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From Grandfather's Chair, 1840

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Part 2
Chapter 7


"WILLIAM SHIRLEY," said Grandfather, "had come from England a few years before, and began to practise law in Boston. You will think, perhaps, that, as he had been a lawyer, the new governor used to sit in our great chair reading heavy law-books from morning till night. On the contrary, he was as stirring and active a governor as Massachusetts ever had. Even Sir William Phipps hardly equalled him. The first year or two of his administration was spent in trying to regulate the currency. But in 1744, after a peace of more than thirty years, war broke out between France and England."

"And I suppose," said Charley, "the governor went to take Canada."

"Not exactly, Charley," said Grandfather; "though you have made a pretty shrewd conjecture. He planned, in 1745, an expedition against Louisburg. This was a fortified city, on the island of Cape Breton, near Nova Scotia. Its walls were of immense height and strength, and were defended by hundreds of heavy cannon. It was the strongest fortress which the French possessed in America; and if the king of France had guessed Governor Shirley's intentions, he would have sent all the ships he could muster to protect it."

As the siege of Louisburg was one of the most remarkable events that ever the inhabitants of New England were engaged in, Grandfather endeavored to give his auditors a lively idea of the spirit with which they set about it. We shall call his description



The expedition against Louisburg first began to be thought of in the month of January. From that time the governor's chair was continually surrounded by councillors, representatives, clergymen, captains, pilots, and all manner of people, with whom he consulted about this wonderful project.

First of all, it was necessary to provide men and arms. The Legislature immediately sent out a huge quantity of paper-money, with which, as if by magic spell, the governor hoped to get possession of all the old cannon, powder and balls, rusty swords and muskets, and everything else that would be serviceable in killing Frenchmen. Drums were beaten in all the villages of Massachusetts to enlist soldiers for the service. Messages were sent to the other governors of New England, and to New York and Pennsylvania, entreating them to unite in this crusade against the French. All these provinces agreed to give what assistance they could.

But there was one very important thing to be decided. Who shall be the general of this great army? Peace had continued such an unusual length of time, that there was now less military experience among the colonists than at any former period. The old Puritans had always kept their weapons bright, and were never destitute of warlike captains who were skilful in assault or defence. But the swords of their descendants had grown rusty by disuse. There was nobody in New England that knew anything about sieges or any other regular fighting. The only persons at all acquainted with warlike business were a few elderly men, who had hunted Indians through the underbrush of the forest in old Governor Dummer's war.

In this dilemma Governor Shirley fixed upon a wealthy merchant, named William Pepperell, who was pretty well known and liked among the people. As to military skill, he had no more of it than his neighbors. But, as the governor urged him very pressingly, Mr. Pepperell consented to shut up his ledger, gird on a sword, and assume the title of general.

Meantime, what a hubbub was raised by this scheme! Rub-a-dub-dub! rub-a-dub-dub! The rattle of drums, beaten out of all manner of time, was heard above every other sound.

Nothing now was so valuable as arms, of whatever style and fashion they might be. The bellows blew, and the hammer clanged continually upon the anvil, while the blacksmiths were repairing the broken weapons of other wars. Doubtless some of the soldiers lugged out those enormous, heavy muskets which used to be fired, with rests, in the time of the early Puritans. Great horse-pistols, too, were found, which would go off with a bang like a cannon. Old cannon, with touchholes almost as big as their muzzles, were looked upon as inestimable treasures. Pikes which, perhaps, had been handled by Miles Standish's soldiers, now made their appearance again. Many a young man ransacked the garret and brought forth his great grandfather's sword, corroded with rust and stained with the blood of King Philip's War.

Never had there been such an arming as this, when a people, so long peaceful, rose to the war with the best weapons that they could lay their hands upon. And still the drums were heard--rub-a-dub-dub! rub-a-dub-dub!--in all the towns and villages; and louder and more numerous grew the trampling footsteps of the recruits that marched behind.

And now the army began to gather into Boston. Tall, lanky, awkward fellows came in squads, and companies, and regiments, swaggering along, dressed in their brown homespun clothes and blue yarn stockings. They stooped as if they still had hold of the plough-handles, and marched without any time or tune. Hither they came, from the cornfields, from the clearing in the forest, from the blacksmith's forge, from the carpenter's workshop, and from the shoemaker's seat. They were an army of rough faces and sturdy frames. A trained officer of Europe would have laughed at them till his sides had ached. But there was a spirit in their bosoms which is more essential to soldiership than to wear red coats and march in stately ranks to the sound of regular music.

Still was heard the beat of the drum,--rub-a-dub-dub! And now a host of three or four thousand men bad found their way to Boston. Little quiet was there then! Forth scampered the school-boys, shouting behind the drums. The whole town, the whole land, was on fire with war.

After the arrival of the troops, they were probably reviewed upon the Common. We may imagine Governor Shirley and General Pepperell riding slowly along the line, while the drummers beat strange old tunes, like psalm-tunes, and all the officers and soldiers put on their most warlike looks. It would have been a terrible sight for the Frenchmen, could they but have witnessed it!

At length, on the 24th of March, 1745, the army gave a parting shout, and set sail from Boston in ten or twelve vessels which had been hired by the governor. A few days afterwards an English fleet, commanded by Commodore Peter Warren, sailed also for Louisburg to assist the provincial army. So now, after all this bustle of preparation, the town and province were left in stillness and repose.

