LABORDE (La Borde), JEAN, agent of the treasurers general of the Marine and Colonies, attorney general of the Conseil Supérieur of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), royal notary, and merchant; b. 21 Nov. 1710 at Bidart, diocese of Bayonne, France, son of Martin Laborde (Borda) d’Aloperca and Catherine Dechart (Duhart); m. 2 Feb. 1734 at Louisbourg, of Île Royale, Louise Milly, née Dupuy, a Canadian; they had eight children of whom only one son and two daughters are known to have been still alive in 1761; d. 3 Sept. 1781 at Eysines, near Bordeaux, France.
There is no evidence that Jean Laborde was related to the famous Bayonne families of court bankers and farmers general, and the patronage by which he got his start in life is not clear. He first went to Île Royale in June 1730 as clerk to the king’s storekeeper, André Carrerot*, and late in 1733 he became secretary to the acting financial commissary, Sébastien-François-Ange Le Normant de Mézy. When Le Normant returned to France in 1737, Laborde continued working under the next financial commissary, Francois Bigot, and the Marine controller, Antoine Sabatier*, at a salary of 900 livres a year. He also took the post of clerk of the Conseil Supérieur at Louisbourg on the death of the previous clerk, Claude-Joseph Le Roy* Desmarest. When Anglo-American forces under William Pepperrell* and Peter Warren* captured Louisbourg in 1745, the Labordes retired with Bigot to Rochefort where Laborde spent part of the next three years drawing up the treasurers’ accounts for Île Royale, the treasurers’ agent, Jacques-Philippe-Urbain Rondeau*, having died. He also spent some time at sea as treasurers’ agent to the fleet of the Duc d’Anville [La Rochefoucauld*].
When the War of the Austrian Succession ended in 1748, Laborde went to Canada with Bigot and helped to clear up the affairs of the late agent of the treasurers general of the Marine, Thomas-Jacques Taschereau*. The next year Jacques Prevost de La Croix, the financial commissary of Île Royale, had him appointed a royal notary and treasurers’ agent for that colony. Laborde went to Louisbourg where he was to remain until the loss of the colony to Jeffery Amherst in 1758. Although working under the direction of the financial commissary, Laborde was in fact the paid agent or clerk of the treasurers general of the Marine and Colonies. Beginning with the year 1750 and until 1771 the financing of the colonial service was separated from that of the naval service. Therefore, two new offices of treasurer general for the Colonies were created, one for even-numbered years and the other for odd-numbered years, and agents such as Laborde had to serve four treasurers general, although most of their business was for the colonial service. The four treasurers general were big financiers in Paris who had bought their offices at high prices and who held and disbursed all royal funds allotted to the navy and the colonies, like so many bankers, on orders from the crown’s minister at Versailles or from a local representative of the crown such as the financial commissary at Louisbourg. Tables of authorized payments, drawn up in the ministry in Paris, were sent out to the colony each year and Laborde’s job was to pay soldiers, sailors, officers, supply merchants, and others for the crown. He paid in cash when he had it and otherwise in promissory notes or bills of exchange drawn on the treasurers general in Paris. These were printed forms, duly filled out, as were the receipts he was supposed to keep and to send to the treasurers general with his accounts. Laborde’s accounts, like nearly all accounts for the French government, were several years late because the accounting system required that all transactions pertaining to a certain year be completed before the accounts for that year could be drawn up and submitted to the Chambre des Comptes. Meanwhile, nothing prevented Laborde, or any other treasurers’ agent, from using royal funds, or funds borrowed on the considerable credit of his post, in private business ventures.
