NOYELLES DE FLEURIMONT, NICOLAS-JOSEPH DE, officer in the colonial regular troops in Canada; b. 13 Oct. 1695 in Quimper, France, son of Pierre-Philippe de Noyelles, Baron de Fleurimont, and Marie Bridou; d. 16 Aug. 1761 at Rochefort, France.
Nicolas-Joseph de Noyelles was born into a cadet branch of an old and illustrious noble house of Artois. His father was a colonel in a French cavalry regiment and knight of the ancient order of Saint-Esprit de Montpellier. The Noyelles were related to Henri-François d’Aguesseau, the powerful chancellor, who took a lively interest in their fortunes in Canada. Perhaps this helps explain Governor Charles de Beauharnois’s favours to Nicolas-Joseph and his sons.
The controversial military career of Nicolas-Joseph in Canada began when he arrived as ensign in 1710, not yet 15 years of age. Posted to Montreal, where he made his home, in 1718 he married Marie-Charlotte, daughter of Charles Petit* de Levilliers, and related to many of the colonial nobility. After serving as interim commander of Detroit in 1720, Noyelles was promoted lieutenant in 1721. In 1725 he was second in command under Jacques-Charles Renaud* Dubuisson at a post among the Miamis (at or near Fort Wayne, Ind.), and after that year commanded it until 1732. He entered into the fur trade there in partnership with Louis Marin, borrowing over 14,000 livres from a Montreal merchant, Pierre de Lestage, in 1726 and 1727.
In 1730, leading 40 French and some 600 Miamis, Weas, and Piankeshaws, Noyelles joined Nicolas-Antoine Coulon* de Villiers, commander at Fort Saint-Joseph (probably Niles, Mich.), and Robert Groston* de Saint-Ange, commander of Fort de Chartres (near Prairie du Rocher, Ill.), in a campaign against the Foxes who were continuing war against the French allies in the west. Heavy losses in killed and captured were inflicted on the Foxes, who were thus foiled in their attempt to seek asylum among the Iroquois. For his contribution to the expedition, described by Beauharnois as until then “the most complete military engagement” in New France under Louis XV, Nicolas-Joseph was awarded an expectancy of a captaincy, which he obtained in 1733. In 1734 he assisted his successor at the Miami post, Jean-Charles d’Arnaud, to resettle Miamis who had migrated closer to the English.
Immediately after this assignment Nicolas-Joseph was given charge of the last major campaign against the irrepressible Foxes. Leaving Montreal in October 1734, he led his party via Detroit and the Miamis from whom he hoped to muster reinforcements. After delays and fruitless wandering through the snow-bound forests, without adequate food supplies, he stumbled upon the Fox villages only to find them far stronger than anticipated. His force had also been reduced by the defection of many Hurons and mission Iroquois, who had taken exception to Beauharnois’s orders to pardon the Sauks if they would abandon their Fox allies. After a chaotic engagement Noyelles had to come to terms. With a weak promise from the Sauks to abandon the Foxes and settle at Baie-des-Puants (Green Bay, Wis.), he withdrew. The governor blamed the fiasco on the fickleness of the Indian allies and argued that more French troops would obviate dependence upon them. The minister, Maurepas, however, listened to other reports blaming Noyelles for inept management of the Indian allies.
The minister therefore greeted with sharp disapproval Beauharnois’s choice of Noyelles to command at Detroit beginning in 1736. It was the Hurons of Detroit that he had found so difficult to manage on the Fox campaign. But the governor persisted, and the minister grudgingly assented. His own candidate had been Pierre-Jacques Payen* de Noyan, whom Beauharnois passed over.
At Detroit Noyelles was confronted with an Ottawa-Huron feud which threatened to ignite an Indian war in the west. English trade and diplomacy had wooed the Hurons into alliance with the Senecas and a peace treaty with the Flatheads to the south. In the spring of 1738 a raiding party of Ottawas from Detroit were ambushed by Flatheads, forewarned by Hurons [see Armand de La Richardie]. Incensed, the Ottawas laid accusations at Detroit against the Hurons, who sought aid from the Iroquois and the Canadian missions. The Ottawas turned to their allies of the west. At Detroit, Noyelles forbade trade in arms to all Indians, and with generous gifts he managed to establish an uneasy truce. But the Hurons no longer felt safe at Detroit, and, after considering joining the mission Indians at Sault-Saint-Louis (Caughnawaga, Que.) or at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka, Que.), some of them finally settled at Sandoské (Sandusky) on the southwest shore of Lake Erie. When Noyelles left Detroit in 1740 it was calm, though the seed of future conflict had been planted. The minister, perhaps influenced by Payen de Noyan’s complaints, put this crisis down to lack of respect for Noyelles among the tribes.
Beauharnois’s favours seemed limitless. When in 1744 Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, uncle of Mme de Noyelles, lost the privilege to exploit the fur trade while exploring a route to the western sea, the governor granted it to Noyelles. The latter too soon learned with his associates the hindrances to trade: warfare between the far western tribes and the Sioux, scarcity and high cost of trade goods during the War of the Austrian Succession, and high overhead in transporting furs and merchandise over long distances. He concluded that further search for the western sea was futile. In 1746 Noyelles submitted his resignation; it was accepted the following year by the minister, who was convinced that Noyelles had neglected exploration for trade even more single-mindedly than his predecessor.
Noyelles had returned to Quebec in 1747, the year Beauharnois declared war against the Mohawks who were raiding the outlying settlements of Montreal to take advantage of New France’s weakness during the war. Noyelles led a force of French and Indians to Lac Saint-François in an attempt to intercept their raiding parties. He seems to have served on no other campaigns, and was awarded the cross of Saint-Louis in 1749 after repeated recommendations by Beauharnois. He was promoted town major of Trois-Rivières in 1751 and king’s lieutenant in 1759. After the conquest he returned to France with his family, except for one son, and died in Rochefort, 16 Aug. 1761. His widow, who claimed to be destitute and unable even to bury him, received a pension of 600 livres. His death seems to have ended an inquiry into his integrity which for some reason had been begun in 1760.
Nicolas-Joseph had eight children. The eldest son, Charles-Joseph, served in the colonial regular troops; he fought against the Chickasaws in 1739 and at Michilimackinac, 1745–47, and commanded at Fort Rouillé (Toronto), 1754–57. A younger son, Pierre-Philippe, also served in the regular troops in Canada. A report to the minister dated June 1763 refers to a “Sieur Noyelles Fleurimont” convicted of stealing military funds. If this is Pierre-Philippe, the incident may explain why he alone remained in Canada after the conquest.
AN, Col., B, 63, f.466v; 64, ff.430–30v, 441v–42, 446v; 65, ff.407–8, 415v; 70, f.342v; C11A, 61, ff.86–89; 63, ff.226–32v, 236–45v; 64, ff.162v–66; 65, ff.142–49; 66, ff.150v–53v; 67, f.171; 69, ff.125–30v; 70, ff.117–19, 188–95; 71, ff.103–4; 74, ff.3v, 81v–84; D2C, 49/5, pt.3, p.437; 49/6, pt.3, pp.480–85; 59, p.4 (PAC transcripts); Marine, C7, 228. ANQ, AP, Famille de Noyelles. Champagne, Les La Vérendrye, 319–23. Kellogg, French régime, 314–41. L.-A. Prud’homme, “Les successeurs de La Vérendrye sous la domination française,” RSCT, 2nd ser., XII (1906),