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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




JULY, 1971

(Fortress of Louisbourg
Report H A 13)



The first stone of the barracks was laid with the "usual ceremony" on the 29th of May 1720 by the governor, Saint Ovide de Brouillan and the commissaire ordonnateur, De Mesy, though work had begun in the latter part of April despite heavy frost.(1) The first weeks of construction were marred by wage disputes.(2) De Verville had recommended a wage of 20 sols (1 livre) per day for excavation work, but because of protests and disturbances, as well as, interference from Saint Ovide, (so De Verville said), the price had to be raised thus increasing the cost of excavation. A marginal note on his account letter, written by an official in France, indicated that the governor was to be asked not to meddle in wage disputes.(3) Giving his side of the story, Saint Ovide felt that the price of excavations (which he quoted as 4 sols per cubic toise) was too little, especially since the contractor received free the rubble stone which was uncovered and thus could use it, at a saving to himself, in the masonry walls. The final agreement seems to have been a scale of prices per cubic toise of excavation, which increased as the work became more difficult.(4)

The governor and the contractor disagreed again when the latter wanted ten soldiers to unload a ship for 18 sols per day. The governor replied that the contractor would have to use townspeople, provided there were any who would work for such a small sum.(5)

By the beginning of the summer 64 toises (approx.420 feet) of excavation had been completed and De Verville enclosed a map to show the progress.(6) (Fig. 6 [1720-4: Presently Unavailable])He planned to schedule the work in such a way that by the following year both wings and a good part of the barracks would be at full height along with a portion of the fortifications. However, he had only 117 men instead of the 240 he wanted, and another marginal note written in France indicated that Saint Ovide was also to be asked to give De Verville as many men as possible.(7)

There were more difficulties. The contractor stated his need for more workmen and more tools. In a scarcely veiled reference to the governor, he reported that more work would have to be done if there had been less interference.(8) There certainly was no possibility of occupying the barracks that year, and De Verville urged that officers and their families, who were anxious to move to Louisbourg from one of the outposts, should remain where they were until the following year.(9)

De Mesy reported that the work was Going well enough" but that there were too few workers and the soldiers were not accustomed to the work.(10) Relations with the governor were showing no signs of improvement. Saint Ovide referred to the sad and maddening state to which he had been reduced by De Mesy's lively and turbulent spirit. He said De Mesy wanted:

to live in a spirit of independence, to regulate the military, Police and Justice.( 11)

A second ceremony took place that summer to commemorate the beginnings of construction. In July, six silver and twelve bronze medals were minted and shipped to Louisbourg. The profile of King Louis XV was on one side, with a conjectural view of the new fortified town and the date 1720 on the other. There were also the inscriptions in Latin which, translated, read LOUIS XV BY THE GRACE OF GOD KING OF FRANCE AND NAVARRE, and LOUISBOURG FOUNDED AND FORTIFIED MDCCXX.(12) In November, under De Verville's direction, Saint Ovide placed six of the medals in various foundations.(13) These medals had been prepared by the Academie des Belles Lettres in Paris and carried the signature of T. Le Blancan.(14) Recent archaeological excavations in the barracks and King's Bastion area uncovered 1 silver and 2 bronze medals in a lead casket with a wood lining.(Fig.8 [Presently Unavailable])

During the summer a change in priorities, decided upon by De Verville, resulted in men being removed from the barracks to work on the right flank and casemates of the King's Bastion. (Fig.7 [1720-2: Presently Unavailable]). The joint report of the governor and the ordonnateur found them in agreement vigorously protesting this action:

We earnestly request that the contractor begin next year with the barracks by preference over all so that the troops can be housed and sheltered.

