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.
Pierre 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.)