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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 F 16 E

Fortress of Louisbourg




Stockings and socks were included among women's garments, although the use of socks seemed to have been exceptional; in fact, we found only two references to socks, of which one indicated the fabric they were made of : knitted thread . [153] The two items were differentiated at that time, since the records contained the following: "four pairs of woollen stockings and one pair of socks". [154]

Stockings and socks had a different shape and were not made the same way. The sock (chausson) covered only the foot and it was worn directly over the skin, i.e. under the stocking. [155] Stockings were always knitted, either by hand or with a machine, [156] whereas socks could be knitted or sewn. In this latter case, two pieces, the sole and the upper, were cut and then sewn together around the sole. The edge of the upper, which came to the ankle, was just hemmed. [157]

Throughout the history of Louisbourg, there were socks of cotton, of silk, of wool and sometimes of a mixture of those fibres such as cotton and wool. (See Table No. 7) On the whole, however, cotton was very rare, more so than silk. Wool was very popular. Stockings made of "Saint-Mexant" and of "Ségovie" were woollen stockings. Saint-Mexant is the name of the town reputed as a linen and wool making center during the 18th century. [158] The second is the name of an area in Spain reputed at the same period for its fine wools. [159] The fact our research did not yield any explanation for the "three-threaded" stockings does not affect our general conclusion' since only one reference to such stockings was found.

1720 to 1745 3 cotton 10 wool
10 Saint-Mexant
4 Ségovie
5 silk 5 silk wedge
1 "three threaded"
TOTAL 3 24 5 6 12
1749 to 1758   54 wool
14 Saint-Mexant
4 Ségovie
10 silk 16 silk wedge
3 cotton and silk
TOTAL 0 72 10 19 37
1720-1758 3 96 15 25 49
1720 to 1758: 21 documents including 188 references to pairs of stockings
1720 to 1745: 10 documents including 50 references to pairs of stockings
1749 to 1758: 11 documents including 138 references to pairs of stockings
Fabric not mentioned in 139 cases.

That leaves the stockings with "silk wedge" to be clarified. The "wedge" was the part of the stocking forming a point; [160] but we do not know whether it was the toe or the heel, and we can only offer a hypothetical answer. The stocking entirely made of silk was called a "silk stocking"; but the fabric was not specified when the stocking was said to have a "silk wedge"; the rest of the stocking; could have been made of cotton or wool, as we have seen, but more likely wool. Since silk is more durable than wool, it was probably used to reinforce the part of the stocking which would get worn out faster: the two wedge pieces of a stocking are the toe and the heel. Unless proven. otherwise, these indications strongly suggest that a thread of silk was added to the ordinary thread for knitting the heel part in order to make it stronger, and when this technique was used, the end product was described as having "a silk wedge".

Very few references to stocking colours were found in our sources: two inventories mentioned black stockings [161] and black silk stockings [162] while three others quoted red stockings [163] or scarlet ones. [164] It may be that black and red stockings were rare, since they are the only ones for which the colour was mentioned. This does not necessarily mean that they were more expensive, because in one merchant's stock inventory, six pairs of red woollen stockings, six pairs of mixed colour wool or six pairs of undescribed stockings all cost the same, i.e. 13 livres 5 sols. [165] No comparative elements were available for the black stockings.

During the trial for clothes robbery, the victim recognized among the stolen items "three women's stockings, all made of wool, among which were a pair of green ones and only one blue one..." [166] it was further said that they were on a line to dry, which in indicative of their daily use.

Consequently, women's stockings were of several colours including black, red, blue and green, but the first two colours might have been fairly rare.

The comparison of a few prices (See Table No. 8) shows that stockings were of various qualities. The prices also help us tell who most likely wore that type of stockings.

The stocking prices could be fairly high, whether they were made of wool, Saint-Mexant or Ségovie wool or silk. But since silk was not so common as the other fabrics, it is reasonable to assume that it was more expensive. Still, the prices of other fabrics could vary considerably, which means that the type of fabric was not the only thing on which the prices of stockings were based. For example, three pairs of silk, Saint-Mexant and Ségovie stockings among the most expensive were bought by Madame Leroy Desmarets, wife of the notary and clerk of the Admiralty at Louisbourg. [167] On the other hand, a merchant's stock inventory listed eleven pairs of woollen stockings, priced at 24 livres, and 59 pairs of stockings of about the same price. In this case, the quantity available could reflect a common use, in spite of the fairly high price.

