LE MOYNE D’IBERVILLE (from a fief held by his father’s family, near Dieppe, in the province of Normandy) ET D’ARDILLIÈRES (from a property he acquired in the province of Aunis near Rochefort), PIERRE, soldier, ship’s captain, explorer, colonizer, knight of the order of Saint-Louis, adventurer, privateer and trader, the most renowned son of New France; baptized 20 July 1661 at Ville-Marie (Montreal); d. probably at Havana, Cuba, probably on 9 July 1706 of an unspecified illness, buried the same day, at Havana, in the Church of San Cristóbal.
Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville was the third and most famous son of Charles Le Moyne* de Longueuil et de Châteauguay and of Catherine Thierry. He had two sisters and eleven brothers; nearly all of his brothers rose to military fame in America, and several died in battle. Iberville was accompanied by one or more of his brothers in all save two of his major campaigns.
Iberville’s father, Charles Le Moyne, was a notable of the colony, a director of the Compagnie du Nord. Coming from Dieppe to New France at the age of 15 in 1641, the elder Le Moyne began as an indentured servant of the Jesuit missionaries, serving in the distant Huron missions where he learned several dialects of the Huron and Iroquois language group. In 1646 he had settled at Ville-Marie where he took part with other members of the community in frequent skirmishes against the Indians. On more peaceful occasions he served as official interpreter and emissary to the Indians on behalf of the authorities of New France. His varied services were rewarded by large grants of land in the Montreal area, most of them south of the island, and in 1668 by letters patent of nobility. He was active in the fur trade, particularly after the founding of the Compagnie du Nord in 1682, in which he held an investment of 4,440 livres at his death in 1685. His house was the finest in Montreal, and he was reputed to be among the wealthiest citizens of Montreal of his day.
Little is known of the youth of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville save that he was confirmed by Bishop Laval in Montreal in May 1669. Judging from his later correspondence, whatever formal schooling he received must have been rudimentary. It would seem that he prepared from an early age for a career as a seaman. He apparently sailed frequently in his father’s boat on the St Lawrence, and went to France on several occasions. In 1683, for example, Governor Le Febvre* de La Barre entrusted him with his dispatches to the court. In 1686, just as he had begun his career as a fighting man as part of the expedition led by the Chevalier de Troyes* to James Bay, a paternity suit was brought against Iberville by the guardians of one Jeanne-Geneviève Picoté de Belestre. She accused him of seducing her under promise of marriage, and named him as the father of her expected child. In spite of the considerable influence of Iberville’s family in the colony, the personal intervention of Governor Denonville [Brisay], and his own prestige following the James Bay campaign, the Conseil Souverain found him guilty in October 1688 and ordered him to take charge of the child, a daughter, until her 15th year. In order to have her honour fully restored, Mademoiselle de Belestre desired Iberville to marry her; he was not bound by the council to do so. It was not until 8 Oct. 1693, after a long courtship, that he finally married Marie-Thérèse, the daughter of François Pollet* de La Combe-Pocatière (d. 1672), who in 1665 had come to New France with the Carignan-Salières regiment; her mother was Marie-Anne Juchereau de Saint-Denis. At the time of her marriage to Iberville she was 21 years old, “a lovely and very sensible Canadian woman.”
Iberville’s career in the service of France in America began in 1686, when he, along with two of his brothers, Jacques*, Sieur de Sainte-Hélène and Paul, Sieur de Maricourt, took part in an expedition against the English posts of the Hudson Bay region. In the 1660s the French fur-traders Médard Chouart*, Des Groseilliers and Pierre-Esprit Radisson had come to the daring conclusion that the best furs were to be found in the colder regions of the north and that access to these furs could most easily be had via Hudson Bay. They failed, however, to interest their own compatriots in increasing the already heavy costs of administration and defence. The adventurers then made a dramatic bid to generate some enthusiasm for the scheme in England. In spite of difficulties the Nonsuch, with Groseilliers on board, was sent to Hudson Bay in 1668, and two years later Charles II granted a charter to the “Governor and Company of Adventurers of England tradeing into Hudson’s Bay.” By the terms of its charter, the company was granted lordship over the soil and exclusive trade in all the lands of the Hudson Bay drainage basin. Stations were established at the mouths of the rivers and soon the Indians of the area found it more convenient to carry their furs to the English nearby than to the French at Montreal. Following this pre-empting of the fur trade of Hudson Bay, a group of merchants, led by Charles Aubert de La Chesnaye, founded the rival Compagnie du Nord in 1682. At the same time, there developed among the officials and leading merchants of New France a movement, inspired in part by imperial considerations but mostly by the commercial interest of the company, to drive the English by force from Hudson Bay. Ironically, meanwhile, in London, the two crowns were attempting to settle their respective claims in North America, and, pending a definite settlement, to prevent any acts of hostility between their subjects. When word of these negotiations reached Quebec, however, Governor Denonville had already authorized the company to organize an expedition to seize interlopers and set up rival French posts at the mouths of the rivers flowing into the northern bay. To the 70 or so Canadian voyageurs under the Le Moyne brothers, who were entrusted by the company with its interests, Denonville, by way of official support from the crown, added 30 regular troops. He placed the expedition under the overall command of Pierre de Troyes, whom he was later to describe as the colony’s most able captain. Despite Troyes’ ability, the success of the venture resulted from the voyageurs’ expertness in the northern wilderness and their respect for the enterprise of their leaders, in particular for that of Jacques de Sainte-Hélène and Pierre d’Iberville. Indeed had it not been for the endurance of all these men, inured to the forests and waterways and having had wide experience in winter travel over long distances, the party would probably never have reached James Bay.
