Bombshell from Louisbourg

Mounted securely to a stone post at the corner of Middle and Independent Streets in Newburyport, there was for many years a large cast-iron bombshell, thrown from a mortar at the Second Siege of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1758.

It was brought to Newbury by Nathaniel Knapp, who served as a soldier, carpenter and ship-caulker with the land and naval forces that captured the city. The first Siege of Louisbourg, the French capitol of what is now Cape Breton, took place in 1745 during King George’s War. Louisbourg was returned to French control after the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, in which the French gave up Madras and the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands.) The second Siege of Louisbourg occurred during the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years’ War) and contributed to the end of French colonialism in North America. Nova Scotia was ceded to Britain under the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

Second Siege of Louisburg
The Second Siege of Louisburg

The Second Siege of Louisburg was preceded by the conquest of Fort Beausejour in Nova Scotia in June, 1755, which was followed by the systematic destruction of Acadian villages and the deportation of their 11,316 inhabitants.

Nathaniel Knapp described in his diary how the city of Louisburg was captured:

“1758, Saturday, June 10, made ye land & took it to be to leeward of Cape Breton’ then we spied some ships, 2 men of war & three or four schooners & sloops, and they bore away, and we followed them.

“1758, Sunday, June 11 is fair weather. We all went ashore in ye forenoon, when the army landed. The Boats got within 3 or 4 rods of the shore before they saw any & then they rose up & fired a volley on them with cannon and small arms, ye cannon laden with small shot. The Regulars & Highlanders landed in ye front & the Rangers landed on the left up ye Bay, & they killed & wounded about a hundred. There were 2 or 3 boats sunk by the men, being so eager & filling ye boats so full. In ye afternoon we built some camps to lye in, & then we went almost over to ye City & saw some men without. They had burnt all ye out houses.

“1758, Wednesday, July 26. Last night there was a number of men of war men who got boats and went and boarded the 2 Ships that lye in ye harbour. One ship they towed up ye harbour, & ye other ship which was ye Commodore’s catched a ground, so that they could not get her off, and they catched her on fire and she burnt down. In ye forenoon there was a flag of truce. They came out and sat with our officers, and about eight at night they agreed to our terms, and at nine o’clock our people went in and took possession of ye town.”

Cannonball at the Superior Court building in Newburyport
The cannonball is now in front of the Superior Court building at High Street and Bartlett Mall
Cannonball bombshell [plaque at the Superior Courthouse in Newburyport
The plaque above the bombshell displayed in front of the Superior Courthouse in Newburyport reads: “Bombshell brought from the Siege of Louisbourg by Nathaniel Knapp Jr., 1759. Preserved by his son Isaac Knapp as a memorial to his father and also to his brother Jacob Knapp, who served at Bunker Hill and was a member of the crew of the Privateer Hero of Newburyport. This ship sailed from Boston August 21, 1777, with a crew of 170 local men, and was never heard from.”

Source: Old Newbury by John J. Currier

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