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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



The word sergeant is derived from the Latin "serviens" or man of service. [1] Early in the 18th century sergeants were described as the most necessary part of the infantry because they bridged the gap between officers and men. Since they were always with the men of their company, they were better able than the officers to determine who were good soldiers and who were not, and to discover any problems or plots brewing among the troops. [2]

Because of the importance of their role, men could not be recruited as sergeants; a period of service in the ranks was necessary in order for their qualities to be assessed. Only the most capable men were to be chosen as sergeants. A captain was instructed not to choose simply on the basis of seniority, but rather to survey his whole company before making the selection. Since passing over the most senior and experienced men could cause problems in morale, it was suggested that when this was necessary something be done to mollify those not selected. If a suitable subject was not found among his own men a captain was permitted to turn to another company. When this occurred, the captain was obliged to replace the soldier selected with one from his own company. [3] Most of the sergeants of the Louisbourg garrison whose ages are known were old enough to have been chosen either through merit or seniority. Two, however, were sergeants while still in their early twenties, and were clearly not picked on the basis of seniority. [4]

As a bas officier, a sergeant was subordinate not only to the captain and officers of his own company, but also to the major who had the right to question him not only about his company but also about the conduct of its soldiers or even its officers. Although only a noncommissioned officer, a sergeant could not be struck by an officer. Should this happen, the offending officer was to be severely punished and the sergeant discharged if he requested it. If the sergeant did choose to leave the service, the officer who struck him had to supply a replacement at his own expense. [5]

The sergeants of a company (there were two in each of the Compagnies Franches at Louisbourg, while the Karrer Regiment had four per company of 100 men) were to take turns beginning each Sunday as sergeant of the week. When this duty fell to a sergeant he was to:

1. Be the first to rise and the last to retire in his company. Upon rising - at 4 A.M. in summer and 6 A.M. in winter -the sergeant would go from room to room to call the roll, see that the regulations were being observed, and urge neatness. Beds were to be made by 7 A.M. in summer, 9 A.M. in winter. Also by 9 A.M. the stairs were to be swept, the room tidied and all dirt removed from behind doors and under beds. If any of these things were not done, the sergeant was fined 10 sols for the benefit of the poor.

2. See that the soldiers did not leave their quarters without combing their hair and fixing it either "en queue ou en cadenette," having their hats rolled up, their cravatte "bien mise," the "col garni & un peu serré," their hands and faces washed, their garters above the calves of their legs, their shoes waxed or greased, their uniforms without spots or torn seams, and all their buttons sewn on. The sergeants were to see also that the men shaved twice a week and that those with mustaches kept there "bien retroussé." If any soldier was found at inspection or on the streets with any of these things undone, his sergeant would be fined 10 sols.

3. Visit soldiers of their company who were to mount the guard before inspection to see that they were properly turned out and that their weapons were clean and fit.

4. Report each night after the closing of the gates, halberd in hand, to receive the password and orders. Following dismissal from the grand circle, the sergeants would carry the information to his captain and then go to his company and tell them, room by roan, anything which concerned them.

5. Call roll after retreat, with a light, in each chamber, and record any new circumstances to be found in his company.

6. Inspect the haversack and arms of any soldier not present for roll call. If it appeared that the soldier had deserted, the sergeant was to report immediately to his superiors so that a search could be instigated. Two écus were to be deducted from his pay if too long a period elapsed before notification of a desertion was given.

7. Take the roll (billet d'appel), which indicated those who were missing, to the sergeant of the guard at the barracks, who would in turn carry it to the major.

8. Retire only after all his soldiers were accounted for.

9. Remind the soldiers from time to time, and recruits daily, that they were forbidden to sell any of their arms, linen or clothing on pain of running the gauntlet, and report anyone suspected of having made such sales.

10. Take care that soldiers maintain their uniforms and equipment; that is, oil their scabbards, replace missing buttons and hooks, and repair their swordbelts and arms. Any repairs not made by the soldiers themselves would be made for them at the sergeant's expense. [6]

Any sergeant, on guard or otherwise, who found a soldier on the streets without his hair bound up or his hat properly fixed was to take him, or have him taken, to the guardhouse of the barracks. Sergeants found drunk out of their quarters, whether at the guardhouses or on the streets, were to be put in prison for a fortnight, with their pay for this period of imprisonment going to the poor. If a second such offense occurred, the sergeant was to be cashiered. Any sergeant smoking in the streets was subject to a 10 sols fine. [7]

When the troops were marching or the guard was moving to the place of assembly, the sergeants were to take their positions to the left of their men, parallel to the first rank. They were to stop from time to time to watch their companies march by, correcting any who marched incorrectly or carried their arms improperly, and speeding up those who lagged behind. If, instead of tending to these things, a sergeant amused himself in conversation with his men, he was to be placed in prison. Sergeants and soldiers were to wear their swordbelts outside their uniforms when under arms or standing guard. And, like officers, sergeants were not to doff their hats in salute while under arms except when the Blessed Sacrament was passing. [8]

