BISSOT DE VINSENNE (Vincennes), FRANÇOIS-MARIE, eldest son of Jean-Baptiste Bissot de Vinsenne and of Marguerite Forestier, second ensign in the troops of Canada and half-pay lieutenant in those of Louisiana, commandant of the posts of the Ouyatanons (Weas), near modern Lafayette, Indiana, and of the Peanguichias (Piankeshaws), subsequently called Vincennes, on the Ouabache (Wabash) River; b. 17 June 1700 in Montreal; burned by the Chickasaws near the present site of Fulton, Mississippi, 25 March 1736.
Vinsenne spent almost his entire life among the Miami Indians. A letter he wrote in 1733 shows that he was only 13 years old when he first accompanied his father on a visit to this tribe. In 1718 he was posted among the Ouyatanon Miamis, who lived on the upper Ouabache, and within the next four years was appointed commandant of the Ouyatanon post. Although he was still only a cadet in the colonial troops, this young officer was already noted for his skill in handling the Indians.
In the mid 1720s the area in which Vinsenne was posted was assuming great strategical importance. By using the river system of the Ouabache and the Belle Rivière (Ohio) the English, who had been intensifying their pressure on the west since the treaty of Utrecht, would be able to enter the Mississippi valley and disrupt communications between Canada and Louisiana. The Compagnie des Indes, to which the ownership of the southern colony had been granted in 1717, feared that this incursion would entail the loss of the Illinois country and might eventually cause the ruin of the French North American empire. To cope with the British threat, it revived the plans which had first been formulated in 1713 to build a post in the region where the Ouabache, the Rivière des Cheraquis (Tennessee), and the Cumberland River made their junction with the Belle Rivière. The commanding officer who would be posted at this crucial point would be expected to cooperate with Vinsenne in blocking English penetration of the west and protecting communications between the two French colonies.
Because of its inability or unwillingness to make the expenditures necessary to build this post and to stock it with merchandise for the Indians, the company did not carry out its plan. To maintain control of the region it relied on Vinsenne, whose influence over the Miamis gave him considerable power. Thus, while he was still under Canadian jurisdiction, this officer gradually became an agent of Louisiana. He held the rank of half-pay lieutenant in the troops of the southern colony and also received an annual subsidy from its government consisting of a gratuity of 300 livres, which was added to his regular salary, and a sum of 800 livres for the purchase of gifts for the Indians.
In 1730 Vinsenne severed his connections with Canada by moving down the Ouabache with his Indians. On 1 July of the following year the Compagnie des Indes ceded Louisiana to the crown and immediately afterwards steps were taken to have a post erected near the junction of the Ouabache and the Belle Rivière. Vinsenne appears to have begun the construction of this establishment late in 1731 and to have completed it early the following year. In 1733 he described it in one of his dispatches to Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne* de Bienville, the governor of Louisiana. It was located some 80 miles up the Ouabache, near the present site of Vincennes, Indiana, and consisted of two buildings surrounded by a palisade. Five Indian tribes that could field between 600 and 700 warriors lived nearby in four villages. The commandant complained that a lack of troops and merchandise was making it difficult for him to control these natives. On occasion, in order to present them with gifts, he had to borrow from travellers or draw upon his personal belongings. The situation was further complicated in 1735 when the English appeared on the Belle Rivière and made efforts to win the Indians to their side.
Early in 1736, Vinsenne and several Miami warriors set off for Fort de Chartres in the Illinois country to join forces with Pierre d’Artaguiette who was preparing an expedition against the Chickasaws. This warlike nation, which inhabited an area made up roughly of the present state of Tennessee and of the northern parts of Mississippi and Alabama, had an alliance with the English of the Carolinas and for several years had been harassing the settlements of the French and attacking their convoys on the Mississippi River. Finally, Bienville had decided to make war on them. The campaign plans which he drew up called for his force and that of d’Artaguiette to meet in Chickasaw country and to march together against the enemy.
D’Artaguiette’s army, made up of approximately 140 Frenchmen and 266 Indians, was the first to arrive at the rendezvous. With supplies running low and the Indians showing signs of restlessness, the commander decided to capture three small Chickasaw villages in order to seize their provisions. The attack began early on the morning of 25 March. The first two villages were easily taken and the assault on the third was under way when several hundred Chickasaw warriors appeared on the scene to lend their support to their beleaguered tribesmen. D’Artaguiette’s scouts had failed to notice that the three villages formed part of a much larger complex which lay half concealed in the surrounding hills. Abandoned by the Miamis and the Illinois who had panicked and fled, d’Artaguiette ordered the rest of his army to retreat, but with the Chickasaws in furious pursuit he was obliged to stop and give battle. Despite a valiant stand by the French and their Iroquois and Arkansas auxiliaries they were soon overwhelmed by superior numbers. The Chickasaws killed several of them during the engagement and also took some 20 prisoners, including d’Artaguiette, Vinsenne, Louis d’Ailleboust de Coulonge (the younger), Saint-Ange [Pierre Groston], Louis-Marie-Charles Dutisné and the Jesuit Antoine Sénat, who had accompanied the expedition as chaplain.
For the events that follow the principal sources are the account of a Chickasaw slave woman and that of Drouet de Richerville, who was taken prisoner but who managed to escape after spending two years in captivity. The captives, except for a few who were set aside to be tortured later or to be used in prisoner exchanges, were led into the centre of one of the villages where they mounted two pyres which had been prepared by the Chickasaw women. These were then set ablaze. The victims suffered this torment without flinching. Led by Father Sénat they sang hymns and canticles in firm voices, even as the flames were engulfing them.
Vinsenne was survived by his half-breed wife, Marie Longpré, the daughter of a wealthy settler of Kaskaskia, whom he had married in 1733, and by two daughters. His memory, like that of his father, was long revered by the Miamis.
Alvord, Illinois country. N. M. Belting, Kaskaskia under the French régime (University of Illinois studies in the social sciences, XXIX, no.3, Urbana, 1948), 77. J. P. Dunn, The mission to the Ouabache (Ind. Hist. Soc. pub., III, no.4, Indianapolis, 1902). Pierre Heinrich, La Louisiane sous la Compagnie des Indes, 1717–1731 (Paris, [1908 ]). Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIIe siècle, I. P.-G. Roy, Sieur de Vincennes identified (Ind. Hist. Soc. pub., VII, no.1, Indianapolis, ).