Monthly Archives: July 2019

d’Iberville Conclusion

In the 1690’s, the policy of Louis IV became expansionist and aimed at hemming in the British east of the Appalachians.  To secure this strategy, Pierre accepted a mission to Louisiana to find the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico and select a good site to block entry into the river by other nations.  Accompanied by brother Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, in October 1698, he sailed with 4 vessels.  After successfully locating the mouth of the Mississippi, he established a temporary fort on Biloxi Bay (Fort Maurepas, present day Ocean Springs, Miss.) and leaves a garrison of 81 including his brother Bienville in charge and returns to France.


Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville was awarded the cross of the Order of St. Louis, the first Canadian born to receive it.  In 1700 he returns to Louisiana and builds Fort Mississippi, 40 miles inland on the river.  He argues for colonization of Louisiana to contain the rapid expansion of the English in the Carolinas.  Adequate resources were not initially forthcoming.  In a 3rd voyage, he establishes Fort Saint-Louis at Mobile (Alabama).  He advocates policy to befriend the Indian tribes in the Mississippi basin by means of trade and religious missionaries in order to strengthen the French presence.

Iberville in Cuba

Statue of Pierre d’Iberville in Cuba

Iberville’s health is deteriorating due to malaria attacks and he writes his memoirs while back in France.  In 1705 he is well enough to lead a squadron of 20 vessels to the Spice Islands of Martinique, Guadalupe and Nevis in the British West Indies.  It was during this campaign of fear that accusations of fraud, illicit trade and manipulation of the King’s stores were aimed at the Pierre and his brother Serigny.  In July 1706, Iberville suddenly dies while on a stopover in Havana, likely due to complications from yellow fever.  He is buried in the Church of San Cristóbal (Havana Cathedral).

Pierre had married Marie-Thérèse Pollet in 1693 and had 5 children.  They lived mostly in France.  After Pierre’s death his great fortune was tied up in the aftermath of the “Nevis Affair”.  An inquiry found him guilty of fraud and his estate was ordered to pay back 112,000 livres.  Hi wife remarried and moved to Paris but this debt drained her inheritance.

I would like to finish with a quote from Bernard Pothier’s excellent on-line biography of Pierre that I have used for this mattersofthemoment series:

“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.”



J-B Le Moyne de Bienville Bienville, Iberville’s younger brother was left to govern the slow growing Louisiana colony.  In the spring of 1718, he founded New Orleans which becomes its capital.  It was named after Philippe II, Duke of Orleans.  In 1723, Governor Bienville moved into his new home in the French Quarter, in what is now the Custom House.  Thus it is a Canadian born who is the founder of one of the most culturally unique cities in North America.  If you google Iberville or Bienville, you will find dozens of towns, schools and communities which proudly bare these names today. This is living Canadian history folks.  Thanks for reading.


Custom House New Orleans

Custom House, New Orleans

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d’Iberville 3

IMG_3170 (2)

We left the Canadian adventurer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville in France getting ready for the 1692 season of war against the English in New France.  It was not to be.  The two ships he was given were required to escort a supply convoy to New France and arrived in Quebec too late to make the voyage to Hudson Bay before ice would set in.  The same thing happened in 1693.  Finally, in 1694, Pierre was appointed commander of an expedition force to remove the British from York Fort in Hudson’s Bay; his life long goal.

Setting sail from La Rochelle, the shrewd 36 year old agrees to pay the crew’s wages and cover their supplies.  In exchange, the French crown provides the vessels and military supplies and grants Iberville a monopoly of trade in Hudson’s Bay until 1697.  The directors of the Compagnie du Nord are outraged at these generous terms afforded Pierre.  However, they had not contributed adequate resources leading to previous failure, feels Pierre. He agrees to share all booty and profits with his men.

