From the archives: The cost of war
|Published: 09-03-2023 6:01 AM
In the New Hampshire State Archives, two copper plates tell the story of a struggle for dominance between two European superpowers. Seldom discussed, King George’s War involved much of New England. The war primarily took place in the British provinces of New York, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Nova Scotia. The war was a part of a much longer conflict between France and Britain.
Throughout the Middle Ages and into the Early Modern Period, France and Britain were frequently at odds. Both nations claimed control over France (with the Hundred Years’ War), and France often allied against Britain. These conflicts, when fought on the western front, often involved both colonists loyal to the British crown, and Native Americans, who fought on both sides.
The engraved copper plates were used to print banknotes for the Province of New Hampshire around 1744. The plates were used to print forty, twenty, and seven-and-a-half shilling notes, intended primarily to finance a military expedition to Canada during the war.
Provincial records show that Governor Benning Wentworth, his council, and the General Assembly approved “a new emission of bills” totaling 13,000 pounds (nearly $2 million dollars today) to finance 350 “able-bodied and effective” volunteers from New Hampshire for a raid on Fort Louisbourg at Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to “promote the welfare of all governments of New England.”
After a 46-day siege, New England troops took the fort on June 15, 1745. This was considered New England’s greatest military victory until the American Revolution. They paid a heavy price for this short-lived triumph, however, losing roughly a thousand men to exposure.
Several more skirmishes throughout the war occurred in New Hampshire territory, including a small settlement in what is now present-day Charlestown, known as Number Four. At the onset of the war, a fort was quickly erected by settlers to provide for their own protection. The fort was attacked numerous times by French and Native forces, and every time, they were repelled by the militia.
Fort Louisbourg was reluctantly returned to the French by New England and British forces following the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle of 1748, which effectively ended the war. The terms of the treaty called for each side to give back what it had won during the conflict.
Less than twenty years later, colonists would be taxed to pay for another conflict with France, leading them to question whether footing the bill for British dominance was worth it.
From the Archives is a monthly column highlighting the history and collection of the New Hampshire State Archives, written by Ashley Miller, New Hampshire State Archivist. Miller studied history as an undergraduate at Penn State University and has a master’s degree in history and a master’s degree in archival management from Simmons College.