Verrier, Étienne, engineer; born 4 January 1683 at Aix-en-Provence, France, son of Christophe, master-sculptor (died 1709) and Marguerite Ferrant (Ferran); married 1709 Hélène Papin, by whom he had at least four children; died 10 September 1747 at La Rochelle, France.
Admitted into the engineer corps in 1707 at La Rochelle, Étienne Verrier served there and at Rochefort for the next 17 years, except for an expedition in 1720 to the islands of Poulo Condore off the coast of present-day Vietnam. In 1720 he was promoted infantry captain in the Régiment de Navarre and awarded the cross of Saint-Louis. In 1724 the minister of Marine, Maurepas, asked Claude-François Bidal, Marquis d'Asfeld, for Verrier's services as resident chief engineer at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), a post he was to hold until the surrender of the fortress to the British in 1745. For one construction season, Verrier worked under the orders of Jean-François de Verville, director of fortifications. In 1725, upon Verville's transfer to Valenciennes in northern France, the position of director was discontinued and thenceforth Verrier directed the works himself.
During the next 20 years, he completed the landward front of fortification, the Royal and Island batteries, and the chief public buildings of the town; designed the lighthouse and redesigned it after a destructive fire; designed and built the whole harbour front which completed the enceinte; and planned and directed the construction of essential works and buildings at Port-Dauphin (Englishtown, Nova Scotia), Port-Toulouse (St. Peters, Nova Scotia) and Port-La-Joie (Fort Amherst, Prince Edward Island). Verrier would have liked to have been made director of fortifications at Louisbourg, or allowed to return to France to seek advancement in the corps. For the latter he had to await the fall of the fortress. He supervised the defensive works of Louisbourg during the Anglo-American siege of 1745 and participated in Louis Du Pont Duchambon's decision to surrender the fortress to Peter Warren and William Pepperrell. In 1746, after an unsuccessful bid for the directorship of fortifications at La Rochelle, he was named chief engineer of the Île d'Oléron off the west coast of France. He died the following year.
Verrier arrived at Louisbourg with an established reputation as an engineer and an inherited flair for the aesthetic. His approach to the construction of fortifications and public buildings was pragmatic. He dealt through trial and error with the effects of climate and defective building materials: he covered exterior walls with boards to protect them from the alternating frost and thaw; he experimented with proportions in the ingredients of mortar; and he replaced building materials of poor quality wherever possible. If the design was faulty – as in the barracks of the King's bastion – he proposed no expensive new design, but patched up the defects in order to reduce the trouble. He found it politic not to recommend costly improvements to the court and to the senior officers of the engineer corps who could decide his future career.
Verrier was indeed very much aware of political realities. Although his views did not always coincide with those of Saint-Ovide [Monbeton], the governor of Île Royale from 1718 to 1739, Verrier avoided confrontations with him. His relations with other officials of the colony, such as the financial commissaries, Jacques-Ange Le Normant de Mézy and his son, Sébastien-François-Ange, and François Bigot, were calm. He was loyal to his assistants, Jean-Baptiste de Couagne and Pierre-Jérôme Boucher, and to the contractors François Ganet and David-Bernard Muiron. He defended the last two against criticism of shortcomings in their work which he felt were beyond their control. Preferring Ganet to Muiron when the general construction contract came up for renewal in 1737, he recommended Ganet for subsidiary work after Muiron had made the successful bid. Yet he worked well with Muiron. Although the court warned him – as it did most engineers – against financial collusion with contractors, there is nothing to suggest that the warning to Verrier was particularly necessary.
In spite of his political skill, Verrier eventually encountered criticism for his financial management. His chief fault in official eyes was that he underestimated costs. In 1730, for example, he estimated the construction of the lighthouse at 14,000 livres but had to revise his estimate to 26,000 in 1731. He estimated at 6,000 livres the alterations to his official residence (which originally had not been a dwelling); the cost reached 28,000! The minister of Marine admonished Verrier for rendering some erroneous and incomplete accounts, and slipping back – after ten years at Louisbourg and against official instructions – into Verville's practice of not providing annual statements of work finished. Although Verrier undertook to follow instructions more closely, he steadfastly resisted attempts to have him provide prematurely the final calculations necessary for settling accounts between the crown and the successors of Michel-Philippe Isabeau, the general contractor from 1720 to 1724. He maintained – successfully – that it was impossible to indicate how much the estate owed the crown and vice versa until the work was completed. The necessary toisé definitif was submitted in September 1731.
