LE MOYNE DE MARICOURT, PAUL, officer, interpreter, negotiator with the Indians; b. at Montreal, 15 Dec. 1663; d. at Montreal, 21 March 1704.
Maricourt was principally a man of the sword, one of the several Le Moyne brothers whose collective military exploits eventually extended to the far corners of France’s North American empire. He, like his more famous brothers – Pierre, Sieur d’Iberville, Joseph, Sieur de Serigny, and Jacques*, Sieur de Sainte-Hélène – enjoyed a spectacular career. He was the fourth of 12 sons born to Charles Le Moyne* de Longueuil et de Châteauguay and Catherine Thierry. Although there is only fragmentary evidence to indicate how he passed his youth or to what extent he was formally educated, there can be no doubt that he was thoroughly tutored in the special skills required for military activity in the Canadian setting. He travelled with his brothers, mastered the Indian dialects and became one of the best canoemen in New France. Perhaps this latter ability had much to do with his being selected to act as adjutant on the Chevalier de Troyes*’s 1686 expedition to Hudson Bay – an undertaking aimed at reasserting French claims in that area in the face of English inroads. During the arduous overland trek, “without a doubt one of the worst journeys in the world,” Maricourt suffered a series of accidents and narrowly escaped drowning on two occasions. Yet when the party of 30 French regulars and 70 Canadians finally arrived at the bottom of James Bay and began systematically to attack the three English forts located there, he, along with Iberville and Sainte-Hélène, was consistently in the forefront of the action. His performance won praise from the Chevalier, and when Iberville was left to command in the area, Maricourt was chosen to act as one of two lieutenants. After spending the winter there, the Le Moynes returned by land to Quebec, where Maricourt, on Governor Brisay de Denonville’s recommendation, was promoted second lieutenant of the troops.
His military career had thus begun auspiciously and, between 1688 and 1696, he was provided with still greater opportunities, both in the far north and in the war with the Iroquois, to show his mettle under fire. In the autumn of 1688 he sailed to Hudson Bay aboard the Soleil d’Afrique, a royal vessel recently put under Iberville’s command for the protection of the interests of the Compagnie du Nord. At the Sainte-Anne (Albany) river he encountered two English vessels that ultimately became trapped in the ice. A protracted and bizarre struggle ensued, lasting through most of the winter and ending with Iberville’s forcing the English to surrender. Much of the credit for this victory belonged to Maricourt, who effectively employed a small detachment of Canadians to continually harass and thoroughly demoralize the enemy. He received a wound during one of the more lively exchanges but had recovered sufficiently by September 1689 to be left in charge of the bay posts when Iberville, under orders, returned to Quebec with the larger of the English prizes. On 15 May 1690, Governor Frontenac [Buade*] officially confirmed Maricourt as commander in Hudson Bay in the event of Iberville’s absence or death.
Within months, however, Maricourt himself returned to Quebec, arriving just as William Phips* was organizing a siege of the town. Forewarned of the presence of the English, he abandoned the French vessel on which he had been travelling at Tadoussac and, in company with his brother Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil and some Indian auxiliaries, advanced to the Beauport shore in a small skiff, easily escaping the pursuit of the surprised English. Once within the fortress of Quebec, Maricourt, according to a contemporary account, joined another officer in directing the French artillery. Nor did he display any traces of amateurism in the use of ordnance, for very few of his volleys were wasted and one of the first carried away the flag of Phips’s own command vessel, providing the defenders with a morale-boosting omen, especially when the flag was recovered from the water and was borne in triumph to the cathedral. In 1691, Maricourt was rewarded for his part in the defence of Quebec by promotion to the rank of captain; in January 1693, he became a midshipman and on 15 Jan. 1694 a sub-lieutenant in the navy. The intendant, Bochart de Champigny, described him, along with three other captains, as “those who are incapable of greed and who are inviolably loyal. . . .” Indeed, the colonial officials relied heavily on his talents, employing him in 1695 to patrol with a small force in the Chambly area to guard against Iroquois raids; in 1696, to raise a corps of the best militia for Iberville’s Newfoundland campaign; and, in that same year, to command the Abenaki and Sault-Saint-Louis Indians during Governor Frontenac’s expedition against the Iroquois. So confident were they of his resourcefulness on this latter occasion, that when momentary consideration was given to leaving a garrison to winter in the captured villages, he was one of the few considered capable of withstanding such an ordeal.
