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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 15

Fortress of Louisbourg



In the course of the 17th and 18th centuries the term "capitaine," which had always signified a commander of troops, gradually lost its original, exclusive meaning. According to La Chesnaye Des Bois, by the mid-18th century a captain was merely "a lower-ranking army officer" who commanded a company of cavalry or infantry. Originally the term had not been used in the army at all, being reserved for commanders of ships. However, when France's kings requested that some seigneurs raise companies of gendarmes, they acceded to their demands for the title of captain. With the reform of the militia in the 15th century under Charles VII, the rank of captain was accorded to the commanders of the 15 companies established. Following this, the rank was found in all branches of the service, but during the 16th century, from the reign of Louis XII to that of Henry IV, only the most valorous of men were made captains in the French army, and each captain commanded 1,000 men. By the 18th century captains were charged with companies containing only from 30 to 100 men. [1]

Captains were commissioned to "command, lead and exploit" under the authority of the king and the governor, all who were in their charge. [2] They were entirely responsible for the maintenance, numerical strength and conduct of their companies. It was a rule established in France, stated Guignard in L'Ecole De Mars, that a captain's reputation depended entirely on the degree to which his company was "fine and numerous". As a result, the concerns that a captain had regarding his company were numerous and unending. [3] The number of companies, and therefore of company captains, changed twice at Louisbourg prior to 1745, as did the numerical composition of the companies themselves:

1713-22           7 companies of 50 men each 
1722-24           6 companies of 50 men each 
1724-30           6 companies of 60 men each
1730-41           8 companies of 60 men each
1741-45           8 companies of 70 men each [4]

Inevitably there was a certain amount of bookkeeping with which a captain had to cope. He was to register all enlistments of non-commissioned officers and soldiers in his company, along with their ages, places of birth and identifying characteristics. Such records were kept primarily to assist in the capture of deserters, but they were also used to help families who requested news of a relative. This register was kept within a company so that a new captain would have complete knowledge of the men under his command. [5] Among the many complaints about the captains at Louisbourg was that some were lax in providing the Bureau des Troupes in the colony with this information. [6]

One form of statistics at which the captains of Ile Royale seem to have excelled was the recording of amounts spent on the maintenance of their companies. Every captain was to keep a ledger in which the name of each man in his company was placed, followed by several blank pages on which would be noted every expenditure made on the man's behalf. These amounts were then deducted from the soldier's pay. At least once a year the men were to be informed of what had been subtracted so that if anything remained to be paid, they would have the opportunity to do so. This was particularly important if the soldier was eligible for discharge, since a debt to his captain was sufficient to force his retention in the company, as happened to one soldier in Louisbourg in 1739. [7]

Guignard states that if a captain did not pay close attention to these accounts and to a third register he was to keep of the pay received by each soldier, he might find his own appointements greatly diminished. Since it was a captain's responsibility to see that his company wanted for nothing, he would have to assume the cost of the necessary articles if the soldiers did not. If at reviews the major found a soldier in need of anything, he was to inform the governor who would order the amount necessary to remedy the deficiency kept from the officer's pay. Prices of all goods furnished to the soldiers were based on prices paid for the items in France. [8] It was with this obligation of the officers in mind that the conduct of Louisbourg's captains, especially in the 1720s, should be judged.

The corps of officers who arrived in Ile Royale from Plaisance and Acadia in 1713 and 1714 appear to have been a very dispirited lot, particularly the captains. The loss of territory which forced the move to Ile Royale had cost them dearly. Their new home seemed to offer little promise. Soldiers, forced to live in tents or crude cabanes and deprived of clothes and supplies, mutinied late in 1714. Any hope the captains had of improving their lot by rising in the chain of command were dashed when Jean De Ligondes was appointed major. Things looked bleak, and several captains did little to bring the garrison to some degree of order. They refused to obey the new major, they sold excessive amounts of alcohol to their men to make a profit, they failed to look after the day-to-day administration of their companies, and they included their children, some of a very young age, on the company roles in order to get their pay. Captains De La Ronde and Villejouin were criticized as being particularly negligent and were threatened by the Minister of the Marine with severe punishment if they did not improve. [9]

