PREVOST DE LA CROIX, JACQUES, colonial administrator; b. 6 May 1715 at Brest, France; d. 9 Oct. 1791 in France.
Jacques Prevost de La Croix’s grandfather, Robert Prevost, a wealthy Parisian banker, had in 1705 secured hereditary nobility for the family by purchasing the office of king’s secretary. His father, Philippe, had moved to Brest and acquired the offices of director of supply and treasurer of fortifications for Brittany. In 1714 Philippe, referred to as écuyer, married Marie-Gabrielle-Élisabeth L’Estobec de Langristain, a nobleman’s daughter. One of Jacques’s uncles became bank agent and king’s counsellor. His own career was marked by determined effort to advance himself and enhance his family’s wealth and status.
Like three of his four brothers, Jacques entered the naval commissariat because Brest was a major seaport and he was related to an important naval family, the Le Febvre de Grivys. Beginning his Marine career in 1729, he was promoted scrivener in 1732. In 1735 he was sent to Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) as principal scrivener; this post in the commissariat involved supervision of one area of the intendant’s jurisdiction and was often the stepping-stone to the higher grade of commissary. Prevost did not remain in the colony long since he gained the confidence of administrators who sent him to Versailles in 1737 to report on the shortage of supplies. Falling ill after his return, he left for France again in 1738 and did not come back until François Bigot was appointed financial commissary in 1739. Prevost was then assigned commissariat duties for the colonial regular troops and for maritime conscription.
Prevost became Bigot’s protégé and the careers of the two men were closely linked in the 1740s and 1750s. Bigot trained Prevost in colonial administration, promoted his career, and defended him when necessary. During Bigot’s absence from Louisbourg in 1742, Prevost replaced him, but in such a manner that he provoked Commandant Duquesnel [Le Prevost*] to complain to France about the young man’s pretensions. During the 1745 siege Prevost was wounded and, after the capitulation, he returned to Rochefort where he worked on accounts with Antoine Sabatier*. When Bigot was appointed intendant of the fleet of the Duc d’Anville [La Rochefoucauld*], Prevost was promoted naval commissary in 1746 to serve under him. A series of misfortunes then befell Prevost. Two ships on which he sailed were captured by the British, and his belongings were lost in another vessel sunk off Sable Island, Nova Scotia. In 1747 he was appointed to replace the controller at Quebec, Jean-Victor Varin de La Marre, but his ship was forced back into port by the British. After Louisbourg was returned to France by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, Prevost was appointed financial commissary on 1 Jan. 1749, following Bigot’s solicitation. Together with Bigot, who was now intendant of New France, Prevost re-established the civil administration at Louisbourg later that year.
Prevost became the patron of the men he placed in administrative positions at Louisbourg between 1749 and 1755, just as he himself was a client of François Bigot and of Pierre-Arnaud de Laporte, the powerful chief clerk of the Marine colonial bureau. His family was his first concern and the core of his support. By his marriage to Marguerite-Thérèse Carrerot on 14 Feb. 1745, Prevost became allied not only to her prominent merchant-administrative family, but to the Delorts as well [see Guillaume Delort*]. His wife’s father, André Carrerot*, was promoted keeper of the seals for the Conseil Supérieur and principal scrivener shortly before his death in 1749. Two Delorts obtained seats on the Conseil Supérieur and another was employed by Prevost in the civil administration. In 1750 Prevost brought his younger brother, Pierre-François, from France to serve as scrivener and, after many years of requests, secured a promotion for him. Two of Prevost’s sons and a Carrerot were enrolled in the colonial regular troops, one of them even before the age of four.
During Prevost’s years at Louisbourg the civil administration was expanded, and Michel Le Courtois de Surlaville maintained that Prevost employed many more clerks than he could occupy. Jean Laborde, the agent of the treasurers general of the Marine at Louisbourg, was Prevost’s closest ally and benefited from the association by amassing offices and government contracts, as did his in-laws, the Morin, Daccarrette, and Milly families. Laborde’s son was hired by Prevost as an assistant clerk, and in 1749 Jean-Baptiste Morin de Fonfay, who had been Prevost’s secretary, became royal notary and clerk of the Conseil Supérieur. King’s Lieutenant Charles-Joseph d’Ailleboust* and Major Robert Tarride* Duhaget were identified as among several military officers who became the commissary’s “creatures” in return for the special favours he dispensed.
Opposition to Prevost’s empire building, and to his personal vindictiveness, formed quickly. Pierre-Jérôme Lartigue, the king’s storekeeper, and Séguin, the royal controller, opposed Prevost because of irregularities they observed in his administrative practices. In 1749 Séguin’s criticism led Bigot to intercede on Prevost’s behalf and ask the minister to recall the controller. The lieutenant-general of the Admiralty Court, Laurent de Domingué Meyracq, also opposed Prevost, as did Antoine Le Poupet de La Boularderie. In 1750 La Boularderie requested permission to go to Versailles with Lartigue to report on the commissary’s alleged misconduct; however, it was Séguin who is known to have left for France in 1751, because of ill health, and who reported to Versailles. When he returned in 1752 he carried with him instructions aimed at tightening administrative procedures to ensure financial accountability.