As the senior engineer, Verrier was the key officer of the garrison in the defence of the fortress. He had been trained in the French engineer corps, had had extensive European experience in it, and, by the time of the Anglo-American attack of 1745, had spent 20 years in directing the construction of the permanent defences of Louisbourg. An important part of his training – which admittedly he had had little opportunity to put to the test – comprised the defensive tactics of siegecraft. According to Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, by whose precepts French engineers were being trained, the latter "would be wrong to believe that with all the secrets of the art and all the advantages of nature you could make a place impregnable; they can all be taken by an enemy who combines strength and resolution. The defense that I teach ... certainly cannot hold a fortress invulnerable, but it can contribute greatly to making a siege long and difficult, perhaps until it is lifted by some happy chance." A professional in siegecraft, Verrier faced (until the arrival of John Henry Bastide ten days before the surrender) only amateurs in the art. On the surface, therefore, a large share of the responsibility for the fall of Louisbourg rests on his shoulders. However, a balanced view must be taken. French naval strength was insufficient for the protection and supplying of the garrison, and the garrison itself was pitifully small in relation to the attacking force. Neither of these difficulties can be laid at Verrier's door. None of the field defences, however, appear to have increased the effectiveness of the besieged; with the proper quality and quantity of defensive works, a much smaller force than the attackers' might have held on for a considerable time before retiring behind the fortress walls.
Verrier's most serious fault, however, was surely the advice he gave respecting the Royal battery. On 11 May 1745 he voted in council of war for its abandonment without a fight and, as a minority of one, against its demolition. After the siege, he defended his action to Maurepas on the grounds that major alterations, begun on the orders of the late governor, Jean-Baptiste-Louis le Prévost DuQuesnel, while Verrier himself was on leave in France in 1743-44, had not been completed and had left the battery defenceless from the landward side. In particular, the breastwork or epaulements had been demolished to increase the number of embrasures in order to accommodate additional guns brought from the Grave battery. Verrier had written to the minister in November 1744 that the demolition had been unnecessary and the whole operation unwise because of the exposure of the structure. Nevertheless, he had forecast that the work of reconstruction could be finished in the spring of 1745 within a month and a half. His prediction proved over-optimistic, as he admitted after the siege: "in the month of April I was unable to rebuild either the walls of the epaulement or the palisades of the covert way, given that the lime and the ground were frozen that month. The battery being in disorder, it would have meant sacrificing almost 200 men ... [during the siege] and there would have been fewer in Louisbourg."
Roger Wolcott, the Connecticut commander, held a contrary view. Since the gun-swivels were still mounted on the towers of the battery, though the defensive walls were down, he wrote, "two hundred men might hold the battery against five thousand without cannon." One of the besieged held a similar opinion, and the British engineer, Bastide, agreed with it by implication. Presumably behind temporary cover, such as gabions and fascines, and separated from the attackers by a glacis and a ditch deep and wide, the gunners could have held out for some time against infantry attack from the hills to the rear. After that, orderly evacuation of men and armament might have been attempted. Since Verrier had not provided for such an eventuality, he favoured abandonment. Once abandonment had been decided upon, demolition was a logical corollary. Evidently Verrier could not bear the thought of deliberately destroying works which had cost the king so much, which represented such an important part of the chief engineer's own accomplishment, and which might remain French after the war. It is a measure of Verrier's importance to the besieged that his lone vote persuaded Duchambon not to order the battery demolished. On the night of 11 May it was hurriedly abandoned by its commander, François-Nicolas de Chassin de Thierry. Fearing that there was too little time to remove the guns or even to spike them properly, the garrison of the battery left it in such a state that the Anglo-Americans under Samuel Waldo were able to use some of its guns and ammunition effectively against the town long before manhandling their own field artillery across the marshes west of the town to Green Hill. The abandonment of the battery must have hastened the fall of the fortress. By 26 June Verrier's reports to the council of war revealed serious damage to the landward defences by enemy bombardment. Persuaded by these reports and by the misery of the besieged civilians, the council of war voted unanimously for capitulation.