The minister's words eventually hit their mark. By January 1717 De Ligondes was able to report that things had improved considerably. Within the next few years deaths and transfers resulted in the departure of four of the garrison's original seven captains, including De La Ronde and Villejouin. The movement within the officer corps that these openings created was probably at least partly responsible for the acceptance, albeit reluctant, of Bourville as major - the third such appointment from outside the garrison. [10]

In November 1720 Bourville reported to the minister that the troops suffered enormously from the cold because they spent their money in the summer and did not buy sufficient clothing to get them through the island's harsh winter. Despite an ordinance of 1691 which specifically forbade the practice in Canada, Governor St. Ovide proposed to the entrepreneur that an officer be present at the payment of the soldiers' salaries in order to hold back a part from each for what the captain's had advanced for their maintenance. Not surprisingly, this suggestion was opposed by Isabeau, the entrepreneur, and by Verville, the chief engineer. The governor claimed that their opposition demonstrated the total authority they claimed over the soldier/worker. To illustrate his point St. Ovide reported that Captain De Rouville had given new shoes and stockings to one of his men who immediately sold them to get drinking money. The soldier was ordered to mount the wooden horse, but Verville sent the sub-engineer to say that they had no right to punish a soldier/worker. The governor protested that this was a dangerous situation because the soldiers, already "too disposed to libertinage" would undoubtedly be delighted to know that no one had the right to chastise them. [11]

The minister replied that when it came to the fortifications funds, the chief engineer had ultimate responsibility. It was up to him, not the governor, to see that the soldiers were justly paid, so it would not be proper for the captains to retain part of the soldiers/workers' wages. However, he added, sergeants could be present when the pay was distributed to insure that each soldier had what he needed. [12]

The captains complained again in 1721 that they were only reimbursed for a small part of what they supplied the soldiers/workers. They added that Isabeau was withholding much of the men's pay to cover the cost of wine and eau de vie which he had given them, to the point where they consumed almost all they earned in alcohol. Apprised by St. Ovide of the officers complaints, the Council of the Marine in May 1722, informed De Mézy that he had done well to allow Isabeau to pay the workers in clothing, bread, wine and brandy when funds were lacking but, due to the extent of the abuses which resulted from this practice, Verville was to see that such payment was prohibited in the future. [13] Isabeau, in his own defense, wrote that the charges regarding his selling spirits to the soldiers were without foundation. He had exhausted available funds, he claimed, but the soldiers wanted their payment. They knew he had three barriques of wine in his room and demanded it in lieu of their money. He refused, but the engineers ordered him to give each soldier a "pot." This was the only time he had intended to do this, he said, but he was later approached by some officers' wives and others of that rank who had some wine and eau de vie to sell. He was forced to oblige them, though he did not wish to do so. [14]

Finally, in October 1724, the six company captains presented a petition stating that they had provided everything that the soldiers/workers needed despite the fact that their military pay was insufficient to cover the amount. When the entrepreneur paid the soldiers, they continued, he would not allow an officer to be present, and even the sergeants, whose presence the minister had authorized, had been prohibited from attending to distribute needed articles to the soldiers. They demanded therefore, that something be done to reimburse the captains before the soldiers spent all their pay as workers at the cabarets. If this demand were not met, the captains asked to be relieved of responsibility for the poor condition of the soldiers. [15]

Isabeau died in France late in 1724 and was replaced in the colony by Ganet. The engineer, Verville, was succeeded that same year by Étienne Verrier. Following these changes, there were no further complaints from the captains about the entrepreneur withholding the soldiers' pay. It is impossible to say with certainty that in the disputes of the early 1720s the captains had not been inspired by a desire to have a monopoly on supplying the soldiers with all their needs at inflated prices, as has been charged. [16] Yet it is conceivable that Isabeau, whose numerous questionable practices were revealed after his death, was indeed contributing to the soldiers' well-known fondness for drink. The complaints may have stopped in 1725 because the new entrepreneur and engineer were easier to deal with. However, the captains of Louisbourg's early years may well have been losing money just trying to keep their men supplied with the necessities. Since their personal fortunes, so badly depleted by the move to Ile Royale, could not stand this drain, it is reasonable that they should have protested.

