GAULTIER DE LA VÉRENDRYE, LOUIS-JOSEPH (most often he used the name Joseph, and he was called the Chevalier from 1736 on), explorer, fur-trader, military officer; b. 9 Nov. 1717 at Île aux Vaches on Lac Saint-Pierre (Que.), fourth son of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye and Marie-Anne Dandonneau Du Sablé; perished in the shipwreck of the Auguste on 15 Nov. 1761.
Little is known of Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Vérendrye’s childhood, but he probably received the usual elementary education. In October 1734 his father sent him to spend the winter in Quebec “to learn mathematics and drawing, so that he will be able to map accurately the regions to be explored.” His letters and reports reveal a fairly good literary education.
Louis-Joseph’s scientific training was of little more than six months’ duration. On 18 April 1735 he was in Montreal, busy preparing his departure for the west and enlisting men with that end in view. He left on 21 June; his father and the Jesuit Jean-Pierre Aulneau* were among the party. The group reached Fort Saint-Charles on Lake of the Woods (Ont.) and settled there for the winter.
Louis-Joseph’s first year in the west was marked by two trials: first, the death of his cousin, Christophe Dufrost* de La Jemerais, in May 1736; then, a month later, the death of his older brother, Jean-Baptiste Gaultier* de La Vérendrye, killed by a band of Sioux at Lake of the Woods. On 14 September Louis-Joseph was sent by his father to re-establish Fort Maurepas, which had been abandoned after La Jemerais’s death. It was on this occasion that Louis-Joseph received from his father the title of chevalier, with precedence over his brothers. Louis-Joseph was joined by his father at Fort Maurepas on 27 Feb. 1737 and was present at the great council held on 4 March with the Cree and Assiniboin chiefs. The map of the west dating from 1737 which incorporates information obtained on this occasion was probably drawn by the Chevalier and subsequently redone by the engineer Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry.
Some days later Louis-Joseph was sent on an exploration trip to Lake Winnipeg; but smallpox among the Crees in that region forced him to return to Fort Saint-Charles; he was there on 28 May. Thanks to his good treatment and his advice about hygiene, however, none of the Crees accompanying him was seriously affected by the malady, whereas all those who were at Fort Maurepas died of it.
Louis-Joseph took over acting command of Fort Saint-Charles when his father left for Montreal at the beginning of June 1737. On the latter’s return in August 1738 the two explorers set out for the Mandan country, a region which corresponds approximately to present-day North Dakota. They hoped during this voyage to discover the way to the western sea [see Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye]. When the expedition reached the Mandan country in early December, Louis-Joseph left for a short exploratory trip as far as the Missouri, which his father believed to be the famous River of the West. Having achieved the goal of their expedition, the La Vérendryes decided to return to Fort La Reine (Portage-la-Prairie, Man.), which they had built the preceding October.
In April 1739 Louis-Joseph was entrusted by his father with resuming the expedition around Lake Winnipeg which had been cut short in 1737. He was to seek a site north of Lac des Prairies (lakes Manitoba and Winnipegosis) for the fort which the Crees in the region had been requesting; then he was to explore the periphery of Lake Winnipeg and enter the Rivière Blanche (the lower stretch of the Saskatchewan River). The Chevalier carried out his mission and went up the river as far as the fork at which the Crees used to meet every spring, probably some miles to the northwest of Cedar Lake (Man.). Louis-Joseph then returned to Fort La Reine via the southern end of Cedar Lake and the Red and Assiniboine rivers.
When his father left for Montreal in June 1740, Louis-Joseph took over command of Fort Saint-Charles. He held it until September of the following year, then he went to spend the winter of 1741–42 at Fort La Reine. There he prepared to resume the expedition into the southwest which his older brother, Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye, had not been able to complete the previous year for lack of a guide.
Louis-Joseph left on 29 April 1742, accompanied by his brother, François Gaultier Du Tremblay, two Frenchmen, and some Indian guides. The group first went to the country of the Mandans, who were to lead them to a tribe called the Gens des Chevaux. In August they had reached the “Montagne des Gens des Chevaux,” probably in the northwest of present-day Wyoming, but they found no one. Shortly afterwards the Chevalier and his companions met a group of Beaux-Hommes, then some Petits-Renards and “Pioyas.” The expedition finally reached a village of Gens des Chevaux, whom they found in a state of indescribable devastation as a result of an attack by Gens du Serpent (Shoshonis), who had partially annihilated them. The Gens des Chevaux advised the Chevalier to go to see the Gens de l’Arc, who could better inform them about the route to the western sea. In mid-November the explorers arrived among the Gens de l’Arc, who were organizing a coalition of tribes and clans to make war against their formidable enemy, the Gens du Serpent. Louis-Joseph was well received by them, to the point that despite his own wishes he had to follow them in their war venture. On 8 Jan. 1743 a large group of the allied tribes was approaching the mountains; scouts were sent in the direction of the enemy, and after several days of searching they brought back word that the Gens du Serpent had fled. Fearing an attack against their villages, which they had left unprotected, the panic stricken warriors left the mountains in a general rout, to the great despair of the chief of the Gens de l’Arc, who could not keep them back, and the Chevalier, who was hoping to find the sea on the other side of the mountains. Everyone went home, and the Chevalier accompanied the Gens de l’Arc as far as their village. At the beginning of March 1743 the French left the Indians, after promising to come back to them the following spring. Not far from the village the Chevalier and his men found a camp of the Gens de la Petite-Cerise, a clan of the Pawnee-Arikaras. They followed these Indians to their fort at the juncture of the Bad and Missouri rivers, opposite present-day Pierre, the capital of South Dakota. They reached this fort on 19 March 1743 and stayed a fortnight there.
