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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


Wells at Louisbourg

by Gilles Proulx

In Historians,
Preliminary Architectural Studies,
Volume 04, Unpublished Report HG 02
(Fortress of Louisbourg, 1972,
Report Number H G 02 04 05 E)


This study of wells concentrates on their outside structures, meaning the lips, the well-gallows and covers, while the archaeology covers the other aspects. Unfortunately, as is often the case where private dwellings or small buildings are involved, the documents of that period are rather laconical on the subject.



The small amount of information which we were able to gather involves above all the wells dug at the expense of the State. We were able to find reference to only fourteen wells belonging to private persons. Out of this total, two wells are described as being covered in documents dated 1756 [NOTE 1], whereas a third well is presented as being "flush with the ground" [NOTE 2], excluding for all practical purposes a lip. According to the report of a court case, a soldier lying next to the well, slipped into the well while drinking his wine [NOTE 3]. Finally, another well was located inside a storehouse. [NOTE 4].

At the present state of research, and keeping in mind the resources available in the archives of the Fortress of Louisbourg, the planning of private wells must be guessed. According to secondary source information, the wells dug during the XVII and XVIIIth centuries were usually finished with a lip and with the necessary equipment to draw water. At least, this is the way they are presented by the architectural treatises [NOTE 5] and the way [PAGE 4:] they are described by Diderot [NOTE 6]. We believe that the situation at Louisbourg could be somewhat similar, because most of the wells located on the King's properties were surrounded by lips of brick masonry, covered with planks or boards. Still basing ourselves upon the same theories, we could argue that private wells at Louisbourg were most often finished with lips, not of cut stone like the French lips [NOTE 8], but rather of brick masonry, like the King's wells. According to certain cartographic data, the private wells at Louisbourg were not covered; the plans rather show wells with a round hole, surrounded by a square lip. [NOTE 9].



Even though the information is more numerous for wells constructed by the State, the documents fall far short of providing answers to all the questions. Were the lips round or square? How high was the elevation above the ground level and, if present, how were the well covers constructed? These are many questions to which theories are often given by way of answers. Louis Franquet, in a memorandum written in 1753, gives a general review of the government wells at Louisbourg:

There are 15 wells in the community, either public wells established in the streets, or private wells in the buildings of the King [NOTE 10].

If the counting of Franquet is correct, there were five wells at the most in the streets, because we were able to trace some ten wells on the King's properties. These wells are classified by us as being public wells, anyway.



Still according to Franquet:

The maintenance of these wells is totally for the account of the King. [PAGE 5] Most of them located in the streets seem to have been dug at hasard, without considering the inconvenience they may cause. It is believed that to the extent they must be renewed, that they should be lowered over their entire thickness into the fences, but still on the street side, and not in the street centre, as is presently almost always the case [NOTE 11].

The presence of the wells in the streets may, up to a certain point, be an explanation of the scarcity, at least apparent, of private wells. But with respect to their location in the centre of the streets, it should be noted that wells are found shown on many maps, and that none of them are located in the centre of the streets. Obviously, the precision and the correctness of the cartography would have been taken into account.

Still basing ourselves upon the maps, we could approximately establish an elevation of three pieds as the height for the lips of the Louisbourg wells. Since this evaluation is only based upon a total of five wells taken from four plans [NOTE 12], it should be used with caution. With the exception of two wells located in front of barracks that were planned in 1739 [NOTE 13], of which the lips allegedly were made of cut stone, the maps are not sufficiently precise to establish the type of lips of the wells of the Bakery [NOTE 14] and the Hospital [NOTE 15] with certainty. We do not think we are wrong by stating that they were round and made of masonry. These five wells did not have a roofing, as was the case of a well located on the property of the Commissaire-Ordonnateur [NOTE 16] and of another well constructed toward 1750 close to the Bakery [NOTE 17]. Well-gallows provided with pulleys were used to draw water; the gallow is a "support consisting of a square and a strut" [NOTE 18].



According to information obtained from documents written at that time, the lip allegedly are made of brick masonry, with an outside lining of timber. At least, such was the situation for the two wells of the Queen's Bastion [NOTE 19], the well located close to the postern between the King's Bastion and the Queen's Bastion [NOTE 20], the well of the Bakery [NOTE 21], and those of the Hospital [NOTE 22]. The lining, in the last case, was not defined, and similarly the documents are silent as to the type of lip of the well of the Commissaire-Ordonnateur. Before finishing with this aspect of the lips, we should like to state that the well in the inner courtyard of the King's Bastion had a lip made of cut stone. According to the specifications prepared in 1718 [NOTE 23], this lip's elevation should have been three pieds above the ground level, with cut stone of 8 pouces thick by 15 pouces wide. The surveying of 1727 [NOTE 24] established the lip's height at 1 pied 3 pouces. Furthermore, these data were confirmed by the archaeological excavations conducted at Louisbourg [NOTE 25].

