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What if Great Britain did not return Louisbourg to the French in 1748?

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  • What if Great Britain did not return Louisbourg to the French in 1748?

    What if Great Britain did not agree to return the Fortress of Louisbourg back to France in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748? (The fortress had been captured by New Englanders in 1745, and the return alienated many in New England). How does history differ?

    The original settlement was made in 1713, and initially called Havre à l'Anglois. Subsequently, the fishing port grew to become a major commercial port and a strongly defended fortress. The fortifications eventually surrounded the town. These walls were constructed mainly between 1720 and 1740. By the mid 1740s Louisbourg was one of the most extensive (and expensive) European fortifications constructed in North America. It was supported by two smaller garrisons on Île Royale located at present-day St. Peter's and Englishtown. Fortress Louisbourg suffered key weaknesses, since it was erected on low-lying ground commanded by nearby hills and its design was directed mainly toward sea-based assaults, leaving the land-facing defences relatively weak. Captured by British colonists in 1745, it was a major bargaining chip in the negotiations leading to the 1748 treaty ending the War of the Austrian Succession, and was returned to French control from British in exchange for Indian city of Madras. It was captured again in 1758 by British forces in the Seven Years' War, after which it was systematically destroyed by British engineers.
    1. Austria recognized Frederick II of Prussia's conquest of Silesia, as well as renouncing parts of its Italian territories to Spain.
    2. France withdrew from the Netherlands in order to have some of its colonies returned.[1] France regained Cape Breton Island, lost during the war, while it returned the captured city of Madras in India to Great Britain and gave up the Barrier towns to the Dutch.[2] France withdrew from the Austrian Netherlands.
    3. Maria Theresa ceded the Italian Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla to Spain.[3]
    4. The Duchy of Modena and the Republic of Genoa, conquered by Austria, were restored.[4]
    5. The Asiento contract, which had been guaranteed to Great Britain in 1713 through the Treaty of Utrecht, was renewed.[5] Spain later raised objections to the Asiento clauses, and the Treaty of Madrid, signed on 5 October 1750, stipulated that Great Britain surrendered her claims under those clauses in return for a sum of £100,000.

    I don't think this is too much of a stretch, with some small changes among the views of the elites in Britain, France and other countries:

    1. The British take the view that North America is the future, and they agree to work with the colonial elites (give them some freedom, as long as they taxes to Britain). The British are willing to have France in the Netherlands still.

    2. The French decide that their key is to be strong in Europe, so that they are willing to forego Louisbourg and Madras, in India.

  • #2
    The entire British Foreign Policy was aimed at ensuring no one single European power dominated Europe and under your suggestion France would certainly be in a position to do just that.

    Secondly Britain would never have allowed France to remain in Holland, firstly as I have suggested above and secondly it would have created a very direct strategic threat to English maritime trade via the Channel, that is not even considering England's alliances at the time.

    But none the less as a hypothesis your alternative suggestions do offer food for thought.
    An 18th century Imagi nation blog set in England/


    • #3
      Some more background: from - article on the capture of Louisbourg in 1745, followed by excerpts. It just seems like an incredible thing for the British to give up Louisbourg in 1748, after it had been captured in 1745. It had to be recaptured at a high cost in manpower in money in 1758. It's as if the British walked away from a war-winning move, or better said a continent-winning move.

      excerpt from article
      Thee was a realization in New England that the key to the Atlantic theatre was Louisbourg and that as long as the French held it there would be a dagger pointed at the heart of the English Colonies. In the winter of 1744 - 45 the debate over Louisbourg developed into he question of whether to continue reacting to French actions or invade Cape Breton and take Louisbourg. On the 5th of February, the House of Representatives in Massachusetts voted on a motion to participate in an action to sail for Louisbourg and attack it, with the support of other colonies.
      The argument had centred on the believed strength of the Louisbourg and the impenetrable defences that the colonists would have to face. This point was overcome by information from many New Englanders who had visited the fortress on business and testified to the many weakness and issues the French were having such as low morale and masonry weakness in the building of the walls.
      Governor Shirley of Massachusetts took the lead and assembled a force of more then 4,000 or 7 regiments and Connecticut and New Hampshire each contributed 1 regiment. At that time Maine was a part of Massachusetts and so their security was the most at risk from the French.

      Louisbourg page from

      Last edited by lakechampainer; 29 Jan 13, 15:53.


      • #4
        Louisbourg was built to keep access to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River open to the French. The profitable parts of New France were up the river.

        If Britain doesn't return the fortress after the first capture, then New France has a knife at it's throat. There may well be an expedition to retake the fortress by the French in the 7 Years War.

        If they managed to find a commander with the skill of Wolfe, they may have succeeded. This throws history in North America as we know it into a turmoil, as New France will likely survive the war. This will take some thinking ...

