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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 1670 Louis XIV established the Gardes de la Marine in the ports of Brest, Rochefort and Toulon. Composed of young men of noble birth who would one day become officers in the Marine, the gardes were the equivalent of the cadets of the land army. [1] Described by Guignard as being like postulants of a religious community, the cadets were to demonstrate by the way they performed their duties how they would act as officers. [2]

An ordinance of 1689 outlined both the theoretical and practical training for the Gardes de la Marine that they would need in their military careers. They were to be instructed in writing, design, mathematics, fortifications, hydrography, dance, fencing and "pique". They were also to learn the exercises and military evolutions and to study pilotage and the science of artillery. In selecting candidates preference was given to sons or nephews of officers of the Marine, especially those killed or wounded in the service. The boys, besides being of noble blood, had to be at least 14 years old and in good physical condition. [3]

The practice of accepting cadets in the service was continued in Canada and Ile Royale, though without any formal sanction. The practice was abused during Ile Royale's first years by officers trying to gain all the income possible. De Ligonde and L'Hermitte charged in 1715 that small boys were included on the companies' roles. This was not, L'Hermitte observed, the way to get needed work done. According to major De Ligonde, De La Ronde had a nephew on the roles who would not be ready to carry a gun for ten years since he had neither merit nor ability. De La Vallière had a four-year old son and Dangeac one who was six included in De La Ronde's company. Villejouin's company, he continued, contained several of similar ages, including one of his sons who was not even in the colony. [4] These accusations forced the minister to keep a sharp eye on how such appointments were dispensed. He ordered Governor Costebelle and his successor, St. Ovide, to ensure that no boy under 14 years of age was placed on the roles. The only exceptions allowed were the sons of Captain DuVivier, who died in 1715 after over 40 years in the king's service. [5]

In 1720, Comte D'Agrain, then a lieutenant in the colony who spent most of his time supplying men and material for the building of the fortifications, was told by the minister that the men he had engaged to go as cadets to Ile Royale could not be received in the garrison except as simple soldiers. [6] Five years later Maurepas became concerned by renewed reports that boys under 16 years of age (rather than 14 as set by his predecessor, Pontchartrain) were being admitted as cadets in the colony. When he expressed his displeasure at this, St. Ovide explained that some children of officers were being used during the summer work season to stand guard, thereby relieving soldiers for work on the fortifications. [7]

Disturbed by this answer, which only proved that what he had heard was true, the minister ordered St. Ovide to dismiss all cadets under 16 years of age. In his defense the governor replied that there were only five or six boys under that age, and they were the sons of officers (Du Vivier and De Renon) who had died at Louisbourg after more than 40 years in the king's service. He had accepted them as cadets, with Pontchartrain's permission, in order to assist their families and to release more soldiers for construction. The governor forwarded the names of those let go, along with the reasons why he had chosen them in the first place. With the dismissal of the six who were under age, 16 cadets remained in the companies. [8] In 1729 Maurepas reiterated his stand when he wrote to the Karrer officer, Baron de L'Esperance, that he could not pay his son as a cadet because the boy was "still nursing", and the sons of French officers had to be 16 to receive this position. [9]

Finally in 1732 cadets were officially established by ordinance in the Compagnies Franches of Ile Royale. Cadet positions had been authorized in Canada the previous year because the king, Maurepas explained, realized that the "mediocrity of fortune" of a great number of officers and gentlemen in Canada, coupled with their great distance from France, prevented them from sending their sons to Rochefort to serve as cadets and learn the military art. Similar reasons led to the establishment of cadets in Ile Royale. Since the companies in Ile Royale were twice the size of those in Canada, there were to be two cadets per company, instead of one as it was in Canada. [10]

The ordinance declared that as of 1 January 1733 each company in the garrison would be composed of 58 soldiers and non-commissioned officers, and two remaining places to be filled by cadets who would be under the non-commissioned officers but above the ordinary soldiers. The expense of the cadets' uniform would be met by a deduction of 45 sols per month from their pay of 7 livres 10 sols (slightly higher than for a corporal). The uniform itself would be the same as a soldier's, except for an aiguilette on the shoulder. For this reason they were referred to as cadets d'aiguilette [11] Guignard states that the difference in uniform was not only a mark of distinction, but also a way for officers to distinguish the cadets from those who might feel "the weight of their canes". The young gentlemen and sons of officers eligible for these positions were not of a class ordinarily subjected to corporal punishment. [12]

The ordinance also provided that those appointed as cadets serve "in the troops, like the other soldiers, without distinction". [13] There is nothing to indicate how the cadets in Louisbourg spent their time but they probably performed as any other soldier in the service. As with their counterparts in France, part of their time would have been spent on lessons. St. Ovide reported in 1733 that the only thing lacking for the training of the cadets was a "maitre de geographie" to teach navigation; the minister replied that he was not able to send one at the salary of 400 livres, as requested.[14] Captain Bonnaventure asked in 1738 to be allowed to bring a nephew to the colony for his education, especially in mathematics, since he had been unable to procure a "lettre de garde de la marine" for the youth, and there was no one in France to whose he could entrust him. [15]