The most intelligent or capable sergeant of each company was to receive the military pay (prêt) for his men. Before turning it over to the corporal for distribution, the sergeant was to inspect the arms, equipment and uniforms of his company to determine whether anyone needed to have something replaced. If so, the cost of the item would be subtracted from their pay, in addition to the usual deduction for maintenance. [9]

Sergeants were to keep the "controle signale" of their companies. On these lists were recorded the date of arrival of each member of the company, along with the terms of limited engagements, the prices of enrollment, and leaves taken in the course of these engagements. The dates of entrance into and discharge from hospital were to be kept in an "état particulier" by each sergeant. They were also to be familiar with the manual of arms and be able to instruct the members of their companies. [10] In Louisbourg, military exercises were stopped in 1720 because they interfered with the construction work. There is no record of their having been resumed. [11]

Soon after the establishment of Ile Royale, Pontchartrain, the Minister of the Marine, was told that the sergeants in the colony were most unsatisfactory. Major De Ligondes claimed that in the seven companies there were only two or three sergeants of any worth. [12] Acting on this assessment, the minister sought 14 corporals from the Compagnies Franches at Rochefort who would go to Ile Royale as sergeants. It was important, he said, to have good men at the head of the companies who were "wise and who know the Service". Officials, at Rochefort were ordered to persuade men to go "without however, compelling them". [13] Only four men could be found who were willing to go to Ile Royale. Meanwhile, the minister had received other information which indicated that the sergeants. who had been at Plaisance and Acadia had not been all that bad. Perhaps, he wrote, the generally lax conditions that characterized the troops since their arrival in Ile Royale had spread to the sergeants. He hoped that would improve as discipline was re-established, and the garrison was put on a proper footing. [14]

Two men, Quarray and Gaudron, were persuaded to go to Ile Royale as sergeants in June 1715, but there is no record of their arrival in the colony. [15] A year later a sergeant and 20 soldiers who were destined for Ile Royale were en route to Rochefort when the sergeants fell ill. The soldiers took the opportunity to desert. They were captured and sent overseas, whether to Ile Royale or some other colony is not known.. By mid-1717 the minister seems to have given up the idea of improving Ile Royale's sergeants from outside the garrison. The governor and commissaire-ordonnateur were instructed to select future sergeants from the men in the colony. St. Ovide, while acting commandant following Governor Costebelle's death, replied some months later that this was not possible. He again requested 10 or 12 sergeants from France. [17] There is no record of action being taken on this request. Indeed, there does not seem to have been any further recruitment attempts.

In 1739 Governor De Forant indicated that the quality of the corps of corporals was not good because seniority rather than merit had determined their selection. He wished to begin a reform, starting with the vacancies which then existed among the corporals, in order that the captains would be able to choose the garrison's sergeants from among the corporals "according to the usage of the Marine". De Forant gives the impression that until then the captains were looking beyond their corporals in picking sergeants. Certainly this happened in De la Vallière's company where in 1724 the sergeant was 22 years old and the corporal 57 years old. [18]

Soldiers were to obey their sergeants in all things relating to His Majesty's service. Disobedience was punishable by corporal punishment or death, depending on the nature of the act and the circumstances involved. Any soldier who struck a sergeant was to be condemned to death if he were on duty and to the galleys for life if he were off duty .[19] The latter penalty was handed down in Louisbourg in 1740 to a soldier, appropriately nicknamed La Terreur, who entered a corps de garde with a gun and made a "demonstration of using it against a sergeant" [20]

Guignard warned in L'Ecole de Mars that if a sergeant was to command the obedience and respect of his men, he should not fraternize with them, especially by drinking with them in the cabarets. [21] It appears, however, that a fairly high degree of familiarity existed between Louisbourg's soldiers and sergeants. Testimony at a trial in 1740 included reference by De Gannes' drummer that he went to a house owned by Philippe Carrerot, where his sergeant lived, to buy eau de vie. A sergeant in D'Ailleboust's company testified in the same trial that on the night in question he had been eating with a soldier of his company in a cabaret owned by the soldier himself. [22]

Two soldiers who deserted in 1724 sent a note to their sergeant in Louisbourg, through a soldier they met along their way, asking him to distribute the belongings they had left behind to their friends among the soldiers. Included in the bequest were soave paper, quills an parchment to go to the sergeant. [23] A civilian accused of theft and assaulting a soldier in 1740 intimated that the whole case was a frame-up to get even with him for hurting a soldier. If his allegations were true, four sergeants would have had to have been in collusion with the soldiers. Although the amount of testimony involved makes it unlikely that this was a conspiracy, it is interesting that the man hoped to be believed. [24] And, two sergeants from the Karrer Regiment were accused in 1727 of verbally abusing and brutally beating a civilian who disarmed a soldier in their regiment. [25]