The journey was made by way of the turbulent Ottawa River route to Lake Temiscaming, thence by a chain of lakes and streams and exhausting portages to the Moose River. After 85 days of incredible hardship and constant peril, during which the men at times sank into a despair bordering on mutiny, the expedition arrived before Moose Fort (modern Moose Factory) on Hayes Island at the mouth of the Moose River on the south shore of James Bay. Unmindful of their orders and violating the peace which reigned officially between the two crowns, the troops stormed the fort. Though the post was quickly subdued, one perilous incident occurred which founded Iberville’s reputation for bravery. Leading the way inside the palisade through the gate, with sword in one hand and pistol in the other, Iberville found himself alone inside the stockade with the defenders, who had reclosed the gate before his companions could follow. Flailing away while his men laboured to batter the gate open again, Iberville held the English at bay until his companions finally entered. The 17 Englishmen, left leaderless by John Bridgar*’s departure the day before for Charles Fort (modern Rupert House), quickly surrendered. Troyes then determined to strike as well at the three James Bay posts still in English hands: Charles Fort, 100 miles east by land, Albany Fort, 95 miles northwest, and a storage depot on Charlton Island. While he and Sainte-Hélène took Charles Fort on 3 July, Iberville and 13 men captured Bridgar’s vessel, the Craven, anchored in the harbour, after which the party returned to Moose Fort. Despite dwindling food supplies the expedition decided to push on to Albany Fort. Its 30 defenders were promptly forced to surrender unconditionally on 25 July and to see its defences put to the torch, as were those on Charlton Island. Having thus completely disrupted English trade at the “Bottom of the Bay,” Troyes departed, leaving 40 Canadians under Iberville, who was made governor of the three posts, now renamed Saint-Louis (Moose), Saint-Jacques (Rupert) and Sainte-Anne (Albany). Iberville and his brother Sainte-Hélène had unquestionably been the outstanding figures of the campaign. A new era of Anglo-French relations in North America had begun.
Iberville took up his new command in August 1686. Despite the presence of the English in the Port Nelson region, and the much more serious threat of dwindling foodstuffs, he and his men wintered at Moose Fort. When no supplies had arrived by the late summer of 1687, Iberville returned south, first to Quebec, then to France, leaving a dozen men at James Bay. His task in France during the winter of 1687–88 was twofold: to put forward the advantages of the sea approach to the fur trade of Hudson Bay, in which he personally was greatly interested, and to solicit on behalf of the Compagnie du Nord the assistance required to strengthen its newly acquired position, particularly a shipment of trade goods with which to lure the Indians away from Port Nelson. In this mission he was successful, and, most important, he obtained for the company an excellent escort vessel, the Soleil d’Afrique, of which he himself took command. Returning to James Bay by way of Quebec in the summer of 1688, he prepared for immediate shipment of the furs that had accumulated.
Iberville’s next encounter with the enemy occurred in September 1688 when the English tried to recoup their losses of 1686. Just as he was leaving Fort Sainte-Anne in a small vessel carrying a shipment of furs for the Compagnie du Nord, two armed English vessels, attempting to re-establish Albany Fort, blockaded him before he could sail out of the Albany River. The onset of winter froze all three vessels in the river, thus prolonging the confrontation to the following summer. The winter of 1688–89 was characterized by treachery and bad faith on both sides. Iberville made himself notorious in this regard, refusing the English permission to hunt for fresh game, and thus encouraging the spread of scurvy among them. Furthermore, when the dread epidemic did break out, the French commander invited the English surgeon to leave camp and hunt for fresh meat, and then promptly took him prisoner. Only three Englishmen were lost in actual fighting, but 25 died of scurvy and exposure. Under these circumstances, the English were finally compelled to capitulate; Iberville’s 16 Canadians, as ruthless as their leader, were better suited to this particular kind of warfare than were their 85 foes, who, far from being fighting men, were merely dispirited civilian servants of the English company. Iberville left James Bay in September 1689, after capturing another English vessel in July. Though the English still remained in possession of Port Nelson, he had frustrated their attempt to re-establish themselves in the bottom of the bay. He arrived in Quebec on 28 October, toughened by the strenuous campaign which had begun in March 1686, and laden down with English prisoners and booty, and, more important, with prize furs.
Iberville had returned to Quebec from James Bay just in time to take part in the winter campaign of 1690 which Governor Frontenac [Buade*] was organizing against the English colonies to the south. In Europe, the league of Augsburg had declared war on France in May 1689 and the conflict had extended to the colonies as well. In America the war became a guerre de course characterized by rapid hit-and-run attacks. The Iroquois, encouraged, supplied, and armed by the English colonies, had resumed their attacks on the Canadian settlements along the south shore of the St Lawrence. In a devastating surprise attack in August 1689 (news of the declaration of war had reached the English colonies before it reached Canada) the Iroquois ravaged the countryside around Lachine. In the wake of this incident and the several that preceded and followed it into the autumn of 1689, Frontenac, who had returned as governor for a second term in October 1689, determined to restore the prestige of France among her Indian allies and carry her vengeance to the heart of the English colonies. In the absence of assistance from France, her hands tied by the conflict in Europe, Frontenac gathered three raiding-parties of Canadian irregulars and Indian allies. One detachment was to attack Corlaer (Schenectady, N.Y.) under the joint command of Jacques Le Moyne de Sainte-Hélène and Nicolas d’Ailleboust de Manthet. Iberville served as second in command, and a third brother, François Le Moyne* de Bienville, also accompanied the expedition. Of the 210 men, 114 were Canadians and 96 were Indians.
The force arrived unnoticed at Corlaer about midnight on 18 February. Finding no sentinels posted and one of the gates of the stockade ajar (“ye inhabitants being so negligent & Refractory”), the men silently took up stations at strategic points throughout the village in order to prevent any escape which might carry the alarm prematurely to Albany, a few miles to the south. Then, two hours before dawn, the invaders, with savage war cries, threw themselves ruthlessly on the sleeping inhabitants, just as the Iroquois had done at Lachine the previous August. Virtually the entire settlement was pillaged and burned; some 60 inhabitants were massacred, 25 were taken prisoner and about 50 were spared. Before the day was out the attackers had turned their backs on the scene of devastation, and had set off again for Montreal, taking 50 horses loaded with plunder. The return journey was characterized by much over-confidence, straggling, and general insubordination on the part of both the Canadians and the Indians. Almost within sight of Montreal a band of Mohawks caught up with the troop and captured 18 stragglers. Troyes had deplored similar misconduct during the 1686 journey to James Bay. The guerilla exploits recorded at James Bay in 1686 and at Corlaer in 1690 shed light on the personalities of men such as the Le Moyne brothers, especially on that of Iberville himself. Inspired by the techniques, the endurance, and even the cruelty of the Indians, they and their followers had come to be as ruthless – if not more so – than the Iroquois themselves. No other circumstance seems to have been more instrumental in delaying the eventual fall of New France until 1760 than the presence on its frontiers of small bands of hardy men adapted to the peculiarities of warfare and travel in America, and of leaders capable of overcoming their insouciance. Certainly the Canadians led by men like Iberville were far better soldiers, under North American conditions, than were the regular troops sent from France.
