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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

August was generally among the most welcome of months at Louisbourg. Not only was the weather usually at its best then, but also four religious feast days occurred during the month, the last one of which, the feast day of St. Louis, a 13th-century king of France, on the 25th, was typically the occasion for the greatest public celebrations of the year. [10] August 1744, however, was not like the Augusts that preceded it. By the time St. Louis Day approached, the colonists had endured a series of disappointments, of which the most worrisome were probably the continuing presence in the town of hundreds of prisoners, the ill-timed Micmac assault on Annapolis Royal in mid-July and the steadily increasing successes of British warships and privateers. Apparently as a result of the wartime anxieties in the capital, the celebrations which normally marked the feast day, a huge bonfire and artillery salutes, were cut back. [11] Whatever festivities were held were a good deal less joyous and carefree than in years past.

Perhaps the colonists' main worry by late August was the possibility of a serious food shortage during the winter of 1744-45. The memory of the scarcity of the preceding spring was fresh in everyone's mind and no one wanted to see it repeated. The capture of Canso in May had freed the trading lane to the Acadians and the colonists had taken advantage of it, bringing back to the capital an estimated 700 head of cattle and 2000 sheep during the summer. [12] Yet that was not enough. British prisoners returning to Boston in the fall of 1744 reported at "there was not above four months Provisions in the Garrison." [13] One reason for the depletion of the town's food stocks was, of course, the prisoners themselves, and Bradstreet was unable to return to Louisbourg with Goveor Shirley's qualified acceptance of the prisoner exchange scheme until late August or early September. [14] Consequently, Duquesnel and those who were aware of the proposal endured a six- or seven-week wait for Shirley's answer, towards the end of which they may have begun to wonder if the Massachusetts governor would reply at all. If the exchange were rejected, the colony would face the gloomy prospect of keeping and feeding the 300 to 400 prisoners over the approaching winter.

Another drain on the food resources of the colony were the crews of the visiting ships. Never before in the history of Isle Royale had so many sailors been in port. By the middle of August a dozen large ships - Compagnie des Indes ships and king's - warships - were moored in the harbour, carrying approximately 2600 men among them. [15] In addition there were the usual collection of smaller merchant and fishing vessels. On any given day in August probably around 3000 sailors and seasonal fishermen were in port, which roughly doubled the population of Louisbourg. While the crews of the smaller vessels naturally looked after finding their own supplies, the provisioning of the warships and the Compagnie des Indes vessels was the responsibility of the colonial administration. Indeed, the huge merchant ships from the Orient had come to Isle Royale specifically for essential supplies before continuing on to France. It is not known how long the Compagnie ships or the warships initially intended to stay at Louisbourg but, as it turned out, they remained until 30 November, apparently in the hope that the enemy vessels off the coast of Isle Royale would by that time have returned to their home waters. The impact the four-month stay of the Compagnie ships and the warships had on the stores of the colony can be easily imagined. To be sure, a great deal of money was to be made by local merchants supplying the visiting ships directly or indirectly through the king's storehouse, but the prolonged stay was contributing to the colony's precarious situation.

The basic cause of the shortage of provisions was the British warships and privateers cruising off the coast. According to an account written in the fall, four French ships heading for Louisbourg with quantities of flour, hardtack, wine and brandy were taken by the enemy. [16] The captured cargoes constituted a serious loss to a colony already worried about shortfalls in its food supply for the coming winter. The prospect of enemy vessels continuing to intercept supply ships from France was a gloomy one indeed, and it was largely on the basis of just such a fear that Duquesnel finally decided to keep the Ardent and Caribou in Isle Royale rather than send them to Annapolis Royal to the waiting Duvivier.

Anxieties over provisions and the faltering war effort likely surfaced, in varying degrees, in the minds of most inhabitants of Louisbourg at some rime or other in August. When one sat down to think about how the course of the war, particularly the war at sea, had changed over the summer, it was difficult not to worry about what the future might bring. Alongside worries about privateers and provisions, however, were the more immediate concerns of the inhabitants. They still had jobs to perform, children to raise, friends to socialize with, prayers to say, Mass to attend and a hundred other routine tasks to carry out. The war was not forgotten, but people had to continue their lives much as they had always done.