To mark his passage, the Chevalier de La Vérendrye buried at this spot, unknown to the Indians, a lead plaque bearing on one side a Latin inscription: “The 26th year of the reign of Louis XV. For the king, our very illustrious lord. By Monsieur le Marquis de Beauharnois [Charles de Beauharnois], 1741. Placed here by Pierre Gaultier de Laverendrie.” The other side, which was engraved on the spot with a knife or awl, bore the following words: “Placed by the Chevalyer de Lave. – tblt [Tremblet or Tremblay, François Gaultier’s official form of address] – Louy La Londette [perhaps Louis Lalonde] – Amiotte [Amiot or Amyot]. 30 March 1743. “ It is not possible to identify positively the last two persons. This plaque, which was discovered in 1913, is one of the most valuable monuments of the history of the west.
On 2 April 1743 the Chevalier left the fort of the Gens de la Petite-Cerise to proceed to Fort La Reine, which the party did not reach until three months later, after stopping several times in the prairies among the Assiniboins and the Sioux. Louis-Joseph, who had been away more than 14 months, did not return with the precise information which his father would have liked about the western sea. Despite that, his expedition had positive results: it added considerably to the geographical knowledge of the period, it ensured for the Canadians and French the friendship and loyalty of a great number of Indian tribes until then unknown, and it consequently laid the bases for commercial operations which might turn out to be useful later. Moreover, as a result of this expedition it became increasingly clear to La Vérendrye Sr that the route to the western sea was not to be sought to the southwest, but to the northwest, where another route, the Saskatchewan River, was available.
In the autumn of 1743 La Vérendrye, under the pressure of unfortunate circumstances, had to present his resignation to Beauharnois for the following year as commandant of the poste de l’Ouest [see Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye]. Nicolas-Joseph de Noyelles de Fleurimont, the explorer’s nephew by marriage, succeeded him in 1744. La Vérendrye’s sons retained their posts for the time being, and the Chevalier apparently acted as commandant until Noyelles’s arrival in the west the following year.
In 1747 Louis-Joseph returned to the colony on business in company with Noyelles, who had resigned his command. The War of the Austrian Succession was in full swing: the Chevalier was entrusted by Charles-Joseph de Noyelles de Fleurimont, the acting commandant of Michilimackinac, with letters intended for Governor Beauharnois concerning the military operations in that region. Shortly afterwards the governor sent Louis-Joseph back to Michilimackinac as his messenger. Louis-Joseph expected to continue farther west, as is indicated by a power of attorney that he left his cousin by marriage, Pierre Gamelin Maugras, but he had to return to Montreal where he spent part of the winter.
From January to March 1748 he took part in a military expedition against the Mohawks, then he prepared to return to the west. His father had been recalled the previous year to resume the post of commandant, but it was in fact the Chevalier who was to fulfil this function, though unofficially. He left on 20 June 1748, after hostilities had ceased, and reached the west that autumn. In 1749 he returned to Montreal, where he learned that the king had accorded him on 1 May a well-deserved promotion to the modest rank of second ensign. That year was, however, marked by a sad event: his father’s death, which occurred on 5 December after a “bad fever.” The Chevalier also fell ill but recovered fairly quickly. At the end of December he attended to the formalities concerning his father’s succession and had a posthumous inventory made.
The Chevalier expected to succeed his father in the west, but François Bigot* and his gang had begun their dealings, to which Governor La Jonquière [Taffanel] was no stranger, and the La Vérendryes were eliminated from the west with the appointment of Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre as commandant. On 17 April 1750 Louis-Joseph obtained permission, with difficulty, to go to Michilimackinac, then to Grand Portage (near present-day Grand Portage, Minn.), to meet the canoes coming from the west, in order to settle his father’s business. To be able to pay the most pressing debts he had to resign himself on 15 July 1750 to selling the last piece of land his mother owned at Île Dupas, in Lac Saint-Pierre. In a moving report to the minister of Marine on 30 September he asked for reparations for what he considered to be injustices and outlined his sad situation and that of his brothers, but he waited in vain for a reply.
