ROUBAUD, PIERRE-JOSEPH-ANTOINE, Jesuit, priest, and missionary; b. 28 May 1724 at Avignon, France, son of Pierre-Pascal Roubaud and Marguerite Tressol; d. in Paris probably after 1789.
The eldest son of a family which was large and poor, Pierre Roubaud entered the Jesuit college in Avignon at the age of 13. His teachers noted that he was seriously lacking in prudence and judgement, but in September 1739, during his noviciate, they praised his aptitude for teaching. He taught in various Jesuit colleges for seven years before leaving for Canada in the spring of 1756.
Here Roubaud was assigned to the Abenaki mission at Saint-François-de-Sales (Odanak). Although he suffered from poor health, by the summer he was accompanying the Abenakis on their numerous military expeditions of the Seven Years’ War. When the troops of Major Robert Rogers destroyed the village of Saint-François-de-Sales on 4 Oct. 1759, Roubaud withdrew to Montreal for the winter. The following 23 March he delivered a sermon in the parish church there in which he accused the troops from France of moral laxity and blamed them for the defeat at Quebec. Stung to the quick, the officers wanted to assault him; Roubaud was obliged to hide in his order’s house and later fled to Sault-Saint-Louis (Caughnawaga, Que.).
When the British forces drew near in 1760 Governor Vaudreuil [Rigaud] requested Roubaud to bring his Abenakis to the vicinity of Montreal from Saint-Régis, where they had sought refuge after the destruction, of their village; the Abenakis, fearing British reprisals, fled to the mission at Lac des Deux-Montagnes (Oka) and the Jesuit was unable to comply. By now suspect in the eyes of French officials, Roubaud took advantage of the capitulation of Montreal in September to inform Amherst that he was prepared to give him information about Canada and to take the oath of loyalty to the British crown. One month later his superior, Father Jean-Baptiste de Saint-Pé*, ordered him to leave the Saint-François-de-Sales mission, to which he had returned, and to go immediately to one of the Jesuit residences. Roubaud complained about this to Ralph Burton*, governor of Trois-Rivières, and Burton objected to any transfer of the missionary. Several historians have asserted that the recall came about because of incidents involving morals, but it seems the real reason was that his superiors wished to put him at some distance from the Abenakis because of his change of allegiance.
In October 1762 Roubaud, in ill health, went to Quebec and spent the winter with the Jesuits, who censured his conduct and his relations with the British. Their attitude did not, however, stop him from becoming a close friend of James Murray or from going to live at his house in the summer. Roubaud provided information about the country to the governor and entertained him with his talents as a conversationalist and poet. But when the Jesuit wanted to make a public announcement of conversion to the Protestant faith, the governor was alarmed. In the summer of 1764 Murray sent him to England to give British officials information about the new colony. Roubaud went with the support of the Jesuits who, believing he was returning to a European house, paid his travel costs and committed themselves to send him ten guineas a month for five months. Murray subsequently required them to continue the allowance for 11 months.
Arriving in London in August 1764, Roubaud spent the first months courting ladies of the demi-monde. In November he entered the service of the Earl of Halifax, secretary of state for the Southern Department, who was responsible for the colonies. Roubaud drafted a number of reports for him about the Indians, the problem of French paper money, and the religious situation in Canada. Although these statements did not have any notable effect on ministerial decisions, his report on religion was the occasion of a great deal of anxiety for Canon Briand, who was in London trying to obtain the British government’s authorization for his consecration as bishop. Roubaud claimed that the best way for Britain to gain the loyalty of the Canadians was to alienate them from their religion by depriving them of a bishop and by providing them with as few priests as possible. Satisfied with his services, Lord Halifax presented him to George III and secured him a monthly pension of 20 guineas. He was looking forward to a life free of financial cares when in July 1765 a change of government deprived him of both job and pension. He had just married a young woman of humble origins named Mitchell, and he needed more money. The Jesuits in Quebec considered that his marriage had released them from any obligation to him and refused to help him. To make ends meet Roubaud had to try his hand at numerous jobs and even became an actor of sorts.
