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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



Officers stationed with the garrison at Louisbourg included members of the État Major and those who commanded the several companies of the Troupes de la Marine, the company of cannoneers, and the Swiss Karrer Regiment. The État Major or staff officers of a Place de Guerre could number in excess of 30 men, depending on the size and importance of the establishment, and was comprised of civil as well as military officers. However, few Places de Guerre, even in France, had a "complete" État Major. The one found at Louisbourg prior to 1745 was large compared to other French posts in North America, particularly since Ile Royale was not a "general" government but fell under the jurisdiction of the governor-general of Canada. The town's strategic and commercial importance, combined with its isolation from Québec, necessitated the presence of a wide variety of officials. In addition to the governor, lieutenant de roi, major, aide-major and, as of November 1744, the capitaine des portes. [1] the Louisbourg État Major included such officials as the comnissaire-ordonnateur, the chief engineer, the treasurer of the Marine, the garde magasin and the capitaine du port.

The men who comprised the État Major were charged with the overall administration of the place. The governor and lieutenant de roi, though military officers, were administrators concerned with every facet of the colony's life. It was the major and aide-major who made sure that the routine garrison activities were carried out, while the other members of the État Major looked after finances, supply, defence, commerce, fishing or the administration of justice, depending on their area of concern.

The majority of the officers in Louisbourg were thereto command the French companies of the Marine garrisoned in the colony. The number of company officers in Ile Royale prior to 1745 was never large; but it did change three times over the years. From the establishment of the colony until 1722 there were 21 officers, three in each of the seven companies. This was reduced to only 18 when one French coupany was eliminated at the introduction of the Swiss detachment into the garrison. A year later a fourth officer - enseigne en second - was added to each company bringing the total for six companies to 24. And, in 1730, the establishment of two new companies brought the officer corps to 32 French and from two to five Swiss. Cadets, though in training to become officers, were not considered as such and were counted among the soldiers. [2]

Since the troops stationed in France's colonies were properly of the "Compagnies Fnanches d'Infanterie de la Marine," their officers could hold rank either in the navy as seagoing officers or in the infantry serving on land. Those holding naval rank could command on land or in fortified places only with a "lettre de service" (an official letter of appointment) from the Minister of the Marine. Equivalent ranks in the two branches of the Marine allowed the officers in each to serve together without problems arising as to seniority:

captains of ships = colonels of infantry = captains of artillery lieutenants of ships = captains of infantry = lieutenants of artillery ensigns of ships = lieutenants of infantry = sous-lieutenants of artillery chefs des brigades = ensigns of infantry = aydes d'artillerie [3]

Although most of Louisbourg's officers held their ranks in the infantry of the Marine, a few, all members of the État Major, did hold naval rank. De Beaucours, lieutenant de roi from 1715 to 1730, was accorded the rank of enseigne de vaisseau in 1695; St. Ovide became a capitaine de vaisseau in 1733; Bourville rose from chef de brigade in 1703 to enseigne de vaisseau in 1712 before being named major at Louisbourg in 1718; and De Forant and Duquesnel were both capitaines des vaisseaux at the time of their appointments to Ile Royale. [4] The capitaine du port at Louisbourg did not serve with the troops, but his rank in the Marine was considered in relation to the officers who did. In 1743 Duquesnel requested a promotion for the capitaine du port, Pierre Morpain, from the rank of capitaine de flute (equivalent to a lieutenant) to capitaine de brulot (equal to a captain). Morpain, the commandant explained, was the only one in the colony able to teach navigation or command a ship on occasion, and he deserved to be able to command more of the garrison's officers. [5]