At the beginning of 1752 the Chevalier again launched into the trade in furs: on 18 February he entered into partnership with Luc de La Corne*, dit La Corne Saint-Luc, to run for a period of three years the post of Chagouamigon (Ashland, Wis.). La Corne was the “outfitter,” Louis-Joseph the post commandant, and his younger brother, François Gaultier Du Tremblay, signed on to work for them as an interpreter. During his stay at Chagouamigon the Chevalier had a rather sharp dispute with Joseph Marin* de La Malgue, the commandant at Baie-des-Puants (Green Bay, Wis.). Marin had jurisdiction over the former Sioux post, which took in the upper Mississippi. But the Chevalier de La Vérendrye went into this region during the winter of 1752–53, as well as the following winter, to trade with the Indians. He claimed that he received orders from Governor Duquesne* to do so. He even set up two small posts in the territories which Marin claimed as his, and he dared confiscate possessions belonging to the latter’s men, threatening to put them in irons. This bitter dispute lasted until 1754 and was brought before Duquesne. Unfortunately the conclusion of the affair is not known. It seems that the governor had indeed given Louis-Joseph a licence for trading in the Sioux territory, to the detriment of Marin, to whom this right in fact belonged, and who had not been warned; but it is impossible to say what inspired Duquesne’s action.
On 1 April 1753 the Chevalier had received his commission as ensign on the active list. When he returned to Montreal in 1755 he resumed his place in the garrison in that capacity. On 17 November of that year he married Marie-Amable, the daughter of Jacques Testard* de Montigny, thus becoming a member of one of the most important families in the colony. Of this marriage a daughter was born on 7 Nov. 1756, but she lived only a few days; the mother died a short time afterwards.
The year 1756 was fertile in transactions of all kinds for Louis-Joseph. He had to obtain ready cash and settle some business affairs; but the great event was the Chevalier’s appointment as commandant of the poste de l’Ouest for a three-year term, on condition that he put up 8,000 livres. Trade in the west had in fact become free in 1756, and the post went to the highest bidder. In the period from 2 April to 14 June 1756 the Chevalier hired the men he would need. On 13 June he gave power of attorney to his wife to run his affairs during his absence. Nevertheless, despite all these measures he remained in Montreal, perhaps because of the necessities of the war. In any event, Louis-Joseph kept his post as commandant, operating from a distance for two years. On 1 May 1757 the Chevalier was promoted lieutenant; he remained in Montreal and on 31 Jan. 1758 he married again, his second wife being Louise-Antoinette de Mézières de Lépervanche.
In that year he left his post in the west to Charles-René Dejordy de Villebon and was again given command of Chagouamigon, which he entrusted to Jacques-Marie Nolan Lamarque while he himself attended to Kaministiquia and Michipicoton (located respectively on the northwest and northeast shores of Lake Superior) in place of Joseph de Fleury Deschambault. The Chevalier was useful on Lake Superior because of his great hold on the Indian tribes. But precisely for that reason he did not complete his term of command at Chagouamigon: his services were required in another theatre. At the end of June and the beginning of July 1759 he took to Montreal from Michilimackinac groups from eight Indian tribes who were to aid in the defence of Lake Champlain. In August Louis-Joseph sent Bourlamaque a plan of the military posts to be set up in that region which was recognized by the authorities to be appropriate. We do not know, however, whether his suggestions were put into practice.
After the cessation of hostilities the Chevalier made known his intention of remaining in Canada, as we learn from several military rolls of 1760. He made preparations, however, for a trip to France, apparently to settle some business matters. He sailed from Quebec on 15 Oct. 1761 on board the Auguste; a month later, on 15 November, the ship was dashed to pieces on the shores of Cape Breton Island during a gale. The Chevalier perished, as did most of the passengers and crew members. Louis-Joseph’s widow lived in great poverty, it seems, and died in Montreal on 3 March 1825.
Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Vérendrye was certainly the most remarkable of the great discoverer’s children. Energetic and strong-willed like his father, he was less idealistic and perhaps more practical, having a better education and more ability in handling men and affairs. A man of great integrity, he succeeded in winning the esteem and confidence of all his relatives, friends, and partners. Except for the two years of difference with Joseph Marin de La Malgue, he never had any interminable disputes with anyone. He even carried honesty to the point of repaying, when he had the means to do so, his father’s old debts, some of which went back 40 or even 60 years. The Chevalier’s commercial relations with his partners, his two marriages with important Montreal families, the praises he received from the military authorities, and the missions entrusted to him from 1747 on, without counting the years spent in the west, all suggest general recognition of a combination of qualities. It is a pity that the outcome of the Seven Years’ War and this man’s tragic end should have cut short such a fine career.
AN, Col., C11A, 87, 91; C11E, 16, ff.308–13; D2C, 59, f.32. ANQ-M, Greffe de L.-C. Danré de Blanzy, 15 févr. 1756; Greffe d’Antoine Foucher, 18 févr. 1752; Greffe de Marien Tailhandier, dit La Beaume, 2 juill. 1718. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), VI, 598–611. “Documents sur Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye,” J.-J. Lefebvre, édit., APQ Rapport, 1949–51, 33–67. “Journal de Marin, fils, 1753–1754,” Antoine Champagne, édit., AQ Rapport, 1960–61. Journals and letters of La Vérendrye (Burpee), 406–32. “Mémoire du Canada,” APQ Rapport, 1924–25, 154. PAC Report, 1923, app.C, 48, 49. L. J. Burpee, The search for the western sea (London, 1908; 2nd ed., Toronto, 1935). Champagne, Les La Vérendrye; Nouvelles études sur les La Vérendrye.