        If the French can't retake the fortress, Quebec may fall sooner but otherwise history continues more or less as we know it.

        (Useless trivia: I grew up about 20 miles from Louisbourg. You are likely all pronouncing it wrong in your head. The locals say Lewis-burg )
        Amateurs study tactics, Professionals study logistics.


        • #5
          page on the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which includes a discussion of how mad Massachusetts was about giving back Louisbourg - they lost 1,000 men there. An excerpt follows the link.

          The issue of the war hung more on events that occurred in Europe than in America, and France had made gains as well as suffered losses. It was on the sea that she had sustained her chief defeats. In India she had gained by taking the English factory at Madras; and in the Low Countries she was still aggressive. Indeed, during the war England had been more hostile to Spain than to France. She had not taken very seriously her support of the colonies in their attack on Louisbourg and she had failed them utterly in their designs on Canada. It is true that in Europe England had grave problems to solve. Austria, with which she was allied, desired her to fight until Frederick of Prussia should give up the province of Silesia seized by him in 1740. In this quarrel England had no vital interest. France had occupied the Austrian Netherlands and had refused to hand back to Austria this territory unless she received Cape Breton in return. Britain might have kept Cape Breton if she would have allowed France to keep Belgium. This, in loyalty to Austria, she would not do. Accordingly peace was made at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 on the agreement that each side should restore to the other its conquests, not merely in Europe but also in America and Asia. Thus it happened that the British flag went up again at Madras while it came down at Louisbourg.
          Boston was of course angry at the terms of the treaty. What sacrifices had Massachusetts not made! The least of them was the great burden of debt which she had piled up. Her sons had borne what Pepperrell called "almost incredible hardships." They had landed cannon on a lee shore when the great waves pounded to pieces their boats and when men wading breast high were crushed by the weight of iron. Harnessed two and three hundred to a gun, they had dragged the pieces one after the other over rocks and through bog and slime, and had then served them in the open under the fire of the enemy. New Englanders had died like "rotten sheep" in Louisbourg. The graves of nearly a thousand of them lay on the bleak point outside the wall. What they had gained by this sacrifice must now be abandoned. A spirit of discontent with the mother country went abroad and, after this sacrifice of colonial interests, never wholly died out. It is not without interest to note in passing that Gridley, the engineer who drew the plan of the defenses of Louisbourg, thirty years later drew those of Bunker Hill to protect men of the English race who fought against England.

          Edit: Massachusetts population in 1750 is estimated at 188,000.

          Last edited by lakechampainer; 29 Jan 13, 16:05.


          • #6
            More Background information on the alternate history - there had been ongoing issues regarding impressment of Boston seamen since 1703, on and off. Link to the Wikipedia article on William Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts during Louisbourg and later C-in-C in North America, and then an excerpt on impressment issues.


            Impressment crisis

            While Governor Shirley was at Louisbourg trouble had been brewing between the Royal Navy and the population of Boston.[39] The Navy had long sought to press Americans into service on its ships.[40] Impressment was a long standing practice in Britain, but its application in America was resisted by the colonists. In 1702 Fort William on Castle Island had fired on HMS Swift as it tried to leave Boston Harbor with six recently impressed men aboard.[41] As a result of American complaints (reinforced by British merchants), Parliament in 1708 had banned impressment in the American colonies.[42] The Royal Navy argued that the American exemption from impressment had been in force only during Queen Anne's War, which had ended in 1713. In practice, Royal Navy captains had to apply to colonial governors for a license to press men.[43] In late November 1745 a fight between a press gang and some sailors staying in a boarding house in Boston left two of the sailors with fatal injuries. Two members of the press gang were charged with murder and convicted, but were released when the indictment was found invalid.[44]
            Two years later Commodore Charles Knowles, who had served as Governor of Louisbourg after its capture, had a large number of seaman from Boston harbour impressed for service in his squadron. A mob of more than 300 men seized three naval officers and a deputy sheriff and beat the sheriff. The mob then went to Governor Shirley's house, demanding the release of the men impressed by Knowles. Shirley tried to call out the militia, but they did not respond. Shirley did succeed in getting the naval officers into his house, and the mob eventually left. Later in the day Shirley went to the Town House. The mob, now consisting of several thousand people, attacked the Town House, breaking many windows in the building. Shirley spoke to the mob and promised to present their demands to Commodore Knowles. The mob left, intending to find a Royal Navy ship to burn.[45]
            After Shirley had returned home that afternoon, the mob, which had seized another naval officer and several petty officers, returned to his house. Shirley ordered a number of armed men who were protecting his house to fire at the mob, but William Pepperrell was able to stop Shirley's men from firing and to persuade the mob to leave. In the meantime, Commodore Knowles threatened to bombard Boston with his squadron. It was only after the Massachusetts Council adopted resolutions in support of the demands of the mob that the situation became quieter in Boston. Eventually the mob released its hostages and Knowles released the impressed seamen.[46]


