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Sir William Pepperell

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     There are some names which deserve, but never obtain, a place in the records of the history of our country. One of such names is that of Sir William Pepperell, the American loyalist, who is mentioned in the pages of Smollett as the capturer of Louisburg, but for whose biography, though it is well worth more than a chance perusal, one may look in vain to the existing biographical dictionaries, at all events on this side of the Atlantic. For many of the leading facts in our present sketch I am indebted to The Life of Sir William Pepperell,' by Usher Parsons, an American gentleman, published in America a few years since, its contents being taken from materials formerly in the possession of the Pepperell and Sparhawk families. It is not every day that an English civilian, by his own energy and ability, lays siege to and captures a town which is the hey to a large and important district, and finds himself gazetted a field-officer in the English army without having gone through the inferior grades of promotion; and it is a simple matter of fact that no other native of New England, during its connection as a colony with the mother country, was ever honored by an hereditary title.
            The rule of the Established Church in England, under the Stuarts, was in many ways severe; and not seldom families crossed the broad Atlantic in order to enjoy that liberty of conscience and of worship which, as honest non-conformists, they found refused to them at home.  The same cause which drove the Hampdens to Barbados, forced the Pepperells to leave their homes in Devonshire and Cornwall, and to settle
themselves in the State of Massachusetts. His, biographer tells us that William Pepperell the elder was born at Tavistock, in Devonshire, and settled close to Kittery Point, in the last-named state, on a property which he gained by marriage with Miss Margery Bray. Both father-in-law and son-in-law were boat-builders and shipbuilders, and they owned a few fishing vessels on the coast. They both grew rich; and it is said that, in the half-century previous to the accession of George III, the largest fortune then known in New England was made by the successful `venturer,' trader, and ship-builder. Mr. Pepperell built many vessels for the 'Vest India trade, and sent them southward, with cargoes to exchange for merchandise for the English and other European markets; he also did a large share of business in the fisheries nearer home. It is said that he often had more than a hundred small vessels at once on ` the Grand Banks,' nearly all owned by himself.
     The elder Pepperell, however, though his chief concern lay with the sea, and with craft both small and large, was early trained to the use of firearms, and became lieutenant colonel of the local militia. He was a Puritan of the stern, old religious school, who I put his trust in God,' `kept his powder dry,' and `trained up his children in the way they should go,' as members of an `independent church: Ire was a `respectable' citizen, and something more; for lie was a severe and I stern justice of the peace'-as is shown by his `trial docket,' which is still preserved, and in which the `whippingpost' figures frequently. The elder William Pepperell lived to see his sons and daughters all prospering in life, and was able at his death, in 1735, to leave to each of them a comfortable maintenance, without forgetting his I Church' and other charities on both sides of the Atlantic. His younger son, William, is the person with, whose career we are more immediately concerned. He was born at Kittery, June 27th, 1696, and was brought up at the village school, where he learned to read and write; but his knowledge of orthography and grammar as a boy was not equal to his knowledge of business, of land-surveying, geography, and navigation which he picked up by acting as a clerk in his father's office or store.' His education was specially practical: and as a child he saw something of warfare against the neighboring Indian tribes, within a mile or two from his father's residence. He learned his drill, and something too of the art of war, by accompanying his father when he reviewed his men: and at sixteen ‘he bore arms in patrol duty, and in keeping ward and watch.' His elder brother dying, he became, as his father grew old, more and more useful in the management of his business, both ashore and afloat. ‘Associating daily with lumber-men, ship-builders, provision merchants, and the hardy sons of Neptune, he soon became familiar with the rough and rugged aspects of human life, and imbibed its hardier influences both in body and mind.' He now extended his sphere of business, and for some years he and his father were the largest merchants in New England. Their lumber and timber ships floated down the river in gondolas from the head of tide-waters; fish from the Grand Banks and the Shoals poured into their warehouses, and cargoes were sent to the Nest Indies, to Portugal, to the Mediterranean, and England, and each charged at a profit. Often their vessels and cargoes were sold together, which promoted the extension of ship-building, one of the chief sources of their wealth. The timber and carpenters' work were paid for in merchandise and provisions. Naval stores and other goods were procured from the Carolinas in exchange for fish and West Indian and European goods; and cordage, iron, hemp, and fishing tackle from England for vessels and cargoes sold there. Their bankers in London and Plymouth received the proceeds of cargoes and vessels sold in the Mediterranean, England, France, and Portugal, and answered the bills of exchange drawn on them in favor of Boston merchants, to whom they were sold at a great advance, and paid for in such goods as were needed to complete Pepperell's assortment, and in provincial money. This money was expended in real estate, bought at low prices, and which rapidly increased in value. It was by such transactions that the princely fortune of the Pepperells was amassed. The family also made a great addition to their wealth by the purchase of a large tract of land along the Saco river, on which huge factories were afterwards erected, while a great hart of the town of Saco and Scarborough was included in it.
