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BARRIN DE LA GALISSONIÈRE, ROLAND-MICHEL, Marquis de LA GALISSONIÈRE, naval officer, commandant general of New France; b. 10 Nov. 1693 at Rochefort, France, son of Roland Barrin de La Galissonière, lieutenant-general of the naval forces, and Catherine Bégon, sister of Intendant Michel Bégon; m. in 1713 Marie-Catherine-Antoinette de Lauson, who was related to the family of the former governor of New France, Jean de Lauson*; d. 26 Oct. 1756 at Montereau (Montereaufault-Yonne, dept. of Seine-et-Marne), France.
After a good course of study at the Collège de Beauvais in Paris under the direction of Charles Rollin, La Galissonière became a midshipman in Rochefort on 1 Nov. 1710; he had his first active service on the Héros, which carried supplies to Canada in 1711. He was promoted sub-lieutenant on 25 Nov. 1712; until 1736 he usually served at Rochefort, with, however, some sea postings which took him to Canada, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), the West Indies, the Mediterranean, and along the coasts of Spain. On 7 May 1726 he was appointed assistant adjutant at Rochefort; on 17 March 1727 he opted for regular service as lieutenant-commander and took the Dromadaire in 1734 and 1735 on a campaign in the West Indies. In 1737 he received command of the Héros for transport duty to Canada. Powerful family influence, more than his own merits, was responsible for his promotion to captain on 1 April 1738 and his becoming a knight of the order of Saint-Louis on 13 May of that year. In 1739 he transported supplies to Louisbourg, Île Royale, on the Rubis, which he commanded. The following year he served in the Mediterranean on the ship of the line Espérance.
From 1741 to 1743 he commanded the Tigre, part of the squadron led by the lieutenant-general of the naval forces, Court de La Bruyère, which almost never left the roadstead of Toulon. In 1744 La Galissonière returned to Brest to take command of the Gloire, one of the 19 ships of the line in the squadron of the Comte de Roquefeuil, lieutenant-general of the naval forces; this squadron was to support the attempts by Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, to land in England. On 1 Feb. 1745 La Galissonière was appointed commissary general of artillery at Rochefort, and in this capacity he was concerned with putting the coasts of Aunis and Saintonge into a state of defence.
In February 1746 La Galissonière received command of the Juste, which, together with the Sérieux, was to protect the establishments and ships of the Compagnie des Indes on the coasts of Africa. Following the instructions of the minister of Marine, the two ships left from Île de Groix on 27 April 1746, reached Senegal on 26 May, and left again on 28 June to meet three of the company’s ships, two of which were coming from China, at Fernando de Noronha (Brazil) on 2 August. La Galissonière sailed again on 29 August for Grenada, West Indies, where he met the Philibert, another of the company’s ships, and all the ships sailed for France on 3 October. But the Juste and the Sérieux arrived in Rochefort on 7 December alone, since bad weather east of the Grand Banks had caused them to lose sight of their convoy; it nevertheless succeeded in reaching Lorient without incident.
While he was thus engaged in protecting the company’s interests, grave events had taken place in Canada. The Marquis de La Jonquière [Taffanel] had been appointed governor general on 15 March 1746, but his participation in the expedition against the British in Nova Scotia led by the Duc d’Anville [La Rochefoucauld] had prevented him from taking up his post immediately, and, when he left for Quebec in May 1747, the convoy which he was protecting was attacked by a superior British squadron and he himself was taken prisoner. The minister of Marine, Maurepas, who obviously supported La Galissonière, thought of him for command of the colony during the governor’s absence. Consequently on 1 May 1747 La Galissonière was entrusted with the functions of commandant general in New France. Maurepas wrote to him on 14 June: “As M. de La Jonquière has been appointed to the office of governor general, it is not possible at the present time to send you letters of appointment, but letters of command give you the same powers, the same rights, the same authority, the same honours as are attached to the office of lieutenant general, and you will receive the same salary.”
