DES HERBIERS DE LA RALIÈRE (La Ratière), CHARLES, naval officer; b. c. 1700, only son of Armand Des Herbiers of Poitou, France; d. 18 April 1752.
Charles Des Herbiers was born into a prominent family of naval officers. After the death in 1710 of his father, a naval captain, he was raised and tutored by his uncle Henri-François Des Herbiers de L’Étenduère, a rear-admiral who had himself been raised from the age of ten by Charles’s father. Charles became a midshipman in 1716; his first assignment at sea was in 1719 on the Chameau. He later made several voyages to New France on ships commanded by his uncle, including missions to map the area around Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) and to survey, sound, and chart the St Lawrence River. Charles was made sub-lieutenant in the navy in 1727 and lieutenant-commander in 1738. Following both promotions, in 1728–29 and in 1738–39, he was posted with the colonial regular troops at Port-Louis, France; on the second occasion he had charge of a company. He received the cross of Saint-Louis in 1742, and from that year to 1745, during the War of the Austrian Succession, commanded the artillery of the Marine in Flanders. He carried out this assignment “with distinction” and in 1748 was promoted naval captain. When Île Royale was returned to France by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), Des Herbiers, “one of the most capable officers,” was chosen as king’s commissioner to reoccupy the colony.
He sailed from Rochefort in May 1749 with the first of several warships and transports carrying soldiers, provisions, and inhabitants for the colony. He reached Louisbourg on 29 June and immediately entered into negotiations with the commander, Peregrine Thomas Hopson, for the removal of the British garrison. The formalities were concluded on 23 July 1749, and Des Herbiers remained as commandant of the colony. As instructed, he provided some of his own ships to help transport the British garrison to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
French policy toward the colony of Île Royale – made up of that island and Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) – was concerned primarily with its resettlement and its development as a base from which to protect the lucrative cod-fishery, guard the gulf of the St Lawrence, and check British power in Nova Scotia. The appointment of senior officers, such as the engineer Louis Franquet, and the assignment of regular troops and more warships to reinforce the garrison, indicate France’s concern with the colony’s strategic importance.
Des Herbiers was active in reviving the colony. After the original inhabitants had been resettled, he had unclaimed properties surveyed in order to award them to new occupants. He began the repair of the fortifications and buildings in Louisbourg, which were in a ruinous condition as a result of the siege of 1745. Despite a scarcity of boats he re-established both the fishing industry and trade with other North American colonies, including New England, and furthered large-scale mining of the island’s enormous coal deposits. He also suppressed the troublesome officers’ canteens and improved the condition of the artillery.
The new commandant was actively engaged in affairs beyond Louisbourg. Immediately after his arrival he sent a garrison under Claude-Élisabeth Denys de Bonnaventure to Port-La-Joie (Fort Amherst, P.E.I.); less than a month later he began to settle refugee Acadians in the ports around Île Royale and Île Saint-Jean. Under the protection of the garrison, the population of Île Saint-Jean grew from some 735 in 1749 to more than 2,200 in 1752. Des Herbiers provisioned the refugees – 3,000 throughout the colony by 1751 – and offered them every possible assistance in leaving British territory. In accordance with his instructions to resist British encroachments by all means short of force, he gave clandestine support to Pierre Maillard and Jean-Louis Le Loutre*, encouraging the latter to menace the new settlements around Halifax.
Des Herbiers was in communication with La Jonquière [Taffanel] in Quebec over mutual support for the French outposts under Charles Deschamps* de Boishébert on the Saint John River and under Louis de La Corne at Fort Beauséjour (near Sackville, N.B.) and Pierre-Roch de Saint-Ours Deschaillons at Fort Gaspereau (near Port Elgin, N.B.). He was also in close contact with these local commanders, sending troops to reinforce Fort Beauséjour and ships to guard the passage to Île Saint-Jean at Baie-Verte. The attention given these political and strategic pressure points by the administrations of Quebec and Île Royale – and their willingness to exploit vague boundaries and allegiances while dissimulating to the British their intentions – exacerbated international antagonisms and roused the Duke of Newcastle to complain about “the wild French governors in America.”
Although Des Herbiers had orders to avoid compromising the government in any way by his dealings with the British, he was not one to avoid a confrontation. In 1750, off Cape Sable, the British seized two French ships carrying supplies to the outposts of the Saint John River on charges that they were smuggling goods to Nova Scotia. In response the king instructed Des Herbiers to order his naval commanders to seize the first English frigate they met, and La Jonquière directed him to confiscate three or four of the next English ships into Louisbourg, adding that his captains should act, if necessary, as though a state of war existed. Des Herbiers seized four ships, reporting that he had done so “with regret,” since they had brought necessary cargoes at the request of the French.
The court was well pleased with Des Herbiers’s conduct as commissioner but he asked repeatedly to be relieved of his duties as commandant, which he had accepted only with reluctance. In 1751 he was replaced by Jean-Louis de Raymond*; Des Herbiers reached France in October and died six months later. In 1740 he had married Marie-Olive, daughter of his uncle Henri-François. They had four sons; two died at an early age but Antoine-Auguste succeeded to the title of Marquis de L’Étenduère.
AN, Col., B, 89–93; C11B, 27–31; D2C, 2–3; Marine, C1, 153/1, p.325 (PAC transcript); C7, 85 (dossiers Des Herbiers, Des Herbiers de L’Étenduère). PAC, MG 30, D62, 10, pp.606–9. Placide Gaudet, “Acadian genealogy and notes,” PAC Report, 1905, II, pt.iii, 281–356. Fauteux, Les chevaliers de Saint-Louis, 213. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, I, 504–5. Clark, Acadia. Frégault, Canada: the war of the conquest. McLennan, Louisbourg. MacNutt, Atlantic provinces. Stanley, New France. Régis Roy, “Les Desherbiers de l’Étenduère,” BRH, XXIII (1917), 93–94.