A Blupete Biography Page

Charles Lawrence (1709-1760).
"The Unfeeling Administrator."

"I shall support the law, for the law gentlemen, is the firm and solid basis of civil society, the guardian of liberty, the protection of the innocent, the terror of the guilty, and the scourge of the wicked."
- Governor Charles Lawrence, in an address upon the swearing in of the first
Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, 14th of October, 1754.

The question for historians is: Was Charles Lawrence a patriotic and farsighted statesman, or an obstinate and brutal tyrant?

It was Lawrence who conceived and ordered the Removal of the Acadians in 1755. He led the Council1 which governed Nova Scotia to its decision to pass, on July 28, 1755, the following resolution in respect to the French residents of Nova Scotia, the Acadians:

"After mature consideration it was unanimously agreed, that, to prevent as much as possible their attempting to return and molest the settlers that may be set down on their lands, it would be most proper to send them to be distributed amongst the several colonies on the continent, and that a sufficient number of vessels should be hired with all possible expedition for that purpose."2
Certain political agitators, subsequent to Lawrence's death, made charges that Lawrence made money by selling off Acadian confiscations to victualers. That there were roasts from Acadian cattle on many an English soldier's spit during the fall and winter of 1755-1756; there can be no doubt; but, did Lawrence proceed from any other duty than that to his king? -- Well, there is no evidence that Lawrence was in any other way motivated. Jonathan Belcher (eventually to become the first Chief Justice of Nova Scotia) was ordered, after he succeeded Lawrence on Lawrence's death, to investigate these charges. After six months of investigation, Belcher reported on all charges. January 11, 1762: "I have the great pleasure of submitting that upon the best examination the charges in the severest points do not appear under any evidence to support them."3 Indeed, a great number of the cattle throughout this period went to occupy their places on French spits located in Ile St Jean and Ile Royale (as the large eastern Canadian islands of Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton were then named; both, at the time, under the French flag, the lilies of Louis).

Charles Lawrence was born at Plymouth on December 14th, 1709. His father, General Charles John Lawrence, served in Flanders under Marlborough. "He was popular in the army and was known to be strong, energetic, and direct in his methods." Lawrence was commissioned in 1727 and was in the West Indies from 1733-37. Returning to England, the 32 year old Lawrence was, in 1741, made a lieutenant; in 1745, a captain. In 1745 he participated in the Battle at Fontenoy where he was wounded.4 (The Battle at Fontenoy, incidently, was one in which Monckton had also participated.)

England as depicted by the writers and artists of the day should be examined: Fielding, William Hogarth (1697-1764), Smollett, Johnson, Horace Walpole, and Sterne. Travelers of the day carried pistols to be used, if necessary, against highwaymen: Dick Turpin and Jack Sheppard were popular heroes. Beau Nash reigned over the gaming-tables of Bath; the ostrich plumes of great ladies and the peacock feathers of the courtesans mingled with the young lords in velvet suits and embroidered ruffles. In dress, the two sexes were never more alike. Men dressed with great flair whether going to a dance or going into battle in their "three-cornered hats, powdered perukes, embroidered coats, and lace ruffles"; their valets would serve them ices in the battle field.5

It will be known from a reading of our larger history that the French Fortress of Stone, Louisbourg, had been, in 1745, taken by New Englanders (much to the celebration of Englishmen, at home and abroad). It was New Englanders who garrisoned Louisbourg through the winter of 1745-46 and throughout the following year; until, in May of 1747, the last of them were relieved by new regiments of volunteers, plus some regulars, I have in my notes, from Gibraltar. Lawrence was one of the English officers who came ashore during 1747 to relieve the holding garrison at Louisbourg.

On June 21st, 1749, Col. Edward Cornwallis arrived at Halifax to found that place as the new capital for Nova Scotia. It was at around this time that a short respite between the warring parties (France and England) came about; The War of the Austrian Succession ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. By its terms, Louisbourg, much to the chagrin of the New Englanders, was to be handed back to France. During the month of July, 1749, Louisbourg was officially handed over and the British garrison, I assume Lawrence included, sailed down the coast to join those that had newly arrived at Halifax under the command of Cornwallis.

