WARREN, Sir PETER, naval officer, commander of the British squadron at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), 1745; b. 1703 or 1704, son of Michael Warren, of Warrenstown, Co. Meath (Republic of Ireland), and of Lady Catherine Plunket, née Aylmer, members of old Anglo-Irish families; d. 29 July 1752 in Dublin (Republic of Ireland).
Peter Warren joined the navy at Dublin in 1716 as an ordinary seaman, under the protection of his maternal uncle, Admiral Matthew Aylmer. He was made midshipman in 1719, lieutenant in 1723, and post captain in 1727. His early advancement was hastened by the patronage of Aylmer’s son-in-law, Admiral Sir John Norris, under whom he served on several occasions. Serving first in the Irish sea, Warren spent most of his career from 1718 either on the North American coast or in the West Indies. Before the outbreak of war with Spain in 1739 he commanded the station ships at Boston, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina, and acquired a good knowledge of the coastal waters as far north as Canso, Nova Scotia, a familiarity with colonial politics, an appetite for investments in colonial land, and a taste for clandestine trade with the French at Louisbourg. Warren’s most ambitious investment was the creation of a settlement on the Mohawk frontier (near modern Amsterdam, N.Y.). This was at first under the care of his Irish nephew, William (later Sir William) Johnson*, whom he brought to America in 1738. In July 1731 he had married at New York Susannah, daughter of Stephen DeLancey, a Huguenot, and sister of James, chief justice and lieutenant governor of New York.
Warren’s first involvement in the war was at the abortive siege of San Augustin, Florida, in 1740, which he describes as “Ill concerted and worse conducted.” From Florida he went to Jamaica and served briefly under Admiral Edward Vernon, who thought him an “active good officer.” In August 1742 the admiralty adopted his suggestion for employing some of the North American station ships during the winter in the West Indies, and appointed him to command a small squadron based at Antigua. His principal success with the squadron came in 1744 upon the outbreak of war with France, when numerous French ships were captured, The result was the temporary discomfiture of the enemy, a large increase in his fortune, and some personal publicity at home.
The highlight of Warren’s career came in 1745. The Massachusetts General Court, spurred on by Governor William Shirley, decided to attack the great French fortress at Louisbourg, and Warren was asked in January for naval support though he was then at Antigua. At first he felt unable to come to Shirley’s aid, but in March he received new orders from the admiralty to take under his command all vessels on the North American coast north of Virginia, and he set sail for New England.
Warren had known the commander of the New England force, William Pepperrell, since at least 1736 when he was first stationed at Boston. In 1741 he had stayed for several weeks with Pepperrell in Kittery, Maine, where they had discussed the idea of jointly commanding an attack on Louisbourg. Warren had told the admiralty in 1743 that the capture “of Canada and Cape Bretoon, wou’d be of greater consequence to Great Britain than any other conquest that we may hope to make in a Spanish or French war.” His idea had been to capture the fortress with regular British troops and suitable artillery, supported by colonial levies and protected by a properly equipped squadron.
The expedition that Warren’s orders now clearly committed him to support fell far short of his expectations and he had real doubts of its prospects for success. The force consisted of some 3,000 undisciplined and untrained colonial troops with arms but no artillery. The supporting squadron under his command, was made up of his own four ships (a ship of the line and three frigates) and a dozen small armed vessels, sloops, and brigantines, the largest of which carried 24 guns. The troops from New England were convoyed to Canso by their own escorts. Warren met them there late in April 1745 and helped to escort them to Louisbourg with part of his squadron.
Warren saw as his principal aim the blockading of the fortress by sea, no easy task on a coast notorious for its fogs. His overriding fear was that the French might attempt to lift the siege with a larger squadron than the one under his command. His second purpose was to cooperate with the New Englanders in formulating a successful plan of assault. He was not officially part of Pepperrell’s council of war, which met more or less daily on land, and was almost invariably at sea off the entrance to Louisbourg harbour. However he asked for and welcomed Pepperrell’s suggestions for the disposal of the squadron, and felt free to propose to the council plans to expedite the siege. During the seven weeks’ siege he actually submitted four plans of attack, each a joint land-sea operation, none of which was ever carried out. Late in May, when the third such plan had been set aside by Pepperrell’s council, Warren complained to Pepperrell: “I am sorry no Plan of mine, tho’ approv’d of by all my Captains, has been so fortunate, as to meet your approbation, or have any weight with you. I Flatter’d myself, from the little knowledge, I have endeavour’d to acquire, in Military affairs, my advice singly, wou’d have had some Influence, in the Conducting of the present Expedition.” He short-temperedly spoke of the indolence of the New England officers, when in fact it was their inexperience that really taxed his patience. His frustration must have been the more intense as he perceived his own lack of naval strength.
