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.  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). 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 Wəlastəkokewiyik along the Wəlastəkw 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” (see Davies’ notes at the bottom of the image).  The regional landscape reflects Davies’ naturalist influence, with the detailed depiction of evergreen forests and local flora.  Davies tried to blend man-made structures into the natural environment, but 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 they were destined to subdue.

Rather than proving objective, Davies’ interpretation of the region is skewed.  Davies depicts the fort as being situated on an uninhabited landscape, but in actuality the Wəlastəkokewiyik and Mi’kmaq 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 Wəlastəkokewiyik and Acadians along the Wəlastəkw River valley in 1758. 

In 1755, due to growing concerns over imperial alliances, conflicts escalated between the British and the Mi’kmaq and Wəlastəkokewiyik, and the British military began deporting Acadians.[3]  In September 1758 British troops built the depicted Fort Frederick to function as their base as they set out to “destroy” Wəlastəkwey and Acadian settlements along the river.[4] A British war journal contains record of the brutal destruction of the Acadian settlement of “St. Ann” (now today’s Fredericton) and recounts how with the British offensive the Wəlastəkokewiyik either “fled to Canada” or escaped into the woods.[5] As John Mack Faragher describes, during the fall of 1758 “Colonel Monckton, in command of two thousand men, ascended the Saint-Jean, leaving a swath of destruction on both sides of the river…”.[6] In his painting Davies does not show a “swath of destruction,” but in contrast presents the British as a civilized, peaceful society called to occupy and tame the wild.  Davies’ illustration masks the truths of the brutalities and upheavals experienced by Wəlastəkokewiyik and Acadians in the Wəlastəkw 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; Andrea Bear Nicholas, “Settler Imperialism and the Dispossession of the Maliseet, 1758-1765,” in Shaping an Agenda for Atlantic Canada, eds. John G. Reid and Donald J. Savoie (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2011), 24.

[3] Geoffrey Plank, An Unsettled Conquest: The British Campaign Against the Peoples of Acadia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 140–41; Jeffers Lennox, Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690-1763 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017), 228–31.

[4] Nicholas, “Settler Imperialism and the Dispossession of the Maliseet, 1758-1765,” 24.

[5] “Seven Years’ War Journal of the Proceedings of the 35th Regiment of Foot,” 6 March 1759, 52-56, John Carter Brown Library, https://archive.org/details/sevenyearswarjou00flet/page/n2/mode/2up.

[6] 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. candidate

University of New Brunswick