BEAUHARNOIS DE LA BOISCHE, CHARLES DE, Marquis de BEAUHARNOIS, seigneur of Villechauve, naval officer, governor general of New France, lieutenant-general of naval forces; b. in the family château of La Chaussaye near Orléans and baptized 12 Oct. 1671, son of François de Beauharnois de La Boische and Marguerite-Françoise Pyvart (Pinard) de Chastullé; d. 12 July 1749 in the parish of Saint-Sauveur, Paris.
The Beauharnois were an old and notable family of Orléans, originally well-to-do merchants, then in successive generations holders of royal, ducal, and municipal offices. Under Henry IV, as magistrates of the lower courts of Orléans, they entered the robe nobility. Charles’s father, a lawyer in the parlement and director general of finances and of the royal salt tax in Orléans, represented the cadet branch of the family and held modest seigneurial lands; his mother was the daughter of a maître ordinaire in the treasury court of Blois.
Significant among the notable marriages of the Beauharnois were those with the Phélypeaux of Blois. Louis Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain, grandson of one Beauharnois and brother-in-law of another, became secretary of state for the Marine in 1690. Prior to this date the two eldest of Charles’s six brothers had entered the army but after 1691 all the remaining Beauharnois sons entered the Marine where they could expect to enjoy favours from Pontchartrain, their cousin.
Charles de Beauharnois served at sea for 20 years, in the two longest wars of Louis XIV’s reign – the League of Augsburg and the Spanish Succession. Beginning with La Hougue in 1692, the shattering engagement which turned French naval strategy from the guerre d’escadre to the guerre de course, he experienced fierce combat on eight different occasions. In 1698 he sailed with d’Iberville [Le Moyne*] to discover the mouth of the Mississippi, and the following year commanded a company of naval infantry against the pirates of Salé (Morocco). In 1703 Beauharnois was given his first ship command – the Seine destined for Quebec where his older brother François had been appointed intendant by Pontchartrain. In 1707 he commanded the Achille, a corsair outfitted by René Duguay-Trouin, which caught fire in an attack on an English convoy off Cape Lizard. Though he lost his prizes both Duguay-Trouin and the Comte de Forbin praised the vigour with which he pressed his attack.
In 1710 Beauharnois transferred from Brest to Rochefort, probably hoping to benefit from the recent appointment of his brother François as intendant there. For the next 16 years, when the Marine had to retrench following the costly wars of Louis XIV, Beauharnois served in port.
In August 1716, at age 46, he married Renée Pays, wealthy widow of Pierre Hardouineau de Landianière, king’s counsellor, receiver general for crown lands and forests in La Rochelle. This marriage made him master of an estate worth perhaps 600,000 livres, the most valuable portion consisting of sugar plantations in Saint-Domingue (Hispaniola). To this he added 66,000 livres of his own movables. Three years earlier his younger brother, Claude*, had married one of Renée Pays’s daughters. Now Beauharnois became guardian of the three other minor stepchildren.
This childless marriage was not a happy one. In September 1719 Renée Pays launched a suit for separation of the communauté de biens, and her children by her previous marriage began legal action against her and Beauharnois to gain control of their inheritance. Beauharnois resisted successfully until 1725 when the courts ordered one-half of the communauté divided amongst the children. By this time his wife, after a brief truce in 1721, had refused to be reconciled, and had reopened her suit for separation. The only permissible grounds for dissolution of the communauté were mismanagement of the wife’s patrimony, and Renée, predictably in some measure, accused Beauharnois of ruinous gambling, plotting with his brother to dispossess her children, and letting the estate decline to a fraction of its former value. She embellished her plea with charges of physical and verbal abuse. The surviving evidence is not conclusive as to whether or not the value of the Hardouineau estate decreased owing to Beauharnois’s alleged extravagance. Witnesses established that he gambled, but not that he gambled abnormally for a man of his class, nor that he lost by it. Hearsay evidence was presented that the plantations of Saint-Domingue were badly managed. There were extensive repairs needed to a métairie in France. But Beauharnois clung tenaciously to his rights as master of the communauté. Neither side displayed charity. Suits, appeals, and procedural irregularities filled the courts of La Rochelle and Niort in France, Léogane in Saint-Domingue, and even the parlement of Paris, almost until the death of Renée Pays in 1744. She never did win her separation. Beauharnois continued to enjoy some of the fruits of the communauté, particularly from Saint-Domingue, but his wife managed to extract a healthy living allowance as well as most revenues from France. The only certain victors were the lawyers.
In the heat of these disputes Beauharnois solicited the governorship of New France, left vacant by the death of Philippe de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil in October 1725. The king, having decided after Vaudreuil’s administration that governors should have no close connections with Canadian families, rejected Charles Le Moyne* de Longueuil, governor of Montreal, and selected Beauharnois in February 1726. He arrived in Quebec in August. A naval captain since 1708, and knight of the order of Saint-Louis since 1718, he was the first naval officer to hold the position. His experience was not ill suited to the military situation of New France. In Canada, as at sea, French strategy was essentially defensive. Furthermore, forest warfare in Canada was similar to the naval guerre de course in that both involved small bands of marauders striking quickly wherever the enemy was at a disadvantage. Beauharnois’s appointment is probably explained by the fact that his cousin, Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, Comte de Maurepas, had been minister of Marine since 1723. In addition to the customary title of marquis, Beauharnois procured letters of state, renewed subsequently, suspending all civil cases in which he was involved.