Toward the end of May, however, though the New Englanders’ morale and strength had declined, Warren’s position was greatly strengthened. On the night of 19–20 May (o.s.) his small squadron had taken the Vigilant (64 guns), which had tried to relieve the fortress [see Alexandre de La Maisonfort]. Two days later reinforcements began to arrive from England, and by 10 June Warren had six ships of the line and five frigates, mounting 554 guns and carrying 3,585 officers, seamen, and marines. Warren now felt certain that the siege would succeed and persuaded Pepperrell’s council to agree to an altered version of his third plan of assault. On 15 June, the eve of the planned attack, Warren addressed the New England troops, saying “He’d Rather Leave his Body at Louisbourg than not take the Citty.” Just as the troops and seamen were girding themselves for battle, however, the French sued for peace.
Warren and Pepperrell jointly negotiated the terms of capitulation with the French commander, Louis Du Pont* Duchambon. They agreed that all Frenchmen in the city and the territories under the jurisdiction of the governor of Louisbourg would “have their personal Estates Secur’d to them and have Liberty to transport themselves and said effects to any part of the French King’s Dominions in Europe.” Warren reported to the admiralty that although the French had asked that any inhabitant who so wished be allowed to remain at Louisbourg, “wee wou’d by no means agree to it; wee have an example of the Ill Consequence of the French being among us at Annapolis.” He had no faith in the ability of the French settlers to live side by side at peace with English families. He shipped most of Cape Breton’s population to France in 1745 and planned to repatriate the settlers of Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island), who also came under the terms of capitulation, the following summer. He often suggested that the Acadians be resettled in the more populous southern colonies, believing that, as long as Canada was under French rule, the Acadians could not be trusted to remain loyal British subjects, whether or not they took the oath of allegiance.
The surrender of the fortress of Louisbourg occasioned a sharp though momentary dispute between Warren and Pepperrell, and some historians have accused Warren of trying at this point to steal the glory due to the New Englanders. The argument arose when Warren manœuvred successfully to get the keys of the city from the French governor and post his marines in Louisbourg before the New England troops entered. He was not so much concerned with prestige, though this was by no means unimportant, as with the orderly transfer of power. He feared that the New Englanders, denied the right to take the booty they had hoped for in joining the expeditions, would ransack the town. This falling-out, which has been interpreted as an overt attempt by Warren to assume sole command of the garrison, did not destroy the generally good relations that had characterized Warren’s dealings with Pepperrell. Their friendship was real and lasting, as their lengthy correspondence amply testifies.
When news of the fall of Louisbourg reached England, Warren was made a rear-admiral, and a baronetcy was suggested, which he declined on the grounds that he had no son. Much to his consternation, he was also made first British governor of Cape Breton on 1 Sept. 1745. He had no desire to be isolated in the fortress and at once asked to be relieved of the post, preferring to serve at sea. His request was accepted and Commodore Charles Knowles was sent in May 1746 as his successor. Warren hoped to see a “Civil Government” established on Cape Breton Island as soon as the war was over, believing that few settlers would come as long as military rule survived. Only a large settlement and a proper garrison could protect the island against the French. Warren urged that grants be made free of quit rents, that the fishery be encouraged as the principal source of wealth, and that Louisbourg be declared a free port to stimulate trade. He wanted it also, so long as the war lasted, to become the principal rendezvous where all British trading vessels returning from the American continent and the West Indies could meet to proceed home under convoy of warships.
In letters home Warren frequently spoke of Louisbourg as merely a stepping stone toward the conquest of Canada, which would open to the British alone “the whole Furr and Fish Trade . . . a Source of immense Treasure.” He thought at first that an attack on Quebec could be mounted by the spring of 1746, but after discussions with Shirley, who was at Louisbourg from August to December 1745, he felt the plan could only be executed in 1747, for it involved troops not only from England but from all the colonies as far south as North Carolina. The government, however, took up Warren’s first suggestion and decided to attack Quebec in the summer of 1746. Warren found this decision completely exasperating. He feared failure and saw both his career ending in ruin and vast expense being laid upon the colonies and England, simply because the scheme, however strategically sound, was projected a year too soon.
