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 on Sir William Pepperell

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).