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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







© Nimbus Publishing



A good way to learn about people is through the food they eat. This is true whether one is learning about present or past cultures.

The methods of preserving food have changed dramatically over the years. Centuries ago, people did not have refrigerators or means of rapid transportation, so they could not enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables year round.

Instead, most people in 18th-century Louisbourg had to dry or salt perishables. Spices also helped prevent foods from spoiling. Once dried, salted, or spiced, many foods could then be stored for use in the winter, when few trading ships arrived with new supplies.

For the people of Louisbourg, like all the peoples of Europe, bread was the single most important food in the diet. There were many kinds and many shapes. On average, one person consumed several pounds of bread a day. While they ate a lot of bread, the people of Louisbourg did not eat potatoes at all. The potato had not yet become a staple of European diets.



As a fishing port, Louisbourg was fortunate to have access to fresh seafood year round. Cod was the most common species, though the colonists also enjoyed salmon, halibut, and other fish. As well, they caught trout in lakes and streams and eels along the coast. Some people ate lobster and other shellfish.

Louisbourg had many gardens, and many residents kept chickens, goats, and pigs. Some supplemented their diets through hunting animals such as hare, lynx, moose, black bear, caribou, and seabirds.

Despite plentiful fish and game, there was not nearly enough food to feed all the inhabitants of Louisbourg. Most staples - meat, flour, eggs, butter, fruits, and vegetables - came by ship. Foods from Europe, the West Indies, New England, and elsewhere in New France made their way to every household.

Ordinary provisions usually came in barrels. Animals (cattle, pigs, and sheep) arrived on the hoof aboard ships. The slaughter then took place in the fall or early winter.

A typical Louisbourg kitchen contained foods from many places: butter and salt beef from Ireland, cheese from Holland and France, vegetables from New England, Acadia, and the French settlements along the St. Lawrence River. There was also molasses and sugar from the West Indies and flour and wine from France.



         IMPORT                           SOURCE


The above table indicates where a few of Louisbourg’s imports came from, but only for selected years. In fact, there were many imports each and every year. Among the hundreds of commodities available were almonds and anchovies from France, apples, beans, and cabbages from New England, and liqueurs and olive oil from the French West Indies.



People in the 18th century did not have the variety of beverages available today. Soft drinks, of course, did not exist. Fruit juices were rare and usually enjoyed only by the rich. Tea was difficult to obtain and expensive. Coffee and chocolate were more popular, yet even they were too expensive for poor people to buy on a regular basis. Coffee, in fact, was a relative novelty. The drink had been introduced in France in the mid-17th century.

Milk was not a common beverage. It was used primarily for cooking, though invalids and sick people also drank it. For infants, mother’s milk was the most nutritious. Sometimes, however, goat’s milk was a substitute.

One of the health problems that beset all early explorers and colonists was scurvy, a deficiency disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. People with scurvy felt weak and sore, their gums were extremely tender, and their breath was foul smelling. One way to prevent the illness among the soldiers at Louisbourg was to give them a ration of spruce beer, made from spruce twigs and molasses. This mild beer was also popular among the townspeople.


As a rule, 18th-century cooks did not rely on written recipes. Indeed, aside from professional chefs, most of them were not able to read. These everyday cooks had learned by watching their mothers or other cooks. They used their sense of taste, smell, and sight to tell them when a dish was ready.

The recipes that did exist were very different from today’s. Instead of specific ingredients and precise quantities, there were simple general descriptions. It was not always clear how long a particular step should take. Of course, to 18th-century cooks, such precision was probably not necessary. They were familiar with the cooking techniques of the period. All they needed from a recipe was a general idea or maybe an unusual way to combine flavours. The following are two 18th-century dishes whose recipes have been adapted for present-day cooks.


This is a well-known treat but without the eggs:

Dip the bread in the milk. Lightly grease a pan with half oil and half butter. Heat to a moderate temperature. Fry the bread on both sides until heated through. Sprinkle with the sugar and place in a medium oven until golden.


Eggs for dessert? Why not? Here’s a sweet treat to go along with supper:

Soak the bread crumbs in milk for 15 to 20 minutes. Purée or strain through a fine sieve; add to the well-beaten eggs. Add the salt, 1 tsp (5 ml) sugar, citron peel, and orange flower water; mix well.

