The Fortress Louisbourg Association
and Parks Canada
Rebecca Duggan and Dr. Bruce
Fry (Fortress of Louisbourg)
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada
Louisbourg Public Archaeology Program provides a unique opportunity
for archaeology enthusiasts to join supervised digs at the Fortress
of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada. The 2012 season will
focus on field study at the De la Valliere property which was occupied
by French, British and New Englanders between 1720 and 1758. The program
will consist of two 5-day field sessions in early-mid August. During
each session, a crew of 10-12 participants will excavate a portion of
the De la Valliere property, learn about archaeological field and lab
techniques, and attend presentations addressing current historical research
at the Fortress. Although the crew will spend much of their time with
trowels in hand, there will be ample opportunity for experiencing the
sites and sounds of Fortress Louisbourg and exploring the rugged Cape
was a large French settlement founded in 1713, fortified in the 1730s,
besieged twice by New Englanders and the British, and finally demolished
and abandoned by the British in the 1760s. Relatively untouched since
the fall of the Fortress, the remnants of the colonial settlement have
survived the centuries in a remarkable state of preservation.
archaeological excavations and historical research in the mid-twentieth
century guided partial reconstruction of the fortified town and defensive
walls. Approximately 25 percent of the Fortress has been brought to
life and stands as the largest reconstruction project in North America.
Three decades of archaeological and archival research has produced a
staggering amount of information about eighteenth century colonial life
at Louisbourg, but there’s much more to discover! The Louisbourg
Public Archaeology Program is a great opportunity to unearth the past.
† Note that the program can be personalized
for individuals who would prefer to participate in field and lab activities
other than excavation. Please contact
us for more information.
Archaeological Time Period:
Eighteenth century French colonial
August 20, 2012-August 24, 2012
August 27, 2012-August 31, 2012
June 30, 2012
12 participants per session
$650.00 Cdn per person per 5-day
Cost includes program fees (training, equipment, morning
presentations, supervision), on-site meals Monday-Friday, and daily
transportation between the Fortress site and the Visitor's Centre.
1. Roskams, Steve. 2001. Excavation. Cambridge
2. Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. 2004. Archaeology.
Thames and Hudson Ltd.
3. Fry, Bruce W. 1984. An Appearance of Strength.
Research Publications, Parks Canada.
The 2008 excavations will take place
at the De la Valliére Property; located in the northwest corner
(Lot D) of Town Block # 16. The De la Valliére Property, so
named because of the De la Valliére family's long occupation
of Lot D, was continuously occupied between 1720 and 1768. An overview
of this property's history is provided here
When the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) established British
control of mainland Nova Scotia and confirmed British title to Newfoundland,
the French moved to Ile Royale (Cape Breton Island). The colony of Ile
Royale included the islands of Ile Royale and Ile Saint Jean (Prince
Edward Island). Ile Royale, particularly Louisbourg, was intended to
replace Placentia, Newfoundland, as the headquarters for the fishery
and serve as a haven for trading ships. By
1718 Ile Royale had become a thriving French colony, producing and exporting
150,000 quintals of dried codfish. (One quintal equals approximately
50 kilograms). Migrants and residents, fishing from Louisbourg and other
ports in eastern Ile Royale, practised an inshore boat fishery. Throughout
the 1720s and 1730s production of cod ranged between 120,000 and 160,000
quintals annually. Ile Royale cod production in the first half of the
18th century accounted for one-third of all the cod caught by the French
in North American waters.
became a major entrepot. Much of Ile Royale’s fish was marketed
in Europe and the Caribbean. By the 1740s Ile Royale was selling up
to 40,000 quintals of cod per year in the West Indies, particularly
in Saint Domingue. The colony also became a market for Caribbean products.
Shiploads of sugar, molasses and rum were brought to Ile Royale and
immediately re-exported, primarily to the British American colonies.