Verrier's ability as a military engineer was severely tested by those events of the spring of 1745 (when, incidentally, he was over 60 years of age). There is no question, however, that he deserves to be remembered for his town-planning and architectural achievement. The public buildings of Louisbourg bore witness to the 18th-century French flair for attractive design. The original plans for which Verrier was responsible were over 100 in number and survive in the Archives Nationales, the Bibliothèque Nationale, the archives of the Comité technique du Génie, and other Paris repositories. They include several plans of the king's hospital, of the Dauphine gate, of the lighthouse, of the Maurepas gate, and of the king's stores; and a score of plans of the town. Verrier prepared a plan for the parish church that was never built. He was also responsible for a number of plans of buildings and forts at Port-Dauphin, Port-Toulouse, and Port-La-Joie. It was his son, Claude-Étienne, however, who painted the well-known watercolour view of Louisbourg in 173l. In 1750, Verrier's successors at Louisbourg were still trying to recover from his widow all the plans of Île Royale and its dependencies that he had taken to France with him after the siege.
Verrier spent most of his 21 years at Louisbourg without his wife. She, with their daughter, experimented briefly with life in the colony from 1732 to 1735 but returned because of poor health to La Rochelle. By 1735 he himself was suffering from sciatica as well as from over-exposure to colonial service. In 1743 he took home leave for his health, returning to the colony in the spring of 1744. Throughout most of his stay in Île Royale he had the assistance of his son Claude-Étienne until the latter, admitted to the engineer corps in 1734, was called in 1736 to serve in France. His place was taken at Louisbourg by one of Verrier's other sons, the one known as the "chevalier."
Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Étienne Verrier (the original article)
Note: In the version above the text is the same as the text in the original article, but several improvements have been made in the formatting. This version will work properly with whatever typeface may be available in the viewer's computer – in contrast to the original version that requires the viewer to download and install a special rarely-used typeface. In this version the numerous non-standard characters, that appear in the original, have been eliminated; they have been replaced by standard characters that will display properly in many more browsers than the original version. This version adheres to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards for HTML documents; that is, it passes the W3C validation test while the original version does not; the practical effect of this is that this version will display properly in any standards-compliant browser.
The paper below was made available online for years
by Parks Canada, but it disappeared from the WWW
about the time of the Spring Equinox in 2009 and
there is no indication that they plan to put it back
online. Because this information has significance
in the history of Nova Scotia and Canada, I have
included it here. Étienne Verrier spent much of his
working life dealing with the issues described here.
He would have been thoroughly familiar with all of it.
Note: In the version below the text is the same as the text
in the original article, but several improvements have
been made in the formatting. This version adheres to
the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards for
HTML documents; that is, it passes the W3C validation
test while the original version does not; the practical
effect of this is that this version will display properly
in any standards-compliant browser.
23 June 2009
The Cultural Landscape of
18th Century Louisbourg
Microfiche Report Series 83
By Margaret Fortier
Fortress of Louisbourg
Part One - Louisbourg
The Land and its Utilization
Fortress Site and Immediate Environs
There were three things about which all early commentators on Louisbourg seem to have been almost unanimous – the excellence of its harbour, its advantages as a fishing base, and the poor quality of its terrain. The sentiments of those who reported on the site to the minister of the Marine during the first few years after the arrival of the French on the island may be summed up by one who declared that the land around the harbour was "completely unproductive". Gratien D'Arrigrand, in describing his concession in 1754, reported that to the south toward Louisbourg it was covered with "Sapinage abattu", the land was "frightful, and is good for nothing". In 1758 Chevalier Johnstone stated that the "climate, like the soil, is abominable at Louisbourg ..." The "poor, miserable soil", he continued, "was incapable of any production. The land was nothing but a series of "hills, rocks, swamps, lakes and morasses".
Holland, in his 1767 survey of Cape Breton, reported that Louisbourg was situated "on one of the worst Spots of the Island for Soil & Climate..." Noting the difference between the weather at Louisbourg and on the Mira, Holland declared that the lands were equally different. For, he stated, within a certain distance from Louisbourg, "instead of fine soil, lofty Trees, with many Rivulets, Lakes, &c. fit for settlements, & proper for Sawmills, &c., on each side of the Road, you enter upon a barren, rocky, Swampy Tract, with low Brush of Spruce & Pine". Thirty-eight years later, Judge A.C. Dodd remarked that he had found about seven families living at Louisbourg, "all farmers although the soil is the very worst in the Island".
