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His Majesty's 40th Regiment of Foot in North America 1717-1764
by Robert Henderson

In 1717 the independent companies of soldiers stationed in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland were merged by Nova Scotia's Governor Richard Phillips to create Phillips' Regiment. The royal warrant stated:

Our Will and Pleasure is, that this our establishment of our Regiment of Foot, commanded by our trusty and well-beloved Colonel, Richard Phillips, and for the garrison of Annapolis Royal and Placentia, do commence and take place from the 25th day of August last inclusive, from which time all former establishments for our eight Independent Companies and Garrisons at Annapolis Royal and Placentia are to cease and determine.

As governor of Nova Scotia from 1717 to 1749, Phillips made two brief stays in the fledgling colony (1720-22, 1729-31). His second stay was shortened when he was recalled to answer questions on his debts to the officers of his regiment. In his absence, the senior officers of his regiment, in succession, served as lieutenant governor and councillors for the colony. In Newfoundland, similar administrative demands were placed on regimental officers. Officers like John Doucet, Alexander Crosby, Paul Mascarene, Christopher Albridge, Otho Hamilton, and John Handfield all played prominent roles in the development of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland during Phillips' tenure.

The early part of the regiment's history involved a number of skirmishes with the Indians while protecting Nova Scotia. The destruction of the Canso fishery by Indians in 1720 brought a quick response by Phillips. A company of the regiment was deployed to take up garrison of a small fort in Canso built by the New England fishermen. Despite numerous diplomatic attempts at peace, the Indians continued preying on shipping, forcing the garrison to take action in 1722. Serving as marines, the troops and local fishermen were able to disperse the marauding Indians. The next engagement came in July 1724 when a party of sixty Indians attacked Annapolis. The garrison responded with a poorly calculated sortie from the town's dilapidated fort, resulting in the death of a sergeant and private, the wounding of an officer and three privates, and the repulse of the troops. After some pillaging, the Indians departed with a number of civilian prisoners. From 1717 to 1743, Phillips' Regiment, garrisoning Annapolis, Placentia, and Canso, was successful in protecting settlers from Indian attacks, checking French influence in the area, and preserving the British foothold in Atlantic Canada.

War of the Austrian Succession 1744-1748

When war was declared in March 1744, the French at Louisbourg quickly acted. In May a flotilla containing 900 French regulars and militia appeared near Canso to the surprise of the garrison who were not aware that the war had begun. The four poorly-supplied companies of Phillips' Regiment were forced to surrender. The garrison's commander reported:

That considering the bad state of the place, having but eighty-seven men, whereof one third was sick or lame, the blockhouse not tenable against great shot, the first shot against it going through it, four barrels of powder damaged for want of proper storehouse to keep it, and no good flints, he thought it advisable to capitulate in time to obtain better terms.

The town was subsequently destroyed and the prisoners sent to Louisbourg. Once the regiment's officers were paroled, they were able to provide valuable information on the defences of Louisbourg forthe Britsh seige the following year.

In July 1744, three hundred Indians under command of a French priest named Le Loutre attacked Annapolis, the last British garrison in Nova Scotia. Only eighty men of Phillips' Regiment were available to meet this threat, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Mascarene. Mascarene, a Huguenot, refused to surrender to Le Loutre. Lacking resolve, Le Loutre's party burned a number of houses and withdrew. Following this the garrison was reinforced with an additional seventy men. In September the enemy, this time three hundred regulars and militia with Indian support, reappeared outside the dilapidated earthworks of Annapolis Royal. After a half-hearted four week seige and lacking a train of artillery, the French withdrew from the defiant garrison. A force of six hundred French and Indians again attempted to take Annapolis in May 1745. This demonstration ended quickly with the enemy ordered back to help defend Louisbourg from the British.

The only other action seen by Phillips' Regiment occurred while serving as marines and seamen. A detachment from the garrison at St. John's, Newfoundland volunteered to serve on a captured twenty-gun ship for an expedition with three privateers to Fishotte Bay. The prize entered Fishotte Bay alone and engaged a number of anchored French ships. After five hours of fighting and the loss of ten killed and thirty wounded, the ship had captured three fourteen-gun and two twelve-gun enemy ships; forty six of their crews were killed and three hundred and thirty two made prisoner. The lagging privateers entered the harbour and assisted in the destruction of French fishing stages and the removal of enemy ships and prisoners. By the end of the war Phillips' Regiment, after defending Britain's foothold in Nova Scotia with a skeleton complement, had its establishment raised to seventy men for each company. Men were quickly impressed in England for service in the regiment.

A Period of Expansion 1746-1755

Between 1746 and 1748 the regiment contented itself with garrison duty at Annapolis and St. John's. In July 1749, the grenadier company under Captain Handfield were sent to garrison the new settlement of Halifax founded the month earlier by the new Governor of Nova Scotia, Edward Cornwallis. A surprise attack by local Micmacs resulted in the capture of a detachment of the company including Lieutenant Otho Hamilton and Handfield's son. The captives were later returned to Halifax. Further engagements occurredwith the Indians that year as the troops preserved the line of communication between Halifax and Annapolis. Additional members of the regiment formed the garrison of Fort Sackville and established themselves at Pisiquid (now Windsor).

