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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


Selection List: Harvard University, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 
Plimouth Plantation, The Mayflower and Marblehead

H J 21


Ken Donovan

September, 1980

Fortress of Louisbourg

Louisbourg, N.S. 15 September 1980 

Terry MacLean 
John Fortier 
Bill O'Shea

Report on a visit to Harvard University, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Plimouth Plantation, The Mayflower and Marblehead, Massachusetts, 5-11 August 1980

The Houghton Library

I visited two libraries at Harvard University seeking materials relating to Louisbourg. The Houghton Library contains the rare books and manuscripts belonging to the Harvard College Library, the central library of the faculty of Arts and Sciences. The library's collections include a vast selection of catalogued imprints and books on the 18th century. The books and imprints are catalogued chronologically. I did not have time to list the titles from the 1740s, let alone the 18th century. A research trip to examine Harvard's 18th century collection of books and imprints would be more than justified.

The Houghton Library contains a number of manuscripts on Louisbourg, some of which we have. Following is a complete list of Houghton's holdings on Louisbourg.

These papers comprise some 90 manuscript pages of documentation concerning Louisbourg. We have cards summarizing some of these documents but the summaries are most inadequate.

I think that the Storer manuscript collection should be microfilmed as there are numerous items which could prove useful for researchers, to say nothing of the belligerents' exhibit. For example, there are many interesting printed enlistment papers showing how the young men of New England signed up to join the expedition against Louisbourg.

Also, there are sketches and descriptions of the English barracks at Louisbourg and a number of letters describing the siege of 1745. The collection reveals that the New Englanders feared the effects of D'Anville's expedition in 1746. See, for example, the letter from Mouton at York to Colonel John Storer at Wells, 21 September 1746. Mouton informs Storer that there is a French fleet off the coast and "it may be there is an army by land." Storer is ordered to prepare his company in case of attack. Moreover, every man is instructed not to be without his gun at public worship.

I've discussed the contents of the above map with John Johnston for this colour map shows all of the churches of Isle Royale during the French regime. This map doubtless would be most useful for John's work on religion and morality. There is a very small sketch or depiction of the churches in the various communities.

The Houghton Library also contains published 18th century manuscripts on Louisbourg and Cape Breton which we do not have.

The Widener Library

The Widener Memorial Library of Harvard contains the largest book collection of the university in the social sciences and humanities. The following is a list of secondary works on Louisbourg which we do not have. I have included the Widener Library call numbers of these works to facilitate inter-library loan.

One of 14 copies from the original in the Boston Public Library. An English translation of this work appeared in "More Books"; the Bulletin of the Boston Public Library for April 1941, pp. 140-45. Can. 33  6.12

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts

I spent a day visiting the European section of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The museum's holdings of 18th century costumes are most impressive. The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, augmented by additional gifts, "makes the museum's holdings of 18th century costume among the most comprehensive in the United States." However, if any individual from our costume department intends to visit the museum, it would be wise to write beforehand, since only a certain proportion of the collections are put on display at any one time. An introductory letter might pave the way for a behind-the-scenes look at their vast collections.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is also the repository of the Forsyth Wickes Collection, which numbers 800 pieces of French 18th century art. Included among the collection are a wide range of paintings, furniture and ceramics. I have purchased a catalogue of the Wickes holdings by Perry T. Rathbone, the "Forsyth Wickes Collection," Boston: The Museum of Fine Arts, introduction by Hanns Swarzenski. This catalogue, which shall be placed in our library, contains some outstanding color photographs of 18th century peasant families.

To complement the catalogues, I have taken 22 slides of various pieces of 18th century furniture in the museum collection and these shall be deposited in the library of material research files. Most of the furniture which I photographed is from a Louis XVI salon which has been transferred from Paris to Boston. The salon, constructed of painted and gilded wood, has Beauvais Tapestry panels. Much of the furniture in the room dates from the first half of the 18th century.

Visits to Plimouth Plantation

The visit to Plimouth Plantation was definitely one of the highlights my visit to New England. I met Anne Yenstch, resident researcher at Plimouth, whom I have corresponded with over the past couple of years. She gave me a detailed tour of the artifacts collection at Plimouth which covers the period from the early 17th to the late 19th century.

Anne also told me that Plimouth Plantation will be publishing its estate inventories this coming autumn. All of the items in the inventories have been catalogued on a computer print-out. Some of the methodologies for sorting and compiling data on household and other items in the inventories could be most useful for us when we eventually publish our estate inventories. The Plimouth inventories are now in press: Anne Yentsch, Joelle Stein and James Deetz, "The Probate Records of Plymouth Colony, 1633-1691". 2 Vols. Arno Press, New York.

The visit to the Plantation was a most pleasant experience because the interpretation of the site was much better than I had anticipated. I took numerous slides, which shall be donated to our collection, and kept a diary of my visit.

The animators in the village portray - by dress, manner, speech and attitudes - known residents of the colony in 1627. They will not answer questions after 1627 and visitors are instructed in the orientation center not to ask questions after the above date.

The animators who we talked to at Plimouth were well trained and confidently answered visitors' questions. Equally important, all of the animators were busy with some type of animation activity. For example, the activities included cleaning a chicken coop, making pickles, spinning wool, carving a staff, preparing beets for the winter and cooking chicken and carrot stew over an open fire.

Because visitors are permitted almost unlimited access to the houses, the furnishings and household effects have to be realistic and stand up to rigorous inspection. The glass bottles in the homes, for instance, were of excellent quality while the dry salt cod hanging in some of the houses was real salt cod, not plastic fish.

