ROBINAU DE PORTNEUF, RENÉ, officer who served in Acadia and Canada; b. 3 Sept. 1659 at Quebec, son of René Robinau* de Bécancour, Baron de Portneuf, and of Marie-Anne Leneuf de La Poterie; d. during the night of 3–4 Oct. 1726 at Montreal.
In 1689 Portneuf was appointed a lieutenant in Acadia, where his brother, Joseph Robinau* de Villebon, was in command. He took an active part in the operations against the English and established close relations with the Abenaki Indian tribes. During the winter of 1689–90 Buade* de Frontenac sent him, with 50 Canadians and 60 Indians, to attack the English post at Casco (Falmouth). He was joined by Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville and Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Saint-Castin, and in June 1690 he obtained the enemy’s capitulation in return for the assurance that their lives would be spared and that they would be well treated. The next night he went off towards Fort Loyal (Portland) to attack a small garrison under the command of Silvanus Davis, whom he captured. But he could or would not prevent the Indians from proceeding to massacre the prisoners, which created strong feeling in the English settlements. In 1692 Portneuf again joined forces with Saint-Castin to attack the English posts on Penobscot Bay, but the enterprise was a failure, although everyone fought with great bravery, and the Indians withdrew, laying waste the whole countryside as they did so.
Numerous complaints about Portneuf began to arrive at the court of Versailles. He was accused of engaging in the fur trade and of having “carried on undesirable relations with an Indian woman, to the certain knowledge of the people who were with them.” He was cashiered in 1693, which did not, however, prevent him from continuing to go to war. On 25 Oct. 1696 Intendant Bochart de Champigny wrote that his conduct was improving. “He has not failed to go to war when the opportunity has arisen. He has even participated in the last campaign as aide-de-camp to M. de Frontenac, who has been very well satisfied with him.” His disgrace was therefore relatively minor, and the court was asked to restore him to his rank without, however, sending him back to Acadia, where he had created too much of a disturbance.
In November 1700 the governor general put forward Portneuf’s name for the first lieutenancy that became vacant; in 1702 Callière wrote that he was a good officer and again recommended him, “His Majesty having pardoned the aforesaid Sieur de Portneuf some petty faults of which he had been accused.” On 1 June 1703 he was again appointed lieutenant and continued to serve in Canada. In 1708 he was lieutenant with the company commanded by Joseph Desjordy de Cabanac, but in reality he remained with the governor general, Rigaud de Vaudreuil, to serve as interpreter of the Abenaki language, and he seems to have rendered great services in the performance of his duties.
In 1712 Madame de Vaudreuil [Joybert] asked that Portneuf be given command of a company. This request was confirmed the following year by the governor general himself, who intervened in favour of Portneuf “in consideration of his services and the fact that he is very useful to him, since he knows perfectly the language of the Abenaki Indians.”
On 27 April 1716 Portneuf was promoted captain. Some time later mention is made of him as a “poor, brave, honest man.” In 1725 he went to replace M. de Sabrevois in command of the fort at Chambly, an important post which covered the Montreal region and where a stone fort had been built in 1710. But his health was seriously impaired; indeed, on 23 Sept. 1726, Governor general Beauharnois* de La Boische announced that he had had to bring Portneuf back to Montreal because he was no longer able to continue his service, “on account of his age and infirmities.” He was suffering from a malady “from which it is feared he will not recover.” He died a few days later.
On 26 July 1706, at Montreal, Portneuf had married Marguerite Daneau de Muy, daughter of Nicolas Daneau de Muy; they had 12 children.
AN, Col., C11A, 12, ff.91v, 95; 14, f.201v; 15, ff.84v, 131; 16, f.114v; 18, f.24v; 19, f.72v; 30, f.352; 33, f.290; 34, f.62; 36, f.112; 47, f.74; 48, f.157; D2C, 47, 49, 222. “Correspondance de Frontenac (1689–99),” APQ Rapport, 1928–29, 37, 42, 57. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), IV, 748; IX, 362, 461, 472. Webster, Acadia, 186–87. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire. Lorin, Le comte de Frontenac. H. H. Peckham, The colonial wars, 1689–1762 (Chicago, 1964), 31, 32, 43, 49, 50. P.-G. Roy, “René Robineau de Portneuf et ses enfants,” Cahiers des Dix, XVI (1951), 171–93.