The fabulous family of Le Moyne

October 15 1954

The fabulous family of Le Moyne

October 15 1954

The fabulous family of Le Moyne

Charles and hs ten stalwart sons all lived and died for the glory of New France. Pierre, most renowned of the family, was never defeated on land or sea and the patient Jean Baptiste bided his time to build a great city in a Louisiana swamp...a city named New Orleans



THE TITANS of New France, the men who made the history of the colony in the century between the coming of Champlain and the passing of Frontenac, were for the most part men born in France. The most notable exceptions were the ten great Le Moyne brothers.

Charles le Moyne, son of an innkeeper of Dieppe, had accompanied Maisonneuve to Montreal at the age of seventeen and had made himself felt almost from the start. The first mention of him is found in the Jesuit Relations when he was serving as an interpreter with the Huron missions. He became known as a guide and a fearless Indian fighter. His name figures in all the exciting stories of conflict with the Indians around Montreal. He played such a bold part, in fact, that the Iroquois began to fear him and to the white settlers he became a legend. In later years a favorite story was told about him which always began this way:

For years the old women of the Long House had been

gathering wood to burn Charles le Moyne at the stake.

Akouesson. they called him . . .

The story goes on to explain that this valiant Frenchman was captured finally on the Richelieu River. They could hardly wait to take him back to the old women and their fagots. But soon they became much less sure about the wisdom of what they were doing. Charles le Moyne was talking to them. He was familiar with the Iroquois tongue and he knew how to play on their feelings. He began to tell of the disasters which would befall them if they killed him. His people would come in canoes higher than the highest trees of the forest and with guns so big that they would silence the thunder.

The Iroquois stopped and held a council among themselves, whispering and glancing at him over their shoulders. The outcome was that they paddled back in haste to where they had captured him and there they turned him over to some friendly Indians.

When he came of age he was granted a tract of land on the opposite bank of the St. Lawrence, and he named his seigneury Longueuil. It was located in a dangerous spot for it was through this neck of land that the Iroquois passed on their way from the Richelieu. This did not frighten the

bold young Le Moyne. He began to develop his land and build a house there, although after his marriage in 1654 he occupied a small home on the Rue St. Joseph in Montreal. His bride was Catherine Primot, who proved a most faithful and devoted wife. She bore eleven sons, ten of whom lived to maturity, and two daughters.

With his brother-in-law, Jean le Ber, Le Moyne entered the fur trade, and between them they had shops and warehouses running south of the Rue St. Joseph to La Commune.

But, in spite of prosperity, the cares of a seigneury and the responsibility of an ever-increasing family, Le Moyne remained an adventurer; he was, in fact, to be an adventurer all his life. Again and again when the high officials of New France needed a man for a difficult and dangerous mission, the record states briefly but eloquently: “Charles le Moyne was called upon to carry it out,” or “Charles le Moyne volunteered ...”

He very nearly became one of Adam Dollard’s gallant little band massacred at Long Sault. When he heard what was afoot he offered to join the party. The reason ior his eventual withdrawal was not caution, but sound common sense. He advised Dollard to wait until he and the other settlers thereabouts had finished with the sowing of their crops. What would be the use of beating the Iroquois, he asked, if there would not be flour and vegetables that winter in the food warehouses along La Commune? But Dollard refused to wait.

Le Moyne’s first son, also named Charles, was to succeed to Longueuil and make it the model seigneury of New France. He was a man of wisdom and foresight, a splendid businessman and financier, who not only created a fortune for himself but undoubtedly provided the funds for the historic adventures of the other nine.

Charles the younger was made a liaron, served as lieutenant governor of Montreal, and was killed in action at Saratoga in 1729.

The second son, Jacques le Moyne de Ste. Hélène, was killed during the siege of Quebec by the English in 1690.