Melt the butter in a frying pan. When it begins to bubble, add the egg mixture. Stir gently until the liquid has evaporated and the eggs have reached the desired firmness. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and serve.



Cooking with a fireplace was much different than cooking with a modern stove or a microwave. First, one had to be a little stronger, as cast-iron pots and pans were very heavy, especially when filled with soup or stew. Second, one always needed a fire, even on the hottest days, and had to wait until the fire reached just the right intensity, then keep it there. In addition, one had to keep a constant eye on the pots on the fire, turning them regularly so that the heat spread evenly. Clearly, for a person today, cooking at a hearth would take some practice.



When the French arrived in Louisbourg, they discovered that they could not grow everything they wanted to. The area’s acidic soil and short summer were not suitable for growing the quantity and variety of vegetables produced in France. Instead, the colonists confined themselves to small kitchen gardens known as potagers. Town plans show that there were more than 100 such gardens within the walls of the fortress where one could grow a range of vegetables and herbs; flowers were much less common.

Typical vegetables included cabbages, turnips, carrots, beans, and peas. Cooks relied on herbs to give flavour to soups, stews, and other dishes. They also used some for medicinal purposes, such as to cure headaches or to prevent upset stomachs. Mint, parsley, sage, and thyme were common, and a few of the herbs brought by Europeans now grow wild on Cape Breton Island, including chives, caraway, chicory, wild parsnips, and angelica.

Several gardens of Louisbourg were quite elaborate. They had wide gravel paths and symmetrically arranged beds. Sundials or urns often gave the gardens a central focus. Through careful planning, gardeners achieved attractive colour combinations. They also put the sweetest-smelling plants along the borders so that passers-by could enjoy the scent.


Today, the law says that all children between the ages of 5 and 16 have to go to school.

Such a law seems normal, yet it is fairly recent. Until the mid-1800s, there were relatively few schools, and attendance was strictly a matter of choice. Most parents had neither the interest nor the money to send their children to school. Consequently, few children ever learned to read and write.

For generations, most people could only make a mark when asked to sign their name. To them, having the ability to write did not seem important. More pressing was learning a trade or a skill, to earn a living.

Louisbourg was not much different from the rest of colonial North America. Schools were difficult to establish, qualified teachers were hard to find, and students were few and far between.

Before the mid-1800s, education in many countries was mainly the responsibility of the church. In many towns or villages, as in Louisbourg, catechism classes - question-and-answer sessions on the articles of the Roman Catholic faith - formed the only schooling some children ever received. More formal schools, or even small colleges, were usually staffed by nuns or priests, and in general, the focus was more on religion than on the subjects taught today.

During the late 1700s, a debate raged across Europe over the kind of education children should receive. Some thought it was dangerous to give ordinary children too much education. They believed that once a child learned to read and write, he or she would no longer want to do manual jobs. They would then move from the farm to the cities in search of easier work. Others argued that society would improve only if more people received a good education, and this opinion prevailed. Today, virtually every coutnry has compulsory education.



In Louisbourg, despite its size, education was not a priority. In fact, Louisbourg may never have had a school if it were not for the Bishop of Québec. Bishop Saint-Vallier tried to convince the colonial administrators to do something about education, but they always refused. At last, in 1727, he took the matter into his own hands. He sent a teaching nun from the Congregration of Notre-Dame in Montréal to Louisbourg, to open a school for girls. Within two months of her arrival, there were 22 students enrolled in the school.

During the 1730s and 1740s, the number of teaching sisters ranged between three and six. At times, there may have been as many as 50 or 100 students.

For parents who wanted their sons to receive an education, there were two options: hire a local tutor or send the child to school in France or Québec. Obviously, only wealthy people could consider these options.

The girls who attended Congregation of Notre-Dame’s school at Louisbourg ranged in age from 6 to 18. The ideal student was modest, docile and obedient. Children with communicable diseases could not attend, nor could girls who were engaged to be married.

The objective of the curriculum was to provide a Christian education. The program explained the fundamental articles of the Roman Catholic faith and promoted the virtues of piety and modesty. It taught reading and writing and gave practical instruction in needlework and other female accomplishments.


There were two kinds of students; those who boarded at the Congregation of Notre-Dame’s school and those who attended only daytime classes and returned home in the afternoon.