The overriding concern of New France during Beauharnois’s government was English colonial expansion. By the treaty of Utrecht (1713) the French had been forced to concede to the English Hudson Bay, Acadia, and Newfoundland, and the right to trade directly with the western tribes. With cheaper trade goods the merchants of Albany, Pennsylvania, and Hudson Bay were well positioned to take over the western trade and the Indian alliances based upon it. Yet the Anglo-French alliance following Utrecht denied Canadian governors the use of military force. Beauharnois was faced with having to keep the Indian allies, upon whom the security of the French North American empire depended, hostile to the English while peace was imposed from Paris.
In Acadia the Abenaki Indians, disillusioned by the French refusal to join openly in their resistance to English settlement northeastward beyond Casco Bay, were entertaining attractive English peace proposals. Indeed before Beauharnois arrived the Penobscot Abenakis had already concluded an agreement with the governor of Massachusetts Bay, William Dummer [see Sauguaaram]. Beauharnois feared the worst: that the English would soon win over the Abenakis and pose a serious military threat to the east in the event of war. A number of precautions, however, prevented so harmful an outcome. Beauharnois persuaded the minister to maintain the war fund of 6,000 livres for the Abenakis to supplement the diplomacy of the Jesuit missionaries and the French half-breed brothers Saint-Castin [see Joseph D’abbadie]. He urged the Abenakis to join war parties against the Fox Indians in the west, thus keeping their alliance with the French active. He encouraged migration to the missions of Saint-François and Bécancour near Trois-Rivières, and discouraged the re-establishment of villages near the English settlements. But English trade and solicitations over the next 15 years did erode the French alliance, and as early as 1732 the English had established a fort and settlement at Pemaquid near Abenaki villages.
The English threat on Lake Ontario was especially critical. Governor William Burnet of New York, determined to destroy French trade in the west, began building Oswego in 1725 partly in response to the recent establishment of French posts at Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.), Toronto, and Kenté (Quinté). The Six Nations Iroquois, especially some of the Senecas, were openly hostile to the French countermeasure of fortifying Niagara, arguing that Le Moyne de Longueuil and Louis-Thomas Chabert* de Joncaire had tricked them into granting permission for the fort. But the Iroquois were also apprehensive about Burnet’s aggressive policy which equally infringed upon their territory. The Iroquois, indeed, were now less able to defend either their middleman position in the Albany trade or their territorial claims in the face of increasing Anglo-French rivalry. Beauharnois, alarmed in the summer of 1727 by news that the English were fortifying Oswego with a garrison, sent Claude-Michel Bégon with an ultimatum to withdraw within 15 days. He also called out the militia for a military expedition, but on second thought decided to consult the king before taking such a drastic step. The Iroquois made it clear they did not want blood spilled on their land. By insisting upon a strict balance of French and English strength, they assured the French possession of Niagara but also guaranteed that the English would not be removed from Oswego. This interpretation of Iroquois intentions became the basis of Beauharnois’s policy for Lake Ontario. Henceforth this issue, like that of the Acadian boundary dispute, was left to diplomacy and the new status quo, which settled nothing, was confirmed at the congress of Soissons in 1728.
The French adjusted as best they could. A limited brandy trade had already been authorized to offset the attraction of unrestricted rum at Oswego. Beauharnois was instructed to reinstitute the practice of selling congés, or licences to trade at the western posts, in hopes of competing more effectively with the English. He issued regulations to prevent Frenchmen from going to Oswego, and recommended that the king’s posts of Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.) and Niagara be well stocked with trade goods and that their trade be subsidized by the crown to compete with cheaper English goods across the lake. The minister refused to admit subsidization was necessary, but trade at these posts was soon being carried on at a loss. Clearly the presence of the English on Lake Ontario in direct contact with the western tribes would undermine French-Indian alliances.
The Fox wars were in some measure an expression of English influence in the west. Straddling the Wisconsin River west of the Baie des Puants (Green Bay, Lake Michigan), the Fox commanded the best trade route to the Sioux and other upper Mississippi tribes. They guarded their middleman position jealously, and exacted a heavy tribute from anyone, French or Indian, who wished to pass through their lands. Their rivals were the Ojibwas, who traded with the Canadians on Lake Superior, and the Illinois, who traded with the French from Louisiana on the Mississippi. Among the western tribes, even those related to them, they were known as untrustworthy troublemakers. The endless intertribal wars disrupted French trade and threatened the delicate system of alliances.