Not only was the land at Louisbourg unsuited to agriculture, it also presented difficulties in the construction of the fortifications. In 1725 the contractor in charge of construction, Ganet, wrote that there was not enough earth from the excavation of the ditch to finish the King's Bastion and its glacis. Instead of earth, he said, the ditches were full of debris or even solid rock. Verrier, the chief engineer, complained in 1731 that progress on the works was slowed down by the difficulties presented by the rocky ground.
In 1751 Louis Franquet classified the land with which he would have to deal in repairing and altering the fortifications into four types:
(i) That which was so hard that it had the characteristics of bed-rock.
(ii) That which was like peat, extremely light and having little consistency., This type, he said, was composed of moss, leaves, herbs and decayed spruce. This layer was only thick over rock.
(iii) That which was boggy and difficult to move due to its water content and the quantity of stones and rocks it contained.
(iv) That which was brought in during the alteration of the old works.
Pichon, in 1758, declared that the land between Gabarus Point and the town was very rough, marshy and full of brush. There was everywhere, he claimed, of turf which would be impossible to dry. Nor was it practical to build a ditch to drain off the water since the bog was ribboned with ridges which made this impossible. The underside of the turf was a mixture of clayey soil and round stones which formed a cement that was extremely difficult to move.
The bog described by Franquet and Pichon covers much of the area between the landward front of the fortress and Kennington Cove. Bogs such as these result from an accumulation of dead sphagnum (peat moss) which form a layer of half-decayed material. This layer draws ground water upward allowing more moss to grow on top. Where "sphagnum grows in large masses [sic], it actually raises the water table." The peat becomes thoroughly saturated, "as impervious to more water as dry rock." Additional water from rainfall can neither perculate downward nor run off horizontally. As the water reaches the thinner edges of the sphagnum, the bog grows "upward and outward, and can even grow uphill". Other plants grow on the surface, and their remains add to the peat.
The uneven topography of the bog comes about as the various species of sphagnum grow at different rates. Mounds form causing a corresponding rise in the water table. Some mounds "coalesce and form ridges enclosing shallow depressions". These fill with water and become bog ponds. The bog surface continues to rise as the sphagnum mounds grow until it reaches the point where the mounds are above the water level of the pond and are no longer influenced by their seepage. When this stage is reached, drier surface conditions prevail. The different varieties of sphagnum are then replaced by lichens such as reindeer moss.
An investigation of the bogs in front of the fortifications was conducted in 1977. It revealed that this bog and one closer to Kennington Cove have both achieved stability. They have reached the point where the surfaces of the bog mounds are relatively dry and covered with reindeer moss. Both bogs have been repeatedly disturbed by man over the last 250 years, since the arrival of the French. It is impossible to assess how much this interference affected the growth and character of the bogs. For example, the area west of Black Rock which was used during the 1960s and 70s for stockpiling and washing stones for the masonry buildings and walls of the reconstructed fortress has been greatly altered in character. However, it is possible that the bog was at a less advanced state during the 18th century with a much wetter surface than is found today.
The French had hoped that the bog located before the landward front would discourage the enemy from attempting to transport their cannon into firing position on nearby hills. That the nature of the terrain, both bog and rocky ground, did make the work of the besiegers more difficult is apparent from their comments:
(i) On landing in 1745, declared that the land was in general very rocky with little or no soil. He perceived that it would be very difficult to entrench, adding that the land was "good for nothing but husbandry..."
(ii) An anonymous member of the New England troops observed that "the Island (Especially in some Places) is the Most Stoney, of any Place on Earth."
(iii) Another unknown journalist wrote that "...all the roads over which [the cannons] were drawn, saving here and there small patches of rocky Hills, was a deep Morass, in which whilst the Cannon were upon Wheels, they several times sunk, so as to bury not only the Carriages, but the whole Body of the Cannon likewise... [with the men] up to the knees in Mud..."
(iv) General Amherst in 1758 complained to William Pitt that "the many difficulties of landing everything, in almost a continual surf, the making of roads, draining and passing of bogs, and putting ourselves under cover, render our approach to the place much longer than I could wish."
