CALLIÈRE, LOUIS-HECTOR DE (usually spelled Callières but he signed without the “s”), chevalier, captain in France, governor of Montreal, governor general of New France, knight of the order of Saint-Louis; b. at Thorigny-sur-Vire, province of Normandy, on 12 Nov. 1648; d. at Quebec on 26 May 1703.
The family came originally from the province of Angoumois where, in 1490, the king’s commissioners recognized the nobility of Jehan de Callières. Two years later, by his marriage to Perrette Du Fort, this Jehan de Callières came into possession of the seigneury of Clérac in Saintonge which subsequently became the family’s principal place of residence.
Jacques de Callières, the father of Louis-Hector, was born in Touraine at an unknown date. He became a follower of the powerful families of Matignon and Orléans-Longueville whose protection enabled him to become brigadier-general in the royal army and governor of the town of Cherbourg in Normandy in 1644. While holding this position he found time to indulge his taste for literature. He wrote several books, including a Lettre héroïque à la duchesse de Longueville sur le retour de M. le prince, and was also a founding member of the academy of Caen in 1652. He died at Cherbourg in 1662. In 1643 he had married Madeleine Potier de Courcy, daughter of the seigneur of Courcy, near Coutances. Two daughters and two sons were born of their marriage.
François, the eldest, was elected to the French Academy in 1689 and also served with distinction in Louis XIV’s diplomatic corps. He was sent to Poland in 1670 to promote the candidacy of the Duc de Longueville to the throne of that country and was one of the three French plenipotentiaries who negotiated the treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Afterwards he became one of the king’s four private secretaries and in 1701, thanks to his ability to imitate the royal handwriting and to his mastery of the French language, succeeded Toussaint Rose as the secretary “who held the pen.” His duties, designed to save the monarch time and fatigue, consisted of writing in a hand and style similar to those of the king letters and memoirs to dignitaries and foreign heads of state and of signing them with the royal name. Such a position of trust gave Callières great power which he frequently used to further the career of Louis-Hector in Canada.
The latter had entered the French army towards 1664 and had participated in several of the military campaigns of Louis XIV. The name of his regiment is not known for certain. The minister of Marine referred to him as a former infantry captain in the Régiment de Navarre when he appointed him to succeed François-Marie Perrot* as governor of Montreal in 1684, but Callière himself stated that he had served in the Régiment de Piémont. Like his brother, Louis-Hector had an able mind and his dealings with the Indians showed that he was a skilful negotiator. He soon impressed Governor Le Febvre* de La Barre as a man of much experience, prudence, and wisdom. As for his personality, it can best be described as the opposite of mellow. He had the sense of discipline and the habit of command of the career soldier, an inflated feeling of self-importance, and a cantankerous disposition that was not improved by recurring attacks of gout.
The recent outbreak of the Iroquois war had enhanced the importance of the government of Montreal. Because of its geographical location, Montreal was not only the area most exposed to Iroquois attacks but also the base where all offensive operations against these Indians were organized. Thus, the governor of this district had to act as a military leader and also take measures to assure the safety of the civilian population. Callière showed that he had the will and the ability to assume such responsibilities; Brisay de Denonville informed the minister that “in this place [he is] governor, commissary, keeper of stores and munitions, and does any job connected with the service.” Soon, the governor came to regard him as the colony’s ablest military officer and he did not hesitate to increase his powers. He annexed both shores of the St Lawrence as far as Lac Saint-Pierre to the government of Montreal after detaching them from that of Trois-Rivières. To prevent discord from breaking out in the colony should the position of governor general become vacant through death or disease, he asked the minister of Marine to name Callière second in command in all of Canada. The ministry at first balked at this request but finally granted it in 1687.
Meantime, New France was being faced with a mounting Iroquois threat which it found nearly impossible to contain. In 1687, seconded by Callière and Rigaud de Vaudreuil, the newly arrived commander of the troops, Denonville had invaded the territory of the western Iroquois at the head of a large army. The expedition, however, totally failed to intimidate the Five Nations and also underscored the difficulties and hardships of wilderness campaigning against such an elusive foe. The experience was not lost on Denonville and Callière. To crush the Iroquois, the two men worked out a scheme that was not lacking in originality and boldness: the conquest and occupation of New York. The memoirs which Callière personally presented at Versailles early in 1689 enumerated the principal advantages France would derive from the possession of this colony: the subjugation of the Iroquois who, finding themselves deprived of their supply of English arms and ammunition, would be obliged to come to terms with the French; the security of the cod-fisheries; and the possession of a fertile province with one of the finest harbours in America. To execute this design, the governor of Montreal asked for two frigates and an army of 2,000 men. With this army he would capture Albany and then proceed to attack New York on the land side while the two frigates blockaded the harbour and bombarded the town. Louis XIV approved the project after making a few modifications in it and decreed that Callière would become the governor of the conquered province. However, a series of delays seriously retarded the arrival of the ships off the North American coast and the whole enterprise had to be abandoned.