Laborde had already established himself in a small way as a shipping merchant during the War of the Austrian Succession. No doubt he began to trade much earlier than that, but war offered new opportunities which he seized in partnership with a merchant of the colony, Jean Marguerie. In 1744 they invested, for example, 1,000 livres in a privateer, the Brador, and a larger sum in a 60-ton vessel, the Trompes, sent to Martinique. The loss of Louisbourg the next year interrupted Laborde’s trade but he was ready to begin again as soon as France recovered the colony at the end of the war, blessed as he then was with the financial commissary’s patronage and the prospect of abundant capital from his treasury funds and credit. His favoured position soon encouraged two prominent local merchants to link their fortunes with his by marrying his daughters: in 1749, Antoine Morin, who was brother of Jean-Baptiste Morin de Fonfay, soon to become the king’s storekeeper, and in 1753, Michel Daccarrette*, who was willing to bring 4,000 livres to a marriage to which Laborde gave only 1,500 livres. Laborde bought ships: the Hazard in 1750, as agent for the Martinique firm of Delatesserie et Guillemin, the Grignette in 1751 from Pierre Rodrigue, the Charmante Polly in 1752 from Bernard Decheverry, and others. These he worked as fishing schooners and in the West Indian trade. So successful was he that in 1753 a group of Saint-Malo merchants formally accused him of monopolizing the Louisbourg market, together with the Morin brothers and Nicolas Larcher, by dealing in illegal British goods and so undercutting French merchants. But Laborde was now in an unassailable position and the next year, without ceasing to be treasurers’ agent, he became attorney general of the Conseil Supérieur for Île Royale which brought him prestige and another 400 livres a year.
Laborde was ready to grasp the opportunities offered by the Seven Years’ War. He began to supply French forces and in the years 1755–58 made 165,000 livres in molasses alone. No fewer than five privateers scoured the Atlantic on his behalf and the best of them, the Vigilant, with a crew of more than 50, netted him 150,000 livres, or so he claimed. Encouraged by Prevost’s patronizing willingness to hire his vessels for official dispatches to France, Laborde went into transatlantic shipping through the agency of such prominent merchants as Dominique Cabarrus at Bordeaux, Jean Lanne at Bayonne, and Yves-Augustin Bersolles at Brest. In the spring of 1757, the Dauphin (60 tons) left Bayonne with a cargo for him, including wine, brandy, onions, shallots, stockings, pins, and powder, worth 17,568 livres, and early that summer he dispatched the Victoire (100 tons) to France with a cargo of dried cod, linseed, pepper, brown sugar, mahogany, and other American produce. The brokerage business, buying and selling British and French ships and their cargoes, was a natural addition to so large a business, for Laborde had become one of the colony’s most successful merchants. A census of 1750 shows that even then the Labordes had seven domestic servants, and the family landed in France in 1758 with four black slaves. Laborde might soon have grown rich enough to settle in France like Denis Goguet or Michel Rodrigue, but unfortunately for him the British captured the Victoire, the Dauphin, the Charmant, and then Île Royale itself. Laborde later claimed to have lost a privateer, the Vigilant, and its cargo, two houses in Louisbourg, “one of the finest fishing establishments in the harbour” including a warehouse measuring 80 feet by 30 feet and a lodge big enough to house 80 fishermen, shares in two other such fisheries, and property on the Rivière de Miré (Mira River), acquired in part by official grant as early as 1741, now stocked with 12 cows, a bull, and two horses, forming three métairies (share-cropper’s properties) and a meadow.
That was only the beginning of Laborde’s misfortunes. When the British shipped him back to France, he thought of settling in Bordeaux, where the Daccarrettes went to live, and he bought a large house there, but decided to stay in La Rochelle in order to settle his accounts with the treasurers general. While working on these accounts for the 1750s, Laborde discovered in 1760 – or pretended to discover – that he had left a lot of records together with money in a strong-box in Louisbourg and without them was unable to account for several hundred thousand livres of royal funds. This loss soon reached the ears of the minister, the suspicious and tough-minded Berryer, who on 28 Nov. 1760 wrote to ask the naval intendant at Rochefort to help in the search for the missing papers. Three weeks later, Laborde had a notary draw up a power of attorney for someone in Louisbourg to try to recover them from the British governor there. During the next few months, Laborde’s son (probably Sébastien-Charles) spent his time in London working on this affair through the good offices of Lord Holderness and even proposed to go to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Laborde himself began to press the former financial commissary of Louisbourg, Prevost de La Croix, then at Rochefort, for the missing records. Nothing turned up and on 10 March 1763 the minister wrote to ask the Atlantic ports to hunt for Laborde, who was suspected of trying to flee to England or Canada. Laborde was soon arrested in Paris, where he had gone on 19 Feb. 1763, was imprisoned in the Bastille on 16 March, and stayed there for the next 17 months.