Officers received their ranks from the king in different ways depending on their position in the Marine service. Governors, commandants, lieutenants de roi and captains, were granted commissions; majors and aide-majors, brevets; lieutenants, enseignes en pied and enseignes en second, letters. [6] Since promotion was primarily on the basis of seniority, officers were careful to guard their positions in relation to each other. Often several commissions or letters in the same rank were issued on the same day, and following arrival of the news of their advancement in the colony, the officers were received in their new ranks before the troops simultaneously. When this occurred, the officers would search their careers for any advantage that could result in their gaining seniority. In cases where no such advantage could be found, promotion within the garrison's officer corps would be determined by more subjective factors such as ability and family ties. An officer passed over in such a situation could do little but voice his disappointment or surrender his commission as an officer, as Beaubassin De La Vallière did in 1741 when De Renon was made enseigne en pied. [7]

After 1720 instances in which officers with seniority were passed over were rare in Louisbourg. At Plaisance Jacques L'Hermitte had been major as well as engineer. When the move to Ile Royale was made, L'Hermitte was named as one of two lieutenants de roi for the colony, with St. Ovide de Brouillan being the other. Captain Du Vivier, a veteran officer with over 40 years of service, was named interim major, but was disappointed in his career aspirations when an outsider to the officer corps, Jean De Ligondes, was given the post in 1714. Since L'Hermitte had not risen through the ranks, this was the second time the officers of the Plaisance-Ile Royale garrison had been passed over. They responded to the appointment in a negative way, and it was three years before they recognized De Ligondes' authority over them. Again in 1718 a major, François Le Coutre De Bourville, was named from outside the garrison. Though the captains protested this third successive slight, there does not seem to have been the same effort to undermine the new major's authority. Due to deaths and transfers the officer corps was changing. By 1720 most captains had only held their positions for a short time. Future appointments to the post of major came from the Louisbourg officer corps. In 1733 Gabriel Dangeac, the most senior captain, was passed over in favor of Duchambon, the next in line, due to Dangeac's age and failing health. [7]

That the officials were generally loath to ignore the seniority system is evidenced from their reluctance to simply pass over Palude De Tonty for the post of aide-major in 1741. At that time the position had been left vacant for over a year while officials grappled with the problem of how to by-pass De Tonty, a man of questionable reputation who was next in line for the job. [9]

In 1737 Pierre Paul Despiet De La Plagne and Denis La Ronde Bonnaventure were commissioned captains, the former of a company and the latter as aide-major. The two had also been made lieutenants at the same but Bonnaventure had become an ensign three years before De La Plagne. Since Bonnaventure was thus De La Plagne's superior, he should have received the company. No explanation was offered as to why this was not the case. However, things were soon corrected when a vacancy was created by the death of Gabriel Dangeac, in late 1737. Bonnaventure received Dangeac's company and assumed his rightful place ahead of De La Plagne in the rotation. [10]

Seniority was totally overlooked in 1744 when Chassin De Thierry was accorded the captaincy of the company formerly held by his father-in-law, Rousseau De Souvigny, and in which he had served as ensign and lieutenant. Thierry's promotion to captain was accomplished by passing over not only four lieutenants of equal (De Coux) or greater (Benoist, De Pensens and Dangeac) seniority, but also a captain, Boisberthelot, who had held that rank since 1742. Boisberthelot thus became the first aide-major - lieutenant or captain - not granted the next company command to become available. While the only known protest in this matter came from Chevalier De Pensens, it is likely that his disappointment and annoyance was shared by the others who had been overlooked. [11]

The motives behind the minister's move are not certain, but possibly Thierry's promotion was seen as a means of helping his disabled father-in-law. The idea apparently originated in France since in both 1742 and 1743 Duquesnel suggested Boisberthelot for the next company to become available. [12] Rousseau had been suffering from ulcerated legs for some time and had been excused from his duties since 1740, leaving the running of his company to its lieutenant, Thierry. Duquesnel asked the minister to allow this arrangement to continue because Rousseau needed the full captain's salary to pay for the eau de vie and linen he consumed daily in caring for his legs. He could not subsist, Duquesnel claimed, on half pay of 540 livres, and nothing was lost to the service since Thierry was doing a good job. The minister replied that if Rousseau could not perform his duties he had to retire and accept the usual demi-solde. By granting Rousseau's company to Thierry the minister was acknowledging a situation which had existed in fact for four years, and was also making it possible for him to assist his father-in-law financially. After finally accepting his retirement in the spring of 1744, Rousseau left Louisbourg for Québec.[13]