La Galissonière accepted his new functions reluctantly; he would have preferred to continue serving in the navy, for he had just refused the office of governor general of Saint-Domingue (Hispaniola) after being posted to command the Monarque in the squadron under the Marquis de L’Étenduère, which was fitting out to sail for the West Indies. He agreed to leave for Quebec only “when it was pointed out to him that his presence there was necessary during the war.” The court later recognized his devotion: his promotion to rear-admiral on 7 Feb. 1750 was “because of the promptness with which he sacrificed his repose, his inclinations and personal interests to the pressing needs of the service.” La Galissonière, then, sailing on the Northumberland, reached Quebec on 19 Sept. 1747. He was not well acquainted with the situation in New France, for he knew only what a sailor making a short stay could have seen of it; but as a conscientious officer he immediately made every effort to learn by conferring with his predecessor, Charles de Beauharnois (with whom he had family connections), and with Intendant Hocquart*.
The general outlook was not encouraging; war had been going on for three years and had severely strained the already shaky finances of the colony, which was gravely threatened by the expansionist policy of the British. Far from being dismayed by these difficulties, La Galissonière sought energetically to resolve them, his whole policy being by force of circumstances a defensive one, but also wide-ranging in its concerns. Like his predecessors, he continually harassed the ministers to obtain reinforcements for his troops, which continued to be extremely reduced in numbers. Recourse had therefore to be had to recruiting habitants and Indians, a scheme that had the disadvantage of costing a great deal and of impeding farming; here he ran up against insurmountable obstacles. “There is no special fund for the expenses of the colonies,” Maurepas explained to him on 6 March 1748, “they come out of the funds of the Marine, and it is far from receiving what would be necessary for its own needs.” Consequently he was recommended to keep to a purely defensive strategy and to be self-sufficient. The minister had even refused him the guns that had been requested for the fortifications of Quebec and Montreal, whose construction had been decided in principle in 1745 after the fall of Louisbourg. La Galissonière favoured the fortifications project; in doing so he followed the ideas of his time and refused to understand that such works swallowed up enormous sums of money for a most debatable purpose, as the recent siege of Louisbourg had in fact just proved. At most, it was sufficient to build light entrenchments such as those at Fort Saint-Jean, which was intended to duplicate Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point, N.Y.) and facilitate the settlement of the Lake Champlain region. This construction was begun in the spring of 1748 under the direction of the ensign Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros* de Léry, who was the object of particular solicitude on the part of the commandant general.
La Galissonière attached, quite correctly, the greatest importance to Acadian affairs. The boundaries of this province had remained uncertain since 1715; consequently in 1749 the commandant general sent a detachment under the command of Charles Deschamps* de Boishébert to the Saint John River to check the British expansion towards the Gaspé peninsula and the valley of the lower St Lawrence, in regions to which the British crown claimed to have rights.
But a defensive policy could not rest entirely upon the military forces, and La Galissonière rapidly grasped the importance, on the one hand, of imitating his predecessors in gaining as much goodwill as possible from the Indians, and on the other of developing settlement to increase the indispensable demographic support. For that reason Indian policy was one of his vital concerns, and now this sailor, so prudent on the sea, conceived in New France an audacious plan, with great breadth of outlook, which aimed at joining Canada and Louisiana by a line of posts along the Ohio valley, a region that was to become one of the main theatres of Anglo-French rivalry. La Galissonière hoped that these posts would draw the Indians into the French orbit. He tried, therefore, as the minister’s instructions to him laid down, to drive the British out of the Ohio valley by sending Pierre-Joseph Céloron de Blainville, who left Montreal on 15 June 1749, visited the regions of forts Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.), Niagara (near Youngstown, N. Y.), and the Ohio, returning to Montreal on 10 November. He had verified that the Indian tribes were falling more and more under British influence, because of the growing activity of the Ohio Company since its beginnings in November 1747. For lack of financial means Céloron could not act very effectively, and he remarked that the French traders had price lists that were much higher than those of their competitors.
With his objective always in mind, La Galissonière had construction started in June 1749 on Fort de La Présentation (Oswegatchie, now Ogdensburg, N.Y.), near Lake Ontario, and sent the Sulpician François Picquet* there to evangelize the Iroquois. At first glance La Galissonière had perceived the threat that the trading factories set up by British traders in the Great Lakes region, particularly at Fort Chouaguen (Fort Oswego), represented for the French colony. The destruction of this enclave was to be one of his obsessions, and it would have permitted all communication with the Iroquois tribes to be denied the enemy. In his great report of 1750 he came back to the point: “Nothing must be spared to destroy this dangerous post on the first occasion for reprisals, which the British will furnish by one of those hostile acts they are only too accustomed to committing in time of peace, supposing that we cannot have it ceded to us by mutual agreement in return for some equivalent.”
