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POULIN DE COURVAL, FRANÇOIS-LOUIS, naval officer; b. 30 Oct. 1728 in Quebec, son of Louis-Jean Poulin de Courval and Françoise Foucault; d. in the autumn of 1769 at La Rochelle, France.

François-Louis, only son of Louis-Jean Poulin de Courval, studied at the Jesuit college in Quebec. Bishop Pontbriand [Dubreil] planned that he enter the priesthood, but by his own admission the young man had a much greater inclination for a military career. In 1746 he succeeded in convincing his uncle and guardian, Claude Poulin de Courval Cressé, to let him take part in the expedition which Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay* was mounting to besiege Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. Upon his return to Quebec in November 1746, his guardian had Poulin de Courval follow the courses in pilotage which the Jesuit Joseph-Pierre de Bonnecamps* was giving at the college in Quebec. The following spring he began sailing between Canada, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), France, and the West Indies as a naval officer. He wanted to be freed from his uncle’s guardianship, and on 30 Sept. 1748 obtained from the Conseil Supérieur letters of emancipation and benefit of age.

In 1752 Poulin de Courval became a captain in command of a merchant-ship and sailed the seas for some years. In the spring of 1756 his ship ran aground in the St Lawrence. He then entered the service of the king of France, who had just declared war on England. An experienced captain, Poulin de Courval made several crossings between Canada and France. During one of these crossings his ship, the Diamant, was captured; the wounded Poulin was taken prisoner to England, where he spent eight months. After being freed towards the end of 1758 he took the ship Bienfaisant, with a cargo of supplies and munitions, to Canada. He reached Quebec on 17 May 1759 and took part in the defence of the town. On 28 July he made an unsuccessful attempt to set fire to the English fleet by means of rafts used as fire-ships. A month later, while at Saint-Augustin (Saint-Augustin-de-Québec), he was the victim of an unlucky accident; a French soldier, taking him for an Englishman, fired upon him, hitting him in the thigh. Consequently Poulin de Courval was unable to take part in the final combats which were to decide the fate of the colony.

In the autumn of 1760 he arrived in La Rochelle, where he stayed for several months; from there he went to “take the waters” nearby to cure his bad leg. His stay at the spa put him 4,000 livres in debt. Anxious to pay these debts, he fitted out a privateer towards the end of 1761. Just as he was to sail, he received an order to go to Brest, where he was appointed a fire-ship captain in the Marine. In the spring of 1762 he sailed for Newfoundland with Charles-Louis d’Arsac* de Ternay in the expedition to destroy the English settlements there.

Poulin returned to France in the summer of 1762 to seek help for the expedition, and received command of the frigate Zéphir. Just as he was leaving the port of Brest to sail to Newfoundland, he was attacked by three English ships and forced to surrender. He was imprisoned in England for a month, then returned to France, thanks to the peace. As a consequence of this battle the Duc de Choiseul awarded him the cross of the order of Saint-Louis and a gratuity of 3,000 livres.

In 1763 Poulin de Courval received command of the flute Garonne and was commissioned to take the new governor, Gabriel-François d’Angeac*, and his officers to the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. He returned there in 1764 with a cargo of provisions. Apparently during one of these voyages he made a survey of the possibilities for fishing, agriculture, and lumbering on Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. But the supplying of these islands was always a precarious matter. During the winter of 1765–66 the situation at Saint-Pierre became critical, and Versailles asked the port authorities of Rochefort to send help, despite the difficulties of navigation in that season. This perilous mission was entrusted to Poulin de Courval, who knew the waters well. He successfully carried it out, reaching Saint-Pierre at the end of the winter of 1766. This final exploit earned him the rank of lieutenant-commander in the Marine and a gratuity of 600 livres.

Worn out by his numerous sea voyages, his military campaigns, and his wounds, François-Louis Poulin de Courval died at La Rochelle in October 1769. A few years earlier at Saint-Pierre and Miquelon he had married Marguerite Leneuf de Beaubassin, who in May 1769 bore him a son in La Rochelle.

André Lachance

AJQ, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Québec, 30 oct. 1728. AN, Col., B, 108, f.1; 114, ff.1, 203; 115, ff.23, 85; 118, ff.56, 229; 122, f.9; 125, f.78; 149, f.259; C11A, 104, f.117; E, 96 (dossier Courval); Marine, C7, 257. ANQ, Greffe de R.-C. Barolet, 25 juin, 13 oct. 1754; NF, Coll. de pièces jud. et not., 3952. “Journal du siège du Québec” (Fauteux), APQ Rapport, 1920–21, 137–241. Henri Têtu, “M. Jean-Félix Récher, curé de Québec, et son journal, 1757–1760,” BRH, IX (1903), 134. “Précis de la vie et des aventures de Poulin de Courval chevalier de l’ordre royal et militaire de Saint-Louis capitaine de brulot; première partie, depuis 1746 jusqu’à 1765” [The author of this biography has a copy of this manuscript; the original belonged in 1939 to Sir Bruce Ingram of the Illustrated London News.  a.l.] Fauteux, Les chevaliers de Saint-Louis, 215–16. P.-G. Roy, Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–1760, IV, 287–88; V, 85. La Morandière, Hist. de la pêche française de la morue, II, 734, 737–38. P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec, II, 458.

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André Lachance, “POULIN DE COURVAL, FRANÇOIS-LOUIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/poulin_de_courval_francois_louis_3E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/poulin_de_courval_francois_louis_3E.html
Author of Article:   André Lachance
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   February 24, 2024