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Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
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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 24, 2005)
What caused the 1744 mutiny? How long did it last? How many soldiers were identified and tried as ringleaders?
by Anne Marie Lane Jonah, Historian
A lot has been written about the mutiny, especially by Allan Greer and Margaret Fortier. As we try to answer questions about the mutiny we should always keep in mind that our knowledge of this is based several period documents, including a petition written by some of the soldiers, the letter written by Duchambon and Bigot just after the mutiny, and the trial records of the Karrer participants. We have a good idea of what happened, but there are contradictions among these sources, and among later interpretations, so a little caution when telling the story is wise. One thing no one says, or I have not found yet, is that there was sawdust or any other foreign matter in the bread. The soldiers’ petition from 1744 mentions rotten vegetables and fire wood specifically. In earlier years there had been complaints of bread being made with rotten flour.
In December of 1744 food from the kings’ stores were sold to the civilian population because of the food shortage. This was common practice, but it added to the soldiers’ anger because the civilians received good provisions, whereas the dried peas and beans the soldiers received were so rotten, in their opinion, as to be unfit for pigs, and eating them had caused some soldiers to be hospitalized. Soldiers who had gone out to cut wood that December to augment their inadequate supply of firewood had been stopped by officers as they returned to Louisbourg, and had their wood confiscated based on the officers’ claim that it had been cut from their land. Later testimony added complaints about the failure to distribute booty from Canso to the soldiers who served on that expedition, and the failure to issue uniforms for the 1741 recruits, whose pay had been deducted to cover uniform costs. At some point in December some of the soldiers wrote a petition regarding the rotten vegetables and firewood, and referring to other injustices,. On the night of the 26th three Karrer visited all of the troops in their barracks, organizing a protest for the following morning. Karrer troops made up the initial demonstration. They admonished the compagnies franches for not joining in, so later that morning, when the French officers came out, all of the French companies, except the artillery, had joined in.
Duchambon’s first concessions to the mutineers, which came only hours after the mutiny began, were to return wood which officers had confiscated from soldiers as stolen, pay the participants in the Canso and Annapolis expeditions rations they were owed for those periods of time, and return the uniform deductions to the soldiers recruited in 1741. These concessions did not completely answer the soldiers’ complaints or resolve the matter, but ended the state of outright mutiny. Unrest and rebellious actions continued for a few more days, during which merchants were obliged, at the point of a sword, to sell their products for low prices, and the officers were unable to restore order. Even as order slowly returned, Bigot was negotiating with Dupaquier, the Karrer who lead the mutiny, throughout the winter. Prior to the siege the soldiers were still acting in concert in as much as they were able to extract a promise of immunity from punishment prior to their participation in the siege defense.
The promise of immunity did not hold in France after the fall of Louisbourg. The Karrer were tried by their peers, and four were condemned to death. Dupaquier escaped, it was charged, with some help from his comrades. The compagnies franches soldiers tried to make good on Duchambon’s promise, but Maurepas refused to respect it. Maurepas also ordered an investigation into the conduct of the officers of Île Royale, but there is no record of action coming from that. The records did not survive of the French courts martial, but Greer concluded from the troop records that eight men were tried, five were hung, one died in prison, and two more were sentenced to the galleys.
-Anne Marie Lane Jonah August 2005