Source: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
LE LOUTRE, JEAN-LOUIS (he signed LeLoutre), priest, Spiritan, and missionary; b. 26 Sept. 1709 in the parish of Saint-Matthieu in Morlaix, France, son of Jean-Maurice Le Loutre Després, a paper maker and member of the provincial bourgeoisie, and Catherine Huet, daughter of a paper maker; d. 30 Sept. 1772 in the parish of Saint-Léonard in Nantes, France.
In 1730 Jean-Louis Le Loutre entered the Séminaire du Saint-Esprit in Paris; by that time he had lost both his parents. When his training was completed, he transferred to the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in March 1737, intending to serve the church in foreign parts. As soon as he had been ordained, he sailed for Acadia and in the autumn of that year appeared at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Le Loutre was supposed to replace Abbé Claude de La Vernède de Saint-Poncy, the parish priest at Annapolis Royal (N.S.), whose relations with the British governor, Lawrence Armstrong*, had become strained [see Claude-Jean-Baptiste Chauvreulx*]. By the time he set foot on the American continent, however, the difficulties between Saint-Poncy and Armstrong had been ironed out and the governor had agreed that the parish priest should retain his post. Taking advantage of this situation, Pierre Maillard*, a missionary on Île Royale, wrote to the home authorities requesting that Le Loutre be allowed to replace Abbé de Saint-Vincent, a missionary to the Micmacs, and make his residence at Shubenacadie, on the river of the same name, 12 leagues from Cobequid (near Truro, N.S.). Before joining his flock Le Loutre spent some months at Maligouèche (Malagawatch) on Île Royale in order to learn the Micmac language. Maillard described him as a zealous missionary and diligent student, although Le Loutre had a difficult apprenticeship in this language without grammar or dictionary.
On 22 Sept. 1738 Le Loutre left Île Royale for the Shubenacadie mission, an immense territory stretching from Cape Sable to Chedabucto Bay in the north and present-day Cumberland Strait in the west. Le Loutre was to minister to the Indians as well as to the French posts at Cobequid and Tatamagouche, where Abbé Jacques Girard would replace him in 1742, and he concerned himself indirectly with the Acadians on the east coast of Nova Scotia. With the cooperation of the authorities at Louisbourg he immediately undertook to build chapels for the Indians. Although his relations with Armstrong were strained at first, the governor having protested because Le Loutre had not presented himself at Annapolis Royal, on the whole he remained on cordial terms with the British authorities until 1744.
With the declaration of war between France and Great Britain that year, the French authorities made a distinction in Acadia between the missionaries ministering to parishes with a French population and those serving among the Indians. The former were advised to remain neutral, at least in appearance, in order to avoid being expelled; the others were advised to support the intentions of the governor of Louisbourg and encourage the Indians to make as many forays into British areas as the military authorities considered necessary. The two major events of this period were the French siege of Annapolis Royal in 1744 under François Du Pont Duvivier, and the arrival in Acadia, two years later, of the French squadron commanded by the Duc d’Anville [La Rochefoucauld*]. Despite the assertions of several historians, it was Abbé Maillard who accompanied Duvivier’s expedition. His presence, however, does not mean that Le Loutre was not also involved. From Canseau (Canso), Duvivier hastily dispatched a letter to Le Loutre asking him to keep watch on the route from Annapolis Royal to Minas, the place where they were to join forces, and Duvivier noted in his journal the value of Le Loutre’s presence during the siege of Annapolis Royal in September.
The siege was unsuccessful and less than a year later, in June 1745, Louisbourg fell to Anglo-American forces. The new masters of Île Royale tried to seize Le Loutre. Peter Warren* and William Pepperrell* invited him to come to Louisbourg, warning that his life would otherwise be in danger, but Le Loutre chose to go to Canada for consultation with the authorities. He arrived at Quebec on 14 September, accompanied by five Micmacs, and left seven days later with specific instructions which in fact made him a military leader; henceforth it was through him that the French government was able to exercise control over the Indians in Acadia. He was also to keep watch on communications between the Acadians and the British garrison at Annapolis Royal, and he spent the winter with his Micmacs near Minas for this purpose.
