May 1, 1756: The First Treaty of Versailles is signed. France and Austria form a military alliance.
May 2, 1756: Admiral Byng’s squadron, after having encountered much bad weather, arrived at Gibraltar, where Byng learnt the strength of the French squadron; and that it had already escorted a large body of troops to Minorca, and obtained possession of the whole island, with the exception of Fort St. Philip.
May 8, 1756: Sir Edward Hawke, with part of his squadron, arrived at Spithead.
May 8, 1756: On the 8th of May the British squadron sailed from Gibraltar and on the 16th reached Majorca, where intelligence was received, fully confirming that which had been obtained at Gibraltar.
May 11, 1756: A message was sent by his Majesty to both Houses of Parliament, signifying, “That his Majesty being desirous to be prepared against all attempts and designs whatsoever that may be formed by his enemies, in the present critical juncture, and considering that sudden emergencies may arise, which may be of the utmost importance, and be attended with the most pernicious consequences, if proper means should not be immediately applied to prevent or defeat them; his Majesty hoped, that he should be enabled by his parliament, to concert and take such measures, as should be necessary to disappoint or defeat any enterprises or designs of his enemies, and as the exigency of affairs may require.” For which message both Houses voted l loyal and dutiful address to his Majesty.
May 11, 1756: The new commander of New France, Marquis Louis Joseph de Montcalm, arrives in North America along with much needed reinforcements.
May 15, 1756: The Queenborough man of war with forty-five sail of transports will the Hessian troops on board, consisting о 5500 foot, and 800 horse, arrived at Southampton.
May 16, 1756: “Amsterdam, May 16. We have advice, that 16 men of war belonging to Sweden and Denmark, and some frigates, have joined near Elseneur, and that the admirals of the two nations have received orders from their respective courts to draw lots, when they come to a certain latitude, which shall command in chief the combined fleet. It is reported, that these ships are all double manned. Their destination is variously talked of. Some pretend that they are designed to hinder the transporting of any Russian troops to Great-Britain. Others day, that this squadron is only intended to protect the navigation of the two crowns.”
May 17, 1756: His Majesty in council was pleased to order, that a commission should be prepared, to authorize and empower the lords of the Admiralty to grant letters of marque or commission to privateers.
May 17, 1756: Early in the morning, the 50-gun ship Colchester, and 20-gun ship Lyme, Captains Lucius O’Brien and Edward Vernon, being off the Isle of Oleron, chased two sail. At 5h. P.M., the Colchester arrived up with the sternmost, which was the 50-gun ship Aquilon, and engaged her very closely; while the Lyme brought to action her consort, the 32-gun frigate Fidelle. After an action of six hours’ duration, the French ships made off, leaving the Colchester and Lyme much damaged in hull and rigging, with the loss of a great many men.
May 18, 1756: War was declared against the French king, and notice was given at the post office, that no mail would go between these kingdoms and France.
May 19, 1756: [Off Minorca] At daybreak, having had a fine wind during the preceding night, the fleet comprising 15 ships of the line and 3 sloops arrived in sight of Minorca, and the admiral dispatched the Phoenix to reconnoiter Port Mahon, and ascertain the possibility of throwing supplies into Fort St. Philip, as also with a letter to General Blakeney, the commandant of the garrison. In the meanwhile the squadron made every effort to get inshore, but the appearance of the French fleet quickly changed the nature of the British admiral’s movements. His first object was to strengthen his weakest-manned ships from the crews of the smaller vessels, and he converted the Phoenix into a fire-ship. Towards night, the French squadron of Admiral de la Galissonière had neared the British squadron within a few miles, when they tacked, to obtain the weather gage, but Byng possessing at that time this advantage, tacked also. The two fleets therefore continued working to windward all night, with light variable airs of wind, and at daybreak on the 20th, they were not visible to each other.
