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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
Extracts of Matters of Historical Interest from "The Huissier, News For and About the Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff" By The Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff
(July 2, 2006)
Chocolate and the Les compagnies
franches de la Marine
By Anne Marie Lane Jonah, Staff Historian
In 1726 the French military undertook a dangerous mission with the help of chocolate. Soldiers specially trained as divers came from Quebec, the capital of New France, to assist the Louisbourg garrison and her port captain with a difficult salvage operation. The year before the Chameau, a supply ship of the king’s navy, had foundered in high seas on Cape Breton’s coast and the vessel and all 316 persons on board, including the new intendant of New France, Guillaume de Chazel, the governor of Trois Rivières, and a son of de Ramezy, governor of New France, had been lost. After the wreck local fishermen and soldiers found victims and debris scattered along the coast, but no one had found the chests containing 176,000 livres of gold, silver, and copper coins loaded by the treasurer in France to fund the colony for the coming year. The season was late and nothing could be done, but in the following September divers prepared themselves to plunge into the frigid North Atlantic to seek the lost treasure. They greased their bodies for as much protection from the icy water as they could have, and they fortified themselves with a diet of fresh meat and chocolate. The commander of the divers listed chocolate among the provisions consumed during the first fifteen days of diving and requested it again for them as a gratification, a bonus.
Chocolate was not part of their normal provisions, but it was deserved in light of the work they were doing. In his request, he mentioned that they had plenty of milk to prepare the chocolate, certainly planning to have it as a warm drink. Chocolate was not the normal fare of soldiers in 18th century French society. Its inclusion among the vivres for these divers is a testament to the belief in its powers to nourish and to strengthen. A livre (roughly a pound) of prepared chocolate paste cost more than a French soldier earned in a month, after his deductions for barracks and rations, and so these divers probably did not taste chocolate except in preparation for their grueling work. Other colonial French soldiers benefited from chocolate’s restorative powers. It appears in the lists of supplies for sortie parties leaving Québec for overland missions in the 1740s. This was the case with the party of French and Natives lead by Paul Marin de la Malgue, a Lieutenant with long experience in the pays d’en haut. At the beginning of the War of the Austrian succession in 1744, experienced officers such as Marin were organized to lead sortie parties against the English. Marin’s party set out in January of 1745 to participate in an attack on Annapolis Royal, in the former French territory of Acadia, and then to continue on to reinforce Louisbourg. The troop of 120 French men and about two hundred First Nations peoples carried among their provisions 83 livres of chocolate. In comparison they had over 800 livres of sugar; implying that the chocolate was not for daily consumption or for everyone. It may have been meant for fortification in the coldest times, or for soldiers weakened by the difficult journey, or it may have been reserved for the officers. The supplies issued to another expedition the following year show clearly a class distinction in chocolate consumption in the French military. A large French and Native force on a shorter duration expedition to New England also had chocolate among its supplies. In this instance, the chocolate was issued to the compagnie franches officers and cadets, to the officer level volunteers, and to the militia officers, but not to the common militia soldiers.