     When Young Pepperell came of age, he acted as an outdoor partner, and contracted for the building of vessels on Pasataqua and Saco Rivers; an employment which was favored by the home government to the annoyance of ship-carpenters on the Thames, whose workmen emigrated in large numbers to New England. Young Pepperell was brought into contact with public men in Boston through the agency which he conducted for transacting the pecuniary affairs of the province with the mother country; thus he was introduced into the best society, and gained advancement both in military and political life. On coming of age he received a commission as justice of the peace, and captain of a company of cavalry, and he was soon advanced to be a major and lieutenant colonel, while at the age of thirty he was made colonel, and obtained the command of the militia of Maine. It was about the same time, 1726, that he was elected representative of Kittery, and in the following year he was nominated to the board of councilors, to which he was re-elected each of thirty-two years during which he lived, while for eighteen of those years he was president of the board. In 1723 lie was married to Mary Hirst, who was a relation of a wealthy merchant and one of the Judges of the Supreme Court. Seven years later he was appointed by Governor Belcher Chief Justice, and he held the office up to the time of his death. He had gained some experience in legal matters in his early days when he acted as clerk of the Court, while his father was an associate judge, but he pursued his studies as far as time permitted; and he appears to have faithfully performed his duty in the various offices he held, while his kindly disposition and popular manners naturally gave him great influence.
          His father died in 1734, and from that time lie appears to have entertained strong religious impressions.
     The entire management of the affairs of the firm devolved upon the subject of our memoir on his father's death; and yet, with this and all his other various duties, he did not forget to see to the defense of his own neighborhood, which was especially exposed to the inroads of the enemy. He planned with the officers a better organization of the militia under his command, and a more military spirit was diffused among the ranks, while the Yorkshire regiment which he commanded was divided into two regiments.
     Of the four children of William Pepperell, two died in infancy, while his son Andrew had to graduate at Harvard College with distinguished honors, and became a partner with his father in 1744. He was much esteemed by the society of Boston; and the daughter Elizabeth, whose winning manners and high accomplishments attracted great attention, was married in 1742 to Nathaniel Sparhawk, a partner in a commercial house in Boston.
In 1744, the name of William Pepperell begins to be connected with scenes different from those of commerce and civil life, and in which he gained a renown for his name in the pages of history.
     War had already for some years been waged between England and Spain, in which many of the sons of New England had been engaged, and the reverses encountered by Spain were the cause of France taking up her cause as an ally. In October, 1.748, the news that war was declared between England and France arrived at Boston, and all commanders on the coast received orders to hold themselves in readiness for hostilities.
     Newfoundland and Cape Breton commanded the mouth of the St. Lawrence, a great channel of trade both for English and French Canadians; the possession of Cape Breton, on which ,vas situated Louisburg, was a great source of contention, and was possessed alternately by either nation according as its citizens were successful in war elsewhere. Cape Breton had been retained by France at the treaty of Utrecht, while Nova Scotia proper was ceded to Great Britain. The French Government at once went to great expense in fortifying its possession, and they built a walled town on a promontory at the south-east part of the island, naming it in honor of their king, Louisburg. It was two miles and a half in circumference, fortified in every accessible part with a rampart of stone from thirty to thirty-six feet high, and a ditch eighty feet wide. On a small island at the entrance of the harbor, and at the end of the harbor were batteries of about thirty cannon each, while on an eminence opposite to the island-battery stood the lighthouse.
        The English forts on Causo Island and Port Royal, in the bay of Fundy, were attacked by order of the commander of Louisburg immediately on his hearing that war was declared the first-named garrison was forced to submit, as there was no expectation of the assault; but the latter garrison was reinforced, and able to repel the assault. The French were assisted in these expeditions by the Indians of Nova Scotia, and a tribe which was appealed to by Colonel Pepperell for its contingent of warriors refused to fight against their brethren of St. John's and New Brunswick. The colonies became aware of their danger, and preparations for war were made in the autumn of 1744, when it was thought that safety to trade and navigation, and possibly even the existence of the colonies, demanded the capture of Louisburg from the French. Governor Shirley hoped the town might be taken by surprise early in the spring, before any reinforcement arrived from France.