The French government, in response to the English threat after Utrecht, had decided upon westward expansion and exploration. As a preliminary, Beauharnois was to establish a post and mission among the Sioux on the upper Mississippi, beyond the Fox Indians. The minister had hoped to shore up the fragile peace with the Fox and yet bypass them in the trade with the Sioux. Beauharnois attempted this unlikely policy by sending off an expedition in June 1727 under René Boucher de La Perrière and the Jesuit, Michel Guignas. Alarming news soon arrived that the Fox had renewed their war against the Illinois, killing several Frenchmen. Worse, there were reports of English traders on the Ouabache (Wabash) River, and of invitations, through Indian intermediaries, to the Fox and other tribes to drive the French from the west. Having cancelled his plans against Oswego, Beauharnois, without awaiting approval from the minister, made secret preparations for a major campaign against the Foxes in 1728.
The force of 1,500 Canadians and Indians led by Constant Le Marchand* de Lignery failed dismally to bring the Foxes to heel, and the French lost prestige among the western tribes. Beauharnois, with some justification, blamed Lignery who turned the expedition into a personal trading venture. The minister expressed surprise at Beauharnois’s precipitate decision to use force, but approved it – he was himself under pressure from the controller general of finance and the Compagnie des Indes to insist that Beauharnois end the Fox war against the Illinois. Officials in Louisiana (in fact, the Compagnie des Indes) suspected the new governor at Quebec of continuing Vaudreuil’s policy of encouraging the Fox-Illinois war to prevent pelts from the northwestern tribes from going to New Orleans instead of to Canada. But even if this were so, events in 1727 had convinced Beauharnois that the Fox were too unreliable and he sought their destruction earnestly.
Meanwhile, Beauharnois’s relationship with Intendant Dupuy* was rapidly deteriorating. When they first met in Paris in 1726 all appeared to be well. But despite the king’s most insistent instructions that governor and intendant should ensure a perfect understanding between them, less than two months after arriving in the colony they had begun quarrelling. Beauharnois first complained in October that Dupuy was improperly attended at all public ceremonies by two armed archers, even in his pew at church. Disputes over precedence were not new in Canada, but this one forewarned of the intendant’s insatiable appetite for the trappings, as well as the substance, of royal authority, and of the governor’s determination to protect what he saw as his prerogatives.
Events from January to March 1727 widened the rift between them. On rather specious grounds Beauharnois steadfastly refused a request by Henry Hiché, king’s attorney of the Quebec provost court, to authorize a drummer from the regular troops for the announcement of a court order. Dupuy rose to the bait, issued an ordinance proclaiming a civilian drummer, and forbade the publishing of ordinances without his, Dupuy’s, express permission. There followed scenes reminiscent of the mêlées of Buade* de Frontenac’s government. The ordinance was torn down: Dupuy accused the governor. Beauharnois summoned the intendant to the Château “for important business”: Dupuy refused to go. Even the aging Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*] could not persuade the intendant of the error of his challenge to the governor. Wisely refraining from the use of force, Beauharnois simply wrote a long account of the affair to Maurepas.
Defamatory verses, apparently all unfavourable to Dupuy, circulated in Quebec. Beauharnois reported that Dupuy brought ridicule upon himself by taking idle advice from rumourmongers, such as his sub-delegates Pierre André de Leigne and Pierre Raimbault*. Cooperation proved impossible. Whether settling a property dispute or leasing the fur trade at Toronto, Dupuy was always, so the governor charged, infringing upon his prerogatives. For his part, Dupuy accused the governor of abusing the sale of furtrade licences, requiring money payments from western post commanders, and doing nothing to stop the illegal trade with Albany. He became convinced of a conspiracy against the king’s authority, and it was finally clear that Dupuy had brought with him to Canada a constitutional view current in the sovereign courts of France, that the magistracy, not the old noblesse de race, was the rightful repository of royal authority. A social incompatability between the two officials could only aggravate their quarrels over prerogatives. Dupuy was a parvenu to the king’s service: Beauharnois had been born into it. “It appears,” wrote the governor on more than one occasion, “that he has played general and bishop as well as intendant.” “He is a man totally exceeding his position.”
The ultimate clash came in the winter of 1728. The occasion was a dispute over who was to exercise ecclesiastical authority in the colony following the death of Bishop Saint-Vallier in December 1727. Not for a moment questioning whether he and the Conseil Supérieur were competent to judge the dispute, Dupuy plunged in on the side of Eustache Chartier de Lotbinière, archdeacon appointed by the deceased bishop, against the defiant canons of the cathedral chapter and their elected capitular vicar, Étienne Boullard*. For two months Beauharnois officially remained aloof from the bizarre events which provided townsmen of Quebec with their principal winter’s entertainment: the intendant secretly burying the bishop in the Hôpital Général, then unleashing impassioned diatribes against Boullard and an unrepentant chapter; the canons defying Dupuy’s ordinances against them. Privately the governor encouraged Boullard and facilitated the sending of the chapter’s complaints to court, via New England, at the end of January. On the basis of these Dupuy was recalled. In the meantime, when Dupuy showed no sign of relenting despite the scandal of public disorder, Beauharnois appeared personally in the Conseil Supérieur on 8 March to order the suspension of all deliberations upon the “delicate and dangerous” ecclesiastical disputes of the winter. The king was to decide. Then he left for Montreal. Dupuy refused to admit that the governor had any authority in matters of justice, and pressed the council to continue. Clear-thinking councillors balked at following Dupuy’s defiant example, however, and only a rump council supported him. In May Beauharnois banished two of this group, Guillaume Gaillard* and Louis Rouer d’Artigny, to seigneuries outside Quebec, but they simply took refuge in the intendant’s palace.
