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BULL, GEORGE PERKINS – Volume VII (1836-1850)

d. 5 Dec. 1847 in Hamilton, Upper Canada


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DES FRICHES DE MENEVAL, LOUIS-ALEXANDRE, governor of Acadia, fl. 1687–1703.

We possess little precise information on Meneval’s past history before he came to Canada. Charlevoix* and several others after him believed that he was a member of the Robinau family. But Meneval himself lists his titles in several documents, thus establishing his true identity. Some biographers thought he was the son of Artus Des Friches, Seigneur of Brasseuse and related to the celebrated Genoese family of the Dorias, but this relationship has not been confirmed. It seems more probable that he descended from another branch of the Des Friches family which lived in the Orléanais. He certainly belonged to the army, for Brisay de Denonville informs us that he had won Turenne’s esteem, and Gargas says that he had served at Indret, near Nantes. On 1 March 1687, when he was appointed governor of Acadia in place of Perrot*, on the Marquis de Chevry’s recommendation, he was still only a company lieutenant. The following 5 April he received detailed instructions, of which a draft annotated in the minister’s hand has come down to us. According to this he was to encourage colonization and agriculture and prevent the English from trading and fishing in Acadia. He was to receive a salary of 3,000 livres, and before he left he was, given a gratuity of 1,000 livres.

The new governor sailed on a ship belonging to the Compagnie de la pêche sédentaire de l’Acadie, bound for Chedabouctou (Guysborough, N.S.); from there the king’s frigate the Friponne, on her return trip from Quebec, took him to Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal, N.S.), which he did not reach until the beginning of October. He had been preceded by two new officers, Gargas, a writer in the Marine, and Miramont, officer in command of the troops, who brought with them a contingent of 30 soldiers, munitions, and a sum of 4,000 livres for the reconstruction of the fort. Meneval’s first concern was to examine Perrot’s accounts and oblige him to pay the arrears owed the soldiers. He also made inquiries about Perrot’s illicit trading activities, but did not push his investigation very far. The season was too far advanced to undertake the restoration of the fort; moreover the governor was undecided as to whether it would not be better to build a new fort at Pentagouet (on the Penobscot River) or on the Saint George River, in order to protect the frontier. At the beginning of December he sent reports of his observations to the minister, to M. de Lagny, director general of trade, and to the Marquis de Chevry, the director of the Compagnie de la pêche sédentaire, and complained about his officers.

The following year, 1688, the Friponne returned to Acadia, bringing 30 more soldiers, which raised the strength of the garrison to 90, of whom some 20 remained at Chedabouctou. The same ship also brought an engineer, Pasquine*, whose task was to inspect the posts and prepare plans for a fort. This engineer worked out an extensive project for Port-Royal, but the minister, who was anxious to save money, refused to approve it. The Friponne brought in addition two new officers, Soulègre, captain of the troops, and Mathieu de Goutin. The latter acted in the dual capacity of judge and clerk of court, and Meneval completed the organization of justice by entrusting the office of attorney to Pierre Chenet Dubreuil.

In the autumn of 1688, Meneval addressed to the minister a long report, in which he painted a pessimistic picture of his government: the cost of living was high; there was a shortage of flour and of workers; some of the soldiers were old and disabled and had ceased to be of any use; the contingent of the preceding year had received bad muskets and that of 1688 had only 19 muskets between 30 soldiers, so that half of them were without arms; the surgeon was a drunkard, and the court had neglected to supply funds with which to pay him; a hospital and medical supplies were needed; his own gratuity had not been renewed, and he sought permission to go to France to report to the minister and settle some personal affairs. This indictment contained a few positive elements: Meneval, like Denonville, suggested that soldiers be allowed to marry and to become settlers; he also recommended that fishing, the country’s best resource, be developed by advancing loans to the settlers and protecting the coasts with armed barks; the settlement at Les Mines (Grand Pré, N.S.) was developing, and he had issued a few ordinances. He ended his letter by saying that the English “very much wanted Acadia.”

