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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 two dominant features of life in Louisbourg in June were each related to the war. The first of these was the coming and going of ships and boats in the harbour. The port had always been busy and the arrival of vessels had always been newsworthy, but there was now an air of excitement about the harbour traffic that had never been known before. Supply ships, fishing boats and all other types of craft were greeted with inquiries not just about their cargoes but also about what they had seen or heard of the enemy's movements. Rumours abounded, some of which were more or less true and others of which were either exaggerated or simply false. [18] It was the inhabitants' task to sift the probable from the improbable.

Of all the incoming vessels, the ones that received the greatest attention were probably those carrying reports on the activities of the Louisbourg privateers. The men providing the financial backing, commanding, and manning the privateers were known to most of the inhabitants and there was a natural interest in how they were doing. Curiosity was transformed into pride for the Louisbourgeois when their fellow colonists brought prize after prize into the harbour. Coming so soon after the early capture of Canso, the string of privateering successes must have made many in the capital feel confident of the outcome of the war. The only unwelcome aspect of the French privateering was that it led inevitably to a steady increase in the number of British prisoners.

The growth of the British presence constituted the second dominant feature of life in Louisbourg in June. The prisoners had been a problem for the Louisbourg officials since the arrival of the group from Canso in late May. According to the terms of capitulation at Canso, the prisoners, except women and children, were to be detained in Louisbourg until May 1745. The initial problems encountered by the Louisbourg officials in feeding and housing those prisoners were exacerbated each time a prize and its crew were brought into port. As the numbers of British grew, so did the worries of Duquesnel and Bigot, principally about the depletion of foodstocks in the capital. Consequently, during June 1744 the commandant and commissaire-ordonnateur decided to put out the first overtures to Governor Shirley about a possible exchange of prisoners. [19] The French prisoners in question were held in Boston and were fishermen and sailors off vessels from France and the West Indies who had been captured by British and New England vessels.

The man selected to take Duquesnel's offer to Boston was John Bradstreet, an officer in the Phillipps Regiment, who had been captured at Canso. Bradstreet was well-known and, more importantly, probably trusted in Louisbourg. Not only had he been involved in extensive mercantile trade with Louisbourg over the 1730s and early 1740s, but also he was related to several prominent people in the town. [20] Born at Annapolis Royal in 1714, where he was baptised Jean-Baptiste, Bradstreet was the son of a British officer and a French mother, Agathe de Saint-Etienne de La Tour. Whether on business or simply visiting his de La Tour relatives (in 1739 he was present at the wedding of a distant relation), [21] Bradstreet apparently moved easily in the upper strata of Louisbourg society. He was the natural choice for someone to carry Duquesnel's offer of a prisoner exchange to Shirley. Once Bradstreet had been chosen to go to Boston, his fellow British officers pressed him to ask the Massachusetts authorities to send provisions to Louisbourg to supplement their French rations. [22]

Bradstrect did not set off on his mission until early July [23] so throughout June he was a familiar sight in Louisbourg, as were the other British officers who were similarly at liberty. The activities of these officers and of the rest of the British prisoners must have been closely followed by the people of the town. While there had been many visiting New England ship captains and merchants in Louisbourg over the years, never before had there been so many British there at one time or in such circumstances. The style of clothes the British officers wore, how they carried themselves, where they ate, who among the French they associated with and many other aspects about them would have been popular conversation topics in the capital that summer, and there was undoubtedly more gossip about Bradstreet than anyone else. Here was a young man who probably spoke French, was familiar with the town, knew most of the French officers (was even related to a few of them) and a number of the merchants quite well, presumably dined with some of his Louisbourg friends and relatives on occasion, and generally seemed to be the go-between for the French officials and the prisoners.

While the officers, especially Bradstreet, were the most visible of the British, the inhabitants were also well aware of the ordinary prisoners. By the end of June there may have been 200 of them in town. [24] Some were living in packet-boats moored in the harbour; the rest were accommodated in the own in three buildings that had been converted into temporary prisons. [25] One was the de la Pèrelle storehouse on rue Royale and another was in the house of Joseph Lartigue's widow. The third building was described in 1744 as belonging to Jean-Baptiste Lannelongue; however, in 1751, claims were made for repairs to the some structure but its owner was identified as François Du Pont Duvivier.[26] People living near the prisons had the best stories of the conditions and behaviour of the British, but everyone else likely had his or her own favourite tale to tell. Common to all were reports of British dissatisfaction with the rations they were given; how much sympathy they felt for the British undoubtedly depended on how well they themselves were eating. Whenever the prisoners were allowed out to exercise and take the air everyone in Louisbourg probably knew about it. The care and feeding of the women and children, the sick and injured were likely also common topics.

The townspeople also thought of the British prisoners in their midst due to the money to be made because of their presence. Extra men had to be hired to work in the king's bakery to produce the necessary additional loaves of bread. Cod, meat, salt pork, spruce beer, wood, straw and other supplies were all purchased for the prisoners from local suppliers. The total cost to the king's treasury of the goods and services provided the prisoners eventually reached over 16 000 livres.[27] One-quarter to one-fifth of that figure may have been expended in June. Among the many people cashing in on the presence of the prisoners, the name of Jean-Baptiste Lannelongue stands out. He sold cod, salt pork, and rum (for the crews on three of the boats which later went to Boston for the prisoner exchange), and rented a house and a boat, for a total of over 2200 livres. Less conspicuous but still profiting from the state expenditure was Michel Rodrigue, a merchant living virtually next door to the prisoners housed in the de la Pèrelle storehouse. Rodrigue sold 142 livres 10 sols' worth of salt pork and rented a boat for 1350 livres for the September voyage to Boston.