Iberville was rewarded for his part in the raid on Corlaer with a grant of land on Baie des Chaleurs, which he promptly disposed of. He was neither interested in nor temperamentally suited to the life of a seigneur, especially while the Hudson Bay question remained unsettled. Fortunately, in 1690, with France and England at war, the task of expelling his English rivals, from the northern regions was made easier for Iberville. In accordance with his 1689 commission to command throughout the northern sea, Iberville left Quebec for Hudson Bay in July 1690, but with an inadequate complement of three small vessels carrying only 30 guns and 80 men. Arriving before York Fort in late August, he found the English on the alert, and was forced to flee from an enemy ship of 36 guns. He escaped and decided to attack instead New Severn (Neue Savanne), an outpost of York Fort, some 250 miles southeast. This station was so weak that its commander, Thomas Walsh, blew up the buildings and fled without resisting. Iberville claimed he salvaged 100,000 livres worth of pelts, a figure which E. E. Rich feels is exaggerated. Iberville probably wintered in James Bay before returning to Quebec in October 1691 and thence to France. Yet the goal of the French remained unattained for the English flag still flew at York Fort.
The expulsion of the English from Hudson Bay was to elude Iberville for several years to come. He spent the following winter preparing his 1692 campaign to the bay, and received general assurances of naval support. The favourable dispositions of the ministry of Marine were frustrated, however, when Iberville’s two frigates were ordered, for reasons of economy, to convoy supply ships to New France. Thus hampered and delayed, his squadron did not reach Quebec until 19 August, too late to continue to York, a further journey of 50 days, before the early winter ice. Frontenac therefore ordered Iberville’s vessels to patrol New England’s shores for the purpose of harassing the English settlements. All along the coast, however, from New York to Pemaquid, every settlement was awaiting the French. Iberville sailed for France in November 1692 having to his credit for the campaign only three prizes, although one was a richly laden Dutch vessel.
Iberville’s forays against the English in Hudson Bay had been crippled, by delays and the early northern winters, for the second consecutive season. Furthermore, his contemporaries were beginning to suggest that the struggle in the northern regions was contributing not a little to his own growing sluggishness and indifference. The 1693 season was to be a repetition of the preceding one, as contrary winds and the supply ships he was to convoy delayed his arrival at Quebec until 23 July. Once again, Frontenac, with the directors of the Compagnie du Nord, decided it was too late in the season to take York Fort and sail away before winter set in. Though he was not alone responsible for the decision to postpone the expedition, there is little doubt that Iberville had lost his zeal for Hudson Bay, so long at least as that objective involved other burdensome duties, such as convoying the annual supplies to Quebec, instead of sailing directly from France to Hudson Bay. Nevertheless, he was appointed to head the 1694 expedition to York Fort, for the fourth season. By this time the situation had worsened, for the English had recaptured Albany Fort in 1693 and had completely driven the French from the north. Iberville set sail from Rochefort in mid-May 1694 and with the usual delays arrived at Quebec only in mid-July. It was undoubtedly fortunate for French plans that the arrangements for the campaign of 1694 included several stipulations which Iberville himself had shrewdly proposed, presumably with a view to reviving his own enthusiasm for Hudson Bay. In return for Iberville’s assuming responsibility for his crews’ wages and supplies, the crown was providing the vessels and military stores. Most important, he was to share all booty and the profits of the fur trade à la flibustière with his men. As a further incentive, he was granted the monopoly of trade in Hudson Bay to July 1697. This latter provision, of course, greatly irritated the directors of the Compagnie du Nord, whose Canadian and French members were in constant disagreement. Though they claimed Iberville had obtained the monopoly “under false pretences . . . and had used their funds for the furthering of his own undertaking,” they had in fact contributed only 15,000 livres to the 1694 expedition. Iberville blamed their short-sighted and avaricious financial policy for the repeated losses they had suffered since 1686.
Leaving Quebec on 10 August 1694 in command of the Poli, with his brother Joseph, Sieur de Serigny, commanding the Salamandre, Iberville arrived at the mouth of the Hayes River on 24 September. He immediately landed a party to reconnoitre York Fort, and began preparations for a long winter siege. The English were summoned to surrender on 13 October (3 October, o.s.), and Henry Kelsey was sent to negotiate terms. The following day, Thomas Walsh, the governor, “basely surrendered,” as the HBC governors in England later asserted. Though well supplied with men, heavy cannon, food, and trade goods, the commander had neglected to lay in firewood, ignoring earlier warnings of an impending French attack. Amid much hardship on both sides, the expedition and its prisoners wintered at York Fort, renamed Fort Bourbon. Iberville has been accused of some violations of the terms of surrender; there is reason to believe, for example, that in order to relieve the food situation he turned the English garrison, with the exception of Walsh and two or three others, loose to face the harsh northern winter. By the time the Hayes River (renamed Sainte-Thérèse) was free of ice in mid-June 1695, scurvy had taken the lives not only of a great many Englishmen but of French sailors and Canadians as well. Iberville, furthermore, had lost his young brother, Louis*, Sieur de Châteauguay, the third Le Moyne to have given his life in combat in America. The expedition stayed on for the summer in the hope of seizing the annual supply ships from England. When these had not appeared by September, Iberville decided to leave Hudson Bay in the charge of Gabriel Testard* de La Forest and 70 men; he himself sailed to La Rochelle, arriving there on 9 October. During the campaign of 1694–95, the Indians had brought 450 canoe loads of pelts to Fort Bourbon.
