A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.TOC
Part 3, "Annapolis Royal and Louisbourg (1713-45)"TOC
Chapter 2, Louisbourg -- Its Soldiers & Fortifications

The purpose of Louisbourg was military. Thus, it should not be surprising to see that its population consisted of those from the military class and those necessary to support them: civil administrators and merchants. There were no farmers about, though undoubtedly each family attempted to supplement their means of subsistence with a small vegetable garden, in season; a few chickens, a sow, and maybe a cow. The garden was located in the owner's yard; as for the domesticated animals, they were allowed to run loose throughout the town much to the chagrin of the town officials.1

We shall shortly be moving into a discussion about the unique (at least to North America) stone fortifications which the French erected at Louisbourg, but it is necessary to consider, in a preliminary sort of way, how the contracting arrangements for the construction of the fort impacted on the lives of the regular soldiers. As we will shortly develop, the building of forts was not, strictly speaking, a military affair. A stone fortress was a major governmental project, and, while usually under the direct supervision of high ranking military officers, the work was handled by private companies under the direction of the highest of military officials. Able men, as were available, were hired by the contractors to do the back breaking work. In Louisbourg the only able bodied men who had the time, as it turned out, were the regular soldiers. So, by and large, the digging, the hauling and the placement of stone was, while under the supervision of the experts brought out from France, carried out by the soldiers themselves. The military authorities did not mind that the private contractors should pay the soldiers for their work; it kept them fit and supplemented their poor military pay.

The pay for a soldier was very, very little; and usually it only came to him twice a year. The thought was they didn't need much, since they got, with the compliments of the king, their food, lodging and clothing (at least, the plan was that they should). As a practical matter, however, a single soldier could hardly make out on military pay; thus, unless there was an independent source of money (often the case for the military officers, but not the regular men), it was necessary to earn a little additional money. This, the regular soldier did by working for the locals such as they might do at harvest time; or, as was the case at Louisbourg, to work on the fortifications. As for the married military man: well, he had to be extra diligent and often keep a number of jobs going, all at the same time. A married man often got a few extra privileges. As for example, for a cut to the allowing officers, the man was allowed to keep a tavern of which Louisbourg had many.2

By 1738 the fortifications were just about complete. There were 580 troops at Louisbourg, 100 of whom were Swiss. Their duties extended beyond the walls of Louisbourg, as there were garrisons at both "The Royal Battery" (across the harbour on the western shore facing the entrance of the harbour) and at the battery located on Ile de l'Entree (so positioned so as to blast any unfriendly ship that should try to make her way in); and at those garrisons many miles away: Port-la-Joye (near Charlottetown, P.E.I.), Port Toulouse (St. Peter's, N.S.), and Port Dauphin (Englishtown, N.S.). Bachelor soldiers, the majority, were put up in barracks.3 The few that were married had "civilian accommodations" within Louisbourg. The two external batteries, the Royal Battery and that at Ile de l'Entree, had barracks to accommodate the posted soldiers, except the gun crews who lived next to their big black masters.4 The conditions for the troops were generally bad. The soldiers, certainly not the officers, slept two to a bunk and the hay on which they slept got changed but once a year.5 It should be no surprise, therefore, then, to see that many during the milder weather preferred to sleep outside the ramparts.6 These forlorn and lonely men turned to alcohol, readily available at the canteens run by the officers.

Despite severe measures7 that were adopted to discourage the practice, desertions were not uncommon.8 Not only, as we might well be able to now understand, were conditions as such as to make any sane person want to quit the army, a lot of these men never wanted to be in the army in the first place. Many were convicts who chose to go into the army for service in New France rather than spend the balance of their lives in a dank French prison.9 This desertion problem, incidently, was not peculiar to Louisbourg. There were, in 1738, several desertions at the English garrison; and, Armstrong thought, "by the help and connivance of the inhabitants."10 There were deserters at Canso, too; the first few tried to find harborage at Louisbourg, but, upon discovery the French authorities sent English deserters back to the English.11 As for the governor at Louisbourg, he was to keep tight control over the colony so as to prevent desertions: "Nobody can leave the colony without the Governor's leave, and of his only."12 It was, however, common to sell "leaves of absence."13

