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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada
THE CONSTRUCTION AND OCCUPATION OF THE BARRACKS OF THE KING'S BASTION
(Fortress of Louisbourg
Report H A 13)
1749 - 1758
The French official sent to re-establish control over the colony was Commandant Desherbiers, who arrived in June of 1749. Arrangements were soon completed with the English, who remained in the barracks while the French came ashore, then boarded seven of the same ships and were returned to New England.(1) The original plan for reoccupation called for the soldiers to occupy the New England barracks and for the townspeople to temporarily use the barracks of the King's Bastion while waiting to move into their town houses or to the outposts.(2) However it was not until 1754 that the French barracks resumed its role as soldiers' quarters.
Commandant Desherbiers did not take up residence in the south wing of the barracks but lived in the engineer's house since there was no chief engineer at this time.(3) The wing was much out of repair, especially the ground floors which required new beams. Repair documents refer to the ground floor as containing a council chamber, antechamber, vestibule and kitchen.(4) The dining room was mentioned when a two-piece buffet with cornice and shelves were added to the room, as well as two large trestles for a buffet table. In 1750 two iron stoves were added to the wing in the perennial fight against damp. (5)
There were assorted occupants of the wing in the first years of reoccupation: zenith the King's lieutenant residing there in 1749 and the noted French geographer Joseph Chabert, in 1750. The latter had been sent out to make readings of the stars and tides in the North American colonies, and he had built a wooden observation shack on the left flank of the King's Bastion to which he had access from the governor's balcony,(6) Chabert left Louisbourg in 1751, but the new governor, M. le comte de Raymond, declined to move in, "It is a real icehouse", he reported, "and there is not a single convenience which would suit the conditions of my house."(7) He too lived in the engineer's house, and that winter the wing was occupied by some naval officers whose ship wintered at Louisbourg for fear of an attack on the colony in the spring.(8)
Two inventories (9) of occupants in the barracks in 1752 and 1753 reveal that the building was given over to both civilian and military occupation. Inevitably, personal relations were strained at such close quarters and in May the ordonnateur had written that a new engineer, Brécon, and his two sons, who were sub-engineers, were guilty of bad conduct. The father was living with a woman "de mauvaise vie" and was waiting for a second "who is said to be the widow of an Irish officer". This menage was living in the governor's wing and even wanted to make alterations which the ordonnateur prevented (10)
Other barracks residents had been forced to leave the colony, including three women "of bad life" and "several families and Irishmen whom we were obliged to chase out of the country". Aside from the notorious Brecon and his sons, two captains and their families lived in the wing. In the officers quarters there were more captains with three rooms set aside for the church and occupied by the Chaplin, the verger and the sacristy. Another room housed a pensioner. Some of the rooms in the soldiers' barracks were given over to officers, but most were allocated to married soldiers. One soldier was in the same room as a woman of "bad life", but she had disappeared by the time the second list was compiled in 1753. Other rooms were allotted to sailors, to the school for cannoneers, to the contractor, two for the government and one other vacant one. In the north wing four rooms were occupied by a captain Benoit and his family, and the other four by a captain, an ensign and his wife who had two rooms, and a widow "sans profession".
It is not possible to discern on what basis the rooms were allocated. In some instances captains had only one room while the ensign, much lower in rank, had two. A number of civilians also had rooms to themselves, As well as listing the occupants of the rooms these documents did give some interior details. The governor's wing was described as "big, good, and serviceable" with two rooms for the council and kitchen on the ground floor, and an "office", large antechamber, bedroom, "cabinet ," wardroom and private staircase on the first floor and three attic rooms for servants. It was felt by the author that the wing had other advantages; namely that:
the rampart of the bastion can serve for his walks, that the common garden between him and the ordonnateur is situated opposite. That there is a big yard for fowl with a stable, coach house and pigeon roost. And finally if the Court adopts the plan to wipe out the covert way of the gorge of the fort an entrance could be made on the place of arms.
The plan for a townward entrance to the wing did not materialize. The north wing was still referred to as the "former intendency" and it was described as having eight rooms which could be turned over to the King's lieutenant for his residence, using the adjoining casemates as storage areas. The rest of the building was referred to simply as the barracks and it was recommended that five rooms be set aside for the sacristy, chaplain, prison and two government rooms, and that the remaining thirty-one serve as officers' rooms with one room for subalterns and two for captains or married officers. This recommendation was never carried out because of the officers' reluctance to leave their town dwellings.
In the spring of 1754 a third commander was appointed to Louisbourg, Governor Drucour, who, with his wife, took up residence in the south wing which had finally been readied for his occupancy. The arrival the following year of 1050 army troops and their 62 officers meant that all available space would be used for barracks. The north half was finally returned to its original function and was to house 324 soldiers and 2 captains. The south half, however, was left to be occupied by the government, chapel, Chaplin and "captain of the gates".(11) By renting some houses near the barracks of the Queen's Bastion, all the troops were finally lodged.(12) The newly-arrived officers did not expect or want barracks accommodation and the engineer Franquet complained that they were expecting to get what they had in France, forgetting that this was a place of war where they had to accept what was provided.(13) The ordonnateur Prévost went so far as to suggest that the officers be forced to go into the quarters provided for them.(14) However, as mentioned above the army officers were much more effective than the marine at getting their lodging suitably furnished.(15)
Little is known about the occupation of the barracks of the King's Bastion until the second Louisbourg siege. In 1758 two additional battalions added 1,360 troops to the rolls and the accommodation problem must have been acute. There is some evidence that the courtyard of the Bastion along with the chapel was turned into soldiers' quarters.