Iberville had finally effected the capture of the Hudson Bay Company’s most lucrative station, and his own star now shone more brightly than ever. Nevertheless, the effects of the campaign had been nullified by James Knight’s recapture in 1693 of Albany Fort and by the subsequent driving of the French from the Bottom of the Bay. The entire situation was further aggravated when the English reversed the position at York in 1696. With five vessels and 400 men under Captain William Allen, they recaptured their station and furs worth 136,000 livres. Iberville’s brother, Serigny, arrived at York just two hours after the English, and seeing them in possession of the Hayes River, quickly returned to France, leaving Fort Bourbon to defend itself.
In the meantime, following his return to France in the autumn of 1695, Iberville was called upon to make ready to attack the English stations along the Atlantic coast from Fort William Henry (Pemaquid), on the disputed New England-Acadia boundary, to St John’s, the fortified English settlement in Newfoundland. After the tiring northern campaigns of the preceding ten years, the scheme apparently coincided with Iberville’s own preferences. He had, furthermore, learned a good deal about the profits to be derived from fishing during his patrol in the North Atlantic in 1692. He accordingly set out from France with three vessels in the spring of 1696. After dispatching his brother Maricourt to Quebec to recruit Canadians for a winter campaign against Newfoundland, he sailed with two frigates to the relief of Governor Joseph Robinau* de Villebon of Acadia, whom the English were blockading at the mouth of the Saint John River. Adept manœuvres resulted in the capture of one English frigate and the flight of two others in August. Iberville then besieged Fort William Henry, some 200 miles west of the Saint John, with 25 regulars from Acadia and 240 Abenakis under the legendary Baron de Saint-Castin [Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie]. The expedition was piloted by Pierre Maisonnat, dit Baptiste. Though certainly strong enough to have resisted “for some time if there had been any brave men inside,” the English fort, under its commander Captain Pascoe Chubb, capitulated almost as soon as the French had set up their batteries, on 15 August.
After destroying Fort William Henry and transporting the garrison of 92 men to Boston, Iberville sailed with his three vessels to Placentia (Plaisance), the French capital of Newfoundland. Both English and French fishermen exploited the Grand Banks fishery from their respective settlements on Newfoundland under the sanction of the treaty of 1687, but the purpose of the new French expedition of 1696 was nevertheless to expel the English from the island. According to the somewhat ambiguous instructions of the minister, the campaign was to be under the overall command of Jacques-François de Monbeton de Brouillan, the governor of Placentia, while Iberville was to lead the men recruited by Maricourt in Quebec. A serious conflict of personalities and ambitions was to develop between the two commanders, caused by Brouillan’s apparent jealousy of the authority of Iberville and envy of his claims to the booty accruing from the campaign. There can be little doubt of Brouillan’s rapaciousness: an official report of 1692 describes the governor’s activities as ranging from general monopolizing of trade to actual seizure of troops’ wages, wine, and other provisions. As it turned out, these antagonisms did not seriously impede the campaign, thanks in part to the intervention of Captain Nicolas Daneau de Muy.
After considerable preliminary wrangling, the parties of both commanders left Placentia, Governor Brouillan by sea on 29 October, Iberville overland on 1 November. Meeting some 50 miles south of St John’s, at Ferryland, both detachments began the march north to the English capital, which surrendered on 30 November following a brief siege. After setting fire to St John’s, Iberville’s Canadians under Jacques Testard de Montigny almost totally destroyed the English fisheries along the eastern shore of the island. Small raiding parties terrorized the hamlets hidden away in remote bays and inlets, burning, looting, and taking prisoners. By the end of March 1697, only Bonavista and Carbonear remained in English hands. At the latter place William Pynne, a local merchant, actually organized a successful defence against the French. In four months of raids, Brouillan and Iberville, but primarily Iberville, were responsible for the destruction of 36 settlements. Two hundred persons were killed and 700 were taken prisoner. Even before leaving France Iberville had hoped to market 200,000 quintals of cod, and there is little doubt that he must have approached that estimate. The Newfoundland campaign had been the cruelest and most destructive of Iberville’s career. It also illustrated perfectly the peculiar conditions of the North American frontier and the adaptability of the hardened voyageurs. Unfortunately for Iberville and his men, however, the effects were to be short-lived, for even as he was campaigning the ministry of Marine was gloomily facing the task of reversing the events of 1696 in Hudson Bay. Once again, as so many times before, the authorities looked to the Canadian adventurer as the most likely person to restore French fortunes in the northern regions. Accordingly, before he could consolidate his victories by driving the English out of Newfoundland entirely, Iberville and his detachment joined the squadron which his brother Serigny had brought to Placentia from France. Almost immediately following his departure, an English squadron and 2,000 land troops, commanded by Sir John Gibsone and Sir John Norris*, arrived at St John’s and provided sufficient cover to induce the displaced fishermen to return to their devastated villages, rebuild their homes, and resume fishing.
After an arduous navigation north, Iberville’s lead ship, the Pélican, became separated from the others in fog in Hudson Strait. This was to be the occasion for what was probably the most gallant single action of Iberville’s career. The Pélican, having preceded the squadron to the mouth of the Hayes River on 4 September, was attacked the following day by three English warships, the Hampshire, a man-of-war carrying 56 guns, the Dering of 36, and the Hudson’s Bay [I] of 32 guns. It was, of course, essential for the success of the French venture that the Pélican, with her 44 guns, prevent reinforcements from reaching the English at York Fort. Iberville accordingly engaged the enemy despite a most unfavourable position. After two and a half hours of inconclusive sparring, the adversaries met finally in a duel during which Iberville carried out brilliant naval manœuvres that culminated in the sinking of the Hampshire by the Pélican. Following this action the Hudson’s Bay was captured without resistance, though she too soon sank. Only the Dering (Capt. Michael Grimington, senior) fled unpursued, for the Pélican had to be abandoned as well, its hull having been opened at the waterline by the Hampshire’s guns. As the Pélican was being abandoned and its men regrouped in a camp slightly to the south of the English fort, the three remaining ships of the French squadron arrived including the direly needed supply ship, the Profond. Then, after five days of lively skirmishing, the English under Henry Baley, governor of Hudson Bay, surrendered on 13 September; Kelsey again negotiated the terms. This had been Iberville’s swiftest and most brilliant campaign. He put Serigny in command of Hudson Bay, and left hastily in late September 1697; if he wished to escape the early winter ice, he could not afford to sail south to recapture Albany Fort. This was the last time he would see the northern regions which had thus far been the major theatre of his military, naval, and commercial endeavours.