The situation by the end of the 1730s presents a different set of questions. There were no charges of financial wrongdoing on the part of the captains between 1725 and 1738. During those years conditions within the colony changed as Louisbourg went from its humble beginning to become a thriving commercial center. Moreover, the captains were an entirely different group of men. Not one of the captains who signed the petition in 1724 was still with his company in 1738. Indeed, only one, Duchambon, who was by then lieutenant de roi on Ile St. Jean, was still in the colony. In 1738 Le Normant, the commissaire-ordonnateur, informed the minister of numerous abuses practiced by the company captains. Le Normant's allegations, combined with other charges laid directly against St. Ovide, contributed to the minister's decision to replace the governor the next year.

Although none of Le Normant's charges involved the payment of soldiers or their drinking habits, Maurepas became concerned that there were irregularities in the payments of both the soldiers' military salary and his earnings from working on the fortifications. It was customary at Louisbourg, the minister informed its new governor, De Forant, to remit to the captains all money due to the soldiers/workers, a practice which caused abuses since the captains obliged the soldiers to buy things from them, including drink. [17] The origin of these accusations is not known. Nor is it clear how captains had come to arrange for the soldiers' pay to be delivered up to them, if indeed it was. The captains professed their innocence, but the minister was evidently unconvinced as this was one of several abuses listed in the orders given Governor Desherbiers and commissaire-ordonnateur Prévost in 1749 that he did not want to see repeated. [18]

Directly related to these charges was the question of canteens. The practice of allowing canteens in Places De Guerre was an established one, not unique in Louisbourg. St, Ovide requested in 1726 that the captains be permitted to set up canteens for their companies to counteract the many taverns in the town at which the soldiers were squandering their pay. The minister gave his consent in order to stop the soldiers from frequenting the cabarets and causing disorders. He warned against abuses and instructed that if there was sufficient profit it was to be shared by the lieutenant de roi and aide-major as was done in all fortified places, instead of having it all go to the major as the governor had suggested. [19]

In 1739 the minister informed Governor De Forent that due to the abuses which had arisen it was necessary that the captains' canteens be abolished or at least reduced in number. It is possible that Maurepas was inspired in this action by shocking reports of the soldiers' conduct in the canteens which were provided by Abbé Maillard. However, upon examining the situation on their arrival in the colony, the governor and comissaire-ordonnateur concluded that as there was only one canteen per car it would be impossible to discontinue one without abolishing all. Moreover, they stated, these canteens were to be preferred over the countless small cabarets in the town. [20] Despite their findings the minister order the canteens closed. The captains protested that the canteens had occasioned no disorders, but they promised to comply immediately with the minister's wishes. [21]

Duquesnel wrote in 1742 that there were no longer any canteens, but as the soldiers were paid only at the end of the work season, and since they needed some diversion at the end of the week, he had permitted the captains to provide them with a little eau de vie on feast days and Sundays. Once again tavernkeepers were forbidden to supply the soldiers/workers with drink on work days. [22] Not easily convinced of the captains' compliance, however, the minister complained in 1743 of the failure of the officers to close their canteens, and repeated the charges in his instructions to Desherbiers and Prévost six years later when the French returned to Louisbourg.[23] While it is impossible to determine the accuracy of the allegations, it is certain that the canteens had not succeeded in keeping the soldiers away from the cabarets. The men were definitely not buying all their drink from the captains. The court records contain a number of references to soldiers patronizing local cabarets, but there is only one mention of wine being received from a captain. That instance was in 1733 when a soldier admitted to becoming involved in a theft while drunk from wine received from Captain De Gannes on the Feast of the Kings (6 January). Another soldier, when asked if he frequented cabarets replied that he only went to them when someone else was paying, and he did not go to his captain's canteen because he did not wish to become indebted, having no money except what he earned from standing guard. [24]

Louisbourg's captains were also charged with buying the clothing of dead soldiers from the hospital and selling it to recruits at inflated prices. De Forant was told to put a stop to this practice, and soon after his arrival in Ile Royale, he and Bigot reported that officers would not be permitted to inherit the effects of soldiers of their companies or to buy the clothing of those who died in hospital. The uniforms, they said, would be placed in the king's magasin and distributed to new arrivals. The minister approved of this and instructed that the Brothers of Charity be paid the 3 livres for the clothes of the dead soldiers that the officers used to pay. He also told the governor and commissaire-ordonnateur to retrieve from the barracks anything from their uniforms that deceased soldiers had not taken with them to the hospital. [25]

