St. Ovide's Prediction
St. Ovide, the longest serving Governor of Ile Royale, 1717-1739, had long predicted that an attack on Louisbourg was some day to come. He predicted that it would come early in the year, that it would be made by New England militia, and that the landing would be at Gabarus Bay.
As we have seen from an earlier part of our story, a French force in the spring of 1744 attacked Canso and forced the English to capitulate. The French burnt the place to the ground and brought their English prisoners back with them to Louisbourg. Correspondence was then carried on between the French and English governors: Prévost at Louisbourg and Shirley at Boston. This courteous correspondence (typical of the day) led to the release of the prisoners. The Canso garrison (which, incidently, included a young John Bradstreet), now released, arrived at Boston during the month of September 1744. They had stories to tell of their summer at Louisbourg. As impressive as the walls of Louisbourg must have seemed to these liberated English soldiers, they could see the weaknesses of Louisbourg and they told of them to Governor Shirley. Shirley was then to turn his long brewing plans into action.
Louisbourg Is Ill-Prepared
Indeed, on the eve of the first conquest of Louisbourg, in 1745, we find that this fabled French Fortress was ill-prepared.
"The condition of Louisbourg was in the highest degree unsatisfactory. ... it was inadequately supplied with provisions and munitions of war; its garrison was not only inadequate, but of poor quality; its artillery required an increase of seventy-seven guns to make all its fortifications effective.
Mutinous Difficulties At Louisbourg
This was based on the reports of the Canso prisoners, and other persons who had visited Louisbourg. In New England there must have been many scores of sea-faring people who knew Louisbourg as well as any but their native towns, all of which confirmed the news that the garrison was small, all of it discontented, the Swiss on the verge of mutiny, and the inhabitants suffering from a scarcity of provisions, the result of Shirley's own policy."1
It is time now to make a note of the mutinous difficulties at Louisbourg, difficulties which were to play such a significant role in its downfall. Certain individuals were given by the French crown the privilege of raising their own small army. Louis-Ignaz Karrer was such an individual. In 1719, Colonel Karrer raised a regiment in Switzerland.2 It was called the Karrer's Swiss Regiment. The "owner" of such a regiment would put them out to hire, so to earn their keep. The French authorities had sent3 Swiss troops over to Louisbourg in 1721-2. Certainly, it was Karrer's regiment that was there in 1732 when François-Joseph Cailly (1700-60c.) was posted to Louisbourg. Cailly (he was married to Karrer's niece) had arrived from Hispaniola in the West Indies to take up his new duties at Louisbourg as the commander of the Swiss troops. Now, apparently, there was always problems to some degree with the Swiss troops, mainly, I suppose, because they were not regular army and were not prepared, at times, to take orders from a regular army officer; they felt themselves to be special. Further, by and large, unlike the majority of the population, they were Protestant. So, the arrival of a new Swiss officer would hardly be an occasion for rejoicing as far as the regulars were concerned, but for Cailly, when he arrived, in 1732, to take over his Swiss troops, there was extra trouble, especially as far as Governor St. Ovide was concerned. St. Ovide had heard about Cailly and was ready for him. It seems, while at Hispaniola, in 1730, Cailly was involved in a quarrel which resulted in the death of a fellow officer. While Cailly had been acquitted of murder, the family of the dead officer still held ill feelings and St. Ovide was a cousin of the dead officer. "Almost immediately there was a clash between Cailly and Saint-Ovide; the issue was the drum roll to be used when the Swiss were on guard duty."4 However, it seems that Cailly and St. Ovide were shortly thereafter to come to terms and things were soon back to their normal state of quiet uneasiness, until, in 1740 a new commandant for Louisbourg arrived to take the position that had been occupied by St. Ovide. This new man was the one legged naval officer, Jean-Baptiste-Louis Le Prévost Duquesnel. Directly Prévost took up his duties at Louisbourg new conflicts arose. The fact is that Cailly and Le Prévost could not see eye to eye, and worse, no compromise could be worked out. At one point, in October of 1741, Cailly defied Le Prévost, in front of all, and refused to assemble his Swiss soldiers. When asked by Le Prevost to put his refusal in writing, Cailly did so. Le Prevost made his case to the authorities back in France with the result that Cailly was recalled to France. He was dismissed by the authorities and pensioned off. His wife (Anne-Marie) had been with him at Louisbourg and - likely because her husband was obliged to take the first ship back to France - she remained behind at Louisbourg, presumably to settle the family's affairs. She pleaded with Prevost to put in a good word for her husband and apparently Prevost did, as Cailly was allowed to re-enter the service, though he never returned to Louisbourg.
It is thought that Cailly's "vigorous defence of Swiss rights at Louisbourg" was extreme and served to set an example of disobedience for his men.5 It all came to a head just after Christmas as the new year (1745) dawned. As an eye witness described, "... the Swiss revolted and had the insolence to come without officers, drums beating, bayonets fixed, and swords in hand."6 Those officers who attempted to restrain them "nearly lost their lives." The regular French soldiers were quick to join in. The whole town became alarmed. Finally, those in charge quelled the riot by promising the mutineers that their grievances would be addressed. There were a number of grievances, including the favourite of all soldiers, the food; "but their greatest grievance was about the codfish, taken as booty at Canso" which had been promised to them and which "the officers had appropriated to themselves, for a low price and long credit."7
Fortunately, the matter was brought to an end without bloodshed. The mutineers were induced to lay down their arms. They were bought off. The commissary was opened up and some seven to eight thousand livres of the king's money was paid out. At the time, no punishment was meted out; the authorities, it seems, were simply happy to see the mutinous soldiers return to their barracks. The town soon fell back into its sleepy winter mode to await the spring.8
[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 3 - The Colonial Call]