LAFORCE, RENÉ-HIPPOLYTE, ship’s captain, naval and militia officer, merchant, and diarist; b. 4 Dec. 1728 in La Prairie (Que.), son of Pierre Pépin, dit Laforce, and Michelle Lebert; m. 10 Jan. 1757 Madeleine Corbin at Quebec, and they had ten children; d. there 3 Feb. 1802 and was buried two days later in the crypt of Notre-Dame.
René-Hippolyte Laforce spent the first 11 years of his life at Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.), where his father held the post of king’s storekeeper. No further trace of him has been found until 1751, when he was engaged in coastal trading between Quebec and Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Three years later Laforce joined an expedition under Joseph Coulon* de Villiers de Jumonville in the Ohio valley. Although his role in this venture remains unclear, he was taken prisoner and sent to Virginia. Robert Stobo*, who was captured by the French at about this time, did not see him as a hero but thought he was at the least an important cog in the French war machine in the Ohio country.
In 1756, after his release, Laforce was appointed commander of a frigate on Lake Ontario by Governor Vaudreuil [Pierre de Rigaud*]. He took part that year in a skirmish against the British near Oswego (Chouaguen) (N.Y.). In 1758 he arrived at Niagara, and he remained there until the beginning of the siege operations the following year, which he recorded in his diary [see Sir William Johnson*].
Laforce apparently stayed in Kamouraska, Que., from 1762 to 1766 while retaining possession of a small piece of land on Rue Saint-Jean at Quebec. Upon his return to Quebec in 1767 he went into partnership with Antoine Juchereau Duchesnay to trade with the West Indies; the two were to share equally in the profits. He was getting ready to take ship when merchant Alexandre Dumas authorized him to recover the sums that two Martinique traders owed him. Laforce continued to travel to the islands until 1775, bringing back sugar and coffee in particular, but it seems that at some point the contract was modified and that Laforce then acted only as captain. The American revolution put an end to his commercial endeavours for a while.
When the Quebec militia was temporarily re-established in 1775, Governor Guy Carleton appointed Laforce captain of the town’s artillery company. Some days later Laforce received orders, as commanding officer of the Providence, to patrol the St Lawrence. He plied the river between Quebec and Sorel in 1775 and 1776 and even took part in the various operations connected with the American blockade.
Late in 1776 Carleton entrusted Laforce with the command of the schooner Seneca; he also supervised its construction and saw to its fitting-out. At the same time he became commanding officer of the fleet on Lake Ontario. He was in charge of the shipyard at Pointe-au-Baril (Maitland, Ont.) the following year. In 1778 Governor Haldimand appointed him “master and commander of His Majesty’s Naval Armament upon the Rivers and Lakes within this Province.” Two years later Laforce was supervising the shipyard on Carleton Island (N.Y.) and received a commission as commodore of the fleet. In 1784 he retired from service on half pay.
Laforce then resumed sailing between Quebec and the West Indies. Age and the state of his health, however, got the better of his intrepidity. In October 1788 he sold his share in a 120-ton schooner, the Marie, to Quebec merchant Louis Dunière. Six years later Lord Dorchester (as Carleton was now known) appointed Laforce lieutenant-colonel of the militia of Quebec and vicinity. His long and loyal services led him to ask for land in 1800; he applied at that time to the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, Peter Hunter, on the grounds that he had served largely in that region. His request was turned down because he was not living in the province. A few weeks before his death Laforce petitioned the lieutenant governor of Lower Canada, Sir Robert Shore Milnes*, for 5,000 acres of land.
Except for his ships Laforce does not seem to have acquired much property. Besides his lot on Rue Saint-Jean he owned a house in the Palais quarter which he rented to a shoemaker. He sold some land on Rue Saint-Nicholas; it belonged, however, to his father-in-law, who had mortgaged it in his favour.
ANQ-M, CE1-3, 5 déc. 1728. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 10 janv. 1757, 5 févr. 1802; CN1-83, 20 oct. 1788; CN1-189, 16, 17 nov. 1767; CN1-205, 30 janv., 31 mars 1783; P-128; P1000-95-1936. AUM, P 58, H2/55, 8 août 1766. PAC, RG 1, E15, A; L3L: 57355–64. Quebec Gazette, 11 Feb. 1802. Charland, “Notre-Dame de Québec: le nécrologe de la crypte,” BRH, 20: 273. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 6: 295, 300. Royal Fort Frontenac, trans. and comp. R. A. Preston, ed. Léopold Lamontagne (Toronto, 1958). P.-G. Roy, Les petites choses de notre histoire (7 sér., Lévis, Qué., 1919–44), 3: 238–39. G. F. G. Stanley, New France: the last phase, 1744–1760 (Toronto, 1968), 141. “Jumonville et ses compagnons,” BRH, 10 (1904): 250–52. Marcel Trudel, “L’affaire Jumonville,” RHAF, 6 (1952–53): 331–73.