BERNIER, BENOÎT-FRANÇOIS (also called Joseph-Pierre), army officer and financial commissary of wars in New France; b. 24 April 1720 in Vienne, France, son of François Bernier, cloth merchant, and Marie Malen (Mallen); d. 1799, unmarried, probably in Vienne.
The military career of Benoît-François Bernier seems to have begun relatively late; the earliest record lists him as sub-lieutenant in the Régiment Royal-Suédois in 1746. After serving as a lieutenant in the siege of Maastricht (Netherlands) in 1748, he was put on half pay and from 1749 to 1755 was employed by the regiment at Paris and Versailles. He must have attracted favourable attention, for he was made aide-de-camp to Dieskau* when the latter was sent to Canada in 1755 as commander of the French regular troops dispatched to the colony. For administrative purposes Bernier was attached to the Régiment d’Artois as a lieutenant, but the connection was purely nominal.
His first sojourn in Canada was destined to be short. He arrived with Dieskau in June 1755 and was captured at Lac Saint-Sacrement (Lake George, N.Y.) in September. Dieskau, seriously wounded, was abandoned on the battlefield by all save Bernier, who was himself slightly wounded. They were made prisoner by William Johnson’s colonials.
It was thought for some time that both Bernier and Dieskau were dead; their personal effects were in fact auctioned off in Quebec before word of their survival and impending transfer to England was received. In England Bernier was parted from his general and sent to London where, according to a French memoir, he was held for two months and pressed by Lord Holland, the Duke of Newcastle, and the Earl of Loudoun to “join the British service.” He was then sent “as if in punishment” to Edinburgh Castle.
Bernier was repatriated to France in 1757, promoted captain, and the following year appointed assistant to André Doreil*, the financial commissary of wars at Quebec. He arrived in Canada at the end of June 1758, gravely ill with a fever contracted in passage, and was not out of danger until late July. Bernier, although lacking in experience because of his illness, replaced Doreil as commissary of wars when the latter returned to France in the autumn of 1758. Doreil spoke of Bernier’s “talent and intelligence” and arranged to have him assisted by his secretary, Alexandre-Robert Hillaire de La Rochette, “who is conversant with all the details of the Commissariat.” Bernier had charge of the physical well-being of the regular troops, their rations, equipment, billeting, and hospitalization. By all accounts he served his troops well.
After the fall of Quebec in September 1759, Bernier remained for four months at Quebec and was particularly concerned with looking after the wounded. He acted as liaison officer with the British, and he was given full authority by Governor Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, then in Montreal, to deal with all difficulties involved in executing the capitulation of Quebec. This responsibility was delegated to Bernier because he spoke English, an uncommon accomplishment among 18th-century French officers. He had probably acquired it during his stay in England.
At the time of the capitulation of the colony in September 1760 Bernier was in Montreal, and he organized the passing of the troops in review. He then returned to Quebec to make provision with the British commissaries for the subsistence and lodging of the French troops. He was put in sole charge of the embarkation of all the French regulars as well as those families wishing immediate repatriation. It was a major task and one which he discharged to his superiors’ satisfaction, judging by the fact that upon his return to France with Lévis late in November 1760 he was awarded the cross of Saint-Louis, given a pension of 1,200 livres, and appointed financial commissary at Dunkerque.
Bernier retired from government service on 2 Sept. 1776 and survived the French revolution. As “citizen Bernier” he received an annual pension from the Republic of France until his death in 1799.
AMA, SHA, Y4. AN, Col., C11A, 103, ff.419–22v, 423–26v. ANQ-Q, Greffe de J.-A. Saillant, 19 juill. 1758. Bibliothèque municipale de Vienne (dép. de l’Isère, France), État civil, Saint-André-le-Bas, 25 avril 1720. Doc. relatifs à la monnaie sous le Régime français (Shortt), II. Doreil, “Lettres” (A. Roy), ANQ Rapport, 1944–45, 16, 24, 31–32, 41, 45, 48, 71, 73–74, 77, 88, 93, 100, 106, 111–12, 143–44, 161–62. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), VI, 1004; X, 318, 340, 354, 356–57, 360, 384, 387, 422, 564, 692, 746, 765, 829, 861, 959, 965, 968, 1009, 1054, 1120, 1123–24. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire. J.-E. Roy, Rapport sur les archives de France, 371–72, 377, 415.