Thomas Smart

( ? -1722)

Smart, Thomas, naval officer who directed the attack on French fishing installations at Canso (Canceau) (Nova Scotia), September 1718; died 8 November 1722 (o.s. Julian calendar).

          Smart was appointed captain and commander of the Squirrel (a sixth-rate frigate of 20-22 guns, carrying 100-115 men) on 26 July 1715. He participated in Sir George Byng's anti-Jacobite operation in Scotland, 1715-16, and was on home service off the French coast, 1716-17. On 18 April 1717 he was dispatched to North America "to act in concert against pirates," and was stationed off New England from July 1717 till July l720.

          The Anglo-French contest over the possession of the Canso fishery – resulting from the ambiguity of Article XIII of the treaty of Utrecht (l713) and not definitely settled until the Peace of Paris (1763) – erupted in September 1718. In response to a bolstering of the French position at Canso and a new claim of sovereignty, Governor Shute of Massachusetts determined to assert British rights. On 26 August, the Squirrel, Captain Thomas Smart commander, set sail for Canso and Île Royale (Cape Breton Island).

          Smart was instructed to investigate conditions on the spot; to visit Île Royale, where he would request Governor Saint-Ovide [Monbeton] to order the immediate withdrawal of the French fishermen; and, if met with a refusal, to return to Canso, demolish the French installations, confiscate the vessels and effects of the fishermen, and expel them from the area. Although there are discrepancies in the various accounts of Smart's interview with Saint-Ovide, it would seem that the latter agreed to a withdrawal only on condition that it would be no more than a temporary evacuation, delayed until the season's end, and accompanied by a similar evacuation on the part of the English. Smart thereupon returned to Canso, and from 14 to 25 September 1718 (25 September to 6 October 1718, n.s. Gregorian calendar), carried out the rest of his instructions. On 4 October (15 October n.s.), the Squirrel arrived back in Boston, escorting a brigantine, a sloop, and "several" shallops, which had been confiscated "for fishing and trading contrary to the 5th and 6th Articles Of Peace and Neutrality in America."

          As advised by the Massachusetts council, the vessels were kept in harbour at Boston, the perishable part of their cargoes sold at public auction, and the proceeds of the sale deposited in bond, pending a decision from England. A squabble over these spoils, typical of the many that occurred between naval commanders and colonial governors at the time, then arose between Smart and Shute, and the French fishermen hastened to press their claims as well. Eventually, on 5 June 1719, while denying the validity of the French arguments and actually commending Smart, the Board of Trade resisted its first impulse to reject these claims. In order "to cultivate a good understanding between the two Nations," but only as "a pure act of grace and favour," the confiscated vessels and effects, or their value, were to be returned. There is no evidence, however, to show that the restitution duly ordered by the Lords Justices was actually made; and the case of the chief claimant, Joannis de Hiriberry, dragged on till 1722, when it petered out inconclusively.

          The Canso fishery was described by both Shute and the Board of Trade as "the best in America and preferable to that of Newfoundland." Largely because of the Hiriberry case, the incident of September 1718 was the most far-reaching of the many crises in the contest for this fishery after 1713. It also revealed the New England interests at work in the contest – interests that grew increasingly influential in Nova Scotian affairs, to become at least a contributing factor in the expulsion of the Acadians during 1755.

          As for Thomas Smart, neither the complaints of the French nor the sympathetic hearing given those complaints by some historians alter the fact that he only acted in accordance with his instructions. Indeed, as the Board of Trade acknowledged, if a "gentler method" might have been advisable, both he and the authorities behind his action displayed a "very laudable zeal for His Majesty's service." Apparently Smart never received the bounty he and his officers had been granted by order-in-council of 9 May 1719, "as an Encouragement to them for the Service they have perform'd and to other Commanders and Officers of His Majesty's Ships to use their best endeavours to do the like for the future." But he probably deserved the acquittal recommended by the Privy Council in the Hiriberry judgement of 1722.

          Smart retired when the Squirrel was paid off and laid up in April 1721, and died the following year.

—  G. Peter Browne, Associate professor of history
Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario

Canso fishery (1720)

1720 October 14:  261. Mr. Cumings to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Having received a letter from Boston dated 2nd Sept. in which I have the following paragraph, "This morning arrived att Boston from Canso Mr. Henshaw son in a sloop who brings the bad news of the French setting the Indians upon the English fishery there the 15th Aug. with French amongst them and seized to the value of £10,000 sterl. in fish and merchandize and carried it over to Cape Bretton and killed three English men the English have taken severall of the French that were in the action and have sent them prisoners to Govr. Philips att Annapolis Royall."  The above coming from a gentleman of credite I thought itt my duty to lay itt before your Lordships as also that by the printed news from Boston of 29th Aug. the Indians in the eastern settlements of New England by instigation of the French missionaries insult the English by killing their catle and robbing ther houses which has obleidged the people to leave ther habitations and goe into garrisons as farr as York in the province of Maine. My Lords, I am most humbly of opinion that unless the eastern parts of New England and the coast of Nova Scotia be protected by the Crown the setlements cannot be carried on in safety nor the fishery to advantage which is capable of great improvements and if the french missionaries amongst the Indians in the Brittish Dominions be not obleidged to retire the inhabitants will not be able to live in peace and tranquillity while they remain...

