Daily Life in New France


J.C.B. Goes to Canada

Soldier of the canonniers-bombardiers between 1750 and 1760

Caption: Soldier of the canonniers-bombardiers between 1750 and 1760

The initals "J.C.B." are those of an ordinary soldier who wrote the only known memoirs describing the life of recruits in the companies dispatched to Canada. His description of his recruitment and initiation into military life is therefore especially valuable. J.C.B.'s adventures began when he took the road for La Rochelle in order to go to work for his uncle. On the way, he made friends with an officer leading a group of colonial recruits. Upon arrival in La Rochelle, J.C.B. learned that his uncle had died, which meant that he was stranded there, penniless. His new friend came to the rescue by finding him an office job in the fortress of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. Here J.C.B. met various sailors and soldiers who recounted tales of their adventures in distant lands. What an interesting life this seemed to be in comparison with his dreary work as a clerk! Two months later, at the age of 18, J.C.B. was so smitten by the idea of travel that he signed up for the colonial forces and obtained permission to go to Canada, because sailors had said that the climate was "healthier" there.

With 300 other recruits, he embarked on the Chariot Royal, a frigate armed as a cargo ship with only half its complement of guns, which set sail on June 17, 1751. But the crossing was very long and difficult. A severe storm raged for five days, leaving J.C.B. "very nauseous." It must have been terrifying for him and many other recruits who had never had any experience of the sea. Finally the frigate arrived within sight of Quebec City, and on November 5, 1751, J.C.B. set foot on dry land for the first time in more than four months.

A few days later, the recruits assembled in two lines on the parade grounds in Quebec City facing three lines of troops under arms. Around noon, the governor general, accompanied by the general staff, inspected the troops and then inducted the new recruits into the Compagnies franches de la Marine and an artillery company, which were each entitled to a certain number of fresh recruits. First choice was given to the artillery, which was considered to be an elite company. It selected J.C.B. Then the infantry companies made their choices, one after the other, in order of the length of service of their captains. The next day, J.C.B. received his uniform and weapons and was lodged in the guardhouse above the Saint-Jean gate in Quebec City.