Saint-Ovide was convinced that most of the barracks would have been in a state to house the soldiers that winter if work had continued and he thought that De Verville appreciated the need of these quarters, after having spent a winter in Louisbourg seeing first hand what the conditions were:

I could never understand what this engineer is about in entirely suspending these works at the end of June to work on the foundations of the flank of the bastion....(16)

De Verville, feeling frustrated by the opposition he was encountering, said he wouldn't have believed that such precise instruction as he had received could be so often contradicted. He expressed the hope that he would be well regarded for his hard work and wouldn't regret having come to Louisbourg instead of staying in Spain.(17)

Another dispute reflected the difficult division of powers between the governor and engineer. It concerned the case of a soldier who had been issued with shoes and stockings and had sold them for drink. On the governor's order, the soldier was arrested and put through a punishment on the wooden horse in order to discover who had purchased the goods. De Verville protested the punishment of one of his workers without his order.(18) Saint Ovide was further annoyed when at the end of the construction season, the engineer left for France without giving over the plans and work orders so that Saint Ovide could have some inkling of what was supposed to be done during the winter.(19) Letters from France were quite specific about procedure for that winter. While in France De Verville was to give a general report on work at Louisbourg. He doubtless had an explanation for his change in the work plans but there is no record of it. On the ship he was given a good room with a window so that he would be able to prepare the necessary plans and memos.(20) De Mesy and St. Ovide were specifically forbidden to change anything while De Verville was away, and the sub-engineers and the contractor were to follow whatever instructions he had left behind. De Verville in turn was urged to leave affairs so that work would not fall behind.( 21)

In their end of the year reports all the officials restated their versions of the year's events, justifying their positions and assuring the King of their loyalty and hard work. De Verville reported that the contractor and some of the engineers were bedridden, victims of the inhospitable Louisbourg climate, and that a tent had been put up at the construction site to allow some shelter from the elements. On a different subject he complained that widows and other pensioners were drawing on government funds and stores to such an extent that he was reminded of life in poor Babylon.(22) The governor and ordonnateur decried the lack of cooperation from the engineer and contractor. Specifically they were annoyed at the opposition to their proposals to withhold workers' pay, to be returned to them in the winter, and to pay the workers only every 15 days to reduce drunkenness,(23) De Verville's responses to this are not recorded. Finally, the contractor Isabeau wrote to De Verville in France that, since he had left, officers had made him work on their own dwellings and the ordonnateur had instructed him to supply lime to the townspeople.(24) With these complaints the first troubled year of construction on the barracks came to an end.


1. Saint Ovide to Council, 20 June 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 159-60.

2. De Verville to Council, 19 June 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, f. 236.

3. De Verville to Council, 19 June 1720, AN. Col.,C11B, vol. 5, ff. 235-37.

4. Saint Ovide to Council, 20 June 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 159-60.

5. Isabeau to Council, 20 June 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 275-76.

6. De Verville au Council, 9 October 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, f.236

7. De Verville to Council, 19 June 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 235-37.

8. Isabeau to Council, 20 June 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 275-76.

9. De Verville to Council, 19 June 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 233-33v.

10. De Mesy to Council, 17 June 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, f. 59.

11. Saint Ovide to Council, 22 June 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 166-67.

12. De Verville to Council, 1 December 1719, AN. Col.,C11B, vol. 4, ff. 245-45v.

De Boze to Council, 23 April 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 4, f. 246.

13. Saint Ovide to Council, 11 November 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 206-07.

14. Saint Ovide and De Mesy to Council, 1 December 1719, C11B, vol. 4, f. 133.

15. Saint Ovide and De Mesy to Council, 10 November 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 138v-39.

16. Saint Ovide to Council, 11 November 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 206-07.

17. De Verville to Council, 11 November 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, f. 232.

18. Saint Ovide to Council, 11 November 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 202-05.

19. Saint Ovide to Council, 20 November 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 218-19.

20. Council to Pommarois, 2 July 1720, AN. Col., B. vol. 42(1), f. 196.

21. Memoire du Roy au sujet des Fortifications de L'Isle Royale, 9 July 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 177-79.

22. De Verville to Council, 9 October 1720, AND Col.,C11B, vol. 5, ff. 238-40v.

23. Saint Ovide to Council, 11 November 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 202-05.

24. Isabeau to Council, 27 November 1720, AN. Col., C11B, vol. 5, ff. 418-19.

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