Besides the numerous bog ponds shown in the plans, the French had to contend with two sizeable bodies of water within the walls. The largest, the grand étang, was located on the northern shore of the peninsula chosen by the French. It was separated from the harbour by a strip of beach large enough, according to a 1714 plan, for drying the catch of 22 shallops. Because of the suitability of the beach for drying fish, several of the first settlers in Louisbourg chose to live near the edge of the grand étang. Bridges were built across the western end of the pond connecting the properties on what would become known as the presqu'ûle du quay with the beach. In 1721 the holders of these properties objected strongly to the division of Louisbourg into town blocks claiming that they would be forced to move too far from the waterfront.
Those fishermen who were forced to move away from the shore due to this division of the town or due to construction of king's buildings such as the magasin des vivres were to be granted twice as much land as they had originally held. However, they did not feel that this was enough to compensate them for their losses. As fishermen they required easy access to the water more than large quantities of land. A mémoire from the minister had ordered that fishermen be given preference in the granting of waterfront land. Instead, it was charged, cabarets occupied all the best locations along the harbour.
The beach continued to be used for fishing until the construction of the seaward front in the 1740s. The Pièce de la Grave and quay wall were erected along the outer or northern rim of the pond, while the Maurepas Bastion was built on its southern edge. In 1744 a bridge over the pond, which occupied virtually the entire gorge of the Maurepas Bastion, was constructed of palisades to connect the Pièce de la Grave with the bastion. A 1744 plan shows the bridge from the Pièce de la Grave was extended to connect the bastions' left and right flanks. Plans from the 1750s, however, indicate that a narrow causeway was formed across the gorge of the bastion.
Although it would seem that the quay wall built by the French would have served the purposes of the British during their occupation of Louisbourg after the 1758 siege, it appears that they chose to dismantle the wall and thus expose the quay front to erosion and flooding. No mention was made of this destruction by or the author of another journal kept during the demolition of the fortifications. However, a 1760 plan of the demolition indicates the quay wall was one of the areas to be taken down without the use of explosives. Two other plans indicate that the wall was dismantled. One, from 1767, includes the notation that the quay was a "ruined Front almost washed away by the sea which if not prevented will in time overflow this Street."
The other pond with which the French engineers had to cope, the petit étang, lay between the King's Bastion and the Dauphin Demi-Bastion. Part of the curtain wall and the demi-bastion were built through the pond. The section of the pond which remained inside the walls when these works were constructed appears to have dried up or been filled in since it disappears from the plans by 1737. A batardeau with a sluice gate that could be closed to hold the water, thus creating a totally wet ditch in front of the Dauphin Demi-Bastion, was constructed at the northern end of the ditch. This made it possible to flood a larger area than was normally covered by the pond.
Because the wet area would have been difficult to fill in and was a deterrent to a direct infantry assault, the French did not continue the covered way and glacis across the pond. Only a palisaded stockade, erected in 1742, crossed the pond connecting the two sections of covered way. While sufficient to prevent the approach of enemy troops, this arrangement offered no protection to the curtain wall should an artillery attack be launched. It was indicative of the reliance of the French on the bog before the walls; since cannon could not be moved through the bog into position before the walls, they felt it was not necessary to worry about the effects of artillery fire.
The folly of this reasoning was proved during the 1745 siege, and in 1752 the king ordered construction of a demi-lune before the curtain wall. Louis Franquet believed this project too ambitious in view of the problems inherent in draining the area. In keeping with his instructions, however, he drew up plans for building a dike which would divert water from the pond toward the harbour. Earth for filling in the area to be occupied by the demi-lune was to come from the lowering of nearby hills. When it became apparent in 1755 that the demi-lune would involve too much time and money, the scheme was abandoned in favor of construction of a much simpler work.
The new plan called for the erection of a tenaille across the pond which would connect with the two sections of covered way. At the end closest to the Dauphin Gate there would be an aqueduct which would permit the raising of the water level before the outer works in the event of an attack. The water in the ditch could not be allowed to rise above the threshold of the postern tunnel at the Dauphin end of the curtain wall. with the aqueduct, more extensive flooding in front of the outer works could be arranged, effectively limiting the area in which an attack might be made. Work on this tenaille and aqueduct were completed in 1756. The mound which can be seen today between the two sections of reconstructed outer works is the remains of this tenaille. Since the tenaille was not there in 1744, the pond, which it holds back, would have flowed freely into the ditch through the palisades creating a much wetter ditch than is the case today.
