PROVOST (Prévost), FRANÇOIS, company lieutenant in the Carignan-Salières regiment, captain, town major then king’s lieutenant at Quebec, governor of Trois-Rivières; b. 1638 in Paris, son of Charles Provost and Jeanne Du Gousset; d. 1 June 1702 at Quebec.
The first mention that we find of him is a royal warrant of 6 Aug. 1661, which appointed him lieutenant of Montoson’s company in the Régiment du Poitou. Another of 6 Dec. 1664 designated him as lieutenant of Andigné* de Grandfontaine’s company, and it is as such that he formed part of the Carignan-Salières regiment and landed at Quebec on 19 Aug. 1665. A document dated 22 July 1666 already referred to him as town major of Quebec, a post to which he seems to have been assigned as soon as he arrived, and in which he was confirmed by a royal commission dated 14 May 1668. He was to hold this post for more than 30 years, being responsible at the same time for other duties in the discharge of which he proved himself to be a very conscientious official. He served under six governors and cooperated with five intendants, and none of them was ever able to call in question his integrity, zeal, and loyalty. Being confined to his administrative duties, he took no part in the great military expeditions of the period, except when he accompanied Buade* de Frontenac to Lake Ontario in 1673.
Frontenac always held him in high esteem. In 1683 Le Febvre* de La Barre suggested his name as governor of Montreal, in place of Perrot*. Provost did not obtain the post, as he had no trump card at court in the game of intrigue and influence. But as soon as La Barre was recalled he became temporary governor of the country, an office which was officially ratified on 30 May 1686 pending the arrival of the new appointee and which he was to occupy on various occasions subsequently. In 1687 a royal decree named him the temporary commandant of Montreal, in Callière’s absence.
Provost was the man chiefly responsible for preparing the town of Quebec to defend itself against Phips*’s attack in the autumn of 1690. As the governor was absent, the command rested with him. Aware of the danger, he set to work without delay. He sent an emissary to Montreal to warn Frontenac. A bark, handled by his wife’s brother-in-law, Pierre Bécart de Granville, who knew the region better than anyone, sped to Tadoussac, to spy out the enemy. Meanwhile the town major mobilized the inhabitants of the town and of the neighbouring parishes, and everyone set to work to dig trenches, set up batteries at strategic points, and form defence battalions. Frontenac, who arrived at top speed, was amazed to find the capital ready to face the enemy. In less than six days Provost had accomplished a task which would normally have taken two months. According to the annalist of the Hôtel-Dieu, it was Provost who went to the river’s bank to receive Phips’s envoy, Major Thomas Savage, and who ordered him to be blindfolded before having him taken by roundabout ways to the governor’s palace. History gives Frontenac, because of his famous reply to this representative, the credit for the victory. But the governor would certainly not have been able to adopt such airs of jaunty assurance without the system of defence made ready by Provost. The king was informed of this sudden veering of fortune, and on 7 April 1691 he conveyed his satisfaction to Provost, and told him that he would create expressly for him the post of king’s lieutenant at Quebec. The monarch kept his promise a few months later, on 29 Feb. 1692. On several occasions, throughout his years of service, Provost received letters of commendation for his conduct, chiefly for his exploit of 1690; these letters, signed sometimes by the king, sometimes by Pontchartrain or Maurepas, were carefully preserved by him, and are enumerated in the inventory of his possessions drawn up after his death.
The spirit of justice and uprightness that always underlay Provost’s administration created some enemies for him, chiefly among the people interested in freedom of trade. Provost sometimes had to display supple diplomacy, enlivened with discreet suggestions, during the conflicts between the governor and the intendant. When Duchesneau*, in 1678, had Pierre Moreau, dit La Taupine, arrested for trading in furs illegally, Provost received immediately from Frontenac an order to set the trader free; this was done at once. Provost’s most relentless depreciator was the engineer Robert de Villeneuve*, whom Governor Brisay de Denonville described as “a fool, a libertine, a debauchee, whom we must endure because we have business with him.” Villeneuve even addressed complaints to the court about the town major’s conduct, alleging malpractices on his part. Denonville was informed of it, and came forcefully to Provost’s defence. In his report of 8 June 1687 the governor wrote to the minister, Seignelay: “The mischievous things that have been written to you about the Sieur Provost, town major of Quebec, must not do him harm in your mind, my lord, since beyond a doubt he is the most honest and upright man, and the least self-seeking that I have found in Canada. Up to the present, he is the only former officer I have seen who has not been involved in any commerce or been a party to any past contentions, being attentive only to his duty. . . .”
