CLÉMENT DU VUAULT (Vault) DE VALRENNES, PHILIPPE, captain in the colonial regular troops, served with distinction in Canada 1685–93; b. 1647; d. 12 Oct. 1707.
At the age of 14 Valrennes killed a man but escaped punishment; a few months later, in 1662, he was commissioned an ensign in the Régiment de l’Épinay. In 1665 he was promoted lieutenant and in 1672 captain. He subsequently served for 13 years in the Normandy militia (bataillons de campagne) and in the Régiment de Normandie, Louis de Buade*, Comte de Frontenac’s old regiment. He was commissioned a captain in the colonial regular troops in 1685 and came to Canada with the reinforcements sent with the Marquis de Denonville [Brisay]. He appears to have become acclimatized to the Canadian environment without difficulty, for on 7 April 1687 he married a Canadian girl, Jeanne Bissot, a grand-daughter of Louis Hébert* and sister-in-law of Louis Jolliet*.
In 1687 Valrennes commanded one of the four columns of colonial regulars in the expedition against the Senecas. The following year, in July, he took over the command of Fort Frontenac (Cataracoui). This was a dangerous assignment since the fort was besieged by the Iroquois. The garrison was, in fact, kept prisoner, threatened with scurvy, and unable to hamper the movements of the enemy in any way. To keep the fort’s 50-man garrison supplied required convoys of several hundred men. For these reasons Denonville, after the massive Iroquois assault on the settlements at Lachine in August 1689, sent word to Valrennes to blow up the fort and retire to Montreal with the garrison. Denonville instructed him to mine the walls, set slow fuses, and then retire with his men as swiftly as possible, for all the Iroquois in the vicinity would be sure to come swarming when they heard the explosion. The fleeing garrison was some distance away when the mines exploded and they assumed that the fort had been destroyed. Later it was discovered that some of the charges had not gone off; only five small breaches had been made in the walls. Valrennes did, however, succeed in getting the garrison safely to Montreal and the intendant, Jean Bochart de Champigny, exonerated him from all blame for the mishap. Champigny informed the minister that Valrennes was one of the bravest and most prudent officers they had. He requested the minister to grant Valrennes a gratuity and a word or two of encouragement, expressing the satisfaction in which his conduct was held; this to encourage the other officers to emulate him.
Two years later, in August 1691, a force composed of 146 Mohawks and Mahicans, and 120 Albany militiamen, led by Major Peter Schuyler, invaded the settlements south of Montreal. When the governor of the district, Hector de Callière, received word of their approach he massed 700–800 colonial regular troops and militiamen around the fort at La Prairie de la Magdelaine. Shortly before dawn on 11 August during a rain storm, the invading force took the French by surprise, inflicted heavy casualties, and then retreated swiftly towards the Richelieu River. Fearing that the enemy might attack the fort at Chambly, Callière had earlier sent 160 men, colonial regulars, militia, and Indian allies, commanded by Valrennes, to block the road. Hearing the heavy firing at La Prairie, Valrennes obeyed the cardinal rule of 17th century warfare and marched his force to the sound of the guns. Halfway between the two forts he met the retiring enemy, flushed with their earlier success. Swiftly and coolly he marshalled his men in three ranks behind two fallen tree trunks. Five or six of his men were wounded during this manoeuvre but Valrennes made the ranks hold their fire until the enemy were within pistol range. The Albany forces charged and were met by measured volleys at close quarters. Their losses were heavy but the rest came on through the pall of powder smoke. For over an hour there was bloody hand-to-hand fighting; muskets were wielded as clubs, tomahawks, knives, and bare hands were used, and the air was filled with shrill war cries and the screams of mortally wounded men. It was the most savage engagement of the war. The Albany forces, with their great superiority of numbers, over two to one, finally fought their way through and fled. Valrennes’ men were too exhausted to pursue them.
Afterwards, both sides greatly exaggerated the losses they had inflicted. Major Peter Schuyler stated that the Albany losses had been 37 dead and 31 wounded. The French admitted to losing 45 killed and 60 wounded, most of them in the first attack at La Prairie. All the French accounts agreed on one thing, that Valrennes had saved the day. The Albany militia made no further attempts to invade Canadian territory. From that day on the Iroquois had to bear the brunt of the fighting alone. In his dispatches to the court Frontenac was unstinting in his praise of Valrennes, declaring that “Nothing can equal the fearlessness with which the Sieur de Valrenne conducted himself. His calm expression and the coolness with which he gave his orders put heart into everyone.”
Frontenac also pleaded with the minister to intervene in a law suit that Valrennes’ brother-in-law had instituted at Beauvais to deny Valrennes his share of his mother’s estate. Frontenac declared that Valrennes was too valuable an officer to be allowed to return to France to fight the case, but he should not have to suffer in consequence. When the minister granted this request Valrennes, with the strong support of both Frontenac and Champigny, submitted a plea to the king for letters of rehabilitation to pardon him for having killed a man 31 years earlier. His persistent brother-in-law had dredged up this old crime to nullify the lettres d’état granted Valrennes the year before to halt the legal proceedings at Beauvais.
This request the king was also pleased to grant but in 1693 Valrennes was stricken with paralysis, the result of old wounds. Frontenac and Champigny gave him leave to return to France, accompanied by his two valets, to seek a cure. While in France he requested that he be given the first vacant governorship in Canada, and be made a knight of the order of Saint-Louis. To substantiate his claim for membership in this order he stated that he was the senior of the captains in the colonial regular troops serving in Canada, had served 33 years in the king’s armies, was a descendant of one of the first four marshals of France, and bore the scars of several wounds.
Despite his enviable military record – every year in his appraisal of the officers serving in Canada Champigny had given him the highest rating, “Very good officer, a brave man, suited to the country,” – these requests were denied. Instead, his commission as captain in the Canadian regulars was renewed and in 1695 he was accorded a brevet as enseigne de vaisseau. In 1696, his health apparently not having responded to treatment, he was retired on a pension of 600 livres a year. After that date his name ceases to appear on the roll of officers on the Canadian establishment. Of him could fairly be said that he epitomized the values of his class and of his age. Without men of his quality it is doubtful if New France could have survived as long as it did.
AN, Col., C11A, 10, pp.194–98; 11, pp.236, 286, 300–2; 12, pp.31, 60, 279; D2C, 47, pp.51, 68, 90, 106, 114, 128, 142, 152, 180, 215; 222/2, p.288; F3, 6, pp.383–404 (PAC transcripts). NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), III, 800–5 [this contains Major Peter Schuyler’s journal of his expedition to Canada in 1691]. [François Vachon] de Belmont, Histoire du Canada. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Eccles, Frontenac. Lanctot, Histoire du Canada. P.-G. Roy, “Philippe Clément Du Vuault De Valrennes,” BRH, XI (1905), 193–203.