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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada


A.J.B. Johnston, The Summer of 1744: A Portrait of Life in 18th-Century Louisbourg (Ottawa: National Sites, Parks Service, Environment Canada. 1991)



Life in Town

Throughout July the main concerns of the inhabitants of Louisbourg remained with the war. With the comings and goings of privateers and other vessels, the unsuccessful Micmac attack on Annapolis Royal and the departure late in the month of Duvivier's second expedition, dozens of war- related stories were circulating in the town.

One of the "wartime" subjects of greatest interest in early July continued to be the British prisoners and what was likely to happen to them. Sometime during the first week to ten days of the month two vessels bearing a flag of truce and a few prisoners set out from Louisbourg on a voyage to Boston. Aboard one boat were "five Men- prisoners" and a number of wives and children of soldiers captured at Canso. The other vessel, the Ranger, a schooner belonging to John Bradstreet and taken in the Canso raid, carried 14 "lame incurable soldiers of the Canso Companies," the family of the Canso commander, and Bradstreet himself. [11] These two groups were permitted to leave Louisbourg in order that Bradstreet could carry Duquesnel's letter to Governor Shirley proposing an exchange of prisoners. With the prisoners Duquesnel sent Shirley a gift of a barrel of white wine as a courtesy and as an indication of his good faith in carrying out the scheme he proposed. [12] It is not known whether or not the general populace in Louisbourg was aware of Duquesnel's plan for a prisoner exchange, but if not, speculation as to why some prisoners were being let go must have been rife. Given the scarcity of provisions in town that summer, at least some of that speculation would have foreseen such an exchange proposal.

Bradstreet's schooner reached Boston on 17 July, two days after the other boat. Governor Shirley showed no speed whatsoever in responding to Duquesnel's letter. Suspicious over which side would benefit from an exchange of prisoners, Shirley carefully weighed the question for nearly three weeks before he replied on 6 August, outlining his policy of exchanging French prisoners only for able-bodied British soldiers; the sick and injured and women and children might be sent to Boston as well, but Duquesnel was not to expect French prisoners in exchange for them. Shirley's letter, accompanied by a gift of three turkeys and a cask of English beer, [13] did not arrive in Louisbourg until late August or early September because of difficulties Bradstreet encountered in getting a crew to sail his schooner back to Isle Royale. Bradstreet had expected to have it manned by returning French prisoners, but Shirley foiled that plan by giving up only three French in return for the group Duquesnel had sent. As a result, Bradstreet had to find additional British sailors willing to sail to Louisbourg before he could leave Boston. In Louisbourg, Duquesnel, Bigot and their senior advisers passed the latter half of July wondering how Shirley had reacted to the idea of an exchange and when Bradstreet would return with the governor's answer. [14]

With the departure of the two vessels carrying prisoners to Boston in early July, the townspeople's attention turned to maritime matters. In the middle of the month the three prizes captured off Cape Cod by Beaubassin's César were brought into the harbour. Impressive events in themselves, the arrival of these vessels was probably made particularly newsworthy because they carried word of the loss of Dolabaratz and the 80 men of the Cantabre off New England. A few days later the two ships captured by Morpain's Succès sailed into port, prizes which may have given many of the colonists the impression the French were still winning the war at sea. Not until the end of the month would most people fully realize that the Louisbourg privateers had been much less successful in July than in June.

The arrival of privateers with their prizes and tales of high adventure was almost eclipsed by another exciting and unusual feature of life in Louisbourg in July. To the surprise of all but a few officials, huge merchant ships belonging to the Compagnie des Indes, the company that held a monopoly of France's trade with the Far East, sailed into the harbour on their way from India back to France. On 16 July the Philibert reached Louisbourg and the next day the Argonaute arrived. Five days later another ship sailed in and on 27 July two more. On 12 August a sixth and final East India ship arrived (a seventh was expected but never reached Louisbourg). With enormous carrying capacities, they were among the largest merchant vessels ever to visit the capital of Isle Royale.[15] Their holds contained rich cargoes of tea, porcelain, coffee and other goods from the Far East. The Compagnies des Indes ships were the ones that in the spring of the year Maurepas had confidentially informed Bigot to expect sometime during the summer. The very day that Bigot received the minister's despatch, 3 May, some of the ships were rounding the Cape of Good Hope.[16] Towards the end of May the heavily laden ships reached Ascension Island in the mid-Atlantic where they received orders to proceed to Louisbourg on account of the war. [17]

When the first of the ships arrived in the capital in mid-July the impact on Louisbourg must have been considerable. Their size, their cargoes and the exotic countries they had visited were all out of the ordinary. By the time all six reached Louisbourg the appearance of the harbour and of the streets in the capital were transformed. The total crew of the six ships was approximately 700. [18] Many of them were "very sickly when they first came in" and were sent to the hospital; indeed, on the last ship to arrive two-thirds of the crew (84 of 120) were so ill that they needed to be hospitalized. [19] Not all the crews were sick, of course, and some would have been on shore at any given time during the day. One suspects that most of the cabarets in town did a brisker than normal business as the crews quenched their thirsts and spared no effort to captivate listeners from Louisbourg with spellbinding tales of the hundreds of strange places and peoples they had seen. For the average colonist the stories of the sailors were of worlds and customs never even imagined, much less seen, and many of the more memorable tales must have been retold time and time again around the town that sum- mer. Even though the coming of the Compagnie des Indes fleet to Louisbourg was a result of the war with Britain, in a very real sense it was a diversion from the concerns of the war for the people of Louisbourg. Its arrival was an unexpected special event that brought hundreds of sailors, an air of excitement and a hint of life in exotic places into the capital of Isle Royale.

