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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


Extracts of Matters of Historical Interest from "The Huissier, News For and About the Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff" By The Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff


(August 3, 2005)

Île Royale, 1713-1758 

By Ken Donovan

Although French fishermen had been coming to Cape Breton since the sixteenth century, the island was only permanently settled by the French after 1713. The colony of Ile Royale (which included Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island) was founded after France was defeated in the war of the Spanish Succession (1701-13). The French renamed Cape Breton, Ile Royale, and established Louisbourg as the capital of the colony. In 1717, they began to construct the fortifications at Louisbourg, the largest of its type in North America.

The French fishery in Ile Royale became highly successful. By 1720 they caught approximately 150,000 quintals of dried cod fish each year. (One quintal equals 112 pounds.) As the capital and commercial centre of the colony, Louisbourg had an economy which depended on the fishery, the military and trade. By the 1740's, Ile Royale was selling up to 40,000 quintals of cod per year in the West Indies, particularly in Saint Domingue. The colony also became a market for Caribbean products. Shiploads of sugar, molasses and rum were brought to Ile Royale and immediately re-exported, primarily to the British American Colonies. New England traded extensively with Louisbourg, providing foodstuffs and building materials and returning with cod, French manufactures and molasses. Foodstuffs and manufactured goods were also imported from France. Ile Royale’s other trading partners included Quebec and Acadia (mainland Nova Scotia).

Louisbourg’s permanent population was 633 in 1720, 813 in 1724, 1463 in 1737 and 2960 in 1752. These figures do not include totals for the garrison, fishermen or other transients who were in the colony on a seasonal basis. By the late 1750's Ile Royale’s population, including soldiers, approached 10,000 people.

Ile Royale had a stratified society which was dominated by colonial officials, officers and successful merchants, categories that were not mutually exclusive. On a descending social scale, merchants, innkeepers and artisans served the garrison, port and fishery. In Louisbourg’s newly formed society, people tended to change occupations more readily than in France but, because almost all manufactures were imported, their occupational choice was narrow. As in small French towns of the day, people of different status lived side by side.

Ile Royale also had a multicultural society as each summer migrant Basque, Norman and Breton fishermen swelled the population throughout the Island. Hundreds of Irish Catholics came to Ile Royale from Newfoundland and New England seeking religious freedom. A German-speaking, Swiss-based Karrer Regiment, composed of 150 men, also served at Louisbourg from 1722 to 1745. Finally, there were also at least 266 people enslaved in Ile Royale. Black people were the most numerous slaves but there were at least 24 aboriginals (panis) enslaved in the colony as well.