Was Laborde in earnest or was he merely putting up a determined show of innocence to cover a fraudulent misuse of royal funds? The government evidently doubted his sincerity, for they were quick to arrest him once he left La Rochelle. Under interrogation in March 1763 Laborde declared, probably to save himself, that Prevost had taken the strong-box from Louisbourg and in September 1758 brought it ashore with him at Santander, Spain, where he had turned it to private account through the agency of the French merchant firm of Darragory Frères et Cie. Laborde claimed that he had not wanted to report the loss until he could prove it and so had sent his stepson, Thomas Milly, to Santander to gather evidence from Darragory’s clerks, and even thought of sending Daccarrette to Madrid. “I think as you do, Monsieur,” one of the magistrates wrote to Antoine de Sartine, lieutenant-general of police, “that poor Laborde is losing his grip.” The ministers took Laborde’s story seriously enough, however, to arrest Prevost and an uncle and associate, Michel-Henri Fabus, a well-connected businessman and venal officeholder. They also imprisoned Daccarrette and Laborde’s son, Sébastien-Charles, at Bordeaux, as they were determined to get to the bottom of the case and had the authority to arrest and hold people on the mere suspicion, or even in anticipation, of a crime.
Sartine was asked to inquire into the case. By February 1764 he had decided that Laborde was dishonestly trying to cover up debts to the crown incurred by excessive personal spending in Louisbourg, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, and Paris. Prevost was freed in June 1763 and declared innocent the next year; his uncle, Fabus, soon went bankrupt no doubt as a result of the scandal; Daccarrette was released in 1764 but only after his house in Bordeaux had burned down in December 1763 and the claims of his creditors had bankrupted him as well; and Laborde was presented with a bill for 455,474 livres, the price of his release. Laborde signed over all his assets to the crown in a detailed notarial document on 12 July 1764, and although they were worth only 336,104 livres, the crown released him on 25 August. He went to live at Eysines, a village near Bordeaux, with only a stipend of 400 livres a year as a former attorney to the Louisbourg Conseil Supérieur. The priest of Saint-Martin-d’Eysines certified for pension purposes on 16 Aug. 1779 that Laborde was still in good health, but he died two years later and was buried under the porch of the village church.
AD, Charente-Maritime (La Rochelle), B, 230, 20 déc. 1758; 1790, 12 juin 1759; 1798, 18 avril 1763; Minutes Fredureaux-Dumas (La Rochelle), 20 déc. 1760; Minutes Laleu (La Rochelle), 11 avril 1749; Gironde (Bordeaux), État civil, Saint-Martin-d’Eysines, 4 sept. 1781. AN, Col., C11A, 125; E, 238 (dossier Laborde); Section Outre-mer, G1, 406–9, 467/3; G3, 2041/1; Minutier central, XXXIII, no.553, 12 juill. 1764. Archives maritimes, Port de Rochefort (France), lE, 172, Choiseul à Ruis-Embito, 10 et 26 mars 1763; 417, Ruis-Embito à Berryer, 25 nov. 1760. Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Archives de la Bastille, 12200, ff.57–58, 72, 306–7, 350ff., 454–55, 473ff.; 12145, f.256. PRO, HCA, 32/180/1, Dauphin; 32/254, Victoire. Crowley, “Government and interests.”