As a result of the government’s orders, Warren and Pepperrell decided to postpone the repatriation of the French settlers on Île Saint-Jean. Warren left for Boston 6 June 1746 with one ship, the Chester, under his command. While in Boston he helped Shirley coordinate plans for the attack on Quebec, and sent out the Chester first to scout for a French fleet which was expected soon in North American waters, and then to protect Annapolis which was likely to be a target of any French attack. By the end of August 7,000 men had been raised for the expedition, but Warren thought the force insufficient, even with the support of British regulars. As the weeks passed and English reinforcements failed to appear, Warren knew the plan would have to be delayed until the spring of 1747. He and Shirley proposed an alternative plan for the autumn and winter months: an attack against the French at Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point, N.Y.) on the western shore of Lake Champlain, which had become a base for raids upon the frontiers of New England and New York. Its capture would provide as useful a spring-board for an attack in 1747 on Montreal as Louisbourg would provide for an attack on Quebec. All these plans fell apart when news reached Boston and Louisbourg in September 1746 that the French fleet, commanded by the Duc d’Anville [La Rochefoucauld], which had been sent to prevent an attack on Quebec, recapture Louisbourg, and attack Placentia and Annapolis, had arrived on the coast of Nova Scotia. Shirley rushed reinforcements to Annapolis and Warren expected a major sea battle. He remained in Boston in a high state of tension until October when the full story of the disasters suffered by the French reached him; decimated by disease and starvation, they had buried their dead and sailed homeward. Warren thereupon decided to return to England and left on 28 Nov. 1746.
Warren was summoned in January 1747 to advise the Privy Council on the situation in America. His ambitions for an early conquest of Canada had vanished as the government would not be further deflected from its commitment to the war in Europe. Warren now limited his comments to the need to settle Cape Breton and Nova Scotia. He advised the government, as he often had before, to initiate a conciliatory policy toward the Indians of Nova Scotia. He suggested the fortification of Canso, Placentia, and Chebucto (Halifax, where he hoped to see a permanent settlement established), and the retention of a strong squadron of warships at Louisbourg as long as the war lasted. In March 1747 he was placed in command of just such a squadron, but never sailed for America. When the admiralty learned of the French preparations to send yet another fleet to Louisbourg, they decided the home fleet should be strengthened with the ships then under Warren’s command. Admiral George Anson, with Warren under him, was ordered to sea with the western squadron and on 3 May they defeated the French in an important battle off Cape Ortegal, Spain [see Taffanel de La Jonquière]. As a reward Warren was made a knight companion of the Order of the Bath, and two months later became a vice-admiral. He went to sea again that summer and took many prizes before returning to port in August. Illness prevented him from commanding the squadron again that year but Admiral Edward Hawke, whom Warren had nominated as his successor, secured a second and even more crushing victory over the French in October. So complete was English mastery of the seas that in 1748 neither France nor Spain was able to mount an effective counterstroke. Warren, again in command of the western squadron, fought no major sea battle. The peace preliminaries brought the war to an end and Warren struck his flag on 4 Aug. 1748 for the last time.
Warren now began to devote much time to politics. As early as 1742 he had expressed the ambition of becoming governor of New York, and when Lewis Morris died in 1746, Warren had also lobbied for the governorship of New Jersey. He did not confine his political ambitions to America and expressed in 1746 a vague hope of getting into parliament. Shortly after the victory of Cape Ortegal, parliament was suddenly dissolved and Warren, who had earlier agreed to support the government, stood for the City of Westminster, which “invariably returned men of the highest social standing.” Election success came easily though it cost him £7,000. He also sought office under Henry and Thomas Pelham (Duke of Newcastle) by bidding for a vacancy on the admiralty board in December 1748. Despite Anson’s support, Warren’s bid failed. When the next vacancy on the board occurred six months later, Warren was not even considered, for he had alienated his political friends by leading the opposition of many naval officers to certain clauses of a bill to reform the navy. Warren gravitated toward the Earl of Egmont and other supporters of the Prince of Wales, and was listed as an admiralty commissioner in the administration to be formed upon the prince’s accession; but the prince died in March 1751. Despite his failure with the Pelhams, Warren warmly supported Newcastle’s European system of alliances to counter-balance the power of France, about whose policies he remained deeply suspicious. He was also an advocate of a strong navy as the chief instrument of British policy. In parliament he was one of the best informed members on American affairs, being active in matters relating to colonial trade, currency problems, boundary disputes, and the fisheries.