The war with France might have been over on the European continent, but the struggle between the French and the English continued in North America. The French at both Quebec and Louisbourg were only too happy to keep pressing their old adversaries and did so through their allies, the native Indians. Cornwallis and his advisers were very much aware how important it was to pacify the native Indians. Cornwallis sent certain of his key men to the St. John River with a view to winning over the native Indians at that place, seemingly with success. We see that on August 15th, 1749, the native Indians signed a treaty on the deck of the Beaufort at Chibucto (Halifax) Harbour. Among the signatories was Lawrence.6

In the fall of the year, 1749, La Jonquière, who finally arrived at Quebec to take up his position as governor, sent Chevalier La Corne with a strong detachment of soldiers and Canadians to Shediac to hold Chignecto and prevent any English from settling in that vicinity; La Corne commenced the construction of Fort Beausejour, and at the other end of the isthmus, Baie Verte, about 15 to 20 miles away, Fort Gaspereaux.7 At some point during the year of 1749, the authorities at Quebec sent 30 men to the St John under an officer named Boishebert to take possession of the territory at its mouth and prevent any English from settling there.

On April 20th, 1750, Major Charles Lawrence, under the orders of Cornwallis, left Halifax with a force of 300 men. The orders were to dislodge La Corne. He traveled overland to Pisiquid, then to Minas. At Pisiquid he was to pick up Gorham and certain of his forces; at Minas, Handfield and his forces. A total of 400 men then found their way by water and landed themselves without difficulty at Beaubassin (the Amherst shore). Upon landing, however, they did get stiff resistance from the French who were dug in at that place. Lawrence, within a few days, prudently withdrew to Minas. At Pisiquid (Windsor), during the summer, he completed the building of Fort Edward.8

On September 3rd, 1750, Lawrence, newly appointed to Lieutenant-Colonel, marched from Halifax to Minas with a number of regulars, and, in addition, a number of rangers under Gorham. Captain Rous in the sloop, Albany, was in charge of the fleet. How's two vessels, the Anson and the Warren, were part of a large force of "seventeen small vessels and about seven hundred men." This time, Lawrence was meaning to take firm control of the isthmus, above which the French had installed themselves. The English forces arrived on September 3rd. Lawrence, Rous and Gorham went in the Anson to reconnoiter the shore and pick out a landing place. Le Loutre and his Indians were there to meet Lawrence; they "had thrown up a breastwork along the shore and manned it with his Indians and his painted and befeathered Acadians." The French forces, after a "sharp skirmish,"9 soon retired north, behind the river Missaguash; but, not before finishing the job which Le Loutre had started in the spring "... the Indians and their Acadian allies set the houses and barns on fire, and laid waste the whole district, leaving the inhabitants [at least those remaining, for there was a similar conflagration as a result of the Lawrence's previous efforts in the spring ] no choice but to seek food and shelter with the French."10 "On an elevation, a short distance south of the Missaguash, Lawrence commenced the erection of a picketed fort, with block-houses, which was named after himself. Here a garrison of six hundred men was maintained until the fall of Beausejour [June, 1755]."11

Lawrence was to remain at Fort Lawrence, the English check against Fort Beausejour, until 1752. Lawrence soon came to Halifax, however, when, on August 3rd, 1752, the disillusioned and wearied Cornwallis, was grateful to hand over the reins of governorship to his replacement, Colonel Hopson.12 Whether Lawrence stayed at Halifax at first to assist the new governor, or returned to his post at the isthmus, I am not sure; but by May of 1753, we see that he was in command of the effort to settle the "Foreign Protestants" in their new homes at Lunenburg. Lawrence after spending the summer at Lunenburg returned to Halifax as he had been appointed to take over the governorship of Nova Scotia. On November 1st, 1753, the ailing Governor Hopson sailed in H.M.S. Torrington for England; Lawrence was officially sworn in on October 21st, 1754, as the Governor of Nova Scotia.13

And, thus, we may observe, that Lawrence "rose from major to brigadier and governor of a colony in eleven years," as Professor John Brebner states, "on the strength of achievement alone."