When news of Dupuy’s disgrace arrived Beauharnois was publicly triumphant. Privately the minister took him to task for pettiness which contributed to the impasse. Beauharnois had claimed many prerogatives that were not his, particularly that of banishing councillors. Yet he had been no more sensitive about his prerogatives than others of his rank and social group would have been. On the essential point, that of the conduct expected of a governor when in disagreement with the intendant, he was perfectly correct. Not until matters had gotten quite out of hand – on this point the minister concurred – did he take the grave measure of intervening with his ultimate “authority.” Learned in law though he was, Dupuy displayed an utter inability to comprehend the constitutional relationships worked out over half a century earlier between all the key Canadian institutions: the governorship, the intendancy, the council, the church. Beauharnois, an amateur in constitutional law, possessed political sense and understood the restraint with which he was expected to exercise his authority.
He was jubilant, and not very charitable in his victory. He did nothing to prevent the humiliating seizure of Dupuy’s belongings as assurance for his sizable debts. His excuse was that the actions were a matter of justice. For many his apparent victory must have proved his influence with Maurepas.
The political tumult and frontier crises of his first two years of government subsided, but Beauharnois still faced chronic problems. He was alarmed at how vulnerable Canada’s defences were. Peace, and financial retrenchment, placed colonial defence low on the scale of priorities. Most of Beauharnois’s recommendations were rejected as too costly and unnecessary. He argued that the fortification of Quebec and the addition to the garrisons of at least 1,500 regular troops were essential. He bluntly dismissed the fortress of Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) as useless to Canada: “I do not know, Your Excellency,” he wrote the minister in 1727, “who could have led the court to believe that Île Royale was the rampart of this country; the entire English army could come to Quebec and nothing be known of it at Île Royale. Even if it were known there, what could they do about it?” Although the stone wall around Montreal, begun in 1716, was finally completed in 1741, the other recommendations were ignored.
He did persuade the minister to construct Fort Saint-Frédéric at the headwaters of Lake Champlain after learning of an English plan to settle on this, the major avenue from New York to the heart of the St Lawrence colony. First securing Iroquois neutrality, he built the fort and the English could only protest diplomatically. In a quick stroke Beauharnois had secured one of the most strategically important locations on the colonial frontier.
Beauharnois found himself increasingly drawn into the Ohio in proportion to the growth of English influence there, and in the 1730s had to keep a wary eye on tribes such as the Miamis, Weas, Piankeshaws [see Jean-Charles D’arnaud], and the migrating Shawnees on the Ouabache, and on the Iroquois and other eastern tribes who had migrated to Rivière Blanche. At Detroit, a vital post where a number of traditionally hostile tribes were gathered in uneasy alliance, Beauharnois was threatened constantly by tribal conspiracies. When in 1727 the Hurons complained bitterly of the high prices charged by the agents of Alphonse Tonty*, post commander and holder of the trade monopoly, Beauharnois recalled him, and issued several licences to different traders to stimulate competition. But the Hurons, succumbing to the influence of the English and Senecas, made peace with the Flatheads to the south. A full-scale war involving all the Great Lakes tribes was narrowly averted in 1738 when the Ottawas, with good reason, accused the Hurons of treachery in an ambush of Ottawas on a raid against the Flatheads. Nicolas-Joseph de Noyelles de Fleurimont, commander at Detroit, barricaded the French in the fort. With great difficulty Beauharnois and Noyelles negotiated an uneasy truce. They did not prevent a group of Hurons under Orontony moving to Sandoské (Sandusky) on the southwest shore of Lake Erie where they kept up a regular trade with Pennsylvania merchants.
Farther to the north the defiant Foxes were still disrupting French trade. Beauharnois worked tirelessly to isolate them diplomatically, and by 1730 the tribe sought refuge among the Senecas. They were intercepted en route and besieged by a combined force of 1,400 Louisianians, Canadians, and Indian allies [see Robert Groston* de Saint-Ange; Nicolas-Antoine Coulon* de Villiers; Noyelles; François-Marie Bissot* de Vinsenne]. Several hundred Foxes were killed when they attempted to escape and others were dispersed as slaves among the victorious tribes. Elated, Beauharnois re-established in 1731 the posts which had been abandoned at Baiedes-Puants (Green Bay, Wis.) and among the Sioux.
In dealing with the remnants of the Fox tribe, however, Beauharnois misjudged the reaction of the western tribes to recent events. Apparently he had no intention of negotiating in good faith with the Foxes who had earlier mocked his own efforts to make peace. Instead, he encouraged post commanders, western allies, and mission Indians to fall upon the remaining Foxes at every opportunity, until “that damned nation shall be entirely extinguished.” In 1733 the principal Fox chief, Kiala*, begged for mercy. Beauharnois sent him to Martinique in slavery. If the remaining Foxes would not be dispersed among the missions within the colony, they were to be killed.