The arrival in 1751 of a new governor, Jean-Louis de Raymond, strengthened the dissident elements and caused an irrevocable split in the administration. From totally different backgrounds, Raymond and Prevost were equally headstrong and stubborn. Each came to detest the other to such a degree that personality dominated over policy for two years. Their quarrel became so intense that at one point Raymond contemplated removing Prevost from his position and replacing him with Séguin. For his part Prevost carried on a concerted campaign to remove Lartigue [see Jean-Baptiste Morin de Fonfay] and to discredit Meyracq by appointing judicial subdelegates for the sole purpose of reporting on the activities of the Admiralty Court in the out-ports. Personal animosities reached such a height that the priest Pierre Maillard* was moved later to comment to the new governor, Drucour [Boschenry*] on the “sad things [that] had passed” at Louisbourg.
Material interests were the root of this confrontation among personalities. A report prepared by Surlaville and Raymond revealed the variety of ways in which Prevost attempted to misappropriate or defraud the crown of 32,982 livres on the accounts for 1752. Funds were requested for unfilled administrative posts, the government was overcharged for services rendered, and supplied were purchased above the market value. Contracts were awarded to favourites such as Jean Laborde, Nicolas Larcher, and the Rodrigue brothers, and sometimes they were rigged so that the supplier made unusually high profits. Prevost departed from standard procedure by dispensing with the controller in many financial transactions where his presence was required by regulation. He awarded two contracts for the fortifications to Claude-Audet Coeuret, an associate of the Rodrigue brothers, but the second was vetoed by France because the prices were so exorbitant.
Prevost was also at least aware of the attempt by Bigot and the Grande Société to control the supply of New France for their own profit [see Michel-Jean-Hugues Péan]. When one of the ships used by Bigot, the Renommée of Bordeaux, arrived at Louisbourg with supplies for the administration, Lartigue and Séguin found the cargo short. On reporting to Prevost, Lartigue discovered that the ship captain had preceded him; Prevost berated Lartigue for weighing the flour incorrectly and said he would handle the matter personally. Further, Surlaville and Raymond charged that 20,000 livres requested from the crown for the transport of Acadian refugees in 1752 had been diverted by Prevost to finance a ship sent to the British colonies to buy beef for Bigot.
Complaints lodged against Prevost were neutralized through the counter-offensive he waged in dispatch after dispatch and through the protection afforded him by Pierre-Arnaud de Laporte. In utter frustration Raymond resigned the governorship in 1753, thereby strengthening Prevost’s grip on the administration. One more dissident voice was silenced the following year when Séguin became paralysed and was forced to return to France. Prevost removed Lartigue from his position as storekeeper and replaced him with Jean-Baptiste Morin de Fonfay, despite initial opposition from France due to soaring supply costs and criticism of Morin’s integrity.
Prevost was the undisputed master of the Louisbourg administration after 1753. Not only did Laborde’s government contracts grow, but his son-in-law Michel Daccarrette* and his stepson François Milly also became suppliers to the administration. Expenditures for the colony and the fortifications rose to the highest ever, although they were partially attributable to the preparations for war and to the several thousand Acadians who fled Nova Scotia and sought refuge in French territory in the early 1750s [see Jean-Louis Le Loutre].
When Governor Drucour arrived in 1754 Prevost worked assiduously to cultivate him, and the governor came to rely heavily on his advice. Within a few months Prevost had secured Drucour’s agreement to the appointment to the Conseil Supérieur of four assistant councillors whom he had personally chosen. In 1755 when battalions of the French army were sent to the colonies, Prevost was appointed acting war commissary until the arrival of La Grive Des Assises, the regular quartermaster, the following year. The rapid influx of soldiers overburdened the town’s facilities and led the French army officers, unaccustomed to the rigours of colonial North America, to complain about Prevost’s manner of billeting and according supplies. Prevost also quarrelled with La Grive as he had with Séguin, but once again Bigot interceded, instructing the quartermaster to obey Prevost’s orders as though they came from the intendant. In 1757 Prevost was promoted commissary general, the rank below intendant, with a raise in salary.
Prevost demanded absolute loyalty from his subordinates, and to his enemies he showed no quarter. One officer went so far as to accuse him in 1754 of having engineered the escape from prison of a man who had attempted to kill La Boularderie, his bitter opponent. Yet Prevost worked earnestly to resettle displaced Acadians and won praise from several quarters, notably from Abbé de L’Isle-Dieu, who lauded him to Bishop Pontbriand [Dubreil*l and felt that he would have been intendant if Bigot had been removed. Prevost had opposed Raymond’s foolhardy settlement schemes and there appears to be little substance in the assertion made by James Johnstone, known as the Chevalier de Johnstone, a partisan of Raymond, that Prevost retarded the economic development of ile Royale.
