AILLEBOUST DE COULONGE ET D’ARGENTENAY, LOUIS D’, “engineer skilled in the profession of arms,” governor and lieutenant-general of New France; b. c. 1612 at Ancy-le-Franc, in the province of Champagne, son of Antoine d’Ailleboust, counsellor-in-ordinary to the Prince de Condé, and of his second wife Suzanne Hotman, widow of Jean de Manthet d’Argentenay; buried 1 June 1660 in the parish of Notre-Dame at Montreal.
His grandfather, Jean d’Ailleboust, was one of the principal doctors of Henri IV, who made him a nobleman. Louis was the nephew of Charles d’Ailleboust, Bishop of Autun (and not of Auxerre). His maternal grandfather was the famous François Hotman, a jurisconsult, a writer, and an ardent Calvinist (1524–90). Aegidius Fauteux informs us, quoting the Journal de voyage of Montaigne, that the latter, following “the example of all other scholars and men of letters, . . . stopped at Bâle [in Switzerland, where François Hotman had taken refuge] in 1580, to pay him a visit.”
Louis d’Ailleboust had a half-brother, Nicolas, the issue of his father’s first marriage, and a sister, Catherine, who was perhaps Suzanne Hotman’s daughter. It was Nicolas who continued the line, and his son who was the first d’Ailleboust to found a family in Canada. Catherine became a nun at the abbey of Saint-Pierre de Reims.
In 1638 Louis d’Ailleboust, whose childhood and youth are equally unknown to us, was living in Paris, in the rue de Bièvre, within the parish of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. He had the reputation of being a clever military engineer. He was 26 years old. On 6 September of the same year he signed his marriage contract in his parish, before Maître Philippe Perrier, at the hostelry “Aux deux Anges.” His fiancée, Marie-Barbe de Boullongne, was staying there at the time along with her mother, née Eustache Quéan (Quen), widow of Florentin de Boullongne, from Ravières in Champagne. As this town was quite near Ancy-le-Franc, the birthplace of Louis d’Ailleboust, the biographer Ernest Gagnon concluded that the betrothed were probably childhood friends.
The young couple went to Paris to live, in the rue des Morfondus, in the old quarter of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. Three years later, Barbe d’Ailleboust listened as her husband unfolded to her surprising plans for the future. He was consumed with a desire to go to New France and work for the conversion of the unbelievers. He had been told of an impending expedition, the object of which was to found a missionary outpost on the island of Montreal. A society of gentlemen and elderly priests had acquired ownership of the island, and was attending to the embarkation and the various needs of a contingent led by a brave and devout gentleman, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. The young wife’s health was very delicate, and she was suffering from an illness deemed incurable by the doctors. She certainly could not think of following her husband to a country so distant, and so fraught with perils.
But in the face of her husband’s insistence, she bethought herself of praying to God to restore her to health. In return she promised to accompany her husband to New France and to share his work of evangelization there. She consulted her director, who gave her his complete approval. This Jesuit was in no way surprised by the young woman’s soul-searching and later by her decision, for he was also the confessor and confidant of Louis d’Ailleboust. The cure was brought about, according to a passage in the Véritables motifs.
Louis d’Ailleboust pushed on with the preparations for the journey. He learned that Philippine-Gertrude de Boullongne, his wife’s eldest sister, had hastened to Paris at the news of Barbe’s cure and extraordinary vow, and that she too was making up her mind to set out for Canada.
Following his director’s advice, Louis d’Ailleboust paid a visit, with his wife and sister-in-law, to the Jesuit Charles Lalemant, the procurator of the Canadian mission. Having been a missionary in that country since 1625, the priest could give them information about the kind of life they would experience as settlers and ambassadors of the faith. But above all the father advised these recruits to enter the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, which they did at the first opportunity.
