GAULTIER DE LA VÉRENDRYE, JEAN-BAPTISTE (he also signed La Verendrye), eldest son of Pierre Gaultier* de La Vérendrye and Marie-Anne Dandonneau; b. 3 Sept. 1713 on Île Dupas, baptized two days later in the church of the Visitation on Île Dupas, the baptism being recorded in the register of Saint-Pierre at Sorel, the only parish in the region to have a resident priest at that time; d. 6 June 1736, a bachelor.
Jean-Baptiste’s name is to be found in a “list of 28 cadets commissioned by the court in 1731, and whose pay is to begin on 1 Jan. 1732.” Therefore, as was customary, he must have received military training at Montreal before that date, and doubtless he received part of his education there.
In 1731 he was a member of the first team to head towards the west under his father’s command. On 19 April he hired men for the west, and on 28 April, with Nicolas Sarrazin, an ironsmith and armourer, and merchant Laurent-Eustache Gamelin, dit Châteauvieux, he formed one of four secondary companies set up for the purpose of trading. This association was to last three years, and Jean-Baptiste had the right to one quarter of the revenues. Having completed the building of Fort Saint-Pierre at Lac à la Pluie (Rainy Lake) in the autumn of the same year, he spent a hard winter there with his cousin Christophe Dufrost de La Jemerais; the following spring he took a load of furs to Michilimackinac. In the autumn of 1732 he arrived at Fort Saint-Charles, which was then being built, after being caught in the ice on Lac des Bois (Lake of the Woods) and forced to leave his cargo temporarily ten leagues from the fort. In the spring of 1733 he went with La Jemerais as far as the Barrière aux Esturgeons on the Ouinipigon (Winnipeg) River and apparently built a small fort there. He had to return to Fort Saint-Charles without completing his journey, however, because of the demands of the merchants, who refused to finance the building of new settlements. In September 1733 La Vérendrye (senior) sent him to Fort Saint-Pierre to meet the canoes from Montreal. He was back the following month.
In January 1734 he went with his father to Fort Saint-Pierre, among the Crees and Monsonis, who talked of nothing but war against the southern Sioux. The explorer succeeded in calming them, but he had to agree to leave them Jean-Baptiste as a witness and counsellor for another expedition that they were planning against the Mascoutens, Winnebagos or Prairie Sioux. This took place in the spring of 1734, and Jean-Baptiste set out from Fort Saint-Charles with the Crees, who had “adopted” him as one of theirs, and the Monsonis; but as the Indians did not conform to the conditions laid down by La Vérendrye to his son, the latter left the expedition. He went to the Rivière Rouge (Red River) to build the first Fort Maurepas. This fort, at first intended for the Crees, was about six miles to the north of the present small town of Selkirk. Jean-Baptiste remained in charge of the fort until he was replaced by La Jemerais in the autumn of 1735. In a letter written from Fort Maurepas to the governor, Charles de Beauharnois* de La Boische on 7 June 1735, Jean-Baptiste said: “I have established a fort at Lac Ouinipigon (Lake Winnipeg), five leagues up the Rivière Rouge.” According to La Jemerais, he came across 300 “lodges” there belonging to the Assiniboins, and obtained from them interesting information about the Mandans.
In the meantime La Vérendrye (senior) was on his way to Montreal, and on 18 May 1735, with his son Jean-Baptiste, Christophe Dufrost, and other persons, he formed a new commercial company to replace the earlier ones. Jean-Baptiste spent the winter of 1735–36 at Fort Saint-Charles. The situation was becoming very trying, for the merchants had not sent in time the merchandise agreed upon, and it had remained at Grand Portage. On 5 June Jean-Baptiste and 20 other Frenchmen, among them Father Aulneau, left Fort Saint-Charles to go and fetch provisions and the merchandise. Surprised by Sioux marauders, they were all massacred the next morning on a small island in Lac des Bois; their bodies were later transported to Fort Saint-Charles and buried in the chapel.
Jean-Baptiste de La Vérendrye, who had come to the west at the age of 18, seemed particularly well qualified to help his father, who from the outset entrusted several important missions to him. His father wrote to the minister, Maurepas, on 11 May 1733: “I contented myself [after the mutiny at Grand Portage in 1731] with sending my nephew who is my ‘second in command’, and my son who is my ‘third in command’ . . . to build a fort at Thekamamihouen or Lac de la Pluie . . .” Jean-Baptiste became “second in command” on La Jemerais’ death on 10 May 1736. He had learned the Monsoni language and served as an interpreter.
Jean-Baptiste de La Vérendrye’s share in the construction of Fort Maurepas makes him the equal of his father and one of the founders of the present province of Manitoba.
AE, Mém. et doc., Amérique, 8, ff.46–69. AJM, Greffe de J.-B. Adhémar, 28 avril 1731. AN, Col., C11A, 67, ff.168–71; C11E, 16, ff.156–59, 182–86, 189–90, 282–90, 303; D2C, 43, f.30; E, 263; F3, 2 ff.489–91; 12, f.248. PAC, FM 18, B 12. Service hydrographique de la Marine (Paris), Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine, 4044B, 85. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), VI. [La Vérendrye], Journals and letters of La Vérendrye (Burpee). “Lettres du père Aulneau,” APQ Rapport, 1926–27, 290. Wis. State Hist. Soc. Coll., XVII.
L. J. Burpee, The search for the western sea (London, 1908; rev. ed., Toronto, 1935). Parkman, A half-century of conflict. L.-A. Prud’homme, “Documents sur la découverte du Nord-Ouest,” Société hist. de Saint-Boniface Bull., I (1911).