The third of the ten was the great man of the family, Pierre le Moyne d’Iberville. The victories he won on land and sea are so remarkable that he Continued on page 48

Continued on page 48

The White and the Gold


would be ranked among the great fighting men of all time had he played to a European audience on a world stage. Iberville had the misfortune, though not counting it such, to perform his prodigies of daring leadership in the depths of the Canadian forest and on unknown seas.

He is still a mysterious figure. His biographers acknowledge that nothing authentic is known of his appearance, whether he was tall or short, dark or fair. Only his achievements are on record.

The fourth son was Paul le Moyne de Maricourt. Although not. so strong physically as his brothers, he became the ambassador of the family in their dealings with the Indians. The Iroquois called him Taouistaouisse, which meant Little-Bird-Always-in-Motion. He was much in the woods, visiting the various tribes and seeing that the family interests did not suffer. Apparently he had an instinctive understanding of the red men, and it is probable that he sometimes acted as a spokesman for the savages in the family councils. He died in 1704 as a result of overexertion in an expedition against the Five Nations.

The fifth was François le Moyne de Bienville, born in 1666, who had without a doubt some of the great fighting quality of Pierre. He was always in the thick of things when the colony was in danger and was killed in 1691 while fighting the Oneidas at Repentigny.

The sixth son, Joseph, known as De Serigny, was born in 1668. He served in the French Navy and seems to have possessed some of the executive ability of the oldest brother Charles, becoming governor of a French naval base. There are still direct descendants of his in France.

The seventh could perhaps be called the Galahad of the family, Louis le Moyne de Châteauguay. In his eighteenth year, fighting under Pierre, the great brother he adored, in the latter’s first Hudson Bay campaign, he charged gallantly but recklessly in broad daylight against an English fort and was killed by a musket shot. In this family, where death in action was almost the rule, the premature ending of the splendid Louis was deeply and bitterly lamented and his memory was kept green in the manor house at Longueuil and wherever the brothers gathered.

The eighth in line, Jean Baptiste, later was also called De Bienville when François was killed. He seems to have been different from the others, a quiet and withdrawn but capable boy who grew up, nevertheless, to play a part in the saga of the ten Le Moynes second only to that of the amazing Pierre. Accompanying the latter to the Mississippi, he later assumed command and laid out the first settlement at New Orleans. He remained governor of Louisiana for the better part of his life, a record for patience and endurance seldom equalled.

The ninth Le Moyne son, Gabriel d’Assigny, also took part in the Mississippi adventure, dying in San Domingo of yellow fever in 1701. The tenth was Antoine de Châteauguay (another repetition of title), born in 1683, who perhaps survived all the others and became the governor of French Guiana.

They were unique, these ten doughty brothel's, and it is a serious deprivation that detailed records were not kept of their lives, their great exploits, their meetings, their discussions, their divergent personalities.

Iberville’s first opportunity to dis-

tinguish himself came when the merchants and leading citizens of New France who had formed the Compagnf du Nord decided to send an arme expedition to Hudson Bay. France an England were at peace at the time, bu the colony’s officials gave unoffici? blessing to this attempt to win back th rich fur trade which had been driven t the English along with Radisson an* Groseilliers.

Command of the expedition was i: the hands of the Chevalier de Troyes, o Montreal, but this good soldier droppet into the background when from tb ranks there emerged the figure of tb daring and inspired Iberville. Witl Iberville were two of bis brothers Jacques de Ste. Hélène and Paul di Maricourt.

The expedition left early in the sprin¡ of 1686, proceeded north on the Abitib River to strike at the nearest of tb English posts, Fort Hayes.

Iberville’s men emerged from tb desolation of this unknown muskej country like the men of Israel unde: Joshua surprising the city of Ai fron the impassable hills. There were sixteer men in the four-bastioned stockade o Fort Hayes and they were sleeping snugly when the eighty Frenchmer materialized out of darkness. Troyes led his main force against the gate, which he proceeded to belabor with a battering-ram made from the trunk ol a tree. What made the victory easy, however, was the fact that Iberville and his two brothers and a squad of the boldest French Canadians had climbed over one of the side walls and were already in possession of the compound when the first crash of the ram split the air.

