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PAQUETTE, WILFRID – Volume XIV (1911-1920)

d. 25 May 1917 in Montreal


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FRANQUET, LOUIS, army officer, military engineer; baptized 11 June 1697 at Condé (Condé-sur-l’Escaut, dept. of Nord), France, son of Jean-Baptiste Franquet and Marie-Marguerite de Romby; d. 12 April 1768 at Condé.

Louis Franquet was commissioned in the army at the age of 12, and from 1709 to 1720 he served in the infantry regiments of Franclieu, Miroménil, and Piémont. In 1720 he was admitted into the engineer corps, serving in it with distinction in Europe for the next 30 years. After participating in the Italian campaigns of the War of the Polish Succession from 1733 to 1736, he was made chief engineer at Condé in 1738. Three years later he was awarded the cross of Saint-Louis, and from 1742 to 1748 he took part in campaigns of the War of the Austrian Succession in Germany and the Netherlands. Promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1747, he was wounded the same year at the siege of Bergen op Zoom. In 1750, when he was chief engineer at Saint-Omer, the director of the Bureau of Fortifications, Noël de Régemortes, asked him to go to Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) to examine the defences of the colony and recommend the works necessary to put Louisbourg and other places in a state of readiness against attack. He was then almost 53 years of age.

Although Franquet came out that year aboard the Mutine on the understanding he would observe, report, and then return to his duties in France, he actually remained for eight years. Arriving at Louisbourg on 9 Aug. 1750, Franquet examined buildings and fortifications; prepared maps, plans, and sections; and undertook experiments to determine the causes of structural deterioration. He began sending preliminary reports to France in October. In 1751 he toured the remainder of Île Royale, as well as Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island), and Baie-Verte and Fort Beauséjour (N.B.); completed many plans and detailed reports on the Louisbourg fortifications; and recommended required works. In the same year he was promoted colonel. In 1752 and 1753, his original assignment modified, he toured Canada in summer and winter, examining fortifications and buildings in Quebec, Trois-Rivières, Montreal, and other towns and forts, and, incidentally, observing virtually every facet of Canadian life. He sailed for France in the autumn of 1753, and returned to Louisbourg the following spring, not as commandant as he had requested, but with the rank of army brigadier, the title of director of fortifications for the whole of New France, and a special pension for his services in the colony.

The next four years were spent in preparing for the expected British attack on Louisbourg: sending plans to France for approval, repairing and rebuilding the fortifications, housing the battalions of regular troops dispatched from France to strengthen the garrison, and directing the work of the various engineers who were sent to assist him. Until 1753, Franquet had the services of Pierre-Jérôme Boucher, whose death that year was a great loss to him. In 1752 the court had sent him de Breçon, a member of the engineer corps with little experience but with some influence in high places. He and the sons who assisted him returned to France in 1754, leaving behind them an impression of mediocrity. Two able and experienced officers came out in 1755: François-Claude-Victor Grillot de Poilly and Nicolas Sarrebource* de Pontleroy. In 1757, on Franquet’s recommendation, the latter succeeded Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry as chief engineer for Canada and left Louisbourg in September of that year. The former remained with Franquet until the surrender of Louisbourg in 1758, along with Michel de Couagne* (son of Jean-Baptiste de Couagne*) and two other engineers.

The most important of Franquet’s responsibilities was the defence of Louisbourg. It is not easy to assess the value of the measures he recommended and undertook, since the issue was decided finally, not by the classic defence of permanent fortifications in the European manner, but by naval power. Jean-Louis de Raymond*, governor of Île Royale from 1751 to 1753, favoured a large number of coastal redoubts. It is curious that a career officer of the regular army with no colonial experience should have advocated great reliance upon field works, which were more common in North America than permanent masonry structures, but Raymond feared a British landing might come at any convenient point on the island and he wished to meet it where it occurred, keeping the enemy away from the fortress as long as possible. Franquet vigorously opposed the scheme as an undesirable dispersal of funds, labour, and military force. He insisted on strengthening the fortress (with some field works nearby), and it was his views which prevailed. Raymond, after his recall, continued to “lobby” at court, but to no avail. It is distinctly possible, however, that some modified form of his proposal would have favoured the French defence more than Franquet’s did, and at less cost.