The peace of Ryswick, signed in September 1697, had stipulated that the Bottom of the Bay should revert to France, and York Fort to the Hudson’s Bay Company, but Albany remained in British hands, and Bourbon remained French until 1713, when the Ryswick terms were superseded by those of Utrecht, and England was confirmed in her possession of the whole of the Hudson Bay drainage region. Thus, somewhat ironically, after all the effort expended at Hudson Bay, the naval exploits of the French in 1697 played no role in the settlements reached at the negotiating table at Utrecht 16 years later. Iberville returned to France in November 1697. Though he managed to have his monopoly at Fort Bourbon extended to the summer of 1699, the hero of Hudson Bay was about to be drawn into an entirely new theatre of adventure: Louisiana, which was henceforth to play an important role in France’s revised imperial designs.
In the 1690s, the policy of the government of Louis XIV became openly expansionist and it aimed at hemming the British in to the east of the Appalachians. The French hoped that by extending French interests beyond the St Lawrence valley and the basin of the Great Lakes, so that they included the whole Mississippi basin to the Gulf of Mexico, English settlement might be contained within a narrow strip along the Atlantic seaboard. It was this prospect which greeted Iberville upon his return from Hudson Bay in November 1697. Impressed by his accomplishments in the bay and during his other Canadian campaigns, the minister felt that he was ideally suited to lead an expedition to the Mississippi, the chief purpose of which was to find “the mouth [of the Mississippi] . . . select a good site which can be defended with few men, and . . . block entry to the river by other nations.” Past ventures to the Mississippi, particularly Cavelier* de La Salle’s voyage of 1682, had involved sailing down the river from New France; Iberville was to sail up the river from the Gulf of Mexico. The ultimate purpose of the project was, of course, to lay the foundations of a French colony along the gulf coast, thus securing for France one more avenue to the interior of the continent. After months of the usual delays, during which some crew members deserted and Iberville fell ill, four vessels, including the frigates Badine and Marin, left Brest in late October 1698. Iberville, accompanied this time by another brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne* de Bienville, sailed first to Saint-Domingue, arriving 4 December, thence north to Florida and west along the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi. On the way he observed the installations of the Spaniards at Pensacola and made soundings of possible French harbour sites. As he continued along the coast, his party was driven during a storm on 2 March 1699 into the Birdfoot sub-delta of the Mississippi. The misleading descriptions by Chrestien Le Clercq* in his Établissement de la foy . . . , however, conflicted with Iberville’s own observations, and for this reason he continued to sail up the river in search of some indisputable sign that this was indeed the Mississippi. It was only after meeting Indians who recalled La Salle’s expedition and gave physical proof of his having passed among them, that Iberville was finally satisfied. Having thus achieved the first aim of the expedition, Iberville built a temporary fort on Biloxi Bay (Fort Maurepas, modern Ocean Springs, Miss.), strategically situated between the Mississippi and the Spanish base at Pensacola. Then on 3 May 1699, Iberville sailed for France, leaving behind a garrison of 81 men, among whom was his brother Bienville.
In France, after being presented with the cross of the order of Saint-Louis, which he was the first person of Canadian birth to receive, Iberville recommended immediate colonization and exploitation of Louisiana. He based his recommendations less on natural resources, which alone would hardly have warranted a generous effort, than on the urgent need to counter the threat of imminent English expansion from the Carolinas. Although they were attracted by the proposal, the authorities were hampered by seriously limited financial resources. Furthermore, the minister could not formally commit the crown to the project for fear of offending the Spaniards, who were France’s allies in the thorny question of the Spanish succession, and whose claims in America included Louisiana. The minister did make available, however, the means to undertake a second exploratory voyage in October 1699 and issued instructions to contain by covert means any designs the English might have in the region. He hoped that further exploration might facilitate a decision on the merits and precise nature of a major colonization effort. Iberville arrived at Biloxi in January 1700 and proceeded to build a second fort (Fort Mississipi) on the Mississippi about 40 miles upstream. He also sought to secure the allegiance of the several Indian tribes of the region and to unite them in a common front against the English threat from the Carolinas. Then, leaving Biloxi at the end of May, Iberville returned to France by way of New York where he allegedly unloaded 9,000 pelts which he had bought from Canadian trappers who, rather than return to Montreal, had brought them to Iberville in Louisiana. The fact that both coureurs de bois and Indians from the northwestern tribes were showing interest in Louisiana was to be the principal reason for the hostility which the Mississippi adventure was beginning to arouse among the officials and merchants of Canada. They claimed Louisiana was being encouraged at the expense of the still meagre population and trade of Canada. Though they attempted to discredit Iberville in the eyes of both the officials at Versailles and the northwestern tribes, their efforts were to be of no avail for, under the new colonial policy, coureurs de bois and Indians were officially encouraged to come to Louisiana. In their trading with the Mississippi tribes, it would be in the interest of both to drive out rival English traders, and thus they would in effect become agents of the new French imperialism. This was, of course, Iberville’s thinking. He spent from August 1700 to September 1701 in France, therefore, arguing the case for a strong commitment to Louisiana and for resistance to English expansion west of the Appalachians. In the meantime, Louis XIV’s grandson Philippe d’Anjou had in 1700 become king of Spain and Iberville had accordingly hoped for a Franco-Spanish alliance which would allow joint use of the Spanish base at Pensacola. Despite the weakness of this base, however, Spain did not welcome an alliance which left her clearly subject to France. As an alternative Iberville urged the founding of a strong naval base at Mobile to serve as the centre of French influence in the Gulf of Mexico. The crown authorized a third expedition to proceed with the founding of Mobile, and approved an active Indian policy conceived by Iberville to protect the Mississippi basin from English expansion west of the Appalachians. Although his resources were quite disproportionate to his ambitious programme, Iberville nevertheless set sail from La Rochelle with three vessels on 29 Sept. 1701. Forced by illness to put in at Pensacola he found the Spanish fort and garrison in a deplorable state, and the Spaniards frankly hostile to French encroachments on their zone of influence. Notwithstanding this official hostility Iberville undertook construction of a modest installation at Mobile, to be called Fort Saint-Louis.