But stillness and repose, at such a time of anxious expectation, are hard to bear. The hearts of the old people and women sunk within them when they reflected what perils they had sent their sons, and husbands, and brothers to encounter. The boys loitered heavily to school, missing the rub-a-dub-dub and the trampling march, in the rear of which they had so lately run and shouted. All the ministers prayed earnestly in their pulpits for a blessing on the army of New England. In every family, when the good man lifted up his heart in domestic worship, the burden of his petition was for the safety of those dear ones who were fighting under the walls of Louisburg.

Governor Shirley all this time was probably in an ecstasy of impatience. He could not sit still a moment. He found no quiet, not even in Grandfather's chair; but hurried to and fro, and up and down the staircase of the Province House. Now he mounted to the cupola and looked seaward, straining his eyes to discover if there were a sail upon the horizon. Now he hastened down the stairs, and stood beneath the portal, on the red freestone steps, to receive some mud-bespattered courier, from whom he hoped to hear tidings of the army. A few weeks after the departure of the troops, Commodore Warren sent a small vessel to Boston with two French prisoners. One of them was Monsieur Bouladrie, who had been commander of a battery outside of the walls of Louisburg. The other was the Marquis de la Maison Forte, captain of a French frigate which had been taken by Commodore Warren's fleet. These prisoners assured Governor Shirley that the fortifications of Loulsburg were far too strong ever to be stormed by the provincial army.

Day after day and week after week went on. The people grew almost heart-sick with anxiety; for the flower of the country was at peril in this adventurous expedition. It was now daybreak on the morning of the 3d of July.

But hark! what sound is this? The hurried clang of a bell! There is the Old North pealing suddenly out!--there the Old South strikes in!--now the peal comes from the church in Brattle Street!--the bells of nine or ten steeples are all flinging their iron voices at once upon the morning breeze! Is it joy, or alarm? There goes the roar of a cannon too! A royal salute is thundered forth. And now we hear the loud exulting shout of a multitude assembled in the street. Huzza! huzza! Louisburg has surrendered! Huzza!


"O Grandfather, how glad I should have been to live in those times!" cried Charley. "And what reward did the king give to General Pepperell and Governor Shirley?"

"He made Pepperell a baronet; so that he was now to be called Sir William Pepperell," replied Grandfather. "He likewise appointed both Pepperell and Shirley to be colonels in the royal army. These rewards, and higher ones, were well deserved; for this was the greatest trinmph that the English met with in the whole course of that war. General Pepperell became a man of great fame. I have seen a full-length portrait of him, representing him in a splendid scarlet uniform, standing before the walls of Louisburg, while several bombs are falling through the air."

"But did the country gain any real good by the conquest of Louisburg?" asked Laurence. "Or was all the benefit reaped by Pepperell and Shirley?"

"The English Parliament," replied Grandfather, "agreed to pay the colonists for all the expenses of the siege. Accordingly, in 1749, two hundred and fifteen chests of Spanish dollars and one hundred casks of copper coin were brought from England to Boston. The whole amount was about a million of dollars. Twenty-seven carts and trucks carried this money from the wharf to the provincial treasury. Was not this a pretty liberal reward?"

"The mothers of the young men who were killed at the siege of Louisburg would not have thought it so," said Laurence.

"No, Laurence," rejoined Grandfather; "and every warlike achievement involves an amount of physical and moral evil, for which all the gold in the Spanish mines would not be the slightest recompense. But we are to consider that this siege was one of the occasions on which the colonists tested their ability for war, and thus were prepared for the great contest of the Revolution. In that point of view, the valor of our forefathers was its own reward."

Grandfather went on to say that the success of the expedition against Louisburg induced Shirley and Pepperell to form a scheme for conquering Canada. This plan, however, was not carried into execution.

In the year 1746 great terror was excited by the arrival of a formidable French fleet upon the coast. It was commanded by the Duke d'Anville, and consisted of forty ships of war, besides vessels with soldiers on board. With this force the French intended to retake Louisburg, and afterwards to ravage the whole of New England. Many people were ready to give up the country for lost.

But the hostile fleet met with so many disasters and losses by storm and shipwreck, that the Duke d'Anville is said to have poisoned himself in despair. The officer next in command threw himself upon his sword and perished. Thus deprived of their commanders, the remainder of the ships returned to France. This was as great a deliverance for New England as that which Old England had experienced in the days of Queen Elizabeth, when the Spanish Armada was wrecked upon her coast.

"In 1747," proceeded Grandfather, "Governor Shirley was driven from the Province House, not by a hostile fleet and army, but by a mob of the Boston people. They were so incensed at the conduct of the British Commodore Knowles, who had impressed some of their fellow-citizens, that several thousands of them surrounded the council chamber and threw stones and brickbats into the windows. The governor attempted to pacify them; but not succeeding, he thought it necessary to leave the town and take refuge within the walls of Castle William. Quiet was not restored until Commodore Knowles had sent back the impressed men. This affair was a flash of spirit that might have warned the English not to venture upon any oppressive measures against their colonial brethren."

Peace being declared between France and England in 1748, the governor had now an opportunity to sit at his ease in Grandfather's chair. Such repose, however, appears not to have suited his disposition; for in the following year he went to England, and thence was despatched to France on public business. Meanwhile, as Shirley had not resigned his office, Lieutenant-Governor Phipps acted as chief magistrate in his stead.

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