The Stockade in Flames

The jubilant French force then covered the forty leagues eastward to Fort Rupert. The same tactics were employed: a night attack, a party scaling the walls and exploding a grenade down the chimney of the blockhouse where the garrison slept, a break through the main gate at the same time. Iberville had been assigned a still more daring part of the operation. A vessel lay at anchor near the fort, and it was seen to be highly essential that it should not get away to carry the alarm to the remaining English post. The daring Pierre led a small party over the side of the ship. They found the sentry asleep and killed him, then gave short shrift to such other members of the crew as came up through the hatch to investigate. The rest of the crew, imprisoned in the hold, finally surrendered. Among the prisoners was Governor Bridgar, who commanded on the bay for the Gentlemen Adventurers.

The capture of Fort Albany was a different matter. Somehow that garrison had heard what was afoot. Lacking the advantage of surprise, the Frenchmen had to adopt more conventional methods. From the two forts already in their hands they brought ten cannon in the vessel which Iberville had captured. The guns were mounted on a hill overlooking the fort. The fusillade directed at the fort from this protected position was so deadly that in the matter of an hour the stockade was in flames and the garrison had taken refuge in a cellar. The white flag was hoisted.

Iberville later led another land expedition to Hudson Bay. It too was successful, but it resulted in the death of his brother Louis.

The exploits of Iberville were on the sea after this. In charge of two small ships-of-war, the Envieux and the Profond, he won a naval battle off the

John River and immediately after ppéptured Pemaquid. Then he sailed to Newfoundland, taking possession of the island and sacking the towns and villages with realistic thoroughness. Next he led a fleet of four ships-of-war into Hudson Bay to take Fort Nelson and so made the French sweep complete.

It was after this that Louis XIV, perceiving he had in Iberville an iron leader who always carried out his orders and always won, decided to make one more effort to seize the mouth of the Mississippi. But before Iberville could occupy the Mississippi region he would have to find it. The Spanish had begun to call it the Hid River since La Salle’s failure. And now Iberville, sailing into the gulf, knew he had solved the mystery. The waters were changing color. The brilliant blue in which they had been sailing had become greyish and the surface was distinctly agitated. Somewhere ahead, then, he would find the mouth of a great river, the Mississippi, he was sure.

Later that day Iberville saw a break in the banks ahead, marked by two tall rocks. Between these natural sent ries a great body of water was rolling down with inexorable majesty. No Frenchman ever set eyes on the Mississippi without recognizing it; nor, in all probability, did anyone else. It could not be mistaken now, this turgid and magnificent stream, carrying to the Gulf the surplus water of the prairies and so much of the mud from the Ohio, the Missouri and the Arkansas.

Bold Fierre Sailed Away

The small company, staring with fascinated eyes at the goal of their long voyage, crossed themselves in thanksgiving. After a week’s slow progress up the Mississippi in small boats the little party saw a wide curve in the river ahead of them. Standing in the prow of the leading chaloupe Iberville had been keeping an observant eye on this exotic land. Now he looked closely ahead and it came to him that the land above the bend was exactly what he had been seeking. It was low at the water’s edge but rose slowly and steadily back from the shore. His hand shot out triumphantly to show where the remains of Indian huts marked the southern end of a portage. It was apparent to Iberville that this was the site for the great city he proposed to establish, a view in which his keenly observant younger brother Bienville fully concurred. It is perhaps superfluous to add that on the land they studied from the deck of the chaloupe Bienville was later to found a great city: New Orleans.

