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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





Report H E 14

Fortress of Louisbourg



As has been noted previously, court martial records for the years prior to the departure of the French from Louisbourg in 1745 are scarce. However, while it is true that these missing records would probably provide good detail on the activities of the garrison's soldiers, it is unlikely that any great light would be shed on the subject of military justice in the colony. Indeed, we can, in all probability, list each case for which a Conseil de Guerre was held and its outcome. Such occurrences had to be reported to the authorities in France and would have been mentioned in the correspondence of the colony's officials. What is missing is something that the records of the Conseils de Guerre would not provide; that is, the petty crimes resulting from drunk and disorderly conduct which undoubtedly occurred in great numbers and which could be punished without recourse to a Conseil de Guerre. For these less serious infractions a soldier could be sent to prison for a number of weeks or months, be made to mount the wooden horse, or be made to pass by the baguettes solely on the authority of his captain, with the permission of the commandant. Neither the company captains nor the major seem to have been required to maintain a record of those so punished. If such records were kept they would be part of the officers' own papers and not part of the colony's official correspondence.

There are only a few instances in the available records in which the lesser punishments were mentioned. One was in a case in 1720 which should have been tried by a civil court, but was handled by the military in order to spare the victims the embarrassment of a full trial. On the night of 27 December, 15 soldiers who were in the woods cutting firewood for officers appeared at the cabane of a man named La Jeunesse and his wife. Already half drunk, the soldiers were looking for more to drink. When they arrived at the cabane, they later told Governor St. Ovide, there was a sailor in bed with the man's wife while the husband was tending the fire. They began to make jokes and insult the woman. St. Ovide wrote that he knew of the woman's bad reputation and had already asked the couple to leave the country, or at least Louisbourg. When questioned, the husband declared that only one sailor and two soldiers had really bothered his wife, and he would be satisfied if they went to prison for a period of time. Accordingly the governor ordered the two soldiers and the sailor put in the dungeon with their legs in irons, while the other soldiers were released. St. Ovide believed that the whole affair had thus ended, but found that the Admiralty had become involved and intended to try the guilty parties. The couple was sent for and questioned again by the governor in front of the major and Pére Bruno, a Récollet priest, who had brought the case to St. Ovide's attention in the first place. The three men were told that the procureur de roi, De La Forant, had forced the couple to press the case, but that they really did not wish to be exposed to a trial. Believing that "the conduct of the man and woman did not deserve such a sacrifice," St. Ovide granted their request regarding the punishment of the three men involved. The two soldiers were put in prison with their legs in irons for one month and then, on three successive days, were made to pass by the baguettes. The sailor was made to mount the wooden horse and pay a fine of 22 livres. The woman's reputation, it was noted, was "debauched but not public."[1]

Also in 1720 a soldier in De Rouville's Company was made to mount the wooden horse when, in order to buy drink, he sold new socks and
shoes given him by his captain. This case received mention because the imposition of the penalty had aroused the ire of the engineer, Verville,
who felt that soldiers/workers should not be taken from the works for such punishment without his permission. St. Ovide believed that
Verville's view would set a dangerous precedent. The soldiers, he felt, were already "too much given to debauchery"., and without doubt would
be "delighted" to think that no one had the right to punish them. [2]

In 1721 four "oxen" belonging to inhabitants of Louisbourg were shot by soldiers who were cutting firewood. St. Ovide declared that he wished all those involved in the shooting, as well as all those who had eaten the animals, be punished by passing them by the baguettes. To prevent similar incidents in the future an ordinance was issued promising the death penalty to anyone found guilty of killing "oxen, cattle, sheep or other livestock." [3]

Desertion was relatively rare at Louisbourg owing to the difficulty of escape. It was more common, and more successful, when carried out from Port Toulouse or Ile St. Jean which were so close to English territory. Some who tried died in the attempt, while others were captured and made to face the rigors of military justice. [4] The death penalty or the galleys was handed down in each of the following cases at Louisbourg, all but one involving desertion in some form or other:


Bellegrade, a soldier in De Rouville's Company, was being tried for several thefts when he escaped from prison. Because the Conseil Supérieur had not yet been established in the colony, the trial was conducted by officers of the garrison and thus more closely resembled a Conseil de Guerre than a civilian court. With Bellegrade's escape he became a deserter and was subject to military law. Accordingly, he was tried as a deserter on his recapture, and was eventually executed. The commissaire-ordonnateur, De Mézy, was upset at the way the case was handled, claiming that the officers who sat as judges were too young and inexperienced to know the ordinances of the king in such matters. However, though the minister saw fit to instruct St. Ovide on some procedural matters relative to the case, he and the Counseil de Marine upheld the sentence rendered against Bellegrade, who they felt was being tried as a deserter and a thief, and deserved the penalty he received. [5]


