CHARTIER DE LOTBINIÈRE, MICHEL, Marquis de LOTBINIÈRE, officer in the colonial regular troops, military engineer, and seigneur; b. 23 April 1723 at Quebec, son of Eustache Chartier* de Lotbinière and Marie-Françoise Renaud d’Avène de Desmeloizes; m. 20 Nov. 1747 at Quebec Louise-Madeleine, daughter of Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros* de Léry, the king’s engineer; they had eight children, of whom a son and daughter reached adulthood; d. 14 Oct. 1798 in New York.
Michel Chartier de Lotbinière’s mother died at his birth, and he was also deprived of the presence of his father, who entered a religious order three years after his wife’s death. As a boy Michel attended the Jesuit college in Quebec, and then in adolescence joined the colonial regulars as a cadet, thus breaking with the family tradition of winning fame on the bench. Commissioned second ensign in 1744, he served in the Acadian campaign of 1746–47 under Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay, and during this baptism of fire earned a reputation as a capable and courageous officer. In 1749 the commandant general of New France, Roland-Michel Barrin* de La Galissonière, appointed him ensign and entrusted him with a reconnaissance mission in the west to gather information of strategic and scientific interest in the region between Montreal and Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.).
After his return to France, La Galissonière sent for his protégé in 1750 so that he could take training there as an engineer and artillery officer in the colonial regulars. Three years later Chartier de Lotbinière returned to Canada with the title of king’s engineer and the rank of lieutenant. He worked under his father-in-law on the rebuilding of Quebec’s ramparts. In 1755 Governor Vaudreuil [Rigaud], his cousin, put him in charge of building Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga, N.Y.). Although promoted captain in 1757, he was refused the post of chief engineer in New France which he had asked for after his father-in-law’s death in March 1756; the court chose instead to appoint Nicolas Sarrebource* Maladre de Pontleroy, an engineer in the French regulars. Pontleroy’s arrival marked the beginning of a series of disappointments for Chartier de Lotbinière: the chief engineer and his friends not only hindered his work at Carillon, but also sent reports to Paris accusing him of incompetence and malversations. From then on, for more than 20 years, Chartier de Lotbinière had no credibility with the ministry of Marine, and the court of France accorded him no further reward or honour. On the other hand, in 1758 Vaudreuil granted him the seigneury of Alainville, southwest of Lake Champlain.
From Montcalm*’s successful defence of Carillon in 1758 until the British capture of Quebec in 1759, Chartier de Lotbinière stayed in the region of the capital, where the governor employed him to build defence works. He took part in the campaign of September 1759 as Vaudreuil’s aide-de-camp. In the spring of 1760 he was put in charge of fortifying Île aux Noix to stop the enemy’s advance from the south, but he had to abandon this post to Brigadier-General William Haviland’s troops and fall back on Montreal. After the capitulation he went to France with his son, Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain*, leaving his wife and his daughter, Marie-Charlotte, in Canada.
The conquest, which had altered the circumstances of life for Canadians, had particularly affected the group of seigneurs whose career was the army. Each member of this minor nobility of the sword had to adapt to prevailing conditions: Chartier de Lotbinière stood out through the originality, if not the success, of his attempts to adjust to the new situation. Having met with nothing but disappointment in France, where he had tried to resume his military career, he turned his hopes to his native land again. He decided to become a large landowner, and he purchased seigneuries: Vaudreuil, Rigaud, and Saint-François-de-la-Nouvelle-Beauce, which had belonged to Vaudreuil; Villechauve, which had been held by Charles de Beauharnois*; and, on the southeast shore of Lake Champlain, Hocquart, which had been granted to the former intendant and bore his name. These transactions completed, he went to London on his way to Canada and there learned that his two seigneuries on Lake Champlain, Alainville and Hocquart, which since the Royal Proclamation of 7 Oct. 1763 had been within the boundaries of New York, were in danger of being occupied by neighbouring settlers. He therefore prolonged his stay in the British capital to get his ownership of them recognized by the Board of Trade, but a year of representations resulted in only a vague promise, which Chartier de Lotbinière took to be a guarantee.