            • #7
              More Background on the alternate history - Wikipedia article on the Albany Plan, a proposal made in 1754 by Benjamin Franklin to create something of a colonial government. Link, followed by two excerpts. The keys to me here are: Ben Franklin, who later went on trial in London in the House of Commons (which made him more anti-British), and the fact that it was mainly New England and to a lesser extent the middle Atlantic states who participated. Not hard to see at least two countries/Commonwealth members forming over time, maybe a long time, from this divergence.


              The Albany Plan of Union was a proposal to create a unified government for the Thirteen Colonies, suggested by Benjamin Franklin, then a senior leader of 48 and a delegate from Pennsylvania, at the Albany Congress in July 1754 in Albany, New York. More than twenty representatives of several northern and mid-Atlantic colonies had gathered to plan their defense related to the French and Indian War, the front in North America of the Seven Years War between Great Britain and France. The Plan represented an early attempt to form a union of the colonies "under one government as far as might be necessary for defense and other general important purposes."[1]

              The Plan called for a general government to be administered by a President General, to be appointed and supported by the Crown, and a Grand Council to be chosen by the representatives of the colonial assemblies. After the larger group of delegates discussed their issues and objections, they resolved them most and adopted the Plan. They sent copies to each of the Colonial Assemblies and to the British Board of Trade in London.[2] The colonial assemblies and the British representatives rejected the Albany Plan.
              Benjamin Franklin wrote of the rejections: "The colonial assemblies and most of the people were narrowly provincial in outlook, mutually jealous, and suspicious of any central taxing authority."[3] Many in the British government, already wary of some of the strong-willed colonial assemblies, disliked the idea of consolidating additional power into their hands. They preferred that the colonies concentrate on their part in the forthcoming military campaign. The Board of Trade never sought official approval for the Plan from the Crown. They proposed that colonial governors, along with some members of their respective councils, order the raising of troops and building of forts, to be funded by the Treasury of Great Britain. This amount would later have to be repaid, and Parliament imposed a tax on the colonies to pay for the defenses in North America.[4]
              The proposed Galloway Plan, proposed at the First Continental Congress, bore striking resemblance to the Albany plan.[5] It was submitted by conservative Loyalists and quickly rejected in favor of more radical proposals.
              In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, the Albany Plan of Union inspired some aspects of the draft Articles of Confederation.


              • #8
                More background on the alternate history: a copy of the questions to Benjamin Franklin and the answers he gave in the House of Commons in January, 1766.



                and a link to which discusses many of the causes of the Revolution, which were in place well before the French and Indian War and its aftermath.

                the article is called, "An Uneasy Connection An analysis of the Preconditions of the American Revolution" by Jack P. Greene


                Last edited by lakechampainer; 01 Feb 13, 12:24.


                • #9
                  Then the British get it a few years early. France and Britain had numerous wars in this period. If it didn't fall in this particular one it would fall in the next.
                  France lacked the sea power and even the political will power to hold many of their colonies with much of anything in terms of military forces. So, it is less than a speed bump on the road of history in all sum.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                    Then the British get it a few years early. France and Britain had numerous wars in this period. If it didn't fall in this particular one it would fall in the next.
                    France lacked the sea power and even the political will power to hold many of their colonies with much of anything in terms of military forces. So, it is less than a speed bump on the road of history in all sum.
                    I think though that if the British did not give it back, it would have been because the factions in Britain/England that favored concentrating on the colonies rather than the continent would have won out. If this was the case, they would have most likely "struck a deal" with the ruling class of New England/Massachusetts that favored both sides. The other colonies would have also been interested in such changes.

                    Franklin was already quite an influential person. He is a key in any such alternate history. That's why I find the Albany Plan interesting.

                    What I see happening here is Massachusetts/New England eventually conquering Canada (meaning Quebec and areas East) - this would be a new frontier, which would take in New Englanders and New England capital.

                    What I see happening maybe is 2 or 3 or 4 countries along the seaboard, and beyond the Appalachians there would eventually be fighting between the countries. Or maybe not. Maybe those colonists would form their own countries. I certainly see Washington playing a role somewhere. These countries could be members of something like the present British Commonwealth. Maybe these countries down the line form the US. Or maybe the South advances into Cuba, etc. and maybe the Spanish and/or the British settle what is now the US West Coast.

