LE COUTRE DE BOURVILLE, FRANÇOIS, naval officer, king’s lieutenant; b. c. 1670 near Rouen, France, son of François Le Coutre de Bourville and Élisabeth Faustin; m. January 1729 at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), Marie-Anne, daughter of Gabriel Rousseau de Villejouin and Marie-Josephte Bertrand, by whom he had two daughters; d. before April 1758 in France.
François Le Coutre de Bourville began his naval service as a midshipman at Brest, France, in 1690. For many years his responsibilities included the training of midshipmen there. Appointed leader of a detachment in 1706, he was promoted sub-lieutenant in the navy late in 1712. In 28 years he participated in 21 expeditions, 16 in wartime, and took part in a total of 11 actions, including the siege and capture of Rio de Janeiro in 1711. In 1695 he suffered a serious wound which incapacitated him for five years. He was cited for gallantry in 1703; his ship, the frigate Aurore, having come upon a Dutch privateer, Bourville dashed onto the enemy vessel’s bowsprit and secured her to her captor. This exploit earned him a congratulatory note from the minister of Marine, Pontchartrain, who referred to the incident as an “action of distinction.”
In 1718 Bourville was appointed garrison adjutant of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), replacing the cantankerous Jean Ligondès de Linars. Although he had been warmly recommended by his superiors in France as a “steady fellow, a good administrator, courageous and resolute,” his appointment was coldly received in the colony. In a strong protest, the local officers complained of vacancies being awarded to “foreign officers” when appointments from among their own number would have helped to alleviate the demoralizing garrison life at Louisbourg.
After borrowing 139 livres for the voyage from France, Bourville reported to Île Royale in the summer of 1719 to take up his first and only land appointment. In contrast to his impressive record of service to 1718, his career at Louisbourg for a quarter-century was rather toneless in character. After being received into the order of Saint-Louis in 1725 (he had been appointed as early as 1721), Bourville succeeded, almost as a matter of course, to the king’s lieutenancy of Île Royale in 1730.
On four occasions he commanded at Île Royale in the absence of the governor: for six months in 1722–23 and from late 1729 to the summer of 1731 during the governorship of Saint-Ovide [Monbeton]; from November 1737 to the arrival of Governor Isaac-Louis de Forant* in September 1739; and, finally, for six months from the latter’s death in May 1740 to the arrival of his successor, Jean-Baptiste-Louis Le Prévost Duquesnel. The experience was costly, for Bourville had no means save his salary with which to sustain the honour of his rank. After each interim command, “heavily in debt,” he pleaded for a gratuity to offset what he termed extraordinary expenses incurred “mainly at the time of royal celebrations.” In 1742 Duquesnel confirmed Bourville’s abject circumstances, adding that, though an honest man, he had too often fallen victim to the evil counsel of his intimates.
Interim commanders did not usually take the initiative in government, although they frequently sought to enhance their temporary status by subjecting their subordinates to undue marks of deference. Bourville was no exception on either count. In 1732 he was rebuked by the minister, Maurepas, for his pretensions at the Conseil Supérieur. Like other interim officials Bourville was reluctant to send in a report which might disturb his superiors. In January 1738 he reported to the ministry that “the garrison enjoyed good health and did its duty with great precision” when exactly the opposite was the well-known reality at Louisbourg.
The circumstances surrounding Bourville’s retirement from the service in 1744 are of some interest because they reflect so well the fate of aged colonial officials without means. Though he was nearly 70 when Forant died, Bourville solicited the governorship of Île Royale. He was turned down in favour of Duquesnel who, more out of compassion for his subordinate’s age and deprivation than respect for his merits, interceded on Bourville’s behalf in October 1742 and requested that he be given a post “where he would have nothing to do, such as the governorship of Trois-Rivières.” It was at this point that the ministry wondered, apparently for the first time, whether Bourville was indeed fit to continue in the service: “Would it not be better, from all points of view, if he decided to retire?” With characteristic delicacy, Duquesnel, aided by Bourville’s wife, apprised him of the intention of the authorities and of their willingness to provide him with an “easy retirement.” Bourville concurred, and on 1 April 1744 he retired with a pension of 1,200 livres, succeeded by Louis Du Pont* Duchambon as king’s lieutenant.
François Le Coutre de Bourville returned to France in the summer of 1744. He intended to shun Normandy in favour of Niort, “where prices are lower.” He reconsidered, however, and settled at Fécamp. In 1758 his widow was still domiciled there; in the 1770s both his single daughters lived in Sens.
AN, Col., B, 40, ff.32v–33v, 514–17v, 538–39v; 41, ff.164–66, 592–96v; 49, f.245; 54, f.496v; 57, ff.748–51; 65, ff.484–84v; 68, ff.353–55v; 76, ff.498–98v; 78, ff.410–10v; C11B, 4, ff.164–66; 5, ff.35–40v; 6, ff.99, 283; 7, ff.204–9; 10, ff.216–16v; 11, ff.26–27; 14, ff.373–73v; 15, ff.26–50; 17, f.264; 18, ff.16–18; 20, ff.79–82, 108–8v; 22, ff.105–5v, 136–37v; 23, ff.208–9; 24, ff.61–61v; 25, ff.72–73v, 212–12v; 27, f.41; D2C, 222/1, p.94 (PAC transcript); E, 49 (dossier Bourville), 1re série, 2, 5, 6, 7; 2e série, 7, 9; 4e série, 1, 2; Section Outre-Mer, G1, 406; G3, 2037 (15 janv. 1729); 2045 (22 avril 1758). Fauteux, Les chevaliers de Saint-Louis. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, I. McLennan, Louisbourg.