of the Puritans would have resented their presence. The provincial officers were, without exception, civilians. British regular officers, good, bad, or indifferent, were apt to put on airs of superiority which galled the democratic susceptibilities of the natives, who, rather than endure a standing military force imposed by the mother-country, preferred to suffer if they must, and fight their own battles in their own crude way. Even for irregular warfare they were at a disadvantage; Canadian feudalism developed good partisan leaders, which was rarely the case with New England democracy. Colonel John March was a tyro set over a crowd of ploughboys, fishermen, and mechanics, officered by tradesmen, farmers, blacksmiths, village magnates, and deacons of the church, — for the characters of deacon and militia officer were often joined in one. These improvised soldiers commonly did well in small numbers, and very ill in large ones.

The expeditionary forces were carried by a fleet of 24 ships, including the Deptford (48) under under the command of Captain Charles Stuckley and the Province Galley (24) under Cyprian Southack.

On 6 June, the expedition sailed into Port Royal Basin. The French fort was defended by men of the Troupes de la Marine and 60 men recently arrived to take command of a new frigate. Furthermore, 100 Abenaki warriors, under the command of Bernard-Anselme d'Abbadie de Saint-Castin, arrived at Port Royal a few hours before the arrival of the British expedition. As soon as the British ships were spotted, Governor Daniel d'Auger de Subercase also called out the local militia, mustering about 60 men.

On 7 June, Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Appleton, with 300 men, landed on the north shore, some 7 km below the fort. Meanwhile, Colonel March, with 700 men, landed on the south shore. Both forces had been landed too far from the fort and had to spend the rest of the day marching toward it. Appleton's detachment marched up to the mouth of the Annapolis. March's troops pushed on to the meadows of Allen's River.

In the morning of 8 June, Subercase sent a small force to the south. It briefly engaged Appleton's detachment. Being outnumbered, the French took to their boats and retreated to the fort. Meanwhile, Subercase advanced northwards at the head of a larger detachment (some 200 men) and placed his troops in ambush on a bushy hill along the Allen's River. When March's troops started to cross the river, the French opened fire. March and his men crossed the stream, and after a skirmish in which Subercase's horse was shot out from under him, the French gave way and retired towards the fort.

March's forces then encamped some 2.5 km from the fort, stretching their lines right and left towards the Annapolis on the one hand, and Allen's River on the other, so as to form a semicircle before the fort, where all the inhabitants had by this time taken refuge.

Subercase sent out detachments to harass the British foraging parties. March managed to advance his lines closer to a hill known as the "Lion Rampant", within cannon-shot of the fort.

Soon all was confusion in the British camp, — the consequence of March's incapacity for a large command, and the greenness and ignorance of both himself and his subordinates. There were conflicting opinions, wranglings, and disputes. The men, losing all confidence in their officers, became unmanageable. "The devil was at work among us," writes one of those present. The engineer, Colonel John Rednap, the only one of them who knew anything of the work in hand, began to mark out the batteries; but he soon lost temper, and declared that "it was not for him to venture his reputation with such ungovernable and undisciplined men and inconstant officers." He refused to bring up the cannon, saying that it could not be done under the fire of the fort; and the naval captains were of the same opinion.

One of the chaplains, Rev. John Barnard, being of a martial turn and full of zeal, took it upon himself to make a plan of the fort ; and to that end, after providing himself with pen, ink, paper, and a horse-pistol, took his seat at a convenient spot; but his task was scarcely begun when it was ended by a cannon-ball that struck the ground beside him, peppered him with gravel, and caused his prompt retreat.

French deserters reported that there were 500 men in the fort, with 42 heavy cannon, and that some 450 men more were expected every day. This increased the general bewilderment of the besiegers. There was a council of war. Rednap declared that it would be useless to persist; and after hot debate and contradiction, it was resolved to decamp.

Three days after, there was another council, which voted to bring up the cannon and open fire, in spite of Rednap and the naval captains.

In the next evening, a third council resolved again to raise the siege as hopeless.

On 16 June, the disgusted rank and file were ordered to destroy the storehouse and other buildings outside the fort; and, ill led as they were, they did the work thoroughly. "Never did men act more boldly," says the witness before quoted; "they threatened the enemy to his nose, and would have taken the fort if the officers had shown any spirit. They found it hard to bring them off."

On 17 June, the baffled invaders sailed crestfallen to Casco Bay, and a vessel was sent to carry news of the miscarriage to Dudley, who, vexed and incensed, ordered another attempt.


March was in a state of helpless indecision, increased by a bad cold; but the governor would not recall him, and chose instead the lamentable expedient of sending three members of the provincial council to advise and direct him. Two of them had commissions in the militia; the third, John Leverett, was a learned bachelor of divinity, formerly a tutor in Harvard College, and soon after its president, — capable, no doubt, of preaching Calvinistic sermons to the students, but totally unfit to command men or conduct a siege.

A second expedition against Port Royal was then undertaken.


This article incorporates texts of the following source which is in the public domain: Parkman, Francis: A Half-Century of Conflict – France and England in North America Part VI in The Works of Francis Parkman, Boston: 1897, Vol. 11, pp. 124-131

Other sources

Wikipedia – Siege of Port Royal (1707)