The waters which formed the petit étang étang flow from a bog pond a short distance away and from the surrounding bog in general, The grand étang is primarily the result of flooding at high tide. Early plans also show the pond receiving drainage from a stream which originated in another bog pond. This stream flowed between the hills on which the King's and Queen's Bastions would be built. Somewhere in the area of Block 21 or 22, the stream branched off and entered the pond in two or three places. Construction of the outer works before the King's-Queen's curtain seem to have stopped this flow of water. Within the walls the stream bed either dried up or was filled in.
Three other ponds formed within the walls following construction of the fortifications:
(i) In the ditch before the King's-Queen's curtain. Pre-1745 plans show water draining from the town, through the curtain wall, into the ditch. The sides of the ditch were sloped so that the water, as well as drainage from the higher ground occupied by the King's Bastion, would flow freely through the ditch to the sea. Beginning in 1751 the water at the base of the curtain below the drain and postern tunnel is shown accumulating. The size of this pond apparently increased during the 1750s, until it reached the counterscarp on the covered way. Some plans from the 1750s seem to indicate that it had become impossible for water from the curtain area to flow past the Queen's Bastion. Drainage is shown as beginning in the ditch in front of the bastion's left face.
(ii) At the eastern end of the ditch before the salient angle of the Princess Demi-Bastion. Prior to 1745 water draining through the ditch is shown passing freely through a drain in the batardeau at the end of the ditch. In the 1750s this water is shown accumulating. It is possible that a buildup of gravel or debris had clogged the drain. The batardeau was demolished and rebuilt a few feet closer to the shore in 1755 and 1756. There is no indication of a drain having been placed in this new batardeau, and water is still shown accumulating at this end of the ditch between the face of the demi-bastion and the tenaille which was being constructed during the 1750s.
(iii) Inside the crenelated wall near the re-entrant angle of the small left flank of the Princess Demi-Bastion. No mention was made of the land in this area being particularly wet during construction of the demi-bastion or the crenelated wall. No provision was made for filling in the area at the time the French were considering the building of a barracks near the crenelated wall. As far as is known, there was no drain anywhere along the length of the crenelated wall. Most likely the pond resulted from drainage in town toward the shore, but the plans offer no help in tracing the pond's origins. In 1745 the pond was mentioned as a possible garbage dump by the New Englanders.
Besides the bog, the outstanding feature of Louisbourg's terrain was the hills which encircled the harbour. Denys noted in 1672, "All the lands [around Havre à L'Anglois] are nothing but banks of rather high rocks." The presence of these hills severely restricted the area where the French might establish themselves on Louisbourg harbour. The point of land where the lighthouse was later established would have been the best site from a strategic point of view, though it too is characterized by irregular terrain. The craggy coastline on this side of the harbour was not suitable for the drying of fish, an activity which could be carried on with much more ease on the opposite peninsula. The chosen site, however, presented many difficulties to the engineers. Good fortification practice called for all high ground which might offer a vantage point to the enemy to be included within the defenses. To do this Louisbourg's engineers would have had to design a very elaborate system of fortifications. In a remote location far from needed building materials and supplies, with an inhospitable climate and terrain, such fortifications were unthinkable.
The engineers decided on a plan which included two of the highest hills within the defenses and trusted in the bog to deter would-be attackers from establishing on the remaining hills. Profiles taken through the spots where the two bastions and demi-bastions were to be built and from bastion to bastion, show the great variation in elevation in the terrain. The summit of the hill on which the King's Bastion would be placed was indicated as being above the Dauphin Demi-Bastion ground to its right, and higher than the Queen's Bastion hill to its left. The lowest point along the front was the site of the Princess Demi-Bastion, lower than the King's Bastion hill. Cap Noir commanded the area to the right of the Princess Demi-Bastion by .
Since the land east of this point lowered in elevation, the demi-bastion itself would have been even more disadvantageously placed in relation to Cap Noir, which stood only from its right face.
The proximity of the fortifications to Cap Noir on one end and to two commanding hills on the other, prompted Jean-Pierre Roma, concessionaire in Ile St. Jean, to call Louisbourg an amphitheatre in which there was no place safe from enemy fire. Until 1743 the French rarely expressed much concern over the threat posed by Cap Noir. In that year Governor Duquesnel and commissaire-ordonnateur Bigot reported that Cap Noir entirely dominated the city, particularly in the area of the Princess Demi-Bastion. The engineers, they charged, minimized the danger posed by this hill because they did not wish to admit they had made a serious error by not including it in the fortifications.