Gun drill took place every Sunday and likely it was then that the drummer boys lined up for practice:

"Sleeves of the drummers' skirted coats, blue like their caps, were decorated with stripes in the link design of the royal livery, testifying service to the King. Only collars and inner linings were artillery scarlet like the boars of the cannoneers, since colors were reversed for musicians. Small hands trembled a little when they poised sticks over the heads of drums whose cases were painted scarlet and ornamented in yellow with a flaming bomb, insignia of their arm of the service, and with the same legend that adorned the caps. But the boys steadily rattled out the signals for loading, beats that would cut through the din of combat better than shouted orders."14

Two more points I need to touch upon before passing on to the fortifications of Louisbourg. First, the military uniforms of the age; and second, the fighting style. On the principle that a picture is worth a thousand words I have scanned in one and have placed it to the right.15 Note that the colours of the military jackets (justacorps), as impractical as they must have been, for the French soldier was an off white (dyes were expensive) with red (artillery) or blue (infantry) facings. I must say, as an aside, that the dress of most French military men allowed them to blend into the background much better than the British regular ever could; but bright colours for military dress was entirely normal for the day.

That a military man stood out in the battle field was entirely in keeping with the strict rules of organized fighting of the 18th century, in Europe. Each side before actually coming to blows put on great dazzling displays in an effort to intimidate the other. There, before each other, and often before a crowd of spectators, the opposing armies would be seen: manoeuvering their lines and their ranked squares; dressed in the brightest of colours, accented with glistening metal and shiny leather; with the margins being defined by arrayed artillery and horsemen just waiting for their commander's nod. This is how things evolved after centuries of battling on the fields of Europe. This, as you might imagine, was a most impractical way to go about matters in America. Military tactics, European style, by and large did not work in America, neither for the French nor the English; though always the newly arrived officer thought that it should. When it came to fighting wars in America, Europeans were inept, this because they never seemed to meet one another in an open field. However, it was gradually learned, (the French seem to catch on faster) that if one wanted to have the better of their enemy they would have to learn to fight, Indian style. The trick was to travel light and long; catch your enemy off guard; strike hard and fast; and, then, while your enemy was bloodied and dazed, run away. It was, in fact, the only way that worked in the dense woods of the American frontier.


Fortress Louisbourg:
I now turn to one of the centre-pieces of our story, the mighty fortress of Louisbourg.

The French, in their determination to found Louisbourg, were settled in their object to make a place so fortified that it could withstand all but the most determined and sustained force. Such a place required careful advanced planning. Site selection was to be, as it has always been, extremely important and the French took their time on this very important aspect of fort building. During the summers of 1713 through to 1717, in more than just one harbour, small boats with French officers were to be seen casting their lead lines into the waters and aiming their angled navigational instruments at the Shore. Data was needed: the selection of Louisbourg was not to be a casual affair. It was understood that a fort's chief strength was to come from nature; man's art was needed only for enhancement. The ultimate selection of Louisbourg was to be a perfect example of this philosophy. Outside of Quebec and Gibraltar there was no better natural setting for a fort. Fortress Louisbourg was located on a bulbous peninsula with a boggy isthmus; water to three sides and a northern swamp to the forth.