     Warren, the commodore on the West India station, was summoned to proceed to New England in the spring, and aid the governor in the protection of the fisheries. The general court was at first opposed to the expedition, when it was proposed early in January, 1745 ; but towards the end of that month it was resolved upon by a majority of only one vote, several members who were opposed to the project being absent. However, the matter was then taken up with great enthusiasm on all sides, and a successful issue was confidently expected. Many fishermen were ready to enlist as soldiers; the preceding harvest had been abundant; the rivers were open on account of the mildness of the winter; and, by some happy accident, the English naval force which guarded the shores and islands of America was drawn to Louisburg, while the expected arrival of men and supplies for the French was prevented, and thus the British squadron was enabled to blockade the port. Fourteen armed vessels were provided by the provinces, with over two hundred guns, and about four thousand troops. Colonel William Pepperell was chosen commander of the expedition; and, though at first lie was naturally inclined to hesitate as to the acceptance of such a post, he was persuaded to do so by the governor and other friends; for, though he was a merchant, he had a strong military spirit, and was just the man to command a militia made up of farmers, fishermen, and mechanics.
          It was, no doubt, owing to his popularity that the enlistment of men was rapid and large in numbers. He himself was most energetic in forwarding the preparations, and contributed towards the expense five thousand pounds out of his own private fortune. A day of fasting and prayer was observed throughout the province, to implore a blessing on the undertaking, and about the middle of March some of the armed vessels sailed, in order to cruise before Louisburg, and prevent the entrance of the enemy's ships. The general rendezvous of the troops was at Causo, and on the 22nd of April, the squadron of Commodore Warren approached. On the 29th, the army embarked, and sailed for Cabarees Bay, which they reached on the following morning. The garrison of Louisburg were unaware of their approach, and when the fleet was seen close at hand, they seemed to be almost paralyzed ,with confusion and alarm. Detachments were speedily landed, under cover of two armed vessels, at White Point and another part, and the two companies who came out to oppose the landing were soon repulsed; about six men were killed, and some others, who were wounded, including their captain, were captured. By the third morning, the whole force had landed, with provisions, and the siege was commenced as soon as possible.
     On the 1st of May, a reconnoitering party, under Colonel Vaughan, set fire to some warehouses and buildings on the northeast part of the harbor, near Green Hill; and the enemy, supposing that the whole army was approaching in that direction, spiked, the cannon in the grand battery, and fled in boats to the town.

     This battery was occupied by Colonel Vaughan on the following day, and was of great service afterwards in reducing the town. The first battery was erected by General Pepperell at one thousand four hundred and fifty yards from the north-west bastion, on Green Hill, and others were gradually erected nearer the town; but it required fourteen days and nights to drag all the cannon and munitions of war from the landing-place through the morass to the batteries. On the 7th of May, a demand for the submission of the fortress to the British army met with a refusal, and from that time the firing was carried on with great vigor. By the 18th, a new battery was opened within two hundred and fifty yards of the west gate, and even conversation was carried on between the two forces. Several French vessels were captured on their approach to the harbor, and the Vigilant, a sixty-four-gun ship, with six hundred men and military stores, was taken by Warren. Towards the end of the month, an attack was made by about four hundred men, at Warren's request, on the island battery, but this was repulsed, with a loss on the English side of about sixty killed and one hundred and twelve prisoners, including the wounded; the only severe reverse sustained during the siege. 
     Councils were held at different periods, and it was at last agreed to make a general attack upon the town, with the assistance of the fleet; but, before making the final attempt, on the 15th of June, a flag was sent to Pepperell by Governor Duchambon, who saw that surrender was almost inevitable, asking time to consider terms of capitulation. These were settled on the following day, when possession was taken of the town. The news of the capitulation was received with great joy in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, and illuminations and other festivities were very general there, and in London, while a day of thanksgiving was kept in most of the New England colonies.

Pepperell was overwhelmed with congratulations from numerous towns, and a patent was gent from Hanover, where the king was at that time, creating him a baronet of Great Britain.

          The commodore was raised to the rank of admiral, and in the following year he was made Governor of Louisburg. A major-general's commission was given to Pepperell to raise and command a regiment in the British line, while Governor Shirley was rewarded with a colonel's commission. Sir William, who was much worn by the campaign, was detained at Louisburg up to the following spring, together with the provincial army, which was greatly reduced during its stay by sickness.