Many allies blanched before this ruthlessness and began openly to sympathize with the beleaguered tribe, even to the point of releasing their slaves. In September 1733, when Nicolas-Antoine Coulon de Villiers rashly demanded the surrender of some Foxes who had found refuge among the Sauks at the Baie des Puants he, his son, and several other Frenchmen were killed. Beauharnois sought to restore French prestige in 1735 through yet another military expedition, led by Noyelles de Fleurimont. It was a fiasco of bad weather, poor planning, and lack of spirit among the Indian allies. The Foxes found refuge among the Sioux.
The expansion of the fur trade to the far northwest by Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, whose enterprise Beauharnois strongly supported, complicated the problem of stabilizing Indian relations in the west. The Ojibwas, Crees, and Assiniboins, whose friendship La Vérendrye required, were all traditional enemies of the Sioux. La Vérendrye was unable, or unwilling, to prevent the Crees from sending war parties against this numerous tribe. In 1736 a party of Sioux killed Jean-Baptiste Gaultier* de La Vérendrye, the Jesuit Jean-Pierre Aulneau* and 19 Canadians on Rainy Lake. Le Gardeur de Saint-Pierre, whose position at the Sioux post was now untenable, withdrew in 1737. The Fox problem had given way to a Sioux problem farther west, which endangered the supply of half the beaver pelts exported from Canada. Beauharnois’s attempt to exterminate the Foxes had failed. Now he was convinced that he could do little to “impose a law” upon the Indians. Conciliation was henceforth a necessity, even though it was impossible “to have a solid base given the inconstancy of the Indians.” Lacking troops for the western garrisons, he increasingly relied upon lavish gifts and medals to cement his Indian alliances. Expenditures on gifts, which had been fixed at 22,000 livres annually, increased to 65,000 livres in 1741 and 76,600 livres in 1742 – to the anguish of the minister. Much success was due to the inspired diplomacy of Paul Marin de La Malgue, whom Beauharnois had appointed to command at Baie-des-Puants in 1738. By 1743 an uneasy peace had been restored in the west. Had he employed conciliation in 1730 when the French and their western allies were united and victorious, Beauharnois might more easily have resisted the strains placed upon the French alliance system later.
Compared to his quarrels with Dupuy, Beauharnois’s relations with other individuals appear tranquil indeed. There were reasons for tension in his favouring of the Ramezays, old rivals of the Vaudreuils. The latter he treated correctly, though not generously. The patronage attached to the governorship was considerable. Most governors engaged in the fur trade: Beauharnois was likely no exception. Dupuy accused him of it. The determination with which he established the Sioux post, and the protection he never ceased to give La Vérendrye in his monopoly of the mer de l’Ouest, may indicate a personal interest. The decision of the crown to expand the fur trade westward enhanced the governor’s patronage. Beauharnois also benefited from the decision in 1726 to reintroduce the selling of fur-trading licences for most of the Great Lakes posts. Twenty-five of these were to be issued at 250 livres apiece to impoverished families of repute in the colony. Instead, Beauharnois sold them to traders for whatever they would fetch – usually about 500 livres – and in some years issued as many as 50. He deposited 6,250 livres in the Marine account, and distributed 10,000 livres as pensions among widows of notable colonial families. The minister cautiously approved this innovation, which enhanced the governor’s patronage. When in 1742 the crown, largely for fiscal reasons, drastically curtailed the licence system and undertook to lease most of the western posts to the highest bidder, Beauharnois, and the post commanders who thereby lost their trading privileges, naturally objected. The governor argued that a merchant with a lease would charge exorbitant prices for trade goods, driving the Indians to trade with the English.
Committed to the Canadian trade system, Beauharnois did what he could to hinder trade through the rival colony of Louisiana. The Chickasaw Indians, allies of the Carolina English on the lower Mississippi, were reasonably effective in fulfilling the old role of the Foxes in disrupting the Louisiana trade. Beauharnois urged the Canadian Indians to send war parties against them. The capture in 1736 of some Louisiana Frenchmen under Pierre d’Artaguiette d’Itouralde intensified the war, but a concerted campaign in 1739, whose Canadian contingent was led by Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil, accomplished little [see Le Moyne de Bienville]. The Chickasaws did not keep their promise of peace. In fact, the continuing raids by Canadian Indians, encouraged by Beauharnois, served only to keep that tribe hostile to the French of Louisiana. Beauharnois opposed making peace with them or the Cherokees in 1746. When the Compagnie des Indes relinquished its government of Louisiana to the crown in 1732, he joined the chorus of Canadians in arguing that the Illinois country should revert to administration from Quebec. Unsuccessful in this bid, he continued to license Canadian traders for the Illinois on the grounds that Louisiana traders could not supply the needs of the Indians. In 1743 he protested strongly against the claim of Pierre de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil, newly appointed governor of Louisiana, to regulate the fur trade on the Missouri.