A rapid study of these details leads us to say that woollen stockings were generally worn. However, prices show that there was a wide range in their quality, and the most expensive ones as well as the silk stockings were in the wardrobes of the well-to-do people.


According to the sources consulted, it is possible to state that three types of women's footwear existed in Louisbourg: shoes, slippers and galoches.


   7 pair at 2 livres
     11 pairs at 24 livres

0 livres  5 sols 8 deniers
2 livres  3 sols 7 deniers

Saint-Mexant 1 pair at 2 livres
              2 pairs at 7 livres  15 sols
2 livres                              
3 livres  17 sols 7 deniers
Ségovie 1 pair at 5 livres
              3 pairs at 2 livres  10 sols
5 livres                              
0 livres  16 sols 8 deniers
Silk  3 pairs at 10 livres
6 pairs at 38 livres
3 livres 6 sols 8 deniers
6 livres  6 sols 6 deniers
Two examples of prices are given for each type of stocking. The table lists the quoted price and the average price, since not all documents 
specified the price per unit.


The upper of the shoes was made of leather to which was glued the fabric in the case of fabric covered shoes; the soles, also cut in leather, were glued and sewn to the upper; in the case of women's shoes, the high heel, made of wood covered with leather or fabric, extended over the shank of the shoe, thus giving it its camber. The upper covered a good part of the foot and was closed with a narrow strap tied with a buckle which was also decorative. [169]

To this rather general information could be added some very interesting data provided by archaeological and historical sources. Parts of shoes excavated support what has just been said about the heel: they were made of wood and did indeed extend over the shank. The too of a heel excavated at the same time as a sole, bore holes matching the ones on the sole: the heel was consequently nailed to the sole The bottom part of another heel still had a piece of leather nailed to it. This last piece had the same shape as the heel, but it protruded about 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch over the edge of the wooden part. Therefore the wooden part was probably covered with something, leather of that thickness most likely, and the bottom of the heel was leather, of course. The heel excavated surely belonged to a woman's shoe, judging from the size of the sole attached to it. Since this one was only one inch high whereas other heels were two to three inches high, it is possible to conclude that there were ladies' high and low heels in Louisbourg.

According to the written sources at least, the shoes were fitted with iron. Two notes of the period say the following: "for fitting iron on twenty pairs of shoes, grapinage as well as the tip of the heel, at 8 sols a pair...'"; [170]"for having fitted iron on 5 pairs of Shoes at g sols a pair..." 171 On the one hand, it is quite easy to understand that the heels were fitted with iron, since they wore out so easily, specially the ones made of wood; but, on the other hand, this somewhat contradicts the fact that they would have been finished with a piece of leather as is proven by the artifacts. It is therefore possible that the two techniques were used, but that nothing was found during the digs to support the first one; again, it is also possible that the term "fit with iron" only referred to the nails used to fasten the piece of leather in place.

As for grapinage, it may have been a technique similar to the use of cleats, in that it made the shoes non-slippery. More generally, the terms "fitted with iron" and "to fit with iron" could also have been applied to shoes of which the soles had been studded with nails.

In Louisbourg, the fabrics used to cover shoes were the following:

- embroidered damask [172]
- damask [173]
- yellow damask embroidered with silver...
- red beaver embroidered with silver...
- plain pink damask...
- damask [174]
- cotille  /?/
- new white damask...
- new Gros-de-Naples
- new Ras-de-Sicile [175]

Therefore, silk fabrics were mostly used, first damask, then Gros-de-Naples and Ras-de-Sicile. The "beaver" fabric was a mixture of Segovia wool and beaver hair; as for coti1le, if it was indeed a deformation of the word coutil (twill), it would then have been a hemp cloth which was sometimes used to cover furniture. [177] Nonetheless, these last two fabrics were very rarely employed compared to the others.

The three pairs of shoes made of skin painted red [178] were the only leather ones among the 50 pairs mentioned in the sources consulted. But the fabrics quoted above and the red skin were perhaps mentioned only because they were the exception, which would lead us to believe that all the other pairs of shoes, i.e. most, of them, were of ordinary leather. This is only an assumption, but it must be considered before concluding that all shoes were made of silk. Moreover, the few pieces dug up during the excavations were of leather. Though they were black, it is impossible to say if this was their original colour or the result of aging underground.