La Brie, a soldier in De Renon's Company, was on duty at the door of the treasurer's house when, "pour rire," he opened the window and took some dirty linen. A servant testified that she heard a noise and went outside. Finding a handkerchief on the ground, she entered the guérite where she found a packet of dirty linen belonging to her master. La Brie, who witnesses said was drunk to the point of being "out of his right mind", helped her close the window. When charges were pressed against the soldier the commissaire-ordonnateur felt that leniency should be shown because this was the man's first offence and he was drunk at the time. However, La Brie further complicated the situation by escaping from custody after stealing an êcu from a comrade imprisoned for drunkenness. When recaptured, La Brie was sentenced to be shot. De Mézy claimed that there was "a good deal of pique" involved in the verdict since four of the seven judges were related to the treasurer and two of the four witnesses were in his employ. Again the Conseil de Marine approved the sentence, observing that the accused had been on duty when he committed the crime, a time when he was not supposed to be hampered by drink from performing his duties. Also, his escape from prison had made him a deserter. [6]


Enseignes Dupont Du Vivier and Denis Bonnaventure were dispatched to capture two deserters, Etienne Nobelin dit Tourangeau of Dangeac's Company and Pierre Petit dit St. Pierre of Du Chambon's Company, whom they found at Gabarus. Tourangeau testified that he had deserted at 6 A.M. on 15 February while on guard duty because the garçon major, La Chaume, had indicated that he knew that Tourangeau was responsible for the theft of 800 nails from Daccarette's storehouse. He hid in the woods until 4 March when he met St. Pierre, who was also planning to desert because a theft he had committed had been discovered and his accomplice arrested. The two men decided to go together to Port Toulouse. Before leaving the area, St. Pierre, who lodged with a former soldier named La Chesne, went to a neighbour and asked to borrow his snowshoes. He explained he needed them to go hunting for two partridges which he had promised someone. The man got his snowshoes back when he happened to meet the two officers returning the deserters to Louisbourg. Both men had apparently been involved in other thefts, and St. Pierre even had a previous desertion, from Port Dauphin in 1718, on his record. Why he was not punished at that time was not stated, although he claimed to have deserted then due to mistreatment at the hands of Captain De Renon, who died in 1720. Both soldiers professed ignorance of the fate which awaited deserters, with St. Pierre stating that he believed that Bellegrade and La Brie had been executed because of the thefts that they had committed and their escapes from prison. Both St. Pierre and Tourangeau were sentenced to be shot. [7]


Enseigne Bonnaventure reported that while on his way back to Louisbourg from Ile St. Jean his boat was met by a canot carrying two Indians and a deserter, Michel Laugier dit Alexandre of De La Vallière's Company. The Indians reported that they had caught Laugier near Cap St. Louis. He had been in the company of another soldier, Des Rosiers, who managed to elude them. The two men had deserted on the Feast of St. Louis (25 August) and were met a couple of days later near Gabarus by another soldier of De La Vallière's Company, Jean Vigneau dit Desour; who was cutting wood in that area. He tried to convince them to return but they said it was too late for that. They asked him to deliver a letter to Sergeant Loppinot requesting him to distribute the belongings they had left behind to certain comrades. Not wishing to cause trouble for their messenger, they dated the letter 24 August, the day before their departure. When questioned, Laugier declared that he had no complaints to make against his officers, but he was unhappy with his treatment by the sergeants, corporals and other soldiers. He complained that the men insulted him and the corporal did nothing to stop them. He had not sought the help of the major or governor, he said, because if he had, he would never have dared return to the company. When asked if he was aware of the penalty for desertion, Laugier answered that he did not believe that soldiers were punished for desertion on Ile Royale; a serious error on his part, since he was sentenced to be shot on the glacis of the Place D'Armes.[8]


In January 1729, St. Ovide wrote that a soldier in De La Vallière's Company had deserted from the garrison at Port Toulouse. His life had been spared through the intercession of the English governor of Acadia, a favor St. Ovide could not refuse because Governor Philipps had granted a similar request in 1724. It would appear, however, that the soldier was still discontented since he attempted to desert again later in 1729. On this occasion he compounded his error by seeking to convince some of his comrades to join him. He was arrested and brought before a Conseil de Guerre. In June 1730, it was reported that the soldier, Barthélémy Faide dit Lavolonté, had been sentenced to be shot. [9]


