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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 major de place ranked behind the governor or commandant and the lieutenant de roi and was to command in their absence. This automatic right to command had not always been part of a major's commission, but had begun during the ministry of De Louvois in the second half of the 17th century and had continued in all but a few cities. The commission received by a major was almost identical to those accorded a commandant or lieutenant de roi, including provision for a three year term; however, his responsibilities were more particular in nature and required more "leg work". [1]

His superiors were administrators concerned with every facet of the government of the place and the area dependant on it. They gave the orders and maintained a general overview of affairs. The major, on the other hand, was charged exclusively with the numerous military concerns of a Place De Guerre. Everything relating to the garrison, its officers or the security of the place itself was the major's responsibility. He was, as a result, a very busy man. As Guignard stated in L'Ecole De Mars the major was "the main spring that drives all the others, and on whose goodness depends the ordered or disordered state of the machine. Indeed, we can say that if he had as many eyes as Argus, and as many mouths as Fame, he would find ways of employing them if he wishes to do his duty". To be convinced of this, Guignard added, one has only to examine his "fonctions particuliers" which were infinite and realize that he was also responsible for the performance of all other officers in the place. [2]

The position of major was more an office than a rank, the holder having, according to an ordinance of 1691, the commission of a captain, his seniority being determined, as with any officer, from the date of his reception in that rank. [3] In Ile Royale the most senior captain usually acceded to the office, but there were two exceptions. In 1714 Jean De Ligondes and in 1718 François Bourville were brought in from outside the colony to serve as major, to the annoyance of the garrison's officers, and in 1733 Gabriel Dangeac was passed over, due to his advanced age and failing health, in favor of Duchambon. [4]

To adequately fill all the functions attached to his office a major had to be a man of many talents. Besides being proficient in matters connected with his profession in the military, such as exercises and drills, he had to be skilled in the "science de Calcul" in order to cope with the numerous lists and accounts he was expected to prepare. It was, according to Guignard, their deficiency as bookkeepers which caused many majors to be less than successful in the position. [5] Among his duties in this regard were:

1. The compilation, in a register sent for the purpose by the minister, of a list of the soldiers in the garrison, company by company, according to seniority, with proper and family names, noms de guerre, dates and places of birth, and any identifying features.

2. The keeping of a financial ledger ("Les Livres de vie du Régiment") in which was recorded all money received and paid each month.

3. The maintenance of the "Contrôle des Officiers" in which was recorded the dates of the officers' enlistments and reception into the various ranks, the vacant positions along with the date of and reason for the vacancy, the names of absent officers and the dates of the departure, and all discharges granted and the reasons for them. (Alterations to this register were to be forwarded monthly to the commissaire des guerres to whom a copy of the register itself was provided).

4. The keeping of accurate records of all leaves and discharges

5. The drawing up of a list of the soldiers in each company with notations as to their seniority and type of enlistment.

6. Providing a monthly list of all soldiers who deserted or died.

7. The keeping of a register, drawn up in columns, in which were entered the names of the guard posts and the officers, sergeants or corporals who were to command them.

8. The keeping of a register of the names and ranks of officers on rounds.

9. Presenting to the commander each day, at the mounting of the guard, a list of prisoners and the reasons for their detention. If any of these were ordered released, a list of their names was to be sent to the jailer.[6]

The duties of the major de place began early in the day as he assisted the capitaine des portes in the opening of the town gates shortly after sunrise. Following a briefing by the sergeant of each corps de garde as to what transpired at his post during the night, the major visited the governor at 8 A.M. to report the night's occurences and receive any additional orders for the day. At 9 A.M. the registers and token boxes from each guard post were brought to him so that he might check to see if each officer had made his appointed rounds. [7]

The rest of the major's day could have been spent in a variety of ways, all of which were aimed at the smooth running of the garrison. All leaves granted by company commanders and approved by the governor also had to be signed by the major. New recruits had to be examined by him before being incorporated into the companies. (Usually the major was making certain that the levies did not include any deserters frown other regiments, but in Louisbourg the main concern was whether or not the new men would make good workers). Each afternoon, at the guard mounting, the major inspected the troops who would form each guard before they left for their posts. And he would make regular inspections of the barracks and guardhouses to insure that the furnishings were not being defaced. [8]

Generally the instruction of new officers in the manual of arms, marching and other exercises, was the major's responsibility. While there is no record of this taking place at Louisbourg, it is possible that such-exercises were held, especially for the benefit of the cadets, though these may have been conducted by subaltern officers. In Canada the major des troupes or aide major was, along with the company captains, to conduct exercises in the use of the musket twice each week and in the grenade once a week. Although soldiers who were to stand guard duty in Louisbourg may have received some training in the use of their weapons, regular exercising of the troops was stopped in 1720 because it interfered with the work on the fortifications, and there is no mention of its having been resumed. [9]

