William Vaughan


Vaughan, William, fishing and lumbering entrepreneur in Maine; born 12 September 1703 (o.s.) at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, eldest son of George Vaughan, lieutenant governor of New Hampshire, and Elizabeth Elliot; died a bachelor 11 December 1746 at Bagshot, England.

          After graduating from Harvard College in 1722, William Vaughan was a merchant in Portsmouth; he then became involved in the fishing industry at Matinicus Island (Maine), off Penobscot Bay.  Some of his ships also fished off Newfoundland.  By 1732, however, Vaughan's commercial interests had shifted to lumbering in the Damariscotta area.  At "Damariscotty Falls," where he built a thriving community in the wilderness, Vaughan lived the life of a feudal baron.

          In the fall of 1744, soon after war broke out between France and England, Vaughan visited Boston.  There he met some of the soldiers who had been captured by the French at Canso, Nova Scotia, in May, taken to Louisbourg, Îsle Royale (Cape Breton Island), and then exchanged for French prisoners held in Massachusetts [see Patrick Heron].  They claimed that Louisbourg could easily be captured by a small New England force.  Vaughan, who was concerned about the French and Indian threat to his lumbering business, was taken with the idea and gave his considerable energy and his "daring, enterprising and tenacious mind" to developing it.  Always a restless man, he seemed to have become dissatisfied with his life in isolated Maine and to be eager to gain fame and prestige in his new enterprise.  By late December 1744, he had come to the conclusion that Louisbourg could be captured by a "force consisting of 1500 raw militia, some scaling ladders, and a few armed craft of New England."  Assured of considerable support in eastern Massachusetts for his daring proposal, Vaughan, in January 1744/45, provided Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts with a "regular scheme" to surprise and capture Louisbourg.  Later both Vaughan and John Bradstreet claimed sole authorship of this naïve plan.  In all likelihood the original plan placed in Shirley's hands was drafted by Bradstreet and then revised by Vaughan.

          Vaughan realized that the plan would never be implemented unless Shirley vigorously endorsed it.  But though Shirley was willing to support Vaughan's proposal, the Massachusetts General Court was not.  Vaughan was not discouraged by the rebuff; rather he became even more determined to exert pressure on the court to reverse its decision.  He therefore persuaded over 100 leading fishing entrepreneurs in Marblehead and over 200 Boston merchants to ask the General Court to organize an expedition against Louisbourg.  He also assiduously fanned the dying embers of Shirley's enthusiasm for the plan.  On 25 January 1744/45 (o.s.) by a margin of one vote, the General Court resolved to attack Louisbourg.

          When the expedition sailed from New England in the early spring under the command of William Pepperrell, Vaughan, commissioned as a lieutenant-colonel, had no special command.  His offer to lead the expedition had been turned down by Shirley who regarded him as a "whimsical, wild projector."  In spite of this disappointment, Vaughan had spent considerable time and energy recruiting scores of volunteers.  After the successful landing at Gabarus Bay (Cape Breton Island) on 30 April, Vaughan was ordered by Pepperrell to lead a detachment of 400 or 500 men to drive the French from the northern extremity of Louisbourg harbour.  No other officer apparently wanted the job.  Vaughan soon lost control of his men, who were far more interested in marauding, and at dawn on 2 May he and only a dozen of them were camped within a quarter mile of the Royal battery which commanded the mouth of the harbour.  Observing no sign of life within, but suspecting a French ruse, Vaughan bribed an Indian with a bottle of brandy to investigate.  The battery proved to be empty, with its cannon inadequately spiked, and Vaughan proudly took possession of it.  His unexpected success exacerbated still further his relations with Pepperrell and his senior officers.