There was to be little rest for Callière after his return to Canada late in 1689. France and England were now at war and the conflict with the Five Nations was entering a new and more violent phase. Iroquois war parties prowled in the district of Montreal and constantly threatened the lives and properties of the population. Callière, however, had put the area in a state of defence. Montreal had been enclosed with a strong palisade, and redoubts made of staves fourteen feet high had been built on each seigneury to provide the inhabitants with protection against Iroquois forays. Callière was also kept busy organizing military expeditions and sending them in pursuit of the Iroquois whenever their presence was reported in his district. On occasion, he commanded these expeditions personally, but most of the time they were led by Vaudreuil or veteran officers of the colonial regular troops. Knowing that Montreal was in good hands, Buade* de Frontenac intervened but little in the affairs of the upper colony and spent most of his time in Quebec where he devoted his attention to the war’s strategical aspect. In 1694, partly no doubt as a result of the governor’s good reports, Callière was awarded the coveted cross of Saint-Louis, an honour for which Frontenac had to wait until 1697.
Callière did not fully reciprocate Frontenac’s esteem for he had serious doubts about the soundness of the governor’s war policy. On several occasions, Frontenac had ordered a virtual cessation of hostilities to allow Iroquois deputies to come to Quebec with peace proposals. Callière for his part greatly doubted that the Iroquois sincerely desired peace. In his opinion, their real aim was to keep the French inactive so that they might rest their forces, garner a good stock of furs, and negotiate a peace settlement with the western allies of New France. Then they might resume the war more vigorously than before. This assessment, as events showed, was a fairly accurate one and by 1696 Frontenac decided that the military expedition favoured by Callière could no longer be deferred. On 4 July an army of over 2,000 men, made up of colonial regular troops, militiamen, and Indian auxiliaries left Montreal. Later that month it disembarked on the south shore of Lake Ontario and advanced on the Onondaga settlements. Callière, suffering from gout, came in front on a horse which had been specially transported for him from Montreal on a flatboat; Frontenac, feeling the weight of his 74 years, was carried along behind the army in an armchair. Although this force failed to make contact with the enemy, it ravaged the territory of the Onondagas and Oneidas and struck a terrible blow at the fighting spirit of the Iroquois.
When Frontenac died on 28 Nov. 1698, Callière automatically became acting governor general, but Vaudreuil was a contender for the permanent commission. Callière, however, was able to outmanoeuvre his rival. Using speed and secrecy he gave his application to an envoy, Augustin Le Gardeur de Courtemanche, and sent him to France by way of the English colonies. The time thus gained proved decisive. Courtemanche reached Versailles a few hours before Vaudreuil’s emissary, Charles-Joseph Amiot de Vincelotte, and handed Callière’s dispatches to his brother François who then took them to Louis XIV. When Pontchartrain, Vaudreuil’s protector, approached the monarch with the news of Frontenac’s demise, he was informed that His Majesty was already aware of the development and had granted the position of governor to François de Callières for his brother.
Meantime winter had closed in and sealed off the colony from the outside world. What had happened in France would not be known before spring, but until then Callière was the acting governor and he lost no opportunity to impress his dignity upon his political rivals. He behaved insufferably towards the intendant Bochart de Champigny who was a Vaudreuil supporter; he obliged the Conseil Souverain to register his provisions, as acting governor, although there was absolutely no need for such a formality; finally, on one occasion when he reviewed the troops, he insisted upon the salute that was reserved for field marshals. For Vaudreuil, the naval commissary Tantouin de La Touche, and the comptroller Le Roy de La Potherie, all this was simply too much and they sent their indignant protests to the minister. La Potherie was especially scathing in his remarks. Unlike Vaudreuil, who was “very much a gentleman,” the comptroller claimed that Callière was “hard and insensitive” and had not earned the esteem of four people in the whole colony. As for the Iroquois, he added tartly, it was fortunate that they were at present holding their peace for Callière was in no condition to lead an army against them, being “in bed all year, stricken with gout and another infirmity which prevents him from sitting.” It must have come as no surprise to anyone when both Champigny and La Potherie left the colony shortly after Callière’s appointment was made official.