So extensive was the trade in rum and molasses that, by the 1750s, the
value of Ile Royale sugar products rivalled the value of the colony’s
codfish production. Louisbourg started out as a simple base for
the cod fishery but as the town prospered Louisbourg developed into
one of the most important ports in New France. By the 1730's more than
150 ships were sailing into Louisbourg, making it one of the busiest
seaports in North America. By the 1740's Louisbourg’s full- time
population ranged from 2500 to 3000.
its economic and commercial importance, Louisbourg was the capital and
administrative centre of Ile Royale. By 1734 the town was basically
completed. Fishing properties, most with landing stages, drying platforms,
and a few buildings surrounded the harbour. As in small French towns
of the day, people of different status lived side by side. In Louisbourg
regional backgrounds were unusually diverse. Most of the women had been
born in the New World; the majority of the men were from western France,
but all French provinces and other European countries were represented
the same time, Louisbourg became the main French military stronghold
in the Atlantic region. Begun
in 1717, Louisbourg's massive fortifications, were based on the geometric
style of Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), the chief engineer
of Louis XIV. As a fortress, Louisbourg resembled a European
fortified town: it was enclosed by walls and had batteries and outer
works. In North American terms, this fortified town ranked among the
most heavily defended on the continent. Although
intended to resist attack from the sea, Louisbourg was twice attacked
from the rear where its defences were vulnerable. The town surrendered
to a combined force of 4,000 New Englanders and British in 1745. Louisbourg’s
citizens were deported to France and the town was occupied by an enemy
army. Four years later, after the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle
(1748) gave Ile Royale back to France, the French returned to Louisbourg. Nine
years later, Louisbourg again surrendered to a combined British force
of 30,000 men in 1758. In both sieges Louisbourg put up a spirited defence
against superior forces during a six-week period. Louisbourg held out
as long as Vauban had calculated that his fortresses could withstand
a massive assault. Ultimately, whoever controlled the seas and supply
lines would gain victory in siege warfare. Once more, the French soldiers
and settlers were sent back to France. With Louisbourg eliminated as
a strategic force and navel base, the British moved on to conquer Quebec
(1759) and Montreal (1760). The Treaty of Paris in 1763 established
that New France had become part of British America. The
fall of New France spelled the end of Louisbourg as a fortified town.
The once formidable bastion of New France faded quickly from the world
scene. The British systematically demolished its fortifications in 1760
and withdrew the last of their garrisons in 1768. For the next century,
Louisbourg was little more than an isolated fishing village, remarkable
for its “heaps of stones” - the ruins of what had once been
historic 18th-century Louisbourg. In 1961 the federal government
began the project for the partial reconstruction of 18th-century
Louisbourg in order to provide work for unemployed coal miners and to
stimulate the Cape Breton economy. The Fortress of Louisbourg National
Historic Site has over 60 reconstructed buildings together with massive
fortification walls in Canada’s most ambitious attempt at preserving
its history. There are buildings furnished to period presented by costumed
interpreters as well as exhibits, guided tours, period restaurants,
a bakery and gift shops.
Society -- Louisbourg was a community
where European traditions blended with North American opportunities.
The society was stratified, dominated by colonial officials, officers,
and successful merchants, categories that were not mutually exclusive.
On a descending social scale, merchants, innkeepers, and artisans served
the garrison, port and fishery. The heavy commercial orientation of
Louisbourg, combined with the absence of any higher clergy and the relatively
small number of lesser nobility, fostered a society in which the wealthiest
and most prestigious members of the community were able to move easily
into the town's highest social circles. Merchants, financiers and senior
civil servants socialized with the governors and military officers,
and they often married into their families.
Though the situation in Louisbourg was more open than
that in France, with much greater room for upward social mobility based
on wealth, such things as birth, background and grace remained of paramount
importance. The elite of colonial society shared the same desire for
status and the ability to display proper rank that characterized their
counterparts in France. These desires manifested themselves in the costumes
they wore, how they furnished their houses, where they sat in church
and how they carried themselves in public. Below the Louisbourg elite
on the social scale were the less prosperous or less well-born merchants,
junior civil servants and wealthy fishing proprietors. Beneath them
were the small shop-owners, artisans, inn and tavern keepers. On the
bottom rung of the social ladder stood the fishermen, soldiers, servants
The people -- Louisbourg society
consisted of men, women and children, with males largely outnumbering
females. Among the fishing population, they were typically from either
the Norman/Breton coastline along the Gulf of St-Malo or the Basque
region of southwest France. Looking at census data on heads of households,
eighty percent of the men were from France. A clear majority of the
brides, on the other hand, were colonial-born (Newfoundland, the St.
Lawrence Valley, Acadia, or Ile Royale). In addition to the French population,
the Louisbourg community included a few hundred Germans, hundreds of
Irish Catholics from Newfoundland and New England, people of Spanish,
English and Scottish origins, and 266 slaves. Ninety percent of the
slaves were of African descent and there were also 23 Panis
slaves, a term derived from the Caddoan tribes of the Great Plains.