France’s official foothold in Louisiana remained precarious despite her desire and some well intentioned efforts to make a strong showing. Attempts by Iberville to establish a colony in the Mobile area had all but failed; it would be many years before settlers could be attracted in numbers sufficient to provide the required population. On the other hand, the unofficial endeavours of missionaries, traders, and explorers, particularly in the interior, had by 1702 already asserted the French presence in the Mississippi Basin. A notable contribution in this direction had been Iberville’s Indian diplomacy. As befitted a son of Charles Le Moyne, indeed any Canadian schooled on the beaver frontier of North America, Iberville believed that contact with the native population and mingling with the Indians were essential to any sound diplomacy. He had no illusions that well-manned and well-equipped military strongholds could ever replace the friendship and support of the Indians. Thus, he hoped to weld all the Indians between the Appalachians and the Mississippi into an alliance with the French and thus to contain English expansion into the west. His plan called for missionaries to live and labour in key Indian villages. To be sure, they were more valuable to Iberville’s scheme as political counsellors and conciliators than as spiritual advisers to the Indians. By the time he left Louisiana in April 1702, Iberville had taken the first steps towards implementing his Indian programme. In this he was assisted by Henri Tonty who, as La Salle’s lieutenant, had travelled extensively in the Mississippi basin, and knew the Indians well. Though he had been bitterly disappointed when Iberville, and not he, had been chosen to lead the expedition to the Mississippi in 1698, Tonty agreed to exert his influence towards the reconciling of the region’s hostile tribes in an effort to mount a common front against British ambitions in the Mississippi basin.
When he departed in April 1702, Iberville bade farewell to Louisiana. Though he prepared to lead several expeditions to the colony, his plans were thwarted, either by his own deteriorating health, by the straits of the French treasury, or by the state of French shipping, already acutely strained before the War of the Spanish Succession. Between attacks of malaria which recurred several times from 1702 to 1705, Iberville maintained an untiring interest in Louisiana. In fact the minister called on him for counsel on several occasions, and Iberville obliged in a succession of long memoirs in which he repeated and further refined his theory for French expansion in America. These memoirs, however, contain a noticeable amount of fanciful material (for example, on Indian policy and on the reduction of English strength along the entire seaboard), as compared to the generally lucid and well-documented observations of Iberville’s earlier career. There may indeed be a relationship between these lapses after 1702, and the illness which progressively undermined his resistance until his premature death.
Despite poor health, however, Iberville was well enough in 1705 to be entrusted with the preparation of an armament considerably more important than he himself had dared expect, given the European preoccupation with the War of the Spanish Succession. He left for America with a squadron of 12 vessels early in 1706, to continue his harassment of the English – this time in the West Indies. When Iberville arrived at Martinique on 9 March, he found that the Comte de Chavagnac, commander of one of the two divisions, had decided to attack Nevis, a small island in the Leeward chain, while awaiting the rest of the squadron. Unable to disembark at Nevis, Chavagnac turned his attention to neighbouring St Christopher, which he ravaged mercilessly. Chavagnac’s impatience thus served no military purpose; indeed it compromised Iberville’s campaign by prematurely alarming all the British bases in the Caribbean. The most important of these was Jamaica, whose defences were such that only a surprise attack would have been successful.
From Martinique, Iberville sailed to Guadeloupe where he disposed his force of about 2,000 regular troops, colonial militia, Canadians, and West Indian buccaneers for the campaign against Nevis. The squadron arrived on 1 April and the troops disembarked at Charlestown, the capital, that same night. The following day a single skirmish resulted in the fall of the island to French arms. Iberville’s capitulation terms were harsh, in keeping with the weak resistance of the English detachment of 250 men, who had fled almost as soon as the French force came ashore. The entire population – nearly 800 men, including soldiers and sailors, more than 300 women, 600 children, and 6,000 negro slaves – was taken prisoner, 24 English vessels were captured in the harbour, and the plantations, merchandise, official papers, and the buildings of the colony were seized. Once again, as in so many of Iberville’s previous campaigns, there was much bad faith and ruthless looting; by the time the French departed on 22 April, Nevis, the garden of the Caribbean, had been completely desolated. The campaign had spread terror not only throughout the British West Indies but all along the Atlantic seaboard from Carolina to Newfoundland. Indeed, Iberville had planned upon leaving Nevis to carry fire and sword to the other English possessions in America. As suddenly as he himself was accustomed to strike, however, Iberville’s career was cut short by his death.
Complicating the military facts of the capture of Nevis was the suspicion of fraudulence which surrounded the entire expedition, involving Iberville and Serigny and their agents, a number of French merchants, and practically every officer of the entire squadron, including Chavagnac. Even as the squadron was sailing towards the West Indies early in 1706, the minister of Marine appointed a commission to inquire into what the expedition’s suppliers alleged were malpractices surrounding the initial outfitting of the ships. As well, merchandise had been embarked in France for the purpose of illicit trade, and the administration of the profits from the booty and prizes taken at Nevis was suspect. The inquiry was frustrated by countless delays and unbelievable confusion, which caused the case to drag on for 30 years or more. To begin with, Iberville died suddenly, as did the squadron commissary before he could put his accounts of the expedition in order. Furthermore, the storekeepers of each vessel did not keep accounts of foodstuffs and merchandise consumed during the expedition. Nor did the French port officials take inventory of the vessels on their return. Also, the captains refused to declare their returning cargoes. The outcome of the whole matter was a host of convictions and orders to make restitution. Iberville, though dead, was severely dealt with, as was his widow, who had to make restitution on behalf of her deceased husband. Iberville was found guilty of carrying merchandise, chiefly iron, for illicit trade at considerable profit in Saint-Domingue and Havana. To a lesser degree, he, and especially the agents who saw to his interests after he died, were involved in contraventions respecting prizes and booty and charged with evasion of the prescribed taxes to the crown and admiral. Iberville’s most serious offence, however, was the embezzlement of large amounts of foodstuffs provided by the outfitters, which he sold on his own account. The whole affair caused a great deal of resentment and distrust of the Le Moynes in Louisiana, Canada, and above all in the ministry of Marine. Indeed the minister was so displeased that promotions for the Le Moyne brothers, especially for Serigny, whose guilt was most evident, were delayed for several years.