Louis d’Ailleboust and his female companions went to La Rochelle in the spring of 1643. They embarked towards the end of May on one of the three vessels leaving for New France. A contingent of 40 men was going there in order to give active assistance to the terribly exposed little post of Montreal. The crossing was long and stormy. Two of the ships arrived at Quebec only on 15 August. Ville-Marie was reached in September.
In that remote spot, people lived in anxious expectancy. Governor Huault de Montmagny, when he visited M. de Maisonneuve and his settlers in July, had announced good news concerning the annual shipments from France. Much could be hoped for in this direction, for even the king was taking an interest in the Montrealers. M. de Montmagny himself had received a communication from the king expressly recommending them to him. Moreover the king was offering them for their overseas settlement a ship of 350 tons, the Notre-Dame.
The arrival of the contingent brought confidence and joy back into the hearts of those at Ville-Marie. For the safety of all concerned, M. de Maisonneuve had great need of the help of a lieutenant such as d’Ailleboust, a man acquainted with the customs of military life. Better still, this lieutenant would soon be the skilful engineer that the governor was hoping for; he could undertake the construction of fortifications which were urgently required. Since the end of spring, when they had discovered the little post, the Iroquois had harassed it continually. Recently, in the month of July, four people had been killed and a number wounded at Ville-Marie. For her part Jeanne Mance would now have the company of two women who were congenial, charitable, and able to look after the sick. Their presence would compensate for the imminent departure of Mme de Chauvigny de La Peltrie, recalled to Quebec, and of Charlotte Barré, her lady companion.
At Ville-Marie Louis d’Ailleboust first had four bastions built, and the stockade of 1642 replaced by a solid surrounding wall. In addition he strongly advised the inhabitants of Ville-Marie to sow good French grain, for “the meager harvest of peas and Indian corn” that he had observed when he arrived at Montreal was really no longer sufficient for the needs of the settlers, whose number had increased.
In 1645 M. de Maisonneuve had to leave for France, and he entrusted the command of the post to M. d’Ailleboust, who replaced him from 1645 till the summer of 1647. When M. de Maisonneuve returned from France, he delivered to d’Ailleboust an important and unexpected message: the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, as well as the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, was recalling d’Ailleboust to France forthwith. The reason was that a decision had been made to replace M. de Montmagny, after 11 years of faithful service as governor. The Conseil du Roi had at first chosen M. de Maisonneuve as his successor, but he had declined the offer in favour of Louis d’Ailleboust. Thus, the following year, d’Ailleboust was to return to Canada armed with his commission. We can imagine the satisfaction of the Montrealers. One of the distinguished settlers of Montreal was about to become, in the autumn of 1648, the ruler of the country.
Important changes would, moreover, accompany this appointment. Indeed, on the recommendation of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, Mazarin, who had appointed M. d’Ailleboust as M. de Montmagny’s successor on 2 March 1648, limited his term of office to three years. This decision would apply to all future governors. In conformity with the edict of 5 March 1648, the governor would inaugurate the new colonial administration as soon as he assumed office. Henceforth he would preside over a council of five members, whose function would include discussing and voting upon local laws, business affairs, questions of peace and war, legal judgements in civil and criminal matters, police regulations, and finances. The edict likewise set up a flying column composed of 40 soldiers who would bring immediate help to places threatened by the Iroquois. The new governor proposed to give the command of this flying column to his nephew, Charles-Joseph d’Ailleboust Des Muceaux, a young officer whom he had just brought out from France.
As soon as he was installed in the Château Saint-Louis, at Quebec, construction of which had been started the year before, an endless round of activity faced Louis d’Ailleboust. Mme d’Ailleboust and her sister Philippine also came here after an uninterrupted stay of five years at Ville-Marie.