Hudsons Bay BattleArriving at the mouth of the Hayes River on Sept 24, he lands a party to reconnoitre York Fort and begins preparation for a long winter siege.  In October, he summons the English to surrender and surprisingly, they do. Though well supplied with men, heavy cannon, food, and trade goods, governor Thomas Walsh had neglected to lay in firewood, ignoring earlier warnings of an impending French attack.  That winter, there was much hardship and scurvy takes the lives of many Englishmen, French sailors and Canadians too.  In the late spring of 1695, York Fort, now renamed Fort Bourbon, is left in charge of the French and Iberville returns to France.  During his campaign there, the Indians had brought 450 canoe loads of rich pelts to trade.

Iberville had finally captured the Hudson Bay Company’s most lucrative station and his own star shone more brightly than ever.  He sets his sights on further adventure.  In 1696 Iberville sets out from France with 3 vessels to attack English stations along the Atlantic coast from the New England – Acadia boundary north to St John’s Newfoundland.  Iberville quickly routes 2 defensive frigates at the mouth of the St John River.  He then besieged Fort William Henry, 200 miles west of St John with 25 regulars from Acadia and 240 Abenakis.  The English fort capitulated as soon as the French set up their batteries on Aug 15.

NewfoundlandIberville than sailed to Placentia (Plaisance), the French capital of Newfoundland, determined to route the English from the island.  It is to be one of his most daring, ingenious and cruelest campaigns ever.  Iberville marches his men across the Avalon Peninsula (this had never been done before by a military force) and proceeds to attack station after station, killing, looting and utterly destroying the fishing settlements of the English.  There is an excellent detailed story of his campaign worth a read here.  It is truly a gruesome result.  36 settlements are destroyed, 200 persons are killed, 700 are taken prisoner.  Thousands of pounds of cod are taken and marketed by Iberville and others.   It was not to be for long though as immediately following his departure, an English squadron and 2000 troops land in St John’s to induce the survivors to return and rebuild their settlements.


Le Pélican 2

Meanwhile, the English have reestablished themselves in Hudson’s Bay.  Iberville joins a squadron from France heading there led by his brother Serigny.  Iberville’s lead ship, the Pelican with 44 guns, becomes separated from the others in the fog.  He is attacked by 3 English war ships – the Hampshire 56 guns, the Dering 36 guns and the Hudson’s Bay 32 guns.  Iberville engages in a duel, carries out brilliant naval manoeuvres and sinks the Hampshire.  The Hudson’s Bay is captured and sinks.  Iberville’s vessel the Pelican is severely damaged and abandoned.  His men regroup in a camp near York Fort and the next day the 3 remaining French vessels arrive.  After 5 days of light skirmishing, York Fort is surrendered to the French for a second time.  This had been Iberville’s swiftest and most brilliant campaign.

Iberville managed to have his monopoly at Fort Bourbon extended to 1699.  Returning to France in 1697, 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.  Conclusion of this riveting Canadian history will follow next time.

(Source material








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d’Iberville 2


colony 1

It was men like the Le Moyne brothers, especially Pierre d’Iberville, inspired by the endurance, techniques and cruelty of the Indians, who adopted similar guerilla warfare techniques by becoming even more ruthless in their lightning attacks on the English.  This integration with Indian culture, fierceness and technique prolonged the survival of New France until 1760 against much superior English odds.

In 1689 the population of New France numbered 14,000.  It’s territory consisted of Acadia on the Atlantic coast, Canada along the St Lawrence River and Great Lakes and Louisiana from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico along the Mississippi River.  It controlled such a vast territory by allying itself with dozens of Indian tribes, by having a centralized military command structure and strategically placed defensive forts. English settlers number 154,000 (a 12 to 1 advantage) in North America in 1689.  However, they are hemmed in by the French allied Indian tribes in multiple colonies along the East coast.  They rely on local militia for protection and are unable to cooperate with each other efficiently.  Their only major Indian allies are the Iroquois tribes of NY.

LachineBack home in Europe, to contain Louis IV’s ambitions, England joins with the Dutch, Austria and eventually Spain and Savoy in the Nine Years War against France, known as King William’s War in North America.  In August 1689, news of this having reached the English colonies first, 1500 Iroquois are emboldened to attack Lachine just outside Montreal.  Many French settlers are killed (reports range from 25 to 250) and the settlement is burnt to the ground.