With Louisbourg in enemy hands, Le Loutre became the liaison between the settlers and French expeditions by land or sea. The authorities had given him instructions to receive at Baie de Chibouctou (Halifax harbour) the squadron under the Duc d’Anville that France was sending in 1746 to recover Acadia. Le Loutre knew the signals which would identify the ships of the fleet, and was the only person who did except for Maurice de La Come, a missionary at Miramichi (N.B.); the British having put a price on Le Loutre’s head, La Come had been seen as a possible replacement for him. Le Loutre was to coordinate the operations of the naval force with those of Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay’s army, sent to Acadia early in June 1746 by the authorities in Quebec. Ramezay and his detachment arrived at Beaubassin (near Amherst, N.S.) in July, when only two frigates of the French squadron had reached Baie de Chibouctou. Without seeking the agreement of the two captains, Le Loutre wrote to Ramezay suggesting that an attack be made on Annapolis Royal with no delay for the remainder of the fleet; but his advice was not acted upon. In September the squadron finally arrived, but not in full strength since a number of ships had been sunk or damaged by gales and the crews had been reduced in numbers and weakened by sickness. As for the two ships that had come in June, in view of the delay of the fleet they had already set off on the return voyage. After d’Anville’s death and Constantin-Louis d’Estourmel*’s attempted suicide, La Jonquière [Taffanel*] assumed command of the squadron. Ramezay and Le Loutre went to Annapolis Royal to rendezvous with it, but to no avail; the squadron had to return to France and Le Loutre took the opportunity to sail on the Sirène.
While in his native land Le Loutre was preoccupied with his brother’s promotion and with the fate of the nuns from Louisbourg who had been deported to France after the fall of the fortress [see Marie-Marguerite-Daniel Arnaud*, dite Saint-Arsène]; he also managed to obtain gratuities for himself as well as a pension of 800 livres deducted from the diocese of Lavaur, thanks to the efforts of Abbé de L’Isle-Dieu, the bishop of Quebec’s vicar general in Paris. He returned to Acadia in 1749 on the Chabanne, in company with Charles Des Herbiers* de La Ralière, the new governor of Île Royale, which had been restored to France by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle the previous year. He had already made two attempts to return but both times had ended up in British prisons, from which he had been released after successfully concealing his identity by using the names of Rosanvern and Huet.
The situation in Acadia had changed considerably since Le Loutre’s departure: Louisbourg was again French, and the British had just founded Halifax. The missionary was ordered by the ministry of Marine to set up his headquarters at Pointe-à-Beauséjour (near Sackville, N.B.) rather than at Shubenacadie, too close to the authorities in Halifax who were clamouring for the missionary’s head. The French claimed that Pointe-à-Beauséjour was outside the “old” Acadia, ceded to Great Britain in 1713 by the treaty of Utrecht, whereas the British maintained that Acadia extended as far as the Baie des Chaleurs. It was in this disputed territory, with ill-defined frontiers, where the two countries were demanding territorial concessions from each other, that Le Loutre’s career was now to be played out. While the boundary commissioners were engaged in discussions in Paris, the French attempted to reinforce their claims to the region north of the Missaguash and to Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) by using the Indians to harass the British and restrict their settlements and by trying to persuade as many Acadians as possible to leave enemy territory and settle in the area under French control.
With regard to the use of the Indians Le Loutre revealed his thinking in a letter of 29 July 1749 to the minister of Marine: “As we cannot openly oppose the English ventures, I think that we cannot do better than to incite the Indians to continue warring on the English; my plan is to persuade the Indians to send word to the English that they will not permit new settlements to be made in Acadia . . . I shall do my best to make it look to the English as if this plan comes from the Indians and that I have no part in it.” The attacks made by the Indians led Edward Cornwallis, the governor of Nova Scotia, to swear that he would have Le Loutre’s head, and to describe him in October 1749 as “a good for nothing Scoundrel as ever lived.” Cornwallis tried to capture him dead or alive by promising a reward of £50. Tension increased in Acadia in 1750 with the murder of Edward How*, a militia officer from Fort Lawrence shot on the banks of the Missaguash after negotiations under a flag of truce. A certain number of historians have accused Le Loutre of instigating this murder, but there is no conclusive evidence of it. Louis-Léonard Aumasson de Courville, James Johnstone, Jacques Prevost de la Croix, the Marquis de La Jonquière, Pierre Maillard, and La Vallière (probably Louis Leneuf de La Vallière) have left descriptions of the episode. In some of these Le Loutre is said to have plotted the killing, but the versions contradict one another. Except for La Vallière, none of the authors was at the scene of the murder, and several of the accounts were written some years after the event. Yet it seems that Le Loutre must bear a certain responsibility for the murder as the admitted agent of French policy, which sought constantly to identify in the minds of the Indians the interests of Catholicism and those of the state. The killing was an open act of hostility on the part of the Micmacs against the Protestant authorities in Halifax, who understandably saw in it the complicity of both Le Loutre and Pierre-Roch de Saint-Ours Deschaillons, commander at Beauséjour. Even if the two had not directly plotted the crime, they were witnesses who remained passive.
