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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)


An Introduction to 1744

To tell people that the Fortress of Louisbourg is a partial reconstruction of an 18th-century colonial town is not to tell them very much. Like any other century, the 18th was a complex era which suggests different things to different people. To some it means Washington, Jefferson and Franklin; to others Wolfe and Montcalm, Mozart and Haydn, Voltaire and Rousseau, Gainsborough and David, and so on. Visitors to the fortress bring with them their own perceptions of the 18th century, then they are told that they will see not an outdoor museum of a "typical" 18th-century town, but a reconstruction of a historic seaport and fortress at a very particular point in its history - the summer of 1744.

Seventeen fouy-four. Doubtless the year itself means little to most people and they must wonder what it was about that year in Louisbourg's history that sets it apart from other years before and after it. Many must also wonder exactly where 1744 fits into their own perceptions of the 18th century. Was Louis XIV the King of France and was George III on the throne of Great Britain then? Was that when Mozart was writing music or when Constable was painting? Had Halifax been founded by that date? Informed that the answers to all of these questions are "no," they would probably appreciate some orientation as to who was who and what was happening in 1744.

They might be interested to learn that the estimated world population in 1744 was 700 million (of which less than one-thousandth of one per cent lived on Cape Breton, or as it was then known, Isle Royale). They would probably be surprised to be informed that in 1744 the French and British were using different calendars (respectively Gregorian and Julian), 11 days apart. When it turned 12 July in Louisbourg, Quebec or Paris, the inhabitants at Annapolis Royal, Boston or London considered the date to be 1 July. (The Gregorian calendar - followed in this book - was not adopted by Great Britain until 1752.)

Seventeen forty-four was the year which witnessed the deaths of English poet Alexander Pope and Swedish scientist Anders Celsius, inventor of the centigrade thermometer. In France the best-known living writers were Marivaux and Voltaire, while in Britain Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding were the most popular novelists. The most celebrated composers in Europe were Handel and Bach, each of whom turned 59 in 1744. Haydn was only 12 years old and Mozart would not be born for another dozen years. The American colonies to the south of Louisbourg were passing through a widespread religious revival known as the "Great Awakening." In Virginia a boy named Thomas Jefferson celebrated his first birthday and George Washington his twelfth. In Europe Giovanni Casanova tumed 19 and the future Marquis de Sade, four. It was one year before Charles Edward Stuart, "Bonnie Prince Charlie," led a Jacobite uprising in Scotland. It was the fourth year in which Pope Benedict XIV was head of the Roman Catholic Church and it was the fourth year of a dynastic and territorial war on the continent known today as the War of the Austrian Succession.

In the spring of 1744 that war spread officially to North America when Louis XV of France and George II of Great Britain declared war on each other. (The American phase of the war is often referred to as King George's War.) Word of the outbreak of war between France and Britain reached Louisbourg in early May. Before the end of the month an expedition from the capital of Isle Royale had captured the British fishing settlement at Canso. Extensive privateering began shortly thereafter. What happened in the four months that followed is the subject of this study.