Boston boards were generally used for the inside lining of the lips. In the case of the Queen's Bastion wells, it seems to us important to notice that the planks used for the lining were mitred [NOTE 26]. According to Pierre Chabat, the mitred assembly:

serves to unite two pieces of wood into a gallows, so as to make the end of the wood disappear into the assembled unit. The tenon and the mortise are triangular ... and the tenon's shoulders mitred, meaning in such a manner that their surface forms a 45 degree angle with the side of the unit [NOTE 27].

This manner of assembly allows us to assume that the lips of the Bastion de la Reine could have had a square form. We are adding the drawings of Diderot of the mitred assembly by way of illustration.

[PAGE 7:]

Fig. 10: Half-notched mitred assembly, of wood. A, B: the mitres. (See page 11.)

Fig. 11: Mitred assembly with tenon and mortise. (See page 11.)

[Illustration presently unavailable]

Another lip element is the presence of posts sealed in masonry, to support the gallows and the roofing, if needed. Although the number of posts is only defined for the lip of the well near the postern between the King's Bastion and the Queen's Bastion, six posts were mentioned [NOTE 3O], and we believe that this number could well have been used generally. We base this opinion on archaeological discoveries that have confirmed the documents by revealing the presence of six posts in the lip of a well located on the property of the Commissaire-Ordomateur.



The lip's posts, like the trusses of the roofings, were of timber and Boston boards were used to cover them. In the case of the Commissaire-Ordonnateur's property, the plans indicate a well with a square roof having four sides [NOTE 32]. It is the only well cover for which we were able to provide a few details. And with respect to the gallows, we will only mention that those of the wells of the Hospital were made of iron [NOTE 33].



In order to provide the reader with a more rapid contact with the various types of information, we will end this report by presenting the information found concerning the wells belonging to the King in a schematic form:

[PAGE 8:]

(01) KING'S BASTION: 1727

(a) Excavation: LENGTH (2 toises, 3 pieds) x WIDTH (2 toises) x HEIGHT (1 toise, 5 pieds) = 9 toises, 1 pied

(b) Foundation and elevation of masonry: Average Circumference (4 toises, 1 pied, 1 pouce) x HEIGHT (3 toises, 4 pieds, 7 pouces) x THICKNESS (3 pieds) = 7 toises, 5 pieds, 2 pouces

(c) Six rows of cut stone at the base: circumference (15 toises) x HEIGHT (4 toises) = 60 toises

(d) Lips of Cut Stone: Circumference (36 pieds) x HEIGHT (1 pied, 3 pouces) = 45 pieds; [NOTE 34].

(02) HOSPITAL: 1727

(a) Excavation: LENGTH (2 toises) x WIDTH (2 toises) x HEIGHT (1 toise, 1 pied) = (4 toises, 4 pieds)

(b) Foundation and elevation of masonry: circumference (4 toises, 1 pied, 1 pouce) x HEIGHT (1 toise, 1 pied, 1 pouce) x THICKNESS (3 pieds) = (2 toises, 2 pieds, 7 pouces) [NOTE 35].

(03) HOSPITAL: 1749

(a) two lips, the whole made of brick masonry [NOTE 36].

[PAGE 9:]


(a) Excavation = 6 toises, 3 pieds

(b) Masonry: = 1 toise, 3 pieds

(c) Timber: Gallows and roofing = 60 pieds

(d) Covered with Boston boards: = 6 toises, 2 pieds [NOTE 37].

(05) BAKERY: 1749

(a) Coupling of the lip: 3 pieds

(b) Lining of Boston boards = 1 toise; [NOTE: Length established by comparison on the price of boards]. (

(06) BAKERY: 1750

(a) Excavation: 1 toise, 3 pieds

(b) Brick Masonry: 1 pied, 8 pouces

(c) Dry Stone Masonry: 2 pieds, 2 pouces

(d) Coupling: lip and roofing: 23 pieds, 3 pouces

(e) Roofing of Boston boards: 5 pieds, 10 pouces

(f) Lining of the lip of timber: 1 toise, [NOTE 38]


(a) EXCAVATION: 1st well

(i) soil = 3 toises, 1 pied

(ii) rock: 2 toises, 3 pieds, 8 pouces

(b) EXCAVATION: 2nd well

(i) soil = 2 toises, 3 pieds, 8 pouces

(ii) rock: 2 toises, 5 pieds, 2 pouces

(c) BRICK MASONRY: 5 pieds, 3 pouces

(d) DRY STONE MASONRY: 5 pieds, 3 pouces

[PAGE 10:]

(e) LIPS

(i) Postern timber = 71 pieds

(ii) Inside lining of boards = 2 toises

(iii) Outside lining of timber = 2 toises, 4 pieds, 6 pouces

(iv) Support of oak timber = 3 pieds, 4 pouces

[PAGE 11:]



(i) Soil = 4 toises, 4 pieds

(ii) Rock: = 1 toise, 5 pieds


(i) Dry stones = 2 toises, 1 pied

(ii) Lime and sand = 4 pieds, 1 pouce

(c) LIPS

(i) Brick masonry = 1 pied, 3 pouces

(ii) Post timber = 11 pieds, 8 pouces

(iii) Outside lining of timber: 2 toises, 3 pieds

It will undoubtedly be noticed that the great majority of the structural data established in this study is dated after the British occupation of 1745-1749. Obviously this time period is much too short to indicate major changes in the outside construction of the wells. What [PAGE 11:] existed during the period of 1749-1758 should also be found during the period of 1713-1745, undoubtedly with a slight degree of refinement. Certain documentary data lead us to believe that the outside structures of the wells were not as elaborate at that time. Thus, the British governor provided orders on November 8, 1746, to the effect that "all the wells in this garrison be surrounded by a Breast work to prevent people from falling into them." In view of the rather scarce information which we were able to obtain, as well as certain relatively restricted documentary data, we should like to advise that the greatest care be taken in all the restoration work of the wells at Louisbourg.


