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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



Even with the assistance of an aide-major, a major faced a multitude of time-consuming and widespread tasks. Additional help was available through the appointment of garçons-majors. A garçon-major was, according to Guignard, a sous aide-major chosen from among the lieutenants who received no special commission or supplementary salary. A major could also select, from among the sergeants, the one who was "more capable" to act as sergeant major. He would be charged with all the functions of the major and aide major while keeping them informed of all that transpired in the garrison. The Côde Militaire provided that the sergeant major should be obeyed by all captains, officers and soldiers in anything he commands in the performance of his duties. Anyone who abused him while he was engaged in his official capacity would, regardless of rank, be subject to punishment. [1]

Initially Louisbourg seems to have had a cross between a sergeant major and garçon-major. The term sergeant major was not used, but the first garçons-majors were sergeants. In 1720 St. Ovide proposed the creation of two garçons-majors to assist the major and aide-major because the fortress was becoming so spread out. He put forth the names of Louis La Chaume and René Benoist, and suggested that they either be granted some kind of appointement or paid a salary from money deducted from each soldier, corporal and sergeant. Under the latter scheme 1 livre 10 sols would have been taken from each soldier, 3 livres from each corporal and 5 livres from each sergeant, resulting in the garçon-majors receiving a yearly total of almost 600 livres to be divided between them. In addition, it was suggested that they should receive a double ration. The plan was rejected by the Council of the Marine which felt that the major and aide-major should be sufficient to carry out all duties. If assistants were necessary, the Council added, same officers could be assigned the functions of garçon-majors. [2]

While St. Ovide reported that the two garçon-majors had been "reformé" according to the Council's orders, La Chaume and Benoist continued to perform the functions of garçon-majors until their actual retirement from service in 1726 and 1738 respectively. [3] Their names appear in the course of trials, and in 1724 a list of extraordinary rations includes provision for Benoist, described as garçon-major at Louisbourg and a very good subject, to receive a small "douceur" in the form of additional food. [4]

Jean Chrisostome Loppinot, ensign in the Campagnies Franches, was first mentioned as garçon-major in 1739, the year after Benoist's retirement, on a list of gunpowder dispensed from the magasin du roi. The powder was delivered to Loppinot, garçon-major, for the needs of the corps de garde and "'to resupply the arms of the troops".[5] Testimony in a court case in 1740 included a reference to Loppinot, as garçon-major, ordering that a man be put in prison. [6] And, two years later, he was said to be "faisant les fonctions" of aide-major when he took part in the trial of same soldiers accused of stealing sheep. [7] Loppinot's term as garçon-major was a period of apprenticeship. He was named acting aide-major in France in 1746 and, when the French returned to Louisbourg in 1749, he was given the position of aide-major.

It would seem, therefore, that while the position of garçon-major held no official sanction, it did exist at Louisbourg. A major and aide-major were forbidden to hold any other charges, but the same would not have been true for the garçon-major. Since it was not an official position, they should not have been excused from their other responsibilities. When De Couagne was a lieutenant of a company as well as a sub-engineer, he had a difficult time extracting himself from his duties within the company and concentrating on his concerns as an engineer. [9] It would seem reasonable that Loppinot in particular would have been expected to perform his duties as an ensign in a company as well as assisting the major and aide-major, but he may have been exempted from guard duty. What, if any, reward came his way has not been determined, but as he received no appointment or gratuity for the charge, it is likely his superiors gave him something for his trouble. If there was a reduction in the company duties the garçon-major had to perform, this could have served as sufficient reward for their services.