Again the captains appear to have been guilty of overstepping an established practice. The Côde Militaire provided that the directors of hospitals should give to the captains, free of charge, the uniforms and equipment of soldiers frown their companies who died in hospital. To compensate the institution the captains were to pay 6 sols to the directors for each soldier cared for who was returned to health. [26] The ordinance did not say that the uniforms acquired in this way could not be resold, but the fact that recruits, who should have received their uniforms automatically upon arrival in the colony, were being forced to buy them, probably put the captains outside acceptable practice.

In January 1740 De Forant asked the minister for a ruling as to what should be done regarding the furnishing of. goods to soldiers during their captains' absences. He wished to know if the supply of goods to the soldiers/workers then became the responsibility of the officer next in command, if the captain was able to leave it to the one whom he judged best, or if he was able to keep the privilege for himself. [27] The minister replied that he knew that all the officers were "eager for details of companies concerning the supplies given to the soldiers...", but he could not ignore that "these details have often given rise to unseemly ways of doing things". As a general rule, he stated, the duty falls to the officer in command of the company. However, as this often led to disputes it was advisable to leave it to the captain to decide who would assume this responsibility during his absence. [28]

In 1741 Duquesnel informed the minister that he had looked into the prices the captains were charging the soldiers for their supplies. While he did not say that the amount was unfair, he did allow that the captains could not be stopped from making some profit since their appointements were too meagre to permit them to live and raise a family. [29] A company captain received 1,080 livres each year, and most were engaged in business ventures outside their military duties. But Louisbourg was an expensive place to live, especially if one wished to maintain some semblance of the dignity attached to his rank. Officers as well, had families and "affaires particulaires" in France which required their attention and their money. [30]

It was not its climate and isolation which attracted officers to what Captain Ste. Marie called "cette desolée Colonie", but the opportunity to make more money than they would have elsewhere. They did not always succeed, at least not sufficiently to leave their families with enough to live comfortably after their deaths. Captain Villejouin, who died in 1719, was survived by a wife and five small children who were reduced to poverty. It was said that if not given food, the equivalent of three or four soldiers' rations a day was suggested, she and her children might die of starvation. The ration supplements were denied since these were intended "only for the troops", but the widow Villejouin was granted a pension of 300 livres. The widows of Captains De Rouville, De Renon, Catalogne, De La Tour and Dangeac each petitioned the government for help to subsist. Baron de L'Esperence, of the Karrer Regiment, was said to have left his wife and two children in great misery with no means of support. When Captain De la Vallière died, his wife was left with several of their 12 children, six of whom were girls who would not only not be earning incomes themselves, but would require dowries if they were to make good marriages. She had, Duquesnel stated, no means of support. [31]

Contributing to the financial drain on the officers was the fact that they had to advance any money necessary for carrying out assignments or leading detachments. They were eventually reimbursed for the expenses they incurred but the initial expense was theirs. The commanders at Port Toulouse and Port Dauphin each received an annual gratuity in addition to their salaries, but they had to pay out of pocket for any repairs required on the king's buildings or for any needs of the troops under their command. And they could not always count on the gratuity. In 1728 the minister wrote to De la Vallière, then a captain commanding at Port Toulouse, that the gratuity connected with the post was going to be paid to its former commander, De Pensens, currently stationed on Ile St. Jean. This was intended to make service on the island more palatable to De Pensens, and the king was not, De la Vallière was told, disposed to double the expense. Several months after De la Vallière's death the minister instructed commissaire-ordonnateur Bigot to investigate his claims that he had never been paid for repairs to the Indian missions during his stay at Port Toulouse. [32]