As for the Acadians, the missionary thought that they were ready to abandon their land, and even to take up arms against the British, rather than sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to King George II. They were, however, perhaps not as determined to emigrate as Le Loutre maintained. Since 1713 the Acadians had always accommodated themselves to the British régime, and it was difficult for them to leave fertile lands that they had cleared and settle in French territory without being assured that sooner or later it would not become British. On behalf of the French government Le Loutre promised to establish and feed them for three years, and even to compensate them for their losses. They were not easily convinced, and the missionary apparently used questionable means to force them to emigrate – threatening them, among other things, with reprisals from the Indians. The Acadians who moved, whether of their own free will or not, found themselves in an unenviable situation. Both on Île Saint-Jean and in the Fort Beauséjour region it was difficult to produce sufficient food to meet the needs of the new arrivals. The correspondence of Le Loutre, Des Herbiers, and La Jonquière, who was then governor of New France, makes daily mention of the supply problems in Acadia. In the spring of 1751 the missionary described the situation: the supply ships had not reached Baie Verte, consumption was greater than had been anticipated, the settlers were on the point of running out of meat and had received no wine whatever. Le Loutre was forced to divert certain presents intended for the Micmacs to the Acadians and the garrison at Fort Beauséjour. The situation on Île Saint-Jean was also desperate, and in the face of these problems the Acadians indicated their wish to return to their former lands. The missionary accused François-Marie de Goutin*, the storekeeper and subdelegate of the financial commissary on Île Saint-Jean, of having left the settlers to starve when the warehouses were full of supplies. After asking the authorities in Louisbourg to put the bad administration on Île Saint-Jean to rights, Le Loutre complained of the commandant and the storekeeper at Baie-Verte (N.B.). In August 1752 he went to Quebec to meet Intendant Bigot and Governor Duquesne, but being dissatisfied with the results of his representations, he came back to Acadia, entrusted his Micmacs to Abbé Jean Manach*, and crossed the Atlantic.
At the end of December 1752 Le Loutre arrived in France. As soon as he reached the mother country, he asked for an audience at court; Rouillé, the minister of Marine, received him on 15 January. Although Rouillé, and particularly Abbé de L’Isle-Dieu, would have preferred seeing the missionary in Acadia rather than in France – it had been suggested to him that he postpone his voyage – relations between the three men were soon cordial. In collaboration with the minister Le Loutre wrote a report, denouncing British claims, for Roland-Michel Barrin* de La Galissonière, who was in charge of the commission negotiating the frontiers in North America. With Abbé de L’Isle-Dieu he also drew up detailed reports on the Acadians and the territory they occupied or could occupy, with a plan of divisions showing areas to be kept and those to be given up. The two men submitted these reports with the declared aim of suggesting to the court how negotiations should be conducted. Le Loutre insisted to the royal officials that the Acadians could not continue to live in uncertainty, tossed about between two powers; he recommended negotiating firmly in order to define strictly the territories ceded in 1713 and to adhere to the articles of the treaty of Utrecht, which granted the British only a strip of land at the southwest tip of Acadia including the former Port-Royal and the surrounding area. If, as a last resort, a larger block of territory had to be given up, the missionary proposed that the line of demarcation between the French and British possessions in Acadia be drawn from Cobequid to Canso. The Baie des Chaleurs and Gaspé regions, which Le Loutre included in Acadia, should remain French, and the port of Canso should become neutral, with fishing rights reserved solely for the French. The aim of the plan was to keep the enemy posts at a distance, hem in Nova Scotia with a solid band of fortified posts, and ensure communications by land and sea between Louisbourg, the posts in French Acadia, and Quebec. This proposition meant the evacuation of Beaubassin by the British and the destruction of Fort Lawrence. The French would thus recover fertile lands, and the confrontations which the proximity of forts Beauséjour and Lawrence made inevitable would be eliminated. If the Acadians wanted to remain subjects of the king of France, they would have to abandon the region of Annapolis Royal and Minas Basin. According to Le Loutre, France had an obligation to resettle them in order to keep them from being dominated by a nation that wanted to wipe out Catholicism. He proposed that they be established in the region of Beaubassin and the Shepody, Memramcook, and Petitcodiac rivers. The French authorities would have to construct aboiteaux or dikes to protect the low-lying lands against the high tides. He maintained that at the end of four years the settlers would be able to produce more than they consumed, and hence could meet the needs of the garrison of Beauséjour and even have surpluses of wheat and cattle for export to Louisbourg. He estimated the cost of building the dikes at 50,000 livres, a sum that the court granted him. In fact, however, this sum was to be greatly exceeded; in March 1755 the missionary assessed the expenditures required for the dikes at 150,000 livres and asked the court for a supplement of 20,000 livres, the balance to be supplied by the Acadians’ labour and materials. Le Loutre had perhaps concealed the high cost of construction in order to gain the court’s assent for the project.