Seven members of De Games' Company, one from Dangeac's and one Swiss deserted together from Louisbourg in a shallop. Two officers, Beaubassin and Du Vivier, with 11 men each, were sent to search for them. Beaubassin headed toward Niganiche, while Du Vivier set off for Port Toulouse. Beaubassin and his detachment followed the deserters to L'Indieme where they had abandoned their shallop and taken to land. After some days searching in dense woods, Beaubassin arrested two or three, while another surrendered by himself at Louisbourg. (Although the documents are contradictory about how it came to pass, it does appear that a total of four of the deserters were arrested). A second search party was sent to the area because of the fear expressed by people involved in various forms of commerce along the coast that they might be set upon by the remaining deserters and their boats taken. This second detachment searched the woods for seven or eight days without success before returning to Louisbourg. The five remaining deserters were assumed to have made it to English territory or to have succumbed to hunger and the "venomous flies" with which the woods abounded. In any event, they were never found. One of the four caught was sentenced to death, while two went to the galleys and one was acquitted. [10]

The soldier who was acquitted apparently returned to Louisbourg on his own. This turned out to be a fortunate move on his part since his family had bought his release from the service for 150 livres. His involvement in the desertion held up, but did not prevent, his departure from the Compagnies Franches. [11]


A soldier in Rousseau De Souvigny's Company with the appropriate nom de guerre of Le Terreur was condemned to the galleys for life after taking a gun into the corps de garde and making a "show of using it against a sergeant." [12]

Decisions did not always go against the soldier, even in cases of desertion. In 1735 four soldiers attempted to desert from the garrison at Ile St. Jean but were stopped by Captain De Pensens. Governor St. Ovide decided not to punish them, hoping to turn them into good soldiers "by kindness." He noted that their living conditions on the island were terrible, and he stated that the soldiers deserted because they felt that they were attached to the Ile St. Jean post with no hope of ever leaving. They regarded themselves, the governor said, as "true galley slaves." The temptation to escape to English territory, such an invitingly short distance away, proved too much for many men under the circumstances. It was for this reason that St. Ovide decided to offer the soldiers sent to the outposts the opportunity to return to Louisbourg at the end of each year. [13]

In 1736 Joseph Legand dit Picard was tried by a Conseil de Guerre at Louisbourg and acquitted. Legand was recruited for the colony in Paris by Louis Loppinot La Fresilière in 1732, when he was only 15 or 16 years old. In Ile Royale he became a member of D'Ailleboust's Company and, because of his poor health, was a member of the guard. Repeated bouts of scurvy kept him confined to hospital so often that his captain sought to have him discharged from the service. Legand, however, pleaded with D'Ailleboust, declaring that if he were discharged he would have no way to earn a living. D'Ailleboust relented and permitted him to spend several months in hospital seeking a cure. By the spring of 1734 there was no improvement in his condition so D'Ailleboust authorized a congé limité for him to go to France for medical attention. [14]

Legand left Louisbourg with three other sick soldiers in the charge of Sergeant Vallée. The official at Rochefort to whom Vallée took the four men was unsympathetic to their plight, believing that sick soldiers were more of a drain on the king than they were worth. Instead of authorizing their admission to hospital, he simply let them go. With no official discharge and no funds, the four were on their own, penniless. As he proceeded towards Paris from Rochefort, Legand sold pieces of his uniform in order to get money to live. In Paris he went to the Hôpital St. Germain where he spent two nights. When forced to leave there, he set off to find a captain with whom he might enlist, since he believed himself free of his obligations to the Ile Royale garrison. Brought by a soldier of the Gardes Françoise to Comte de Choiseul, Legand joined the infantry, receiving 30 livres for enlisting. During the next several months Legand travelled with his unit and, though sick most of the time, did his duty. Finally, he was forced to ask his captain to allow him to enter a hospital. While there, he received a letter from an acquaintance telling him he was listed as a deserter from Ile Royale. Legand was eventually arrested and returned to Louisbourg for trial. Witnesses verified that he had not wanted to go to France in the first place and did not want to separate from his company. Though in his conclusion the major found Legand guilty of desertion and asked for him to be executed, the members of the Conseil de Guerre declared him innocent and ordered him returned to his company, which was then in garrison at the Royal Battery. [15 ]