Just as the cadets of the Gardes de la Marine were to be taught all that would be necessary for a marine officer serving in the ports of France, a cadet of the Ile Royale garrison was to be taught what he needed to know for service in the colony. Therefore, along with basics, such as military exercises, artillery and fortifications, a cadet at Louisbourg also was to learn the language of the Micmacs and has to survive in the island's dense woods. [16] For more intensive training, several of the more promising subjects were sent on different occasions to spend the winter with the natives and missionaries in order to learn the Micmac tongue. [17]

The officers in Louisbourg were pleased with the ordinance which established the cadets in Ile Royale since it was advantageous for their children. However, though the majority of cadets over the next several years were the sons of garrison officers, these Louisbourg natives were not the only ores to become cadets. A few officers, such as Bonnaventure, brought nephews or other relatives to the colony to fill vacant cadet positions, while other young men were sent who were not related to any of the officers there. [18] At least three men were proposed as cadets who were serving in the troops at the time. One, a soldier named Thomassin who had been in Ile Royale for four years, was inquired after by the minister in 1733. Thomassin was from a good Paris family, Maurepas declared, and if the governor thought his conduct deserving, he should be made a cadet as soon as a vacancy occurred. After looking into the man's record St. Ovide reported that during his first three years in the colony Thomassin's conduct had been "a little upsetting", but the officers under whom he was serving on Ile St. Jean assured the governor that he had improved greatly during the last year. Apparently Thomassin came from a most influential family since this assessment was good enough for the minister to order that he be given the next vacant position. It appears, however, that Thomassin, given a six-month leave in 1734 to tend to family business, never returned to Ile Royale. [19]

The other two cadets who came up from the ranks were considerably older than usual for cadets. One was Sergeant Louis Loppinot de la Fresillière, a brother of a Louisbourg officer, Jean Chrisostome Loppinot, La Fresillière was suggested by St. Ovide for the first contingent of cadets named in 1733. He had favourably impressed the governor, especially with the recruitment he had carried out in France for troops for the two new companies formed three years before. The other was Hertel Cournoyer, son of Captain Cournoyer in Canada. Governor De Forant found these two cadets, each of advanced age, to be most anxious for promotion before they got much older. La Fresillière asked to be sent to Louisiana and Hertel sought to go to Canada if they could not hope for advancement soon. Pointing out that the two men had been in the service of the king before most of the other cadets were born, De Forant requested that they be favourably considered because he did not want to lose men of their experience, especially if war was declared. Both La Fresillière and Hertel were made enseignes on second in 1742. Hertel was given the position of capitaine des portes two years later, and La Fresillière died in 1745 as a result of a wound received during the siege of Louisbourg. [20]

Even when a young man became a cadet at the minimum age he often had to wait until he was a mature adult before becoming enseigne en second. Duchambon complained in 1736 that his oldest son had been carrying a musket since 1722 and was older than some who had already been advanced. [21] De la Vallière asked that at least three of his seven sons be transferred to other posts so that they would have a better chance of moving ahead. [22] Such transfers were easier to arrange for cadets who do not seem to have been affected by the official policy which stated that an officer could only move to another colony if there was an officer from that colony willing to move to Ile Royale. [23]

Advancement of cadets does not seem to have been governed as strictly by seniority as that of officers. Readiness, especially among younger cadets, undoubtedly played a part. De Forant was instructed to nominate enseignes en second from among the available cadets, being certain to propose those who seemed most proper to be officers. [24] Since a certain amount of subjectivity could easily creep into someone's determination of how ready a certain cadet was, there was probably mare favoritism involved at this level than anywhere else in the officer corps. One means of assuring promotion was to accord a cadet an expectatif which would signify that the holder could "expect" the next position of second ensign which became available. [25]

L'Esperance's son, having been refused a cadet position when just a boy, sought in 1740 to gain admission to the cadets of the French companies. His mother was the sister of a French officer, and although already a cadet in the Karrer Regiment he was unable "to have himself made a naturalized swiss ," nor consequently to obtain advancement in the Swiss troops. He wished to join the Compagnies Franches, but Colonel Karrer refused to release him from his regiment. [26]

In 1742 there were two cadet vacancies and no officers' sons to fill them, unless the minimum age of 16 was to be ignored. The commandant promised one place to Sieur Cournoyer for his son who was in France and was to come to Ile Royale that year. For the other spot Duquesnel suggested Dupré Daunay. This young man had arrived in Louisbourg on his way to serve as a cadet in Canada, but was unable to make the necessary connections. He claimed to be 21 years of age and the son of a commissaire des guerres. Since he was willing to remain in Louisbourg, Duquesnel allowed him to function as a cadet while awaiting word from France. After a year Daunay had heard nothing from his family, nor had the minister replied. Without some financial assistance from home he was not able to remain in the colony and was permitted to return to France. [27]

Most of the officers' sons followed in their father's footsteps. By 1745 sore officers' families, such as the De la Vallière's and Villejouin's were providing their third generation of officers in Ile Royale. In France the way to learn the craft of an officer and assure advancement was to gain admission to the Gardes de la Marine. The establishment of a similar cadet corps in the colonies not only made it easier for the officers who would otherwise have had to send their sons to France if they were to receive a military education, but it also provided tire Marine with officers uniquely trained for the place in which they would serve. It was one step in bringing a measure of the professionalism developing in Europe to those isolated in the colonies.