Personne: Guillaume Regnault: Part Two

In Part One I covered Guillaume’s life from birth to his arrival in Canada. I demonstrated that there are some problems with the standard narrative suggesting he arrived in 1665 as a soldier with the Carignan-Salières Regiment. I proposed that it was just as likely that he arrived as an engagé. Historians such as Alan Greer have noted that the majority of travelers to Canada were engagés. There is a contemporary account to support this option.  In a letter to her son dated 18 August 1664, Marie de L’Incarnation wrote that the “King continues to send people to this country. This year he has sent 300 men, passage paid on condition they work for the settlers who will pay their wages and after three years of service they will be free to become colonists.”

However, there is yet another possibility as well that would more closely associate Guillaume’s arrival with the regiment. Nearly a year later, Marie de L’Incarnation wrote to her son that “M de Tracy, his Majesty’s lieutenant general for all America has arrived more than a fortnight ago with a big retinue and four companies of soldiers to say nothing of 200 workmen that are divided among the ships.” Was Guillaume one of those 300 indentured servants in 1664 or one of the 200 workmen who arrived in 1665? We do not as of yet know. If there is an inventory of those individuals, no one has definitively associated Guillaume with either group.

We do know that he joined the Carignan Regiment and unlike in France, these soldiers were greeted with great joy by many colonists. To some, the arrival of the troops was the answer to a prayer. After years of living in terror of the Iroquois attacks, they were ecstatic over the arrival of the troops. The Jesuit Superior, François Le Mercier, claimed that it was “impossible to express the satisfaction of all people.”

In addition to the troops the ships also brought the new government which consisted of the new Governor General Daniel de Remy Courcelle, the lieutenant–general Alexandre de Prouville, Marquis de Tracy, and the new Intendant Jean Talon, who was responsible for the civil administration and economic development of the colony.

Not everyone was thrilled with the troops. The Sulpician François Dollier de Casson disdainfully noted that the troops brought with them “vices which have, in fact, risen and grown here since that time [when the troops arrived], along with many other troubles and misfortunes which had not up to that time made their appearance here.”

The arrival of so many troops provided a logistical challenge. At the time, there were only about 3,035 French in Canada and less than 2,000 lived in Quebec. Trying to find lodging for 1,200 soldiers and 80 officers, while maintaining order and discipline, presented quite a challenge for the regiment’s officers and the local officials.

After months on a ship, it is not surprising that the soldiers would exhibit undisciplined behavior upon their arrival. Some may have been so happy to be back on land they could not contain themselves. Jack Verney noted that the Marquis de Tracy “declined all formal welcomes” upon his arrival and “immediately set about lumbering up the hill to the church” despite having been “debilitated by a persistent fever” from his sea journey. Upon arriving at the church, he ignored the waiting Monsignor Laval and “despite his poor health” the sixty-two year old Tracy kneeled “on the flagstones all through the ritual of the Te Deum. The gesture was, perhaps, as much an expression of his relief at being back on land as it was his piety, for in 1665 French soldiers were landsmen all and were not used to having to travel to their duties by sea.”

Unfortunately many of the troops that arrived on two of the ships, the Saint-Sébastien and the Justice were ill from the voyage. Some were quickly moved to the hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu, but space was limited so others were sent to convalesce at the Ursuline Church. If Trudel’s version is accurate and Guillaume joined the Regiment after they arrived in Canada, then he would likely have joined around this time to replace those that had become too sick to serve or had died.

The stated reason for the arrival of the troops was to secure the colony from the continued attacks of the Iroquois who sought to disrupt the French trading partnerships with other tribes in the area. The Iroquois wanted to control the Saint-Lawrence and Hudson River Valley trade routes. While King Louis XIV wanted to protect this access to trade, he was also interested in increasing the population of Canada to serve as a bulwark against the much more populous English Colonies to the south. In a letter dated 28 July 1665, Marie De L’Incarnation noted the English takeover of the former Dutch possessions and reported to her son that the English had become strong and the colonists “number forty thousand.”

The activities of the Regiment and its two campaigns have been recounted and analyzed by many historians in great detail which I shall not duplicate. However, it is worth noting the conditions in which the soldiers, and possibly Guillaume, carried out their assignment. The leader of the Regiment, the Marquis de Salières, continually complained at almost every turn at the way his men were being used and the conditions under which they had to work. The historian Jack Verney notes Salières’ displeasure with the command structure throughout his account of the Regiment and noted that at one point Salières was so frustrated that he wrote to the Ministry of War in France requesting to be relieved of his command. Salières’ assessment of the fort building mission reflects his exasperation as he remarked on the state of the troops and their lack of abilities for the task of fort building:

“I was ordered to set out with seven companies to build a fort at the mouth of Lake Champlain,” he wrote in his Memoirs, “without a carpenter, nor any other skilled workmen and with very few tools…I arrived there with 350 men … many of whom were sick with stomach flu caused by the heavy rains and cold and who were also ill clothed, barefoot and had no pots to cook their salt pork or to make porridge.”

In the autumn of 1665, the Captain of La Colonelle Company, Jean-Baptiste Dubois Sieur de Cocreaumont et St. Maurice left with his men, presumably including Guillaume, to garrison Fort St. Thérèse and on October 21, 1665 they settled in for the winter.