While the minister was asking for information about the frontiers of Acadia and the king was sending ambassadors to negotiate in England, the Bostonians set about deciding the question in a more effective manner. A few months previously the governor of New England, Andros, had come to Pentagouet to summon Jean-Vincent d’ Abbadie de Saint-Castin to acknowledge allegiance to the English, and had pillaged the fort. In the fall of 1688, almost at the time when Meneval was writing and the Friponne was on her way to Port-Royal, pirates from Massachusetts pillaged the fort at Chedabouctou and captured the company’s ship. This act of piracy, under the very nose of the king’s frigate, humiliated the governor, who blamed the commander of the Friponne, Beauregard, for arriving too late; but the latter defended himself by casting the blame on the governor, whose orders he had been merely following. These seizures caused the loss of 12,000 livres in merchandise that was intended for the settlers of Port-Royal, and the governor also lost his supplies. The situation, already bad, was to become disastrous a few months later, when in May 1689 William of Orange, the new king of England, declared war on France. It could be anticipated that despite the 1686 treaty of neutrality this war between the mother countries would unleash open hostilities in the colonies, particularly in Acadia, which was the most exposed and most poorly defended frontier region.

In this perilous situation, when the whole population ought to have rallied to the defence of the country, internal quarrels rent the colony. Conflicts of prestige and personality clashes set the governor and his chief collaborator, de Goutin, at variance. Each had his party and pestered the court with reports; Meneval accused de Goutin and his friends, among them Lamothe Cadillac [Laumet], of insubordination and intrigue, while de Goutin accused the governor of protecting the priests, encouraging trading by the English, and interfering in the administration of justice. Meanwhile English frigates were cruising in Baie Française (Bay of Fundy); soldiers and settlers were short of everything, the more so because the supply ships had not yet arrived. Irritated at being opposed, suffering from gout, fearing that his authority would be compromised, foreseeing English attacks, and afraid of being held responsible for events, Meneval asked to be recalled. In a letter to Chevry in September 1689 he said that he was determined to go to France even without authorization, “preferring a hundred times to remain three years in the Bastille rather than one single week here.”

The ships did arrive eventually, however, on 5 October 1689. One of them brought to Acadia a new engineer, Saccardy*. The court had instructed him to build a fort at Port-Royal forthwith and sent a further sum of 5,000 livres. Saccardy had the old fort rased completely and drew up a plan for a vast enceinte with four bastions, enclosing the governor’s house, the church, a mill, and the guard-houses; it would also be able to hold barracks and receive the settlers in case of attack. Saccardy set to work briskly, and in 16 days, with the help of the soldiers, settlers, and 40 sailors, succeeded in building half of his enceinte. But the ship had to leave again; Saccardy received from Buade* de Frontenac an order to re-embark, leaving the fort unfinished. Robinau* de Villebon, Meneval’s lieutenant, was also ordered to go to France, thus leaving the governor without an officer.

The raids carried out by the Abenakis following the sacking of Pentagouet, the confiscation of fishing vessels off the Acadian coasts, and the attacks launched by Frontenac during the winter of 1689–90 had alarmed and incensed the English colonies. The merchants of Salem and Boston got up a subscription, and in the spring of 1690 the government of Massachusetts organized a campaign against the Acadian settlements, command of which was entrusted to William Phips*. The expedition was composed of 7 ships, armed with 78 cannon and carrying 736 men, 446 of them being militiamen. The squadron set sail on 23 April (o.s.; 3 May n.s.), and after calling at Pentagouet and other posts it entered the basin of Port-Royal on 9 May (19 May). Meneval, alerted the same evening by the sentries, had a gun fired to warn the settlers, but only three hastened to the fort. The next day Phips came up the river and sent for the governor. Meneval had only 70 soldiers; the unfinished enceinte remained open and its 18 cannon had not been brought into firing positions; 42 young men of Port-Royal were absent. Any resistance therefore appeared useless. Meneval sent Abbé Louis Petit to discuss the terms of surrender.

Phips accepted a capitulation under the following conditions: the fort, the cannon, and the merchandise belonging to the king and the company would be handed over to him; the officers and soldiers would retain their liberty and be transported to Quebec; the settlers would keep their possessions and enjoy the free exercise of their religion. But Phips refused to sign a written capitulation, declaring that his word as a general was sufficient. The next day, Sunday 11 May (21 May), Meneval himself went on board the flagship, and Phips repeated his promises in the presence of de Goutin. Meanwhile some soldiers of the garrison pillaged the company’s warehouse and the English troops went on shore. When Phips saw how weak the fort and the garrison were, he was sorry that he had granted such generous terms and made the pillaging a pretext for breaking his word. He had the soldiers imprisoned in the church and confined the governor to his house, under the guard of a sentry. And then organized pillaging began: for 12 days the militiamen ransacked houses and gardens, seized the wheat and the clothes of the settlers, and killed their cattle; they sacked the church, demolished and burned the stockade. Before leaving, they forced the settlers to take an oath of allegiance and elect a council of six notables, presided over by Charles La Tourasse*, to administer justice and see that good order was preserved until the government of Massachusetts had appointed an administration. Then Phips sailed away again, taking the governor as a prisoner, together with Abbés Petit and Trouvé and some 50 soldiers; the remainder had fled to Les Mines.

