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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 9, 2009)

Slavery In Louisbourg

By Ken Donovan, Historian

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has named Marie Marguerite to be a person of National Historic Significance at Louisbourg. A native of Guinea , Africa, Marie Rose had been a slave in Louisbourg for 19 years and helped to prepare the meals and raise 12 children, as well as her own child, until she was freed in 1755. After being freed, Marie married
Jean Baptiste Laurent, a Mi’kmaq, and they opened a tavern in the town. Skilled in managing a tavern, Marie was a gardener, cook and seamstress who could also knit, dye and iron clothes as well as make her own soap and preserves. The details of her inventorytell the story of a woman who had been recently freed from slavery.

Besides Marie Rose, there were another 357 slaves in Cape Breton from 1713 to 1768. The French renamed Cape Breton; the Island was known as Ile Royale from 1713 to 1758. There were 266 slaves among the French, 242 or 87 per cent of them lived in Louisbourg. Of the 266 slaves, there were 144 males, 97 females and 25 whose gender could not be determined. Most of the slaves in Ile Royale – 90 per cent – were Blacks, reflecting the colony’s close trade links with the French West Indies.

Expansion of the French Slave Trade

The founding of the colony of Ile Royale in 1713 coincided with the rapid expansion of the French slave trade. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, French merchants purchased more than a million men, women and children of African origin to be sent to the new world as slaves. By 1718 Ile Royale had become a thriving French colony, producing and exporting 150,000
quintals of dried codfish. During 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 cod sold in the West Indies, usually of poor quality, was used to feed the slaves who worked on the sugar, cotton and indigo plantations. Slaves Among the New Englanders and British The New Englanders in 1745 and the British in 1758 captured Louisbourg. At least 92 slaves served in the New England and British forces during the 1745 and 1758 sieges.Slaves remained in Louisbourg until 1768.

Slavery was Based on Race

Racism was based upon the theory of the innate differences and permanent inferiority of certain human groups Slavery depended on racial differences: it could only be applied to black and Pawnee slaves. African’s blackness was unpleasing to most Europeans. Africans were thought to be inferior. The French branded their slaves with a hot iron on the shoulder, the stomach or the fat part of the arm, much like cattle or sheep.

Slaves were illiterate

Marie Rose and her fellow Louisbourg slaves, like most slaves, were illiterate and they were not named in most of the numerous censuses that were conducted on the island. The slaves had no names except those given by their masters. The majority of slaves in Louisbourg – 246 or 92 per cent - were, like Marie Rose, domestics, performing work to support the household. They became servants, gardeners, bakers, tavern keepers, stone masons, musicians, laundry workers, soldiers, sailors, fishermen, hospital workers, ferry men, executioners and nursemaids.

At least 12 of the Cape Breton slaves including Marie Rose, came from Africa, others from the French West Indies, France, the interior of New France and New England. At any one time, slaves represented only 3 per cent of Louisbourg’s population. Louisbourg was a society with slaves, not a slave society.

In spite of evidence about these and hundreds of other slaves, the writing of the history of slavery in Cape Breton and Canada is largely an untold story. Slavery is not thought to be part of the Canadian tradition. The liberal principle of the development of individual or human rights that emerged throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has taken full root in
much of the western world and Canada is no exception. Canada takes great pride in being a multicultural nation welcoming people of all races and creeds. The study of slavery in Canada goes against the dominant image of Canada as a land of freedom. Yet there were slaves in the territory that became New France\Quebec, at least 4,000 from 1685 to 1800. Recent scholarship estimates that there were another 4,000 slaves in Canada after the French regime. Telling about Marie Marguerite Rose and slavery in Louisbourg provides a more balanced and complete interpretation of our Historic Site.

By Ken Donavan