On Davies’ Fort Frederick

 

A North View of Fort Frederick Built by Order of the Honourable Colonel Robert Monckton
Thomas Davies. A North View of Fort Frederick Built by Order of the Honourable Colonel Robert Monckton, 1758. Watercolour, pen and black ink on laid paper, (37.7 x 53.6 cm). NGC no. 6269

 

Thomas Davies served under British Colonel Robert Monckton in the Atlantic Canada region from 1757-1759 as a soldier and an artist.  During this period of the Seven Years’ War, Davies provided the military with topographical drawings intended to accurately represent the geographical landscape.  One of Davies’ drawings featured Fort Frederick, built by Colonel Monckton’s forces in 1758 as the British began military operations against the French and the Indigenous peoples along the St. John River Valley.

Davies’ purpose with this drawing has been labeled as “diagrammatic,” with the goal of providing a detailed and informative representation of the landscape and its occupants[1].  Davies provides a legend at the bottom of the drawing to explain the geographic qualities of the landscape, including the river’s entrance, the small islands, and the hill that includes “huts” built for military “Rangers.”  The regional landscape reflects Davies’ naturalist influence, with the detailed depiction of evergreen forests and local flora.  Despite Davies’ proclivity to try to blend the man-made structures into the natural environment, the evergreens appear dwarfed behind the elevated fort and the large military vessel, thus symbolizing the myth that the British were positioned at the edge of a vast wilderness that they were destined to subdue.

Despite Davies’ attempt at objectivity, his interpretation of the region is skewed.  Davies depicts the fort as being situated on an uninhabited landscape, but in actuality the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet tribes often used this location for fishing, hunting, and trade.[2]  By not recognizing the presence of “others,” silences are imposed.  In addition, Davies’ painting fails to acknowledge the violent warfare that Britain unleashed on the Indigenous and the French Acadians along the St. John River valley in 1758.

Due to growing concerns over imperial alliances in 1755, the British went to war against the French-allied Mi’kmaq and Maliseet tribes, and began deporting the Acadians.[3]  Under the leadership of Colonel Monckton, British troops destroyed Indigenous and Acadian villages along the river in 1758, and in 1759 many of the Maliseet chose to surrender at the depicted Fort Frederick.[4]  As John Mack Faragher writes, “Colonel Monckton, in command of two thousand men, ascended the Saint-Jean, leaving a swath of destruction on both sides of the river…”[5]  Rather than depicting a “swath of destruction,” Davies represents the British as a civilized society called to tame the wild.  In this work, Davies misses the truths of the brutalities and the upheavals experienced by the Indigenous and the Acadians in the St. John River region during this period of the Seven Years’ War.

[1] Musée McCord, “The Art of Thomas Davies,” accessed 23 November 2018.

[2] Micah A. Pawling, “Wəlastəkwey (Maliseet) Homeland: Waterscapes and Continuity within the Lower St. John River Valley, 1784-1900,” Acadiensis 46, no. 2 (November 1, 2017): 8, 11-12, https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/Acadiensis/article/view/25946.

[3] Stephen E. Patterson, “1744-1763: Colonial Wars and Aboriginal Peoples” in Buckner, Phillip A. and John G. Reid, The Atlantic Region to Confederation: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 1994), 142, 145-48.

[4] Ibid., 149.

[5] John Mack Faragher, A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from their American Homeland (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), 405.

Written by Leanna Thomas,                                                                                                          Ph.D. Student at the University of New Brunswick.

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