Work on the fortifications of Louisbourg began in 1717.16 A lot of the stone work, from what I can make of the records,17 was fitted into place through the 1720s such that by 1732, the Royal battery and the barracks, at least, were completed,18 though it would appear that the work on the great bastions continued through the 1730s. More generally, the work on Fortress Louisbourg was to continue during all of its 40 odd years of existence. Stones and artisans, both from France, were brought together on the rocky windswept shores of Louisbourg: new work went up where there had been but wild shrub: new work went up where old work had been torn out because of inherent defect and winter frost. Year after year the work continued. Huge sums were being spent seemingly to put stone upon stone. At one point, King Louis XV (1715-74), the man who authorized the expenditures, wondered out loud to his ministers if he should one day be able to see Louisbourg rising over the horizon from his palace balcony at Versaille.19

On the docks of Louisbourg, 1732, there we would have seen being swung in the air a large white stone which had just been off-loaded from a newly arrived sailing vessel, it could have been Le Rubis.20 As it is swung around there comes into view, in the glistening summer sunlight, cut into the white stone, the King's Coat of Arms. The on-site engineers had been waiting for this piece, for it was to give the finishing touch to one of the entrances of the fort. Also on the dock, likely being unwrapped, if the weather was dry and clear as I imagine it was this day, and being much admired by a gathering crowd, was "a painting representing St. John's baptism for the chapel of the Royal Battery."21 By this date, 1732, the Royal battery was complete, the platforms of the King's bastion are in place and "the barracks were roofed with slate."22 All the principal chimney flues were erected and the covered way of the Dauphin bastion was made, as well as the bridge at the gate. This progress is generally sketched out in the despatch of June 2nd, 1733.23

France had an international reputation for building fortifications, due mainly to her famous fort builder, Vauban.24 It was to be built of stone, and though there was no lack of stone about Louisbourg, it was generally but unworkable granite: proper building stone would have to be brought in from France. Earthen work, I should note, was also used. Louisbourg like all "Vauban forts" was star shaped and the fortifications were to be pierced by embrasures for 148 cannon, though not more than 90 were ever actually mounted.25

While Fortress Louisbourg was made of stone, common enough in Europe, stone fortresses were not to be found in North America.26 As a general rule, fort builders in America used Earthen work and wooden palisades. The American Fort of the wild west, as we might all easily imagine, was found in great numbers on the leading edges of the advancing European powers as they made their western assault on North America. Wood had its advantages, in that the material came ready to hand and men of past centuries knew how to work with it; a simple wooden fort could be constructed with a good team of axe wielding men within a matter of days, though a more complex one might take a couple of weeks. The trouble, however, with unprotected wood is that it couldn't last but only a winter or two; provided, of course, that the enemy didn't burn it down before hand. With dirt, of course, the defenders were likely to see portions of their bastions being sluiced away with the rain (this, for example, was a continuing problem at the English "stronghold" at Annapolis Royal). Stone, while immensely more expensive (masons and material had to be brought over from Europe), was thought to be more permanent. What these early builders did not figure on, and which every gardener in Canada now knows, is that northern winters shatter stone walls, unless, in the first place, their bases are laid deep into well drained ground with all joints well sealed. It is usual in Canada, come spring, to find shoddy masonry work heaved up and splayed out and away from its original position.

The engineers, under whom the impressive fortifications at Louisbourg took form, were Jean-François de Verville and Etienne Verrier. Verville had had a considerable amount of continental experience; and, it's principally to him - though others obviously had their say - we owe the selection of Louisbourg as the site on which the main fortifications on Ile Royale were to rise. Verville arrived at Louisbourg in 1716 to carry out reconnaissance and in the next year, on July 3rd, 1717, the work on Louisbourg was begun. It is reported that Verville had differences, "frequent and varied," with his fellow officers, but, as an "expert," his views usually prevailed. He "reputedly was quick tempered, [and] condoned no interference with his direction of the construction (which he considered his private preserve) ..."27 Verville supervised the work until 1724 at which time he was transferred back to France; it was then that Verrier took over. During the next 20 years, Verrier worked towards the completion of the Louisbourg complex, consisting of: the fortifications, the Royal and Island batteries, the chief public buildings, the harbour front and the lighthouse. In addition to all of these works at Louisbourg Verrier oversaw, during this period of time, the buildings and fortifications at Port-Dauphin (Englishtown), Port-Toulouse (St Peters), and Port-La-Joie (Fort Amherst, P.E.I.). The third engineering officer to follow along in the footsteps of Verville and Verrier was Louis Franquet. Franquet, in 1750, arrived with a group of French officers whose duty it was, as was agreed to by the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, to receive the fort back from the English; who, we will see, mainly through the determined efforts of a well-led militia from New England, had captured the place in 1745 (an immense surprise to the authorities back in French and, for that matter, in England too). After the French took their fort back, during this third and last period, Franquet oversaw an expensive fix-up, a fix-up which could not withstand General Jeffery Amherst's test of 1758. Franquet, after Louisbourg's second fall, returned to France.28