[NOTE 1:] Vente d'une maison par Jacques Rabasse à la veuve Fautoux. Louisbourg, 30 juin 1756. Section Outre-mer, G3, carton 2044, no. 59. Bail à loyer d'une maison de Jean Claparède à Jacques Brunet. Louisbourg, 1 juin 1756. Section Outre-mer, G3, carton 2045, no. 67. [NOTE 2:] Procès verbal de découverte du corps de Louis Pancau dans le puit de M. de Brouillan. Louisbourg, le 26 juillet 1737. A.N., Section Outre-mer, G2, vol. 184, pages 377-378. [NOTE 3:] Idem. [NOTE 4:] Bail à loyer; Angélique Butel à Elie Allenet. Louisbourg, 12 septembre 1757. Section Outre-mer, G3, carton 2045, no. 37. [NOTE 5:] M. Ozanam, Méthode facile pour arpeuter ou mesurer toutes sortes de superficies. Paris, 1725, pp. 281-282. Anonyme. Architecture moderne ou l'art de bien bâtir. Paris, 1728, t. I, pp. 22-23. [NOTE 6:] Diderot. Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des Sciences. Neufchâtel, 1765, tome XIII, pp. 563-564. [NOTE 7:] Voir section intitulée Donnée Structurelles. [NOTE 8:] Diderot. opus citatum. [NOTE 9:] A.F.L., M.C., nos. 731-3; 734-4; ND 105. [NOTE 10:] Franquet au ministre de la marine. Louisbourg, 9 octobre 1753. A.N., Col., C11B, vol. 33, fol. 234. [NOTE 11:] Idem. [NOTE 12:] A.F.L., M.C., nos. 1728-1; 1739-4; 1752-10; ND 82. [PAGE 14:] [NOTE 13:] A.F.L., M.C., no. 1739-4. [NOTE 14:] A.F.L., M.C., no. 1728-1. [NOTE 15:] A.F.L., M.C., nos. 1752-10, ND 82. [NOTE 16:] Boucher au ministre de la marine. Toisé des réparations. Louisbourg, 31 décembre 1749. A.N., Col., C11B, vol. 28, fol. 348. [NOTE 17:] Idem, 1750, vol. 29, fol. 289v. [NOTE 18:] Pierre Chabat. Dictionnaire des termes employés dans la construction. Paris, 1876, t.II, page 1134. [NOTE 19:] Boucher au ministre de la marine. Toisé des réparations. Louisbourg, 31 décembre 1749. Col., C11B, vol. 28, fols. 318-350. [NOTE 20:] Idem, 1750, vol. 29, fol. 282v. [NOTE 21:] Voir note 19. [NOTE 22:] Idem. [NOTE 23:] Devis et condition des ouvrages. Louisbourg, 10 juin 1718. Col., F3, vol. 51, fols. 216-217. [NOTE 24:] Verrier au ministre de la marine. Toisé. Louisbourg, 4 mai 1727. A.N., Col., C11B, vol. 9, fols. 231-50. [NOTE 25:] Bruce Fry, Memorandum to the head of research. Louisbourg, 21 avril 1969. [NOTE 26:] Voir note 19. [NOTE 27:] Chabat, Pierre, op. cit., p. 924. [NOTE 28:] Diderot, Recueil de planches sur les sciences les arts libéraux et les arts mechaniques. Tome VII, Article Menuiserie, planche II, Paris, 1769. [NOTE 29:] Voir note 20. [NOTE 30:] Idem. [PAGE 15:] [NOTE 31:] Richard Cox, Preliminary Report De Mezy House. Louisbourg, juin 1969, p.16. [NOTE 32:] A.F.L., M.C., nos. 1739-5; 1740-3; ?44-5; 1745-11. [NOTE 33:] Sabatier et Le Nommant au ministre de la marine. Balance des recettes et depenses. Louisbourg, 31 décembre 1733. A.N., Col., C11B, vol. 14, fols. 238-241. [NOTE 34:] Voir note 23. [NOTE 35:] Idem. [NOTE 36:] Voir note 19. [NOTE 37:] Idem. [NOTE 38:] Idem. [NOTE 39:] Voir note 20, fols. 289-89v. [NOTE 40:] Voir note 19. [NOTE 41:] Voir note 20. [NOTE 42:] Cunningham of Thorntoun Muniments. No. 485. "Garrison Orders of Louisbourg from the 3d November 1746 to the 12th July 1749 being then evacuated."