As a good strategist the commandant general saw clearly the capital importance of Detroit, the key to communications with the Mississippi valley. He was unceasingly concerned to reinforce it and stimulate its development; he tried to send it settlers, but he succeeded in having only 45 people go there. He considered this post likely to become a great trading town. The Illinois country was also one of his preoccupations, but the weak reinforcements he proposed sending there – some 60 soldiers and a few families – could not play any serious role in stopping British expansion in that direction.
La Galissonière also saw clearly the problems in the management of the posts. He was anxious to have good interpreters, and suggested to the minister that gratuities be paid those officers who learned Indian languages. He criticized severely the system of farming out the posts to officers; the intention was that officers might obtain these posts cheaply “in order to place them in a situation where they could content the Indians.” But the system produced the contrary effect: the posts were farmed out to the highest bidders, since “the idea people had of the profits to be made in them,” he wrote on 23 Oct. 1748, “has caused these leases to reach prices much above what had previously been demanded from the officers. The purchasers have therefore thought that they have the right to draw as much profit from them as possible, without any regard for the disadvantages which might result.” Prices of merchandise at the posts had risen enormously, with the result that those who had secured the contracts “have brought the Indians to the point of despair and reduced them to going to Chouaguen to seek goods that the British could not offer for a comparable price, if exclusive trade and the price of leases did not increase ours.” La Galissonière consequently decided to give up this system and to return to the former one of licences (congés), hoping thereby to cause prices to drop and to bring the Indian clientele back to the French posts.
With the Indians in Acadia La Galissonière also followed a policy aimed at blocking the British expansion. After the loss of Île Royale, important elements of the Abenaki tribes had decided to leave their villages for the region around Quebec, away from the enemy’s incursions. The commandant general endeavoured, however, to send them back to their homes, where they would be better able to contain the adversary. The minister approved and encouraged La Jonquière to continue this policy. It should be noted that La Galissonière was strongly opposed to marriages between Indians and French, claiming that they produced results exactly the opposite of those being sought.
Settlement of the colony was another of his main preoccupations. Struck by the high Canadian birthrate, La Galissonière thought at one time that the imbalance in population between the French and the British in North America would disappear as a result of the natural increase in the population of Canada. “France,” he wrote on 1 Sept. 1748, “draws from herself and from her other colonies products of all sorts; this one will for a long time produce only men, but if we wish, it will produce in a fairly short period such a great quantity of them that, far from fearing the British colonies or the Indian tribes, it will be able to lay down the law to them.” Did he retain this illusion? It is not certain, since in his major report of 1750 he insisted upon the necessity of sending settlers to Canada, without acknowledging that it was hardly possible to create such a trend without favourable public opinion in the mother country. For his part, La Galissonière did everything in his power to attract new settlers. Beginning in September 1748, he tried to encourage Acadians to move to Île Royale and Canada, and it was partly to this end that he sent Deschamps de Boishébert on a mission to that region. It must be noted, indeed, that he always showed the greatest solicitude towards the Acadians, and after his return to France continued to be interested in them and to intervene on their behalf, particularly at the time of the visit to Versailles in 1753 of the famous Abbé Jean-Louis Le Loutre*.
In requesting troop reinforcements he was also thinking of peopling the country. On 6 Sept. 1748 he asked the minister to send him recruits who would make it possible for him “to allow many marriages and give many discharges, which are as useful for the settling of this colony as they are necessary for getting some service from the troops in Canada, who, because of the great number of soldiers to be invalided out, were almost completely useless during the whole of the last war, and are becoming more and more so.” He nevertheless remained selective in admitting new settlers. Thus he refused Maurepas’s suggestion of settling Irishmen, Scots, and even Englishmen, on condition that they were Catholics, for he considered that they would be unsuitable subjects.