By 1750 Cornwallis had taken over the colonelcy of the regiment. By the Royal Warrant of 1st July 1751, Cornwallis' Regiment was given the numerical distinction of the 40th Regiment of Foot. Neglected for so many years by its former colonel, Cornwallis set about enhancing the condition of his new regiment. The companies in Newfoundland were rotated and discipline was improved. Desertion was poorly tolerated by Cornwallis. Of six deserters, two were shot and the rest reprieved. Three other deserters were hanged and their bodies suspended in chains as a warning to others. Further changes happened in the 40th with Cornwallis' appointment of Major Charles Lawrence of the 45th to the regiment's lieutenant colonelcy. Lawrence proved to be an energetic and effective military and administrative leader. After his appointment, Lawrence lead an expedition to the Missaguash River in August 1750 where he routed a superior number of Indians under Le Loutre. That fall he built Fort Lawrence across the river from Fort Beausejour.

In 1752 Peregrine Hopson succeeded Cornwallis as Nova Scotia's governor and colonel of the 40th Regiment. Hopson was not unfamiliar to the region, having served as governor of the captured Louisbourg from 1746 to 1749. In poor health, Hopson returned to England in 1753 leaving the governing of the colony to Lawrence. In 1755 Hopson officially resigned as governor and Lawrence was appointed. However Hopson remained the colonel of the 40th Regiment until his death in 1759. For the first time since its formation, the regiment's colonel was not the governor of Nova Scotia. Hopson was succeeded as colonel in 1759 by John Barrington, followed by Robert Armiger in December 1760.

Regional relations with the French and Indians continued to deteriorate. By 1755 it was decided that the recently erected French Fort Beausejour had to be removed as a threat. The English force, including members of the 40th Regiment, was meet by a large body of regulars and militia as they crossed the Massaquash river. This enemy force was attacked and disperse quickly. Beausejour was subsequently laid seige to on 21st June and it surrendered four days later. Though casualties were light, one 40th officer, did meet a melancholy demise during the seige:

Ensign Alexander Hay, who had been taken prisoner by the Indians on his way to the camp before Beausejour, was killed by one of our shells in the French fort, which fell through a sort of casement and also killed three French officers and wounded two more. After the seige the name of the fort became Fort Cumberland. The only other 40th officer to be killed that year was Captain Floyer who was serving on Braddock's expedition against Fort Duquesne.

Also in 1755, it was decided that the Acadian population could not be relied upon during wartime and their expulsion was ordered. Part of this unfortunate duty fell upon the 40th officers stationed at Annapolis. After such a long stay in the colony, a number of the officers had married into the local Acadian population. Therefore the deportation order forced officers to exile their own relations. Even the commander of the garrison, Major Handfield, had to deport his wife's "sister-in-law, nephews and nieces, uncles, aunts, and cousins." Handfield wrote to another officer performing the same task: "I heartily join with you in wishing that we were both of us got over this most disagreeable and troublesome part of the Service."

Seven Years War 1756-1763

War was officially declared in June 1756 but little activity occurred in the Nova Scotia theatre of war in the first year. In 1757, Hopson returned to the 40th Regiment in Halifax for a planned attack on Louisbourg. Realizing that the strength of Louisbourg had been far underestimated, the plan was abandoned and Hopson returned to England. Following this, fresh troops in Halifax were sent to relieve the garrisons in the Bay of Fundy including Annapolis and Fort Cumberland. By the end of 1757, eight companies of the 40th Regiment were concentrated in Halifax and two in Newfoundland.

The new year brought another plan to take Louisbourg. This time considerable resources in men and material were concentrated in Halifax. After preparing seige implements and training in landing, the force of 13,000 departed for the French fortress on 28th May 1758. As part of this force, the detachment of the 40th Regiment included one lieutenant colonel, seven captains, sixteen lieutenants, six ensigns, five staff, thirty sergeants, sixteen drummers, and five hundred and fifty privates. As part of General James Wolfe's advance force, the 40th grenadier company made a difficult landing in Garbarus Bay under considerable fire from French positions. Once ashore Wolfe's force quickly dislodged the French with the point of the bayonet from heights overlooking the bay. With a beach head secured, the rest of the army landed unmolested and began to set up seige lines around Louisbourg.