Franquet has been accused by J. S. McLennan* of lethargy in construction before 1755. But it had little to do with his failure to accomplish much actual work. Only in 1754 did the court decide not to let a construction contract but to conduct work through its own officers. Franquet had been travelling since 1751 and until 1755 he faced a shortage of competent assistance. The illness cited by McLennan for this period is one which afflicted the engineer in 1758, not necessarily earlier. Certainly the British blockades from 1755 on provided an added spur to activity, but about 108,500 livres had already been spent in 1754 on construction, compared to only 38,000 in the previous year. In 1755 the court approved 120,000 livres for fortifications. It sent two battalions of regulars, who were available to Franquet as labour, but left to him the task of housing them. Officers expected the sort of barrack furniture they had had in France; battalion commanders were to have houses. For months Franquet tried to satisfy the demands of these officers, who had been promised “they would lack nothing.” He provided them with over 8,000 livres’ worth of furnishings but they constantly clamoured for more and their relations with Franquet deteriorated. These problems diverted attention from the fortifications, with the result that emergency work, such as gun-platforms, took priority over new construction of permanent features. Nevertheless, Machault, the minister of Marine, was satisfied with the work done in 1755. In 1756 about 267,000 livres were devoted to construction; in 1757, some 207,000. Repairs and alterations were effected to most parts of the fortifications and virtually every public building. It is worth noting that when the British besieged Louisbourg in 1758, the defenders were starved into submission before the fortress was taken, in spite of the breaches in the walls.

Franquet expected in November 1757 that the British attack would come the following spring. His requests for reinforcements were only partially filled. He and his engineers had devoted much of their time and resources to the field defences designed to repel landings. To the east and west of Louisbourg, along the coast, batteries and trenches were built: at Pointe à la Croix (Lighthouse Point), at Anse à Gautier (Landing Cove), at Anse du Grand Lorembec (Big Lorraine), at Pointe Platte (Simon Point), and at Anse de la Cormorandière (Kennington Cove). These fieldworks were not especially effective in delaying the British advance in 1758, but the fault was not so much in their construction as in the conduct of the defence. When the siege was upon him, Franquet’s health was “upset by scurvy and a threat of dropsy accompanied by double tertian ague, for more than two months. . . .” His legs were so swollen that he could hardly move; however, he wrote, “I go . . . with every alert to the covert-way and on the rampart, and I direct the engineers from my room, on all the works devised every day for the defence of the place.” According to others, the illness was more debilitating than Franquet allowed. As Grillot de Poilly wrote, “the chief engineer was a man of war, loving good (all his actions were directed to that end), a gentleman and a good citizen; but unfortunately an illness which undermined his health had so weakened the body that the spirit of the man was lost, he only had moments.”

The state of the Louisbourg defences was such by 24 July 1758 that some officers favoured an honourable surrender. Others were for resistance to the end. The fortifications were inspected that day by the governor, Drucour [Boschenry], Franquet, and Mathieu-Henri Marchant de La Houlière, the commander of the land forces. Franquet alone refused to consider that the breaching of the walls had reached a stage where a full-scale assault was possible. In a report to the governor the following day he insisted that the covered way must be taken before there should be any surrender and, following his advice, Drucour decided on continued resistance. By the evening of the 25th, however, a breach in the covered way had been made, and the effectiveness of the fortifications continued to deteriorate. At a council of war on the 26th, therefore, it was decided to ask the British for terms. The harshness of Jeffery Amherst*’s demands – that the garrison should surrender without the honours of war – persuaded the council to fight on. But after an impassioned appeal by the financial commissary, Jacques Prévost* de La Croix, on behalf of the bombarded and starved civilian population, Drucour decided to surrender. Angry officers said resistance should have been continued to the end, once it had been decided not to seek a conditional surrender on the 24th. Some of them blamed Franquet, because it had been his views that had forestalled the earlier settlement on more honourable terms. Franquet replied that he had followed the directives of the court in constant cooperation with Drucour, and that whenever he had gained respite from his painful ailments he had studied the problems and offered the governor his advice.

Returning to France in October, Franquet appears to have remained on the payroll of the engineer corps at least for another two years, but not to have been very active during that time. He was concerned that criticisms of his work, particularly by Jean Mascle de Saint-Julhien, lieutenant-colonel in the Régiment d’Artois at Louisbourg, might have damaged his reputation at court. In 1759 he appealed for the continuance of a pension of 1,500 livres paid him since 1754 by the ministry of Marine, pointing out that his zeal in its service, as well as in that of the war ministry, had always exceeded the normal call of duty, in spite of what his “enemies” had been saying. In 1761 he was still justifying his conduct in the siege of Louisbourg. It is likely that he lived in retirement at the family home in Condé until his death at the age of 70.

Franquet is remembered today chiefly for his reports of 1751, 1752, and 1753, his many maps and plans, and his contribution to the building of the original Louisbourg. Valuable also are his frequent letters to Régemortes, in whom he confided a great deal, and his accounts of the second siege of Louisbourg. The reports have been published: on his travels of 1751 in the Gulf of St Lawrence region (1924) and on his tour of Canada during 1752 and 1753 (1889). Franquet was an astute observer not only of fortifications but also of economic conditions, natural resources, demography, and human character. His writings serve as a useful introduction to Canadian society in the 1750s. They are so voluminous that only a few of his observations can be mentioned here.

Franquet believed that Île Saint-Jean and Canada were capable of much greater agricultural productivity. The soil was fertile and some areas had been occupied for almost 150 years. Settlement on agricultural land must be stimulated by greater government incentives; dishonest marketing practices must be eradicated by strict government controls; prices must be regulated; accurate records of yield and productivity must be kept at the parish level; the government must in good years withhold emergency stocks of grain for the years of famine.

