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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




March 1972

(Fortress of Louisbourg Report H-F16AE)

Translated By Christopher Moore




Caps (bonnets) and coiffes were used to cover the head, whether as a headpiece by themselves or as a base for a hat or wig. Sometimes the two went together as a single headgear since there were, for example, caps for carrying coiffes ("bonnets à monter des coiffes"). [170] In this case, the cap rested on the hair and served as the base for the coiffe. But caps could also be worn alone, for one finds in the same inventory coiffes de bonnets and "cotton caps , [171] cited separately.

Besides the fact that these articles often were owned by men, we can be sure that men wore them because a merchant had eight "men's coiffes de bonnets". [172]

Judged by the number of references to these two articles in the documents, [173] the most common practice seems to have been to wear a cap. Usually these were made of cotton, but there are also ones in wool and toile . [174]

Though they were worn during the day by artisans, [175] or at night to keep one's head warm, caps were also a luxury item which covered the heads of gentlemen when they took off their wigs. [176] A Louisbourg engineer who had four wigs also had an embroidered black velvet cap worth 7 livres. [177]

At night, men wore nightcaps (bonnets de nuit) [178] or, like the governor who had six dozen, "coeffes de nuit".[179]

In general, the colours of coiffes and caps are not specified. Illustrations of the period lead us to believe that they were white, as several Louisbourg documents state, [180] but there are two exceptions: the black one mentioned above, and another red one. [181]

At Louisbourg the owners of bonnets whose occupations are known' were the same officers, administrators and captains who had the most complete wardrobes. However, many people of unknown occupation owned caps. There is every reason to believe that these were common people like those seen at work in the engravings of the period. [182]



In some inventories, boxes, sometimes cardboard, [183] sometimes wooden, [184] are cited next to wigs. On occasion one is named as a "wigbox" [185] or even more precisely, as in the case of the governor, as a 'box in which was found three wigs". [186] It was the habit of those who wore wigs to keep them in boxes made for that purpose. However not everyone had them, for some who had wigs left no evidence of having boxes for them.

2. WIG

At Louisbourg, wigs were not so rare as to make a man wearing a wig seem unusual or exceptionally rich. Yet they were not found in all social groups, even though some wigs were relatively inexpensive. The lighthouse-keeper had "a wig and a hat; both of them old" which were worth 2 livres together [187] but that is fairly unusual. In any case, the fishermen had none. By contrast, the engineer had four, [188] the governor four, [189] the clerk of the Superior Council seven [190] and a ship captain two. [191] These are the men whom one would expect to wear wigs regularly.

Value of wigs varied according to degree of use and quality. Thus one of the governor's wigs was worth 60 livres while two "very old" wigs could sell, with a hat, for as little as 6 livres 10 sols. [192]

Quality can be judged by the nature of the hair used in the wig. [193] Children's hair is too silky and elderly people's hair too brittle to be used. The hair of the middle aged is appreciated most and its value is affected only by its colour. Unfortunately, the documents of Louisbourg do not specify the colours of the wigs mentioned.

In other respects, the documents give evidence of the diversity of styles of wigs. [194] There were, amongst others, the perruque à bourse.[195] This seems to have been the most common of the styles which we know. The hair, dressed on the top, sides and back of the head, did not fall on the shoulders, but was held at the back by a hairsack (bourse). This sack will be fully discussed below.

The perruque à face was a narrow band of hair which fitted the contours of the face end attached to the nape of the neck by knotted cords. It could at times be completed with a hairsack, since one finds "an old perruque à face with its hairsack" at Louisbourg.[196]

One also finds there a nearly new perruque en bonnet.[197] This is comparable to some extent to the toupé or hairpiece that men wear at the present time. It was placed on top of the head and covered only that part. The hair of the wig, of course, was styled in 18th century fashion.

Whatever its style, a wig which covered the head completely was placed on a coiffe which fitted it exactly. This coiffe was a net of thread or silk to which was attached the tresses of the wig. [198] One maintained a wig by having it styled and powdered regularly. In 1734, a Louisbourg woman who had sent her son to France for his education had to cover the debt he had "incurred with a wigmaker (perruquier) who powdered and restored the wig every Sunday and holiday ...4#. [199] This practice was known at Louisbourg evidently, but there is nothing which strongly indicates that it was carried on there. However it may have been, for one merchant had "a stand for wigs" (tette à perrugue)[200] which probably held wigs while they were being repaired.

It is not certain that one could buy wigs from Louisbourg merchants because one of them had four, [201] and a merchant-broker had three. [202] These relatively small amounts suggest that they were for the personal use of these men who were part of the group which was well dressed.