During his stay in France Le Loutre also discussed with his religious superiors “certain circumstances in which he [might] find himself in relation to his Indians’ warring and even that of the French, especially those who are still under the domination of the English.” He pondered over his activity with the Acadians. What means could he use to persuade them to leave British territory? As for those Acadians who had taken the oath of allegiance to Great Britain, could he ask that they be deprived of the sacraments? Was he empowered to threaten them with excommunication in order to persuade them to take refuge in territory claimed by France, or again could he ask his Micmacs to force recalcitrants to abandon their lands? Le Loutre also wondered whether he could encourage the Indians to attack and scalp British settlers in peace-time. At the same time he was busy obtaining certain favours for his mission, his colleagues, and himself. Among other things he managed to have the annual pension of 1,200 livres that the court paid to the missionaries among the Acadians shared with the missionaries in charge of the Micmacs, as he was. The king also granted him a gratuity of 2,438 livres to buy flour at Louisbourg, 2,740 livres for various liturgical articles, and 600 livres for medicines. Le Loutre recruited new missionaries for Acadia, including Pierre Cassiet*, and obtained for each a special gratuity of 600 livres.
At the end of April 1753 Le Loutre sailed for Acadia on the Bizarre, and the following year he was made vicar general there by Bishop Pontbriand [Dubreil*]. Upon his return he made persistent efforts to persuade the Micmacs to break the peace that had been signed with the British during his absence [see Jean-Baptiste Cope*], and he made use of them to harass the British settlers. He bought the trophies they brought back from hunts and raids; for example, he paid 1,800 livres for 18 British scalps. According to Courville, who had arrived at Fort Beauséjour in 1754 – and whose testimony cannot be ignored as some authors suggest it should because of the anticlericalism of the French at the time – Le Loutre threatened to abandon the Acadians, withdraw their priests, have their wives and children taken from them, and if necessary have their property laid waste by the Indians. A parallel can be drawn between what Courville reported and the Acadians’ petitions to Cornwallis, in which they declared that they could not sign an unconditional oath because the Micmacs would not forgive them for doing so. Nevertheless, all Le Loutre’s efforts proved vain. In June 1755 the British forces obliged Louis Du Pont Duchambon de Vergor to surrender Fort Beauséjour, and the deportation of the Acadians in the region began shortly thereafter. Knowing that he was in danger, the missionary had slipped out of the fort in disguise and reached Quebec through the woods. Late in the summer he went to Louisbourg and from there sailed for France. On 15 September the ship on which he was sailing fell into the hands of the British. Le Loutre was taken prisoner, and despite the minister of Marine’s efforts he was not released until eight years later, on 30 Aug. 1763, after the signing of the treaty of Paris.
When he arrived in France Le Loutre was refused free lodgings at the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères because of his income of 800 livres a year. Acting in concert with Jean Manach and Jacques Girard, who had been refused in the same way, he sued the seminary, challenging the rules of the institution and asking that its missionaries have a part in its operation. The parlement of Paris resolved the question, judging the request by Le Loutre and his colleagues inadmissible on all counts. This setback did not discourage Le Loutre; he turned to the Duc de Choiseul, the minister of Marine, in order to obtain a pension. Despite Choiseul’s insistence, the bishop of Orléans was unable to secure one for him, and the coffers of the Marine had to provide it. In May 1768 the court granted Le Loutre an annual pension of 1,200 livres, retroactive to 1 Jan. 1767, a stipend that he could enjoy until he had “been provided with an equivalent benefice.” These gratuities did not prevent him from carrying on his attempt to make the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères provide for his needs.