Callière became governor two years after the treaty of Ryswick had ended hostilities between England and France. The main problem now facing him was the negotiation of a firm treaty between the Iroquois, New France, and all her Indian allies. This task was enormously complicated. Bellomont, the governor of New York, maintained that the Iroquois were British subjects who were included in the terms of the treaty of Ryswick and he made every effort to thwart their negotiations with the French. Furthermore, Callière had to deal with some thirty different tribes, many of whom had been warring on one another or on the Iroquois since time immemorial. To bring about a reconciliation under such circumstances required consummate diplomatic skill.
Resolving these problems took almost three years. The Iroquois, out of consideration for the English, were at first reluctant to negotiate with the French. In 1699, three of their deputies called on Callière and attempted to move the site of the talks to Albany, but the governor replied that these could be held only in Montreal. In subsequent meetings, to induce the Iroquois to send an official delegation to Canada, Callière taunted them with Bellomont’s claim that they were British subjects without the right to speak for themselves and threatened them with an invasion of their cantons if they refused to enter into negotiations. The western Indians, however, who had not discontinued their raids on the Iroquois, finally settled the matter. The Iroquois initially asked the English to grant them protection against these attacks, but when it became evident that no help was forthcoming from that quarter they had no choice but to turn to the French.
In July 1700, two Onondaga and four Seneca chiefs arrived in the colony, announced their desire for peace, and asked Callière to allow Father Bruyas, Chabert de Joncaire, and Paul Le Moyne de Maricourt – three men who enjoyed great prestige among the Iroquois – to accompany them to their cantons to speak in favour of a treaty. Callière agreed to this and their mission was crowned with success. The three Frenchmen were back in the colony in September with a 19-man delegation representing all the nations except the Mohawks, and 13 French prisoners liberated by the Iroquois as proof of the sincerity of their intentions. These delegates met with those of the mission Indians, Abenakis, Hurons, and Ottawas and peace terms were agreed upon. Callière then announced that a great assembly would take place the following summer when all prisoners would be exchanged and the treaty solemnly ratified.
Early the following summer the deputies began to arrive in Montreal. As their canoes came in sight of the town the occupants raised their paddles in salute and the French cannon returned the greeting. By July, 1,300 Indians of over 30 different tribes from areas as far apart as the Atlantic coast and the headwaters of the Mississippi had assembled and the sessions began. For several days delegation after delegation appeared before Callière with its charges and counter-charges, claims and counterclaims. As expected, the return of the prisoners proved to be the most troublesome point. Many of them had died or been killed in captivity; others had been adopted and would not be given up. It is no small tribute to Callière’s ability that he was able to prevail upon the deputies to leave this problem to him to settle as best he could. With this matter disposed of, the treaty could be drawn up. All the tribes agreed to live at peace with each other and not to strike back when attacked as in the past, but to take their grievance to the governor of New France who would obtain redress. Equally important, Callière extracted a promise from the Iroquois to remain neutral in any future conflict between the French and the English. Thus, New York was stripped of its first line of offence and defence and the governor of New France became the arbiter of peace over a vast portion of North America.
Meantime, Callière was reaping the results of the reckless overtrading in beaver which had marked the Frontenac era. The market in France was saturated with this product, prices in Canada were falling as a result, and Louis XIV decided to take drastic measures to reduce the flow of beaver pelts into the colony. In May 1696 he issued an edict that suppressed the 25 fur-trading licences (congés), abolished the principal western posts, and ordered the coureurs de bois to return to civilization. Callière immediately realized that this legislation threatened to undermine New France’s network of alliances with the Indian tribes. Low prices in Montreal might well drive the natives to Albany into the arms of the English; moreover the abolition of the posts and licences made it more difficult to control the allies and facilitated English infiltration of the west. The governor did something to offset the effects of tumbling prices when, in typically strong-handed fashion, he compelled the newly established Compagnie de la Colonie to sell merchandise to the Indians at special rates; but he was unable to convince the minister of the need to re-establish the posts and licences.