On June 8 the second siege of Louisbourg began, and the building suffered severe damage from enemy artillery and mortar fire:
At seven in the morning [of July 23] a 12 pouce bomb fell in one of the soldiers rooms of the Fort to the north of the bell tower; the soldiers left with their goods. We went to see if there was a fire, but we didn't think there was; a half hour later the fire appeared well lit and spread very quickly along the trusses of the shingle roof; we tried to stop it at the chapel...but the winds having changed at the time, the fire spread the length of the building. It didn't stop until it reached the south wing, Drucour's residence, all the rest, including the wing at the other end, was consumed. During the fire which lasted five or six hours, the English assiduously rained bombs and bullets on us. Nevertheless all the garrison, town workers and ship's carpenters behaved with a courage and an ardour which is seldom seen.(16)
A second account of the fire described the scene in the building and in the yard on that disastrous morning:
a bomb falls on it (the barracks) bursts, kills and wounds eight people, a second incendry bomb, vomiting fire from five openings, sets fire to it, already a good part of the building is ablaze, the flames pour out of all parts and climb to the clouds like a volcano; to this horror are added the groans and cries of women and children, the fire having spread to the wooden coverings of their casemates, a heavy black smoke penetrated there. This foul odour waking them up, the fear of burning shoving them out of their bed, hurriedly they left these underground asylums and ran en masse, some in only a skirt, most in only a cloth, one carrying her daughter, another her son, this one with two in her arms, a third following her, and another helped (unreadable) drags herself along.
Once out of the casemates the only exit from the courtyard was through the central passage also in flames and partly collapsed:
Their tender feet already burning, their clothes on fire, their skin red, no matter, their determination was above all risk; their bodies shoot into the flames and make their way through the middle and, in spite of the bullets and bombs and their explosions, cross the middle of the parade ground, the streets, passing over bodies, seeing the dying.(17) only the governor's wing was saved from this conflagration, but the barracks as it was ceased to exist. After the surrender the English built a small barracks over part of the remains and presumably occupied it until their withdrawal from Louisbourg in 1768.
In many ways the barracks building paralleled the history of the fortress. As with the plans for the fortifications which were changed and modified before construction so did the barracks undergo various alterations before work was begun. Also like the fortress, construction suffered many delays and the final touches were made years after construction should have finished. Even then both required constant repairs, and there were serious problems with each, partly because they were designed without taking into consideration the special problems of Louisbourg's climate and situation. The building saw its lowest point in the 1750's after the French reoccupation, during the period of mixed civilian and military occupation, but returned to full service in its final years. When it burned during the siege it marked the beginning of the end of resistance to the English; three days later the French surrendered. The imposing barracks which had dominated the peninsula was gone.
1. M. Desherbiers rend compte de reprise de possession (lettre de 29 juillet 1749), February 1750, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 28, ff. 102-103
2. Desherbiers and Prévost to Minister, 10 September 1749, AN, Col., C11B, vol. 28, ff. 16-21.
3. AN. Col., C11C, vol. 9, f. 134 and vol. 13, f. 67.
4. Estimation des reparations, 30 August 1749, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 28, ff. 317-17v.
5. Etat des reparations, 31 December 1749, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 28, f. 340
6. Chebert, Voyage Fait par Ordre du Roy en 1750-51 Dans L'Amerique Septentrionale, p. 91
7. De Raymond to Minister, 18 June 1752, SHA, A1, vol.3393, f. 45
8. Minister to De Raymond, 24 July 1752, AN. Col., B. vol. 95, f. 295
Prévost to Minister, 15 October 1751, AN. Col.,C11B, vol. 30, f. 225v. Prévost to Minister, 3 December 1751, AN. Col., C11B,vol. 30, f. 304v.
9. Etat des personnel, 16 September 1753, AN, Col. C11B, vol. 33, ff.222-22v. Etat des personnel, 9 October 1753, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 33, ff. 224v-228.
10. Prévost to Minister, 19 May 1753, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 33, ff. 172~74
11. Etat des troupes, 8 June 1755, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 35, f. 273
Logement général des troupesLogement général des troupes, 7 June 1755, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 35, f. 155
12. Franquet to Minister, 28 June 1755, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 35, ff. 279-80
13. Minister to Prévost, 17 March 1755, AN. Col., B. vol. 101, ff. 216v-17; Franquet to Minister, 20 June 1755, AN Col , C11B, vol. 35, ff. 275~76
14. Provost to Minister, 10 April 1756, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 36, ff. 86-92
15. Etat anpositillé de da Depense..., 17 December 1755 AN. Col., C11B, vol. 35, ff. 291-95
16. Extrait de mon Journal 1758, AN. Col., F , vol. 50(3), ff. 588-89
17. P. Mayrand,"La Perte de Louisbourg," dans Revue Historique de L'Armée No. 1 1970 citant de de Bonaventure, lieutenant du Roy et De Grésigny capitain au regiment d'Artois