M. d’Ailleboust eagerly set about fighting the Iroquois. He had had painful experience with this kind of war at Ville-Marie. The years 1648 and 1649 saw the almost total destruction of the Hurons; it was also the era of the great Jesuit martyrs. In 1650 Montreal was severely and ceaselessly besieged; the “book of the dead” was added to each day. The Montrealers were forced to take refuge in the fort, and to live there “more closely shut up than in the smallest monasteries of France.” However, this far-sighted governor had increased, and was continually extending, his efforts to assist them. The most urgent as well as the most important of his first administrative acts had been the organization of the flying column. This group of bold fighters had taken to the field in the spring of 1649. They were considered so effective that the governor decided two years later to raise their strength to 70 men.
At the end of May 1649 M. d’Ailleboust went to Ville-Marie. He was accompanied by 12 soldiers, a number which was subsequently to become the normal escort. M. de Maisonneuve went out to meet him in a bark, and came up with him at the Sainte-Marie rapids. The governor announced to M. de Maisonneuve that the Compagnie des Cent-Associés was adding six soldiers to his personal garrison. His salary was consequently raised from 3,000 to 4,000 livres. These concessions had certainly been asked for by M. d’Ailleboust, for they were not in accordance with the decree of 5 March 1648. During his stay, the governor made a point of officially transferring to the Jesuits the possession of their Prairie-de-la-Magdelaine seigneury.
In 1650 thought was being given in all quarters to the problem of aiding the Huron nation, whose last survivors, pursued and hunted down by the Iroquois, seemed doomed to annihilation. The very small numbers of Indians who were able to escape took refuge in Ville-Marie, a post that was too exposed to the fury of the Iroquois. During the summer more than 300 Hurons reached Quebec under the leadership of Father Ragueneau. Through the entire winter 1650–51 they were helped and fed by the governor, the Jesuits, the Hospitallers, the Ursulines, and a few other persons. Of the three Huron tribes which thus came down to Quebec one only, the Cord tribe, did not want to leave Quebec in the spring, imploring M. d’Ailleboust’s protection and asking permission to establish its members not far from Fort Saint-Louis. The descendants of this tribe can be found today at Lorette, near Quebec.
Towards the end of the year 1650 the governor had new fortifications erected at Trois-Rivières. M. Gagnon has published the document containing the very precise instructions given on that occasion by M. d’Ailleboust to Pierre Boucher*, the commandant of the post. These fortifications, the result of the extreme vigilance of the governor in regard to anything which might check the sanguinary progress of the Iroquois, “did indeed save the small town from complete destruction when it was beleaguered in 1653 by 500 Mohawks.”
It is evident that in M. d’Ailleboust the soldier, the engineer, and the architect were on a level with the administrator and the statesman. Indeed, it was the statesman who attempted to resume the negotiations begun in 1647 by his predecessor, M. de Montmagny, in the hope of concluding with the colonies of New England a treaty of offensive and defensive alliance, in addition to the commercial union desired by the merchants of Boston, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven. But as M. d’Ailleboust considered that the commercial treaty should not be signed unless the military treaty were signed also, the New England authorities hesitated, then finally refused any kind of alliance because of this last condition of the governor. This was a setback, but M. d’Ailleboust’s prudence remains praiseworthy. He was only too justified in suspecting the intentions of a neighbour whose commercial designs were not exempt from egoism.
The governor likewise tackled the question of the traffic in spirits with the Indians. He issued severe orders for the cessation of this practice at the Tadoussac post.
For three years Louis d’Ailleboust de Coulonge, second titular governor of New France, faced with rare firmness and clearheadedness all difficulties and perils. The machinations of the Iroquois never caught him unprepared. Even when these enemies spoke of peace, he remained sceptical, and showed still greater vigilance. He often managed to see through their ruses, and would fight them then with a bravery that commanded their respect. This dauntlessness, the mark of a leader, nevertheless concealed many anxieties, for help from France was more clearly inadequate each year. Father Charlevoix* therefore remarked, rightly, that in handing over the reins of government, on 13 October 1651, to the new and weak governor Jean de Lauson, “M. d’Ailleboust gave up without regret an office where he could only be witness to the desolation of the colony that he had not been given enough help to support with dignity.”
