DOREIL (d’Aureil, d’Oreil), ANDRÉ (Jean-Baptiste), financial commissary of wars in New France; son of Philippe Doreil and Jeanne-Catherine Blancheteau; fl. 1749–59.
It is from his marriage act and reports to superiors in France that certain biographical details about André Doreil can be ascertained. He probably came from the west of France, from Niort where his mother lived. He settled in Provence in 1749, when he was appointed provincial commissary of wars of the department of Toulon. Before this date he lived in Paris. On 22 April 1750 he married at Aix-en-Provence Marguerite-Charlotte-Baptistine, daughter of the Marquis de Pontevès. Mme Doreil died on 19 April 1754, leaving her husband with three young children. The following year he was named commissary of wars in New France.
Doreil was both ambitious and competent. The first quality is implicit (and explicit) in his acceptance of a commission in Canada as commissary of wars at a time when his personal affairs were in some disorder. He came reluctantly on the understanding that he would receive immediate promotion and would have to serve no more than two years in the colony. His competence kept him there well over three, despite repeated pleas for recall on the grounds of ill health and his children’s needs.
His role as commissary of wars was roughly that of a deputy quartermaster-general in charge of the care and maintenance of all the French regular troops in Canada, attending to their billeting, equipment, clothing, rations, and hospital care. Doreil stated that Intendant Bigot* did not interfere in any way with the military functions or with the hospitals. The commissary of wars also commented that the intendant “honoured me with his friendship and with kindnesses to me in personal matters.” In 1756 he was promoted financial commissary of wars and could then authorize expenditures.
Doreil’s letters show genuine concern for his men. They are filled with details concerning the soldiers’ billeting (often with the habitants), their pay (he is not at all happy with paper money and the resultant loss in exchange for the troops), their clothing (they require more shoes and those of better quality), their rations (including a ration of wine for those in hospital). He set up field hospitals for the first time, harassed the minister for more, and better, surgeons and surgical instruments, and carried on a running feud with the financial commissary and commissary of wars at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), Jacques Prévost* de La Croix, whose apparent indifference to the needs of the regular battalions stationed there was a constant worry to Doreil.
He was courageous; in 1757 when the newly arrived soldiers of the Régiment de Berry were dying like flies of ship-fever (typhus?) in the Hôpital Général of Quebec and passing this disease on to the nuns and chaplains, Doreil visited the hospital twice a day to make sure all was in order. He praised the unstinting and expert care given his soldiers by the religious nursing orders, procuring for those at Quebec and at Montreal substantial grants from the crown.
In his letters Doreil also betrays the sycophancy and self-praise characteristic of 18th century officials. By repeatedly pointing out to the minister how hard and competently he was working, he managed to get promotion to financial commissary of wars after one year in Canada. He also obtained 12,000 livres compensation for the loss of his household effects captured by the British in 1755 on the Alcide, although this sum was twice their current value in France. He even asked for the cross of Saint-Louis, a military honour to which he was not entitled. An indication of his solid reputation, however, is that the request was at least considered.
On a different level, his comments on leading figures in the colony are interesting. He noted in 1755 Governor Pierre de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil’s reluctance to deal with corruption inside Intendant Bigot’s sphere of influence and characterized Baron de Dieskau as a courageous officer better fitted for subordinate than supreme command. He made the sensible suggestion, after Dieskau had been taken prisoner in September 1755, that the new general should be “a good-natured and mild-mannered man,” who would then be able to “govern the governor”; apparently with Vaudreuil’s approval, he suggested a replacement – Jean-François de Gantès, “Brigadier Commandant des volontaires de Dauphiné” and his own brother-in-law. As the war went on, Doreil’s cautious insinuations that all was not well within the colonial administration became more outspoken and, at times, almost incoherent. He was, naturally, strongly identified with the French regulars and with Montcalm after the latter’s arrival in May 1756, so that his later letters, filled with pessimism over the fate of the colony and contempt for the Canadian officials, must be seen in the light of this sympathy.
Doreil’s work in Canada was rewarded, finally, by his recall to France in the autumn of 1758; he was replaced by Benoit-François Bernier*. After a harrowing crossing, mainly because of English corsairs in the Bay of Biscay, Doreil landed in Spain and went overland to Versailles. He is last heard of in Vannes in November 1759, serving as financial commissary, and then fades into oblivion.
Perhaps the real value of Doreil’s correspondence is its depiction of the underside of 18th century warfare – the squalor, misery, and appalling death rates from disease in contrast to the fife and drum of battle. It shows, too, the humanitarian concern intimately connected with the idea of paternalism.
[The main sources for the life of Doreil are found in the AD, Bouches-du-Rhône (Marseille), État civil, Saint-Sauveur d’Aix-en-Provence, 22 avril 1750, and in the “Lettres de Doreil,” APQ Rapport, 1944–45, 1–171. Some of his letters are in AN, Col., C11A, 100–3, but his service record seems to have been lost. La Chesnaye-Desbois et Badier, Dictionnaire de la noblesse (3e éd.), VIII, 938–40, and XVI, 138–39, gives some biographical information, but Doreil is called there Jean-Baptiste. Some historians have attributed to Doreil the “Éloge historique du marquis de Montcalm,” published in the Mercure de France, in January 1760. Modern scholarship has dismissed this attribution on the basis of internal evidence and style. j.r.t.]