ALEYRAC, JEAN-BAPTISTE D’, officer in the French regular army; b. 2 April 1737 in Saint-Pierreville (dept of Ardèche), France, son of Noé d’Aleyrac and Jeanne-Marie Vernhes; d. 1796 in France.
Jean-Baptiste d’Aleyrac was a provincial nobleman from a military family. In 1754 he enlisted as a volunteer in the Régiment de Languedoc and in May of the following year sailed to Canada as a lieutenant. In September he served in the battle of Lac Saint-Sacrement (Lake George, N.Y.). His leadership of a detachment there was later praised by Lévis because, unlike some of his fellow officers, he did not sound a false alarm when harassed by the British. He then saw action at Fort William Henry (also called Fort George; now Lake George, N.Y.) in August 1757 and at Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga, N.Y.) in July 1758. During the winter of 1758–59 he was in command at Bécancour (Que.), where one of his duties was to maintain good relations between the regulars and the local Canadians and Abenakis. He succeeded so well that the Abenakis adopted him and gave him the name Soleil.
By July 1759 d’Aleyrac had come to join the defence of Quebec, and in that month he fought in the battle of Montmorency. Wounded in August while on guard duty at Quebec, he was still able to participate in the battle on the Plains of Abraham on 13 September. In April 1760 he was at the battle of Sainte-Foy. He is credited with saving Lévis’s life in a skirmish before the battle by holding off a party of 100 British with his command of 28 grenadiers. He was present at the capitulation of Montreal on 8 September and shortly afterwards returned to France.
D’Aleyrac, who was later described as “young and hare-brained,” was thought to be somewhat hasty by his superior officers. Montcalm* called him “hot-headed” but thought he had winning ways and the potential to be a good officer. He appears to have served with some distinction during the campaigns of 1759, for he received both a promotion to grenadier lieutenant and a gratuity from Montcalm of 200 livres.
D’Aleyrac is of particular interest for the memoirs of his experiences in Canada written in the last years of his life. He had a more positive attitude towards the Canadians and Indians than many of his fellow officers [see Pierre-André Gohin]. The Canadians he found to be healthy and tall, expert hunters and builders, and possessed of an excellent French and cuisine. Appreciative of the Indians’ courage and honesty, he found their independence remarkable. He admitted that they tortured some of their prisoners but pointed out that they adopted most. Judging from d’Aleyrac’s memoirs, he appears to have been good natured and to have adapted easily to the new world. His few criticisms were charitable, and his one complaint echoes that of many subsequent historians: the court nobility got all the honours and high commands, although the provincial noblemen did all the work and were the more meritorious.
One of the incidents d’Aleyrac relates in his memoirs concerns the night of 12–13 Sept. 1759 and Wolfe*’s approach on Quebec. He writes that he heard boats rowing back and forth and reported the fact to his superior, Captain Charles-François Auger de Marillac, who did not, however, consider the news important enough to transmit to higher authority. D’Aleyrac thought that in the ensuing battle on the Plains of Abraham Marillac let himself be killed out of shame. D’Aleyrac is the sole source for this incident, and one can only note in connection with it that he seems generally to have been fair minded and not given to bragging.
After his return to France d’Aleyrac served between 1765 and 1768 in the campaign in Corsica. He was promoted captain in 1768 and grenadier captain in 1781. The following year he received the cross of Saint-Louis. He apparently accepted the French revolution and was approved of by the government, for he was made lieutenant-colonel in 1792. Ill health forced him to retire the next year and he died in 1796 without issue.
AD, Ardèche (Privas), État civil, Saint-Pierreville, 3 avril 1737. AMA, SHA, Yb, 121–22 (copies at PAC). La Chesnaye-Desbois et Badier, Dict. de la noblesse. Claude de Bonnault, “Les aventures de M. d’Aleyrac,” BRH, XLIV (1938), 52–58. Armand Yon, “La ‘dolce vita’ en Nouvelle-France à la veille de la guerre (1740–1758), ” Cahiers des Dix, 37 (1972), 168–70.