Lawrence became increasingly more concerned about the Acadian population, -- not that they generally and nor directly assisted the French in their military activities in Acadia (at least there is little evidence of it); but, rather, because they were aiding and abetting the enemy with the provision of agricultural produce; supplies were going over the borders to the French and into territory above the Isthmus of Chignecto and over to Isle Royal (Louisbourg). Add this continuing trade problem with the fear, that the English administrators had at Halifax, that the Acadians, at the English back doorstep in Nova Scotia, could muster several thousand men with arms directly an outbreak of war with France should occur. (While diplomatic correspondence -- both asserting their absurd and futile claims -- was being exchanged between London and Paris; these two world powers were getting set to pounce on one another in the North American theatre.)

On April 14th, 1755, certain governors of the British colonies (Dinwiddle of Virginia; Dobbs of North Carolina; Morris of Pennsylvania; Sharpe of Maryland; Delancy of New York; and Shirley of Massachusetts) met at Alexandria on the Potomac (known in history as the Council at Alexandria).14 The French were to be attacked, notwithstanding that the two countries were at peace, at four points at once: the general (Braddock) and his regulars were to attack Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh); Shirley against Fort Niagara; Colonel William Johnson, Crown Point; and Colonel Monckton, Acadia.

Monckton was apparently already at Halifax and an express was despatched to inform him of the plans that were made at the Council at Alexandria; and that, specifically, he was to capture Beausejour.15 During April, 2,000 provincials were mustered at Boston; they were in two battalions; one under John Winslow and the other one under George Scott. They were to report to Monckton in Nova Scotia.16

The story of how Monckton's forces arrived at Chignecto on the 2nd June, and how by the 16th the French surrendered Fort Beausejour, is a story I tell at a different place (see "The Attack on Fort Beausejour"). Monckton was the only English commander who achieved his objectives as were set for him by the Council at Alexandria. General Braddock met his death, after the French and their allies, in the wilds of Pennsylvania, defeated the English efforts to take Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh). Shirley (Fort Niagara) and Johnson (Crown Point) had mixed success.

An important point that needs to be made, is, that with his quick victory at Beausejour, Monckton was left with idle troops who were provisioned and paid for until the fall of the year (1755) when it had been planned to send them home for the winter, back to New England. Lawrence, making the decision at Halifax, determined to put these troops to good use. Next comes one of the most important and heart rendering stories of the French in America: the deportation of the Acadians; a story that unfolded during the later part of the summer and early fall of 1755; a story I tell elsewhere. And the point I simply want to make here is that if Monckton and his forces had been tied up at Fort Beausejour for a longer period, viz. if the French commander had put up a more vigorous defense, then Lawrence's attentions might not have swung over to the Acadian problem and how it might be immediately and permanently cured.

During August of 1755, Colonel Monckton under orders from Lt. Governor Lawrence dispatched a Captain Lewis with a 150 men and Abijah Willard (1724-89) with 100 men to Cobequid which lead to the destruction of the villages of Tatamgouche and Remsheg (modern day Wallace).17 On August 14th, 1755, Winslow set out from Beausejour to Grand Pre on his mission to supervise the Acadians to be found in and around that place.

The deportation of the Acadians, as horrendous an event as it was for the deported Acadians, was one that paled in comparison to the military events which were to unfold between the years 1755-63. Lawrence, it would appear, did not give the matter of the deportation very much thought after its sad occurrence. The principal reason for this, I suppose, was that Lawrence, as the Governor of Nova Scotia, was to be a very busy man during the stirring military events which unfolded during The Seven Years War, one of which was the Capture of Louisbourg (1758). By 1760, Lawrence was dead; his death likely hastened on account of his exertions during the last five years of his life.

