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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Strange End of a Great Expedition

By Samuel Penhallow (1665–1726)

[Born in Cornwall, England, 1665. Died at Portsmouth, N. H., 1726. The History of the Wars of New-England with the Eastern Indians. 1726.]

COLONEL NICHOLSON, by the reduction of Port Royal (which from that time bears the name of Annapolis Royal), was but the more inflamed with the desire of the conquest of Canada. Wherefore, upon his return to England, he so effectually represented to the queen and ministry, the great advantage that would accrue unto the crown thereby, that he obtained orders for a sufficient force, both by sea and land, with the assistance of the several colonies. And, for the better expediting the same, he set sail the latter end of April, some time before the fleet, with express orders unto the several governors of New England, New York, the Jerseys, and Philadelphia, to get their quotas of men in readiness. He arrived at Boston on June the eighth, 1711, to the great joy and satisfaction of the country. A Congress hereupon was appointed at New London, being nearest the centre, where the several governors met, with a firm resolution of carrying on the important affairs. On the 25th, the castle gave a signal of ships in the bay, which proved to be the fleet: upon which the troops of guards and regiment of foot were under arms to receive them, and, as his Excellency was not yet returned, the gentlemen of the Council, and others of distinction, went to congratulate them.

Brigadier Hill was Commander in Chief of these her Majesty’s troops, and Sir Hovenden Walker, Admiral of the fleet, which consisted of fifteen men of war, forty transports, a battalion of marines, and several regiments under Colonel Kirk, Colonel Segmore, Brigadier Hill, Colonel Disnee, Colonel Windress, Colonel Clayton and Colonel Kaine, with upwards of five thousand men, who arrived safe in health, and encamped on Noddle’s Island, where the General invited the Governor to view them under arms. They made the finest appearance that was ever yet seen or known in America. Her Majesty, out of her royal favor, was also pleased to send six ships, with all manner of warlike stores, and a fine train of artillery, with forty horses to draw the same.

It is surprising to think how vigorously this expedition was forwarded, while at Boston, although a town but of eighty years standing, out of a howling wilderness; yet scarce any town in the kingdom (but where stores are laid up before) could have effected the same in so short a time. For in less than a month the whole army was supplied with ten weeks’ provision, and all other necessaries that were wanted, besides two regiments of our New England forces, under the command of Colonel Vetch and Colonel Walton, who embarked at the same time, in transports of our own. On the day that the fleet sailed, Colonel Nicholson set out for New York, and from thence for Albany, having ordered batteaux before, and everything else on the inland frontiers to be in readiness for passing the lake with utmost application. The assembly of New York raised ten thousand pounds, besides their proportion of men, the Jerseys five, and although Pennsylvania was not so free of their persons, because of their persuasion, yet were as generous in their purse as any of the other colonies in carrying on the expedition.

Every thing now looked with a smiling aspect of success, considering the powerful strength by land and sea, the former being as fine regimental troops as any that belonged to the Duke of Marlborough’s army; and the latter as serviceable ships as any in the whole navy….

The first harbor they made after they sailed from Nantasket was Cape Gaspé, from thence they sailed up St. Lawrence river, until they got up off the Virgin Mountains; the weather then proving foggy, and the wind freshening, the Admiral asked the pilots what was best to do? who advised that, as the fleet was on the north shore, it would be best to bring to, with their heads unto the southward, but he, obstinately refusing, acted the reverse, and ordered their heads unto the north, which was so astonishing unto the pilots that one and another foretold their fear (unto the officers) and the destiny that would attend them before the morning; which accordingly fell out. For at one of the clock, nine ships, with fifteen hundred men, were all cast ashore, and most of the rest in as eminent danger; but so soon as the former struck they fired their guns, which gave caution to the rest, some of which wore, and stood off; others were so encompassed by the breakers that they were obliged to bring to their anchors, which was their last refuge; but before the day approached the wind happily shifted to W. N. W., upon which they cut their cables, and came to sail. Soon after, a council of war was called, but the result not known until the evening, and then the flag bore away to Spanish River, without giving the usual signal; on which many of the windward ships were left behind; but a small man of war was ordered to cruise the next day for those that were left, and to take up such as might be alive among the dead, who were about six hundred. After this, they made towards the fleet, but were eight days in getting down; during which time the wind was eastwardly, and had our fleet proceeded (as it were to be wished they had) might easily have got unto Quebec in forty-eight hours.

Upon this disaster, the whole country (and indeed the nation) was alarmed, and many censures and jealousies arose, some imputing it to cowardice, but most to treachery, and the secret influence of some malcontents then at helm; otherwise, why would a matter of such vast importance to the British kingdom be hushed up in silence, and the principal officers not summoned to appear? If the Admiral was in fault, wherefore was he not called to an account? Or why did not the General, to vindicate himself, lay a remonstrance before the council board? And the pilots (who were ordered from hence at so great a charge to the country, to represent matters in a true light) been examined? But instead thereof, dismissed without being asked one question! However, one thing is remarkable, that among those that were shipwrecked, and lost their lives, there was but one single person that belonged to New England among them.

Colonel Nicholson at this juncture was industriously engaged in getting the batteaux ready for passing the lake with a considerable number of friend Indians, as well as English, for the attack of Montreal, which, next to Quebec, was the place of greatest importance in all the French territories. But just as he was ready to embark, an express came and gave an account of the miserable disaster that befell the fleet: whereas, if he had proceeded, his whole army would probably have been cut off; for, upon advice of our fleet’s misfortune, the French drew off all their auxiliaries, and most of their militia, to reinforce Montreal, being advised of the descent that was making on them. So great was our loss in this enterprise, that it affected the whole country seven years after; as the advance and expense of so much money and provisions might well do. And it as much flushed the enemy: for out of the ruins of our vessels they not only got much plunder, but fortified their castle and out-door batteries, with a considerable number of cannon. They moreover stirred up the French and Indians about Annapolis Royal to revolt from their allegiance to the crown.