St. Ovide wrote in 1728 that the officers complained that there were delays in payment for firewood. The captains feared that bureaucratic red tape was simply a way to avoid reimbursing them. [33] In 1736 two officers (Du Vivier and Beaubassin) detached to follow deserters presented a statement of expenses to le Normant but he refused payment, saying that he did not have funds for these extraordinary expenditures. The governor argued that it was wrong to expect officers, especially subalterns, to assume this expense. The total sought by Du Vivier and Beaubassin was 259 livres 8 sols, the amount having been spent on sufficient food and drink for themselves, as well as two sergeants and two cadets, Le Normant declared the next year that there was an established rate of pay for officers who undertook journeys in the king's service (captains receiving from 6 to 8 livres per day), and the officers should be satisfied with this. Beyond that he agreed to pay only the inhabitants who had supplied the soldiers with food. [34]

When projects were undertaken in the hope of receiving payment upon completion, the officers were often disappointed. In 1718 Ste. Marie went to Boston to attempt to retrieve goods taken by the English in Acadia. For several years the governor and commissaire-ordonnateur tried to arrange for him to receive 1,000 livres in compensation for the trip. The minister, however, stated that the voyage had had nothing to do with His Majesty's service, and Ste. Marie should have been paid by those whose goods were at stake. [35] Captain Catalogne, ten years later, requested reimbursement for expenses involved in establishing a farm to experiment with crops which might be successfully grown in Ile Royale. He was informed that the existing financial situation did not permit granting him a gratuity. [36]

Governor Duquesnel, in 1741, requested the Cross of Saint Louis for Captains D'Ailleboust, De Games and Du Vivier. The minister wrote the following June that His Majesty had not judged it proper to accord the cross to any officers of Ile Royale that year. This in itself was not unusual. Often an officer's name had to be submitted several times before he was admitted to the Ordre Militaire de Saint Louis. In 1722 for instance, Captain Ste. Marie, who had made several unsuccessful requests, wrote that he was humiliated because men who had been junior officers in his company at one time were receiving the cross before him. However, while Maurepas did say that he would remember at the first occasion the three captains Duquesnel had proposed for "cette marque d'honneur," he left no doubt in the rest of his letter that the captains of Ile Royale had better rectify abuses which marked the furnishing of goods to the troops and the operation of canteens. In the event this subtle warning was not enough the captaïns were also to be informed by Duquesnel that failure to comply would result in their being punished in an "exemplary manner". [37]

It is not possible to determine to what degree the captains were abusing their privileges, which were long established in the French service. As Duquesnel pointed out, there was little for the soldiers to do but drink when they were not working. Their desire for wine and spirits would have made them easy marks for price gouging, and this obviously was the minister's concern both with regard to the canteens and the supplying of other goods. Regardless of assurances given him by senior officials in the colony, the minister remained skeptical, his doubts possibly nurtured by his awareness of the profits these men may also have been making from a successful canteen operation. In the absence of any detailed accounts it is impossible to say whether or not the captains were as bad as their detractors have maintained.

The evidence regarding the performance of the various duties which fell to the captains in Louisbourg is no less clouded than their financial dealings. The minister declared in 1727 that he approved of the muskets having been taken from the arsenal and distributed to the soldiers once they were in the barracks. St. Ovide was instructed to entrust each captain with his company's firearms to prevent abuse.[38] A year later Maurepas stated that he had reason to believe that the negligence of the officers and their lack of concern for their companies contributed, among other things, to the deterioration and loss of the weapons. As each captain was responsible for the arms issued his company he was, in case of loss, to have the price withheld from his salary. Any other officer, commanding in the absence of the captain, was to he held similarly responsible. [39] In reply, St. Ovide defended the captains, stating that they took good care of their men and guns. The poor condition of the weapons was due to the state of the soldiers' lodgings and to the exposure they received in the service of the king. [40]

Regulations called for all captains to rotate with other officers of the garrison for mounting guard and making rounds. Each day one-third of the officers was to be on guard, one-third making rounds, and the other third left free. Captains were not to be excluded from guard duty, but no captain was to mount the guard twice until all subaltern officers had done so once. [41] There is no reference to any specific officer standing guard at Louisbourg prior to 1745. However, there are several indications that officers were performing this duty and there is nothing to indicate that the captains did not do their share. [42]