In 1739 a soldier who had been on sentry duty at the powder magazine and a Karrer sergeant were absolved of any blame when two civilian prisoners, probably held in the barracks of the Demi-Bastion Dauphin, escaped custody. The soldier had had the prisoners as part of his conseigne while on duty at the magazine, and the sergeant had opened the door to allow the mother of one of the prisoners and some other relatives in for a visit. The sergeant, of course, was tried by a Swiss Conseil de Guerre.[16] And, in 1740, Joseph Tremigon dit St. Joseph was declared innocent of desertion. He was instead given his discharge from the service due to several "attaques de folie."[17]

On occasion, cases were settled before a Conseil de Guerre could be held. In June 1734, for example, it was reported that a soldier of the Ile Royale garrison - Barthélémy Guillemon dit La Jeunesse or Lionnais - was being held in France for desertion and would be sent back to the colony for trial. Two months later, however, it was discovered that the man's name, though it had not appeared on the role of discharged soldiers sent from Ile Royale that year, was included on the role for the previous year. Accordingly, the minister authorized his release from prison and his return to St. Etienne, where he had been arrested, from Rochefort. [18]

In a rather unusual case Bourville asked direction from the minister regarding a soldier who had deserted in 1738 at the instigation of an Indian named Petit Jean who wished the man to marry his daughter. The soldier was arrested, Bourville reported, but proceedings against him had been delayed "at the request the said savages made to him through their missionary ...." The minister's reply and the soldiers fate are unknown. [19]

On at least three occasions, soldiers deserted the garrison by boarding ships which were leaving Louisbourg harbour. In 1722 Jean Marol dit Saintange apparently did so unwittingly. Having gone aboard the Pontefaix to deliver some letters he fell asleep and did not hear the anchor being raised. He was discovered three hours out of Louisbourg, and, it would seem, was eventually returned. [20] Later that same year a soldier in Ste. Marie's Company deserted on a ship bound for Martinique. Bourville requested that the ship's captain be punished because he had permitted the same sort of thing to happen on another occasion. [21] The largest desertion by ship occurred in November 1744 when ten soldiers departed on a Compagnie des Indes ship. It was charged that the deserters had been encouraged by the ship's officers. The minister responded by ordering a search to be conducted in the Orient for the deserters. He also wanted the ship's officers punished and all soldiers prohibited from boarding company ships without the express permission of the commanding officer. [22]

By far the most serious military crime committed at Louisbourg was the mutiny which took place in December of 1744. The events of those days are well documented. [23] What must be remembered is that regardless of how much sympathy the cause of the soldiers might elicit, the authorities had no alternative but to punish the ring leaders for their part in the affair. The ordinances were quite clear: anyone guilty of inciting or participating in a mutiny, threatening an officer or taking part in an unauthorized assembly was to be punished with death. The surprising thing is not that some were executed, but that so few were, especially in view of the minister's belief that the mutiny was one of the prime causes for the fall of the fortress to the New England troops. To maintain military discipline, examples had to be set. No matter how much justification there was for the soldiers' actions, such an event could not go unpunished. [24]

Because virtually the entire garrison had been involved in the mutiny, the authorities realized that example was indeed the most they could hope for. It was urged that the trials be swift to allay the fears of the rest of the Ile Royale troops, who in late 1745 and 1746 were deserting from Rochefort en masse, that further reprisals would be forthcoming. [25] The minister also wrote that although the warrants for the trials of the mutiny's leaders covered only their revolt, the grievances of the soldiers, including complaints against officers, should be taken in evidence. [26] However, the officers were of a privileged class and, more importantly, it was not good for military discipline to have the officers held up to public criticism or ridicule, so the minister urged that the character of the officers be protected as much as possible during the trials to prevent their appearing in a bad light before the soldiers and the public. The king, he said, would deal privately with any misconduct on the part of Lpuisbourg's officers. [27]

The mutiny of the garrison in 1744 has been largely responsible for the view of the average soldier in Louisbourg as ill fed, poorly housed and generally oppressed. Things must have been terrible, the argument runs, because the soldiers mutinied. Why would they have risked hanging if this had not been a terrible sore festering for years? With the details of the mutiny firmly imprinted on our minds, we have worked backward looking for causes. At first it was the squalid conditions in which the men were forced to live. Then it was the economic repression of the captains. It is probable, however, that neither one was ultimately responsible for stirring the troops to mutiny in 1744. Rather than being a culmination of years of suffering, the mutiny was more a reaction to conditions which existed for the first time in 1744 and which seemed destined to continue for the foreseeable future.