     Pepperell and Warren arrived in Boston at the beginning of June, 1746, and were received with a salute by the ships of war and town batteries. On landing, they were met by the Council and House of Representatives, and escorted to the council-chamber, the population generally joining in the welcome. They were congratulated by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Sir William was re-elected president of the council. On the 4th of July, Sir William set out for his seat at Kittery, and his journey there was like one triumphal march. He had well earned his receptions, for this expedition had brought out the noble points of his character, and his patriotism, prudence, self-devotion, and forbearance were put to the test, while I his reliance on Divine Providence was most evident.'
          Sir William came to England in the autumn of 1749; he was presented at court, and found a cordial reception from King George II. The Prince of Wales, Lord Halifax, and other noblemen also showed him great civilities. The Lord Mayor also waited on him, and by hip means a service of plate was presented to him as a token of respect for his distinguished services. lie was also a general object of interest to the people at large, who knew him as the captor of Louisburg. He returned home at the close of the following summer, and for some while his time was passed in the ordinary civil and domestic duties of his position. His only son, Andrew, died the following March, before the completion of his twenty-sixth year, and the loss was deeply felt by his parents.
     It was not long before hostilities again broke out, and from 1755 to 1759 there were several expeditions against Canada. At first, owing to a want of good counsel, the result was unfavorable to the British arms; but the advice or opinion of Sir William, who had the raising of a regiment entrusted to him, were not called for. At the close of 1756, nothing was gained; Oswego was lost, and the country impoverished.
      In 1757, on the death of the Governor, Sir William was for some time de facto governor, and he was appointed commander of Castle William, in Boston Harbor, and of the military forces of Massachusetts, with the rank of lieutenant-general. In the following year, when William Pitt took the management of the war, a brighter prospect teas in store; large bodies of men were raised in the colonies, and strong reinforcements were sent from England. In July, Louisburg was again captured from the French, to whom it had been previously restored; and in September, 1759, Quebec was captured under Wolfe; while, in 1760, the French power was broken by the capitulation of Montreal, and the Canadas were ceded by treaty to Great Britain. In February, 1759, Sir William had been created a lieutenant general in the royal army, an honor never before conferred on a native of America, but his health at this time had failed so much as to prevent his taking the field again, and on the 6th of July in that year he died at his home after much suffering. Every honor was paid to him, and his funeral was attended by an immense assemblage.
          His character is to a great extent seen, by this short memoir of his life. `It was,' it has been observed, ` his practical knowledge, stimulated by aspirations for honorable fame and distinction, and sanctioned by an enlightened conscience and Christian principles that crowned his career with unparalleled success, and distinguished him from men of more education and equal purity of intention.' His ,judgment was sound, and he formed his plans with clue caution He was very exact in all his engagements, and was forbearing and forgiving to ethers. His manners were popular, and he took great pleasure in all the refined enjoyments of society, while he retained his cheerfulness and equanimity in danger, and inspired confidence in all around him. He was very fond of his library, to which he  was continually making additions.
     So lived and so died the hero of Louisburg, Sir William Pepperell, the only native of America who down to his day had been raised to au hereditary English title. As he left no son, the baronetcy conferred on him died at his death. His daughter, however, married Mr. William Sparhawk, who took his name, and being staunch in his allegiance to the English crown, when the American colonies revolted in 1776, he suffered the forfeiture of his extensive lands and of the fleet of merchant vessels which he owned. Faithful to his king, he came over to England with his family,1 settled in London, and had renewed to him the baronetcy which his father-in-law had held; and with it he had conferred on him and on his two next successors in the title a handsome pension, I believe, of two thousand pounds a year; but his only son died before him, so the title a second time became extinct, and an ungrateful country omitted to continue that pension to his three daughters Mrs. Hutton, Mrs. Congreve of Congreve, Cheshire, and of Aldermaston, Berkshire, and Lady Palmer of Wanlip, Leicestershire, whose children are coheirs and coheiresses of the honored name of Pepperell, but without any of the material advantages which might have been expected to belong to that inheritance.
     Portraits of the second Sir William and Lady Pepperell, by Copley, hang on the walls of Wanlip Hall, and the late lamented poet, Longfellow, told me that he had other portraits of the Pepperell family which he valued highly, at his home at Cambridge, United States, and which he should feel a pleasure and a pride in showing to me, as Sir William Pepperell's great-grandson, should business or pleasure ever induce me to cross the Atlantic.

1 He came over in the same ship with the late Mr. J. S. Copley, R.A., and with his son, afterwards Lord Lyndhurst, who, when ninety years of age, told me that he well remembered the fact of having had Sir W. Pepperell's children as his playmates on the voyage.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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