With one or two exceptions Beauharnois got on well with the clergy. Even when the coadjutor, Bishop Dosquet*, issued a pastoral letter in 1731 reviving some of Laval*’s old strictures against the brandy trade, Beauharnois admitted he was within his competence. He simply urged a lenient interpretation of the letter by missionaries at Montreal and the western posts. He firmly believed that, without an extension of the brandy trade, the Indians would trade with the English. Once they were engaging in regular commerce, “perhaps in the event of war we should have great difficulty in attracting them back.” This old argument had gained validity since the establishment of Oswego on Lake Ontario.
Beauharnois showed a marked preference for the Sulpicians over the Jesuits. He praised the loyalty of the mission Indians at Lac des Deux-Montagnes under François Picquet*, and procured many favours for them. On the other hand, in 1741 he began scathing criticism of the mission Indians at Sault-Saint-Louis, and, by implication, of their Jesuit missionaries (especially Pierre de Lauzon) who had not used their proper influence to mediate an intertribal quarrel. He accused the Jesuits of conniving in the notorious illegal trade conducted by Marie-Anne Desauniers and her sisters Marguerite and Marie-Madeleine from their store at the Sault mission. “Everyone here,” he wrote the minister, “affirms publicly that the college of Quebec was built upon fraudulent dealings in the English trade.” Infuriated by what he saw as an independent Jesuit policy contrary to his own, he charged that “the Sault Saint-Louis has become a kind of Republic.” This outburst coincided with a similar one against the Jesuit Armand de La Richardie, missionary among the Hurons of Detroit, whom Beauharnois accused of pursuing an independent policy in resettling that tribe, “which he calls his Indians, belonging to him alone, as absolute master.” The Jesuits denied all these charges. The Sault Indians, they protested, did not have “an English heart” as the governor unjustly claimed. In 1742 Beauharnois suppressed the Desauniers’ store, but relented somewhat in his attacks against the missionaries and their flock. War with England was threatening and the colony would need the support of all its allies, however unreliable. He also knew that some illegal trade was necessary to supply French traders with the English merchandise demanded by the western tribes.
During these anxious years Beauharnois became involved in numerous disputes with Intendant Hocquart*. For some time they got on famously. After two trying years with Dupuy, Beauharnois expressed his relief to the minister: “Experience gives me a taste for peacefulness.” Young, competent, and ambitious, Hocquart saw in his appointment as financial commissary to Canada in 1729 a step towards an eventual intendancy in France. But his hope to impress the minister with a brilliant success in restoring order to the colony’s finances was sadly disappointed. Maurepas refused to admit that the Marine department and the treasurers general of the Marine owed the colony considerable sums for previous expenditures. Hocquart was expected to effect savings through regular retrenchment in current budgets. This expectation frustrated his quest for funds to support a number of ambitious projects, among them being the Saint-Maurice ironworks (see François-Étienne Cuqnet) and the construction of naval vessels at Quebec. Hocquart decided that there must also be savings in military expenditures, and other areas where the governor had an interest. With persistence and circumspection he retrenched across a broad front: pensions for Indian interpreters, officers’ uniforms, orders for gunpowder, claims by western post commanders for gifts distributed to Indian allies. He wanted to reduce costly garrisons at several forts, appoint a permanent commander at Detroit, and lease to the highest bidder the trade at each of the western posts. He claimed Beauharnois’s expenditures on fortifications were excessive and often unnecessary.
Naturally, Beauharnois complained. And in 1740 he struck by exposing what he implied to be collusion between the intendant and Cugnet, farmer of the Tadoussac fur trade and leading partner in the Saint-Maurice ironworks, to misrepresent the true revenues of the Tadoussac post. The governor’s protégé, Lafontaine de Belcour, offered twice what Cugnet was paying for the lease. This quarrel had developed partly out of a dispute about finding a gratuity for Nicolas Lanoullier de Boisclerc, former agent of the treasurers general of the Marine. The war of patronage expanded to include an infinity of issues with the clients of each official lining up accordingly. The governor’s claim that the intendant was at times encroaching upon his prerogatives echoed a familiar refrain from his quarrels with Dupuet the two episodes were significantly different: despite their open conflict after 1739, Beauharnois and Hocquart were still able to cooperate on matters which required joint attention.
When news arrived in June 1744 that France and England were at war at last, much cooperation was necessary. The governor’s tasks were clear: to assure the defence of the colony proper; to secure the Indian alliances and Iroquois neutrality; and to take offensive action against the English North American possessions. As early as the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish war in 1739 Beauharnois began precautions. He repaired the fortifications and increased the garrisons at Saint-Frédéric, Niagara, and Frontenac. He ordered regular reconnaissance patrols on the Lake Champlain frontier. By 1742 the batteries of Quebec had platforms and mountings. With the declaration of war he constructed earthworks and a palisade along the Saint-Charles River, restored the stockade forts in the seigneuries, set up signal stations down the St Lawrence, and prepared fire boats at strategic locations.
The success with which Beauharnois had restored calm in the west was attested in 1744 when he and his post commanders encountered little difficulty bringing their allies to declare for the French. Aware, however, that inaction disgusted Indians, he ordered a quick raid in 1744 against English traders in the Ohio, followed by the petite guerre against the New England frontier. Parties of militia and Indians led by Canadian officers (Marin, François-Pierre de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil, Jean-Baptiste Boucher de Niverville, Luc de La Corne*, known as La Corne Saint-Luc, Le Gardeur de Saint-Pierre) fell upon outposts such as Saratoga (Schuylerville, N.Y.), Fort Massachusetts (Williamstown, Mass.), and Charlestown (N.H.), and laid the surrounding countrysides waste.