          Vaughan remained active throughout the siege, in spite of what he conceived to be his fellow officers' jealousy and slights.  He volunteered on 11 May to lead the assault on the Island battery but Pepperrell refused to accept his offer.  Having received a similar request from Brigadier-General Samuel Waldo, Pepperrell resolved to reject both offers and to delay the project indefinitely.  Vaughan felt rebuffed, but decided to concentrate his attention on building the siege batteries.  He directed the digging operation, "continually encouraging the Army to keep up their Spirits wh. were almost cast down through their extraordinary Fatigue & Slavery."  On 19 May, undaunted by the fact that he knew nothing about artillery, Vaughan overloaded a 42-pound cannon in the advanced battery, some 220 yards from the west gate of the town.  The resulting explosion shattered the cannon, dismounted another, destroyed almost two barrels of powder, and "Killed two men and wounded two more."  Vaughan next helped to build the Lighthouse battery on the opposite side of the harbour.  This battery, by destroying the Island battery, prepared the way for the surrender of the fortress on 17 June.

          Because of his contribution not only to the organization of the expedition, but also to the actual capture of Louisbourg, Vaughan expected to be sent to London with news of the event.  It appears, however, that Pepperrell and Commodore Peter Warren, commander of the British fleet blockading Louisbourg, sought all of the credit and did not want Vaughan to share in the rewards.  Vaughan sailed to London in July in an unofficial capacity, but his memorials to the Duke of Newcastle and to George II, requesting among other offices the governorship of Nova Scotia, did not receive a sympathetic hearing.  On 11 December 1746 he died of smallpox.

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

Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
William Vaughan (the original article)

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—  Reference: Seth Pomeroy, an experienced gunsmith, reconditioned the guns captured from an outlying position (the Royal Battery at Fortress Louisbourg) after the French had spiked them...

—  Reference: The Great Fortress: A Chronicle of Louisbourg 1720-1760
by William Wood, Toronto, 1915
      Volume Eight of Chronicles of Canada in thirty-two volumes
      Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton

...The burning of Canso (in 1744) and the attack on Annapolis stirred up the wrath of New England.  A wild enthusiast, William Vaughan, urged Governor Shirley of Massachusetts to make an immediate counter-attack.  Shirley was an English lawyer, good at his own work, but very anxious to become famous as a conqueror.  He lent a willing ear to Vaughan, and astounded the General Court of Massachusetts on January 21, 1745, by first inducing the members to swear secrecy and then asking them to consider a plan for a colonial expedition against Louisbourg.  He and they were on very good terms.  But they were provincial, cautious, and naturally slow when it came to planning campaigns and pledging their credit for what was then an enormous sum of money. Nor could they be blamed.  None of them knew much about armies and navies; most thought Louisbourg was a real transatlantic Dunkirk; and all knew that they were quite insolvent already.  Their joint committee of the two Houses reported against the scheme; whereupon each House carried a secret adverse vote by a large majority.

But, just before these votes were taken, a Puritan member from a country district wrestled in what he thought confidential prayer with such loud ejaculations that an eavesdropper overheard him and passed the secret on.  Of course the momentous news at once began to run like wildfire through the province.  Still, the 'Noes had it,' both in the country and the House.  Shirley was dejected and in doubt what to do next.  But James Gibson, the merchant militiaman, suddenly hit on the idea of getting up a petition among the business community.  The result surpassed every expectation. All the merchants were eager for attack.  Louisbourg embodied everything they feared and hated: interference with seaborne commerce, rank popery, French domination, trouble with Acadia, and the chance of being themselves attacked.  When the petition was presented to both Houses, the whole subject was again debated.  Provincial insolvency and the absence of either a fleet or an army were urged by the Opposition.  But the fighting party put forth all their strength and pleaded that delay meant reinforcements for Louisbourg and a good chance lost for ever.  The vote would have been a tie if a member of the Opposition had not slipped and broken his leg as he was hurrying down to the House.  Once the decision had been reached, however, all did their best to ensure success.

Shirley wrote to his brother governors.  Vaughan galloped off post-haste to New Hampshire with the first official letter.  Gibson led the merchants in local military zeal.  The result was that Massachusetts, which then included Maine, raised over 3,000 men, while New Hampshire and Connecticut raised about 500 each.  Rhode Island concurred, but ungraciously and ineffectually late...

Louisbourg Lighthouse stamp issued 21 Sep 1984
Louisbourg Lighthouse stamp
issued 21 September 1984
Source:  Nova Scotia Stamp Club

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