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CHAPTER 6: Soldiers of the Atlantic Seaboard

The 1740s (3 pages)

Conflict, Then Mutiny at Louisbourg

Some internal problems were making themselves felt in Louisbourg, and undermining the effectiveness of the troops. While relations were reasonably good between the ordinary Swiss and French soldiers, the same was not true of their officers, who disagreed about the interpretation of the rights and privileges of the Swiss troops in Louisbourg. In addition, the exploitation of soldiers in the French garrison was worse than that in other colonies. Officers were allowed to control the money earned by ordinary soldiers, both for their regular duties and for the work they performed on the fortifications. The type of commission that the officers retained was not unknown or even illegal in eighteenth-century armies, but the abuses on Île Royale were obvious. The result was what usually happens under such conditions: with the exception of the artillery company, the entire garrison mutinied in 1744.

At dawn on December 27 of that year, drummers of the Swiss regiment suddenly sounded the assembly. The soldiers assembled in the king's bastion, and Ensign Rasser came running to demand an explanation. When he heard their complaints, he rushed to Captain Schönherr, who ordered him to see the garrison major immediately. But other drums began to beat as well! The soldiers of the Compagnies franches de la Marine were joining the Swiss. Almost the entire garrison of Louisbourg took part in the mutiny, with only the sergeants of the Compagnies franches and the Compagnie des canonniers-bombardiers remaining loyal to their oath.

The complaints of the mutineers were reasonable. The Swiss wanted better living conditions. The French made the same demand in addition to complaining about the abuses of certain officers and officials. The soldiers also wanted more wood for heating, better rations, the clothing due to recruits, and the booty to which the soldiers who had participated in the capture of Canso in May were entitled. The commissary, François Bigot, acceded to their demands, while the governor and the officers succeeded in calming the atmosphere. Order was re-established, if not discipline, and no blood was shed as a result of the mutiny, though some officers were forced at bayonet point to listen to their men's complaints! Although no violence ensued, this mutiny was the largest among the colonial troops of the Ancien Régime. Since the Swiss not only participated in the mutiny, but instigated it, the Karrer detachment was no longer assigned to Louisbourg after 1745.