During July of 1756, war now having been declared, a new commander in chief for America, the Earl of Loudoun (John Campbell), arrived at New York18 and new plans were afoot to deal a blow to the French in North America, once and for all. In June of 1757 Lord Loudoun arrived at Halifax from New York with 87 transports and six navy ships19; he brought with him "six battalions," close on to 10,000 men. There, at Halifax, Loudoun's battalions were to be joined in July by an additional 5,200 military men which had come in from Cork, Ireland, aboard 45 transports escorted by 15 naval ships of the line. This large military force, however, in that year, 1757, was not put to use. Intelligence having been received of Louisbourg's strength, Loudoun called off the attack and returned with most of his forces back to New York.20

In the year of 1758, there arrived in Nova Scotia Boscawen, Amherst, and, of course, Wolfe.21 Lawrence was one of three field brigadiers (together with Whitmore and Wolfe) under Amherst. On July 26th, 1758, in the face of 12,000 British troops, supported by 41 fully manned Warships (as many men again): Louisbourg capitulates.

Lawrence returned in glory and resumed his administrative duties at Halifax. Much to his disappointment, Lawrence was not to go with Wolfe up the St. Lawrence in 1759; his talents were needed at the rear.

On Sunday, October 19th, 1760, after a grand ball at Government House the military governor of Nova Scotia, at whose feet history has laid the Acadian tragedy, died, suddenly, at Halifax.22

"Lawrence's death on October 1760 took everyone by surprise. 'I should have taken an annuity on his life as soon as anyone I knew,' wrote Amherst to his friends that this enormous, bluff, and competent man could have been struck so quickly after catching a chill." (DCB.)
With the death of Lawrence, Jonathan Belcher took over the administration of the government of Nova Scotia.23

Lawrence was described by Francis Parkman as being one who did not have "the good-nature and conciliatory temper which marked his predecessors, Cornwallis and Hopson."24

In a letter dated December 9th, 1755, to his boss, Lord Halifax, Lawrence expresses his views on democracy:

"I know nothing so likely to obstruct and disconcert all measure for the publick good, as the foolish squabbles that are attendant upon elections and the impertinent opinion that will be propagated afterwards amongst the multitude by persons qualified in their own imaginations only as able Politicians."25
These anti-democratic views, as is likely appropriate to a military officer, was one that was to consistently come through in his dealings with the civilian leaders of the Halifax community. The complaints about Lawrence started to build up back at London; the main one being that he was delaying in his responsibility to set up democratic institutions as existed in England, and, indeed, as existed in the other English colonies in America.26
"Underlying all the criticism was the real justification for complaint, Lawrence's arrogance and arbitrariness, his insulting treatment of his civilian inferiors, his manoeuvres to secure his own way, his favoritism, the consequent irregularities, and, above all, his implacable opposition to the assembly project."27
In painting Lawrence as a dastardly man, and attributing the entire event of the deportation of the Acadians to Lawrence's greed for the livestock and lands of the Acadians, the historian Edouard Richard puts it too simply. Lawrence cannot be described an evil or cruel man. Though he fell "heir to a fatal legacy," as Brebner (an accomplished historian and with no axe to grind) found, Lawrence "was no inhuman ogre or puppet of avarice and ambition."28
"He seems to have been an able, if not greatly inspired officer, industrious and meticulous in his preparations for action, and a 'sound' man, who rose from major to brigadier and governor of a colony in eleven years, on the strength of achievement alone. He was imperious and resolute once he had reached a decision and he proved himself to be ruthless and stubborn in carrying out his designs."29

[1] The Nova Scotia Council, 1755, was made up of the following individuals: Benjamin Green, John Collier, William Cotterell, John Rous, and Jonathan Belcher.

[2] As quoted by Brebner, New England's Outpost, p. 221.

[3] See Brebner's fn at p. 225, op. cit.. It seems to me that there was at least the appearance of conflict in having Belcher look into the matter. He was on the Council that made that fateful decision on July 28th, 1755, to remove the Acadians from their lands; and, indeed, as the Chief Justice, specifically advised that it was perfectly legal to do so. That Belcher was to render a report seven years later that cleared the English administrators of the Acadian charges, is, at the very least, suspect.

[4] Doughty sets out some information on Lawrence in a small biographical footnote in Knox's Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America, 1757-1760 at p. 40; and, of course see, DCB.