The Nevis affair offers the most comprehensive illustration of Iberville’s considerable commercial ambitions and his shrewd business sense. Though it is not easy to pinpoint the exact range of these interests and the extent of their effect upon his activities, it is evident they were considerable, dating back to his early adventures in Hudson Bay. Indeed, Governor Frontenac, who found him boastful and presumptuous, was convinced Iberville “has his interests and his trade much more in view than the king’s service.” The monopoly which allowed him to exploit the fur trade from 1694 to 1700 (except from September 1696 to September 1697) provided him with regular and substantial profits. Even before leaving France for the Newfoundland campaign of 1696–97, Iberville had made arrangements to dispose of what fish he would catch. To this end, he spent nearly two months in Placentia marketing the cod and other booty he had amassed, and supervising the fishery he had organized on his own account, using not only his own men but prisoners from the English fishing settlements as well. When Iberville sought the governorship of Newfoundland in 1697, his main purpose was probably to resume his interest in the fishery, which he hoped to combine with his monopoly of the fur trade at Fort Bourbon. He was turned down, not so much because he was Canadian-born, as because of the current redefinition of French colonial policy in America: Iberville could serve France better as developer of Louisiana than as administrator of the tiny, albeit important, outpost of Newfoundland. It was in Louisiana especially that Iberville and his brothers, with a view to reconciling the general development of the colony and their own individual interests, apparently sought to master all aspects of trade. Iberville’s commissary in Louisiana, Nicolas de LA Salle, posthumously accused him of various malpractices including the manipulation of the king’s stores. It is known that Iberville invested part of his Louisiana profits in property in Saint-Domingue, where he purchased a lucrative cocoa plantation in 1701. In France he obtained in Aunis the seigneuries of Ardillières, near Rochefort, which became the residence of his wife and family, and Duplessis, valued together at 90,000 livres. Though, as it would seem, there is ample evidence of a general nature to suggest Iberville had become wealthy, his sudden death in July 1706 – in Havana, where he had gone presumably to dispose of part of the iron he had taken from France for the purpose of his illicit trade – had prevented him from putting his affairs in order.
It is difficult to establish with certainty the details surrounding the family born to Iberville and Marie-Thérèse Pollet. In the sparse evidence available there are conflicting details relating to dates of birth on the one hand and to Iberville’s whereabouts at the probable times of conception of his children on the other. Tentatively it would seem there were five children: Pierre-Joseph-Louis, b. 1694 off the Grand Banks bound for Quebec; Jean-Baptiste, b. 1698 at La Rochelle; Marie-Thérèse, b. 1700; Jean-Charles, b. 1701 at La Rochelle; François-Jean, b. 1705 at La Rochelle. Madame d’Iberville appears to have lived mostly in France after her marriage in 1693. Following her husband’s death, she was reported to be living in Paris in June 1707, and was described then as having “undoubtedly great merit . . . [she] sins only by the lofty attitudes she has acquired from her family.”
The following year she married Louis, Comte de Béthune, aged 49, naval captain and knight of the order of Saint-Louis, who, despite his promotion in 1720 to commodore and in 1734 to honorary lieutenant-general, soon proved to be a financial liability. By Béthune she had two children, Marie-Armande, b. 1709 in Paris; and Armand, b. 1711 at Ardillières. Far from benefitting from the wealth Iberville had accumulated, Marie-Thérèse Pollet was to be caught up in the repercussions of the Nevis affair until her death. Though she used every intrigue and took every possible precaution to evade the onerous task of restitution, she nevertheless was forced finally to submit. The amount Iberville had fraudulently acquired during the campaign of 1706 exceeded his share of the legitimate profits by 112,000 livres. This debt, which devolved upon his widow, was still unpaid in 1730. By the time of her death in 1737 (her second husband had predeceased her by four and a half years, “being demented”), the entire Iberville fortune had been used up either in settling the latter’s affairs, or in maintaining her second husband in his high station in life.
In the past hundred years, there have been over a dozen works – both book-length and shorter monographs – devoted to Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville. Of these only Guy Frégault’s Iberville le conquérant (Montréal, 1944) makes an impressive scholarly contribution. Those published before 1944 are of little value; indeed they are seldom more than religio-nationalistic panegyrics or pretentious popularizations whose aim is to highlight Iberville’s military prowess against the English. Nellis Crouse, Le Moyne d’Iberville, soldier of New France (Ithaca, 1954) is a somewhat improved popularization but, as such, contributes little that is new. Even Frégault for that matter, though his work represents a scholarly effort at painstaking scrutiny and rigorous appraisal of available sources, succumbs to the temptation of the drum-and-trumpet or powder-blackened-faces form of biography, as may be judged from his title. Writing in 1944, Frégault, of course, did not have the opportunity of utilizing such important general studies as those of W. J. Eccles on New France, of Marcel Giraud on Louisiana and of E. E. Rich on the Hudson’s Bay Company. The contribution these scholars have brought to the general context would suggest the timeliness of a revised full-length treatment of the life and career of Iberville. Documentary sources, especially economic ones, continue to be discovered, and older holdings are constantly being reappraised. The results of research carried out over the past quarter century will permit a more specific grasp, for instance, of Iberville’s commercial ambitions, and a fuller account of his trading operations. A more critical examination of lengthy and detailed dispatches to the minister of Marine between 1702 and 1705 on French expansion and English containment in America would also seem to be required. Finally, the place of Iberville in the context of North America in the late 17th and early 18th centuries needs to be reviewed and redefined. Particular attention should be given to contemporary opinions of Iberville. He and the members of his family reputedly generated a great deal of antipathy, as well as affection, in New France, Louisiana, and France.