From 1764 to 1770 the new owner applied himself to developing his seigneury of Vaudreuil and had his family home, a mill, and the church of Saint-Michel (which is still standing) built there. Since his income was insufficient to meet his obligations, particularly those he had contracted with the Vaudreuils, he was forced in 1770 to sell his son the seigneury of Lotbinière, which he had inherited from his father, and then in 1771 to make over to him the seigneuries of Rigaud, Vaudreuil, and Saint-François-de-la-Nouvelle-Beauce; he kept only Villechauve, which was also mortgaged. In addition, despite numerous representations made to the governor of New York on the basis of London’s promise, he was unable to recover his two seigneuries on Lake Champlain. In December 1771 he decided to return to London to plead his cause a second time. In its decision of February 1776 the Board of Trade rejected his claims to the Alainville lands and offered him as compensation for the seigneury of Hocquart a grant of equal size in the province of Quebec. Chartier de Lotbinière refused this compromise, left Great Britain, and decided to be a British subject no longer. He was all the more embittered since he had already suffered a severe setback in 1774, when he opposed Governor Guy Carleton*’s plans and put himself forward as the spokesman for the Canadian seigneurs, despite the fact that the latter gave him little support. When invited to express his views before the House of Commons committee responsible for studying the Quebec Bill, he had suggested the creation of a house of assembly made up of all the large landowners, whether new or old subjects, Catholic or Protestant, in order to re-establish the predominance of the seigneurial class, which the governor had reduced to subordinate rank. He had also pleaded for the maintenance of French civil and criminal laws and the use of French in public matters. The adoption of the bill put an end to his political ambitions in Canada and convinced him of the despotic nature of the régime.
Chartier de Lotbinière then turned to France; there, on the advice of his former superior officer the Chevalier de Lévis, he offered his services to the Comte de Vergennes, minister of Foreign Affairs, who entrusted him with an unofficial mission as an observer. Chartier de Lotbinière left France in June 1776 and arrived in Massachusetts in November. He immediately wrote to the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, introducing himself as Vergennes’s unofficial envoy, even though the minister had expressly forbidden him to use the French government as a reference. He spent some six months in Boston, where his agitating incurred him the animosity of many citizens. In reality, though he wished France to intervene in America, it was out of personal interest rather than sympathy for the rebels’ cause, which left him lukewarm despite what he said in his letters to his son, a prisoner of the Americans since November 1775. He thought France should take advantage of the conflict to regain possession of her former colony, in which case he would be able to re-establish himself in his properties and enjoy the good graces of the state. He returned to France in August 1777 to make his report, but the minister did not deem it advisable to entrust other missions to him. Nevertheless, Chartier de Lotbinière still clung to his hopes of reconquest as late as 1782, when he sent Vergennes a memoir advocating it. The treaty of Versailles in 1783 deprived him, however, of any hope of returning to Canada.
Chartier de Lotbinière remained for about ten years in France, trying to improve his situation. With Lévis’s support he re-established his reputation, which had been tarnished by Pontleroy’s accusations, and then obtained the cross of the order of Saint-Louis, a pension of 600 livres which was increased to 1,200 in 1781, and finally a marquisate in 1784 for the sacrifices he had made by allying himself with the French cause in 1776.
In 1787 the indefatigable Chartier de Lotbinière again crossed the Atlantic to try once more to recover his seigneuries of Alainville and Hocquart from the American states, but two years of effort proved futile. Furthermore, when upon his arrival in New York he had tried to obtain permission to go to his own country, Lord Dorchester categorically refused. In October 1790, however, he crossed the border quite straightforwardly and unhindered, in the company of his son, who was Lord Dorchester’s confidential agent. After 19 years’ absence he revisited his family and his seigneury of Villechauve. But the euphoria of the reunion was short-lived, and he took the road to exile again after selling Villechauve to Alexander Ellice* on 30 July 1795. To receive her share from the sale, Mme Chartier de Lotbinière asked for and obtained a property separation in June 1796.
