There were a number of reasons for the founding of Louisbourg. First off, and probably the most important, France wanted a stronghold to secure its holdings on the eastern coast of North America, holdings which had been dramatically reduced as a result of the recent war.1 Another reason is that the French wanted a fortified place to which her fishermen might resort in the prosecution of the fishery, an industry which had long been pursued and which supplied food for French tables. A third reason, was the requirement for an entrepôt which could hold and redistribute goods to the other colonies which France continued to hold in North America, particularly Quebec and her islands in the Caribbean. A fourth, which is really just an extension of this last reason, and which was not to be a stated reason, was the provision of a safe harbour for privateers who preyed on the sailing ships of New England. This last reason, or result, as we will see in due course, -- spelt the doom of Louisbourg.
Not much is available to us to make any determinations about the content and makeup of Louisbourg's trade prior to the 1730s. Enough to say that during the 1720s and early 1730s that Louisbourg was abuilding. I note that there was, however, a significant expansion of trade between the years 1739-44, indeed, by nearly 50%;2 and this undoubtedly was due to the endeavours of François Bigot the notorious but hard working financial commissary at Louisbourg. During the year 1739, for example, though a bit down from the previous year, there was shipped from Louisbourg, "143,660 quintals [a hundred weight] of cod, and 1,711 barrels of oil." Dried cod3 was what was being run down into the islands so to fuel the slave labour employed in the cane fields.4
During 1737, imports at Louisbourg were measured at 1,427,451 livres; exports at 1,499,446. Thus there was, as economists love to say, at least for 1737, a favourable balance of trade.5 Dried cod, was by far and away the single biggest commodity going out of Louisbourg; what came in, as we will see, was a varied and interesting mix. During the late 1730s: the goods imported amounted to a total of 1,277,881 livres of which 770,209 came from France, 288,870 from the West Indies, 142,452 from Canada, 25,865 from Acadia, and 50,478 from New England. The officials of the time, however, expressed the view that the imports from Acadia and New England were too high. People in Canada (Quebec) complain of this. 6 An analysis of McLennan's tables7 reveals: that most of the tonnage was coming in from Quebec though there was a greater number of vessels coming up from Boston. The tonnage was very large from Quebec and no ships were shown which came directly in from France.8 One conclusion might be that the French people and French supplies must be coming in via Quebec. In total, there are more ships and tonnage coming in from the West Indies than from Boston; but I suppose this is to be expected: trade is reciprocal, and, as we have seen most of the goods coming out of Louisbourg was being transported to the Caribbean islands. Coming in from the West Indies, in 1740, we see: rum, molasses, coffee, sugar. From Quebec: flour, biscuit, peas, tobacco, wood, nails, candles, iron. From New England: live stock, bricks, planks, pork, furniture. From Acadia: live stock, pelts, flour. By 1752 we do not see any imports from New England listed, but great quantities of goods directly from France: salt, anchors, ham, fishing nets, sail cloth, olive oil, butter, shoes, wine (1,300 casks of Bordeaux), squares of window glass, and on and on; what went back to France for this, as we have seen, was wood, animal furs, and fish; to the West Indies went wood and fish. An examination of the records reveal that a lot of the incoming goods from France and the West Indies after a short resting period on the docks of Louisbourg was then shipped into New England.9 The tobacco, incidently, that was smoked at Acadia, Louisbourg and Quebec - and a lot of it was smoked - most likely came through trading with the English, who, of course, got it from the Virginia farmers.10
The general description of the larger western trade routes would apply to all of the trading nations of western Europe which had access to the northeastern Atlantic. This, of course, would include both France and England. Merchantmen would first load up with trading goods, usually in Holland. These large sailing vessels would then head south and eventually down along the African coast. “Goods from Europe, largely manufactures, were taken to stations on the West African coast, and exchanged for slaves, ivory and gold. These cargoes were carried across to America and the West Indies. There the slaves were sold, and in their place sugar, rum, mahogany, logwood11, tobacco and cotton” were taken on board for the vessel’s return to European ports.12
To effect a trade in foreign ports one would resort to the ancient system of barter.13 The ship's captain would value things by a "unit value." "A number of units of value was assigned to certain quantities of each kind of goods to be exchanged: a basin, a piece of cloth, a gun, or a dozen knives." A slave, as Gill points out, was valued at around 16 units.14