Economic activity was also among the commandant general’s preoccupations. One might not go so far as to claim, as did the king’s physician, Jean-François Gaultier, in a letter of 21 Oct. 1752, that “the colony was almost nascent and that hardly anything had been done in it for 150 years,” but the country, at the time of La Galissonière’s arrival, was admittedly still little developed. This fact was recognized by the minister in the instructions he sent La Galissonière on 30 April 1749: “Although capable of supporting enterprises both solid and profitable, Canada has made but little progress in the course of a fair number of years. The first settlers, who were little concerned with these sorts of enterprises, concerned themselves solely with the fur trade they could manage to carry on with the Indians, and there are still a rather large number of them who, satisfied with what that trade brings them and attracted still more by the independence they enjoy in their travels, are not much interested in devoting themselves to farming.”
La Galissonière endeavoured to remedy this state of affairs, as his uncle Bégon had tried to do some 30 years earlier, and sought to develop agriculture and livestock breeding to enable the colony to feed itself. His administration was too short, however, to produce appreciable results. He would also have liked to encourage certain industries, particularly woollen mills, but he ran up against the mercantilist ideas of the mother country, and on 6 March 1748 Maurepas reminded him “that they are to be tolerated only to the extent that they do not harm the market for those in France, and for this reason they must not be allowed to multiply.” He was, however, allowed to support the Saint-Maurice ironworks, which were beginning to produce some guns, and the shipbuilding yards in Quebec, where at that time construction of the Saint-Laurent was being completed and work on the Orignal was beginning.
La Galissonière’s intelligence, activity, and human qualities had caused him to be much appreciated by the Canadians. The physician Gaultier wrote, with some exaggeration: “M. le Marquis de La Galissonière is the only person to begin to put things on a good footing. In losing him Canada has suffered a great loss.” Gaultier praised “the vast extent of his knowledge, combined with his great love for the public good and for everything that may profit the State.” Mme Bégon [Rocbert] – who was related to him – confirmed this enthusiasm and wrote to her son-in-law, Honoré Michel de Villebois: “I believe that Canada will suffer a great loss in losing him.” Despite the favour he enjoyed, La Galissonière thought only of leaving Canada, and on 14 May 1749 the minister finally announced to him that he was sending him “the permission to return to France . . . requested so insistently,” and added: “I am not unaware of the zeal with which you have devoted yourself to the purpose of your command in Canada and the success with which you have carried it out in all its details.” Moreover, the king took advantage of his return to entrust to him a mission of inspection at Louisbourg, where he was “to ascertain the present state of the fortifications and the artillery,” and to concern himself with regulations for the troops to prevent the renewal of the abuses which had provoked the disorders of 1745. He could also extend his investigations “as much as time will allow to the different parts of the administration of the colony.”
After acquainting his successor, La Jonquière, with the state of affairs in New France, La Galissonière sailed from Quebec on board the Léopard on 24 Sept. 1749 and reached Louisbourg on 5 October. No time was lost in making his inspection, for he left again before 21 October. Together with the commandant, Charles Des Herbiers de La Ralière he visited the forts, carried plans away with him, and gave the necessary instructions for improving the soldiers’ material conditions by reforming the canteens and the distribution of rations.
Scarcely had he returned to France in December 1749 than La Galissonière received a confidential mission which was to keep him in touch with Canadian affairs. Along with Étienne de Silhouette, the Maître des Requêtes, he was appointed a commissioner “for the conferences which are to be held in Paris to settle the two nations’ possessions in America and their boundaries as well as to wind up the matters concerning prizes taken at sea.” William Mildmay and William Shirley, the governor of Massachusetts, represented the king of England.
This commission’s labours produced the Mémoirs des commissaires du roi et de ceux de Sa Majesté britannique sur les possessions & les droits respectifs des deux couronnes en Amérique – avec les actes publics & pièces justificatives (4v., Paris, 1755–57). Included is a report on France’s colonies in North America which seems clearly to be La Galissonière’s work. In this report he puts forth his theory on colonization, after displaying remarkable lucidity about British policy and about the potential riches of Canada, of which he had caught a glimpse in the short time at his disposal. Broadly described, his recommendation was to combine the strength of the soldier with that of the plough and to display force in order not to have to use it. Thus, when François Picquet sent three Indians to France in 1754, La Galissonière, then counsellor to the ministry of Marine, recommended to the minister that he “take advantage of every opportunity to show them the different kinds of troops, which will give them an idea of France’s might to spread among their people without there being any need of recommending that they do so.”
