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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





Report H E 08

Fortress of Louisbourg



As much as it was a fishing station and a commercial entrepôt, Isle Royale was a military stronghold in the 18th century. Soldiers (enlisted men and non-commissioned officers but not commissioned officers) made up approximately 12.4 per cent of the colony's total population but they were concentrated in the capital and formed about one quarter of Louisbourg's population when a census was taken in 1737. Fifty years earlier, a roughly equivalent proportion of the population of Canada was made up of soldiers but the troops there were rather more dispersed and nowhere in the St. Lawrence valley would their presence have been felt so strongly as it was in Louisbourg. [Note 1] Thus a study of the men of the Louisbourg garrison seems justified. However, since many of the topics with which the present report deals (recruitment and discharge for example) can only be examined at the level of the colony's garrison as a whole, the title "The Soldiers of Isle Royale" was chosen.

My purpose will be to describe and analyse the Isle Royale soldiers as a group. The military organizational framework into which they fit is delineated in Chapter I where their numerical strength is also evaluated. Chapters III and IV are concerned with the processes by which men became and ceased to be members of this group. Their economic position and especially their roles as workers and the exploitation they suffered at the hands of their officers are the subject of Chapter V, while Chapter II is devoted to an examination of the peculiar characteristics of one element in the garrison, the Swiss "mercenaries." Perhaps the most dramatic and, in my view, the most interesting incident in Louisbourg's history was the mutiny of 1744. Chapter VI is an attempt to reconstruct the events of the mutiny and the rest of the report is intended to serve partly as background information helping to explain why it happened where and when it did. The concluding chapter is designed to interpret the mutiny and outline its causes. In the process, information from earlier sections of the report is reviewed and put into perspective.

The position of the soldiers was by no means uniform throughout the period of French rule in Cape Breton and the differences between the periods that preceded and followed the interlude of British occupation in 1745-49 are significant. In order to make the inquiry manageable, only the 25 years that preceded the first siege will be treated. This quarter century is the most stable period in the colony's history and the most relevant to an understanding of the mutiny. Information and examples from outside these chronological limits are given only when nothing else is available.

The main sources for this study were the "B" and "C11B" series which are composed mainly of correspondence between the Marine Ministry and the colonial governors and commissaires-ordonnateurs, although the latter series also contains some valuable court-martial records, hospital and ration accounts as well as other miscellaneous documents in the "G2" series. The records of trials involving soldiers were helpful, as were the "dossiers personnels" in the "E" and "C7 " series. The archives of the port of Rochefort provided some useful information on recruits and recruitment. The most precious source for a quantitative study of 18th century soldiers is the "controles de troupes" of which André Corvisier made such good use in his monumental study of the army in ancien régime France . Unfortunately there are no controles for the colonial troops. As a poor substitute for these systematic listings of soldiers' backgrounds and military service, I collected all the biographical data available on the approximately 75 men described in the documents because they deserted or married or appeared in court as witnesses or accused between 1720 and 1745. Most of these men were called upon to sign their names or make their mark and to state their place of birth; in many cases, the physical stature, age, profession and family background is also given. The sample is a small one and there is no reason to assume it is representative; moreover, the data on age, profession and height in each case is certainly imprecise and possibly inaccurate. Nevertheless, I believe it can help to suggest some of the characteristics of the soldiers as a group as long as its limitations are kept in mind. The information presented in Figure 1 and Appendices C, G and H were taken from this collection.