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Sir William Pepperell

Sir William Pepperell

Sir William Pepperell (1696-1759) was an American colonial merchant and soldier who commanded the land forces which captured the French fortress of Louisbourg.

The son of a prosperous merchant, William Pepperell was born on June 27, 1696, at Kittery Point, Maine (then part of Massachusetts). He was taken into his father's firm, known as the William Pepperells, which dealt in lumber, fish, and shipbuilding. European products were imported for sale. Profits were invested in land, and by 1724 young William owned almost the entire townships of Sacco and Scarboro. Business often took him to Boston, where on March 16, 1724, he married Mary Hirt.

Pepperell was made a militia colonel in 1726, in command of all Maine militia. That same year he was elected to the Massachusetts General Court as a representative from Kittery, and the following year he became an assistant, or member of the council, a position he held until his death. For 18 years he served as president of the council. Although he had no legal training, Pepperell was appointed chief justice of Massachusetts in 1730. At his father's death in 1734 he inherited the bulk of his estate and in 1744 made his son Andrew a partner in the firm.

In 1745, when war broke out between England and France (the North American conflict is called King George's War), Pepperell was sent with 3, 000 or 4, 000 men to attack Ft. Louisbourg in Canada. On April 30, 1745, he joined the British fleet there. Displaying little military skill, Pepperell besieged the fort in almost comic-opera fashion, but the corrupt and inefficient French surrendered June 17. Pepperell's greatest forte was his popularity with the troops and his ability to get along with the naval officers. In 1746 he was created a baronet, the first native American ever so honored. In 1749 he was received by the King.

Because of extensive landholdings, Pepperell wound up his mercantile affairs. In 1753 he was on a commission to negotiate a treaty with the Maine Indians. At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, the Crown ordered him to raise 1, 000 men. Created a major general in 1755, Pepperell commanded the eastern frontier. In 1756, as president of the council, he acted as governor of Massachusetts. On Feb. 20, 1759, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel in the regular army, but because of failing health he took no further role in the war. He died that year on July 6.

Further Reading

Charles Henry Lincoln edited The Journal of Sir William Pepperell Kept during the Expedition against Louisbourg (1910). The standard biography is Usher Parsons, Life of Sir William Pepperell, Bart. (1856). See also John Francis Sprague, Three Men from Maine: Sir William Pepperell, Sir William Phips, James Sullivan (1924). A later study is Byron Fairchild, Messrs. William Pepperell: Merchants at Piscataqua Bay (1954). □

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Pepperrell, Sir William

Sir William Pepperrell, 1696–1759, American colonial military commander, b. Kittery Point, Maine (then part of Massachusetts). A wealthy merchant, landowner, and businessman, he became a colonel in the colonial militia, was a delegate to the Massachusetts General Court and a member of the governor's council, and was appointed chief justice in 1730. In 1745, in King George's War (see French and Indian Wars), he commanded the land forces that, with a British fleet under Sir Peter Warren, captured the French fortress Louisburg, on Cape Breton, Canada. In recognition of this service, he was the first Native American to be created baronet (1746). Sir William also commanded a regiment in the last of the French and Indian Wars, and as president of the council he briefly governed (1756–57) Massachusetts. His journal of the Louisburg expedition was published by the American Antiquarian Society in its Proceedings, Vol. XX (1911).

See J. F. Sprague, Three Men from Maine (1924); study by B. Fairchild (1954).

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Pepperrell, Sir William

Pepperrell, Sir William

PEPPERRELL, SIR WILLIAM. (1696–1759). Colonial merchant and military officer, first American-born baronet. Born at Kittery, Maine, on 27 June 1696, William Pepperrell was the son of one of the most prosperous merchants in New England. He received a limited formal education and joined his father as a partner in the senior Pepperrell's mercantile firm. He was elected to the General Court in 1726, appointed colonel of all the militia in Maine the same year, elected to the governor's council in 1727, and appointed chief justice of the York county court in 1730. By the time his father died in 1734, Pepperrell was one of the wealthiest and most prominent residents of Massachusetts, and certainly the most influential man in Maine.

Pepperrell's greatest fame derived from his command of the New England expedition that captured the French fortress of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island in 1745. Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts was the principal architect of the expedition, and he gave Pepperrell command of the provincial forces because of his prominence, popularity, mercantile connections, and experience as militia colonel in Maine. The New England colonies raised and transported a forty-three-hundred-man force to Cape Breton Island, and in their most notable feat of arms before the Revolution, managed to force Louisburg to capitulate on 17 June 1745. While good luck, strong backs, and French mistakes contributed greatly to this outcome, Pepperrell was responsible for keeping the army together and, critically, for maintaining good relations with Commodore Sir Peter Warren, the commander of the Royal Navy squadron that convoyed the New England transports and blockaded Louisburg. For his success in this operation, Pepperrell was commissioned a colonel in the British army on 1 September 1745 and allowed to raise his own colonial regiment as part of the garrison of the conquered town, the governorship of which he shared with Warren until late in the spring of 1746. In November 1746 he was created a baronet, the first native-born American to be so honored. (The regiment was disbanded when Louisburg was returned to the French in 1748 at the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.)

Promoted to major general on 27 February 1755, he commanded on the eastern frontier in Maine during the unfortunate military events elsewhere that year. For about six months between the death of Lieutenant Governor Spencer Phips and the arrival of Governor Thomas Pownall in August 1757, Pepperrell was de facto governor of Massachusetts by virtue of being president of the governor's council. After raising troops for the defense of Massachusetts, he was commissioned lieutenant general in the British army on 20 February 1759 but was prevented by failing health from taking part in subsequent operations of the French and Indian War. He died on 6 July 1759 at Kittery.

Pepperrell's only son died unmarried, but his grandson, William Pepperrell Sparhawk, inherited the bulk of his estate after accepting the stipulation of the will that he change his name to Pepperrell. In 1774 his grandson also was created baronet. A Loyalist, he fled to England shortly thereafter and lost his entire estate by confiscation.

SEE ALSO Colonial Wars; Shirley, William.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fairchild, Byron. Messrs. William Pepperrell: Merchants at Piscataqua. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1954.

                               revised by Harold E. Selesky

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