The larger scheme of the triangular trading route, as has been just described, did not impact in any direct way on the relatively few Englishmen as were to be found during these early days within the confines of peninsular Nova Scotia. What trade existed, did so strictly as a spur off the larger Boston market; small sailing vessels would come up the coast by adventurous English traders to supply the English at Annapolis Royal and at Canso, and, more generally, the scattered Acadian families located well up the rivers and creeks that flowed into the Minas (Grand Pré, Piziquid and Cobequid) and Cumberland (Beaubassin) Basins (see map). Annapolis Royal, it is to be remembered, consisted of but a small English garrison forlorn and forgotten. Certainly the English were at Canso, but Canso was but a seasonal camp for the fishermen of New England.15 The results of their efforts, dried and salted fish, was put aboard their small working vessels and, likely, brought into the Boston market. There were no warehouses at Canso, just beach huts and fish flakes. More generally, Armstrong reported on the state of trade within the province: "Very little trade: all done by four or five coasters from Boston which supply the French with European and West Indian goods and take away grain, a few fish, but chiefly furs."16
As for Louisbourg: she was busy; her tone, metropolitan and cosmopolitan. How impressed the newly arriving mariner17 must have been as he first caught sight of Louisbourg from the sea. Stone walls concealing spiraling structures within; and, then, as his sailing vessel closes with the land, and the scene grows bigger, guns and ramparts are made out in detail. This impressive scene, like no other on the North American continent, clears off to his left as he sails through the channel with the island battery bristling with crowning cannon; and, then, all before him, with the wind out of the east, the full spectacle, as his fishing or trading vessel rounds and fetches up against her anchor rode. The skyline of the interior is now fully exposed, ensconced within the stone walls and bastions of Louisbourg, and speared through with the spires of the hospital and the Chateau St. Louis. All around beneath are the squared houses and fenced gardens, the docks with their arches and sheds, and the dories, and the coils of rope, the mounds of hay, racks of fish, and everywhere: boxes and contrivances; all of it, animated by soaring gulls, roaming animals and busy people.18
So why did the French put so much into the building of Louisbourg? Was all of this on account of one product, namely, King Cod? Likely, yes. The north Atlantic fishery was of extreme importance to the European power, but, as it turns out, Louisbourg became a centre of trade; a source of French goods for the New England Market and a northern terminus for privateers who ranged the Atlantic seaboard from the islands of the West Indies and back again. The French
were bent on the existence of Louisbourg for the same reasons New Englanders were, ultimately, so bent on her destruction. An unknown contributor to Ben Franklin's Philadelphia Gazette, in 1745, makes the case:
"From the situation of the island, it commands the Navigation up the great River St. Lawrence, and so cuts off all Communication with Quebec, by which means the whole Country of Canada must in a little Time fall into the Hands of the English, if they are once master of Cape Breton. - Some of the many Consequences of which are as follow.
The first "merchant ships" arrived at Louisbourg from France on the 10th of April, 1716.20 From then on she was to have a steady number coming from the ports as were located on the western coast of France. It should be noted that the French government had placed strict controls on vessels working out of her ports. If a vessel was to sail to the colonies she had to be cleared first. Bonds were required to be given and forfeitures of large sums would come about if the vessel so cleared did not return and bear proof of where she dropped her cargo. This, it seems, would have had a beneficial effect on Louisbourg as she then could truly act as an entrepôt. The French cargoes which came directly in from France would be broken up and jobbed up and down the coast in the smaller vessels coming out of Louisbourg. In 1738 seventy-three vessels came from France, forty-two from New England and Acadia, and twenty-nine from Canada and the West Indies. At the latter date some fifty-four vessels of the inhabitants were engaged in coasting and trading, besides sixty odd schooners and one hundred fishing-boats which pursued the staple industry of the coast, cod-fishing.21
The French Sugar Islands would lose the chief Vent for their Rum and Molasses, and the Supply of Lumber and Provisions, they now have from Canada; and the English Islands would gain both. Great Britain must have a boundless Vent for all Kinds of their Manufactures, and command the valuable trade in Fur, with all the Indian Nations, --- And those, of them who live near the English Settlements, will have no French Missionaries to stir them up to a mischievous and expensive War.
While on the other Hand, so long as the French keep Possession of that Place, all the British Plantations in North America, will be liable to perpetual Annoyance from their Parties and Indians by land; and all the British Navigation to and in America, from their Privateers and Men of War, as we have sufficiently experienced the last Summer"19
In season, ships from Quebec, France, and New England could be found along side or riding on their moorings in the large holding harbour of Louisbourg. Trading goods of all kind could be found on the docks along with produce from the Acadian farms, especially during the months of August through to October.