The soldiers' living conditions were not good, but as Allan Greer has stated, they were probably no worse than those of any soldier of the day, and in many ways they were a good deal better. Undoubtedly there was exploitation by the officers of the men under their command, as he has charged, but there is ample evidence to suggest that the soldiers had - or could have had - money and a standard of life not so very different from the civilian members of the class to which they belonged. They were able to earn good wages working on the fortifications, wages which they and the officials in the colony often indicated were sought with eagerness for the comforts, alcoholic and otherwise, which they could buy. It certainly does not seem that all their wages went to the captains for drink or needed supplies. And, while there probably were some soldiers who spent every penny they earned on drink, there is every reason to believe that most soldiers retained enough to frequent local cabarets for food as well as drink, and to buy a wide assortment of goods. It could be misleading to say that the soldiers of the Louisbourg garrison were spoiled, but, in a sense they were.

Then why the mutiny? Several factors combined to render the situation in which the soldiers found themselves in the fall and winter of 1744 different from their previous experience. Some of these factors were related to the state of war which then existed, while others stemmed from the fact that the fortress was now almost completed. The large construction projects which had kept the men supplied with money and virtually free of military obligations were coming to an end. Almost all the Karrer troops and a majority of the Compagnies Franches had worked on the fortifications each work season for approximately 20 years. The Swiss in particular were very keen to work, as opposed to performing guard duty in Louisbourg or at its outposts. The only major project scheduled for 1745 was the repair of the battery of the Demi-Bastion Dauphin. The prospects for earning money the next year were not good.

Heretofore during the winter months as much as 2/3 of the garrison would winter in the woods working for the entrepreneur or performing some job for an officer or civilian. The threat of an attack, however, had made it necessary to keep most of the troops in the fortress for the winter. This meant that not only were the soldiers unable to earn as much money as usual during this season, but also that the men, used to their freedom from authority during the winter months, were suddenly forced to live within the system, performing military duties and sharing crowded quarters. Indeed, the barracks was probably more crowded than it had ever been since few were working outside the walls, and most of the troops from the outposts had been recalled.

The ban on discharges for the duration of the war must have contributed to the discontent of the soldiers, especially the Swiss. Enlistments in the Karrer Regiment were for six years. The French, for the most part, had lifetime engagements, but there ordinarily were discharges each year due to age, seniority or ill health. In 1744, therefore, there were a number of Karrer soldiers - maybe 20 or more who were not going home on schedule, and there were some French being detained in the colony as well. They could not go home, they could not earn money or look forward to much improvement in the spring, and they were forced to live in conditions which, while normal for any other garrison, were unusual for the one in Louisbourg.

Nor would the soldiers who stood guard, though used to military discipline and spending the winter in the fortress, have been without feelings of frustration. Besides their military pay, they received a percentage of the soldiers/workers pay. The less the workers earned, the less the guard received. When the guard was small - in the 20s and early 30s - its soldiers did very well, sometimes making more than the workers. When the guard was enlarged with the establishment of the Dauphin guardhouse, roughly the same amount of money had to be split among a greater number of soldiers standing guard. Then the Queen's guardhouse was opened causing another reduction in their pay as the guard was again enlarged. Now in 1744 there were two new guardhouses established more soldiers standing guard with a prospect of much less money to be divided up among them.

Morale among the troops must have been at an all time low in Louisbourg in 1744; the desertion of ten soldiers on board the Compagnie des Indes ship in November may have been an indication of this. Life in the military in the 18th century was a hard one for a soldier and Louisbourg's climate and isolation could only have aggravated the situation. But Ile Royale's soldiers had been able to ease their lot by earning above average wages and enjoying an unusual amount of freedom. Now, as the winter of 1744 set in, all that had changed. The feelings of frustration on the part of the troops would have caused legitimate gripes such as the distribution of rotten vegetables to become more important than they might have seemed on other occasions. Loss of the promised loot from the raid on Canso would have become extremely important to men who found that they were not to have their accustomed income.

The Karrer Regiment had been the center of controversy on several occasions. It is quite possible that they had assumed this "protest" would be resolved peacefully, as their other complaints had been. This time, however, their frustrations and grievances were shared by the Compagnies Franches troops, many of whom were experiencing their first winter as "real" soldiers. These men may have felt that, whatever the risk, they could not remain soldiers under the existing conditions. The result was a full scale mutiny for which eight men were executed.