Callière, however, did not elude the royal instructions, but made a resolute attempt to enforce the ban on trade in the west. In 1699, he confiscated the trade goods that two Montreal merchants were endeavouring to send to their agents at Michilimackinac. The following year he arrested La Porte de Louvigny, the commandant of Fort Frontenac, for having illegally engaged in the fur trade. Such sternness probably shocked a population which had grown accustomed to Frontenac’s laxity, but it also yielded appreciable results. In 1699 and 1700, Champigny and Callière reported that coureurs de bois were returning to the colony as they exhausted their supplies of trade goods. But a radical reorientation of France’s western policy would soon ruin this attempt to revive Colbert’s old compact colony system.
In 1700 and 1701, Louis XIV decided to consolidate his control of North America from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico by founding new settlements at Detroit and on the lower Mississippi in Louisiana. The reasons for the foundation of Louisiana lay in European dynastic politics. Charles II, the last of the Spanish Hapsburgs, had died on 1 Nov. 1700, and bequeathed to Louis XIV’s grandson, Philippe d’Anjou, the entire Spanish inheritance. By founding a colony on the lower Mississippi that would protect Mexico from the aggressive designs of the English plantations on the Atlantic coast, Louis XIV hoped to demonstrate to Spain that now that it was under a Bourbon king it could rely on French support. As for Detroit, memoirs submitted by Cadillac [Laumet] seemed to prove among other things that a post there would block English expansionism in the region of the Great Lakes. Thus, by means of these two new settlements, France hoped to control all of North America west of the Appalachians and close it to the English.
Callière had serious misgivings about this general policy but he was unable to have it modified. Although he thought that the Detroit project was good on the whole, he did detect two “major obstacles.” First, the Iroquois might take offence at a settlement built on their hunting grounds and renew their war on Canada. Second, and here Callière uncovered the basic flaw, Detroit would draw the western allies close to the Iroquois cantons. Such proximity would facilitate the growth of trade relations between them and commercial intercourse might eventually give rise to a political connection. Much more important for the preservation of the west, he thought, was the re-establishment of the old trading posts and of the licences. All Pontchartrain would state in reply was that the Detroit project should be put through unless “insurmountable difficulties” were discovered. Thus, Callière deferred to ministerial wishes and cooperated with Cadillac to assure the success of his venture.
If Callière had reservations about Detroit and Cadillac, he felt nothing but hostility towards Louisiana and its founder, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville. Detroit, although it had some objectionable features, was at least under Canadian jurisdiction, but Louisiana was a separate colony carved out of territory hitherto governed from Quebec. This in itself would probably have sufficed to annoy Callière; but to make matters worse the new colony soon became a refuge for renegade coureurs de bois and a competitor of Canada for the fur trade of the interior. The angry governor urged the court to adopt measures to correct this situation which, he claimed, was ruining his colony. He suggested that Louisiana be placed under his command, that coureurs de bois who retired there after violating the laws of Canada be arrested, and that Louisiana be forbidden to receive beaver pelts and be permitted only the trade in buffalo hides and other products of the southern part of the continent. The minister, however, refused to grant Callière jurisdiction over Louisiana because it was much easier to send orders there directly from France than by way of Quebec. He also refused to arrest the coureurs de bois who had deserted from Canada since he wished to make use of them to begin the settlement of the new colony. Orders were issued to compel these people to pay their Canadian debts and to prevent Louisiana from receiving beaver, but they do not appear to have been enforced.
Callière, therefore, had little influence over decisions affecting western policy, but he played an important role in shaping the strategy followed by New France during the War of the Spanish Succession. When this conflict broke out in 1702, Pontchartrain urged the governor to conclude an offensive alliance with the Iroquois and authorized him to strike a major blow at the English colonies. Callière, however, did not share this aggressive mood. The colonial budget, in his opinion, would have to be increased by 50,000 to 60,000 livres to finance a large-scale military operation. As for the Iroquois, the most that could be expected from them for the time being was the neutrality they had promised to observe in 1701; incursions against the upper New York settlements, he thought, would almost certainly induce these Indians to break their agreement with the French in order to come to the aid of their old allies. Against New England, on the other hand, the governor authorized the Abenakis to resume the border warfare interrupted by the treaty of Ryswick, The speech he made to a group of these Indians who appeared at Quebec in December 1702 suggests that his strategy here was dictated by the need to make the French alliance profitable in the eyes of this fierce tribe. In this speech, he informed the deputies that the plunder they would gather on their raids, joined to the gifts they would receive from the French, would enable them to live more comfortably in time of war than in time of peace. Callière’s views on the conduct of the war were approved by Pontchartrain and became the basis of French strategy in America for the duration of the War of the Spanish Succession. A truce with New York was to be combined with a little war on New England.