For several years following the 1696 campaign, Maricourt was obliged to remain close to his home, called Pres de Ville, on the outskirts of Montreal. There were a number of reasons for this. For one thing, he had been married on 29 Oct. 1691 to Marie-Madeleine, daughter of Nicholas Dupont de Neuville, a member of the Conseil Souverain, and while he had no offspring of his own, he was apparently responsible for the children of Sainte-Hélène, who had been killed in the fighting at Quebec in 1690. Then too, he was intimately involved in the supervision of his invalid father’s large estate; it was he, for instance, who, in the absence of several of his brothers, sold the seigneury of Île Perrot in 1703. Maricourt also had business affairs of his own. During the 1690s he participated in a number of transactions concerning seigneuries and was evidently involved in the affairs of the Compagnie du Nord. But his most serious commercial interest was as the silent partner in a trading society with the Sieur Louis Le Conte Dupré, a prominent Montreal merchant and fur-trader. Not to be overlooked either are his duties as captain of a company of troops which formed part of the Montreal garrison. But in addition to the obvious burden of these family, business, and military responsibilities, there was an even more compelling reason for Maricourt’s continued presence at Montreal during the late 1690s – his great influence with the Five Nations Indians, influence put to excellent use by the French governors in their efforts to secure a lasting peace with this traditional enemy.
Maricourt’s prestige among the Iroquois, particularly the Onondagas, stemmed partly from the reputation his father had enjoyed among them and partly from his own understanding of their language and mentality. His fearless bearing and gift for symbolic oratory were much to the Iroquois taste. He was an adopted son of the Onondagas, being called by them Taouestaouis, and on their many visits to Montreal, they frequently went first to his home. The French governors compensated him for his hospitality on such occasions and encouraged further liaison with them. Governors Frontenac and Callière repeatedly made use of him as their emissary to the Onondagas during the long negotiations leading to the peace of 1701. First, he worked closely with Callière from 1698 to 1700 to discredit the English in Iroquois eyes, particularly by questioning the sincerity of the Albany authorities in reclaiming Iroquois prisoners from the French. Then, in the critical discussions of 1700 and 1701, he, Father Bruyas, and Chabert de Joncaire, were continually active at the Iroquois council fires; now mocking the proud chiefs for even listening to the arrogant English agents seeking to prevent the peace by treating the Iroquois as slaves; now bribing the more intransigent families to hand over their French prisoners, many of whom were reluctant to depart. The Earl of Bellomont, governor of New York, all but admitted in his dispatches to the Board of Trade and Plantations that he had no one who could match these subtle French negotiators. When the ceremonies formally ratifying the peace were held at Montreal in the summer of 1701, Maricourt served as the plenipotentiary of the Onondagas. It was he, too, who returned to the Onondaga canton in 1702 to ensure that the Jesuit missionaries asked for by the Iroquois were well established. In fact, he continued under Governor Rigaud de Vaudreuil to represent French interests among the Five Nations and to parry Albany’s intrigues. Such a symbol had he become to the English colonial leaders that their dispatches mistakenly credited him with leading the bloody attack on Deerfield in 1704.
Maricourt died on 21 March 1704. He left behind a 17-year-old bride of less than five weeks, Gabrielle-Françoise Aubert de La Chesnaye, his first wife having died in April 1703. As Governor Vaudreuil remarked, the public loss was no less painful, for Maricourt was one of that small but unique group of men who were responsible for the physical extension and maintenance of France’s vast North American empire. Possessing all the colour and reckless courage so typical of the French officer-nobleman of the ancien régime, he was also endowed with the powers of endurance and extra measure of savage guile peculiar to the coureur de bois. It was this combination that served him so well in battling the enemies of France, whether on the frozen surface of Hudson Bay, from the batteries of Quebec, or in the forests of New York. These were also the qualities that earned him the trust of four successive governors, the friendship of the habitants, and the respect of the fiercely independent Iroquois – a respect that enabled him to crown his career with a significant diplomatic triumph.
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