The schoolweek ran from Monday to Saturday, with the same daily routine followed on Saturday, until 3:00 P.M. There was no schooling on Sunday, when attending Mass and Vespers and other religious obligations had to be met.

The school year was longer than it is today. There was almost no vacation during the fall, winter, and spring. The exception was January 1, when the students went home after Vespers. The only extended vacation was from August 15 to September 15.


Every era has distinctive fashions, and the 18th century was no different. Just as today’s world has regular changes in hair and clothing styles, so too did the world of 18th-century Louisbourg.


Louisbourg’s fashions were set in France. What was popular to wear in the mother country eventually became stylish in the colony. Sometimes it took a few years for a particular fashion - say, a new dress or wig - to make its way across the Atlantic. Sooner or later, however, most colonists adopted the same look that was in vogue in France.

When one speaks of 18th-century fashions, one is really talking about the clothing and hairstyles of the well-to-do. Working people such as fishermen and servants did not keep up with fashions. Year in, year out, they wore the same basic garments. The clothes they could afford were usually hand-me-downs or purchases made at a local auction.

Wealthy and middle-income people, on the other hand, could afford to follow changing fashions. For these men, women, and children, it was important to maintain a stylish appearance.



Fishermen were a familiar sight in 18th-century Louisbourg. They had to wear clothing that suited their work and the climate. Their culottes (trousers) were made of rugged, striped, hand-woven fabric and were cut in a straight-leg style. Decades later, the trousers lengthened and became the bell-bottoms associated with sailors.

The fisherman’s vest was loose fitting so that he could move easily. His natural-linen shirt was coarse but very durable, and his woollen toque was practical for working at sea or along a windy shore. His thick hand-knit socks kept his feet warm, and his wooden shoes kept them drier than leather ones would have. The fisherman wore tarred canvas sleeves and an apron when handling fish.

As a military stronghold, Louisbourg always had many soldiers, as well as officers to lead them. The officer’s uniform was made of finer material than that of an ordinary soldier’s uniform. It was also more fashionably cut. Gold braid and buttoms trimmed the pockets and sleeves. The chemise (shirt) was made of fine linen and was often trimmed with lace. Officers usually wore a gorget around their necks, a symbolic remnant of the armour once worn by knights. Wigs were common and stylish. One kind had side rolls with the back encased in a black silk bag tied with ribbon.

Louisbourg was also home to many families. There were hundreds of mothers and children who did not come from wealthy backgrounds. Some women were servants; others were widows who took in boarders, or seamstresses who made other people’s clothes. The garments of these working women were well worn. They bought only what they could afford, usually items purchased at auctions. Colour co-ordination was the least of their worries. Most children wore make-overs or hand-me-downs.

There were far more ordinary women in Louisbourg than there were upper-class women who could afford fancy dresses. One of the stylish dresses was known as the robe à la française.

Few people were more important in an 18th-century garrison town than the drummer. His drum calls throughout the day signalled activities. There was one drum call for the gates to open, another for them to close. Other beats announced drills or sentry changes. The important role of the drummer meant he wore a colourful costume. He had to be the most easily recognized member of the military forces. His stockings, breeches, and vest were red. His justaucorps (jerkin) was blue and laced with the King’s livery.



Eighteenth-century clothes often had a free-flowing yet snug-fitting look. People thought such fashions made them appear elegant and refined. If they could afford to have their garments made with an expensive fabric such as silk, then so much the better. They believed that fabrics that shimmered made them look more dignified.

For fashion-conscious men, the ideal was to be clean-shaven, delicately perfurmed, and wearing a powdered and curled wig.



There were no synthetic (man-made) fabrics in the 18th century - no nylon or rayon or polyester. Instead, all garments were made from natural fabrics - cotton, wool, linen, and silk. Tailors used these materials alone or in combination. All clothes were hand-sewn, sometimes by a local tailor or seamstress.

The colours of 18th-century garments came from natural vegetable dyes, which produced soft, subtle hues. When washed repeatedly or worn often in bright sunshine, however, the fabrics faded noticeably.



In the 18th-century, it was fashionable for the upper classes to wear a lot of make-up. This was sometimes true for men, as well as for women.

