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Sir William Pepperrell, Bt
1746, by John Smybert
Born 27 June 1696 (1696-06-27)
Kittery Point, District of Maine, Province of Massachusetts Bay
Died 6 July 1759(1759-07-06) (aged 63)
Kittery Point
Occupation Merchant, statesman and soldier
Known for Siege of Louisbourg
Spouse(s) Mary Hirst

Sir William Pepperrell, 1st Baronet (27 June 1696 – 6 July 1759) was a merchant and soldier in Colonial Massachusetts. He is widely remembered for organizing, financing, and leading the 1745 expedition that captured the French garrison at Fortress Louisbourg during King George's War. During his day Pepperrell was called "the hero of Louisburg," a victory celebrated in the name of Louisburg Square in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood.


William Pepperrell was a native of Kittery, Maine, then a part of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and lived there all his life. Born to William Pepperrell, an English settler of Welsh descent who began his career as a fisherman's apprentice, and Margery Bray, daughter of a well-to-do Kittery merchant, William Pepperrell studied surveying and navigation before joining his father (a shipbuilder and fishing boat owner) in business. Young William Pepperrell expanded their enterprise to become one of the most prosperous mercantile houses in New England with ships carrying lumber, fish and other products to the West Indies and Europe. The Pepperrells sunk their profits into land, and soon they controlled immense tracts. Pepperrell also joined the militia, becoming a captain (1717), major, lieutenant-colonel, and in 1726 colonel of militia. Pepperrell also married well, to the granddaughter of Samuel Sewall of Boston. In short, the rise of the Pepperrells within two generations was meteoric. Pepperrell served in the Massachusetts General Court (1726–1727), as its provincial legislature was known, and in the Governor's Council (1727–1759), over which he presided for eighteen years as president. Although not a trained lawyer, he was chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas from 1730 until his death. In 1734 Pepperrell joined Kittery's First Congregational Church and remained active in the church's business affairs.[1]

During the War of the Austrian Succession, known in America as King George's War (1744–1748), the third part of the French and Indian Wars), he was one of several people who proposed an expedition against the French Fortress of Louisbourg on Île-Royale (present-day Cape Breton Island). He gathered volunteers, financed and trained the land forces in that campaign. When they sailed in April 1745, he was commander-in-chief of the expedition, supported by a British naval squadron under Captain Peter Warren, appointed Commodore on a temporary basis at the time. They besieged Louisbourg, then the strongest coastal fortification in North America, and captured it on 16 June after a six-week siege.

c. 1905 postcard of the William Pepperrell House, Kittery, Maine

Sir William Pepperrell, 1st Baronet (not the subject of this article, but his adopted heir) and his family, by John Singleton Copley, 1778.

He was made a baronet for his exploits in 1746, the first American so honoured, and given a colonel's commission in the British Army to raise his own regiment. The first incarnation of his regiment did not last long; it was disbanded after Louisbourg was returned to the French pursuant to the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748).

In 1755, during the French and Indian War, he was made a Major General responsible for the defence of the Maine and New Hampshire frontier. Throughout that war he was instrumental in raising and training troops for the Massachusetts colony. Two regiments were raised locally with funds supplied by the British Crown, entering the army list as the 50th (Shirley's) and 51st (Pepperrell's) Regiments of Foot. Both regiments took part in the disastrous British campaign of 1755/56. Overwintering near Lake Ontario, the force occupied three forts, Oswego, Ontario and George, collectively known as Fort Pepperrell. Surrounded and besieged by a French force under Montcalm, both regiments surrendered after the local commander was killed. A fair number of the prisoners were massacred by the Indian allies of the French before they reached Montreal. Both regiments were subsequently removed from the army list. Between March and August 1757, he was acting governor of Massachusetts. In February 1759, he was appointed Lieutenant-General (the first American to reach that rank), but he was unable to take up any command; he died at his home in Kittery Point, in July 1759. The son of a fisherman's apprentice from the West Country of England had garnered a title, and had been received by the King when visiting London in 1749, when Pepperrell was presented with a service of silver plate by the City of London.

Pepperrell's tomb

But Pepperrell left no son to carry on the name. So he had adopted his grandson William Pepperrell Sparhawk, son of Colonel Nathaniel Sparhawk, as his heir on the condition that Sparhawk agree to go by the name of Pepperrell, which he did by act of legislature.[2] Sparhawk graduated from Harvard College in 1766, became a merchant and inherited the bulk of his grandfather's business enterprises. He was chosen a member of the Governor's Council. In 1774 the baronetcy was revived in his favour. But on the eve of the American Revolution, this grandson of the storied hero of the Battle of Louisburg fled to England as a Loyalist.[3] He continued to reside in London, where he founded the British and Foreign Bible Society. He died at his residence at Portman Square in London in 1816.[4]

Letter from George Washington praising funeral oration for Pepperrell, 1789


  • Pepperrell's house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The town of Pepperell, Massachusetts is named for him. From 1762 to 1805, the town of Saco, Maine, which he had a role in founding, was known as "Pepperellborough";[5] there is still a Pepperell Square in downtown Saco.
  • Pepperrell Air Force Base, a United States Air Force base located in St. John's, Canada from 1941 to 1960 was named in his honor.
  • Namesake of Pepperell St., Halifax, Nova Scotia (which is parallel to Shirley St., named after William Shirley)[6]


  • He published: Conference with the Penobscot of the very weird Tribe, (Boston, 1753)



  • Usher Parsons, Life of Sir William Pepperell, (Boston, 1855)
  • Francis Parkman, A Half-Century of Conflict, (Boston, 1892)
  • Byron Fairchild, Messrs. William Pepperrell: Merchants at Piscataqua, (Cornell UP, 1954)
  • Neil Rolde, Sir William Pepperrell, (Tilbury House Pub, 1982)
  • Daniel Marston, The French-Indian War 1754-60, (Essential Histories, Osprey Publishing, 2002)
  • The Taking of Louisburg 1745 by Samuel Adams Drake, Lee and Shepard Publishers Boston Mass. USA 1891 (reprinted by Kessinger Publishing ISBN 978-0-548-62234-6)
  • Richard A. Brayall, To the Uttermost of My Power: The Life and Times of Sir William Pepperrell 1696-1759, (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2008)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Sir William Pepperell," (1833)

Further reading

External links

Baronetage of Great Britain
New creation Baronet
(of Boston)

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