Of course, one should not conclude that Louisbourg was to consist just only of walls, guns and men. Certainly it consisted of all of that; but, the principal purpose of Louisbourg was to support French fisherman. It was, incidentally, to be an entrepot (The Trade at Louisbourg is dealt with in the next chapter). Fishing and trading, in centuries past, meant sailing ships; and, sailing ships needed safe harbours. For safe harbours, lighthouses were needed.

It was thought to be important, early on in the evolution of Louisbourg, to build a beacon which might be lit at a prominent spot near the mouth of Louisbourg Harbour so that mariners would be able to make their way in through the dark, avoiding the treacherous rocks both to their left and to their right. We see that the lighthouse at the entrance of Louisbourg Harbour (see map) was started in 1733, though not lit until 1734. It was round and 90 feet in circumference and near 100 feet high, as one New Englander29 described it in 1745. It was built using cement mixed at Ilse Royale, the limestone having been burnt in kilns and slacked for twelve months. The Louisbourg lighthouse had an impressive display of glass at its top; glass windows, as our observer reported, "12 feet long 6 wide, the sashes are all of iron." The glass was all brought in from France:

"400 panes of glass of 10 inches by 8, destined for the light-house which the King has caused to be constructed on the tower built at the entrance of Louisbourg port. One will not be surprised at the size of this glazing when ... learned that the light is seen for over twenty leagues at sea, which is exceedingly necessary for the safety of the ships. Besides, these lights are kept up with cod oil."30
The magnified light emanated from thirty lamps contained in a large copper pan. The source of the fire, though we see reference to "cod oil," was likely coal31 from a mine located but a short sail away. A tax was levied on vessels arriving to pay for the upkeep of the lighthouse.32

This lighthouse was simply a diamond off to one side of this impressive 18th century establishment of Louisbourg. The French engineers were also to build, with the same impressive results: military barracks, officer quarters, a whole harbour front, warehouses, churches, a hospital and an educational facility for the children of the well-to-do.

The hospital at Louisbourg was run by the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God, Brothers of Charity (four had come out in 1716). The structure, occupying a city block, of solid masonry, had two stories on the upper street (Rue d'orleans) and a basement on the lower street (Rue royale). "In the centre there was a spire forty feet high, which was surmounted by a cross ..." Well, let me have Johnston describe it:

"The hospital had four main wards, with a total capacity of one hundred and four beds, besides a number of private rooms with one bed in each. The main chapel [there were a number of chapels spread throughout Louisbourg] was located at the juncture of two main wards and was partitioned off by a curtain which, when drawn aside, allowed the patients and other citizens to hear mass from the two wards, whose combined length was about two hundred fifty feet. There was also a smaller chapel which opened off the main corridor in the rear of the building. Outside the wall of the left wing, and within the hospital yard, hung the 'Institution Bell', which served as a call-bell to announce services, orders, times of meals and of work, and extraordinary events." 33
During May, 1727, Sister de la Conception came to Louisbourg to open a convent.34 By December she was running a convent which had 22 boarding pupils. During the autumn of 1733, three more nuns arrived. The convent was a "frame house" on Rue d'orleans just across from the hospital. The convent's financial situation was always precarious: "the governor granted the sisters one-half of the fines paid for infringements of the fishery laws and others relative to the sale of strong liquors." By 1734, apparently, there were six nuns to be seen herding their little charges about Louisbourg.35