D’Ailleboust and his wife retired in 1651 to their property at Coulonge, a league away from Quebec, and to which there was access by what was already called the Grande Allée. The governor had bought the Coulonge tract from Nicolas Gaudry, dit Bourbonnière, 17 Oct. 1649. He built a house there, and spent the next years enlarging and beautifying his estate. “The name Coulonge,” wrote Gagnon, “was for him both an estate name and a family name. Louis d’Ailleboust is called ‘sieur de Coulonge’ in a document executed in 1643, immediately before he first left France to go to Canada. This document is preserved in the archives of the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec.”
M. d’Ailleboust’s return to private life did not mean the abandonment of his public life. In 1652 and 1653 Governor de Lauson, in the name of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, granted him the Argentenay fief and the Saint-Vilmé arriere-fief. Argentenay was another family name for d’Ailleboust. His half-sister, the daughter by his mother’s first marriage, was named Dorothée de Manthet d’Argentenay, and had married Nicolas d’Ailleboust, Louis’ elder brother. A little village in Champagne also had the name Argentenay, and another small town, not far away, bore the name Saint-Vilmé.
In 1653 M. d’Ailleboust was elected a syndic and a churchwarden of the parish of Quebec. In addition, by agreement with Jean-Paul Godefroy and Jean Bourdon, “he set up a fishing post at Percé, and sent a ship there with instructions to take to Saint-Christophe in the West Indies the catch made on the trip.”
We must be careful not to think that this “Associate of Montreal” ever lost interest in the Ville-Marie venture. He often stayed there and lodged in his house, built inside the surrounding wall of the fort. M. de Maisonneuve still remained the best friend he had in New France.
It was also under M. de Lauson’s administration that Louis d’Ailleboust was appointed director general of the trade in pelts in New France, “an office made particularly difficult by the opposing interests of the Grande compagnie and of the Compagnie des Habitants,” which was created in 1645.
In 1655 M. d’Ailleboust and his nephew Charles-Joseph accompanied M. de Maisonneuve to France. The purpose was to ensure, with the help of the Société Notre-Dame, the continued existence of the Ville-Marie settlement, and “the implementation of M. Olier’s plans concerning the spiritual side as well as the temporal side of the undertaking.” The founder of the Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice, who was then very ill, nevertheless received with joy the visit of his fellow Associates of Montreal. He promised to concern himself at once with the choice of four members of his company “to minister permanently to the île de Montréal.”
M. d’Ailleboust had to extend to nearly two years his stay in France, as did M. de Maisonneuve. A few weeks before d’Ailleboust embarked, the Compagnie des Cent-Associés handed letters patent to him, raising his Coulogne estate to a fief and castellany in recognition of his many services.
On 17 May 1657, at Saint-Nazaire, MM. de Maisonneuve and d’Ailleboust, as well as three Sulpicians under the leadership of Abbé Queylus [see Thubières], the first superior of Saint-Sulpice at Montreal, boarded the ship bound for Canada. The travellers, after a stormy crossing, landed on the Île d’Orléans, 29 July. In the middle of August the four Sulpicians, whom the Jesuits had kept as their guests for a few days in their residence, settled down at Ville-Marie.
Louis d’Ailleboust, who had followed his travelling companions to Montreal, returned to Quebec 12 September (JJ, 220), where he had been recalled by Charles de Lauson de Charny, then acting governor of New France. The latter, in a document signed 26 Aug. 1657 (RSCT, 3d ser., XXVI (1932), sect.I, 91), had handed over his powers to him pending the arrival in the country of the new governor, Pierre de Voyer* d’Argenson. Charles de Lauson, who had recently lost his wife, wished to become a priest and live in absolute reclusion. This meant asking of M. d’Ailleboust a very painful “act of devotion and abnegation,” for none knew better than that gentleman the terrible difficulties which he was once more going to face, without being able to produce the slightest remedy for them. M. d’Ailleboust resumed the onerous task of government. There was indeed a continual succession of official parleys, meetings of notables, Hurons, and Algonkins, all called into consultation. Then suddenly all diplomatic efforts ceased. News got through to Quebec of massacres going on far away, in the Iroquois villages, and even at Ville-Marie, while peace was being hypocritically discussed at Fort Saint-Louis. Fortunately it was possible to arrest and imprison the 50 Iroquois delegates then visiting Quebec; they were precious hostages against future acts of treachery.