May 20, 1756: [Off Minorca] The Defiance, a little after daybreak, captured a tartan containing a reinforcement of men from Minorca for the French fleet, and shortly afterwards the latter was discovered to leeward, but at so great a distance that it was 2 P.M. before Byng considered it necessary to form his order of attack. The signal was then made for the British squadron in two lines to bear away two points, and engage the enemy. Rear-Admiral West, whose division was leading, misinterpreting the signal, bore up seven points; and at 2:45 P.M. the Defiance, in the most spirited manner, engaged the van ship of the enemy. The other ships of Rear-Admiral West’s division engaged with equal gallantry, and the action soon became general with the British van, and the French van and centre. The French ships were under topsails only, with their main-topsails to the mast. Byng, with his division, shortly afterwards bore up to the support of his rear-admiral; but the Intrepid, the last ship of the leading division, had not been long in action ere her foretopmast was shot away, and, in a manner wholly unaccountable, threw the centre division astern of her into confusion. The loss of a foretopmast to a ship sailing with the wind on her quarter ought not to have been attended with any material consequences, and the only effect it would have had upon experienced seamen would have been, that the ships astern would have passed the disabled ship to leeward, and have continued to close the enemy. It is impossible to justify the proceedings of Admiral Byng, and the ships of his division. The Intrepid rounded to, and threw all a-back, but not before she was in such a position as to engage the ship opposed to her in the line with effect. The Revenge, the ship next astern, luffed up, in order to pass the Intrepid to windward, but did not in fact pass her at all, as she remained upon the Intrepid’s weather quarter. The Princess Louisa and Trident were also brought to by the same cause, as well as the Ramillies, bearing the admiral’s flag. The latter ship did not get into action at all, although her crew wasted much ammunition by firing when out of gun-shot; neither did the Revenge, Trident, Culloden, or Kingston. The division of Rear-Admiral West, which led, suffered most; and had the French not filled, and made sail after about three hours’ cannonading, his ships must inevitably have fallen into their hands. The four 74-gun ships of the French fleet mounted 42-pounders on the lower deck, and the 64-gun ships, 36-pounders. The conduct of M. De Galissioniere, therefore, was surprising; for, with such ships, he ought to have captured every ship of the British fleet. But this does not exonerate the British admiral, whose indecision is softened only by the severity of the penalty he paid. Byng quitted Minorca and returned to Gibraltar, where he was soon afterwards superseded by Sir Edward Hawke.
May 20, 1756: Nineteen transports, having on board 9000 Hanoverians, arrived at Chatham.
May 25, 1756: The States General came to a resolution, to observe exact neutrality in respect to the war in America, between Great-Britain and France.
May 27, 1756: “A very bold action was performed on the 27th of last month by capt. Cockburne, in the Hunter-cutter, a little thing with only forty men, and a few swivels. He kept loitering about Brest all day, and at night went in, in his boat, with only five men; when, after having rowed round all the men of war, and taken a particular account of them, he cut the cables of a French snow, boarded her, and carried her away from among the men of war. She was loaded with wine, which hath been distributed to all the fleet. We have got eighteen hogsheads ; and yesterday, after having taken every thing out of her, sunk her.”
May 29, 1756: Commodore Spry took a French dogger with provisions and stores of all kinds for the garrison of Louisbourg.
May 31, 1756: “Extract of a Letter from Philadelphia, dated May 31. ‘Pursuant to agreement some months ago, the four governments of New-England, in conjunction with New-York, (which last furnished 1,300) have new assembled 8,000 men for the attack of Crown-Point, at Albany, 150 miles N. of New-York, and about 130 from Crown-Point, under general Winslow; and as men continually join them, there will soon be 9,000. We are well assured by fishermen that a French fleet with soldiers on hoard crossed the banks of Newfoundland 20 days ago, bound for Canada; hence, as these troops may get to Crown-Point, and reinforce the forts before our army will go up thither, you may judge the bad consequences of this delay. The 44th, 48th, 50th, and 51st regiments of Great-Britain, with three independent companies, and the Jersey Provincials, are destined for the campaign on the great lake Ontario, and mostly marched for Oswego, thence to be carried over in 200 whale boats, which are now at the lake, and were built last winter at Schenectady on Mohawks river, and are Jong, round, and light, for the batteaus being flat-bottomed and small would not answer the navigation of the lake, were the waves are often very high: They are to attack Fort Frontenac and the other French forts on the lake. Upwards of 2000 batteau men are employed to navigate the batteaus, each a ton burthen, loaded with provisions and stores from Albany, up the Mohawks river, then through Oncyda lake and river, down to Oswego. There are 300 sailors hired and gone up from New-York to Oswego, to navigate the four armed ships on the lake, built there last year for the king’s service, which are about 150 tons each, and two others are now building, smiths, carpenters, and other artificers having arrived there some weeks ago. The troops already mentioned for this service are about 3600 men, besides officers. In this province, 1500 men are new raised, and yet we act only on the defensive, owing to party disputes and our own inexperience 400 of them are going to build a good fort at Shamakin, up the Susquehanna in the Allegheny mountains, a noted pass about 150 miles N. W. of this city. Besides the 60,000l. currency, given this this province last winter, 40,000l. more is just voted by a land-tax on lands and estates, etc. Maryland likewise has voted 40,000l. and Virginia 45,000l.”