Although British prisoners and French privateering were the most newsworthy subjects in Louisbourg in June, they were certainly not the only topics of conversation. Matters of a personal nature were still significant. For those who knew 16-year-old Marie-Louise Paris, a native of Louisbourg, and Jean Le Bezot, from France, their marriage in the chapel of the King's Bastion barracks on 12 June was of happy interest. (This wedding was one of the very few in colonial Louisbourg held on a Friday; the most popular days were Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.) For the families and friends of the seven mothers who gave birth during the month, the birth and baptism of those children were events of considerable importance. Each of the baptisms took place in the barracks chapel, which served as the parish church of Louisbourg

One of the infants, a son born to Compagnies franches Captain Gabriel Rousseau de Villejouin and Anne de Gannes de Falaise on 13 June, was probably in poor health right from birth. The child lived only five days and was buried in the parish cemetery on 19 June. Another death, that of 34-year-old Françoise Pugnant on 15 June, may have been related to childbirth. Pugnant, wife of Jean Bemard, had had a child on 20 May and it is possible that her death three and a half weeks later was the result of some complication in that birth. The only other civilian death recorded in June was that of a 26- to 27-year-old native of Brittany named Jean Vildieu, who died on 21 June. Earlier in the month, on 4 June, two soldiers from one of the Compagnies franches passed away in the king's hospital at Louisbourg. [28]

A subject that reemerged in the latter part of the month was a local court case involving Valérien Louis dit le Bourguignon. [29] Bourguignon was a former soldier in the Bourgogne Regiment in France who had come to Isle Royale to work as a stone cutter for David-Bernard Muiron, contractor for the fortifications. In October 1743 Muiron had submitted written allegations to the Bailliage, the lower civil and criminal court of Louisbourg, that Bourguignon had been stealing from him over a period of four months; iron, steel, chocolate, coffee and table knives were missing. Muiron's allegations were duly investigated in the following months and Bourguignon was detained in the barracks prison. In November and December 1743 the accused was interrogated on seven occasions before the Bailliage, presided over by acting judge Michel Hertel de Cournoyer. Bourguignon's explanations and denials were then checked against the testimony of 40 witnesses. The investigations continued into January 1744 when Bourguignon was once again interrogated. The stone cutter's persistent claims of innocence prompted the Bailliage to recommend that torture be used to obtain a confession of guilt and the names of any accomplices. On 28 February the Conseil Supèrieur, the higher court, agreed with that recommendation. The following day Bourguignon was interrogated by the colony's torturer. Seven times he was subjected to "du feu," presumably a hot poker, but after each application he maintained his innocence. On 1 March he was again interrogated by the court but still asserted he was not guilty. For the next few months no further action was taken in the case and Bourguignon remained imprisoned in the barracks.

The next step in the Bourguignon case came on Sunday, 21 June 1744, when the Bailliage prosecutor, Jean Delaborde, submitted his recommendations on the stone cutter's punishment. Believing him to be guilty, Delaborde urged that Bourguignon be beaten and whipped by the executioner at the principal intersections of the town, placed in the pillory on the quay, branded on the right shoulder with the mark of the fleur de lys, and sentenced to serve in the king's galleys for the rest of his life. At eight in the morning of the following day, the Bailliage met in the chambers of the Conseil Supèrieur to decide on the case. Once again Bourguignon was brought before them and questioned about the thefts and once again he denied that he was guilty. At the end of the session the Bailliage upheld Delaborde's recommendations for public punishment and lifetime enslavement in the galleys. Bourguignon's case then passed to the Conseil Supèrieur for a final hearing and sentencing.

The question in the minds of those who were following the case, and there must have been quite a few for Bourguignon was apparently well known in town, was not so much whether or not he was guilty, but what the final decision on his punishment would be. The Conseil Supèrieur often moderated the sentence of the Bailliage, so his fate would not be certain until after they met. While Bourguignon waited in the barracks prison for his final hearing, his case and his future were discussed by many around the town. As it turned out, the Conseil Supèrieur prosecutor, Antoine Sabatier, submitted a recommendation on 1 October 1744 that Bourguignon be hanged until dead and his corpse displayed on a gallows to be erected on the quay near the pillory. The reaction of the Conseil Supèrieur to Sabatier's recommendation was never known: during the night of 11-12 October 1744 Bourguignon escaped from the barracks prison through a 40-centimetre (16-inch) crack in the masonry. Trained as a stone cutter, Bourguignon may well have saved his life by practicing his trade in prison. [30]

For most people in Louisbourg, particularly those involved in the fishery and merchant trade, June was a month of some relief. When they first learned of the war they anticipated a summer of harassment and possible capture by New England privateers. The larger the investment out to sea, in cargoes, crews or the ships themselves, the greater was their concern; however, to date not a single vessel from Louisbourg had been lost to the New Englanders. No one could foresee how long that situation would last, but all were hopeful of another few weeks of relative freedom on the seas. During the Masses said that month the priests and parishioners alike must have thanked God for the success their war effort had enjoyed to that point. Similarly, the two holy days of obligation in the latter part of the month, the feast days of St. John the Baptist (24 June) and St. Peter and St. Paul (29 June), were likely occasions of public celebration and thankfulness, days on which the inhabitants prayed that they and their investments would continue to be spared from the enemy.