Disputes over seniority between officers appointed at the same time could lead to practical problems, as in 1720 when two captains, De Ste. Marie and De Rouville, found themselves at the annual review with their companies and could not decide who was to march first. How the situation was resolved was not mentioned, but if there had been any question as to who was most senior, it is strange that problems had not arisen sooner since, by 1720, both had been captains for some time. The council's decision on the matter is not known, but De Rouville's death in 1722 eliminated any questions which remained. [14]

Bordereaux for 1715 and 1718 listed De Rouville ahead of De Ste. Marie. However, neither these nor other lists originating in France necessarily reflected the seniority of the captains in the garrison. In 1730 Rousseau De Souvigny wrote the minister on a point of honour in dispute between himself and Eurry De Laperelle. Commissioned captains on the same day, the two men had also been named lieutenants together in 1714. At that time a Conseil de Guerre was called at Rousseau's request to determine which man had seniority. Its decision had been in De Laperelle's favor, but upon their promotion to captain in 1730, Bourville, then acting commandant, had given precedence to Rousseau because his name appeared first on the list sent from France. The Minister of the Marine, who was called upon to mediate the dispute, declared that the order contained in such lists had nothing to do with determining seniority. Rousseau's claim that he had been made a full ensign before De Laperelle was found to be false. The minister's investigation revealed that De Laperelle had become a full ensign in 1705 and was thus senior to Rousseau by one year. [15]

Whatever the date of his commission no officer was considered as having assumed his new post until he had been recognized in his rank before the troops. If the officer were a captain, lieutenant or ensign the drummers would beat Le Ban while the newly promoted officer stood facing the company in which he would serve. After the drumming had ceased, the officer would remove his hat and the governor or commandant would say: "De par le Roi, Soldats vous reconnoitrez M ... pour votre Capitaine, ou pour Lieutenant de la Compagnie ... & vous lui obéirez en tous ce qui vous ordonnera pour le service du Roi en cette qualité". When someone of higher rank was to be received, three concentric circles would be formed: the first by the captains and subaltern officers, the second by the sergeants, and the third by the drummers. The officer to be received would enter the center of the circles, where he would be introduced. At this time the governor or commandant would say messieurs instead of soldats in addressing those assembled. [16]

In 1744 four officers were received before the troops in their new ranks: Chassin De Thierry as captain, Du Vivier Duchambon as lieutenant, Dangeac as enseigne en pied and Came de St Aigne as enseigne en second. While Thierry seems to have been received soon after news of his advancement arrived, Dangeac had to wait until Duchambon and St. Aigne returned from the expedition in Acadia in November. [17]

Because many of Louisbourg's officers did not hesitate, despite their position in society, to attempt to make a handsome profit by soiling their hands with numerous business ventures, it is likely that some of them saw Ile Royale as a desirable, if somewhat uncomfortable, place to be. On the other hand, many officers remained in the colony only because transfer to a more salubrious clime was difficult to obtain. Transfers ordinarily were possible only when an exchange for an officer of the same rank could be arranged. When Du Vivier complained in 1726 that he had not received the lieutenancy formerly held by Pachot, who had transferred to Canada, the minister informed him that the principle was that officers who went to Canada were replaced by officers from there; it was regarded as an exchange, not a vacancy, and so precipitated no movement within Louisbourg's officer corps. Pachot was replaced in Ile Royale by Michel De Gannes but never saw his new posting in Canada as he died in the wreck of the Chameau in August 1725.[18]

St. Ovide and De Mézy stated in 1726 that life in Ile Royale was "trés dure et très ruineuse", so hard that officers from Canada were unwilling to transfer voluntarily to Louisbourg unless such a move meant advancement in rank. [19] A few officers did succeed in finding someone willing to move to Ile Royale:

