DEJORDY (Desjordy) DE VILLEBON, CHARLES-RENÉ (he signed Dejordy Villebon and sometimes Vilbon; the name Villebon came from his uncle, Joseph Robinau* de Villebon), military officer; b. at Îles Bouchard and baptized 12 June 1715 at Saint-Sulpice (Que.), son of François Desjordy* Moreau de Cabanac and Louise-Catherine Robinau de Bécancour; married Catherine Trottier Desrivières in Montreal (the marriage contract is dated 11 Feb. 1741); d. 15 Nov. 1761 in the shipwreck of the Auguste.
Charles-René Dejordy de Villebon joined the colonial regular troops as a cadet and in 1749 was promoted second ensign. He was sent as second in command to Baie-des-Puants (Green Bay, Wis.), with the mention “a very steady fellow”; he conducted himself there to everyone’s satisfaction from 1750 to 1754 or 1755, under the orders of Joseph Marin* de La Malgue. In 1756 he received the rank of ensign on the active list and in the course of that year took part in two expeditions against Chouaguen (Oswego), first with Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros* de Léry in the early spring, then with Montcalm in August.
After that we find him in the west as partner to Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Vérendrye in 1757 and commandant of the poste de l’Ouest from 1758 to 1760. He was the last of the commandants of that post, which consisted of eight establishments of varying importance situated in the region of Lac Ounipigon (Lake Winnipeg) and the Rivière Paskoya (Saskatchewan River). In 1756 the minister of Marine, Machault, had established in the west a state monopoly or the system of the highest bidder, which was already in effect in the less distant posts but was difficult to apply in the far west because of the distances. According to this system the post was put up for auction, and the state kept for itself the commerce in furs, which was entrusted to the commandant. Like his predecessor La Vérendrye, for three years Villebon had to pay 8,000 livres and three quarters of the revenues; he and his partners shared the remaining quarter.
While one Henri Janot, dit Bourguignon, served as his clerk at Fort Dauphin (Winnipegosis, Man.) and on the Paskoya, Villebon took up residence at Fort La Reine (Portage-la-Prairie) and carried out his role as best he could. Given the circumstances, there was no longer any question of making discoveries; it was wartime, and all that could be done was keep the Indians well occupied in the fur trade, the only means of maintaining peace in that region.
But how could business be carried on when trade goods were no longer arriving and everything was scarce throughout the colony? Consequently the furs took the route to Hudson Bay, all the more so since the employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company, such as Anthony Henday and Joseph Smith, were promoting this change during their voyages in the interior of the country. Urged on by the English – as was normal in time of war – the Indians destroyed the forts one after another. Fort des Prairies or Fort Saint-Louis (near Fort à la Corne, Sask.), the one farthest west, was the first to fall, in 1757. In the next few years the others were destroyed by the Indians or abandoned by the French. Only Fort Dauphin and Fort La Reine, the two main centres, were to remain, under new masters after 1760. They were first occupied by Villebon’s former employees or by coureurs de bois, then after the conquest by the British.
Villebon had been promoted lieutenant in 1759. A new appointment which was supposed to extend to 1762 or 1763 had apparently been given to him for the poste de l’Ouest, but in fact he returned to Montreal before the end of his term. He left the west with his belongings and a load of furs at the beginning of the summer of 1760. He could not reach his destination until the end of September or early October. As Montreal had capitulated on 8 September, he did not have the opportunity of taking up arms to defend his country. With Charles-René Dejordy de Villebon’s departure the poste de l’Ouest had ceased to exist.
On 26 Sept. 1761 Villebon was at Montreal, preparing to leave for France with his family. He perished with his sister, his wife, and his three children in the wreck of the Auguste on the coast of Cape Breton Island on 15 Nov. 1761. In the confusion which followed the conquest of Canada, Villebon was accused of having amassed money unlawfully through dealing in brandy or otherwise. On 10 Dec. 1763 the court of the Châtelet in Paris gave its decision concerning the dishonest acts committed in New France. Villebon was found “absent and contumacious.” At the date mentioned he had been dead for more than two years, which the court was not aware of, and proof of his guilt was never established. There is reason to believe that he was innocent and that, like many others, he was accused without any grounds; even if he had wanted to, he could not have found the trade goods, above all brandy, at a time when everything was in short supply in New France and only the powerful succeeded in getting any for themselves.
[G.-J. Chaussegros de Léry], “Les journaux de M. de Léry,” APQ Rapport, 1926–27, 334–48. “Journal de Marin, fils, 1753–1754,” Antoine Champagne, édit., AQ Rapport, 1960–61, 237–308. E.-J. Auclair, Les de Jordy de Cabanac, histoire d’une ancienne famille noble du Canada (Montréal, 1930). Champagne, Les La Vérendrye.