In general, people who painted themselves wanted a white face with red cheeks and lips. They applied a white lead-base make-up, then added rouge to their cheeks. (The lead make-up, however, was often harmful, causing cancer.) They used beauty marks (patches cut from black velvet or silk) to hide blemishes and to highlight certain features. These patches were in the shape of a heart, square, tree, or anything the imagination could conjure. One woman wore as many as 15 patches at the same time. Some men also wore beauty marks.

Some high-ranking women preferred not to paint their faces. Maria Theresa of Spain, for instance, objected to applying so much make-up. Yet when she arrived at the court of France, the King informed her she must follow the fashion. She did as much as she was told.

One reason why beauty marks and heavy make-up became popular was that they covered blemishes. Smallpox and other diseases were common in the 18th century. Many people had disfigured or pockmarked faces, and they were glad to have ways to hide the blemishes.


It’s easy to see from the outside that Louisbourg’s houses were different from those in present-day towns and cities. But what were these 18th-century homes like inside?



If people today could travel back in time to 18th-century Louisbourg, they may find one aspect of life annoying: the often-crowded living conditions.

Generally, 18th-century families were much larger than those today. Many parents had 6, 8, or even as many as 12 children. In-laws sometimes lived in the same house, and so did servants or slaves. Not only were families usually larger, but houses were typically smaller. (There were exceptions, of course, such as the chief engineer’s residence.) The lack of central heating further reduced living space: many families did not use certain rooms once the weather turned cold.

Despite these crowded conditions, family life in Louisbourg was far from unbearable.



One easy and inexpensive way to deal with crowded living conditions in 18th-century Louisbourg was to erect lightweight wooden partitions. These partitions could be put up quickly, then taken down when no longer needed. New, small rooms could be created in large, open spaces.

Such partitioned spaces offered a measure of privacy. But what was the acceptable level of privacy? Eighteenth-century standards were different from those today. The wooden partitions were not soundproof, and sometimes the curious could see through the cracks where the wood was joined.

The 18th-century family typically performed more functions than the present-day family. Besides providing food and shelter, adults were responsible for the education, religious training, and welfare of their children. There were also more family-run businesses than there are now. It is no exaggeration to say that the family unit was one of the mainstays of 18th-century society.



Because of the relatively crowded conditions inside Louisbourg homes, it was necessary for people to be both organized and creative in their living arrangements. A flat-topped chest, for instance, could be a place to store things, a seat, or a table top.

With limited space, everything had to have its place. Thus, in at least one kitchen, there was a large table under which there is a bed for a boy. Perhaps the boy slept there for the night, or perhaps the bed was pulled closer to the kitchen fire.

Mattresses that could be moved easily were another common feature. Filled with straw or feathers, they were all that many people had to sleep on. During the day, they were rolled up and put away; at night, they were unrolled and spread out. If lumpy straw-filled mattresses sound a bit uncomfortable, conditions were often worse in public houses. In many 18th-century European inns, overnight guests slept on straw-covered floors.

Another practical way of dealing with limited space was through the use of folding tables. Records show that one homeowner had no fewer than five such tables in his dining room. There were also chairs that could be stacked on top of each other and kept more or less out of the way. This could not be done with all chairs, but simply styled ones (without arms and with straw or cane seats) stacked easily. Another homeowner at Louisbourg had 14 straw chairs stored in a bedroom. Still another kept 18 straw chairs in his antechamber.

When it came to furnishings, necessity was often the mother of invention. Tapestries were hung on walls, used as carpets, table covers, and even heavy blankets. Of course, almost any fabric could serve as a blanket. One seaman used a heavy, lined cape. Another person used a thin mattress.

Whenever a desired furnishing was unavailable or too expensive, the people of Louisbourg had no choice but to find a creative solution.


Today, we live in a throw-away society; that is, many things are quickly discarded after use.

In 18th-century Louisbourg, people did not throw things away. Goods came in simple - often reusable - containers and packages. Manufactured items were expensive, so few people could afford to discard them when they were damaged or broken. Instead, they repaired them whenever possible. Even the well-to-do found new uses for old furniture.

Archaeological excavations at Louisbourg reveal how common it was for residents to reuse various household wares. One bowl had been broken, then repaired with wire going through four pairs of holes drilled on either side of the break. A platter had six lead staples on either side of a large crack. The surface of the platter had been sanded to preserve its smooth appearance.