1715 - De Gannes De Falaise was sent to France and was replaced in Ile Royale by D'Ervilliers. The minister approved this exchange in order to put an end to a rivalry between De Gannes and De La Ronde which had been causing problems since the two served together in Acadie.[20]

1717 - Ensign Peon was promoted to lieutenant and transferred to Canada. His replacement in the colony was ensign De Falaise. Somehow, however, this officer, along with 12 soldiers destined for Ile Royale, ended up on Martinique. The fate of the soldiers in unknown, although an order for their return to Louisbourg was issued in 1721. De Falaise never saw his post in Ile Royale. Permission was given for him to remain in Grenada where he had taken a wife. [21]

1720 - Captain La Ronde Denys went to Canada in exchange for captain La Tour Lozilière [22]

1721 - Lieutenant De Figuer went to Canada in exchange for Lantagnac who remained in Ile Royale for only two years before returning to Canada, in exchange for whom is not known. [23]

1721 - Ensign De Tonty went to Martinique to become a lieutenant in exchange for his brother, Palude De Tonty [24]

1727 - Ensign De Rouville went to Canada in exchange for Catalogne fils. De Rouville's mother had gone to Canada following her husband's death, leaving her three sons - an ensign and two cadets - in Louisbourg. She requested that they be permitted to join her, and since Captain Catalogne was anxious to have his son with him, an exchange was arranged. [25]

1728 - Ensign Sabrevois went to Canada in exchange for Duhaget. Sabrevois had asked three years earlier for leave to go to France. In granting permission the minister stated that Sabrevois could have leave if it were really necessary; however, if he were intending to use it to seek a transfer, he should remain in the colony since there was no ensign in Canada who wished to go to Ile Royale. Finally in 1728 he was able to exchange places with Robert Duhaget. [26]

In at least one instance the exchange rule was overlooked. St. Ovide was informed in January 1735 that Bienville, governor of Louisiana, had requested that his nephew, Chevalier De Noyan, an ensign in the Louisbourg garrison, be permitted to join him. The minister notified St. Ovide that De Noyan had been granted a lieutenancy in Louisiana and was to be sent on his way immediately. No mention was made of a transfer, and his vacated position went to De La Valliére fils. [27]

In 1720 Captain Ste. Marie attempted to arrange a transfer for one of his sons to Martinique because the younger man was oppressed by Louisbourg's climate. It would be a great comfort, Ste. Marie declared, to have his son under the protection of friends in Martinique. Nothing was done toward meeting this request, and by 1734 Chevalier De Ste. Marie, then an enseigne en pied in Dangeac's company, was suffering a "complete alienation of mind". Despite application of all sorts of remedies, Ste. Marie had to be kept under constant watch in Louisbourg's hospital. Requesting that he be sent to some institution in France to live out his days, St. Ovide reported that Ste. Marie "has never displayed any violence since he has been in that state". There was no money for his care as his father's estate had left only enough to pay his debts. Finally in April 1737, Maurepas, the Minister of the Marine, ordered Ste. Marie sent to the hospital in Quebec with a pension of 300 livres a year for his maintenance in the institution. [28]

Captain D'Ailleboust sought unsuccessfully to transfer to Canada in 1735 in order to assist his mother who was too "overwhelmed with age and infirmities" to tend to family matters. [29] Four years later Major De La Vallière asked that his son, Beaubassin De La Vallière, be sent somewhere else because he had an "inclination not befitting his family" in Ile Royale. De Forant wrote that he had not proposed Beaubassin for advancement in Ile Royale in the hope that he would be given a place in another colony as his father requested. The senior De La Vallière died in October 1740, and his son's name was put forward for promotion. When passed over in favor of De Renon in 1741, Beaubassin resigned his commission. The king, Duquesnel noted, had not lost a "great subject" with his departure from the service. The former ensign remained in Louisbourg, however, and earned commendation for his conduct during the siege in 1745.[30]

