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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


(July 15, 2003)

Prisoners on Parole


Sandy Balcom, Historian

During the summer of 1744, Louisbourg “hosted” several hundred English prisoners taken in the late-May attack on Canso or on board prizes made by the town’s privateers. As prisoners of war, the prisoners were the responsibility of the French government, and the unexpected influx created headaches for Louisbourg officials in terms of housing, rations and security.

The extent to which prisoners may have been confined in the prison or casemates it not known, but officials also rented at least three private warehouses to hold them, including that of Town Major Eurry de la Perelle. Louisbourg’s isolated location made escape unlikely. The slim chance of a concealed departure on a French vessel was further restricted in mid-August with the stopping of coastal trade into the port to prevent possible captures by New England privateers.

The limited need for rigorous confinement seems to have given even common prisoners some measure of mobility in the town. For example, Thomas Tipple, a private from the Canso garrison, was recruited into Joannis d’Olobaratz’ privateer le Cantabre while drinking in a tavern. When he subsequently repented his action, he had no problem in re-entering and leaving the “prison” in a bid to revoke his enlistment.

Officers and gentlemen were naturally a different class of prisoner altogether. Upon receipt of their word (known as a parole) these prisoners could seek private accommodation in the town and enjoy relative freedom of movement. Typically, prisoners on parole had to promise not to try to escape before being exchanged and not to act against the interests of the king holding them. Governor Shirley noted that the officers held at Louisbourg “live at their own Expence”. For an example of a parole, see the attached transcript of a parole from 1757 for a French officer given a conditional release to go from Boston to Louisbourg.

After thirty years of trade with New England the general situation and condition of Louisbourg’s defences was well known to the English. Yet in the fall of 1745, Governor Shirley obtained the most recent news on Louisbourg’s fortifications and garrison from several returning prisoners, including Lieutenant John Bradstreet of the Canso garrison and Lieutenant George Ryall of the Royal Navy detachment that had over-wintered at Canso.

Ryall’s Louisbourg experience shows that prisoners were expected to respect the conditions of their parole. Shortly after his arrival in the town, a valuable Companies des Indes vessel arrived in port. Learning that six more vessels were expected, Ryall determined to smuggle the news to Governor Shirley at Boston and to Annapolis Royal. “But by the Infidelity of the person [he] brib’d”, Ryall’s letters were delivered to Governor Duquesnel instead. Ryall was then put in prison and “used Ill till the time [he] Came away” as part of the September prisoner exchanges with Boston. Seemingly undaunted by his stay in prison (or perhaps inspired by it) Ryall reported that he “brought home a draft of the Harbour Town and Coast.”

An example of a parole found in the Admiralty Papers of the Public Record Office:

I the Count Roberent Do hereby acknowledge myself to be a Prisoner of War to His Britannic Majesty Returning to Louisbourg on my Parole of which Parole I promise the strictest observance, and Declare that I will not Act Directly or Indirectly against His Britannic Majesty or His Allies until I am properly Exchanged as a Prisoner of War.

Given to His Excellency Governor Pownall in Boston New England November 7th 1757.

Le Comte derobierent [signed]

Cap. Au regt. de Löwendal