His ideas were naturally coloured by the mercantilism of his period, but he was also an idealist and for him colonization could not be a purely economic matter. He might allude to the profitability of the colonies in the long term, but more lofty considerations kept him from envisaging abandoning them, and he wrote: “reasons of honour, glory, and religion do not permit the giving up of an established colony, the abandonment to their own resources or rather to a nation hostile by inclination, upbringing, and religious principles, of the French who have gone there at the government’s urging, in the expectation of being protected by it, and who merit that protection through their loyalty and attachment. “ These are traditional ideas based upon principles scattered through his predecessors’ correspondence, but he deserves credit for synthesizing them and expressing them forcibly.
La Galissonière’s return to France was the occasion of new honours. On 7 Feb. 1750 he was promoted rear-admiral. On 1 January of that year he had been put in charge of the Dépôt des Cartes et Plans de la Marine (where were stored the plans and maps of the Marine), an office which allowed him to give free rein to his inclination towards the sciences. Indeed, he was one of the first sailors of his time to take part in the scientific movement. He had connections with numerous well-known scientists such as Henri-Louis Duhamel Du Monceau, Bernard de Jussieu, Pierre-Charles and Louis-Guillaume Lemonnier, and was particularly interested in botany, nautical astronomy, and hydrography. Not content to carry on a regular correspondence with a few great minds, he always found a way to benefit from his professional assignments and to gather unknown plants or seeds to be sent to the Jardin du Roi. He had also created a botanical garden for himself at his chateau of Monnières, near Nantes, France. His stay in Canada had obviously offered vast scope to his scientific activity. He made skilful use of the officers under his orders to collect a great deal of information; thus Daniel-Hyacinthe-Marie Liénard de Beaujeu, the commandant at Fort Niagara, and Paul-Louis Dazemard de Lusignan at Fort Saint-Frédéric were commissioned to draw up natural history inventories according to a model prepared by Gaultier, while the engineers Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry at Detroit and Michel Chartier* de Lotbinière at Michilimackinac kept logs of astronomical and geographical observations. Finally, when he sent Céloron de Blainville into the Ohio region, he gave him the Jesuit Joseph-Pierre de Bonnecamps* as an assistant, to gather scientific information of all sorts.
As a sailor La Galissonière was naturally interested in astronomy and nautical instruments. Already in 1737, during the voyage of the Héros, he had been commissioned to study a new instrument, probably a quadrant. While head of the Dépôt de la Marine he organized three scientific missions: one by Joseph-Bernard de Chabert along the coasts of North America (1750–51), in which Newfoundland, Acadia, and Île Royale were charted accurately, the results being published in 1753; one by Gabriel de Bory along the coasts of Spain, Portugal, and Madeira; and finally, the great astronomical mission by Abbé Nicolas-Louis de La Caille to the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean, which resulted in the publication of an excellent catalogue of the stars of the southern hemisphere.
Always precise and meticulous, La Galissonière drew up the instructions for the officers himself and demanded of them a rigorous system for presenting the results of their observations. He never ceased guiding and encouraging the sailors and scientists interested in the activities of his Dépôt. These activities were responsible for his unanimous election as an associate at large of the Académie de Marine on 29 April 1752 and for his reception in the same capacity into the Académie des Sciences on 1 May.
But he was not allowed to forget completely that he was, after all, a sailor. It seems that during his stay at the Dépôt he played a role as adviser to the minister of Marine, Rouillé, about which details are unfortunately lacking. At the beginning of 1754 he was given command of the Sage and a squadron of three ships of the line and six frigates, with which to protect merchant ships against the Barbary corsairs. From May to October the ships sailed off the coasts of Spain and Portugal before returning to Toulon. This campaign earned him a gratuity of 4,000 livres and promotion on 25 Sept. 1755 to the rank of lieutenant-general of the naval forces. La Galissonière was in fact always well treated financially; thus, before his return from Canada, he received a gratuity of 6,000 livres, plus 13,400 livres in repayment for various items.