The sergeants of the Louisbourg garrison, who were paid 13 livres per month after deductions, seem to have done most of the things required of their rank. They stood guard, informed their captains of wrongdoing on the part of their men, and called the roll at night before reporting to the major. They also led detachments and work details, recruited troops in France and escorted discharged or ailing soldiers back to France. [26] Joseph Legand dit Picard testified at his trial for desertion that when he left Ile Royale for France he was in the company of several soldiers who were to be discharged and three who, like himself, were to be treated in hospital. The group was under the charge of Sergeant Vallé who accompanied them to the home of the intendant or commissaire (he was not sure which) at Rochefort. After introducing those to be discharged Valle waited while they were issued their papers and the money to get them home. He then presented Legand and the other sick soldiers. When the official declared that "Soldats Malades" cost the king more than they were worth and refused to authorize their treatment, the sergeant left, apparently satisfied he had done his duty. The four soldiers were left on their own, the sergeant's responsibility having ended. [27]

Besides the beating inflicted by the Karrer sergeants upon the civilian, there were two recorded criminal charges against sergeants at Louisbourg. In June 1718, the capitaine du port on Ile Royale, Morpain, was attacked by Bellegarde, a sergeant in De Renon's company. Morpain, who suffered a sword wound at the hands of his assailant, drew his own sword and dealt Bellegarde a mortal blow. After reading the evidence collected by Du Chambon, De Renon's lieutenant at that time, the minister granted a brevet de grâce to Morpain since he had killed the sergeant in self-defence. [28] Several years later a sergeant named Saureaux, a tapissier by profession, sold cloth given him to make bedding for the hospital. It was also said that he stole and then sold some utensils from the barracks. His fate, unfortunately, is unknown. [29]

Jean Le Lièvre dit Villeneuve, a sergeant in the garrison at least after 1727, seems to have been a bit of a speculator in real estate. In 1726 he bought a house with all its contents from a Swiss soldier for 500 livres, 300 to be paid then and the remaining 200 due in October 1727. When October came, Le Lièvre sold the property for 800 livres. le Lièvre did not live in the house while he owned it. Rather he rented it to the widow Cantois for 150 livres a year. As a result, besides the 800 livres selling price, he was to receive half a year's rent when the amount came due the next May. Also in 1727, Le Lièvre received payment of 300 livres for an advance he had made toward the construction of another building. [30]

A 1734 list of land concessions includes several grants within the town to French and Karrer sergeants. Although, like Le Lièvre, some sergeants may have leased their property, several sergeants definitely did live in the town. Most of these are known to have been married. One, Pierre Sangland of De Gannes's company, received a dowry of 1,000 livres when he married Anne Dardy in 1740. They had at least three children, one of whom was born on 25 August 1744. [31]

The number of sergeants living apart from the troops must have had some effect on the discipline they exercised over the men. It can only be speculated as to how lax things really were, but it is likely that the sergeants retained some control over the soldiers' appearance and the condition of their quarters. While the men engaged in construction work would have escaped tight control, those standing guard probably would have been properly turned out. This was a major responsibility of the sergeants and they were to be docked financially if it were not met. The regulations were very explicit as to what was required.

Comments on the poor quality of the soldiers refer not to their personal appearance but to their physical condition and lack of military bearing - neither of which should have been surprising considering the work they were doing and the fact that the usual military exercises were not required. The difficulty in maintaining uniforms and equipment in a wet climate with leaky barracks, especially when the soldiers were forced to sleep in their uniforms for warmth, was a cause for concern, indicating that the soldiers' appearance dial matter. In 1721 the captains would not have felt compelled to provide needles and thread for the soldiers when none arrived from France if they had not intended to see them used. [32]

Therefore, while the soldiers were probably unkempt, especially by 19th and 20th century standards of military spit and polish, the sergeants, once the colony was established, undoubtedly made some effort to have them conform to the basic regulations regarding their hair, hands and faces, their linen and shoes, and the tears in their uniforms. The same was probably true for the barracks. The problem of vermin-infested mattresses apparently was cleared up by the 1740s. After De Forant brought the situation to the minister's attention in 1739, Bourville and Bigot acknowledged its correction a year later. [33] It was the sergeant's duty to see that beds were made and floors swept, and there is no reason to believe they did not conform to at least these minimum requirements.

A few sergeants, particularly those who were granted land in the colony, remained in Ile Royale following their discharge. One, Jean Grenard dit Belaire, received a concession in Block 20 in 1722. Retired with a demi-solde, Belaire became keeper of the lighthouse. He married twice, having several children, and died on 28 December 1744, leaving goods valued at 323 livres. [34] Jean Lambert dit La Marche, a sergeant in Duhaget's company prior to 1745, returned to Ile Royale with the garrison in 1749, becoming capitaine des portes by 1756. [35]