One area which must have consumed much of the major's time and interest was his involvement in legal matters. He figured in every facet of courts martial from the investigation of the cases to be heard to the sentencing of those found guilty. While all majors de places were charged with the execution of ordinances of police and discipline, the one in Louisbourg had the additional responsibility of serving as prévôt due to the absence of a military police in the colony. In cases where a soldier was to be tried by civil authorities for a crime against an inhabitant, the major was notified, and either he or the aide major was to be present at the instruction and sentencing of the accused. In addition, he may have been involved, at least for a time, in purely civilian matters by virtue of his seat on the Conseil Supérieur of Ile Royale. [10]

When governors, commandants or officers of the Etat Major of a place died, the seals were fixed and the inventory conducted by "juges ordinaires", with the major being called at the lifting of the seals to examine the deceased's papers in order to take possession of those concerning the service or the post itself. At the death of one of the other officers of the garrison it was, according to the Côde Militaire, the major who afixed the seals and inventoried the effects. Following the inventory he would hold a "military auction to the sound of the drum at which the officer's goods would be sold, the major keeping a sol per livre for himself, paying all debts and obligations of the deceased, and remitting whatever was left to the heirs. [11]

Although Louisbourg was a Place de Guerre and as such usually followed the rules set down for such establishments, a problem arose concerning the fixing of seals following the death of Lieutenant Catalogne in 1735. In conformity with the ordinances for a Place de Guerre as found in the Côde Militaire, Major Duchambon went to Catalogne's room and attached the seal in order to proceed with an inventory of his effects. Unaware of the major's actions, Le Normant had ordered the écrivain principal, Prévast, to do likewise as stipulated in the ordinance of the Marine. On his arrival at Catalogne's quarters, Prévost found the majors seal already in place. Asked for his ruling before further steps were taken the minister informed St. Ovide that he and the major had been in error. In this matter Louisbourg was to follow the custom of the marine, not the Côde Militaire.[12]

The major, in the absence of the commissaire des guerres, witnessed billets, or forms, for admitting soldiers to hospital, which were signed by their company ganders, and visited the hospital itself from time to time to examine the quality of food and medication being given to the patients. If any was found to be unsatisfactory he was to order it thrown out. Each day the major received lists of all soldiers who entered or left the hospital, which he included in his monthly reports. [13]

The 1691 ordinance regulating the Compagnies Franches in Canada called for the commissaire des guerres and the major to conduct reviews of the troops every two months in good weather and whenever possible during winter. The major, besides assisting the commissaire and signing the review jointly with him, was to make a separate listing " both to maintain discipline ... and for verification of the said reviews". During the review the arms and uniform of the men were to be carefully examined to ensure that the captains were maintaining their men "en bon état," and to determine if anything was lacking. In the event that things were not as they should be, the captains were to have the cost of repairs deducted from their salaries. The major, moreover, was to give his "certificat particulier" that each soldier had stood guard and attended exercises when required. If the major were found to be lying in these matters he was to be broken in rank. Because they would have interfered with the construction projects, such frequent reviews seem to have been replaced in Lauisbourg by one annual review held each fall. [14]

At the end of the day the major received from the corps de garde at each gate a list of foreigners who had entered the city that day, along with the name of the person with whom each planned to stay. Similarly, each innkeeper or individual giving lodging to foreigners would provide a list of the names of those in his house. The time for posting the night sentinels was determined by the major. And, after accompanying the capitaine des portes as he closed the gates, the major would visit the governor to receive the password and orders which he would then give to the sergeants from the various companies and guardhouses. Following this the major would make a final report to the governor indicating that the place was secure for the night. Lastly, having given the orders regarding the times and routes for rounds and patrols, the major would make the ronde major to satisfy himself that the password had been correctly conveyed by the sergeants to each post. If, during the night, any officers were arrested for quarreling or otherwise disturbing the peace, they were brought to the major for disciplining. [15]

In return for this long day, which began at sunrise and extended long past sunset, the major received a salary of 1,200 livres. He was also entitled to two-thirds of the grass on the glacis, the dunghill of the barracks, one-quarter of the profits from the canteens, and a small percentage of the proceeds from the sale of captured goods. [16] In 1726 Bourville complained that 1,200 livres was not sufficient to meet the expenses connected with the post. Ten years later Duchambon echoed these sentiments, noting that the major of the troops in Canada received an annual gratuity of 500 livres. Moreover, he added, while in other places the major de place was ordinarily accorded the services of a "conmis au garde," he was forced to pay the salary for this position himself. Neither Bourville nor Duchambon met with success in obtaining a gratuity. It was because of Bourville's complaints that St. Ovide suggested granting all the profits from the canteens to the major, but the minister ordered that they be shared as they were in all fortified places. Duchambon asked in 1736 for the prerogatives associated with canteens which all majors des places enjoyed, suggesting that he was not even receiving his one-quarter share. [17]

This is interesting in light of the controversy which surrounded the captains and their canteens. The ordinances stated that the profits should be divided so that the governor received one-half, the lieutenant de roi one-quarter, and the major one-quarter. [18] If this were practiced, these officers had a vested interest in seeing that a profit was made, and the captains' stakes in the operation of the canteens would have been greatly reduced. Correspondence between the minister and De Forant and Duquesnel contain no mention of any sharing of profits. However, if none was taking place and the captains were enjoying all the profits, it is unusual that more complaints were not forthcoming since as a general rule all the rights and privileges were jealously guarded.