In the present appraisal of the career of an undoubtedly remarkable man, it is significant that, in spite of Iberville’s outstanding energy and ability and incredible feats of heroism, so little was to survive by way of permanent benefit to the French empire in America. Indeed, his valiant efforts in Hudson Bay during more than half of his 20 years in the service of France were doomed even as he undertook his final campaign in 1697. Though the French were to remain in de facto possession of Fort Bourbon for 16 years, the treaty of Utrecht irrevocably secured to Great Britain the possession of the entire Hudson Bay basin. Similarly, the capture in 1696 of Fort William Henry, situated in the disputed zone between New England and Acadia, and the destruction of the English settlements in Newfoundland in 1696 and 1697, were to be of no consequence for French imperial history. Like Hudson Bay, both Acadia and Newfoundland were ceded to Britain in 1713, and as early as 1697, as Iberville left Newfoundland, the English population returned to its former settlements. Iberville’s Louisiana adventure from 1698 to 1702 was doomed to a similar fate. Indeed, French initiative there was conceived not so much as a positive undertaking but as a means of preventing the English from acquiring a foothold in the Mississippi basin. Despite Iberville’s success in attracting southwards many Indian tribes from the northwest, his effort to retain the populous English within their narrow strip along the Atlantic seaboard became more and more futile, and Iberville’s thinking in this respect showed itself to be increasingly unrealistic. So too the capture of Nevis, although it served to terrorize for a time the English islands in the Caribbean, was but a temporary reversal of Britain’s long-term prospects in America. Of all Iberville’s campaigns, only the 1690 raid on Corlaer (Schenectady) was a comparative French success. Limited human and material resources did not allow France to retain for long territory beyond the St Lawrence valley, but the 1690 raids demonstrated the ability to hold, at least for some time to come, the Canadian colony which was already established. The fate of French imperial designs depended upon French resources and support. These, in the century following 1660, were better suited in America to the compact colony of Colbert than to a policy of expansion.
However devoid of military or political consequence the career of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville may now appear, his achievements are nevertheless of lasting significance. Indeed Iberville’s exploits, like those of no other in New France, illustrate the physical and moral strength, the resourcefulness and adaptability that were required in some measure of the whole colonial society to survive and prosper in the exacting wilderness conditions of North America. The fierce patriotism, the bravery, even the savage cruelty, which characterized Iberville’s campaigns against the English, were to a lesser degree the qualities essential to all life and progress in early North America. In this context, Iberville is an important figure, and is beyond doubt the first truly Canadian hero.
[AAQ, Registre des confirmations, 58. Archives de la Charente-Maritime (La Rochelle), B 5714, 5921. Archives Maritimes, Port de Rochefort, 6E2, liasse 1. AN, V7, carton 214 (official inquiry into the Nevis affair); Col., B, C11A, C11C, C11D, C11E, C13A, C13C, F3; Marine, B2, B4, C1, 3JJ. ASQ, Lettres, M, 21, 38; N, 28. BN, MS, Cabinet des titres, Coll. Chérin, 31700; Clairambault; NAF. Some of Iberville’s letters can be found in the Chicago Historical Society, Gunther and O. J. Schmidt Colls., and in the Newberry Library, Ayer Coll. There are at least two copies of an alleged original portrait: an engraving by La Guillermie (1841–1934), and a canvas by Flornoy (1894–?), which hangs in the Archives of Quebec.
Charlevoix, Histoire (1744), I, II. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), IV. Documentary hist. of New York (O’Callaghan). Documents relating to Hudson Bay (Tyrrell). Paul Du Ru, Journal of Paul Du Ru (February 1 to May 8, 1700) . . . , trans., with Intro. and notes, R. L. Butler (Chicago, 1934). Léon Guérin, Histoire maritime de France . . . (6v., Paris, 1851), IV, 469–79, which contains “Mémoire succinct de la naissance et des services de . . . Iberville. . . .” HBRS, XI, XX (Rich and Johnson). [Nicolas Jérémie], “Relation du Détroit et de la Baie d’Hudson par Monsieur Jérémie,” with Intro. by J.-H. Prud’homme, Société hist. de Saint-Boniface Bull., II (1912). Journal de l’abbé Beaudoin (Gosselin). Jug. et délib., III [Picoté de Belestre affair]. Kelsey papers (Doughty and Martin). La Potherie, Histoire (1753), I. MPA (Rowland and Sanders), I, II. Chevalier de Troyes, Journal (Caron).
General works pertaining to New France are: E. H. Borins, “La Compagnie du Nord, 1682–1700,” (unpublished M.A. thesis, McGill University, 1968); Eccles, Canada under Louis XIV, and Frontenac; Parkman, A half-century of conflict, I. On the Louisiana frontier, see V. W. Crane, The southern frontier, 1670–1732 (Durham, N.C., 1928); Jean Delanglez, Hennepin’s Description of Louisiana, a critical essay (Institute of Jesuit History pub., Chicago, 1941); W. E. Dunn, Spanish and French rivalry in the Gulf region of the United States, 1678–1702 . . . (Austin, ); Charles Gibson, Spain in America (New York, ); Giraud, Histoire de la Louisiane française, I; and O’Neill, Church and state in Louisiana. See also Jean Delanglez, “Tonti letters,” Mid-America, XXI (1939; new series, X), 209–38; P. J. Hamilton, Colonial Mobile (Boston, 1897; rev. ed., New York, 1910); Jonathan Pearson et al., A history of the Schenectady patent in the Dutch and English times . . . , ed. J. W. MacMurray (Albany, 1883); and Justin Winsor, The Mississippi basin . . . the struggle in America between England and France, 1697–1763 (Boston and New York, 1895).
About 15 biographies of Iberville have been written, but most are of little value. The most important biography is Guy Frégault, Iberville le conquérant (Montréal, ), which is, however, out of date. Worthy of some mention, nevertheless, are Alexandre Jodoin and J.-L. Vincent, Histoire de Longueuil et de la famille de Longueuil (Montréal, 1889); L.-M. Le Jeune, Le chevalier Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville ([Ottawa], 1937); and N. M. Crouse, Lemoyne d’Iberville: soldier of New France (Toronto, ).
Two articles of some interest are: Emmanuel de Cathelineau, “Les beaux mariages d’une canadienne,” NF, VI (1931), 144–86; and “Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville et Mlle Picoté de Belestre,” BRH, XXI (1915), 224. b.p.]