As we have seen, there were three chief engineers who succeeded one another at Louisbourg: Verville, Verrier and Franquet. In addition, there were two junior engineering officers of import: Pierre-Jereme Boucher and Jean-Baptiste de Couagne. Boucher came out with Verville in 1717 and was to be at Louisbourg, except for the 1745 intermission, until its final downfall in 1758. (If Boucher were alive to tell his story, he could tell us more about the 32 year history of Louisbourg, first hand, then anyone else that I can think of.) Couagne come down from Montreal and arrived at Ile Royale earlier than Verville and Boucher, for we see that in August, 1715, he was busy at Port Toulouse helping in the building of its fortifications. Earlier, Couagne had carried out surveys around the Great Bras d'Or (a huge lake forming the watery interior of Cape Breton) and around the northern shores of Cape Breton. During these times the 28 year old Couagne made his way through the forest paths and over pristine lakes and rivers with the help of two old experienced hands: the 47 year old Indian fighter, Hertel and the 40 year old privateer, La Ronde.36 Couagne, like his fellow officer, Boucher, had a long association with Louisbourg, continuing with his duties at that place for 25 years until his death there, in 1740. The on-site supervising engineers, Boucher and Couagne, during the construction season (May to December) were usually out in the open, working with their men; during the winter they went inside the stone interior of Louisbourg and worked as draftsmen (they both married while at Louisbourg; Couagne in 1720, and Boucher in 1733). Their superior, the chief engineer, like so many of the upper-crust of New France, usually would return to the mild climate of France and the comforts of chateau and family.

The contractors of Louisbourg were Michel-Philippe Isabeau and Francois Ganet. Isabeau was the first to come to Louisbourg; it was in 1717 when he came to carry out an inspection of the site. Isabeau signed an agreement with the crown on March 7th, 1719. His job was to build the King's Bastion and Chateau Saint-Louis according to the engineering plans of Verville. As a contractor, of course, he was necessarily involved with suppliers and, it was said,37 that he took advantage of his position and traded merchandise for his own account, particularly, alcoholic beverages.38 On November 20th, 1724, Isabeau embarked on the Victoire, so to return to France for the winter: he died while at sea. And so Ganet came on the scene and took over where Isabeau left off. Ganet, like the new broom that he was, found that, in certain aspects of the fortification work, it was necessary to start over again. It was not until 1731, that Isabeau's family was to get an adjusted payment for the work Isabeau had done. It is estimated that the French government spent 1,700,000 livres on construction work while Ganet was at Louisbourg. In 1737 (and by this time the fort was substantially completed), Ganet lost out on further work, as he was underbid by another French contractor by the name of David-Bernard Muiron.

While in years past, for those interested in the configurations of the fortification at Louisbourg, one had to rely on written descriptions,39 certain of the important parts of the fortifications can now be seen, rebuilt, as they have been, by the Canadian government some 200 years after their destruction -- Louisbourg stands today like a military Brigadoon, occupants and all. I leave off this part by quoting from the monumental work of John Stewart McLennan, Louisbourg. McLennan, more than any other person in Canada, is responsible for the restructured works of modern-day Fortress Louisbourg.

"The Citadel contained, on the southern side, the apartments of the Governor and the King's Chapel, which served as parish church; the other half was occupied by barracks. The whole work was the Bastion du Roy, the centre of the system of fortification. Between this and the sea coast were the Queen's Bastion and the Prince's half-bastion. These works by 1735 were in an advanced state, although but a few guns were mounted, for at this time the defence of the town depended on the island battery, protecting the mouth of the harbour with a battery of twenty guns broadside to the narrow entrance, and on the shore of the harbour, facing its entrance, the Royal battery completed with its towers and with its guns mounted.
... The houses were built for the most part in wood on stone foundations, and were from eight to eleven feet in height; but some of them had the first story in stone, and the upper in wood.
... there seems to have been in all the British colonies no buildings so imposing as those which the French government thought suitable for this little establishment."
40

[NEXT: Pt. 3, Ch. 3 - Louisbourg -- Its Trade.]

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