However, Beauharnois displayed extreme reluctance to undertake more substantial offensives, perhaps in part because of the defensive mentality in his naval background. But circumstances went far to justify it. The Iroquois had informed him their neutrality depended upon Oswego remaining unmolested, and though Maurepas might grumble the governor knew that while neutral the Iroquois would not support an English assault against Niagara. Thus the status quo on Lake Ontario remained undisturbed for the duration of the war.
More inhibiting was the dire shortage of provisions, munitions, and trade goods in the colonears before the declaration of war Beauharnois pleaded in a lengthy report for more troops to bolster the meagre 600 colonial regulars dispersed among the several garrisons, and the 12,000 militia in whom he had little confidence, “the long years of peace having moderated the fervour of the Canadians.” One third of them were unarmed. First-hand experience in the navy having taught Beauharnois not to rely upon French shipping in wartime, he urged the stockpiling of more than a single year’s supplies. But the minister, with some encouragement from a budget-conscious intendant, refused to admit these necessities. He rejected Beauharnois’s plea for a wall around Quebec, because he thought the English, mindful of past failures, would not attempt to capture the capital. Beauharnois was under no such illusion: “The English will always have their sights on Quebec, which is the important objective, and will decide the fate of the rest.” His position was further weakened by three successive poor harvests that left the colony dangerously short of provisions.
In these circumstances, large, prolonged campaigns were out of the question. In the spring of 1745 he scrapped an offensive against English posts on Hudson Bay, and reduced the petite guerre to the minimum needed to maintain the Indian alliances. He had grudgingly sent militia and Indians under Marin to support an attack against Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, but was reluctant to weaken his defences further for a campaign more logically conducted from Île Royale or France. It ended abruptly with the capture of Louisbourg on 28 June, by William Pepperrell and Commodore Peter Warren.
Rumours of invasion by land and sea now abounded. There was a popular clamour in Quebec to fortify the town. Beauharnois seized the opportunity to begin, albeit without official approval, a project he had long favoured. The following year, 1746, Maurepas ordered it stopped unless the inhabitants were prepared to undertake the expense. Opinion was divided and a decision postponed, but much work had already been done.
Far more critical was the shortage of munitions and trade goods. Beauharnois’s earlier scepticism of Louisbourg’s effectiveness had seemed justified when English corsairs in the Gulf of St Lawrence had prevented many ships from arriving in 1744. The following spring Beauharnois sounded a prophetic alarm: “the scarcity and high price of merchandise has effected a reduction of trade . . . . There is reason to fear that the little merchandise which has been sent this year, be it to Niagara or the other posts, will disgust the Indians and encourage them to pass over to the English in order to satisfy their needs.” But only a trickle of supplies arrived in 1745. Beauharnois wrote pessimistically: “I will nonetheless seek the possible in the impossible . . . . It may not be within my means to guarantee the colony.” He urged a determined campaign to recapture Louisbourg and Acadia, and establish naval security for French shipping in the north Atlantic. Such a plan was already under way in the Marine department, but the armada which set sail in June 1746 for Chebucto Bay under the Duc d’Anville [La Rochefoucauld] met with complete disaster. The only achievement was the victory over a New England force at Grand-Pré by Nicolas-Antoine Coulon de Villiers, second in command to Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay*, whom Beauharnois had sent with 1,800 Canadians and Indians to meet d’Anville. For the third year in a row sufficient munitions and trade goods failed to reach Quebec.
The result was what Beauharnois had predicted: the near-collapse of the French western alliance system. By spring 1747 the French posts were devoid of trade goods. To the Indians this made English tales of total French defeat credible. The Pennsylvanian trader and agent, George Croghan, incited the disgruntled Hurons of Sandoské to kill five French traders and invest the post of Detroit [see Orontony]. Ottawas, Potawatomis, Ojibwas all joined in. Settlements were burned and Paul-Joseph Le Moyne* de Longueuil, commander at the post, was completely helpless. The disturbance swept north to Michilimackinac and west to the Illinois country. Only when Beauharnois could dispatch a force from Montreal with newly arrived trade goods was the momentum of the uprising arrested. But the western tribes were no longer dependable.
Contributing to the general nature of the crisis was the ominous success of George Clinton, governor of New York, and his brilliant Indian agent, William Johnson*, in persuading some Iroquois chiefs in the summer of 1746 to declare war upon the French. The western cantons, with the exception of some Senecas, remained essentially neutral, but the Mohawks, for the first time in 45 years, raided the outskirts of Montreal. To maintain French prestige in the eyes of his allies, Beauharnois declared war upon them in March 1747. Now even the supply of illegal trade goods from Albany was totally severed. The successful ambush of a Mohawk party in June 1747 near Châteauguay discouraged further raids [see Karaghtadie], but the impression of French isolation and weakness reverberated throughout the west. Upon departing for France in October 1747 Beauharnois left to his successor, Barrin de La Galissonière, the task of reconstructing the French North American empire A decision in 1746 to recall Beauharnois had been postponed because of d’Anville’s disaster. He was now 76 years old and the minister thought, as did Hocquart, that the demands of war required a younger general. His conduct was not seriously in question. There were rumours of mental weakness, but his alert dispatches to field lieutenants during the war discredit these. “The Marquis de Beauharnois has arrived in Paris in good health,” wrote Pierre Hazeur* de L’Orme in February 1748. “Those who spread the rumour that he was senile have been greatly misled.”
