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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

The attempt by French warships to reassert sovereignty over the waters off Isle Royale and the besieging of Annapolis Royal were not likely the most talked-about events in Louisbourg that month. Little would have been known about the off-shore patrols and even less about what was happening in Nova Scotia. Far more newsworthy in September, because of their immediate relevance to the people of Louisbourg, were the developments that took place on the question of a prisoner exchange between the French and British.

In late August or early September John Bradstreet returned to Louisbourg from Boston carrying Govemor Shirley's qualified acceptance of Duquesnel's exchange scheme. The commandant was probably disappointed by Shirley's refusal to give up French prisoners for anyone other than healthy British soldiers. Nonetheless, that did not deter him from quickly agreeing to Shirley's terms; he had little choice. It is doubtful that he or anyone else in Louisbourg wanted to risk keeping the 300 to 400 prisoners over the coming winter. Once the decision was made to send most of the prisoners to Boston, preparations for the voyage began.

Three vessels were rented to sail to Boston: John Bradstreet's schooner Ranger, Michel Daccarrette's schooner Magdelaine, and Michel Rodrigue's sloop Société. Among them they were to carry 340 men, women and children. The number of French prisoners in Boston was considerably less than that, so only the two Louisbour4.,vessels were required to make the return journey, at British expense.[13] Food- stuffs and other essential provisions were purchased from Louisbourg suppliers for the voyage. To make the trip more bearable, sizeable amounts of rum and beer were placed on board all three ships. [14] Sometime after the middle of September everything was ready for departure.

Before the prisoners were allowed to leave, Louisbourg officials attempted to convince them that the Compagnie des Indes ships would themselves be setting sail in a matter of days. Not only was this what the prisoners were told, but also the activities aboard the large merchant ships were such as to suggest an imminent departure. The attempted deception did not work. One prisoner, Captain John Mason, passed himself off as a Dutchman and a Jacobite, and won the confidence of the captain of one of the East India ships as well as the trust of some priests in port. Through these contacts he learned that the fleet would not be sailing for another two months. [15] Mason was not the only one to uncover the truth. Bradstreet and George Ryall obtained the same information from "some Irish Priests" in Louisbourg that September. [16] As soon as these men arrived in Boston they informed Governor Shirley of all they knew about Louisbourg and in particular about the Compagnie des Indes ships. Shirley in turn immediately wrote to London to advise his superiors of the probable November sailing of the French merchant fleet in the hope that the ships, "whose Value here is reported to exceedingly great, may be intercepted by Some of his Majesty's Ships. [17]

The prisoners sailed out of Louisbourg harbour sometime during the latter half of September and landed in Boston on 2 October [18] (the same day de Gannes arrived in Duvivier's camp at Annapolis Royal with orders to lift the siege). Both the departure from Louisbourg and the arrival in Boston were noteworthy events that would have drawn large crowds in both towns. On Isle Royale the colonists watched the departure of the prisoners with feelings of relief. Not only would it mean less pressure on food supplies over the winter, but it would also mean the return home within a matter of weeks of many captured friends and relatives, such as Joannis Dolabaratz and the 80 men off the Cantabre.

The 340 people sent to Massachusetts did not constitute the entire prisoner-of-war population in Louisbourg. In the fall of 1744 an unspecified number of British prisoners were also sent to Plaisance (Placentia), Newfoundland, where they were exchanged for French prisoners. A schooner from Louisbourg, the St. Laurent, was rented for the mission and Louis Loppinot de la Frésillière, a junior officer in the garrison, was assigned the responsibility for overseeing the exchange. [19] Those prisoners may have left Louisbourg around the same time as the much larger group sailed for Boston. When the prisoners embarked for Boston and Placentia, it signified the end of one of the more interesting chapters in the history of Louisbourg. Additional British would be brought to the capital for imprisonment in the months to come as more prizes were captured by French privateers and warships, but never again would they approach the numbers in the capital toward the end of the summer of 1744.