He thought the Saint-Maurice ironworks, where he said the iron was superior in quality to that of Spain (one of France’s chief suppliers), required an experienced specialist from France as director. He also recommended improved accounting practices. In his own field of construction, Franquet sought to bring to Louisbourg Flemish brickmakers and limeburners who would know how to use Cape Breton coal (hitherto unexploited in those trades), as well as miners who knew how to use specialized tools for extracting hard stone from quarries.

Franquet was particularly interested in the manners and customs of the Indians, Acadians, and Canadians. His descriptions of Indians were confined chiefly to the acculturated families living in villages near the Canadian settlements. He comments at some length on appearance (including dress) and on feasts, dances, and musical instruments. Acadians, he wrote, were strong and healthy enough for hard work on the land, but lazy, since subsistence farming satisfied them. In religion they were zealous to the point of superstition. Canadians were distinguished by their independent spirit and their stubbornness. Almost everyone was married (wrote the 55-year-old bachelor) whether he could afford it or not, and almost everyone had a horse of his own – something unknown in France. Entertaining tended to be lavish, and not only at the table of François Bigot*; even the governor of Trois-Rivières could entertain in a manner worthy of “the best provinces of France.” The education that girls were receiving from the nuns gave them “airs” entirely unsuited to the “peasant” existence they would be required to lead. It was shocking that officers generally put their business interests ahead of their service to the king.

Although these reflections are of historical interest, the court of the 1750s paid little attention to them. It deferred to Franquet, however, in matters related to his specialty, military engineering. He was once overruled on a matter of detail by the strategists Barrin de La Galissonière and Adrien-Maurice de Noailles, but his views always prevailed over such persons as the Comte de Raymond and Chaussegros de Léry. The last two, along with Saint-Julhien and some other officers who took part in the second siege of Louisbourg, seem to have disliked Franquet, but Drucour and Prévost had nothing but praise for his spirit of cooperation. Drucour wrote in 1755, “It gives me great satisfaction to see in charge of the works of this place a person who combines as he does the talents of his profession and the harmony which must prevail if they are to be pushed forward.” Franquet was politically astute and carefully cultivated people at court. In his frequent letters to Régemortes, he always asked to be remembered to members of his chief’s family, to whom he often sent exotic gifts; he was always ready, too, with notes of congratulation for prominent officials who had received new appointments. He understood the extent to which influence was the politics of the 18th-century French monarchy.

F. J. Thorpe

[The manuscript version of Franquet’s account of his 1751 voyage is in AN, Col., C11C, 9, ff.143–74. It has been published under the title “Le voyage de Franquet aux îles Royale et Saint-Jean,” APQ Rapport, 1923–24, 111–40. The 1752–53 journal has been published as “Voyages et mémoires sur le Canada par Franquet,” Institut Canadien de Québec, Annuaire, 13 (1889), 31–240. The majority of Franquet’s original maps and plans are to be found in AN, Col., C11A, 126; Section Outre-Mer, Dépôt des fortifications des colonies, Am. Sept., nos.225–37; CTG, Archives, art.14. Copies of many of these maps may be found in PAC, National Map Collection.  f.j.t.]

AD, Nord (Lille), État civil, Condé-sur-l’Escaut, 11 juin 1697, 12 avril 1768. AN, Col., B, 91, 93, 95, 97, 99, 100, 101, 103, 105, 107; C11A, 98, 99, 126; C11B, 29–38; C11C, 13, 14, 16; E, 194 (dossier Franquet); F2C, 5; F3, 50; Marine, B4, 76, f.76; 80, f.164; Section Outre-Mer, Dépôt des fortifications des colonies, Am. Sept., nos.225–37. CTG, Archives, arts.3, 8, 14, 15; Bibliothèque, mss in 4°, 66; mss in fol., 205b, 208c, 210f. SHA, Xe, 4; Ya, 183; Y4d. lnv. des papiers de Léry (P.-G. Roy), II, 120, 122–26. A.-M. Augoyat, Aperçu historique sur les fortifications, les ingénieurs et sur le corps du génie en France . . . (3v., Paris, 1860–64), II, 375, 378, 386, 417, 431. Frégault, La civilisation de la Nouvelle-France; François Bigot, II, 13, 19–21, 60–61. McLennan, Louisbourg, 189, 191, 197–98, 234, 245, 283, 285. F.-J. Audet, “Louis Franquet,” RSCT, 3rd ser., XXV (1932), sect.i, 69–80. Association for Preservation Technology Bull. ([Ottawa]), IV (1972).

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Cite This Article

F. J. Thorpe, “FRANQUET, LOUIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/franquet_louis_3E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/franquet_louis_3E.html
Author of Article:   F. J. Thorpe
Title of Article:   FRANQUET, LOUIS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   May 25, 2024