A View of Louisburg in North America, Taken near the Light House When That City Was Besieged in 1758 (NAC)

Soon after, the French abandoned their positions at Lighthouse point which commanded the harbour's entrance. The grenadiers of the 40th, 45th, and 47th under Wolfe were quickly dispatched to the point. Later, volunteers from a number of regiments including the 40th set about constructing batteries at Lighthouse Point in order to silence the island battery at the harbour's entrance and destroy the enemy ships at Louisbourg. There was ongoing, almost daily artillery exchange between Lighthouse point and the enemy ships. The result was a number of 40th grenadier casualties including one unfortunate soldier hit with a shot while in his tent. A few sortie were made by the French against the surrounding seige lines. On 13th June the light troops of the 40th turned back an attack resulting in a number of casualties including the wounding of Lieut. Moses Lilley. With the island battery gone, the French ships destroyed, and the fortress ramparts breached, Louisbourg finally surrendered to the British on 26th July. In August, the 40th light troops were sent with a force under Lord Rollo to capture the Isle Saint Jean (now Prince Edward Island). After the capture of Louisbourg, the army was dispersed. The 22nd, 40th, and 45th Regiments were left to winter in the half-destroyed town of Louisbourg. The ensuing winter was particularly taxing on the garrison. Shortages of fuel and food, and the continual skirmishes with Indians and French residents of Isle Royal (Cape Breton) kept the 40th busy mining coal, lumbering, and building defences.

The spring of 1759 brought Wolfe and a new army back to Louisbourg. Quebec was now Wolfe's goal. From the garrison Wolfe formed the grenadiers of the 22nd, 40th, and 45th into "the Louisbourg Grenadiers" which he added to his expedition. Arriving at Quebec in late June, Wolfe ordered an attack on the 31st against the French entrenchments at Montmorency east of Quebec. Thirteen grenadier companies including the Louisbourg Grenadiers, overȘconfident and disobeying orders, stormed ashore and charge up the slipping heights towards enemy positions leaving their officers beside. Soaked by a sudden downpour of rain, the grenadiers were easily repulsed by the French with heavy casualties. The Louisbourg Grenadiers alone had eighty killed and wounded including the wounding of Captain Otho Hamilton and Lieut. Samuel Bradstreet of the 40th who were attempting to gain control of their men.

On the night of 12th September a more skilful landing was made, this time west of the city. The French awoke to find the British, who had scaled cliffs by night, formed in line on the Plains of Abraham. The response was a hasty French attack that was answered by a deadly volley from fifty yards away. Following this, Wolfe with the Louisbourg Grenadiers and 28th Regiment attacked and broke the French army's left flank. With this success, a general advance was ordered. It was at this point Wolfe fell mortally wounded in front of the grenadiers. During the battle the Louisbourg Grenadiers suffered a loss of fifty-five killed and wounded. Quebec surrendered a few days later with the Louisbourg Grenadiers forming the honour guard. After the fall of Quebec, the 40th Grenadiers returned to Louisbourg for the winter.

With the opening of the navigation in 1760, the 22nd and the eight companies of the 40th under Lord Rollo were ordered up the St. Lawrence to participate in the final stage of the conquest of Canada. As Rollo moved towards Montreal he was given the duty of disarming a number of parishes along the way. Upon its arrival near Montreal the grenadier company was again removed from the regiment and formed with other regular grenadiers into a separate unit. Faced with overwhelming odds, the French surrendered Canada on 7th September. The eight companies of the 40th Regiment took up garrison in and around Montreal until the summer of 1761 while the other two continued to garrison St. John's and Placentia, Newfoundland.

With the French threat repressed in North America, nine companies of the 40th Regiment were ordered to Staten Island and from there to Barbados in December 1761. The next month, the 40th with eighteen other regiments attacked the French island of Martinique. The island capitulated on 3rd February along with the islands of Grenada, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia. With the declaration of war between England and Spain in January 1762, the British turned their attention towards Havannah. The British, including the 40th Regiment, landed on 7 June and settled in for a two month seige of the formidable West Indian stronghold. Sickness, lack of provisions and water took its toll on the regiment. When Havannah surrendered on 13th August, the 40th had lost eleven men from sickness, nine were killed, and twenty-six were wounded or missing. The 40th remained in garrison in Havannah until the summer of 1763.

While the seige of Havannah was progressing, four French ships with 1200 men appeared near St. John's, Newfoundland in June. Garrisoned only by the sixty©man company of the 40th, St. John's was forced to surrender. With the Treaty of Paris restoring Havannah back to the Spanish, the 40th set sail back to Halifax, arriving there in August 1763. Upon its arrival the regiment was again broken up to garrison Halifax, Annapolis, Fort Cumberland, and Fort Frederick. Their stay in Nova Scotia, however, proved shortlived. With a plan for rotation established for troops in the colonies, the 40th Regiment left Nova Scotia for Ireland at the end of 1764. This marked the first time the regiment set foot in Great Britain. After serving Ireland for ten years the regiment returned to America to fight at Bunker Hill, Staten Island, Princeton, Brandywine, and Fort Griswold, and served again in the West Indies, this time in the taking of St. Lucia. The last time the 40th Regiment saw service in North America was during the unsuccessful attack on New Orleans in 1815.

Much of the early development of Nova Scotia was shaped by the actions of the 40th Regiment. Serving as administrators and defenders, the regiment's officers managed not only to preserve Britain's claim to the area, but to expand it through development of new settlements and fortifications. No other regiment played such an influential role in the governing of British North American colonies as the 40th did in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Copyright The Discriminating General 1996


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