The Regiment undertook two major expeditions against the Iroquois in the Mohawk Valley. The first was foolishly conceived and led by Governor Courcelles.  The 39-year old aristocrat who had no prior experience with the Canadian climate initiated the expedition in the dead of winter. Of course, Salières objected to the expedition and tried to talk the Governor out of it but it was to no avail. According to Salières:

“When I understood and saw the state our soldiers were in for this enterprise, I saw all things ill disposed, the soldiers having no snowshoes, very few axes, a single blanket, no equipment for the ice and having only one pair of moccasins and stockings. When I saw all this, I said to the captains that it would require one of God’s miracles for any good to come of this. Some of them replied that M. le gouverneur did as he pleased and took advice from no one.”

This expedition was doomed from the start. For one, the French Regular Army troops, trained for European style open warfare, were ill prepared to counter the guerilla warfare (known in French as “petit-guerre”) of the Iroquois. The local colonial militia volunteers were more knowledgeable and better able to respond to the circumstances than the Carignan-Salières Regiment to this type of engagement.

Another problem was Courcelles’ decision to press on into the wilderness without the aid of the Indian guides resulting in he and his men wandering around lost in the woods for weeks. Finally, on February 20, 1666, the war party came upon some Indian cabins on the outskirts of Schenectady, an Anglo-Dutch settlement. They mistook this for a Mohawk settlement and Courcelles ordered an assault that resulted in the death of three unarmed old women.

In addition to being unnecessary, the noise of the French assault alerted a Mohawk trading party in the area and a battle broke out. Seven French were killed, as were four Mohawk. It could have been worse had not the head of the Schenectady settlement intervened to warn the French that they had strayed into English Territory.

As a result, Courcelles withdrew, not wanting to give any excuses to the English garrison in Albany to intervene. The French were given some provisions to replenish their meager supplies by the Dutch and they headed back to Fort St. Louis without having accomplished any of their goals.

There is some debate as to how many men actually died on this expedition. Although casualties for the fighting were low, the cold claimed many more. Some historians report only 60 casualties while other contemporary eyewitness accounts such as François de Tapis, Captain of the Poitou Company indicate that they lost “four hundred men who dropped dead from cold while on the march.”

It is unclear if Guillaume was on this expedition. His regiment, La Colonelle, was identified as garrisoning Fort Sainte Thérèse through which the war party did pass. In addition, one source identifies Sixte Charrier Sieur de La Mignarde, the Lieutenant from La Colonelle as having participated. However, given the number that died, it is more likely Guillaume was not involved. If he was involved, he was either very hearty or very lucky.

A second expedition was planned and commenced in September 1666. This one was organized and led by Tracy, and consisted of a larger force, 600 soldiers, 600 volunteers, and 100 native allies. There is stronger evidence to suggest Guillaume participated in this expeditionas La Colonelle’s captain, Jean-Baptiste Dubois Sieur de Cocreaumont et St. Maurice is reported to have participated. In addition, the size of the force would increase Guillaume’s odds of participating as well.

This campaign was less of a disaster than Courcelle’s. Though the element of surprise Tracy had hoped for did not materialize, its loss did not hurt them. Nevertheless, alerted to the large approaching force, the Mohawk hastily abandoned the four villages in the area. Tracy ordered the villages destroyed. His assessment was that:

"The season is too far advanced for them to rebuild their villages. The little grain that remains from the firing of their crops will not be enough to nourish them, they being to the number of three thousand. If they go to other nations, they will not be received for fear of causing famine; and besides, the other nations would scorn them because they have prevented them from making peace with the French.”

This was the last significant action undertaken by the Regiment. There were a few minor skirmishes between the French and the Iroquois resulting in a few casualties but nothing beyond that. A peace treaty was signed in July 1667.

What happened next was the process of demobilization as many of the officers and soldiers returned to France. Many of the captains planned to return to France and they intended to take their men with them. La Colonelle’s Captain Jean-Baptiste Dubois did so in either 1667 or 1668. The Canadian historian William B. Munro indicates that a few companies had already left the colony before the Intendant Jean Talon put forth a plan to try and convince the soldiers to remain and become settlers.

Although Munro suggests the plan was Talon’s, the idea appears to have started with the King years earlier. As early as March 1665, before the ships had left France to carry the Carignan-Salières Regiment to New France, Louis XIV instructed Jean Talon that he was to “… invite the soldiers of the Carignan Regiment…to remain in the country by giving them a small gratuity, in the name of his majesty, to provide them with more of the means needed to establish themselves there.”

We know that Guillaume accepted the offer to remain in Canada. He was one of 404 soldiers, 12 sergeants, and 30 officers to do so in 1667-68. However, the process of Guillaume’s discharge from the Regiment is not known. We know nothing until he curiously shows up in the Quebec census of 1667 as a “domestic” for Louis-Théandre Chartier de Lotbinière. If Trudel is correct that Guillaume joined the regiment in 1665 it would likely have been in September or October of 1665 after the arrival of the St. Sébastien and the Justice when it became apparent that many had soldiers had either died on the voyage or were very sick. Not knowing exactly what month the Census of 1667 was conducted, if Guillaume served 18 months in the Regiment, a term of service that is cited frequently, he would have been discharged sometime in the spring of 1667.

It is perhaps too easy to look back 350 years and think that the course of events was inevitable. We have no idea how much thought Guillaume gave before deciding to remain in Canada. It was just as likely that he could have returned to France like so many did. Time and again, he was faced with difficult decisions. A few years before, he had boarded a boat and left the only home he had ever known braving months of discomfort and potential death at sea. When he arrived he settled in what was little more than a precarious trading outpost and often neglected by France. He joined the military and possibly took part in some poorly planned expeditions. Yet he survived it all and in the coming years would establish the enduring family lineage that I call La Ligne.


Personne: Guillaume Regnault: Part Three

Personne: Guillaume Regnault Part One