From September 1766 Roubaud was employed by Lord Shelburne, the newly appointed secretary of state for the Southern Department. He gave Shelburne his views about the lifetime grant of land on the Baie des Puants (Green Bay, Lake Michigan) made by the king of France in the autumn of 1759 to François-Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil and his wife. As a result of the conquest, the grant had never been registered with the Conseil Supérieur and when in January 1765 the Vaudreuils sold William Grant* the territory, which carried with it exclusive fur-trading rights, certain English traders put pressure on the government to annul the sale. In his written statement Roubaud gave a verdict against the validity of the grant, and his opinion may have had some influence on the decision of the British government to refuse to acknowledge the land as the Vaudreuils’ property.
Early in 1768 Shelburne left his ministerial post and Roubaud once more was unemployed. He acquired such heavy debts that he was imprisoned several times, even though at the end of 1769 he obtained a pension of £100 for service to the state. In 1769 Amherst asked the king for the grant of the Jesuit estates as a reward for his role in the conquest, and in 1770 Roubaud presented to the general a written statement designed to support this request, no doubt hoping to turn it to his own advantage. Amherst was favourably impressed, adopted Roubaud’s arguments, and repeated them point by point to his agent in Canada, Colonel James Robertson. Amherst failed to obtain the estates, however, and Roubaud apparently received no reward for his services.
In November 1773 the Earl of Dartmouth, secretary of state for the American Colonies, weary of Roubaud’s requests for money, procured him the post of secretary to Sir Joseph Yorke, the British ambassador to the Netherlands. Yorke was satisfied with his services and advised Dartmouth to settle his debts, with the result that Roubaud returned to the British capital early in January 1775. That summer M. de Sandray, secretary to the French ambassador in London, enlisted him to gather information about the American revolution and to report on debates in the House of Commons. In November Roubaud prepared a report recommending joint action by Great Britain and France to suppress the rebellion of the 13 colonies. He hoped that the execution of such a plan would guarantee his employment since, as he saw it, the opening moves would be given to obscure agents rather than to statesmen. But far from obtaining the result he desired, Roubaud instead brought upon himself British remonstrances and deeper French distrust.
Observing the effect of events in America upon the international scene, Roubaud conceived the idea of forging letters in which Montcalm* would predict that the British would take Canada and that the 13 colonies would revolt. The letters, entitled Letters from the Marquis de Montcalm, governor-general of Canada; to Messrs. DeBerryer & De La Molé; in the years 1757, 1758 and 1759 . . . , were published in London in 1777. Certain historians have gone to a great deal of trouble to demonstrate that these letters were complete forgeries, even though documents of the period prove conclusively that Roubaud’s contemporaries were not fooled and that the author himself admitted the fraud.
In June 1777 the French embassy dismissed Roubaud from its service because his reports were inaccurate, and because it was clear that he was in the pay of the British government. In November 1778 the Duke of Almodôvar, the Spanish ambassador in London, employed him to report on the House of Commons debates and later to do translation. The latter task gave him access to important documents, which enabled him to inform the British ministers about certain aspects of the American revolution.
In the course of 1779 Roubaud again found himself out of work and now resorted to the lowest forms of spying in the most sordid places. He found no remunerative employment until the summer of 1783, when a large number of Canadians were in London to present plans for reform to the ministers or to settle legal actions. Gaining access to their circle, Roubaud offered to write the statements they intended to present to the ministers. Once more he took advantage of his situation to report what he learned – this time to under-secretary of state Evan Nepean – and thereby to augment his income. With Pierre Du Calvet he pursued the same line of action. Du Calvet was seeking redress from Governor Haldimand* for imprisoning him on a charge of having collaborated with the enemy during the American invasion of Canada in 1775–76, and Roubaud was editing his material. Haldimand received daily information about his adversary’s moves from Roubaud.
Du Calvet left London early in July 1785, leaving Roubaud without any livelihood. Adopting an approach he had used before when in financial difficulty, the ex-missionary tried to convince the British government that he had a right to a share of the Jesuit estates and that his colleagues had committed themselves to provide for his maintenance during his entire sojourn in London. The attempt almost succeeded this time since until he realized the absurdity of Roubaud’s pretensions, Lord Sydney, secretary of state for the Home Department, supported his claims.
Roubaud, sick and unable to provide for his wife and child, left for France early in 1788. He was taken in by the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Paris, where he remained until his death at an unknown date. Haldimand noted in his private diary on 17 Dec. 1789 that he was still living.
[P.-J.-A. Roubaud], “‘Mr. Roubaud’s deplorable case . . .’” intro. J. G. Shea, Hist. Magazine (Morrisania, N.Y.), 2nd ser., VII (1870), 282–91.
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