As for religion, the population was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, yet
there were more than a few Protestants, especially during the 1730s
and 1740s when the Swiss Karrer Regiment was in garrison. The mercenary
Karrer Regiment composed of 150 men, served at Louisbourg from 1722
to 1745. For language, there were many in the fishery who spoke Basque,
and perhaps others who used Breton. Among the soldiers -- again during
the 1730s and 1740s -- there were a lot of German and Swiss-German speakers.
In the 1750s Spanish was probably the most common "second"
language in the garrison. All in all, French stronghold that it was,
the seaport community of 18th century Louisbourg was home to a wide
range of minority populations. Some differed from the majority in terms
of ethnicity, others in religion, and still others in terms of language.
Like all fortified towns in the 18th century, Louisbourg
required a large garrison to secure its gates and guardhouses and to
patrol the streets and walls. During the 1740s soldiers comprised about
one-quarter of the town's total population; in the 1750s the figure
may have been as high as one-half. The sizeable military presence undoubtedly
left its mark on the civilian inhabitants.
Virtually wherever one went in the town one would
have either seen or heard activities which told you that you were in
a fortified place, whether it was sentries posted in front of various
King's buildings, or detachments of soldiers moving through the streets
or the almost hourly use of drums. The many garrison routines, together
with the impressive fortifications surrounding the town, must have given
a feeling of order and security to all who lived here.
Town Planning and Architecture:
When the first settlers arrived at Louisbourg (then
known as Havre à l'Anglois) in 1713, they were allowed to establish
themselves wherever they wanted along the shore. Using local wood and
other materials, the first houses and buildings were built piquet
style (that is, with upright timbers closely spaced), as it was a quick
and simple construction technique with which the inhabitants had been
familiar in Placentia.
Once Louisbourg was selected to become the administrative centre for
Ile Royale, however, the town was no longer left to develop as its inhabitants
chose. Rather, a carefully laid out town plan (with 45 blocks) was drawn
up for the settlement. To carry out the plan it became necessary to
relocate many of the early settlers who had built homes along the quay.
Not many suffered in the move because most received larger lots to compensate
them for the cost and inconvenience of relocation. In a few cases, exceptions
were made allowing people to maintain properties outside of the regular
The buildings of 18th century Louisbourg fell into
two main categories: those constructed at royal expense and those built
by private individuals. As a general rule, the structures erected with
royal funds were more substantial and more expensive than private dwellings.
Rubblestone walls, slate roofs, ornamental fleurs-de-lis and cutstone
quoins and surrounds were all indicators of a King's building. Private
residences and storehouses were less imposing structures. Shelter from
the elements was their prime concern, though for those who could afford
it, status, privacy and security were also considerations.
The Monetary System:
In the 18th century, France's monetary system was
based on the livre. The livre was a theoretical value
since there was no single coin called by that name or worth that much.
In comparison with contemporary English currency, the livre
was the equivalent of a shilling. The livre was divided into
sols and deniers, as follows: 20 sols in
one livre, 12 deniers in one sol, therefore
240 deniers in one livre.
There were coins for various values of sols
and deniers. And, of course, there were many coins for values
in excess of one livre, such as the écu and
Unlike the colonists in Canada, where card and paper
money were often used, the inhabitants of Louisbourg generally paid
for goods and services with specie (coins) or barter. In addition to
French coins, Spanish and Portueguese coins also had a wide circulation
Cost of goods - Here are some items, taken
from a 1737 import list: fisherman's boots (one pair) 15 livres;
wood blanket 12 livres; butter (1 lb.) 10 sols; wine
(1 bottle, Bordeaux) 1 livre; horse (1) 300 livres;
chicken (1) 1 livre; musket (1) 25 livres; armchair
(1, well-finished) 80 livres.
Note that 5 livres represented approximately two days wages
for a fisherman. And, during the period 1713-1758, the expenditure on
Louisbourg's fortifications was slightly over four million livres.
Salaries and wages - Here are a few sample
annual incomes: Commandant 9000 livres; Company Captains 1080
livres; Surgeon 600 livres; Executioner 350 livres;
Fisherman (out to sea) 290-300 livres; Shoreworkers 160-360
livres; Servants 30-60 livres; Soldiers (Military
pay) 18 livres.