On 13 March 1658 M. d’Ailleboust, in his capacity as governor, and accompanied by Abbé Vignal, laid the corner-stone of the “church of the Petit Cap” (today Sainte-Anne de Beaupré). Taking advantage of the occasion, M. d’Ailleboust decided to oversee himself the building of the redoubts that were going up by his orders on the Beaupré shore. For the Iroquois were talking more and more about massacring not only the Hurons and Algonkins – a sinister work already accomplished – but also all the settlers in New France.
Shortly before the ceremonies at the Petit Cap, M. d’Ailleboust had to reassure the Hurons of the Cord tribe, who continually feared that the governor, yielding to Iroquois pressure, would order them to go and live among the Iroquois; the latter solemnly promised to treat them like brothers. The governor therefore caused a small fort to be put up where Hurons and Algonkins could take refuge, under the protection of the guns of the Château Saint-Louis. This construction, “quadrangular in form, each side having a length of 150 feet,” was called “the little fort of the Hurons.”
On 11 July 1658 M. d’Ailleboust handed over the keys of the fort to d’Argenson, the new governor. A few weeks later, having been unable to get on with this high official, he left for Ville-Marie with his wife, Abbé Queylus, and some 60 settlers.
As soon as he arrived, M. de Maisonneuve urged him to fortify the “highest point” of the Saint-Louis height and to lay the foundations of the future citadel of Montreal.
He was obliged however to return to Quebec the following year. He wanted to be among the first to do homage to the first bishop of New France, François de Laval*, who landed at Quebec 16 June 1659. In September, M. d’Ailleboust was still staying in the capital, for we find him interceding in a private capacity, at the request of the bishop and of the governor, in order to settle a point of contention that was arising between them. The issue was the location of the seats in which these eminent personages sat at church. M. d’Ailleboust handled the affair very well, to the satisfaction of both parties.
Louis d’Ailleboust de Coulonge left no children. He was buried in the parish of Notre-Dame at Montreal on 1 June 1660, in the cemetery of the hospital that stood on the site of today’s Place d’Armes. His family’s coat of arms was “gules, chevron or between three estoiles of the second, two in chief, one in point.”
Official documents of the third governor of New France are distributed among AJM, AJQ, APQ, Archives du Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice de Montréal, and PAC. AHDQ possesses the Papiers d’Ailleboust, in addition to other rare documents. ASQ and AHDM also have valuable holdings.
Charlevoix, Histoire (Shea). Dollier de Casson, Histoire du Montréal. JR (Thwaites). JJ (Laverdière et Casgrain). Morin, Annales (Fauteux et al.). [Jean-Jacques Olier?], Les véritables motifs de messieurs et dames de la Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal pour la conversion des sauvages de la Nouvelle-France, éd. H.-A. Verreau (SHM Mémoires, IX (1880)). Ord. comm. (P.-G. Roy), I, 10–12.
E. R. Adair, “France and the beginnings of New France,” CHR, XXV (1944), 246–78. Aegidius Fauteux, La famille d’Aillebout (Montréal, 1917). Ernest Gagnon, Feuilles volantes et pages d’histoire (Québec, 1910). Amédée-E. Gosselin, “Notes et documents concernant les gouverneurs d’Ailleboust, de Lauzon et de Lauzon-Charny,” RSCT, 3d ser., XXVI (1932), sect.i, 83–96.
Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Montréal, CE601-S51, 1er juin 1660.