The hairsack (bourse or bourse à cheveux) was "a small sack of black taffeta, about eight square inches at the top, to the bottom of which is attached a very large ribbon, black and plié en rose. The sack is closed at the sides and open at the top. There is a false hem on each edge, through which pass the cords which make it open and close. The men use it to hold their hair back". [203] The ribbon plié en rose is in fact a buckle sewn on the sack simply for trimming. It was the cords in the false hem and enclosing the top of the sack which held it in place.

Hairsacks were used as a trimming on wigs or simply to hold natural hair. Some wore one or the other, as did the judge of the Admiralty who possessed "a wig and a hairsack". [204] Others only had "hairsacks". [205] We do not know if a merchants seven hairsacks which were sold in 1756 [206] were for his personal use or were among the articles for sale in his boutique. Even if the price of hairsacks was generally low, that does not necessarily indicate a more widespread use, for there is not frequent reference to hairsacks in the documents. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that hairsacks were worn with natural hair because in the course of a description, it is said of an individual that he had "brown hair bearing a small hairsack". [207]


The hat was the headgear worn by all levels of society. Among the effects of the very poor, one often finds them in very poor condition, described as "poor" [208] "wretched", [209] "old" [210] or "out of service". [211] One can understand why the prices were very low. Alternately, a hat supplied "to the crew" worth 3 livres [212] and two others of the same price belonging to a "master baker" [213] were not among the most expensive, and in the latter case the price is not due to the amount of use. Nothing is specified about the quality either.

By contrast, care was always taken to specify when beaver was used in the hat because that would give it a larger than average price. The price of beaver hats ranged from 15 livres for the least expensive, such as belonged to the procureur du Roy, [214] to 48 livres for one of the three which belonged to the governor. [215] That one was gold bordered, though that did not make it unique. A schooner captain also had one, "bordered with a gold braid". [216]

The value of beaver hats varied according to the quality and quantity of fur used in the hat. [217] Only the short hairs of the pelt were used in the preparation of felt. If the beaver skin had too many long hairs when it came to be fashioned, they had to be removed with pincers. This done, the skin was softened and the short hair was shaved. This had to be sorted, for its quality depended upon whether it came from the back, flanks or underside of the animal. White pelts were more admired and were used in the manufacture of the most refined hats. The only one found in the Louisbourg documents is a "white beaver hat bordered with gold, with a lining of pink taffeta", which belonged to a ship captain. [218]

If soft beaver pelts were used, the hat would be still more valuable. Generally the two kinds of pelt were blended for a more pliant material. If soft pelts were not available, the hatmaker could use a dry pelt which had been boiled for several hours to give it the desired properties.

When the material was ready, the hair was mixed and carded. It was made into a sort of felt formed in the course of several repeated operations: soaking, pressing, drying, brushing, etc., in order to make it take the shape of its mould with a rounded crown and a flat brim. The hat was then gilded, a procedure by which the exterior was given the appearance of the best hairs. Finally black beaver hats were given a tinting of black. When it was finished, the hat was weighed and priced according to weight.

After steaming the hat, one attached the lining. "...It is a gummed piece of toile; it is made in two parts, the top and the bottom. The top fits the sides of the crown, the bottom is a square piece. One starts by putting the two pieces together then they are fitted into the hat. The edges of the lining are hemmed and sewed to the edges of the crown of the hat, in such a way that the needle does not pass through the hat, but takes hold within the thickness of the material. Then the bottom of the lining is attached to the inside of the crown by a basting-thread. When it has been trimmed, the hat is completed by being ironed..."[219]

Then only the trimmings remained to be attached: a braid or plait of gold, a loop, a button, etc. When the brim of the hat was folded towards the crown to make the three corners, one of the corners was attached with a button and a loop.

Besides those who were mentioned above, another person at Louisbourg, a schooner captain, owned two beaver hats. [220] There is also mention of a hat "half beaver bordered with an old gold border" [221] which means that the felt was made of a mixture of wool and beaver hair. [222]

Others were made with fine wool or camel hair. Such was the case with Caudebec hats (chapeaux de Caudebec), named for the small town in Normandy which made the first hats of this type. [223] One of these hats was estimated to be worth 6 livres at Louisbourg in 1750.[224]

Besides the beaver hats and a Caudebec hat, a straw hat [225] and three dozen "Negro hats" (chapeaux à negre) [226] which were cited in an inventory but about which nothing is known, the hats mentioned in the documents are not described. They were without doubt very common, for they are the kind most frequently noted in the documents. It is not impossible that they were all of the same shape, resembling beaver hats, but the documents provide no sure evidence of that.


The types of headgear worn by men included cowls (capuchons). Although their use was known at Louisbourg, they were fairly uncommon, for they are only mentioned three times. One was in camlet [227] and another was of blue cloth.[228]