Warren’s income from war prizes amounted to at least £126,000, of which not less than £53,000 came from the prizes taken at Louisbourg. Next to Anson’s prize fortune, Warren’s was probably the largest ever accumulated before the Seven Years’ War. He invested his wealth in land and moneylending in various American colonies, particularly New York, as well as in England and Ireland; in government bonds, especially the 1745 loan; and in the stock of the great trading and insurance companies.
Warren was also something of a philanthropist, his philanthropy being more distinguished by its scope than its size. He subscribed funds for the building of churches in America; in England he was particularly interested in hospitals. Although he was probably raised a Catholic, he was a strong supporter of the Church of England in his later life. In 1749 he was given a commission of £900 for helping the New England governments secure compensation from parliament for some of their expenses in 1745 and 1746, and put most of this sum into a trust for the education of Indian children. In his eyes this was the perfect blending of religion and practical politics, for the Indians would be brought to a “Knowledge of . . . the Glorious Redeemer of the World” and be won over to the “British Interest.” He intended to organize a subscription to increase the fund but died before the plan matured.
Warren died suddenly in Dublin on 29 July 1752 “of a most Violent Fever,” when it seemed his active talent had only begun to be tapped. His naval career, however distinguished, had achieved nothing memorable, and his brief political career must only have disappointed him and his friends. His fame and fortune brought him to the outer fringes of power, but his lack of strong political allies and his own independent spirit, buoyed up by his considerable wealth, soon isolated him from the centre of political life. His lasting monuments were, curiously, his remarkably perceptive comments on the future course of Anglo-American relations in America, and his large fortune, traces of which survive even today through the marriages of his daughters into the English aristocracy.
Warren was buried in Ireland in the parish of his birth, but the exact site of his grave is unmarked. There is a large, unlovely monument of him in the east transept of Westminster Abbey, carved by Louis-François Roubillac.
Baker Library, Harvard University, Peter Faneuil letterbook, 1737–39. Bedford Office (London), Woburn mss H.M.C. no.8, 4th Duke of Bedford ms letters, X, 94; XVII, 41, 45; XXVI, 68. Boston Public Library, mss B.11.94; Chamberlain coll. of Hancock mss, Ch.M.1.10. BM, Add. mss, 15955, ff.26–27, 141, 149; 15957, ff.147, 152, 152v, 156–58, 160, 191–92, 195–97, 219, 222, 310, 312; Egerton mss, 929, ff.168–72. Clements Library, George Clinton papers, I, II; Peter Warren papers. Maine Hist. Soc. (Portland), Fogg autograph coll., Warren mss. “Mass. Archives,” I, 296–98; XIII, 245–47; XX, 559–60. Mass. Hist. Soc., Belknap papers, 61.B, 61.C; Louisbourg mss, V, VI; Pepperrell papers, 71.A, f.193. N.Y. Hist. Soc. (New York), De Lancey papers; J. E. Stillwell coll.; Peter Warren papers, 12; Peter Warren deeds, 3. PRO, Adm. 1/233, f.49; 1/480; 1/2652–1/2655 (Warren’s letters); 1/3817; 1/4114, f.23; 2/58, ff.439–44; 2/69, ff.178, 267–68, 269; 2/482, f.196; 2/505, ff.66–67; 33/307; CO 5/36; 5/44, ff.16–22, 31–32, 33–37, 45, 97, 105–14; SP 42/30. Sussex Archaeological Soc. (Lewes, Eng.), Gage papers, America, G/Am/1, G/Am/6, G/Am/21; Hampshire, G/Ah/66 (26); Ireland, G/Ir/2 (70). Some letters between Warren and Pepperrell can be found in the private collection of J. G. Johnson, Sydney, Ohio.
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Cite This Article
Julian Gwyn, “WARREN, Sir PETER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/warren_peter_3E.html.
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:||Julian Gwyn|
|Title of Article:||WARREN, Sir PETER|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1974|
|Year of revision:||1974|
|Access Date:||April 1, 2023|