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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



Besides the captain, each company of the Compagnies Franches of Ile Royale included a lieutenant, an enseigne en pied and an enseigne en second, the latter rank having been added in 1723 when it became apparent that the number of officers in the garrison was insufficient. [1] In general, each officer was to perform the functions of his superior in his absence. He was also to ensure that the sergeants and corporals did all required of them for the proper maintenance of the carqpany. [2] In the absence of the captain the lieutenant was to march at the head of the company, but when the captain was present, the lieutenant marched to the rear to prevent anyone from leaving the line of march. [3]

For the most part no real distinction can be made as to the duties of each rank. The three subalterns took turns as "officier de semaine." Beginning each Sunday and continuing for the remainder of the week, the one so designated would look after everything pertaining to the company. Apparently this system was used in Louisbourg; in 1740 Lieutenant De Pensens testified that he reported a theft (from his own residence) by a member of his company to his captain because he was officier de semaine.[4] When on duty as the officer of the week, a lieutenant or ensign was to:

1. Make a daily visit to the barracks to see that the rooms were properly kept.

2. Examine the arm, equipment and uniforms of the troops to see that they were in good condition. Anything found damaged through the soldier's carelessness was to be paid for out of the man's pay. No holes in uniforms or linen were to be tolerated. The soldiers were provided with needles and thread to do their mending.

3. Oblige the soldiers to grease their shoes, darn their socks, roll up their hats, care for their linen, and put nails under new shoes so they would last longer and thus save the captain additional expense. [5]

(A 1714 list of goods sent to Ile Royale for the soldiers included "clous à souliers" and in 1722 a soldier of the Louisbourg garrison, who was on trial for theft and desertion, testified that he had stolen 800 nails from a storehouse. He put some of the nails on the bottom of his shoes and gave the rest to other soldiers to do likewise). [6]

4. See that the soldiers combed their hair, shaved, and washed their hands and faces.

5. Admit any sick soldier to hospital.

6. Exercise new soldiers in all they needed to know to carry arms.

7. Receive the pay (prêt) and distribute it to the chefs de chambrées who were appointed to look after "l'argent du prêt". On pay day they were to pay particular attention that everything was as it should be before anything was distributed.

8. Examine those due to mount guard to see that their weapons were in good condition and that they carried the proper amount of ammunition.

9. Assist the officers majors at the mounting of the guard.

10. Call the roll in the barracks each night after retreat, dispatch. sergeants or corporals to arrest those who had not returned, and begin a search for any thought to have deserted. Following completion of all these things, the officer would go and report to his captain. [7]

Louisbourg's officers do not appear to have been overly zealous in their attention to the appearance of the soldiers or their quarters. Certainly De Forant's comment concerning the vermin in the soldiers' mattresses suggests that, at least prior to 1739, they were lax in carrying out their duties. [8] This does not mean, however, that there was a total disregard for regulation since the officers could, and probably did, hold their sergeants responsible for keeping the men and their rooms in order.

Lieutenants and ensigns rotated with the captains to mount guard and to make rounds. They usually commanded the detachments sent out from the fortress and often commanded in the outposts of Ile St. Jean, Port Toulouse or Port Dauphin, either in the absence of a captain or in their own right. [9] The appointements, particularly of the ensigns, were modest; a lieutenant received 720 livres, an enseigne en pied 480 livres, and an enseigne en second 360 livres. In 1721 the Council of the Marrine, recognizing that the subaltern officers were hard pressed to make ends meet on their salaries but not wanting them to use soldiers as domestics, granted the officers the services of domestics, brought over without charge on merchant ships, for a period of three years. [10] Often the officers were permitted to choose where in the colony they wished to serve, and sometimes their requests were dictated by financial considerations. Lieutenant Dangeac, for example, was allowed to remain at Port Dauphin because he had a large family (his wife, three children, mother, two sisters and the two children of one of his sisters) who subsisted on his appointement, the 300 livres gratuity he received for commanding the post, and the garden and animals he maintained there. If he returned to Louisbourg, De Forant explained, he would not be able to support so many people. [11]