Verrier, the chief engineer, replied that the danger from Cap Noir was small. Its uneven summit, he claimed, could not hold a battery of six cannon. However, if the hill were lowered and flattened, it would be able to receive such a battery. Moreover, he continued, the difficulty involved in getting cannon to Cap Noir and on its summit would be greater than the advantage gained since only small calibre cannon could be so deployed, while much heavier armament could be placed on the face of the demi-bastion to beat against the enemy guns. Sous-ingénieur Boucher did conduct experiments into the composition of the hill in the event orders were received to proceed with the lowering of Cap Noir. He found that while its surface was very hard, the interior was no harder than the earth which had been taken from the ditch before the walls.
Cap Noir was not lowered prior to the first siege and the English did succeed in placing a battery there during the fighting. Though this battery inflicted little, if any, damage to the fortifications, the danger presented by the hill caused the French to consider it more seriously when they returned in 1749. Franquet proposed building a redoubt on Cap Noir to take advantage of its command of the area before the landward front. This suggestion was rejected however, and in 1752 Franquet was ordered to lower Cap Noir. The materials gained through its destruction were to be used to strengthen existing defences. Little was accomplished before Governor Raymond stopped work on the project soon after it was begun in 1753. The men taken from this work were sent to search for a gold mine reported to be in the area.
The minister's decision to proceed with the destruction of Cap Noir was reaffirmed the next year and work was begun anew. This was an expensive project, costing over 1,100,000 livres for tools and materials alone. Stone and earth from Cap Noir was used by the French in building the tenaille and demi-lune before the Princess Demi-Bastion and the Queen's Gate. When the ditch around these works was found to be producing more rocks than earth it was decided to remove earth from a ridge to the right of Cap Noir. During the siege of 1758 the French, alarmed by the advance of the enemy toward Cap Noir, constructed a zig-zag retrenchment to the right of the hill which extended almost to the tail of the glacis opposite the demi-bastion. The remains of this work can still be seen today.
Prior to 1745 the French seem to have worried very little about the two hills, Lime-Kiln Hill and the Hill of Justice, which commanded the Dauphin Demi-Bastion. Lime-Kiln Hill lay just over from the salient of the demi-bastion's covered way. Close by, the Hill of Justice stood some higher. During the first siege batteries were placed on both these hills which inflicted terrible damage not only to the demi-bastion and the immediate vicinity, but as far away as the Pièce de la Grave.
Numerous projects for neutralizing the danger from the hills were put forth during the 1750s. Franquet proposed a redoubt on Lime-Kiln Hill similar to the one suggested for Cap Noir. Instead a demi-lune before the King's-Dauphin curtain was ordered along with the lowering of the two hills. Initial plans called for the Hill of Justice to be reduced by . However, a plan dated 1757 contains the note that this hill had been reduced , while had been taken off Lime-Kiln Hill. The tree line in front of the fortress had been pushed by the French in their quest for wood to White Point, thus making all the hills much more visible than they are today. In 1758 batteries were erected by the British troops on the two closest hills, as well as on almost every other eminence within firing range of the fortifications.
In 1754 Franquet had noted that the destruction of Cap Noir was furnishing good material for the construction of the demi-lune before the Queen's Gate. Indeed, this was the only type of building materials Louisbourg was able to provide. Such things as lime stone, slate or cut stone had to be imported from other parts of the island or from France. In discussing the subject of building materials, Franquet stated that Louisbourg was composed mostly of "rochers" (craggy rocks) imbedded in the peat one to or more. Under this was "roc" or hard earth mixed with blocks of "roche". Experiments were conducted with these blocks, the results showing that when broken they produced a quarry stone which was not as "brutte" as the center of the "rochers". The surface of the "rochers", however, could be chipped away more easily.
A persistent problem for Louisbourg's builders was the poor quality of the mortar used to cement the masonry. While good quality limestone was available on the island (at , Mira and ), the French were never able to achieve success with their mortar. The result was continually crumbling masonry walls. Franquet placed the blame for this lack of success on the available sand. The grains of sand found at Louisbourg, he said, were too large. As a result, a fine screen could not be used in sifting, thus permitting small stones to remain mixed with the sand. The mortar could not , particularly in a climate as humid as Louisbourg's because the stones prevented total evaporation of the water used in mixing the mortar and adhesion among the granules of sand.