CorlaerIn retaliation, Governor Frontenac sends a force of 210 led by Pierre’s brother Jacques, with Pierre 2nd in command and another brother Francois de Bienville, to attack Corlaer (Schenectady) outside of Albany, NY in Feb 1690.   They catch the town completely unawares, killing as many as 60 inhabitants, taking 25 prisoners and 50 horses back to Montreal after burning the settlement to the ground.

Pierre is rewarded with a Seigneury on Bai des Chaleurs in Gaspé but quickly disposes of the land.  He is neither interested nor temperamentally suited to the life of a seigneur.  Instead, that summer he returns to Hudson’s Bay with a small fleet of 3 ships, 30 guns and 80 men.  The English traders at York Fort are ready for a fight and chase Iberville away with a ship of 36 guns.  Pierre then attacks New Severn, an outpost, capturing it and thousands of rich pelts.  He winters in James Bay before returning to Quebec and thence to France in late 1691, to prepare for the next campaign.  The goal of the expulsion of the English from Hudson’s Bay was to elude him for several years to come.

(to be continued,  with gratitude for source material from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, )









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Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville


Pierre Le Moyne Le Sieur d’Iberville (Valliants sculptures, Ottawa)

Of all the heroes of the French Regime in Canada, this guy – Pierre Le Moyne le Sieur d’Iberville (1661-1706) is the most intriguing to me.  Soldier, ship captain, explorer, trader, colonizer and adventurer – what a life he had!

The third son of Charles de Moyne, he was born in Ville-Marie (Montreal) in 1661.  He eventually had two sisters and eleven brothers.  His father Charles, arriving from Dieppe at the age of 15, started as an indentured servant to the Jesuit missionaries in Huronia.  He moved to Ville-Marie in 1646, helping to fight off the Iroquois. He also served as a peaceful emissary to the many Indian tribes allied with the French.  He eventually founds the Compagnie du Nord and becomes one of the wealthiest men in Montreal.

diberville1Pierre had an upbringing punctuated with boating on the St. Lawrence and regular church services.  His military career begins in 1686 when he and two of his brothers join an expedition to route the English trader interlopers from Hudson’s Bay.  You may recall the story of Radisson and Groseilliers.  These two couriers du bois deserted to England after they are not allowed to keep their huge stock of high quality furs from the North because they had not been licensed for this trade.  The English then agree to establish several trading posts in Hudson’s Bay in order to divert the lucrative fur trade away from New France.

After an exhausting voyage up the Ottawa River to Lake Temiskaming, the French reach James Bay and quickly route 3 English forts.  D’Iberville distinguishes himself as the bravest of the brave with sword or onboard a ship.  He is made governor of the three new French Forts and spends the winter of 1687 with 40 compatriots in Moose Fort in James Bay.


With the English fur trade now disrupted, D’Iberville and his men await fresh foodstuffs and supplies.  When none are forthcoming by summer, he returns first to Quebec and then to France.  He seeks to promote the advantages of a sea approach to the fur trade in Hudson’s Bay and to garner trade goods and support to lure more Indians away from Port Nelson, the English trading site still going strong.

In this he was successful.  He takes command of the excellent escort vessel Le Soleil d’Afrique and sails her back to Quebec. Returning the James Bay, in September of 1688, two English vessels attempt to reestablish English control but are routed by D’Iberville.  During the winter of 1688-89, there is much misery and bad faith on both sides and the 85 English held in limbo are no match for the fierce wilderness hardened French.  25 English die of scurvy and exposure after D’Iberville refuses their request to hunt for fresh game.  His reputation as a swashbuckling privateer who gives no quarter is firmly established.  His goal to expel the English from Hudson’s Bay will elude him for a few more years.  Meanwhile he is recalled to Montreal for a new military campaign.  His career is just starting as is the huge fortune that he will acquire.


(To be continued.)



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