DENYS DE BONNAVENTURE (Bonaventure), CLAUDE-ÉLISABETH (he signed both Denys de Bonnaventure and Denis de Bonnaventure), officer in the colonial regular troops; b. 22 June 1701 at La Rochelle, France, son of Simon-Pierre Denys* de Bonaventure and Jeanne Jannière; m. 25 Nov. 1748 at Quebec his cousin Louise, daughter of Louis Denys de La Ronde and Louise Chartier de Lotbinière; d. May 1760 at Rochefort, France.
Commissioned an ensign at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) on 2 July 1720, Claude-Elisabeth Denys de Bonnaventure was almost immediately posted to the garrison at Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island), commanded by his uncle, Louis Denys de La Ronde. Its function was to protect the colonists sent there by the Comte de Saint-Pierre, who had been granted the island and its fisheries in 1719. But by 1724 the colonization venture had failed, and Bonnaventure returned to Île Royale that year.
For several years his career in Louisbourg was uneventful. Like many officers he acquired land in the town; on 20 March 1730 he was promoted lieutenant. When in late 1733 the colony ran short of supplies – a not infrequent occurrence, for Île Royale was never self-sufficient – Bonnaventure and Michel de Gannes de Falaise were dispatched in two ships to seek supplies at New York. But bad weather on the return journey forced Bonnaventure to Martinique where he sold his cargo and, apparently, contracted a malady which later plagued him. On 1 April 1737, some years after his return to Louisbourg, he was promoted assistant garrison adjutant with a captain’s commission. Illness prevented him from carrying out his heavy duties and he was eventually relieved of the appointment. On 1 April 1738 he assumed formal command of his own company.
Shortly after the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in North America in 1744, the governor of Île Royale, Jean-Baptiste-Louis Le Prévost Duquesnel, vigorously attacked the English in Acadia, sending François Du Pont* Duvivier first on a successful mission against Canso, and later against Annapolis Royal. The second venture was to be undertaken by a combined land and sea force, the latter under Bonnaventure’s command. When his three ships arrived at Annapolis Royal on 25 October, however, Bonnaventure discovered that Duvivier, at de Gannes’s instigation, had withdrawn his troops, dispersed his Micmac allies, and returned to Louisbourg – despite the weak, almost mutinous condition of the English garrison. Although unable to mount a land attack, Bonnaventure had some success at sea, capturing two New England ships. This partial success was short-lived; eight months later, when Louisbourg fell to the New England militia, it was Bonnaventure who delivered the documents of capitulation to William Pepperrell.
After his repatriation to France, Bonnaventure busied himself with plans to secure naval assistance for Canada, but these were rejected by Maurepas, the minister of Marine. As the war drew to a close Bonnaventure was appointed, on 7 Feb. 1748, acting major of the Île Royale companies in Canada. In the same month he received the cross of Saint-Louis. It is not known when he reached Canada, nor – aside from his marriage at Quebec – what happened to him there. Île Royale was restored to France in 1748 and Bonnaventure and his wife moved there the following year. In August he was designated acting major and commandant of Île Saint-Jean, perhaps the most demanding appointment of his career.
Before the war Île Saint-Jean had not received particular attention from France, but Britain’s expanding presence in Nova Scotia, heralded by the founding of Halifax, gave the island a new importance in French policy. The Acadians were encouraged to take up farms there, for the successful colonization of the island would end Louisbourg’s dependence on European and New England food sources. To encourage migration France promised the prospective immigrants free equipment and supplies, provided transport to the island, and played upon the Acadians’ fear of losing their religion under British rule.
Bonnaventure had expected to be at Île Saint-Jean only temporarily, but he was promoted full major commanding on 1 April 1751 after Duvivier, nominated king’s lieutenant for the island the previous year, was discovered in Paris in the compromising company of the English commissioners to the Boundaries Disputes Commission. The settlement of the island and the organization of its agriculture were difficult tasks. The French government gave little direction and only limited financial encouragement to the colony; the land system was unsuited to the island and to the agricultural methods of the Acadians who were expected to live there. From the beginning, moreover, the crops were afflicted with insects and blight and there were frequent shortages of food and supplies. It is not surprising that the Acadians showed slight interest in settling on the island. “There was little to choose,” they said, “between starving at home or on Île Saint-Jean.” Weighed down by his responsibilities and in ill health, Bonnaventure constantly asked to be relieved of his duties, but not until 1754 did Gabriel Rousseau* de Villejouin replace him.
On 1 April 1754 Bonnaventure was made king’s lieutenant at Louisbourg. In this office he was officially second in command and would normally replace the governor in the governor’s absence. But because of his physical incapacities and his inexperience in warfare, in August 1755 he was relieved of this particular responsibility of office, should it occur in war time. He retained the usual day to day functions of the position.
He continued thus, complaining of his poor pay and poor health, until the fall of Louisbourg in 1758. On his return to France he was made inspector of the colonial troops at Rochefort but, weakened by war wounds and general ill health, he died there in the spring of 1760.
AN, Col., B, 54, ff.503–3v; 59, ff.530–32, 547; 61, ff.605v–6v; 63, ff.541–41v; 64, f.473; 82, f.127; 87, p.196; 88/2, p.280; 91, pp.180, 361ff.; 92/2, p.480; 93, pp.200, 235; 94, p.91; 95, pp.250, 302, f.380v; 99, p.221, f.249; 108/2, p.587; C11A, 93, p.313; 96, p.3; C11B, 6, ff.76–95; 7, ff.73, 78–78v; 8, ff.78–93; 14, f.187; 15, ff.43, 187–87v; 18, ff.26, 52v, 69, 384; 19, f.10v; 20, f.317v; 25, ff.43–45; 26, ff.79–88; 28, ff.10–13v, 156; 30, pp.13, 17, 21, 23, 31, 35, 40, ff.13–13v, 294–301v; 33, f.95; 34, ff.18–19v; 35, ff.139–40, 345; 36, ff.49–50v, 77; 37, ff.40, 44; 38, ff.88, 92v–93, 245v; C11C, 16, pièces 26, 35 (2e sér.); D2C, 2, p.64; 3, pp.43, 66; 47; 48; 60, ff.14v, 121v; 61, f.83; 222; Section Outre-Mer, G1, 408, p.6; 411 (paginated references are to PAC transcripts). PAC, MG 18, H13. Fauteux, Les chevaliers de Saint-Louis. Archange Godbout et R.-J. Auger, “Familles venues de La Rochelle en Canada,” ANQ Rapport, 1970, 113–377. Casgrain, Une seconde Acadie. Harvey, French régime in P.E.I.