Provost had reached the age of 40 when on 1 Aug. 1679 he married Geneviève Macard, Charles Bazire*’s widow and the beneficiary of a sizeable inheritance. In 1682 he bought Intendant Talon*’s house where Intendant Duchesneau had also resided. The latter’s successor, Jacques de Meulles, who wanted to live in it to be nearer the governor’s palace, wanted to have the sale to the town major cancelled. Provost, wishing to avoid trouble, accepted the offer to purchase made by Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix], who had the building pulled down so that the bishop’s palace could be enlarged. Provost realized an excellent profit on this sale. In 1697 he sank more than 13,000 livres into a venture for exporting furs that was started by Augustin Le Gardeur de Courtemanche, Raymond Martel, and Antoine Trottier Des Ruisseaux, the latter’s father-in-law. The deed of partnership, made up as a private agreement, was very vague; Provost was never fully repaid, and the affair kept the Quebec courts busy for a long time.
On 28 May 1699 a royal commission granted François Provost the post of governor of Trois-Rivières, where he replaced Claude de Ramezay, who was appointed commander in chief of the colonial regular troops. A commentary made by Le Roy de La Potherie at the time of these transfers gives us an indication of the characters of the two men and of the opinion of the inhabitants regarding their governors. Claude de Ramezay administered “with wearisome authority” and annoyed his subjects. Consequently the inhabitants of Trois-Rivières approved of François Provost’s appointment as governor. In 1702 the king’s writer sent the following message to the minister of the Marine: “Your name was blessed a thousand times when you gave M. Provost the governorship of Trois-Rivières. He is a generous man, who is loved by the whole town. He seeks only opportunities to please one and all. He does not meddle in the trade in pelts carried on by the bourgeoisie, who would willingly have sung the Te Deum in thanksgiving when you rid them of M. de Ramezay. The peoples in the colonies like to be handled gently.”
By the time he was appointed governor of Trois-Rivières, Provost had reached the age of 60, and was a sick man. As early as 1689 Frontenac had observed that he was suffering “from gout and gravel.” Perhaps foreseeing that his term of office would be short, he brought only the bare necessities of his household. The rest was left at Quebec, placed in crates and stored in the house of Pierre Bécart de Granville in Rue du Sault-au-Matelot. Provost endeavoured, through the intermediary of Governor Callière, but without success, to have Granville appointed town major of Trois-Rivières to assist him in his work. The court refused because they were related. As his disease was getting worse, the governor entered the Ursuline hospital, then returned to Quebec and placed himself under the care of his friend, the king’s doctor Michel Sarrazin. He died on 1 June 1702 and was buried on 5 June in the cathedral vault. The inventory of his possessions, drawn up by the notary Chambalon, covers nearly 50 pages. Since the doctor had charged Provost no fee, his widow, “out of fairness,” sent him a gratuity of eight golden louis. On 5 Nov. 1703 she married Charles-Henri d’Aloigny de La Groye; he was her third husband.
Contrary to what Le Jeune says, François Provost left no children. He was replaced in the post of governor of Trois-Rivières by the Marquis de Crisafy, who had already succeeded him as king’s lieutenant at Quebec.
AJQ, Greffe de Romain Becquet, 22 juillet 1666; Greffe de Louis Chambalon, 13 juin, 20 oct., 8 nov. 1702, 20 janv. 1704; Greffe de Jean Lecomte, 20 juillet 1668. “Correspondance de Frontenac (1689–99),” APQ Rapport, 1927–28, 26–179. Juchereau, Annales (Jamet). Gagnon, “Noms propres au Canada français,” 156. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, II, 477. P.-G. Roy, Les officiers d’état-major; La ville de Québec. Régis Roy et Malchelosse, Le régiment de Carignan. P.-G. Roy, “François Prévost,” BRH, XI (1905), 22–24.