Object of the Month

Richard Gridley’s 1746 Plan of the Fortress of Louisbourg

A Plan of the City and Fortress of Louisbourg: with a small Plan of the Harbour Map

A Plan of the City and Fortress of Louisbourg: with a small Plan of the Harbour

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This plan drawn by Richard Gridley, a Boston surveyor and engineer, shows the defenses of the fortress of Louisbourg at the time of a 1745 siege by a force of New England troops led by William Pepperrell.

Why Louisbourg?

The relationship between British colonists in North America and their French neighbors to the north was never an easy one. The French were seen as rivals and threats to colonists' ventures in shipping and fishing and Nova Scotia, the boundary between French and British settlements, was long the nexus of disputes between the two. In 1720, to protect their interests, the French began construction of this fort at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island.

By 1745, in the throes of King George's War, New England's colonists had enough of French provocations—colonial outposts at Canso and Annapolis in Nova Scotia had come under direct French attack. In response, Massachusetts governor William Shirley proposed an expedition to Louisbourg to take the fortress and end the French threat once and for all. Colonel William Pepperrell commanded the force of nearly 3,000 New England soldiers and a fleet of 52 vessels, setting sail on 4 April 1745. After a forty-nine-day siege, the fort was taken and occupied by the New England force. The victory was met with great celebration in New England; a broadside celebrating the victory was published that year by Thomas Fleet of Boston.

At the end of the war, much to the chagrin of New Englanders, the fortress was returned to the French under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Ten years later, during the French and Indian War, Louisbourg was again besieged by Anglo-American forces and the fortress was destroyed.

Who was Richard Gridley?

Richard Gridley was born in Boston in 1711, the son of Richard and Rebecca Gridley. Although apprenticed to a Boston merchant at a young age, by the 1740s Gridley had become a student of John Henry Bastide, a British engineer who became the chief engineer of the Royal Army. This relationship led to Gridley's appointment as chief engineer and artillerist during the Siege of Louisbourg. Gridley served as a regular officer in the British Army after King George's War and was at the second siege of Louisbourg in 1758. When the Revolutionary War arrived, Gridley served the American cause. Although too old for active service, he was given command of a Massachusetts artillery regiment in May 1775. He planned the works at the Battle of Bunker Hill, as well as the fortification of Dorchester Heights during the Siege of Boston. Gridley died in 1796.

Who was Peter Pelham?

Peter Pelham was born in England in 1697 and was already a skilled portraitist and mezzotint artist when he emigrated to Boston in the 1720s. Although his work was well-regarded, it seems that the market for portraits and engravings was not sufficient to support his family as Pelham also operated a school in Boston for dancing, arithmetic, drawing, needlework, and other subjects. In honor of the victory at Louisbourg, Pelham printed three commemorative prints—the plan of Louisbourg featured here (his only non-portrait mezzotint) and mezzotint portraits of William Shirley and William Pepperrell.

Fall Exhibitions, 2 October 2015-9 January 2016

Richard Gridley's plan of the fortress of Louisbourg is just one of the maps on display in our current exhibition Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection. In 2016, the Society will celebrate the 225th anniversary of its founding and Terra Firma features a selection of maps collected during our first twenty years. The exhibition will be on view from 2 October 2015 until 9 January 2016, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Three free gallery talks related to Terra Firma are scheduled for 9 October, 20 November, and 18 December 2015. Please consult the MHS calendar for more details.

Also on view is Always Your Friend: Letters from Theodore Roosevelt to Henry Cabot Lodge, 1884-1918, an exhibition documenting the extraordinary friendship between the irrepressible Theodore Roosevelt and the quintessential flinty New Englander Henry Cabot Lodge.