L’ESPÉRANCE (also Sivert de L’Espérance), CHARLES-GABRIEL-SÉBASTIEN DE, Baron de L’ESPÉRANCE, baron of the Holy Roman Empire, officer in the French regular and colonial regular troops, and colonial administrator; b. 1 Dec. 1725 at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), son of Charles-Léopold-Ebérard de L’Espérance* and Marguerite Dangeac; d. 5 Jan. 1791, probably at Versailles, France.
Like his father, Charles-Gabriel-Sébastien de L’Espérance chose a military career. When he was ten years old, he enrolled as a cadet in a detachment of the Swiss Régiment de Karrer at Louisbourg and in 1742 he was promoted second ensign. He was present at the siege of the fortress in 1745 and returned to France with the rest of the defeated garrison. Although he embarked with troops bound for Canada in the fleet commanded by La Jonquière [Taffanel*] in 1747, L’Espérance was charged with escorting two troop detachments to the Antilles. Promoted lieutenant in the colonial regulars at Île Royale in 1754, he served under his uncle, Captain François-Gabriel d’Angeac. In 1755 L’Espérance married Anne-Claire Du Pont de Renon, granddaughter of Michel Du Pont* de Renon. Following the fall of Louisbourg in 1758, L’Espérance returned to France.
Although his early career was not exceptional, L’Espérance advanced, aided by his family connections and persuasive powers. Promoted captain in 1763, he accompanied d’Angeac to the newly acquired fishing station of Saint-Pierre and was dispatched to take possession of Miquelon. He was stationed there with some 20 soldiers for nine years and in 1770 was awarded the cross of Saint-Louis.
Placed in command at Saint-Pierre when d’Angeac returned to France in 1772, L’Espérance succeeded to the governorship of the two islands on his uncle’s recommendation in 1773. Two years later he allied himself with Saint-Pierre’s closely knit merchant community by his marriage to Jeanne-Françoise, the 21-year-old daughter of Antoine Rodrigue. The census of 1776 put the islands’ population at l,984; in a summer of good fishing that increased by as much as 1,000 men. The sedentary fishery was concentrated on Saint-Pierre, and its residents owned two brigantines, 67 schooners, and 225 shallops. Acadian settlers, less involved in the fishery, preferred to live on Miquelon.
As Great Britain and her American colonies moved towards war, relations between the French colony and Newfoundland became critical. In 1776 an agreement with John Montagu, governor of Newfoundland, settled two longstanding disputes between the two colonies. Thereafter the French were allowed to cut wood in Newfoundland and fish in the channel separating the two territories. Trade between Saint-Pierre and New England stopped in that year, but the position of the island became even more precarious when France allied with the Americans in 1778. With only 31 soldiers and six cannon, L’Espérance could do little when in September 1778 an English squadron under Commodore John Evans appeared off Saint-Pierre and demanded that the French surrender. Always vainglorious, the governor capitulated with great pomp after having secured the honours of war. When he and his officers had left for France, the British pillaged and burned the settlement.
Promoted brigadier in the colonial infantry in 1778, L’Espérance was awarded a pension of 4,000 livres. He had planned to settle in Alsace, where he had relatives, but in 1783 he was recalled to the governorship of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon when the islands were returned to France by the treaty of Paris. Sometimes in debt, and frequently requesting advances and gratuities from the government, he was doubtless pleased that his salary was raised from 10,000 to 15,000 livres. The number of troops in his command was also increased threefold, and in 1784 he was promoted brigadier of the line infantry.
French attachment to the North Atlantic fishery was such that the government had provided subsistence for refugees from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon while they were in France from 1778 to 1783. In order to begin the colony anew, the monarchy induced fishermen to return by offering rations for up to a year and a half, fishing hardware, and advances for the reconstruction of buildings. The British also permitted the colonists to cut wood on Newfoundland and mine coal on Cape Breton Island. Within a year the population reached l,204; about one-half were fishermen. L’Espérance urged that the colony receive more troops and be fortified.
In 1784 a three-man commission was sent to Saint-Pierre to determine whether the islands could be more securely defended. After considering the report, the minister of Marine, Castries, decided against any fortified installation on Saint-Pierre as both impractical and too costly. The islands were relegated to the position of a simple fishing station and the civil and military establishments were reduced. The governorship was abolished and replaced by the command ‘of an infantry captain, reporting to the French naval captain sent annually to protect the fisheries.
L’Espérance crossed the Atlantic for the last time in 1785. Although awarded a pension of 6,000 livres in 1786, both he and his wife plagued the government with petitions for more. Promoted major-general in 1788, he officially retired in April 1789.
AN, Col., E, 281 (dossier L’Espérance); Section Outre-mer, G3, 2044, 23 août 1755. Æ. Fauteux, Les chevaliers de Saint-Louis, 215. La Morandière, Hist. de la pêche française de la morue, II, 810–16, 823–26. J.-Y. Ribault, Les îles Saint-Pierre et Miquelon des origines à 1814 (Saint-Pierre, 1962), 65–67, 80–86. Henri Bourde de La Rogerie, “Saint-Pierre et Miquelon: des origines à 1778,” Le Pays de Granville; bull. trimestriel de la Soc. d’études historiques et économiques (Mortain, France), 2e sér., nos.38–40 (1937). J.-Y. Ribault, “La population des îles Saint-Pierre et Miquelon de 1763 à 1793,” Revue française d’hist. d’outre-mer (Paris), LIII (1966), 43.