The rising tension between France and England was to furnish La Galissonière the occasion to direct a large-scale operation. At the beginning of 1756, when war had not yet been declared, the Maréchal de Richelieu had proposed seizing Minorca, which the British had occupied since the treaty of Utrecht. The navy’s part of the expedition was entrusted to La Galissonière who, with 12 ships of the line and five frigates, escorted the 176 transport ships carrying the landing force of 12,000 men. The convoy left Toulon on 10 April and arrived before Ciudadela on 18 April. The landing was without incident, no resistance being offered. On 24 April La Galissonière proceeded to cruise off Port Mahón (Mahón, Minorca), and allowed the five British ships which were there to escape. On 18 May appeared a British squadron of 13 ships of the line and four frigates under Admiral John Byng. After two days of maneouvring, the two forces lined up against each other and the combat was begun with the greatest prudence on both sides. La Galissonière was not audacious enough to exploit confusion that arose in the enemy’s line, and after three hours of gun-fire the British withdrew towards Gibraltar, without any attempt at pursuit by the French. With no support, Minorca surrendered on 29 June, and the squadron returned to Toulon on 18 July.
The very modest success of 20 May 1756 created a stir in France out of all proportion to its real importance. Obsessed with the idea of protecting the troops who had been landed, La Galissonière had carried out with regrettable timidity instructions that were too cautious. The historian O.-J. Troude wrote: “Issue cannot be taken with this general officer for having succeeded in the mission entrusted to him before Mahón, but this success cannot be considered the result of a skilful or daring plan, and circumstances aided the commander-in-chief greatly.” In reality the success was brought about essentially by Byng’s lack of vigour, and he paid for it with his life.
But La Galissonière was ill. On 24 September he received permission to land and left for Fontainebleau, where the king was waiting to give him, it was said, the baton of a maréchal of France. Death decided otherwise.
“An officer of great intelligence and well informed, who knows his profession well and is devoted to the service,” we read in the roll of officers. “He is well liked and esteemed by the whole Marine,” adds a note kept in his file. Amiable, level-headed, extremely honest, a humane leader, religious and easily given to moralizing, knowing his men well and concerned for their well-being, La Galissonière was undeniably an engaging personality who was liked by many people, some of whom no doubt facilitated an advancement of surprising rapidity. He reached the rank of rear-admiral without ever having been engaged in combat, and if he showed himself to be an enterprising administrator, lucid and shrewd, and a subtle diplomat, his conduct at sea was much less brilliant; in the only one of his campaigns in which he commanded large forces and had to fight, he revealed himself to be extremely timid and gave no proof of possessing the qualities of a great leader. Was he really “the most remarkable of the governors of New France in the 18th century,” as one historian maintains? During his stay on this side of the Atlantic he displayed intense and intelligent activity, but that stay seems too brief to this author to justify such a favourable opinion, particularly since the policy that he tried to implement shows less originality than has been claimed.
AN, Col., B, 87, 88, 89; C11A, 88–93, 96; C11B, 28; Marine, B2, 328, f.891; 329, f.468; 331, ff.282, 375, 387; 351, f.238; 352, f.81; 354; B3, 529, 530; B4, 39, ff.241–380; 54, ff.22–71; 56, ff.123–76; 59, ff.4–27; 67, ff.66–86; 69; 70; 71; C1, 165; 166, p.27; C7, 159 (dossier La Galissonière); 1JJ, 1, 2. Bibliothèque du Muséum National d’Histoire naturelle (Paris),
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Cite This Article
Étienne Taillemite, “BARRIN DE LA GALISSONIÈRE, ROLAND-MICHEL, Marquis de LA GALISSONIÈRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/barrin_de_la_galissoniere_roland_michel_3E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Étienne Taillemite|
|Title of Article:||BARRIN DE LA GALISSONIÈRE, ROLAND-MICHEL, Marquis de LA GALISSONIÈRE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1974|
|Year of revision:||1974|
|Access Date:||May 29, 2023|