Officers were forbidden to absent themselves from the garrison, even overnight, without permission of the governor or commandant, under pain of being broken in rank and deprived of their charges. Engineers and artillery officers, however, whose functions often took them outside the place, were free to come and go without restriction. [31]

Of more concern to Louisbourg's officers was the longer leave of several months duration, congé par semestre, which would enable them to return to France. Such leave, except in cases of illness or emergency, required the minister's approval. The ordinances stipulated that one-third of the officer corps of a regiment could receive leave each year from October through March. The voyage to and from France made it impossible for Louisbourg's officers to adhere to this schedule. As a rule they left the colony sometime in November and returned in June or July. on their arrival in France a date was set for them to return to Rochefort the following spring to board a ship bound for Ile Royale. While awaiting departure from Louisbourg an officer who had been granted a congé was expected to perform his usual duties, including mounting guard. Officers who were prevented from taking advantage of a congé immediately were usually able to do so the next year. During periods of increased international tensions they were expected to postpone their leave if at all possible, and once war was actually declared all leave, except for emergencies, was suspended. [32]

Numerous officers stationed in Louisbourg married in the colony. For such a marriage to take place permission had to be obtained, and all rules of the church and ordinances of the king observed. Any priest who performed a marriage which violated any of the rules or ordinances was considered an accomplice in the crime of rape. [33] Permission was granted fairly routinely, providing there were no objections to the marriage from the officers' families. In 1731 the minister wrote that he was approving De Gannes' marriage to Elizabeth Catalogne since it had the "approbation" of the officer's uncle. [34] Bourville withheld permission for Chevalier Du Vivier to marry one of De La Vallière's daughters in 1741 until family members could be consulted. [35]

In 1721 Lieutenant Lantegnac was transferred to Ile Royale because he had married in Quebec without his family's permission. Ordinarily an officer could be broken in rank for such an offence. Lantagnac, however, was the nephew of Vaudreuil, governor of Canada, and so escaped the full weight of military discipline. [36] Nine years later enseigne en pied Boisberthelot sought to marry Mlle. De Goutin. When Bourville did not immediately grant permission, De Mézy stepped in and "had the cure celebrate their marriage despite Bourville's prohibitions". The minister disapproved of these proceedings and supported Bourville in his "correction" of Boisberthelot.[37] What this correction entailed is not known. Boisberthelot does not seem to have suffered much for his transgression, unless his being passed over as company captain in 1744 was made easier by his earlier insubordination.

Officers spent a good deal of their time away from Louisbourg either posted to one of the batteries or outposts, or on temporary detachments to quell disturbances, settle disputes or hunt for deserters. Most, if not all, of the temporary detachments fell to subaltern officers. There were also special assignments such as Captain De Pensens' trip to Canso in 1726 to confer with Lieutenant-Governor Armstrong, and Captain De Gannes' and Lieutenant Bonnaventure's voyage to New York in 1733 to obtain needed supplies. [38]

Occasionally the special talents of the officers or members of their families were utilized. For many years, until his death in 1731, De La Tour was employed as an interpreter with the Indians. [39] Duchambon received a gratuity for commanding at Port Dauphin, even when he was no longer there, not for his own services but for those of his wife in interpreting the Micmac language. When De Pensens became too ill to continue as lieutenant de roi of Ile St. Jean seniority dictated that Duchambon be named to replace him. In case there was any doubt in the minister's mind, St. Ovide wrote that not only did Duchambon himself have a perfect knowledge of and friendship with the Acadians, but also his wife spoke Micmac very well, an asset since there were always a number of natives on the island. [40] De Laperelle's knowledge of English was one reason for his being sent on a mission to Boston in 1720. However, while he was granted a gratuity of 300 livres for making the trip, he was denied the title of interpreter as it "does not befit him as an officer of the troops". [41]