Other artifacts that had been adapted for reuse included bottle fragments ground down and turned into containers, and bits of broken porcelain for gaming pieces.

The reluctance to throw anything away touched every household in the 18th century. People lived by the proverb waste not, want not.



Imagine for a moment that it is a cold winter’s night and you are living in a house without a furnace. That means there are no hot-water radiators and no hot-air vents. How do you keep warm?

In the 18th century, the most common source of heat was the fireplace. A fire can provide a lot of heat, but much of it goes up the chimney. And the farther one moves away from the fireplace, the cooler the air. So how did 18th-century people keep warm when far from a fireplace or in rooms without one?

At Louisbourg, brick stoves were common responses to the heating problems. Bricks were laid to form a boxlike structure - the stove - to which was attached an iron door, a top plate, and a stove pipe. Such stoves were temporary measures. They could be constructed each fall and taken apart the following spring. Stoves made entirely of iron were also used, yet they were more expensive to build than the brick ones.

One French visitor to 18th-century Canada commented that in spite of the colder climate, the widespread use of stoves in New France actually made living conditions warmer than they were in the mother country.


In addition to playing an important role in Canadian history, Louisbourg played a part in Canadian science. The first astronomical observatory in what is now Canada was built at Louisbourg in 1750.


In 1750, a 26-year-old French astronomer named Joseph-Bernard Chabert de Cogolin arrived at Louisbourg. He had been assigned to correct the maps of what is now Atlantic Canada. Chabert stayed at Louisbourg for only a year and a half, but in the course of that stay, he completed his task and also established what was the first observatory in the country.

Chabert de Cogolin was born in Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast of France, in 1724. He joined the navy in 1741, at the age of 17, and pursued a naval career, finally becoming a vice admiral in 1792.

Chabert de Cogolin’s first voyage to New France was in 1746, when he was a navigator with the ill-fated D’Anville expedition. On his return to France in late 1746, the youthful Chabert de Cogolin reported that the charts of the North American coastline were not as accurate as they could have been. He proposed that he be assigned to make them more accurate. In 1750, the Minister of the Marine gave his approval for the young astronomer to travel back to the colonies to begin correcting French maps.



To assist Chabert de Cogolin in his map work, the Ministry of the Marine provided him with a ship, an assistant, and a whole range of navigational and astronomical equipment. In total, he brought no fewer than eight telescopes. Six were refracting telescopes with focal lengths between one and six metres. Another was a Gregorian reflecting telescope with a focal length of about one metre. Other equipment included a seconds clock, terrestrial globes, maps of the stars, and an octant.

With his many instruments carefully stowed away, Chabert de Cogolin set sail from Brest in June 1750, abord the frigate La Mutine. His assistant was the Chevalier de Diziers-Guyon, who was well known for his knowledge of geometry.

Soon after his arrival at Louisbourg, Chabert de Cogolin set up his astronomical instruments in the Governor’s garden. This proved an unsatisfactory location, as he found the intensity of the cold ... would not permit [him] to work in the open air. He felt he needed a specially built structure. As he was staying in the King’s Bastion barracks, he decided to have a small building constructed that would serve as an observatory. Described as timber work cabin, the building was erected on the southern flank of the King’s Bastion. A contractor carried out the carpentry, joinery, locksmithing and glazier.



Why did Chabert de Cogolin establish an observatory at Louisbourg when that seaport had a reputation for foggy weather?

Although it is true that mountaintops are better places to build observatories than foggy coasts, Louisbourg was selected as the site for Chabert de Cogolin’s observations because of its importance as a New World seaport. It was the first port of call for many French ships sailing to North America, so it was important that its geographic location be pinpointed as accurately as possible. In Chabert’s own words, I have ... to fix with exactitude the longitude of Louisbourg, both in order to facilitate the landing of vessels coming into that port and in order that in the drawing of maps one could start from this point in locating all others on the coast of this part of North America on their true meridians.

To supplement their Louisbourg observations, Chabert de Cogolin and Diziers-Guyon made voyages to other parts of the region. At each stop, they tried to determine the precise latitude and longitude.