In recognition of his long service he was made lieutenant-general of naval forces in January 1748. He had already received the honours of commander and grand cross of the order of Saint-Louis in 1732 and 1738 and had been promoted rear-admiral on 1 May 1741. He survived all his brothers and spent the remaining two years of his life arranging their estates. As for his own estate, and that of his deceased wife, they were largely reunited when in 1751 his nephew François de Beauharnois de La Boische et de La Chaussée married Marie-Anne Pyvart de Chastullé, his cousin and rival claimant to the Hardouineau succession. Before this, however, on 12 July 1749, Charles de Beauharnois died in Paris and was buried at Saint-Sauveur.
Upon his arrival in Canada in 1726 the colony had been facing grave frontier crises in Acadia, on Lake Ontario, and beyond the Great Lakes. When he left in 1747 it had narrowly escaped the collapse of its Indian alliance system. It would be unfair to argue that Beauharnois was responsible for the state of affairs at his departure – if anything, he prevented it from being worse. His defensive, cautious strategy was essentially sound in the circumstances. If his policy toward the Fox Indians jeopardized the western alliances, he at least succeeded in restoring stability before the outbreak of war. In broad terms his policies were a continuation of those of Vaudreuil, reflecting a continuation of the problems facing the colony. That there was merit in Beauharnois’s proposals is attested by their adoption after his departure: the fortification of Quebec; the increase of colonial regular troops; the buttressing of French power in the west.
Evidence relating to his character is sparse and perplexing. His legal embroilment with his wife and stepchildren raises more questions than answers. The pettiness displayed in his quarrels with Dupuy was balanced by restraint and reflection in almost all his decisions. Bishop Pontbriand [Dubreil] commended his prudence during the heated debate over the continuation of the Quebec wall in 1746. He impressed people as being refined and sensible. In his library were 38 titles representing a broad range of fashionable interests: history, geography, architecture, literature, the classics, as well as manuals on war, commerce, police, and genealogy. With a few pious works was a copy of Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire historique et critique. Hocquart, despite his differences with him over policy, was not alone in describing Beauharnois as “kind, affable, and noble.” The Indians knew him as “Peace.” Many voiced their regrets at his departure.
On the other hand the Comte de Raymond* at Louisbourg several years later had the impression that Beauharnois was little respected at the end of his term of office. This may have been rumour. Yet, had he been widely popular, as was his predecessor Vaudreuil, one would expect to find more evidence of it. The absence of hostile opinions is understandable, given his influence with the minister. Apart from his unimproved seigneury of Villechauve, granted jointly to him and his brother Claude in 1729, he established no roots in the colony. Perhaps this, and fear of his influence, explain why he remained somewhat of an outsider in a community that was becoming increasingly provincial.
[The documentation of Beauharnois’s pre-Canadian career and personal life is scattered and spotty. Though many proprietary and civil records were destroyed in the war of 1939–45, the Archives départementales du Loiret (Orléans), and the archives communales, still contain much material on the Beauharnois family and estate. Valuable documents are also to be found in AN, 251 AP; in various études of the Minutier central; and in BN,
The bulk of documentation for his public life in Canada is included in the well-known series of the AN, containing the official correspondence: Col., B, C11A, C11E, C13A, D2C, E, F3; Marine, B2, B3. Transcripts or microfilm copies of most of these are available in PAC. There are also valuable, though scattered, documents in the ASQ. There is no published collection of Beauharnois’s dispatches, though many translated ones pertaining to the New York frontier may be found in NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow).
The first biography of Beauharnôis has yet to be written, though a few historians have touched upon aspects of his public life. Among these, Frégault, in La civilisation de la Nouvelle-France, gives a general commentary on the years of peace. On Beauhamois’s handling of the Fox wars, Kellogg, French régime, is an early, if limited, attempt at analysis. His policy toward La Vérendrye and the far northwest is minutely documented in Champagne, Les La Vérendrye. On his quarrels with Dupuy, Dubé’s Claude-Thomas Dupuy offers the most recent, and most thorough, analysis. s.d.s.]
© 1974–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
S. Dale Standen, “BEAUHARNOIS DE LA BOISCHE, CHARLES DE, Marquis de BEAUHARNOIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/beauharnois_de_la_boische_charles_de_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:||S. Dale Standen|
|Title of Article:||BEAUHARNOIS DE LA BOISCHE, CHARLES DE, Marquis de BEAUHARNOIS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1974|
|Year of revision:||1974|
|Access Date:||June 4, 2023|