All French officers of the period hoped to have their services to the king recognized by inclusion in the Order of Saint Louis, instituted by Louis XIV in 1693. Established because His Majesty believed that "les recompenses ordinaires" were not sufficient to demonstrate his affection and gratitude for the services rendered, the Order was purely military in nature and admittance carried with it not only recognition and honour, but also "des revenues & pensions" of varying amounts depending on the quality of the officers' conduct. Included in the order were the king, dauphin, princes of blood, marshals of France, eight grands croix, 24 commanders and as many chevaliers (or knights) as the king wished to name. All grands croix, commanders and chevaliers had to be or to have been officers of troops on land or at sea. At all times one of the grands croix, three of the commanders and one-eighth of the chevaliers were to be from the officers of the Marine. [42]

It was to the chevaliers of the Order of Saint Louis that Lousibourg's officers belonged or aspired. Seniority was not a factor in selection or in the granting of pensions. A chevalier could receive 2,000, 1,500, 1,000 or 800 livres depending upon the decision of the king. All members of the Order received a cross of gold which a chevalier was to wear at the waist, attached with a small, flame-colored ribbon. A chevalier had to take an oath that he would live and die in the Catholic religion; remain faithful to the king; be obedient to him and to those who commanded under his orders; guard, sustain and defend the honour, authority and rights of the king and his crown; never leave the service of the king or go to a foreign prince without permission; guard exactly the statutes and regulations of the order; and "behave in all things as a good, wise, valiant and virtuous chevalier must do ..."[43]

When an officer of the Ile Royale garrison was admitted to the Order he was required to send certificates of catholicity and service. [44] In most instances those who requested the Cross of Saint Louis, or whose names were proposed by the commander, did not receive it immediately. Indeed more than one request frequently had to be made. It took De Laperelle and Rousseau De Souvigny six years to gain admittance. [45] In the 1740s it seemed that the Order was being denied to Louisbourg's captains until certain abuses were eliminated. [46] Ste. Marie complained in 1720 that he had not yet been admitted into the Order while men who had served in his company as ensigns and lieutenants had already been given the honour. It happened too often in the colony, he said, that the "Meilleurs Serviteurs du Roy" found themselves passed over in favor of those who were more vocal. Ste. Marie was finally granted the Cross of Saint Louis in 1724.[47]

In France members of the Order who were not ill or away in the king's service were expected to join him in elaborate celebrations on the Feast of St. Louis. It is likely that those officers in Louisbourg who had been admitted to the Order were given a prominent place at the annual celebration of the feast on 25 August which usually included a feu de joie (a ceremony which included artillery and musket volleys, as well as a bonfire). Since the French were at war in 1744 the artillery salute may have been omitted, but it is unlikely that the feast went by unnoticed. The officers in the Louisbourg garrison who held the title "Chevalier of the order of Saint Louis" in 1744 were Commandant Duquesnel, lieutenants de roi Bourville and Duchambon, Major De Laperelle and retiring Captain Rousseau de Souvigny.[48]

Members of the officer corps were gentlemen, members of the upper classes of society. The gentry, according to Marshal Saxe, provided the only good officers, but they had to be paid enough to maintain themselves in a manner befitting their station. If they were not well paid, he wrote, the only men willing to serve as officers would be "men of fortune, who serve only for their pleasure; or indigent wretches, who are destitute of spirit". While the former were "impatient to fatigue ... repugnant to all subordination ... addicted to perpetual irregularities, and no more than mere libertines", the latter would be "so depressed, it would be unreasonable to suppose them capable of anything great or noble". [49]

Louisbourg's officers were career military men with family traditions in the service of the king. They wished, however, to live according to their class and, in all probability, to reward themselves for the sacrifice they were making by serving in such an uncomfortable post. Some did quite well in commercial ventures, but others were prevented from so augmenting their military pay due to lack of ability, initiative, opportunity or luck. All valued their place in the military, seeking not only the immediate rewards of their service, but also the long-term benefits such as an honorable retirement with a generous pension from the king.