On Ascension day in May 1703, Callière was attending high mass in the Quebec cathedral. Suddenly he suffered a haemorrhage and began to vomit blood. He was immediately taken back to his residence at the Château Saint-Louis, but it was already apparent that the end was near. On 25 May the notary Louis Chambalon was summoned to the dying man’s bedside to draw up his last will and testament. Being the apostolic syndic of the Recollets, Callière asked to be buried in their church and left them the sum of 1,200 livres for the completion of their convent. He directed that his wardrobe and silverware be divided between his secretary, Hauteville, his maître d’hôtel, Beaufort, and his valet, Gillet. Since he had not married he left all his other possessions to his brother François. Feebly, in an almost illegible scrawl, the governor signed the document which Chambalon held out to him. The following day he was dead.
Callière had been the type of governor whom people fear and obey but do not love. Many had resented him for his severity, his imperious ways, the inflexible manner in which he enforced royal orders; but they had also respected him for his integrity and his high concept of public duty. There were no doubt some who breathed a sigh of relief at his passing, but those who appreciated sound government paid him high tribute. Father Charlevoix* stated that Callière was “justly regretted as the most accomplished General the colony had yet had, and the man who had rendered it the most important services.” In her annals of the Quebec Hôtel-Dieu, Mother Juchereau de La Ferté wrote: “all those who knew his ability feel that we did not deserve such a governor.” These testimonies were not undeserved. Callière had been one of the principal artisans of the French victory during the second Iroquois war, the diplomat who negotiated the great peace of 1701, and the strategist who shaped New France’s policy for the War of the Spanish Succession. In the history of the colony, there probably never was an abler and more devoted servant of the French monarchy.
AJQ, Greffe de Louis Chambalon, 25 mai 1703. AN, Col., B, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17; 19, 20, 22, 23; C11A 6–21; C11E, 14; D2C, 49; F3, 2, 6, 8. BN, MS, Cabinet des titres, dossiers bleus, 148. Charlevoix, Histoire. “Correspondance de Frontenac (1689–1699),” APQ Rapport, 1927–28, 1–211; 1928–29, 247–384. “Un éloge funèbre du gouverneur de Callières,” APQ Rapport, 1921–22, 226–32. Juchereau, Annales (Jamet). La Potherie, Histoire (1753). Le Blant, Histoire de la N.-F., 270n. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), IX, X. “Testament de Louis-Hector de Callières, gouverneur de la Nouvelle-France,” APQ Rapport, 1920–21, 320ff. Eccles, Canada under Louis XIV; Frontenac. Giraud, Histoire de la Louisiane française, I. Lanctot, Histoire du Canada, II. C. Vigen, Notice sur les de Callières de Normandie et leurs rapports avec ceux de Saintonge (Ligugé, s.d.). “Le frère de notre gouverneur de Callières,” BRH, XXXIII (1927), 48–51. M. Godefroy, “Le chevalier de Callières, gouverneur de Canada (1648–1703),” Revue catholique de Normandie, VIII (1898–99), 5–19; 158–70, 228–41, 310–24, 456–69; IX (1899–1900), 5–17. H. Jouan, “A propos de Jacques-François et Louis-Hector de Callières,” Mémoires de la société académique de Cherbourg (1890), 1–18; “Les de Callières (Jacques et Louis-Hector): Un nouveau point douteux d’histoire locale éclairci,” Mémoires de la société académique de Cherbourg (1891), 52f. (This very short note contains an extract from the birth certificate of Louis-Hector de Callière, proving that he was born at Thorigny-sur-Vire, in the province of Normandy, on 12 Nov. 1648.) H. Moulin, “Les deux Callières, Jacques et François,” Mémoire de l’Académie des belles-lettres de Caen (1883), 136–56. Benjamin Sulte, “La famille de Callières,” RSCT, 1st ser., VIII (1890), sect.i, 91–112; “La signature royale,” BRH, XXI (1915), 75–77.
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Cite This Article
Yves F. Zoltvany, “CALLIÈRE, LOUIS-HECTOR DE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/calliere_louis_hector_de_2E.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:||Yves F. Zoltvany|
|Title of Article:||CALLIÈRE, LOUIS-HECTOR DE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1969|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||June 4, 2023|