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Report 1902: A Quick Scamper Round Nova Scotia

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2010

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Page 6 of 16: Military Life in the Fortress

photo by Michael

In the tavern

The Governor lived in private apartments in a corner of the Kings Bastion next to the chapel, with his own garden and dove cot. He was the the King’s representative, overseeing the management of the garrison and the condition of the fortifications. He presided over diplomatic relations with New England and the Mi’Kmaq.

The Commissionaire Ordonnateur was the second most important official and lived in a large house near the quay, where he could watch the movement of all shipping. He controlled the treasury, trade and finance and was responsible for all provisioning of the Fortress. He encouraged local food production and the development of coal mining. He also presided over the court of appeal in an ornate room below the Governor’s apartments.

He was a member of the lesser nobility and appointment depended on who you knew. The Commissionaire Ordonnateur in 1744 had arrived with nine servants and several horses. Additional daily staff could be hired on arrival in Louisbourg and many wealthy people employed slaves. He had 29 administrative staff under him and was given a stipend to cover his entertaining.

All goods had to be imported from France and the colony was not allowed to make or produce anything for sale. This was regarded as a treasonable offense (stealing from the King) and offenders could be shot. The Commissionaire Ordonnateur could apply for a dispensation to allow for the import of certain essentials like Boston Boards (hardwood planks needed to protect masonry from the weather).

The Engineer was next in importance. He was a trained architect and responsible for the layout of the Fortress and the defensive tactics to defend it. The Engineer in 1744 had come from a previous posting in Asia and stopped for 20 years. (He preferred being a big fish in little pond). He brought four servants and had two assistant engineers and two copiers (secretaries).

He was responsible for the decision not to destroy the guns and the Fortress in the 1745 siege when it fell into the hands of the New English attackers.

The life of a soldier was not easy. Private soldiers were the poorest of the poor and were recruited off the streets of France. They had a low status. They were usually very young, small, poorly nourished and many were illiterate. They could not advance beyond the rank of sergeant and had little chance of marriage. Originally they signed on for life but later it was for a period of six years. They could only gain a discharge if they had no debts.

They were paid nine levres a month but were permanently in debt. Their wages were paid directly to the officers. Seventy-five percent of their wage was needed to pay for lodgings and uniform and they were forced to buy in the military canteens. They received the balance of their wage at the year end when there was often nothing left.

The ordinary soldiers were not well looked after and had little, if any, respect for the officers. The risk of mutiny was never far off.

Drummers and Pipers had different uniforms. There was a tradition they were never shot at in battle, so it was regarded as a much more desirable job than that of an ordinary soldier. They did a circuit of the town every day to warn of guard change.

Six hundred soldiers were needed to provide labour when building the Fortress. They got paid extra for this and could earn more per day than on guard duty. The able bodied worked as labourers and paid others to do their guard duty for them.

They spent 24 hours on duty with 48 hours off when they were free to drink, labour, go fishing or hunting to supplement their rations. They hunted small game (rabbit, squirrel, partridge and other birds) to eke out their rations. They foraged for berries, shellfish and sea bird eggs.

Guard duty was divided into three 8 hour shifts. One was spent on guard, one resting and one on other duties. They lived in barracks sleeping three to a bed, although one person was usually on duty. Beds had a wooden base with straw mattress which were changed every six to eight months.

The daily ration was 4oz salt meat and 4oz vegetables (usually dried peas) with 6lb loaf of bread (rye and wheat) every four days. Meat not eaten on Friday and Saturdays.

Each man got an armful of wood each day. Priority was for cooking. Heating was a bonus.

Rations were pooled and one person did the cooking, usually a thick soup containing everything. They used to share out the bread ration so that they ate fresh bread each day as it didn’t keep well.

The bread was produced in the King’s Bakery which baked 300 loaves a day and 600 on Saturdays. Wood needed to fire the ovens had to be chosen carefully as leavening agents were unstable and any delay in firing the oven could ruin the bread.

The usual drink was spruce beer, brewed to a native recipe using the tender tips of spruce and the monthly ration of molasses. It had a high ascorbic acid content, so helping to prevent scurvy.

Much of their free time was spent in taverns and there were frequent fights. Soldiers were punished by the military court and sentenced to sit astride a ‘wooden horse’ with their legs weighted down and hands bound.

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