For more than year, Chabert de Cogolin and his assistant made astronomical observations at Louisbourg. In September 1751, they returned to France. Soon afterwards, Chabert de Cogolin began corresponding with many European astronomers to compare his Île Royale observations with those calculated at other locations. Of particular use were an English astronomer’s findings taken at Greenwich, England.

Two years after Chabert de Cogolin’s return to France, the French Royal Academy of Sciences published a report documenting his findings at Louisbourg. It was a sophisticated piece of work, and Chabert de Cogolin was commended for his contribution.



Although the wooden observatory erected on the King’s Bastion was built specifically for Chabert de Cogolin, it was not torn down after the astronomer returned to France. Nine months later, in June 1752, a Louisbourg engineer and accomplished cartographer, or map-maker, named Pierre Boucher used the structure. Other officials in town owned their own telescopes and likely used the observatory as well.



While Chabert de Cogolin was at Louisbourg, he made many scientific observations. He noted details on the climate and the tides and on the stars and the moon. The main purpose of his stay, however, was to determine the exact longitude of the Île Royale capital. Indeed, cartographers and geographers in Europe and North America concluded that the young astronomer had accomplished what he had set out to do.

What is longitude? To help answer that question, look at a map.

Note first there are lines running horizontally (that is, parallel to the Equator). These are lines of latitude measured in degrees, either north or south or the Equator. For example, Louisbourg is at about 46 degrees north latitude. Navigators in the mid-18th century were able to take latitude readings from the midday sun or the night-time stars by using instruments known as octants or sextants.

Now examine the lines running up and down the map, from the North Pole at the top to the South Pole at the bottom. These are lines of longitude. These lines begin from an imaginary line (like the Equator, at point zero) that passes through Greenwich, England. Every other line of longitude is defined by its relation to this Greenwich line; that is, it is a certain number of degrees to the east or the west of the baseline. Louisbourg, for example, is about 60 degrees west of Greenwich.

By finding where lines of latitude and longitude intersect, one is able to locate any point on the surface of the Earth, as no two positions can have the same co-ordinates.

Back in the 1750s, however, scientists and navigators had not yet figured out how to get accurate readings of longitude. But seafaring nations such as England, France, Holland, and Spain were eager to see the longitude puzzle solved. Then ships’ captains and navigators would be able to tell more precisely their location when sailing an east-west course. Large rewards were offered to anyone who could devise a reliable method of determining longitude. Joseph-Bernard Chabert de Cogolin’s stay in Louisbourg was an attempt to solve this long-standing problem.


Health standards were much lower in the 18th century than they are today. One reason was that medical knowledge of how diseases and infections spread was not so advanced. Another was that standards of cleanliness were not so high. Also, 18th-century people faced diseases such as smallpox that are no longer threatening. Finally, the health-care system was not comprehensive.



Seaport towns such as Louisbourg were especially susceptible to contagious diseases because they welcomed as many as 100 ships or more a year. It was not unusual for at least a few crew members on those ships to be suffering from disease. As Louisbourg was a centre for international trade, some sailors carried maladies picked up in Europe, the West Indies, or even the Far East.

The most deadly disease was dysentery. During the New England occupation of Louisbourg in 1745-46, more than 1 000 soldiers died from the bloody fluxes. Then there was smallpox. At least twice in the town’s history, carriers of smallpox arrived in port. The first serious outbreak occurred in 1732-33. The death rate in the town tripled as a result, and many of the victims were children. In 1755, smallpox swept through Louisbourg again.

Fortunately, an effective smallpox vaccine began to be developed in the mid-18th century. According to the World Health Organization, smallpox was eliminated altogether by 1977.

Even when there was no smallpox at Louisbourg, other infectious diseases - or unsanitary practices - led to a high death rate among young people. Approximately one of every five children born there died before they reached the age of 12. But even that mortality rate was not so high as it was in 18th-century Europe. In France, it was generally accepted that one-quarter of all infants would die before they turned one.



In an attempt to prevent the spread of contagious diseases at Louisbourg, port officials inspected ships arriving from places where smallpox and other diseases were known to be a problem. When such a disease reached Louisbourg, steps were taken to isolate those afflicted so that others would not be put at risk. As a routine measure, all ships had to report on the health of their passengers and crew.

