|Compagnies Franches de la Marine|
Celebrating Québec City's 400th Anniversary
The Compagnies Franches de la Marine was the main organization for the defence of New France from 1683 to 1755. In 1683, the Naval Department of France began using the Compagnies to defend the fur trade and the local civilians. They were superseded by the arrival of large units of the army under Montcalm in 1756. The Compagnies ceased to exist in Canada after the fall of Montreal in 1760. In 1992 the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve revived the Compagnies as a historical re-enactment unit which has toured the country.
The first force bearing the name Compagnies Franches de la Marine was created in 1622 on the orders of Cardinal Richelieu. Its mission was to protect French warships. By 1674, it became clear that the forces onboard ships were not capable of defending the French colonies, and so another force was created with that specific mission in mind. This force was also called the Compagnies Franches de la Marine.
When Governor Joseph-Antoine Le Febvre de La Barre took over leadership of New France in 1682, he soon learned that the colony did not have the forces to defend itself from potential attack by the Iroquois or other potential enemies. He quickly submitted a formal request for troops from the mainland. In 1683, the Naval Department of France sent the first three Compagnies Franches de la Marine to New France. Their main mission was to defend the colonists and prevent disruption of the fur trade. By the following year, the Compagnies had become a separate military force independent of regular branches of the French military. The colony was also defended by militia. The force expanded by 1757 to 40 companies of 65 men scattered across the various settlements in New France. Some 24 companies were also stationed in Ile Royale, principally at the Fortress of Louisbourg, and another 36 in Louisiana in the mid-1750s. A few companies were previously stationed in Placentia (Newfoundland) and Acadia. The Compagnies were varied in their makeup, and it was not until 1757 that their organization was standardized. Each Compagnie was led by a Captain whose name was used to refer to it. Other officer and petty officers in each Compagnie after the 1757 standardization included a lieutenant, two ensigns, two sergeants, and three corporals as well as two drummers and two cadets who would later be eligible for officer positions. These troops originally were recruited from the French mainland from among males sixteen years and older who were at least 5'5" tall. After 1687, the officers were recruited from the population of New France itself. However, throughout their history the Compagnies often did not have their full complement of soldiers, something the colonial leadership complained about to the leadership in mainland France. Even under-strength, they served to defend the major towns of the colony, and had detachments scattered across the small fur trading posts that were so important to the economy.
Those serving in the Compagnies were given rations of bread, bacon, and dried peas and received a replacement uniform every other year. The uniform of soldiers in the Compagnies by the 1750s consisted of a white overcoat, tricorn hat, spats over buckled leather shoes and blue garments including a waistcoat, stockings, and breeches. Each soldier also carried a cartridge case which was used to carry ammunition and a Charleville model 1746 rifle, although different types of flintlocks and rifles were carried at different points in the history of the units. In the winter, the uniforms were supplemented with cold weather gear including capot, moccasins, mittens, and snowshoes. Except during wartime, the soldiers were allowed to supplement their income with outside work, and often worked on local farms or helped build forts and roads.
When the French and Indian War broke out, the Compagnies were a major part of the French war effort in North America. Their experience in the colony and with war parties of French Canadien militia and native allies made them skilled in the kind of frontier fighting practised during the war. In addition to leading raids on English settlements, they had helped in the efforts to take over the Ohio Valley that preceded the war and participated in the defeat of the English General Edward Braddock early in the war. By 1755, regular infantry battalions were sent to help protect the colony, and a number of the Compagnies were combined into their own battalion to serve alongside the line troops. These forces helped to defend the French fortress at Louisbourg as well as Quebec City and Montreal from attack by British armies. The Compagnies were eliminated with the fall of New France during that war.
The Naval Reserve of Canada created a re-enactment group of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine in 1992. The group demonstrates musketry and military drill while dressed in period uniforms. These performances are advertised as family events designed to help the public learn more about military history and interact with sailors.
The military unit of the heritage presentation staff at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada consists of costumed interpreters representing soldiers of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine stationed in Louisbourg during the summer of 1744. During the site's operating season, they perform daily musket firings and military demonstrations and stand guard at various locations in the reconstructed eighteenth-century town.
The Compagnie Franche de la Marine exercising during the 400th Anniversary of Québec City in 2008.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Compagnies franches de la marine.|
- "Compagnie franche de la marine: History". Naval Reserve of Canada. http://www.navy.forces.gc.ca/navres/3/3-n_eng.asp?category=49&title=1084. Retrieved 2009-06-26.
- "History and Uniform of the Compagnies franches de la marine, 1683-1760". Military Uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970. Canadien War Museum. 1981. http://www.militaryheritage.com/c_franch.htm. Retrieved 2009-06-27.
- Rene Chartrand, The French Soldier in Colonial America (Alexandria, New York, and Bloomfield, Ontario: Museum Restoration Service, 1984), 16-17.
- "Per Mare et Terras". Naval Reserve of Canada. http://www.navy.forces.gc.ca/navres/3/3-n_eng.asp?category=49&title=1083. Retrieved 2009-06-27.
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