"The cost of food stuffs from France was very high, the supply in Canada was uncertain, from both the voyage was difficult, and the cost of transportation therefore high; intercourse with Acadia was dependent on the inaction of its English administration, who complained at a later date that there was often scarcity in Annapolis when Louisbourg was abundently supplied. The local officials therefore found themselves hampered by the prohibition of commercial intercourse with its most advantageous source of supply."22
The mere presence of such a volume of sea going vessels, in itself, created activities. Ships which had been weeks at sea needed more than just provisions. Equipment needed to be fixed and replaced: "Scarcely a vessel came out which did not require a mast or spar, the supplying of which gave employment to the habitant."23
Much of the incoming cargo was salt, fishing implements, boots, clothing, spirits, and the like; the principle outgoing cargo was that of dried cod -- a lot of it -- going down into the islands, but a substantial proportion destined for the mainly catholic populations at France and Italy, with Marseille being the principle distribution centre. The value of the incoming cargo, considering the bulk factor, was much higher than that of the outgoing cargo. This simple fact led to the development of Louisbourg as a major trading centre.
"More shipping capacity was required to export the fish of Louisbourg than to carry thither the imports of the place. The owners loaded the vessels to their capacity, and this surplus had to find an outlet. Thus Louisbourg became a trading centre, as it were, a clearing-house, where France, Canada, New England, and the West Indies mutually exchanged the commodities their vessels had brought, to avoid making an unprofitable round voyage, which would have unduly enhanced, the cost of its fish. The tobacco, rum, and sugar of the West Indies, the cloths of Carcassone, the wines of Provence, sailcloths and linens, came to Louisbourg, far in excess of the possibilities of local use, and were sent out again. The permitted trades with Canada and the French islands could not absorb them, so the thrifty Acadian housewife bought from Louisbourg the few luxuries of her frugal life. The more prosperous New England trader, who supplied Louisbourg with building materials, with food, with planks and oaken staves, thence exported to the sugar islands, took in exchange the commodities of France and the rum-stuff of these islands. The towns of France furnished part at least of the sailcloth for his many vessels engaged in freighting and trade from Newfoundland to the West Indies. Much of this trade was illicit."24
McLennan reminds us that the trade numbers that might be had from the historical records can hardly, due the illegality of it, be trusted as a true reflection of the trade going on at Louisbourg. Indeed, the sad accounts of want among the people of Louisbourg, which the Louisbourg governors had sent with their pleas for money to the home authorities, should, as well, so to speak, be taken with a grain of salt. For one year, into Louisbourg, according to the accounts,25 came livestock (many times more sheep than cows or pigs), oxen (18), corn, rice, pickled pork, pears, apples, furniture, building materials (tar, pitch, bricks, planks, shingles), axes (1,122 of them), and, of course, tobacco 316 pipes); out went rum (715 barrels) molasses, brandy (kegs), iron, sailcloth, cordage, and Cape Breton coal.26
To the industrious trader at Louisbourg, opportunity presented itself from all sides. For a good example of this, one need only consider the life of Michel Daccarrette (1690-1745).27 Michel came to seek his fortune in the New World when but a boy. We first discover him, at the age fourteen, working at the French fishing station at Plaisance (Placentia, Newfoundland). This was during the year 1704, nine years before the place was handed over to the British by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). Daccarrette, his young wife, Jeanne, and their little daughter, Catherine, came from Plaisance to Louisbourg with one of the founding groups in 1714. Daccarrette's activities at Louisbourg would have awed any casual observer. Michel Daccarrette must have been a charming trader; for, by 1726, we see that he owned fishing operations at Louisbourg (his home) and at several other outposts, including Niganiche (Ingonish), Fouchu, and Petit-de-Grat. By this date he was operating thirty-four fishing boats (shallops). Not content to just get the fish out of the water, Daccarrette traded fish, on his own account, in both France and in the West Indies. He became "one of Ile Royale's largest fishing entrepreneurs and this trade provided the basis for numerous ventures." He brought back from Saint-Malo: salt, foodstuffs, clothing, hardware and marine supplies. He also was into ship building: Between 1720 and 1740 Daccarrette was also involved in the sale of at least 17 vessels between 30 and 50 tons, valued at about 3,500 livres apiece; these sales took place, apparently, on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of these ships seem to have been built at Ile Royale. It is interesting to note that Michel Daccarrette was killed during the 1745 siege; and his son, Michel, Jr. (1730-1767), returned to Louisbourg in the 1749 takeover and carried on in his father's footsteps. During the 1750s, Michel, Jr. ran at least two privateers out of Louisbourg, the Heureux and Revanche. Michel, like his father, was very much involved in the defence of Louisbourg. He headed up, in 1758, a company of militia, which was formed by the merchants of the town.28
As we can see from the activities of Daccarrette, shipbuilding was carried on at Louisbourg.29 If the ship builders ran a little low on supplies, why then, they just went into English territory and got more. As one British authority complained: "In the fall, after the British guard-ship has left Canso, the French go to Pictou, build vessels, and cut some of the finest mast timber in the world and take it to Louisbourg in the early spring."30
The English, as far as trade goes, plainly thought that they were being out-hustled. An English pamphleteer wrote in 1746:
"These advantages gain'd by the French are conspicuous from the immense Sums which `They drew annually from other Countries, and which enable them to maintain powerful Armies, and afford such plentiful Subsidies and Pensions to several Powers and People in Europe: From hence they build their Ships of War, and maintain Seamen to supply them.
