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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 9

Fortress of Louisbourg



Aside from the details of their uniforms which are well documented, [1] there is little specific information available on the drummers stationed in Louisbourg. In 1745 there were 21 drummers included in the garrison 16 belonging to the Companies Franches de la Marine, one to the Canonniers-Bombardiers, and four to the Swiss Karrer Regiment. [2] There were five guardposts within the walls for which drummers were required at all times the Corps de Garde of the Place D'Armes, the Porte Dauphine, the Porte de la Reine, the Porte Maurepas, and the Corps de Garde de la Place near the Pièce de la Grave. Allowing for those who would have been detached outside the walls, drummers and soldiers alike would have been required to stand guard once every three days. In addition, all drummers were to attend the daily changing of the guard and evening retraite. While these duties might have cut into their ability to earn extra pay by working on the fortifications or in town, it is likely that they also sought to augment their salary, which was already slightly higher than the ordinary soldier's. Prior to 1741, when there were only from six to ten drummers in the garrison, such outside work was probably all but impossible for them. [3] It is probable that the drummers would have possessed a somewhat elitist attitude; their specialized knowledge, their separate quarters in the barracks, and, especially, their impressive uniform adorned with the livrée of the king providing them with a sense of superiority over their fellow soldiers.

Compagnies Franches de la Marine

At the establishment of the Compagnies Franches in 1690, a company consisted of 100 men including two drummers and one fifer. The numerical composition of the companies as specified by the ordinances of the king varied considerably in the succeeding years, with the number of drummers per company fluctuating in proportion to the number of men. [4]

1690	100 men	    2 drummers	1 fifer
1697	50 men       1 drummer	1 fifer
1702	90 men	   2 drummers	1 fifer
1713	50 men	   1 drummer	0 fifer
1715	35 men	   1 drummer	1 fif er
1719	45 men	   1 drummer	0 fifer
1725	30 men	   1 drummer	0 fifer
1727	- called for 50 men, but varied between 30 and 60. 
                When 60 there was to be one drummer and one fifer.
1733	80 men	   2 drummers	1 fifer
1736	60 men	   1 drummer	1 fifer
1739	80 men	   2 drummers	1 fifer
1748	50 men	   -----------	                --------
1755	100 men	   2 drummers	1 fifer
1759	50 men	   1 drummer	1 fifer

Although the ordinances called for two drummers and one fifer per company in 1733 and again in 1739,~there was only one drummer per company in Louisbourg, and no fifers at a11.[5] In 1741 Bigot informed the Minister of the Marine that Governor Duquesnel had seen fit to increase the number of drummers to two per company, bringing the total to 16, since the previous number had proved insufficient. [6] With 70 men per company, this also made for a better proportion of soldiers to drummers. [7]

Besides increasing the number of drummers, Duquesnel established that year the post of tambour major and designated one fifer to serve all eight companies. [8] Prior to this time, despite the provisions of the ordinances that there be one fifer per company (except for the years 1719-27), there had not been any fifers in the Compagnies Franches at Louisbourg. From 1741 until 1758 there was never more than one fifer for all the companies. [9] It was the custom of the infantry to have one fifer per regiment and one drummer per company of 50 men, and it was this practice which seems to have been followed by the Troupes de la Marine in Louisbourg.[10] None of the ordinances specify the duties of the fifer, a fact which seem to indicate that the opinion offered by Arbeau in 1588 that those who play fifes "play them as they please, and it is sufficient for them to keep time with the sound of the drum," still summed up their position vis-à-vis the drummers. [11] All that is known is that the fifer was to be dressed, paid and treated in the same manner as the drummers. [12]


The ordinance which established the Compagnie des Canonniers-Bombardiers in Louisbourg in 1743 called for 30 men including one drummer. [13] In 1750, 20 men, one of whom was a drummer, were added to bring the total number in the company to 50 and the number of drummers to two. [14] The pay received by the Canonniers-Bombardiers was set in 1743 at 25 livres per month, the same as a bombardier but 5 livres more than a canonnier.[15] How the drummers were used in the artillery is not known, the only reference to them appearing in the Côde Militaire to the effect that on days when artillery school was to be held the drums should sound Le Premier at daybreak, followed by L'Assemblée one half hour later. This last was to take place before the barracks or in some other suitable place. [16] It was the custom in Louisbourg to hold such artillery practice on Sundays in the Demi-Bastion Princesse. [17]

Swiss Karrer Regiment

The initial Swiss contingent sent to Louisbourg in 1722 contained 30 men with one drummer, but by 1744 there were 143, including four drummers. [18] According to an ordinance of 1683 the drums were to "à la françoise, à toutes les gardes qui se seront dans les places oû il y aura des Corps & Compagnies Françoises avec des Corps & Compagnies Etrangeres en garnison, même lorsque les Gardes seront commandées par des Officiers de Corps Etrangers."[19] However, in 1748 D'Hericourt stated that when the French were mixed with foreigners in a guard, the French "ont la droite: si l'Officier commandant cette Garde est étranger & qu'il ait un Tambour de son Régiment, il en fait battu la marche. "[20] Whenever all the drummers would march as a body, the Swiss or other foreign drummers were to form separately behind the French drummers. [21] St. Ovide wrote in 1732 that Cailly, senior Swiss officer, had informed him that the Swiss drummers ought to be permitted to beat à la Suisse when a Swiss officer mounted the guard. Although St. Ovide insisted that this was contrary to the king's ordinance, Cailly declared that Colonel Karrer had forbidden him to mount the guard any other way. Until the question could be resolved, St. Ovide excused the Swiss officers from the guard. [22] Upon receipt of St. Ovide's letter, Maurepas wrote to Karrer, that the governor had no basis for declaring that the Swiss drummers of his regiment should beat the French march when they mount the guard with officers of their nation. He had ordered St. Ovide, he said, not to press the subject any further until a decision had been received from Karrer.[23] Presumably, if there had not been a change in the regulation, the colonel was willing to ignore the ordinance if the Minister of the Marine was, and the Swiss at Louisbourg could have been permitted their own style of drumming. Just what the differences were between the French and Swiss drumming is not known. Arbeau mentioned that while the French usually beat a march which consisted of five quarter notes followed by three quarter rests, the Swiss beat one which had three quarter notes, a quarter rest, another quarter note, and three more quarter rests. [24] Since this was an insignificant difference, considerably more must have been involved.


The Côde Militaire contains several provisions for the regulation of the militia in France. According to this, each captain was to select from among his men those he considered most capable of filling the positions of non-commissioned officers and drummer. Non-commissioned officers, soldiers and drummers in the militia would join for a period of four years, and drummers would receive, by an ordinance of 1726, the sum of 5 sous 6 deniers for every day they were called out, 6 deniers being deducted to maintain them in linen and shoes. [25]

Biographical Information

Personal information about drummers is scarce. The names of only two of Louisbourg's corps of drummers have emerged thus far, and one of these was a tambour major. The drummer was Jérome Letellier dit Lavolenté, unable to sign his name, who testified in a trial in 1743. He unfortunately gave no other biographical facts about himself. [26] On the other hand, Pierre Boziac, the tambour major, was not only literate, but was able to earn extra money - 12 livres for two months - by teaching dancing. [27]