General Wolfe's legendary victory in Canada served as a bookend to the French and Indian War. His conquest was the opposite end of the spectrum from the defeat on the Monongahela four years earlier. The massive casualties suffered by British and provincial forces in that earlier battle meant there were few that would witness both Braddock's loss and Wolfe's triumphant victory, both of which proved fatal to the generals.
Seaman Henry McCann of the Centurion was the only sailor to have experienced both events.
|Detail from Robert Orme’s A Plan of the Line of March with the Whole Baggage, printed by Thomas Jefferys in 1758, in the|
Richard H. Brown Revolutionary War Map Collection of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library
Disease, desertion, and especially death in combat reduced the thirty five sailors to nineteen or twenty over six months. Only eleven of these were fit for duty. At least three of the survivors would be dead within a year, two of whom may have succumbed to wounds inflicted during the battle. If we include the three men who died within a year of the battle, the navy lost well over half the men in the detachment as a direct result of the expedition.
McCann was exceptionally lucky, escaping without a wound as we can see here in the original return of the naval detachment when finally loaded aboard the frigate Garland for return to their vessels.
|Detail from ADM 1/2009 f.20, photographed by Alexa Price|
|The Siege of Louisbourg, artist unknown, c.1760, eBay.|
There was, of course, a flurry of activity when Wolfe ordered the landing at Anse-du-Foulon over the night of September 12 to 13. Sailors, including many from the Centurion and quite possibly McCann himself, once again took to their boats and helped ferry the troops ashore. This time, they also helped rig block and tackle to move artillery up the steep precipice that faced them, a task that McCann would have been very familiar with from his time on the Braddock Expedition.
|Detail from A View of the Taking of Quebec, Laurie & Whittle, 1797, John Carter Brown Library of Early American Images.|
|Detail from The Death of General Wolfe, Benjamin West, 1770, Wikimedia Commons.|
The Scots Magazine echoes this account: “Observing the foot-soldiers drawn up for engagement, instead of continuing their route, they fell into the ranks among the soldiers, some having cutlasses in their hands, others sticks, and some nothing at all.” General Wolfe “thanked them for the service they had performed, and desired they would immediately repair to their ships, as their stay among the soldiery, unarmed, and unacquainted with the discipline of the army, as they must necessarily be, would only expose their lives, without their being able, in such a situation, to be the least service to their king and country.” The sailors replied, “God bless your honour, pray let us stay and see fair play between the English and the French.” Some of the seamen did return to the shore, “but others...swore, that ‘the soldiers should not have all the fighting to themselves, but that they would come in for some way or other;’ and actually remained in the ranks, and when a soldier dropped in the action near any of them, they put on his accoutrements, charge, and fired with the rest.”
The French and Indian War was effectively ended on the Plains of Abraham. As yet, I do not know what became of able seaman Henry McCann after that event. Most likely, he returned to sea and continued his career afloat.
What I can say with certainty is that Henry McCann was an exceedingly common sailor. The extraordinary circumstances that sent him marching hundreds of miles from the sea to the Monongahela, and up the St. Lawrence River to witness the death rattle of French Canada left a trail of documents that allow us to follow their lives. By exploring individuals like McCann, we can see that seamen protested their abominable conditions, and suffered at the hands of their officers, the enemy, and nature. Further, we can use their experiences as a lens to observe broader trends in the Atlantic World and in their Wooden World. The average person is worthy of our study.
 “An Account of the Detachment of Seamen sent with his Excellency General Braddock on the Late Expedition against Fort du Quesne,” ADM 1/2009, f.20.
 Garland muster book, April 1754-December 1756, ADM 36/5659, f.293.
 “Letters of a Volunteer,” transcribed in The Siege of Quebec and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, Appendix Part II, Quebec: Desault & Proulx, 1901, page 24.
 “Brave sailors,” The Scots Magazine, Volume 24, March 1762, pages 119-120, via Google Books, accessed September 13, 2019, <https://books.google.com/books?id=_eARAAAAYAAJ>.
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