And now a few words on the relationship of the Acadians with their French cousins at Louisbourg. The relationship was ultimately one as trading partners. Upon peninsular Nova Scotia being ceded by the French to the English in 1713, it was initially thought (though the treaty was short on specifics) that the Acadians would relocate to French territory.33 However, for reasons which will be more fully developed, the Acadians were loath to leave their fertile lands which they had occupied for generations at Annapolis and along the upper reaches of the Fundy Basin. That the Acadians remained on their lands for forty-five years after the English captured Port Royal by force of arms is just a matter of happenstance; but, as it turned out, a happy one for all. The Acadians, as the Acadians had so well learned to do, continued to farm their lands -- fertile lands, the likes of which are in short supply in northeastern America and which did not exist at all in the French held territory of Cape Breton Island. The Acadians continued to live on their lands, and, as is evidenced by the population levels, prospered on their own right up to that fateful year in 1755; and for this period both the English (through legal trade) and the French at Louisbourg (through illicit trade) continued to have a local food source.
It is computed that they draw from two to three Millions of Pounds Sterling per annum from foreign Countries, in return only for Sugar, Indigo, Coffee, Ginger, Beaver manufactured into Hats, Salt-Fish and other American Products, and near one Million more from Great Britain and Ireland only, in Wool and Cash, in return for Cambricks31, Tea, Brandy and Wine, and thereby fight us in Trade, as well as at War, with our own Weapons. But it is to be hoped that the Measures lately taken by the British Legislature to prevent the Importation of foreign Cambricks and Tea, and taking and keeping of Cape Breton, will be attended with considerable national Advantages."32
With all this reference to trade at Louisbourg, one might conclude that the general population was likely well off; or, at least, well fed. But, -- and many will not be surprised -- while trade might bring prosperity to the traders, there are always people on the margins which miss out. If traders are but running goods in and out of the port, and where there is no local food production -- then the population can go hungry, indeed, famine may set in. We see that a fear of famine caused Governor St. Ovide, in 1733, to send a ship to New York in order to buy grain.34 In a dispatch dated May 4th, 1734, two ships were "chartered" and put under the command Gannes and Bonaventure and commissioned to go to New York "in order to get provisions." But, it would appear, that while these two officers picked up their cargoes, these cargoes were sold off before getting back to Louisbourg.35 One of the reasons, apparently, that shortages were occurring at Louisbourg was because traders would come in and buy up supplies on the cheap (presumably because of price controls) with the result that Louisbourg was drained. Then, with the all too common short vision of bureaucrats, ordered that no "purchase in bulk be allowed until after these ships have remained at least three weeks in port, in order that the inhabitants may have the advantage of buying first."36 The authorities were to regret such a regulation, for the number of traders coming to Louisbourg in their vessels seriously decreased. As the President of the Navy Board was to observe to the Intendant at Louisbourg, LeNormant: The captains of these vessels "did not want to return to the colony because they had been forced to stay in Louisbourg until their cargoes were completely sold. Must leave the merchants of Canada completely free, except in cases of exceptional circumstances. It is just that these traders should take advantage to a certain extent, of the scarcity of food, inasmuch as they are obliged to bear the low prices when there is plenty of it. These are the necessary changes of commerce."37
Of course, not to be forgotten are the fertile lands of the French possession, Ile St. Jean (Prince Edward Island, as we know it today). The authorities recognized early, the importance of this island in the upkeep of Louisbourg. "This island produces all that is needed ["wheat and cattle"] to feed Ile Royale and so render this colony independent from Acadia." Certainly, if the French could have gotten farms into production on Ile St. Jean, they would most certainly have done so. By 1733, there was, at Ile St. Jean, a military detachment of 30 men. The difficulty was that there was no one to work the land.38 Try as they might, the French could not induce the farmers of Acadia to come over from the English held mainland (the current day Annapolis Valley and Chignecto). The Acadians, it seems plain, did not want to leave their well-worked and productive farms, and they no more trusted the French authorities (maybe less so) then they trusted the English. Oh! The French made promises of help in the way of stock and transportation, but the first Acadian families (and these were not many) who went over to Ile St. Jean sent reports back to their cousins on the mainland that the French authorities delivered only promises.39
[NEXT: Pt. 3, Ch. 4 - Annapolis Royal (1712-20).]