The coming of the East Indiamen was not the only diversion in July. On a personal level the five births during the month were important events to all those who knew the families involved. Two of those births are worthy of mention: that of a son to André Carrerot, the king's storekeeper and a councillor on the Conseil Supérieur, and Marie-Josephte Chéron on 19 July, and that of a daughter to the merchant Michel Rodrigue and his wife Marguerite Lartigue on 21 July. The day after each infant's birth it was baptized in the barracks chapel by the curé of Louisbourg, Athanase Guégot. There were no marriages in July and only one burial in the parish cemetery, that of an Irishman named Thomas Bernard. [20] Bernard was either one of the prisoners captured that summer or one of a number of Irish servants working in Louisbourg households in 1744.

Another event which distracted people's attention from the war was a noisy bout of name calling that took place one Friday evening early in the month. [21] Whether one heard the yelling that night or simply heard about it the next day, the episode precipitated a great deal of gossip in Louisbourg. The incident began around nine o'clock in the evening of 3 July. A window was broken at the house of Quentin LeLievre on Rue Saint-Louis and, believing her daughter had done it, LeLievre's wife Angélique Butel began to beat the girl. Servanne Bonnier, wife of butcher Pierre Santier, was walking down the street with a young child in her arms when she heard the commotion within LeLievre's house and went to the door of the house to intercede on the child's behalf. A heated exchange followed in which Bonnier voiced a host of inflammatory accusations at Butel. Among the most serious were charges that Butel had borne two children in France, whose fathers were not her husband, and that she had already killed one child and wished to do the same to her only remaining one. The most memorable phrase Bonnier used was that Butel was a "a cheap whore who liked the act but not the children." Butel replied in kind, charging that Bonnier's whole family deserved to be hanged and that Bonnier herself could not return to France because of the illegitimate child she had had in Louisbourg ten years before. A third woman present in the LeLievre house at the time, Marie Madelaine Isabel, who had been visiting Butel, then left the house, taking with her the girl whom Butel was beating when the incident began. First Bonnier and then Butel followed her across the street and into the tavern operated by Isabel's husband, Nicolas Deschamps. By this point the noisy dispute had kindled the interest of a number of neighbours and pedestrians within earshot. Butel apparently soon decided that she had heard enough and left for her house across the street. Still infuriated, Bonnier followed Butel, reiterating the allegations she had been making since the episode began. Although Butel closed her door and ended her involvement in the yelling match, Bonnier continued to shout insults at Butel's residence. Among the many people who heard Bonnier were three ship captains and an artillery sergeant who were returning from an evening promenade. They, and others, later testified that Bonnier stood in the street denouncing Butel as a whore, a drunkard, and the murderer of one of her own children.

Angélique Butel was undertstandably distressed by the insults and allegations Servanne Bonnier had made about her in public. The next day, 4 July, Butel submitted a written complaint to the acting judge of the Bailliage, Michel Hertel de Cournoyer. In her deposition she gave her version of the incident and asked that Bonnier be fined 500 livres for her slanderous remarks and forced to make a public apology. The fine was a secondary consideration; indeed, it was to go to the poor of the parish. What Butel wanted most was a retraction of what had been said and the public restitution of her honour. Cournoyer acted quickly on the complaints and at nine in the morning of 6 July an inquiry into the Butel-Bonnier shouting episode commenced. in the course of the proceedings that Monday, 13 witnesses gave testimony on what they had seen and heard. The next day Servanne Bonnier submitted a statement containing her account of what had happened. Not surprisingly, it differed substantially from Butel's version, emphasizing as it did the slanderous epithets Butel had shouted at Bonnier. A few days later Bonnier was summoned to appear before the Bailliage on 17 July for questioning. She appeared as requested and denied most of the charges that Butel had made about her, depicting herself as having been mostly concerned with the welfare of Butel's child. Bonnier's performance before the Bailliage may have been a convincing one because thereafter the court appears to have lost any interest in pursuing the case. Late in the month Angdlique Butel tried to prod the court into settling the matter but no final judgement was ever made.

Although the case ended inconclusively, there is little doubt that, like the arrival of the Compagnie des Indes ships, the Butel-Bonnier affair diverted the people of Louisbourg from the concerns of the war; however, towards the end of July, their attention was again focussed on the events of the war. Of special significance was the departure on 29 July of a detachment of Compagnies franches led by Captain François Du Pont Duvivier to capture Annapolis Royal. For some, including Duvivier himself, Annapolis Royal had been their place of birth when it was under French control and known as Port Royal. Most residents of Louisbourg could not claim such a personal attachment to the place, but nonetheless recognized that it was the historic capital of a territory that had been first colonized by the French a century and a half earlier. Now under British jurisdiction, it stood as the only remaining obstacle to re-establishment of French domain over all of what had once been Acadia. If all went well with the expedition, Acadia might be united with Isle Royale before the summer was over, a dream held by many colonists. Whether or not the ultimate destination of the flotilla was public knowledge is not known, but if so, the vessels would have departed with all the inhabitants' heartfelt prayers for success.

For those who believed in omens, the expedition did not begin well. Heavy headwinds on 30 July forced the boats to seek safe anchorages, some at Gabarus and others back at Louisbourg, until the weather changed. During the same period that the five vessels were making their way down the coast of Isle Royale, additional British reinforcements were sent from Boston to Annapolis Royal. [22] Thus July ended with both Duquesnel and Shirley making moves designed to gain or retain control of the Nova Scotian capital.