Since promotion in rank was governed almost entirely by seniority in Louisbourg, advancement could be very slow, as it was for Pierre Benoist, or quite rapid as it was for Catalogue fils. The six second ensigns created in 1723 had to pass through the rank of enseigne en pied before they could receive a lieutenancy. Catalogne was one of the senior second ensigns in 1730 when the creation of two new companies coupled with several vacancies occasioned the promotion of all the ensigns and all but one of the lieutenants. As a result, Catalogne was named enseigne en pied and lieutenant on the same day. Benoist, who was the last enseigne en second received in 1723, benefited from this movement too, becoming an enseigne en pied in 1730, but the promotion of so many relatively young officers at one time meant that over the next several, years vacancies did not occur very quickly. Benoist advanced to lieutenant in 1738, but did not become a captain until 1750. Had he lived - he died in 1735- Catalogne would probably have been made a captain in 1739 or 1740.[12] It was this situation which prompted Captain De la Vallière to ask in 1739 that some of his sons be transferred from Louisbourg. With seven sons destined for military careers, he could not see mooch hope of advancement for them if they all remained in Ile Royale. [13]

Complaints against the officer corps were not directed solely against the captains. Le Normant stated in 1738 that vivres were not supposed to be dispensed frown the magasin except on specified days: bread every four days and meat, légumes, butter and molasses every 15 days. Moreover, this was to be done in the presence of an officer who would prevent the soldiers from becoming disorderly. In Louisbourg the commissaire-ordonnateur complained that it was impossible to enforce the regulations because the officers did not cooperate. They issued the "billets des vivres" whenever it suited them, and it was therefore necessary to keep the magasin open all of the time instead of on fixed days. The minister ordered the new governor and commissaire-ordonnateur to put a stop to this in 1739, and soon after their arrival they reported that the officers had been told that the provisions would be distributed on specified days only, that an officer should always be present, and that anything not given out on the appointed day would remain in the magasin. [14]

A situation arose in 1738 which not only brought further confusion to the distribution of vivres but also caused problems within two of the companies and brought to the fore soave of the family rivalry which must have existed within such a small, inter-related officer corps. For a year before his death in 1738, Captain Despiet was in France. During his absence Bourville, as acting commandant, permitted Lieutenant Chevalier De Pensens, Despiet's brother, to take command of his company. This was highly irregular since De Pensens was in De Games' company and officers were not supposed to be moved from one company to another without the express permission of the king. [15]

Robert Duhaget, who had been Despiet's lieutenant, was named capitaine aide-major in 1737, and was replaced in the company by Pierre Benoist. Benoist was then sent to serve in Ile St. Jean, leaving Gourville Du Vivier, enseigne en pied, as the senior many officer. De Pensens, however, continued to act on his brother's behalf. Commissaire-ordonnateur Le Normant refused to give De Pensens the provisions for Despiet's company, stating that regulations called for them to be distributed only to officers listed with the company for which they were requisitioned, and De Pensens was properly part of De Gannes' company. The commissaire-ordonnateur also observed that this switch created problems in the annual review since De Pensens was serving in one company but was listed in another. [16]

The problem did not end with the appointment of Duhaget as company captain on Despiet's death. For the next three pears, Governors De Forant and Duquesnel attempted to get a ruling on the situation, but for some reason none was forthcoming. De Forant was on the verge of ordering De Pensens and Benoist to return to their own companies when he died. On his arrival Duquesnel tried to sort things out, and in 1741 he said that he would do nothing until 1743 in order to give the minister time to formulate an answer. What happened after that is not known. Between the time that letter was sent and 1745, nothing further was said on the matter and De Pensens was made a captain on 1 January 1747.[17]

There were no reported complaints from Benoist, who was away from Louisbourg most, if not all, of this time, or from Gourville, who should have been acting in Benoist 's absence. Bourville thought Le Normant was simply playing politics since he had only done what St. Ovide had ordered before his departure for France. In Bourville's opinion, since the governor had left Le Normant seemed to be making a study of ways in which he could be contrary .[18] Almost as upset by the situation as Le Normant was Duchambon, who in the past had reacted with resentment to favours or advancement given to the Despiet family, who were, among other things, relatives of St. Ovide. [19]