Patrick Heron


Patrick Heron, soldier, commanding officer at Canso, Nova Scotia; fl.1709-52.

          The dates of Heron's birth and death are not known.  In 1709 he received a lieutenant's commission and in 1711 was appointed captain in Lord Lovelace's Regiment of Foot.  Two years later Heron was placed on half pay.  In 1730 he received a captain's commission in Governor Richard Philipps' regiment (later the 40th Foot) and was stationed at the fishing outpost of Canso.  On 3 December 1738 (o.s.) Heron was arrested and charged with being "indebted to some of the men of his company for their subsistence, by giving them notes and afterwards refusing to pay." Heron's court martial took place at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in April 1739.  Since there was a great deal of conflicting oral evidence, the lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, Lawrence Armstrong, decided that the commanding officer of Canso, Captain James Mitford, should immediately organize another court martial to ascertain the actual facts of the case.  Heron must have been completely exonerated for he was the commanding officer at Canso in 1744 when war broke out between France and Britain.

          On 13 May 1744, soon after word reached Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) of the declaration of war, a French force of some 350 men from Louisbourg, led by François Du Pont Duvivier, arrived to attack Canso, which was defended by 87 British soldiers.  In preparation for the French landing, two Louisbourg privateers began to bombard the Canso blockhouse with cannon-shot.  When the first shot sailed through the thin blockhouse walls, Heron rushed out with a flag of truce, thinking "it advisible to capitulate in time to obtain the better terms."

          The Canso troops were taken to Louisbourg where they were to remain as prisoners of war for a period of one to two months.  But because of the serious scarcity of food supplies in the French fortress and also because some of his men were defecting to the enemy, Heron reacted sympathetically to the suggestion of Governor Duquesnel [Le Prcvost] that new capitulation terms be drawn up.  According to these terms, Heron's troops were to be sent immediately to Boston in exchange for some French prisoners held there.  Moreover, Heron promised that his men would not serve in any capacity against the French until September of the following year.  After signing the new capitulation terms, Heron and his troops, together with other British prisoners, were sent to Boston early in September 1744.  The British government and Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts refused to accept the revised terms of the capitulation, and so the Canso troops were ordered to Annapolis Royal in the early summer of 1745.

          Heron and his men brought with them to Massachusetts valuable intelligence concerning what they conceived to be Louisbourg's surprising military weaknesses.  By providing detailed information concerning the French fortress and by emphasizing its vulnerability to a surprise assault, the Canso soldiers played a key role in encouraging William Shirley and the Massachusetts General Court to organize an expedition in 1745 against Louisbourg.

          Heron apparently returned later to Nova Scotia.  There is some evidence to suggest that in 1750-51, while at Fort Lawrence on the Chignecto Isthmus, Heron may have once again been court-martialed – this time for habitual drunkenness and "conduct unbecoming a gentleman." Since his name was removed from the regimental roll for 1752, he either died that year or else was dismissed from the service.

—  George A. Rawlyk, Professor of history
Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Patrick Heron (the original article)

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