Soldiers of the Atlantic Seaboard

The Defence of Ile Royale

Life At Louisbourg

Embarkation of the régiment suisse de Karrer

Caption: Embarkation of the régiment suisse de Karrer

Being a member of the Louisbourg garrison was not particularly pleasant. The climate of Île Royale was damp and cold, and the isolated fortress was often bathed in fog. Service consisted essentially of standing guard, and there was very little to occupy the soldiers' time when they were not doing this or performing drills. As a result, they often spent their spare time building fortifications in order to earn a little bit of extra money. Since it was rarely necessary to send small detachments to Île Saint-Jean or to other small posts on Cape Breton Island, such as Port-Toulouse or Port-Dauphin, the troops hardly ever left Louisbourg. Unlike those serving elsewhere in New France, these troops rarely had an opportunity to prove what they could do on expeditions that might heighten their martial spirit. All this was very damaging to the morale of the French garrison. The Swiss, who accounted for one-fifth of the forces on Île Royale, served primarily in the town of Louisbourg itself. They had their own canteen and washhouse and lived a separate existence from the French soldiers, although there was no hostility between them. Most spoke only German, which explains their lack of social contact with French civilians or soldiers. They were also largely Protestant, which was an important factor at a time when Roman Catholicism was the only officially permitted religion in France and its colonies.

The six Compagnies franches de la Marine on Île Royale were supposed to have 60 soldiers each in 1723, but they were generally short by a total of about 20 to 30 soldiers. The shortage was most acute in 1731, when the garrison was 20 percent below its target numbers. The garrison was bolstered the following year by the arrival of reinforcements and the addition to each company of two aiguillette cadets, who were the sons of officers. In June 1724, the number of Swiss soldiers was increased to 100.

The size of the regular garrison at Louisbourg did not encourage the organization of a militia to provide assistance, and the social role which a militia might have played in the Acadian colony was of little importance. The people of Île Royale therefore showed little interest in a militia, and it was not until 1741 that two militia companies of 50 men each were established in the town of Louisbourg.

Additional Images

Sergeant and soldier of the Compagnies franches de la Marine of New France, between 1716 and 1730