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the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
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Could you explain if there were compagnie franche actually here? McLennan’s book seems to indicate that proper compagnie franche was in Quebec but not anywhere else in New France. If so, did they actually wear compagnie franche uniforms?
By Sandy Balcom, July 2006
It is true, on page 47, of “Louisbourg,: from its foundation to its fall,” McLennan says: “these troops (in Île Royale) were neither regular regiments of the splendid armies of France nor “Compagnies Franches de la Marine,” which formed in 1690…”
The Ministry of the Marine (ie. the Navy) maintained soldiers for the defense of ports in France, for service on board ship and the defense of France’s colonies. Collectively, these soldiers were known as the troupes de la Marine.
As the troupes de la Marine numbered far fewer than those of the Army (i.e. les troupes de terre), the Marine soldiers were organized in companies. There was not a need to group these companies in larger administrative groups such as battalions or regiments. As the Marine troops could be sent on distant service in relatively small numbers, a regimental organization could have created an administrative nightmare. The Karrer Regiment, which was unique as a regiment in Marine service, had detachments of soldiers serving at the same time in Louisbourg, Louisiana, Saint Dominique (now Haiti) and Rochefort.
As the Marine companies were free of any regimental structure, they were commonly called independent companies (compagnies franches) and less commonly as detached companies (compagnies détachées).
Metropolitan companies looked after the defense of ports in France and shipboard service, and colonial ones looked after the defense of the colonies. Although there were, at times, minor organizational and perhaps even uniform differences between the metropolitan and colonial companies, and even between the companies of different colonies, they were all troupes de la Marine.
While long service associated specific compagnies franches with a particular garrison, such as the companies of Île Royale, need and opportunity could result in companies being given new assignments. The six compagnies franches at Louisbourg in 1714 were transferred from other garrisons. Two came from each of the former French colonies of Acadia and Plaisance and two more companies were detached from Quebec. After Louisbourg’s surrender 1745, the Île Royale companies formed part of the Rochefort and then Québec garrisons. If Louisbourg had not been returned to France, the companies might well have been permanently assigned to the colony of Canada.
A more personal example is shown by the experience of Captain François Du Pont Duvivier. A captain in the Louisbourg compagnies franches, Duvivier was in France when the first siege began. As an officer in the compagnies franches, Duvivier also had held naval rank as well. Duvivier received command of one of the frigates being sent as part of the relief expedition sent to Louisbourg. In recognition, of his lack of nautical experience, the frigate had a second captain (Joannis-Galand d’Olobaratz) who was in charge of the sailing of the vessel.
In consequence, there were compagnies franches soldiers at Louisbourg, in the uniform of the compagnies franches, but there is the possibility of some minor differences in their uniforms compared to those of the compagnies franches serving in France or other colonies. McLennan observed correctly that the Île Royale companies were not formed when the compagnies franches were formed, but they were older companies transferred and new companies of the same type formed for the new colony.