One of the chief concerns of company captains in France was recruitment. It was, writes Guignard, both "the principal object and the greatest difficulty". The captains of Ile Royale were relieved, for the most part, of any direct responsibility in this regard. They were expressly forbidden to recruit in the colony since this would hinder the growth of the local population. Levies were raised in France and sent to the colony to be distributed as needed to render the companies complete. Occasionally the captains did play a role because officers from Ile Royale who were in France on leave were sometimes asked to take part in recruitment for the garrison as a whole. De Gannes and D'Ailleboust were sent to France in 1730 to recruit for the two new companies they were to command. However, even this did not really represent personal recruitment, since they were only enlisting half of what would eventually be required (the second half of each company was raised the next year). Moreover, at least one of the men signed up by D'Ailleboust ended up in De Gannes' company. [43]

The significance of this lack of personal involvement is impossible to analyze. The company still served with the same captain as long as the officer lived and was not promoted or discharged. Just as in France, the seniority of the company depended on the seniority of the captain. On the average the soldiers in Louisbourg had about ten years with the same company commander, long enough to develop a sense of loyalty if indeed such was possible during the construction of the fortifications when the soldier's worth in the labour force was more important to the authorities than his worth as a military man. The lack of personal recruitment could represent an advantage since the departure of the captain from the company would be less traumatic than if all that held the unit together was a sense of personal loyalty. [44]

Le Normant complained in 1738 that despite ordinances of the king requiring that all leave be authorized in writing on special cartouches sent from France, captains were allowing soldiers to absent themselves for months or years at a time on verbal permission only. The commissaire-ordonnateur added that the pay of these soldiers would be paid to the captains who expected their word to suffice as to the whereabouts of the men, and that in some instances men listed among the troops of the garrison were carried on the roles without even standing guard or passing in review.[45]

Passe Volantes, that is, substitutes paid to take part in reviews so that the real strength of the companies would not be discovered, were one of the many underhanded practices common in the French service. [46] It was probably not necessary in Louisbourg. Bourville acknowledged that "congés en forma" were not usually issued to soldiers who wintered in the woods away from the fortress. The word of the officers was, in all likelihood, sufficient to have a man's name listed on the review.[47] The officers were informed in 1739 that henceforth leave without written permission was forbidden. Two years later Bigot reported that the officers of the Karrer Regiment had not conformed to this ruling. He requested the minister to ask Karrer to send the necessary forms to his commanding officer in Louisbourg. Bigot gave no indication that the French captains were any longer failing to comply with the requirement. [48]

The numerous abuses with which the officers at Louisbourg, particularly the captains, were accused, suggests they were a singularly bad lot, out to bilk the soldiers of every sols and escape as much responsibility as possible. This was not really the case. They were interested in making a profit, and probably were guilty of a certain amount of laxness and greed. Yet they did do their duty and if they did not have the undying affection of their men, they do not seem to have had their hatred.

When De Forant arrived in the colony prepared to stamp out abuses he offered protection to anyone willing to speak out against the officers; he received only a few takers, and their allegations he decided were unfounded. [49] This lack of response from troops who would have to return to their companies is not too surprising. But there were instances when soldiers accused of a capital offence, who had nothing to lose and perhaps something to gain in terns of sympathy, were asked the same questions. They too declined to offer criticism of their officers. In one case a soldier declared that the officers were fine, it was the corporals, sergeants and his comrades, who had bothered him. Another said that if his captain would pay the money remaining on his account, he would have no complaint against him. [50]

There is evidence to show that the captains' sympathies, at least occasionally, lay with the soldiers. For example, when three soldiers of Duchambon's company were accused of assaulting Sieur Cournoyer at Port Dauphin, it was the testimony of Captain De la Tour on their behalf which led to their acquittal. When a soldier of D'Ailleboust's company begged to be kept in the company rather than be discharged for ill health, the captain relented. Two years later, when the same man was returned to the colony charged with desertion following an administrative mix-up in France, the officers who formed the Conseil de Guerre ignored the minister's instructions to try him with all the rigor of the ordinances so that he might serve as an example to others. They voted instead for his release and granted him permission to return to his company. [51]

Throughout the 18th century the officer corps in France was becoming more and more professional. Those at Louisbourg were out of this main stream and probably retained notions passed on by their predecessors -often fathers, uncles, brothers or cousins - which were of an earlier age when a company was something to be used for personal enrichment or advancement. Furthermore, they were of a class in society which believed that some privilege was theirs by right. Their performance should be assessed with these things in mind.