The best reminder that life in August went on regardless of the war were the births and deaths in the community.[17] Nine children were born to residents of Louisbourg during the month. Each of the infants was baptised in the barracks within one or two days of birth. There were also three other baptisms that month. On 15 August, the feast day commem- orating the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, an 11-month-old boy born in the fishing settlement of Cadrez (probably Cap de Ré), Newfoundland, was baptized in the chapel. There was no resident priest in the Newfoundland community and the boy's parents took advantage of their stay in Louisbourg to have him baptised. The other baptisms were administered on 19 August to twins, a boy and a girl, born on 9 August to an Irish couple from Dublin. The couple, Thomas Hill and Marie d'Esem, had likely been passengers aboard the Guillaume Mery that Saint-Martin's Signe had intercepted off Long Island on 31 July. Saint-Martin had continued to cruise the waters off the American colonies for about another week (the Signe took another prize on 5 August) and then headed for Louisbourg where he arrived in mid-month.[18] If Hill and his wife were among the prisoners aboard the Signe, then the voyage was enlivened by the birth of twins to Marie d'Esem on 9 August. Ten days later the twins were baptised in the barracks chapel with Saint- Martin as one of the four godparents. Although no single document states that the Irish couple were among the group Saint- Martin captured on 31 July, the fact that they were prisoners, that their children were born on 9 August but not baptised for ten days, and, above all else, that Saint-Martin stood as the godfather to one of their children certainly lends strong support to the contention.

While August was a month of numerous baptisms, there were no marriages. As for burials, there were four in the parish cemetery and probably more in the hospital cemetery. The records for the latter have not been located but it is possible that when the body of a soldier who had deserted in February 1744, Jean Marie DuCiel dit St. Amant, was discovered in the woods on 2 August, it was brought into town for interment in the hospital cemetery. [19] The first burial of the month in the parish cemetery was that of Anne Guion Després on 5 August. A long-time resident of Louisbourg, Despr6s was 80 years old at the time of her death and known to most of the inhabitants as "the widow Chevalier," after her late husband. Following Jean Chevalier's death in 1720, she had moved into a small house on the Ile du Quai where she supported herself by taking in boarders, teaching sewing and selling fabric. [20] For a number of years, until 1743 when she moved into her son's house, the missionaries to the Micmacs lodged with the widow during their visits to Louisbourg.[21] Of all the missionaries, the one who appears to have made the greatest impression on the widow seems to have been Pierre Maillard: in her will drawn up in May 1743 she left him well over 600 livres, but nothing for the religious orders serving the community of Louisbourg. [22]

The death of the widow Chevalier in early August marked the passing of one of the better-known and more resourceful women in the town. A brief recounting of what happened to her possessions after her death will illustrate the role played by the colonial bureaucracy in settling estates.[23] Anne Guion Després died on 4 August, apparently around five o'clock in the afternoon. Half an hour later the Bailliage prosecutor, Jean Delaborde, learned of her death and hurried to inform the acting judge, Michel Hertel de Cournoyer. Cournoyer directed Delaborde to proceed to the house where she died, the residence of her son Pierre Bellair, to take an inventory of her possessions and affix the customary seals. Accompanied by the court usher, Delaborde went to the Bellair house where he found the corpse in bed. Bellair's wife showed them around the residence, identifying the objects that belonged to the deceased. When their inventory was completed the two officials left. The next day, 5 August, the widow Chevalier was buried in the parish cemetery. Probably that same day a memorial service was held in the barracks chapel by the curé of Louisbourg, Athanase Guégot. [24] The cost of the service and burial came to 89 livres.

Nearly a month later, on 2 September, the court officials returned to Bellair's house, this time at the request of Bellair himself, to do a second and more detailed inventory of the widow's possessions. Three months later, on 11 December, yet another visit was made to the house to inventory all the documents that had belonged to the deceased. Only at that point had everything pertaining to the state been satisfactorily recorded. The next step was to auction off the possessions, which included a female black slave. In the case of the widow Chevalier's estate, the sale was held in March 1745, eight months after her death. The profits from the auction were used to pay off her outstanding debts and the remainder (1041 livres 2 sols) was presumably distributed in accordance with her will.

On the day of the widow Chevalier's burial, 5 August, another Louisbourg resident died, 19- year-old Magdelaine Paris. Eighteen days later there was another death, that of 45- year-old François Mervin. No details are available on the Paris woman's death but Mervin had been sick for a considerable length of time. When his estate was settled following a November 1744 public auction of his possessions, the Brothers of Charity were paid 191 livres for the treatment they had provided Mervin during his illness. [25] The cost of Mervin's burial and subsequent memorial service was 64 livres. The only other burial entered in the parish records for the month was that of a sailor from the Caribou who drowned in Louisbourg harbour on 30 August.

As August drew to a close, the colonists' aspirations for the immediate future rested on the hope that the warships and privateers at Louisbourg would be able to regain the upper hand in the war at sea. The shipping lanes to and from the capital were the lifeline of Isle Royale and had to be rendered relatively safe. Otherwise, the fishing and merchant ships from France upon which the colony's survival depended would be lost to the enemy. In short, the very existence of Louisbourg and Isle Royale ultimately depended on control of the sea lanes.