In Boston, Meneval first spent three months closely guarded in a house; then he complained to the council of Massachusetts, which censured Phips and ordered him to return Meneval’s clothes and money to him, but Phips handed back to him only 1,000 livres and a few bits of old clothing. Meneval next obtained a passport for London, but Phips, fearing disclosures, had him put in prison again. Meneval succeeded however in getting his freedom, and sailed for France on a small 25-tonner chartered by Dongan. He reached Paris on 6 April 1691, and asked for an audience with Pontchartrain. He had left his papers and a power of attorney with John Nelson, in order to proceed with claims against Phips. But Nelson’s imprisonment and the appointment of Phips as governor, followed by his death, prevented these claims from being followed up. During the succeeding years, Meneval gave his views on a plan of attack against Boston and on the boundary question. In 1700 he tried a final approach to the minister with the object of getting the commissaries to obtain reimbursement for him from Phips’ widow and heirs, but it seems clear that these requests had no success. He died around 1703 or 1709.

Meneval’s career as governor was not very brilliant. Doubtless he had qualities; he appeared to be honest and anxious to serve well. If, of necessity, he tolerated trading with the English, nothing proves that he took part in it himself. His reports reveal intelligence and a good understanding of the situation. But he showed himself to be of a difficult and captious disposition; barely had he arrived when he proceeded to complain of his first aides, Gargas and Miramont. In the exercise of his authority he was often arbitrary and immoderate, condemning people to prison for trifles and taking excessive steps, such as the exile of the Morin family. As a soldier, he was scarcely effective in the defence of Port-Royal; despite the court’s decision to rebuild the fort in 1687, he hesitated, decided nothing, then left all the responsibility to the engineers; he was blamed severely for this by Seignelay. At the time of the siege, he appeared in somewhat of a hurry to capitulate; Perrot and Frontenac looked with disapproval on a surrender made without even a show of resistance. But Meneval was perhaps more to be pitied than blamed. He was ill, poorly aided, and probably little prepared to hold a command which carried such heavy responsibilities. He became discouraged and took a dislike to the country, and his letters present a long string of lamentations. In a word, in the difficult circumstances in which he exercised his mandate, he made the mistake of displaying only rather ordinary qualities, whereas what would have been required was exceptional courage and talents.

René Baudry

AN, Col., B, 13, ff.144, 184f.; 15, ff.34f.; C11A, 9, f.214; 10, 11; C11D, 2, ff.78–83v, 94, 96–104, 104–6v, 112v, 115, 126–30, 134–43, 153–58; C11E, 1, f.43; E, 309 (dossier Meneval); F1A, 3, f.52; Section Outre-Mer, Dépôt des fortifications des colonies, carton 2, nos.56–57. BN, MS, Clairambault 884, ff. 189–97. “Mass. Archives,” XXXVI, 233, 262, 263a; XXXVII, 176, 178. Acadiensia Nova (Morse), I, 135f., 171, 196, 203f. Charlevoix, Histoire, II, 52; III, 75. Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la N.-F., I, 396–99, 406, 410–13, 433–36, 502–3; II, 6–8, 10–12, 40–44, 239–40, 253–54. “Correspondance de Frontenac (1689–99),” APQ Rapport, 1927–28, 42. Édits ord., III, 89. “Journal of expedition against Port Royal, 1690.” Jug. et délib., III, 189, 274. “Lettre du ministre à M. de Menneval, gouverneur de l’Acadie,” BRH, XXVII (1921), 147–48. Webster, Acadia, 182f. Parkman, Count Frontenac and New France (1891), 235–40. Rameau de Saint-Père, Une colonie féodale, I, 165; II, 324. Archange Godbout, “Les Morin d’Acadie,” SGCF Mémoires, I (1944), 101–10. P.-G. Roy, “Qui était M. de Meneval . . . ?” APQ Rapport, 1920–21, 297–307. Régis Roy, “M. de Meneval,” BRH, XXVIII (1922), 271.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

René Baudry, “DES FRICHES DE MENEVAL, LOUIS-ALEXANDRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 5, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/des_friches_de_meneval_louis_alexandre_2E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/des_friches_de_meneval_louis_alexandre_2E.html
Author of Article:   René Baudry
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1969
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   December 5, 2023