Daily Life in New France


The Trip to the Recruit Depot

The next day the new recruits awoke to find themselves in the Navy, joining their fellows to be sent off to La Rochelle or Rochefort under the surveillance of an officer. Often, one or two Maréchaussée archers would escort the group, in case any recruits changed their minds. From the La Rochelle, the fledgling soldiers were shipped to the fortress on Île de Ré, which served as the assembly point for most of the colonial troops, or went to the Île d'Oléron, farther south. Before the 1730s, the recruits often did not know to which colony they would be sent. In 1684, for example, soldiers destined for Canada boarded ships "not knowing the place to which" they were headed. While the recruits awaited the day of their departure, they learned the basic skills of military life. By this time, more than a few had thought of desertion, but chances were slim of escaping from an island fortress off the coast of France.

During the crossing, it was not unusual for epidemics to break out on board, killing some of the recruits. Although Navy physicians knew nothing about bacteria and germs, they had made the connection between poor hygiene and contagious disease. Because the recruits often arrived in dirty clothing, before their departure "the custom [was] to give the recruits" 80 a woollen jacket (which was replaced in 1717 by a grey-white linen smock with 18 brass buttons), a pair of grey linen knee-breeches, a pair of socks, a pair of shoes, one or two shirts, a woollen hat, a comb, a blanket and a hammock. Epidemics still broke out on board ships, but these measures certainly reduced the risk.