Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 18
by Blaine Adams
French Occupation: 1749-58
The French official sent to re-establish control over the colony was Commandant Desherbiers, who arrived in June of 1749. Arrangements were soon completed with the English, who remained in the barracks while the French came ashore; the English then boarded seven of the same ships and were returned to New England.1 The original plan for reoccupation called for the soldiers to occupy the New England barracks and for the townspeople to temporarily use the barracks of the King's Bastion while waiting to move into their town houses or to go to the outposts;2 however, it was not until 1754 that the French barracks resumed its role as soldiers' quarters.
Commandant Desherbiers did not take up residence in the governor's wing of the barracks but lived in the engineer's house since there was no chief engineer at this time.3 The governor's wing was much out of repair, especially the ground floors which required new beams. Repair documents refer to the ground floor containing a council chamber, antechamber, vestibule and kitchen.4 The dining room was mentioned when a two-piece buffet with cornice and shelves was added to the room, as well as two large trestles for a buffet table. In 1750 two iron stoves were added to the wing in the perennial fight against dampness.5
There were asserted occupants of the governor's wing in the first years of reoccupation, with the king's lieutenant residing there in 1749 and the noted French geographer, Joseph Chabert, in 1750. The latter had been sent out to make readings of the stars and tides in the North American colonies, and he had built a wooden observation shack on the left flank of the King's Bastion to which he had access from the governor's balcony.6 Chabert left Louisbourg in 1751, but the new governor, M. le compte de Raymond, declined to move in. "Cest une vraye glacier," he reported, "estil n'y a aucune commodité qui puisse convenir àl'état de ma maison."7 He, too, lived in the engineer's house, and that winter the wing was occupied by some naval officers whose ship wintered at Louisbourg for fear of an attack on the colony in the spring.8
Two lists9 of occupants in the barracks in 1752 and 1753 reveal that the building was given over to both civilian and military occupation. Inevitably, personal relations were strained at such close quarters, and in May the ordonnateur wrote that a new engineer, Brécon, and his two sons, who were sub-engineers, were guilty of bad conduct. The father was living with a woman de mauvaise vie and was waiting for a second "qu'on dit veuve d'un officier Irlandois." This ménage was living in the governor's wing and even wanted to make alterations which the ordonnateur prevented.10
Other barracks residents had been forced to leave the colony, including three women "of bad life" and "plusieurs families of Irlandois qu'on aèté obligè de chaser du pays." Aside from the notorious Brécon and his sons, two captains and their families lived in the governor's wing. In the officers' quarters there were more captains with three rooms set aside for the church and occupied by the chaplain, the verger and the sacristy. Another room housed a pensioner. Some of the rooms in the soldiers' barracks were given over to officers, but most were allocated to married soldiers. One soldier was in the same room as a woman of "bad life," but she had disappeared by the time the second list was compiled in 1753. Other rooms were allotted to sailors, the school for cannoneers, and the contractor; two were set aside for the government and one was vacant. In the north wing four rooms were occupied by a Captain Benoit and his family, and the other four by a captain, an ensign and his wife who had two rooms, and a widow sans profession.
It is not possible to discern on what basis the rooms were allocated. In some instances captains had only one room while the ensign, much lower in rank, had two. A number of civilians also had rooms to themselves. As well as listing the occupants of the rooms these documents did give some interior details. The governor's wing was described as "Vaste, ben et Commode" with two rooms for the council and kitchen on the ground floor, and an office, large antechamber, bedroom, cabinet, wardroom and private staircase on the first floor and three attic rooms for servants. It was felt by the author that the wing had other advantages:
The plan for a townward entrance to the governor's wing did not materialize. The north wing was still referred to as the "Ancienne Intendance" and it was described as having eight rooms which could be turned over to the king's lieutenant for his residence, with the adjoining casemates to be used as storage areas. The rest of the building was referred to simply as the barracks. It was recommended that three rooms be set aside for the sacristy, chaplain and prison; that two be set aside for the government; and that the remaining 31 serve as officers' rooms with one room for subalterns and two for captains or married officers. This recommendation was never carried out because of the officers' reluctance to leave their town dwellings.
In the spring of 1754, a third commander was appointed to Louisbourg, Governor Augustin de Drucour, who, with his wife, took up residence in the governor's wing which had finally been readied for his occupancy. The arrival the following year of 1,050 soldiers and 62 officers of the second battalions of the Artois and Bourgogne regiments meant that all available space would be used for barracks. The north half was finally returned to its original function and was to house 324 soldiers and 2 captains. The south half, however, was left to be occupied by the government, chapel, chaplain and "Le Capitaine des portes."11 By means of rented housing near the barracks of the Queen's Bastion, all the troops were finally lodged.12 The newly arrived officers did not expect or want barracks accommodation, and the engineer Franquet complained that they were expecting to get what they had in France, forgetting that this was a place of war where they had to accept what was provided.13 The ordonnateur, Prévost, went so far as to suggest that the officers be forced to go into the quarters provided for them;14 however, as mentioned above, the army officers were much more effective than the Marine in getting their lodging suitably furnished.
Little is known about the occupation of the barracks of the King's Bastion until the second Louisbourg siege. In 1758 two additional battalions from the Combis and Volontaire étrangers regiments added 1,360 troops to the rolls and the accommodation problem must have been acute. There is some evidence that the courtyard of the bastion, along with the chapel, was turned into soldiers' quarters.
On 8 June the second siege of Louisbourg began and the building suffered severe damage from enemy artillery and mortar fire.
A second account of the fire described the scene in the building and in the yard on that disastrous morning.
Once out of the casemates the only exit from the courtyard was through the central passage also in flames and partly collapsed.
Only the governor's wing was saved from this conflagration, but the barracks as it was ceased to exist. After the surrender on 26 July, the English built a small barracks over part of the remains and seem to have occupied it until their withdrawal from Louisbourg in 1768.
In many ways the barracks building paralleled the history of the fortress. As with the plans for the fortifications which were changed and modified before construction, the barracks' plan underwent various alterations before work was begun. As with the fortress, construction suffered many delays and the final touches were made years after construction should have finished. Even then both required constant repairs, and there were serious problems with each, partly because they were designed without consideration for the special problems of Louisbourg's climate and situation. The building saw its lowest point in the 1750s after the French reeccupation, during the period of mixed civilian and military occupation, but returned to full service in its final years. When it burned during the siege it marked the beginning of the end of resistance to the English; three days later the French surrendered. The imposing barracks which had dominated the peninsula was gone.