Besides dysentery in 1745-46 and smallpox in 1732-33 and 1755, there was an outbreak of typhus in 1757. There was even one death from yellow fever, a disease commonly found in the tropics.

Generally, people who died from contagious diseases were not buried in the town cemetery but in emergency burial grounds dug outside the walls.



Common ailments such as the cold and influenza also existed in the 18th century. Other typical maladies included dental problems, abscesses, and ulcers. Wealthy Louisbourg residents sometimes travelled to France to take the waters at mineral springs to improve their health. As the climate on Île Royale was damper and colder than in France, many blamed their respiratory problems and rheumatism on the long winters.



Standards of sanitation in the 18th century would be largely unacceptable today. People washed their hands and face routinely, but they rarely took full baths, and showers did not yet exist. People generally feared immersing themselves in water because they thought it would expose them to chills and infections. Louisbourg court records tell of a 50-year old woman who fell in a pond and claimed that it was the first time in her life that she had been immersed in water.

As a result of this reluctance to take baths, many people had a strong body odour. The well-to-do, men as well as women, wore perfume to disguise the smell.



Water is taken for granted today: turn on the tap and out it comes, hot or cold. In 18th-century Louisbourg, however, it was not so easy. Water - for cooking, washing, or drinking - came from wells. Some people were fortunate and had wells on their own property; many others had to go to public wells. Whatever well was used, the water was sometimes unsafe to drink because it was polluted, often from the well being located too close to the latrines or outhouses. As Louisbourg’s water supply was not tested for bacteria or treated to ensure that it was safe for human consumption, people sometimes became ill.

Although residents realized that contaminated water contributed to the spread of disease, they did not understand why or how, as bacteria had not yet been discovered. Nonetheless, they knew enough to be cautious and often drank spruce beer instead of water. Spruce beer was made of boiled water, spruce buds, and molasses, and it had a very low alcohol content.



A doctor is someone who tries to cure the ill or injured. In the 18th century, doctors were known as surgeons or physicians. A surgeon treated external problems such as ulcers, wounds, or fractures and a physician treated internal illnesses. Physicians were much more highly regarded than surgeons, and they were also better paid. Their preferred methods of treatment included bleeding their patients and having them take infusions (liquid medicine). Surgeons, on the other hand, performed operations or applied external remedies.

During the 45-year history of Île Royale, several dozen surgeons worked in Louisbourg and other French settlements on the island, but not one physician.



Both military and civilian surgeons worked in Louisbourg. The civilian surgeons looked after the townspeople, mending broken limbs and treating many illnesses and diseases.

Military surgeons tended to the soldiers. The military surgeons’ many duties included providing first aid, shaving the men, checking soldiers in and out of the hospital, visiting them weekly, and giving certificates of disability to those who could no longer serve in the colony. As the military surgeons looked after the troops of the king, the king paid the surgeons’ salaries and provided the necessary instruments and medicine.



The second largest building in Louisbourg was the Hôpital du Roi (King’s Hospital), a two-storey masonry structure. Its perimeter was nearly 200 metres, and it had a spire of about 12 metres. The hospital contained four wards with a total capacity of approximately 100 beds. There were also some private rooms, a kitchen, laundry, chapel, apothecary, morgue, and latrines. Outside the main building was a terrace and gardens, stable, woodshed, and bakery. In its entirety, the King’s Hospital complex occupied a full town block.

Although the hospital was built and paid for by the king (the government), it was operated by a religious order, the Brothers of Charity of Saint John of God, more commonly known as the Brothers of Charity.

For the most part, Louisbourg’s hospital was adequatley furnished. From time to time, there were shortages of clean sheets and bed curtains, and problems with ventilation and light, but these difficulties were eventually overcome. The government officials who administered the building always kept a close eye on the cost of the operation.

Unlike today, women did not go to the hospital to have their babies. Instead, they had them at home, assisted by a midwife or one of the surgeons. During the 1750s, Louisbourg had an official midwife who received an annual salary from the king.



An easy and fun way to stay healthy is through participating in sports and games. Children in the 18th century did not have the elaborate facilities (rinks, playing fields, equipment) that boys and girls have today. Nonetheless, they certainly enjoyed playing the games of their era. Although hockey, soccer, basketball, or baseball did not exist per se, some popular 18th-century games and pastimes have persisted through the centuries essentially unchanged.

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