Little precise information is available concerning Prevost’s personal affairs or any profits he may have made while in North America apart from Raymond’s appraisal that Prevost’s estimates for the 1753 colonial accounts were inflated by at least 33,000 livres. Thomas Pichon did note however that both Prevost and the engineer Louis Franquet* were “devilishly fond of money,” and that while work on Louisbourg’s fortifications progressed slowly in the 1750s, “some people wish the work to last a long time.” Before 1745 Prevost was mentioned only as commercial agent for André Carrerot. His meagre investment of 500 livres in privateers in 1744 makes his later claim that he left 50,000 livres in France when he returned to the colony in 1749 appear unlikely, although he may have inherited money. His household staff in the 1750s numbered about ten and he acquired two houses and a piece of land on Île Royale. He rented his properties to the crown for 1,500 livres annually, and the costly addition to his house undertaken in 1754–55 was made at government expense. Prevost apparently loved gambling for he was admonished by the minister of Marine in 1758 for allowing games in his house where sums as large as 20,000 livres were lost. Jean Laborde claimed in 1763 that he had loaned the commissary 10,000 livres at Louisbourg, but after Prevost returned to France he considered buying land valued at 85,000 livres, although he said he intended to borrow for this purchase.
Prevost’s role during the 1758 siege of Louisbourg was limited but critical. He consistently advocated that the French fleet remain in the harbour to defend the fortress and that the ships not be abandoned to augment the garrison. At a meeting of Drucour’s war council on 26 June, he persuaded the military officers to accept Jeffery Amherst’s stringent terms of unconditional surrender because the colonists had suffered at the hands of the British long enough. Yet even in this instance Prevost’s conduct was questioned. Louis-Antoine de Bougainville* maintained that Prevost, like Bigot during the 1745 siege, had advocated capitulation for pecuniary reasons. As the king’s stores were situated behind one of the points of British attack, Prevost had transported the merchandise to safer locations. When the inventory of French goods was prepared, after the surrender, Bougainville claimed that Prevost failed to mention the items placed elsewhere. This booty fell to his profit and that of Louisbourg’s residents.
After the capitulation Prevost returned to France to await reassignment. With the financial commissary from Rochefort, he was ordered to La Rochelle late in 1760 to investigate the large deficit owed by Laborde on his accounts from Louisbourg. The debt was still unresolved in March 1762 when Prevost officially resigned with a pension of 3,000 livres. The following year Laborde was imprisoned in the Bastille where he accused Prevost of having stolen the strong-box in which army funds had been stored. Already suspicious of Prevost for reasons which are not entirely clear, the Duc de Choiseul ordered his arrest on 28 April 1763.
Prevost proved his innocence and convinced the Paris lieutenant-general of police, Antoine de Sartine, who asked Choiseul to release him. Prevost was freed on 14 June but, still under suspicion, he was not permitted to leave Paris until the following April. Choiseul considered him to have been negligent at Louisbourg and ordered that he never again be employed in the Marine department. But Sartine became a new protector who in 1766 persuaded Choiseul’s successor, the Duc de Praslin, to exonerate Prevost officially from any involvement in the Laborde affair.
Considering Prevost’s questionable conduct in Île Royale, and his subsequent tribulations, his rise to prominence during the second half of his career was remarkable, although partially attributable to Sartine, who became minister of Marine in 1774, and to his successor, Castries. Returning to the Marine service as assistant in the Rochefort archives in 1767, the following year Prevost was sent to Corsica as financial commissary. In 1773 the parlement of Paris upheld his family’s nobility, he became financial commissary at Lorient, and he was named knight of the order of Saint-Louis with a pension of 2,000 livres. Three years later he achieved his life’s ambition when Sartine appointed him intendant at Toulon. After serving for five years, Prevost retired with a pension of 16,000 livres. The 52 years he had given to France’s naval and colonial service were ultimately rewarded in 1782 when he was appointed king’s councillor.
Jacques Prevost was motivated by an intense desire to give respectability to the noble status acquired by his grandfather. Despite having spent nearly two decades in Île Royale, he remained a Frenchman imbued with the values of his homeland. His colonial service was a brief interlude in a career dedicated to social ascendancy through the acquisition of wealth, a naval intendancy, land in France, and military commissions for his sons. Yet his ambition and petty vindictiveness made him abhorrent to many such as Johnstone, whose published memoirs so defamed Prevost that most historical comment about the man has been negative.
The French revolution witnessed an end to the aspirations Prevost entertained for himself and his family. His eldest son, Jacques-Marie-André, an army officer, was killed in battle in 1783. Prevost died in 1791 and his second son, naval captain Charles-Auguste, was guillotined in the following year. The youngest son, Louis-Anne, was elected by the Gironde in 1795, but his election was annulled and he died several weeks later.
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