Soldiers of the Atlantic Seaboard

The War Of Spanish Succession

The Treaty of Ryswick, signed in 1697, brought a few years of respite before the War of Spanish Succession broke out in 1702. When it was declared, Acadia was quite well defended by four Compagnies franches de la Marine, each comprising 50 men. Artillery was provided by a gunner detached from the Company of Bombardiers de la Marine of Rochefort. Governor Subercase apparently trained a few soldiers, because in 1702 he announced that a squad of 12 gunners had been formed, selected from the best soldiers in the four companies, who "had done perfectly well." 126 Three years later in Newfoundland, this same energetic governor imposed stricter discipline on the soldiers and officers of Placentia, and required that they adhere more closely to the regulations. These steps, appealing to military pride, improved the bearing and morale of the troops. Finally, there were several militia companies in Newfoundland, as indicated by the presence of a major and a militia staff on the island. Some militiamen were temporary, having been recruited among the sailors in Placentia for the season. Thus in 1704, some 300 Basques deemed fit to bear arms were equipped in the Canadian way, "that is to say, deerstalker hats on their heads, guns, powder horns, lead shot sacks slung over their shoulders, and snowshoes on their feet," 127 and sent off to attack St. John's. The French bastion in both Acadia and Newfoundland was thus strong, and the effects of this military might were soon felt.

Insofar as the English were concerned, the independent company left in St. John's that had been increased to 100 men in 1701, fell back again to half this many four years later. In addition, the company was poorly supplied and lacked uniforms. It was a badly chosen time to reduce the strength of the garrison, because the French had been reinforced by 72 Canadian volunteers from Quebec and 30 Micmac allies in November 1704, after the Bonavista attack. Leaving Placentia, the French crossed Bonavista and, in February 1705, seized the town of St. John's, although they failed to take the fort when its gallant little garrison fought them to a standstill over more than a month. After thus capturing the English capital of Newfoundland for a second time, during the War of Spanish Succession, the Canadian and Amerindian volunteers took to the seas once again, becoming buccaneers. They returned to St. John's in 1709 for a third and decisive attack on the capital.

Beginning in 1708, English ships tightened the blockade around Placentia, but this did nothing to protect their positions from the island's interior. In January 1709, an expedition of 170 men composed of the same contingent of Canadian and Micmac volunteers, in addition to naval troops, captured St. John's once again. This time, they overwhelmed the fort and destroyed all the fortifications. The garrison was taken prisoner and shipped to France.