                    The real reason I am fixated on this issue is, as I have said on other threads, I feel that it was unlikely that the US would go from sea to sea as it did. I think that if the dice could be rolled 100 times, it would only happen 5 or 10 times.


                    • #11
                      More information on the two sieges of Louisbourg, in the link below and in links embedded in the link.


                      Link to a thread on a gaming website:

                      Links to Wikipedia articles which provide a plausible internal British diplomatic/politic reasons for Louisbourg not being returned in 1748:

                      "Patriot Whigs"

                      William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath

                      George II of Great Britain:

                      Congress of Breda:
                      Last edited by lakechampainer; 09 Feb 13, 09:41.


                      • #12
                        So it's 1754:

                        The New England Colonists are still in possession of Louisbourg. It is permanently occupied by the New England Army, which is an army whose enlisted men are from the the four New England States, as both militia members and men who have joined for a period of years. The ranking officers are British, but many of the junior officers have been granted commissions in the British Army. There are settlers who have moved from England, and rich New Englanders have established business ventures on Cape Breton Island. Fishing and other businesses are booming. The British have built a naval station to the South at the new city of Halifax, on Nova Scotia.

                        Back in New England, there is high inflation due to money being printed to pay for the establishments to the North East. The average farmers and workers are not happy with all the taxes and duties the New England governments have agreed to pay,and to help support Britain. Many town meetings have expressed their displeasure with Britain and those in power in their colonies. Many people, especially from Western New England, are interesting in moving North/Northwest in the area West of NH and north of MA. They run into conflicts with the native peoples and settlers from the Hudson Valley.

                        In the other colonies, there is much interest among the elites in similar type relationships that will help make them "Englishmen". In Pennsylvania especially, a group led by Benjamin Franklin is interested in changing the actual and theoretical government of Pennsylvania (away from the Penn family and the Quakers). In Virginia, there are many in the rich slave-holding class who have noted how the New Englanders took matters into their own hands by capturing Louisbourg. There is more and more movement towards the Ohio River, and there are attempts to provoke the French. George Washington is involved in these attempts.

                        The members of the French colony in Quebec, both the rich and the average person, feel abandoned by France and are wary of the British to their North and South, especially as they are near their lifeline, the St. Lawrence.
                        Last edited by lakechampainer; 10 Feb 13, 15:58.


                        • #13
                          It is 1755. The British and the New Englanders decide upon a partial expulsion of the French residents of Acadia, whom they consider to be too dangerous to their interests in North America. Of the approximately 12,000 Acadians, 1,000 are deported by the British. The others are given the chance to stay if they take an oath of allegiance to Britain. 2,000 decline to take this oath.
                          (wikipedia link to article on actual expulsion of the Acadians)

                          Many wanted to deport all the Acadians, but they had requested the mediation services of the famous Pennsylvanian, Benjamin Franklin. He was a famous business and philanthropist and scientist, who helped come up with and implement this plan. Franklin had recently been quite famous in Europe for his experiments with electricity and his 1751 publication of "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, the Peopling of Countries, etc. Franklin developed enormous respect in Quebec, France, and Europe for his achievements.

                          Below is a link to Franklin's actual publication (it was actually written in 1751, but in real life was not published until 1755)



                          • #14
                            It is July 9, 1755. A pitched battle, a "meeting engagement," takes place between French and Indian forces and British and Virginia Colonial Forces 10 miles east of Fort Duquesne at the source of the Ohio river.. After an initial engagement favoring the British, the French and Indians route the British and Colonials. Most of the British officers are killed, including the commander General Braddock and his unofficial Virginia adviser, George Washington.




                            • #15
                              It is 1757. New France has had a tough harvest, because of bad weather and because many farmers were on duty in the militia. Fortunately for the French, the deprivation and shortages would have been worse, but in a "council of war" in 1756, the French had decided on a strategy to to try to protect the St. Lawrence River heartland in New France, and hope for good results in Europe, allowing them to recoup their interests in North America. Part of this strategy is to allow some militia to return home for the harvest. Also, without having to defend Louisbourg, the French can focus on Fort Frontenac, near the source of the Saint Lawrence. The French also hit on a strategy to try to entice the British to advance towards Lake Erie, and the forts in Western Pennsylvania, Fort Venango and Fort Le Boeuf. The British/colonists would be vulnerable to ambush, especially from unhappy natives.

                              The French withdraw all of their sizable force from Fort Duquesne at the source of the Ohio, re-deploying the men and other resources to Fort Frontenac and the Western Pennsylvania forts. The Virginians rush in to the site, and begin to fortify it. They also immediately make plans to move north. Interests in Pennsylvania also want to get into the action, so they begin to make plans to move towards Lake Erie also. The Pennsylvanians also call on support from Connecticut, which wants to support its "Western Reserve" Claim.


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