[5] See Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), at pp. 9-14.

[6] NSHS, vol. 30, p. 52. The author is in possession of a 19th c. copy of this treaty.

[7] Hannay, The History of Acadia, p. 359.

[8] NSHS, vol. 30, p. 66; see also, Hannay, op. cit., p. 363.

[9] Hannay says (p. 368) "the English lost about twenty killed and wounded." It is reported that Gorham's Rangers gave no quarter to any of the French Indians; one day 25 scalps were brought back to camp.

[10] Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), pp. 121-2; as to the dealings between Lawrence and La Corne, McLennan cites the Canadian Archives Reports, 1905, vol, ii, pp. 320 et seq.; NSHS, vol. 30 (1954), p. 68-69; Hannay, op. cit., p. 368.

[11] Hannay, op. cit., p. 368. I deal with the Second Descent on Chignecto as part of my larger history.

[12] Haliburton's history, vol. 1, p. 317; Brebner, p. 186. Hopson had been the British governor at Louisbourg from November 30, 1747 to July 12, 1749. Hopson faced civil unrest at Halifax as there was conflict between the newcomers from England and the newcomers (who didn't think themselves to be so) from New England who were flocking in to sop up the government money that was being spent on the new colony. Hopson writes their Lordships: "... almost from the beginning of the Settlement there has been great Jealousy and Animosity between the Settlers that were sent from England and those who came here from different parts of the Continent of America ..." (As quoted by Brebner, op. cit., at p. 246.)

[13] Haliburton, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 317.

[14] Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), pp. 198-201.

[15] Parkman, Ibid. (vol. 1), p. 203.

[16] Parkman, Ibid. (vol. 1), p. 255.

[17] Patterson, "Old Cobequid and its Destruction," NSHS#23 (1936), p. 69; see pp. 69-80 for a description of the what happened to the Acadians at Cobequid during the 1755, contrary to what most people think not all the action took place at Grand Pre.

[18] Brebner, op. cit., p. 253.

[19] The squadron consisted of the Sutherland (50 guns), the Nightingale (20 guns), the Kennington (20 guns), the Vulture (16 guns), and the Ferret (14 guns).

[20] Dozens and dozens of transport ships in addition to over 30 war ships of the line were to arrive at Halifax; so, too, over 10,000 land troops. (See Commander Little's work, Despatches of Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Hardy; 1757-1758 and Vice-Admiral Francis Holburne 1757 (Halifax: Occasional paper #2 of the Maritime Museum of Canada, June, 1958), pp. 13-7.

[21] Wolfe was to praise Lawrence for his efforts during the winter of 1758-9. Lawrence, through his unquestionably superior administrative abilities, had pulled together massive supplies which would be needed by the troops who were to go up the St Lawrence under Wolfe in 1759. "... that critical young man [Wolfe] had nothing but praise for Lawrence and his subordinates."

[22] Quinpool, First Things in Acadia, at p. 106.

[23] A person by the name of Ellis, the former governor of Georgia, was appointed to take Lawrence's place as governor, but never leaves England to take up his post. (Haliburton, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 317.)

[24] Op. cit. (vol. 1), p. 266. This was certainly so of Hopson.

[25] Brebner, op. cit., p. 251.

[26] Lawrence, finally called the assembly together on May 20, 1758; this happened right in the midst of the second siege of Louisbourg. At this time, 1758, there were, here, in Nova Scotia, some very important military personages working with Lawrence; probably Lawrence was told by Amherst: to get it done.

[27] Brebner, op. cit., p. 254. Brebner lists the more important petitions in his fn at p. 255 and at pp. 256-7.

[28] Ibid., p. 233. Winthrop Bell in his Foreign Protestants whose research appears to be quite exhaustive, writes: I cannot "find the slightest evidence that Lawrence was lining his pockets -- if anything perhaps rather the contrary." The evidence is that Lawrence used funds, that might well have gone to him legitimately as the result of the sale of captured prizes, in order to buy salted beef and flour, and arrange for this food to be sent down to the German/Swiss settlers at Lunenburg.

[29] Ibid., p. 190-2.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)