The following discussion will explore whether La Belle's design method was a completely new invention or an expansion on preexisting concepts in ship design and civil architecture.
The use of an innovative design method for La Belle's construction may be partially explained by the fact that it was built from timbers originally being prepared for a kit—a barque in bundles. Soon after La Belle's excavation, professional archivist Bernard Allaire examined records of correspondence between the Rochefort arsenal and the Crown in search of additional materials relating to La Salle's expedition—including any dealing with the construction, outfitting, and manning of La Belle (Allaire 1999; Bruseth and Turner 2005:73).
Based on his discoveries, Allaire definitively concluded that La Belle was built in 1684 from a barque in bundles (en fagot) that was being prepared at Rochefort for La Salle's expedition (Allaire 1999:4–7). A list of materials accorded to La Salle by the king dated March 23, 1684, includes as item 22 a 40- to 50-ton barque rigged or in bunches (en botte) with its rigging (Margry 1879:380; the original document has not been relocated). En botte refers to a vessel in pieces with presumably its timbers arranged in bunches for storage or transport ("bâtiment en botte, a frame in pieces numbered for putting together," under "botte" in Boyer and Salmon 1802). Soon after the preparation of this kit was undertaken, it must have become apparent that there was insufficient room on the designated vessel, Le Joly, to load such a kit along with the rest of the cargo. From two surviving copies of a letter with the Crown's response, dated April 17, 1684, it is known that the arsenal informed the king in early April of this dilemma and suggested the use of a larger vessel, the flute Le Dromadaire (AN 1684b:Marine B2–50 fol. 177; BN1684:21330 fol.78). The Crown rejected the idea of using Le Dromadaire and suggested that instead of the barque en fagot (in bundles) to provide La Salle with a traversier (a colonial dispatch vessel) or a good barque (Allaire 1999:5). This small vessel would make the voyage to the New World loaded with some of the cargo that would not fit in Le Joly.
There is little doubt that both contemporaneous references, to a barque…en botte in one and to a barque en fagot in the other document, are alluding to the same kit ship ("Frame of a boat in pieces, chaloupe en botte ou en fagot," under "frame" in Boyer and Salmon 1802). A marginal note, on the arsenal's copy of the king's response next to the paragraph referring to the barque en fagot, directly states that construction of the said barque must continue and that it is already well advanced (BN 1684:21330 fol.78). Furthermore, as Allaire points out, the arsenal had no choice but to complete this new vessel for La Salle because no similar vessels were available at Rochefort at the time (Allaire 1999:5). NEXT
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