SMART, THOMAS, naval officer who directed the attack on French fishing installations at Canso (Canceau), September 1718; d. 8 Nov. 1722 (o.s.).

Smart was appointed captain and commander of the Squirrel (a sixth-rate frigate of 20–22 guns, carrying 100–115 men) on 26 July 1715. He participated in Sir George Byng’s anti-Jacobite operation in Scotland, 1715–16, and was on home service off the French coast, 1716–17. On 18 April 1717 he was dispatched to North America “to act in concert against pirates,” and was stationed off New England from July 1717 till July 1720.

The Anglo-French contest over the possession of the Canso fishery – resulting from the ambiguity of Article XIII of the treaty of Utrecht (1713) and not definitely settled until the Peace of Paris (1763) – erupted in September 1718. In response to a bolstering of the French position at Canso and a new claim of sovereignty, Governor Shute of Massachusetts determined to assert British rights. On 26 August, the Squirrel, Captain Thomas Smart commander, set sail for the island of Canso and Île Royale (Cape Breton Island).

Smart was instructed to investigate conditions on the spot; to visit Île Royale, where he would request Governor Saint-Ovide [Monbeton*] to order the immediate withdrawal of the French fishermen; and, if met with a refusal, to return to Canso, demolish the French installations, confiscate the vessels and effects of the fishermen, and expel them from the area. Although there are discrepancies in the various accounts of Smart’s interview with Saint-Ovide, it would seem that the latter agreed to a withdrawal only on condition that it would be no more than a temporary evacuation, delayed until the season’s end, and accompanied by a similar evacuation on the part of the English. Smart thereupon returned to Canso, and from 14 to 25 September (25 September–6 October, N.S.), carried out the rest of his instructions. On 4 October, the Squirrel arrived back in Boston, escorting a brigantine, a sloop, and “several” shallops, which had been confiscated “for fishing and trading contrary to the 5th and 6th Arts. Of Peace and Neutrality in America.”

As advised by the Massachusetts council, the vessels were kept in harbour, the perishable part of their cargoes sold at public auction, and the proceeds of the sale deposited in bond, pending a decision from England. A squabble over these spoils, typical of the many that occurred between naval commanders and colonial governors at the time, then arose between Smart and Shute, and the French fishermen hastened to press their claims as well. Eventually, on 5 June 1719, while denying the validity of the French arguments and actually commending Smart, the Board of Trade resisted its first impulse to reject these claims. In order “to cultivate a good understanding between the two Nations,” but only as “a pure act of grace and favour,” the confiscated vessels and effects, or their value, were to be returned. There is no evidence, however, to show that the restitution duly ordered by the Lords Justices was actually made; and the case of the chief claimant, Joannis de Hiriberry, dragged on till 1722, when it petered out inconclusively.

The Canso fishery was described by both Shute and the Board of Trade as “the best in America and preferable to that of Newfoundland.” Largely because of the Hiriberry case, the incident of September 1718 was the most far-reaching of the many crises in the contest for this fishery after 1713. It also revealed the New England interests at work in the contest – interests that grew increasingly influential in Nova Scotian affairs, to become at least a contributing factor in the expulsion of the Acadians during 1755.

As for Thomas Smart, neither the complaints of the French nor the sympathetic hearing given those complaints by some historians alter the fact that he only acted in accordance with his instructions. Indeed, as the Board of Trade acknowledged, if a “gentler method” might have been advisable, both he and the authorities behind his action displayed a “very laudable zeal for His Majesty’s service.” Apparently Smart never received the bounty he and his officers had been granted by order-in-council of 9 May 1719, “as an Encouragement to them for the Service they have perform’d and to other Commanders and Officers of His Majesty’s Ships to use their best endeavours to do the like for the future.” But he probably deserved the acquittal recommended by the Privy Council in the Hiriberry judgement of 1722.

Smart retired when the Squirrel was paid off and laid up in April 1721, and died the following year.

G. P. Browne

AN, Col., B, 44; C11B, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8; E, 233; Section Outre-Mer, Dépot des fortifications des colonies, carton 5, nos.276, 277, 278. Mass. Hist. Soc., Gay papers, II, III. PAC, Nova Scotia A, 9, 10. PRO, Adm., 1/2451, 1/2452, 8/14; C.O. 5/867, 217/2, 217/3, 218/1. The Byng papers, ed. [W. C.] Brian Tunstall (3v., Navy Records Soc., LXVII, LXVIII, LXX, London, 1932), III. Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la N.-F., III, 30, 34–39. Mémoires des commissaires, IV, 429–35. Memorials of the English and French commissaires, I, 487–93. PRO, CSP, Col., 1719–20, 1720–21. John Chamberlayne, Magnae Britanniae notitia (25th ed., London, 1718). G.B., Admiralty, List of sea officers, 1660–1815, III. McLennan, Louisbourg.

Cite This Article

G. P. Browne, “SMART, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 25, 2024,

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Author of Article:   G. P. Browne
Title of Article:   SMART, THOMAS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1969
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   July 25, 2024