Embittered and at odds with his family, Chartier de Lotbinière, who had set himself apart from the other seigneurs by the bold stance he had adopted against Governor Carleton, ended his days alone in New York. He died of yellow fever in October 1798, at the age of 75.
[The sources for a biography of Michel Chartier de Lotbinière are extensive: a rough estimate of the manuscript material is some 2,000 folios. Serious biographers will be frustrated by gaps in the diaries and personal correspondence, because enough of these sources exist to provide a tantalizing, beclouded image of the private man without revealing more about his relations with the wife, son, and daughter from whom he was separated for more than 25 years. The Lotbinière papers are scattered among repositories in Quebec, New York, and elsewhere, but fortunately have been copied and consolidated at the PAC and to some extent at the ANQ-Q. s.n.-m. and f.j.t.]
Some of Lotbinière’s letters have been published in the BRH: “Lettre du marquis de Lotbinière à John Hancock, président du Congrès,” XLIX (1943), 114–15; “Lettre du marquis de Lotbinière à son fils,” 190–92; “Lettre du marquis de Lotbinière au président du Congrès,” LIV (1948), 115–18.
AMA, SHA, A1, 3498, no. 175; 3499, nos.31, 83, 156. AN, Col., B, 96, ff.96, 179; 105, f.181; C11A, 91, f.214; 101, ff.333, 335; D1, 10, f.59; D2C, 48, f.268; E, 75 (dossier Chartier de Lotbinière). ANQ-Q, AP-G–229, E.-G.-M.-A. de Lotbinière à Nicolas Renaud d’Avène Des Méloizes, 24 oct. 1803; Greffe de C.-H. Du Laurent, 15 nov. 1747. Archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères (Paris), Corr. politique, Angleterre, 508, ff.49–54v; 516, ff.247–48v; 519, ff.440–46; États-Unis, 1, ff.96–98, 107–8, 255–56; Mémoires et doc., Angleterre, 47, ff.283–308v, 327, 339–40. ASQ, Polygraphie, XXX, 30; Séminaire, 14/7, nos.18a, 18d. N.Y. Hist. Soc. (New York), Canada-Lotbinière, mss, Correspondence, 1746–90; Journals, reports, miscellaneous papers. PAC, MG 18, K3. Private archives, Henry de Lotbinière-Harwood (Vaudreuil, Qué.), Acte de cession des seigneuries de Vaudreuil et de Rigaud, 14 sept. 1771. PRO, CO 42/1, f.139. American archives (Clarke and Force), 5th ser., III, 642–46, 1079–80, 1412–15, 1564. “Au sujet de la famille de Lotbinière,” BRH, XXXIII (1927), 392, 395–96. Coll. des manuscrits de Lévis (Casgrain), II, 66–72; VI, 38–41; VII, 409; IX, 7–8, 19–21. Docs. relating to constitutional history, 1759–91 (Shortt and Doughty; 1918), I, 532. Inv. des papiers de Léry (P.-G. Roy), II, 117–32. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), VII, 320–21, 642–43; VIII, 577–79, 669–70; X, 746, 769. Brunet, Les Canadiens après la Conquête, 240–42. Sylvette Nicolini-Maschino, “Michel Chartier de Lotbinière: l’action et la pensée d’un Canadien du 18e siècle” (thèse de phd, université de Montréal, 1978). L.-L. Paradis, Les annales de Lotbinière, 1672–1933 (Québec, 1933). Marcel Trudel, Louis XVI, le Congrès américain et le Canada, 1774–1789 (Québec, ), 15, 118. E. [M.] Arthur, “French Canadian participation in the government of Canada, 1775–1785,” CHR, XXXII (1951), 304, 306. C.-A. de Lotbinière-Harwood, “L’honorable M. E.-G.-A. Chartier de Lotbinière,” BRH, XL (1934), 73. R.-L. Séguin, “La persévérance d’un Canadien en quête d’une croix de Saint-Louis,” RHAF, IX (1955–56), 361–75.