But it was elsewhere, at the site of what was to become the city of Biloxi, that the brothers landed and set up a post. Soon Iberville became impatient. To sit in a fever-ridden jungle and wait for a tiny post to grow into a flourishing colony was not a part he was prepared to play. Leaving Bienville in charge, the bold Pierre sailed off to keep watch and ward on the sea. For seven years thereafter the eighth son remained in command of small forts, first at Biloxi, then at Mobile. He grew sallow from malarial infections and many times his patience wore thin, for nothing seemed to happen and his resources were so slight that he could do no more than hold his ground against the activities of the Bayougoula and Quinupissa Indians who were as hostile as the Iroq uois.

Iberville was not to live long enough even to see the first crude settlement at the bend of the Mississippi, nor to observe any material results from his rediscovery of the mouth of the Father of Waters. Sailing in the Caribbean with the sixth Le Moyne, Joseph de

Serigny, he cast anchor off Havana Harbor. Three members of the crew had died with suspicious suddenness, and the two brothers suspected they had the plague on board. The suspicion became a certainty when the port surgeon visited the ship. The latter found, moreover, that the plague, which is no respecter of rank or authority, had visited the captain’s cabin as well.

Iberville was taken ashore and placed in quarantine. The foul disease quickly strengthened its hold. He tossed for days in torment, babbling in his delirium. Only at brief intervals did reason pay him a fitful return. His brot her was not allowed to come ashore and so the brave Pierre faced the inevitable end alone.

There were only five of the Le Moynes left when t he body of the great Iberville was put in the death cart and hurried away to an unmarked and never identified grave.

It may be too sweeping a generalization to say that New France produced her great men in the seventeenth century and that the full flowering of genius in the American colonies did not come until the eighteenth. It would be even more dangerous to draw from this a reason for the ultimate success of the English in the long struggle. This much can be said, at any rate, in support of such statements: the eighty-one years from the time when Champlain founded the settlement at Quebec until the period of open and declared war began, the French colony produced a long succession of great men. Some of them were men of extreme bravery, some were wise and farseeing, all were romantic and adventurous. There would be outstanding figures in the eighteenth as well—La Mothe-Cadillac, La Harpe, Le Sueur, Varennes de la Vérendrye and h is sons, the Mallet brothers—but active and daring as they were, they seem of lesser stature.

The Man Behind Champlain

The great figures of New France began wit h Cart ier and Champlain and included La Salle, Talon, Frontenac, Iberville, Laval. Of these, Iberville alone was born in the colony. The others, who might not otherwise have emerged into the bright white light of historical importance, came from France and found in Canada the setting and the opportunity for their particular talents and personal characteristics. Consider for a brief and concluding moment, the list of the great and the near great and the picturesque minor characters who performed so actively in the wings and the fly.

From a study of the events contributing to the founding of New France there emerges the figure of a man of whom relatively little has been told in Canadian annals. Pierre du Guast, Sieur de Monts, played a larger share than Champlain at the start and at one critical stage he displayed such firmness and courage that victory was achieved in the face of what seemed sure defeat. To the Sieur de Monts belongs a higher position in the gallery of the great in New World history than he is usually allotted.

It was De Monts, a shrewd financier, who in 1604 organized and personally led the expedition which colonized Acadia, and which Champlain, then in his thirties, accompanied as geographer and historian. Later, when withdrawal of the colony’s fur monopoly seemed to doom Acadia to extinction, it was De Monts’ determination at the royal court and in the money markets that financed three ships to return to the New World. One ship was placed in command of Samuel de Champlain, the man who came to Canada to stay.

Champlain’s renegade servant.

Etienne Brulé, made for himself an amazing record of getting first to places of importance, north, south and west. If he had not sold himself to the Kirkes, he would have an honored place of his own.

Of all the Frenchmen who listened to the call of the Canadian wild, Etienne Brulé was perhaps the most rash but also the most daring and enterprising.