1720 October 21: 269. ...But what excells them all is Canso, which is invaluable for its fishery. Tis here such great quantitys of codd herring and macrell swarm amongst the Islands that when I was there in H.M.S. Rose there was then 96 sail of English and 200 French makeing their voyages, the English vessells from 50 to 70 tonns the French small shallops and when fish is scarce at other places here they are always plenty for on letting the line down they draw up two and two as fast as they can pull it. Upon my arrivall at Canso haveing observ'd the French was come over with a design to fish I order'd them away to there own coast and after went with H.M. ship to Lewisbourgh (Louisbourg) were Monsieur St. Ovid Brouillard the then governor assur'd me he knew nothing of those fishermen goeing over for that 'twas contrary to the Treaty of Peace and that he should take caution to prevent their doeing the like for the future. I sayled again to Canso were our vessells were all soon laden. When a ship of warr is not there or any thing to hinder the French fishing amongst us then our fishing vessells cannot take 4 fish when they will take tenn. They fish with fresh and we with salt bait we come 180 leagues they but 7: they in small boats we in large sloops all which for want of a garrison or a protection of our people from the indians who the French sett on to our ruin in those parts. If a fort were to be built King Georges Island formerly call'd Canso Island would be the best place which fortification would command the harbour and beaches etc., and prevent the French or Indians from disturbing us. A ship of warr must attend the work till its compleated, which whenever they appear in the Plantations carrys awe to the French, and dread to the Indians. I must humbly beg your Lordshipps' favour if there is a small ship sent there for myself, who have served the Crown 24 years etc., there being no officer in England who knows the coast or place but myself.

Source: America and West Indies: October 1720, Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, v32: 1720-1721 (1933)

Joannis de Hiriberry

1720 October 6:  253. Council of Trade and Plantations to the Lords Justices. Representation on petition of M. Hiriberry (13th Sept.). Refer to representation of 5th June, 1719, upon which the late Lords Justices did send orders to the Govr. of New England accordingly. But the letter from Mr. Delafaye upon the first memorials from the sd. Hiriberry and upon which our foresd. Representatn. was made was dated the 28th May, 1719, and we now find that H.M. was pleased about a fortnight before to grant the said two vessels etc. to Capt. Smart (v. Sept. 13th). This being the state of M. Hiriberry's case, we cannot see which way the late Lords Justices gracious intentions towards him can be made effectual without breaking in upon H.M. previous grant to Capt. Smart and his crew unless your Excellencies should be disposed to give the said Hiriberry a sum of mony in compensation for his losses.

1720 October 18:  266. ...Upon this occasion we humbly represent to your Excellencies our opinion that restitution be made to H.M. subjects, who have had their fish and effects thus seized before any satisfaction be given to Mr. Hiriberry as was proposed by our former representations of 5th June, 1719 and 6th instant. And so much the rather because this seizure seems plainly to be intended as a reprizal for that particular case. What we have further to observe upon this head is, that our possession of Nova Scotia, and the fishery on that coast is very likely to be very precarious till that Province shall be better settled, a sufficient force sent thither and some small forts erected in proper places for the protection of the British vessels fishing on that coast but more especially in the harbour of Canco (Canso).

Source: America and West Indies: October 1720, Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, v32: 1720-1721 (1933)

Treaty of Utrecht (1713)

Article XIII

Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the most serene and most potent Princess Anne, by the grace of God, Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland, and the most serene and most potent Prince Lewis XIV, the most Christian King, concluded at Utrecht the 31/11 day of March/April 1713.
              * * *
Article XIII:— The island called Newfoundland, with the adjacent islands, shall from this time foreward, belong of right wholly to Britain; and to that end the town and fortress of Placentia, and whatever other places in the said island, are in the possession of the French, shall be yielded and given up, within seven months from the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty, or sooner if possible, by the most Christian King, to those who have a commission from the Queen of Great Britain for that purpose. Nor shall the most Christian King, his heirs and successors, or any of their subjects, at any time hereafter, lay claim to any right of the said island and islands, or to any part of it, or them. Moreover, it shall not be lawful for the subjects of France, to fortify any place in the said island of Newfoundland, or to erect any buildings there, besides stages made of boards, and huts necessary and usual for the drying of fish. But it shall be allowed to subjects of France, to catch fish, and to dry them on land, in that part only, and in no other besides that, of the said island of Newfoundland, which stretches from the place called Cape Bonavista, to the northern point of the said island, and from thence running down by the western side, reaches as far as the place called Pointe Riche. But the island called Cape Breton, as also all others, both in the mouth of the river of St. Lawrence, and in the gulph of the same name, shall hereafter belong of right to the French, and the most Christian King shall have all manner of liberty to fortify any place, or places there.

Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
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