Besides these preoccupations with money matters, Le Loutre concerned himself actively with the deported Acadians who had taken refuge in France. The court had several plans for settling them; the most serious was the one put forward by the Estates of Brittany in October 1763 which advocated settling at Belle-Île 77 Acadian families who were in the regions of Morlaix and Saint-Malo. The three Acadian delegates who visited the island in July 1764 found it difficult, however, to convince their compatriots to go to settle there. In the face of their indecision the court appealed to Le Loutre, who had no trouble persuading them to move. After numerous negotiations and several trips by Le Loutre between Paris, Rennes, and Morlaix, the Acadians arrived at Belle-Île late in 1765, under his guidance. They were provided with lands, houses, farm buildings, livestock, and tools and were granted certain financial advantages. Nevertheless, in 1772, after six years of hard work, they were unable to support themselves and certain of them indicated their wish to return to Acadia, a desire which could only displease the former missionary who had so devoted himself to removing them from the authority of the British. In 1771 Le Loutre had already inquired into the possibility of settling the Acadians in Corsica, but the island presented few advantages. He continued looking for more fertile lands, and in 1772 he organized a tour of Poitou in order to visit the area around Châtellerault that the Marquis de Pérusse Des Cars wanted to grant the Acadians [see Jean-Gabriel Berbudeau]. Fate ordained that Le Loutre should not see these lands; during the trip, which he was making in company with four Acadians, he died at Nantes on 30 Sept. 1772.
Historians are unanimous in recognizing the importance of Le Loutre’s activity in Acadia but differ in their assessment of the significance of his role as a missionary. Several, particularly those writing in English, have criticized him for having acted more as an agent of French policy than as a missionary, and they hold him largely responsible for the deportation of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755, because in threatening them with reprisals if they signed the oath of loyalty, he condemned them to a forced exile. Before a judgement is made on Le Loutre’s career in Acadia, however, three important points must be considered: in the 18th century France claimed to be the defender of the Catholic faith; Acadia was populated with French Catholics governed by the Protestant British; missionaries were the only representatives of the French government among the Acadians tolerated by Great Britain. According to Le Loutre almost any means could be used to remove the Acadians, who were in danger spiritually, from British domination. He used the means at his disposal: arguments of a religious nature and the Indians. His method was debatable, but it was in keeping with the logic of his age, when in France as in England religion was at the service of the state.
Le Loutre was a leader of men, and the situation in Acadia was favourable to his activity. He was a politically involved missionary, stubborn and prepared to make up for the lack of French civil government in Acadia. His activity was displeasing to the government in Halifax, and even to certain French officers. He was probably excessively zealous, and his conduct was often questionable, but his sincere devotion to the cause of French Acadia cannot be doubted. He cannot be held responsible for the deportation of the Acadians.
Le Loutre’s autobiography, the original of which is held by the Archives du séminaire des Missions étrangères (Paris), 344, has been published by Albert David as “Une autobiographie de l’abbé Le Loutre,” Nova Francia (Paris), 6 (1931), 1–34. This text was published in translation by John Clarence Webster* as an appendix to The career of the Abbé Le Loutre in Nova Scotia . . . (Shediac, N.B., 1933), 32–50. A number of Le Loutre’s letters have been published in Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la N.-F., III, and Coll. doc. inédits Canada et Amérique, I. For a discussion of the way Le Loutre has been regarded by both English and French speaking historians see: Gérard Finn, “Jean-Louis LeLoutre vu par les historiens,” Soc. historique acadienne, Cahiers (Moncton, N.-B.), 8 (1977), 108–47.
AD, Finistère (Quimper), État civil, Saint-Matthieu de Morlaix, 1687, 1703–5, 1707–11, 1716, 1720; Saint-Mélaine de Morlaix, 1706–10; G-150-51, rolle de capitation; Registres du contrôle des actes de notaires, 1720–21; Loire-Atlantique (Nantes), État civil, Saint-Léonard de Nantes, 1er oct. 1772; Morbihan (Vannes), E, 1.457–1.464; Vienne (Poitiers), Cahier 3, no.245. AN, Col., B, 65, 68, 70–72, 76, 78, 81, 83–84, 88–89, 93, 95, 97–98, 100, 104, 110, 117, 120, 122, 125, 131, 134, 139, 143; C11A, 82, 83, 85, 87, 89, 93–96, 98–100, 102, 125; C11B, 20–22, 26–27, 29–30, 33–34; C11C, 9, 16; C11D, 8; C11E, 4; E, 169 (dossier Duvivier [François Du Pont Duvivier]), 265 (dossier Joseph Le Blanc), 275 (dossier Le Loutre); F3, 16; F5A, 1; Section Outre-mer, Dépôt des fortifications des colonies, Am. sept., no.34. Archives du séminaire de la Congrégation du Saint-Esprit (Paris), Boîte 441, dossier A, chemise
© 1979–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Gérard Finn, “LE LOUTRE, JEAN-LOUIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/le_loutre_jean_louis_4E.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:||Gérard Finn|
|Title of Article:||LE LOUTRE, JEAN-LOUIS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1979|
|Year of revision:||1979|
|Access Date:||June 4, 2023|