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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 each regiment of the French infantry there was one tambour major whose job it was to command and instruct the drummers attached to the various companies. Not belonging to any particular company himself, the tambour major reported to the aide-major and exercised the same authority over the drummers as a sergeant did over his company or a corporal over his squad; that is, he "commands them for guards, detachments and all other functions for which they are necessary". During exercises or in real combat, the tambour major was to be attentive to the commands of the major in order to "have the drummers beat the appropriate call". He was also expected to learn the drum beats used by the enemy in order to inform his commander of their intentions. [1]

Though long established in the infantry, the position of tambour major was not introduced into the Compagnies Franches until 1732 and into the Louisbourg garrison until 1741. The 1732 ordinance provided that the tambour major would be part of no company, would receive 18 livres a month, and would wear a uniform adorned with the grande livrée du roi.[2] François Bigot wrote in 1741 that Governor Duquesnel had doubled the number of drummers in the Compagnies Franches in the garrison, bringing the total to 16, and had established the post of tambour major "to control them". Duquesnel believed that the king would have no objection to this move because it was for the good of the service and all it would cost was the price of the uniform since he was already being paid as a member of the garrison. [3]

It is not known on what basis the tambour major was chosen. In a Mémorial de l'Officier D'Infanterie, published in 1809, it was stated that drummers were to be chosen from among the soldiers who presented themselves and who seemed suitable for this kind of service, and that the tambour major was to be selected from among the non-commissioned officers. [4] This may have been the policy used in the first half of the 18th century as well. If it were, the tambour major himself would have required instruction in drumming techniques before he could fulfill the duties of his rank. He was to teach the drummers "deportment, marching and the manner in which they ought to beat all the calls with precision". [5]

As part of his other duties, the tambour major was:

1. To inspect the drummers a half hour before they sounded La Garde (that is, at 12:30 P.M. in summer and 11:30 A.M. in winter). [6]

2. To lead the corps of drummers on their circuit through town both in the afternoon when they beat L'Assemblée to call the soldiers who would form the new guard, and in the evening when they beat La Rétraite to signal the soldiers to return to their quarters. [7]

3. To take his place, in the grand circle each evening between the sergeants and the corporals. [8]

4. To carry out daily inspections of the drummers and their rooms similar to those performed by the sergeants of the garrison. [9]

Because his duties required his presence among the drummers at different times each day, the tambour major was exempted from guard duty. He was to be billeted near the drummers in quarters on a par with those provided sergeants. [10] His pay was 18 livres per month, from which 5 livres 5 sols was deducted. The tambour major was also granted a gratuity each time Le Ban was sounded to announce an ordinance or official proclamation. In 1744 Louisbourg's tambour major, La Luze, was given 37 livres for "cries & publications". [11] There are no similar references in the colony's financial accounts for the years prior to the appointment of a tambour major at Louisbourg. However, there is at least one reference to a gratuity of 2 livres received by a drummer who beat Le Ban to announce the sale of some goats. Once the position was created, it is possible the drummer was forced to share the gratuity with the tambour major. [12]