Household flies were common in most of the houses, just as they would have been in the 17th century. There was no feeling that the houses must be kept squeaky clean. The day we visited Plimouth the temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit yet, in spite of the oppressive heat, there were fires in practically all of the fireplaces.

In spite of a large visitation, the animators were polite and did not give the impression that the visitor should move on quickly to another building. In stark contrast, during our visit to Upper Canada Village, we felt pressured by the staff to move quickly from room to room and building to building. Moreover, many of the animators at Upper Canada Village spoke too quickly and not loud enough.

Anne Yenstch mentioned to me that they have some major difficulties with first-person animation. Occasionally, their people become too preoccupied with the personality of the individual they are attempting to portray. As a consequence, the animators fail to appreciate the broader context of the period they are interpreting.

One eye-catching exhibit at the Plimouth Orientation Centre, which might prove useful for our exhibit program, was a model of two completely furnished rooms together with a list of the furnishings of those rooms in the household inventory. The model of the furnished rooms was enclosed in a glass case; the inventory of Thomas Howes of Yarmouth, deceased 26 December, 1676, was printed on the glass in front of the model. The model, together with the inventory, was most instructive and clearly demonstrated how a furnished room could be reconstructed by means of a valuable document such as an estate inventory.

Anne Yenstch noted that Plimouth Plantation has a very active school program. Throughout the winter, teachers and students regularly attend instructional courses at the museum as part of a co-operative educational program with local schools. I shall be writing Anne to provide us with more information on their school program.

The Mayflower

The historical interpretation of the "Mayflower" was disappointing compared to Plimouth Plantation. Although the animators were enthusiastic and well trained, there were numerous items on the vessel that detracted from the period presentation of the ship. For instance, an electrical wire was exposed above one of the bunks for the crew. In another part of the fo'c'sle, a light bulb and electrical receptacle were in plain view. The stairs to the cargo hold below deck had a hand rail of 2" x 4" wood fastened with steel nails. Modern barrels were used on the ship and one of the animators wore present-day gold rimmed glasses. In effect, there was a lackadaisical attitude towards period presentation on the "Mayflower". In contrast, the only serious error that I noticed., in terms of period presentation, at Plimouth Plantation were band saw marks on most of the boards in the interiors of the houses.

Visit to Marblehead and Fort Sewall

The town of Marblehead, located approximately 20 miles northeast of Boston, was an important trading partner with Louisbourg during the 18th century. For instance, in 1742 and 1743, four ships arrived from Marblehead, another five came In 1752 (Moore, "Commodity Imports," p. 17). Today, Marblehead is a unique New England town because many of its early 18th century wooden buildings have survived.

With the threat of war, the Massachusetts authorities decided in 1742 to construct Fort Sewall at the mouth of Marblehead harbour to guard against French privateers. The fortifications at the site of Fort Sewall were first constructed during King Philip's War in 1675. The present-day fortifications date from 1742, "when it was enlarged and reconstructed under Sir Harry Frankland." (See Russell F. Whitehead and P.C. Brown, eds., "Early Homes of Massachusetts". Arno Press, 1977, p. 89).

I think the Fort Sewall fortifications are significant because they were built during our period and were intended to guard against French privateers. Over the years the public (and vandals) have been prevented from entering the fortifications by means of iron bars on the windows and doors. Hence, the fortifications are in excellent condition. I looked through the bars at the separate billeting rooms for the troops and the officers. The fireplaces and most of the interior of the rooms are intact, probably much the same as they were in the 1740s.

Fort Sewall could well receive some attention in a future Louisbourg exhibit (possibly the belligerents) because it demonstrates that the New Englanders took elaborate precautions to guard against French and specifically Louisbourg attacks. Fort Sewall was constructed none, too soon for within two years of its completion in 1742, Louisbourg privateers such as Saint Martin, Doloboratz, Le Grotz, Morpain, and Beaubassin were playing havoc with New England shipping.

Edward Tyng and the Louisbourg Privateers

While in Boston I obtained a copy of the portrait of Edward Tyng. In 1740 Tyng was appointed captain of the batteries and fortifications of Boston and in the same year became captain of the provincial vessel "Prince of Orange," a snow intended to protect the coast of Massachusetts from French and Spanish privateers. In June 1744, Tyng captured Captain Doloboratz of Louisbourg and the merchants of Boston, as a sign of their appreciation, presented Tyng with a large silver cup. I have purchased a work with a photograph of this cup which is presently in the Yale University Library.

In 1745 Tyng was appointed commander of the frigate "Massachusetts" and, as senior officer in the Massachusetts Navy, he participated in the capture of Louisbourg, the taking of the "Vigilante" and the destruction of St. Ann's.

Fort La Presentation, Ogdensburg, New York, 1749-58

I also visited a number of other historic sites including Faneuil Hall, the Old Boston State House, Loyalist House, Saint John, Upper Canada Village and the site of Fort La Presentation in Ogdensburg, New York. I met with the deputy historian of Ogdensburg because they are planning to excavate the Site of Fort La Presentation next summer. Fort La Presentation was built on the St. Lawrence River during our second period, 1749-58. 1 have asked Charles Lindsay to write to the archaeologist who will be doing the work on the project and I shall be writing the city historian of Ogdensburg and supplying her with a list of secondary sources on the French regime, together with some of our material.

Recommendations for future research in New England

There is a great deal of Louisbourg material in the Massachusetts State Archives, the Pusey Library (map collection) of Harvard University and the Boston Public Library. Of course, I would also like to examine the numerous collection of 18th century books and Imprints in Houghton Library at Harvard.

Because I have relatives in the Boston area, I could undertake a future research trip to New England quite inexpensively. I did not receive any financial assistance for this trip, only five days of work time.


Ken Donovan, 
Staff Historian, 
Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park.