Brulé had served as Champlain’s personal servant in the leader’s campaigns against the Iroquois. Soon afterward he began the travels which would have made him famous if his achievements had not been blotted out by his final act. He went down the Susquehanna and reached the northern tip of Chesapeake Bay. On his way back he was captured by the Iroquois but escaped. He had been the first to ascend the Ottawa, crossing to the Mattawa and following its course to Lake Nipissing and the French River, thus establishing the route to the Huron country. He had also been the first to set eyes on Georgian Bay. Making his way through the Inner Passage he had reached Lake Huron.

Some historians believe that to his list of “firsts” should be added the discovery of Lake Michigan. If he failed to reach it, Michigan was the only one of the Great Lakes that he overlooked. He saw all the others first. Had he shared the scientific interest of those who came after him and followed the trails he blazed, his name would have headed the list of early American explorers.

When the English Kirke brothers sailed up the St. Lawrence, captured Quebec, took Champlain prisoner and thus dramatically interrupted French sovereignty over Canada, it was suspected that renegade Frenchmen had guided the privateers. Champlain was allowed to go ashore briefly at Tadoussac on his way to captivity in England, and there two unkempt men were pointed out to him as the traitors. To his utmost dismay and disgust, Champlain recognized one of them as Brulé. He berated his faithless servant so violently that Brulé slunk away and was never seen again by men of his own race.

He settled down to a degraded existence among the Indians in the village of Toanaché on Penetanguishene Bay. Perhaps he quarreled with the tribesmen, for one day they turned on him and by force of numbers (he was a man of considerable personal strength and could not have been worsted in single combat) succeeded in beating him to death. Having killed him, they cut up his body and boiled it in the kettles, and then they gathered in a wide circle and proceeded to consume all that was left of this ungovernable young Frenchman.

Two other immortals of the Canadian scene, Radisson and Groseilliers, have been getting more recognition as new records are uncovered, more

especially Radisson, who seems to have been the greatest and luckiest of traders. It was not his way to start out with a certain number of companion« and canoes and to come back with a smaller train and stories of ill fortune; rather he came back with more canoes than he started with, packed deep with furs, amid a noisy and cheerful gabble of great things done and seen. It was unfortunate for France that he lacked the patience to accept official rebuffs and injustices; and equally to be regretted that the hidebound and highnosed governors with whom he came in contact could not see the possibilities in this footloose genius.

Now they begin to crowd the stage, these men who opened up the north and the west—Marquette and Joliet, who discovered the Mississippi, Du Lhut, Durantaye, Perrot, Tonty, the Jesuit fathers who would be found in the most unexpected corners of the wilderness to which their zeal had carried them; and, towering above them all, La Salle.

Women Played Their Part

On with the list. There was Maisonneuve, unselfish and chivalrous, who saw Montreal through its first perilous stages. After him came Dollier de Casson, the gentle Sulpician giant who fled the face of war, only to find himself more deeply immersed in violence than before. Adam Dollard supplied the one story which would live if all other colonial annals were lost and forgotten. No equal can be found for the annals of the Jesuit martyrs, Jogues, Brébeuf, Lalemant, Daniel, Bressani. Four women, all different one from another but all brave and devout, played remarkable parts, Madame de la Peltrie, Mère Marie de l’Incarnation, Jeanne Mance, Marguerite Bourgeoys. Louis Hébert, courageous and industrious, the first settler, must never be overlooked. Can other histories produce the equal of Charles le Moyne and his ten fabulous sons? Great men indeed, great days, great deeds.

’ Seldom has so short a span of years produced a more varied, a more exciting, a more romantic history, than these eighty-one years out of the seventeenth century. Time has a habit of moving so slowly that any period of equal length in the past would have recorded little of change in the world; a dingier color on the walls of ancient towns, a slash of tailoring scissors converting a tunic, perhaps, into a tabard, a very slight advance in habits of thought, a new song on men’s lips, and a new book to be reverently kept. But these eighty-one years saw the opening of a new continent, a continent of vast extent which would be taken over completely in three centuries by great men in all parts of North America and its amazing resources harnessed. In the process a new spirit of rapid change would be loosed in the world. ★