Another departure from the town that month held a special meaning for many inhabitants. On an unknown date fairly early in the month, two nuns of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, who had been in the colony for more than a decade, left Louisbourg aboard a ship heading for Montreal, where the mother-house of the community was located. The older of the two women, 66- year-old Marguerite Trottier (Sister Saint-Joseph), had served as the superior of the Congregation's mission at Louisbourg since her arrival in 1733. After 11 arduous years in the capital during which she struggled with severe financial problems, Trottier was returning to Canada in failing health. Accompanying her was a cousin, 51-year-old Marie-Josephte Lefebvre Belle-Isle (Sister Saint-Benoît), who had also come to Louisbourg in 1733. According to all contemporary accounts, the sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Darne were held in extremely high regard at Louisbourg. [20] When the two nuns, including the former superior in obviously poor health, sailed away, it was certainly a moment that touched the hearts of many residents. The four sisters of the community who remained in Louisbourg (who now had Marie- Marguerite-Daniel Arnaud, Sister Saint- Arsène, as their new superior) and many ordinary inhabitants were likely on the quay offering prayers for a safe journey on the day the ship left port. Marguerite Trotlier never again set foot on the land of her birth. She died at sea on 6 October and was buried two days later in Quebec. [21]

September was also a month of arrivals in Louisbourg. There were 11 births that month, each of which was followed by a baptismal ceremony in the barracks chapel no later than one day after the birth. Among the most noteworthy births was that of a son born to a native couple (presumably Micmac), Jean Guion Sauvage and Louise Pierre Jean Sauvagesse, on 1 September. The child was born in or very near Louisbourg as the baptism took place later the same day in town. Other births worthy of mention were that of a son to military officer Louis Leneuf de la Vallière and Marie-Charlotte Rousseau on 8 September, and that of a daughter to Conseil Supérieur councillor Franqois-Marie de Goutin and Marie-Angélique de la Fosse on 19 September. On 26 September a daughter was born to Pierre Martissans and Jeanne Angélique Chavigny, their 11th child in 16 years of marriage.

In addition to being a month of numerous births, September was also the first month since June in which a marriage was held in Louisbourg. In fact there were two of them although neither was an ordinary service. Both were rehabilitations of marriages which had taken place elsewhere. The first, performed by Athanase Guégot on 3 September, gave the official sanction of the Roman Catholic Church to the union of Jacques Quartier and Jeanne Heckaste, who had been married "among the English" on an unknown date. The second involved an Irish couple, identified as Terré Donal and Sara MacMelun, whose marriage was rehabilitated by Guégot on 23 September for the "surety of their consciences." Only two burials were noted in parish records that September. On 12 September Jean Ricar from Saint-Malo died and was buried. Ten days later a sailor off the Caribou, Jean Centurie, was interred in the parish cemetery. [22]

Toward the end of September the attention of many people in Louisbourg turned increasingly to business matters relating to the colony's fishery. The next to last day of the month, the day set aside on the church calendar for the feast day of St. Michael, was "the traditional closing day of the summer fishing season ... the day on which debts and rents were paid." [23] Accordingly, fishing generally stopped by the middle of the month so that the next ten days to two weeks could be devoted to calculating and settling the accounts of the summer season. September brought with it not only the normal headaches involved in clearing up debts or obtaining appropriate payments, but also the realization that 1744 had been the worst year in the history of the Isle Royale fishery. Because of the war, especially because of British control of the waters off Isle Royale during the latter part of the summer, fish landings had dropped to a record low. The total value of the fishery for the year stood at approximately 1.5 million livres, nearly half a million livres below the figure for 1743 and less than half of the average figure for the 1730s. [24]

The shortfall in fish catches was something about which everyone in the colony had reason to be worried. A prosperous fishery had been the solid base upon which French settlement on the island had first been established and it continued to be one of the main keys to the health of the Isle Royale economy. However, if the coast of the colony could not be adequately protected from enemy privateers and warships, as it had not been throughout an extended period in 1744, it was obvious that the fishery, like merchant trade, would suffer drastic losses. Sooner or later those losses would place the future of the entire colony in jeopardy. The only protection for the fishing and mercantile interests of Isle Royale was sufficient seapower to counteract the naval strength New England and Great Britain could commit to a war at sea. In 1744 the temporary enemy blockade of the colony had been serious but not crippling. The next year could quite conceivably be much worse. The deciding factor would probably be how many warships the imperial authorities in France would send out and how early they would arrive in the colony.

By the end of September the inhabitants of Louisbourg knew that the first season of warfare in their colony's history would soon be over. With the onset of colder weather there would be no more land campaigns until the next spring. Privateering might continue for another few months but not on the same scale as at mid- summer. During the 29 September celebrations marking the feast day of St. Michael probably not a few people expressed relief that the summer was finally over. After its auspicious beginning, the summer had been a time of significant disappointments and setbacks. No one could foresee the future, but one could at least hope for a more successful war effort in 1745. The most optimistic may even have looked for a peace settlement between France and Great Britain over the winter. Only then would life on the island return to normal. The last ships bound for France were to sail in late fall. Thereafter, as was the case every year, the inhabitants of Isle Royale would be without contact with the world overseas for four to six months. It would be a long wait, a long time to reflect on the events of 1744 and to speculate on what the spring of 1745 would bring.