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Volume 2, Number 5, September-October 2006

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A Particular Account

 

In 1745, Great Britain and New England attacked the French-held fortress of Louisbourg by land and sea. William Pepperrell led the American troops overland, while Peter Warren commanded the British naval squadron. Warren was joined by Captain Philip Durell, commander of the British man-of-war Eltham, who helped guarantee the success of the siege by preventing French vessels from reaching Louisbourg harbour with fresh provisions and armaments.

Both Durell and Pepperrell wrote accounts of the siege. Pepperrell's An Accurate Journal and Account of the Proceedings of the New-England Land-Forces... (1746) is held in a number of Canadian repositories, including Library and Archives Canada. But Durell's journal, A Particular Account Of the Taking Cape Breton... (1745), is exceedingly rare, and no library in Canada reported holding the work until Library and Archives Canada acquired a very fine copy in March 2006. With its untrimmed deckle edges and its original sewing structure still intact, the eight-page pamphlet looks just as it did when it came off the press 250 years ago. Durell's hurried account, written in the first flush of success, informs Britain of the dramatic events that had unfolded in Louisbourg and emphasizes the importance of the French capitulation:

In Louisbourg Harbour, June 20, 1745
Dear Sir, The great Hurry I am in to finish some Plans of Louisbourg, prevents my writing so fully as I could wish, to give you an Account of this important Place... I really think this is the greatest Loss the French could meet with: For this is as much the Key of North-America, as Gibraltar is the Key of the Streights... [Louisbourg] being taken is... the Ruin of Canada and their Fishery, which was better to [France] than a Golden Mine.

 

Durell's "Plans of Louisbourg" included an exceptionally accurate and detailed survey of the fort and the harbour, and were highly regarded by British authorities. Upon returning to England, Durell commissioned a portrait of himself, holding his survey. The portrait is held in the collection of Library and Archives Canada.

Appended to Durell's journal are other letters. A marine officer details how the siege of Louisbourg unfolded. A common sailor writes to his mother about the battle in which he participated, noting that only one of his comrades had been killed and that they had taken many prize vessels.

By acquiring this pamphlet, Library and Archives Canada preserves the testimony of significant witnesses to Canadian history, and, by making the document accessible to the public, connects all Canadians with individuals and events that created our past.


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