The best and most expensive shoes belonged to people such as Mme. Levasseur, wife of the judge of Louisbourg's Admiralty, to whom was delivered a pair of shoes worth 4 livres 16 sols in 1735; [179] Mme. Leroy Desmarets, wife of the notary and clerk of the Admiralty, who in 1741, paid 7 livres for a pair of shoes made of embroidered damask; [180] or again, Mme. Dupont Duvivier, first married to the Navy Treasurer, then to an infantry captain, in whose house there were, in 1754, three pairs of new silk shoes, each worth 6 livres. [181] It is therefore likely that shoes of that quality were not worn by everybody.

On the note addressed to Mrs. LeRroy Desmarets were mentioned some articles sent to "her negro", immediately followed by "shoes for Jeannette
delivered to the said Person" for the sum of 3 livres 10 sols. The shoes of that person, probably a servant, were much less expensive than the fabric ones. That same note also mentioned six pairs of black shoes at 3 livres 10 sols each. Could it have been black leather? Finally, in 1738, a merchant's shop had even less expensive shoes, i.e. three pairs for 7 livres (1 pair = 2 livres 6 sols 4 deniers) and five pairs for 11 livres (1 pair = 2 livres 4 sols). [182]

The information gathered gave us a fairly complete picture of the type of shoes worn by the well-off people of Louisbourg. About the shoes of the poorer class, we know only that they were bought at merchant's shops, and were of inferior quality since they were cheaper, but we don't know their material; it might have been black leather.


It is quite unnecessary to give a lengthy description of the manufacturing of a slipper; it "has neither vamp nor quarter, so that the heel is always uncovered, but it is made like a shoe". [183]

The ones mentioned in the Louisbourg documents were made of black leather, [184] of some other material "embroidered with gold and silver" [185] and of velvet. [186] As for their prices, the ones available to us were quite reasonable: in 1738, 8 livres for five pairs of slippers of which the fabric was not mentioned (1 pair - 1 livre 10 sols); [187] and in 1757, 5 livres for two pairs of velvet slippers (1 pair = 2 livres 10 sols). [188] Besides the five pairs of slippers at 5 livres, another pair, [189] and three other pairs, [190] were included in the inventory of merchant's. Slippers were well known in Louisbourg, but maybe they were not used very often since so few are found in inventories.


In all aspects, the galoches were very economic footwear. Made of leather with a wooden sole, [191] they were very durable; in some provinces of France, they were worn by the poorer section of the population. [192] We found two references to galoches in the Louisbourg documents; in 1738 a merchant's shop had six pairs of galoches worth altogether 4 livres (1 pair = 13 sols 4 deniers), [193] and in 1756, twenty-two pairs were sold for a total of 11 livres 5 sols (1 pair = about 10 sols). [194]

Judging from those two examples, galoches were definitely the cheapest type of footwear. Not only were they less expensive than shoes, but the difference in price between a pair of galoches and the cheapest shoes was quite considerable. On the other hand, if we assume that they were commonly worn in Louisbourg, it is then surprising to find so few references to them in documents.

Therefore, shoes were the type of footwear most frequently mentioned; many were expensive and belonged to the well-off people; others were less expensive, but little is known about the way they were made and who wore them.

This leaves the galoches and the clogs (sabots). In 1756, a merchant's shop had one hundred and forty-eight pairs of clogs worth 70 livres (1 pair = about 9 sols) [195] While we have no indication as to whether they were men's or women's clogs, it is reasonable to presume that women wore them also and, as the galoches, they were inexpensive.

*Galoches: footwear made of leather with a wooden sole resembling a sabot. R.L. Ségin actually calls them "leather sabots". cf. La civilisation traditionelle de l'habitant aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles). The term cannot be translated by the English word "galoshes" which indicates shoe overwear.

Apart from their price, the convenience factor should also be taken into account; because of their durability, it seems that galoches and clogs were much more appropriate footwear for the daily duties, which were undoubtedly performed by many women. They also were much more comfortable during cold and wet weather, which was so common at Louisbourg, especially since nothing indicates that women had adopted Indian shoes for the winter. Lacking anything better, clogs and galoches probably were quite satisfactory.

Given these various factors, it therefore seems reasonable to say that galoches and clogs were the type of footwear most in use among the common women in Louisbourg.