GRILLOT DE POILLY, FRANÇOIS-CLAUDE-VICTOR, army officer, military engineer; b.15 March 1726 at Fort Barraux, near Grenoble, France, son of Claude-Victor, also a military engineer; d. 24 Feb. 1761 at Göttingen, in the Electorate of Hanover (Federal Republic of Germany).
François-Claude-Victor Grillot de Poilly served in the artillery from 1740 to 1743, when he was admitted to the engineer corps. After three years of siege warfare in Italy (1745–48), during which he was for a time a prisoner of war, he had seven years of duty at the fortresses of Grenoble, Perpignan, and Bayonne. Having asked for a colonial assignment, he was sent in 1755 to Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) to serve under Louis Franquet. He participated at Louisbourg in directing the repair and reconstruction of the fortifications and public buildings. Franquet, who valued him highly, recommended him twice for the cross of Saint-Louis.
During February and March 1757, Poilly was sent on a survey of Île Royale for the purpose of updating existing maps, suggesting road improvements, and proposing repairs to fortifications and public buildings. Travelling mainly on snowshoes, he and his party covered most of the island, with the exception of the north cape. His 12-page diary of the trip provides a good general view of topographical detail, resources and their use, roads, buildings, and the scattered inhabitants, both French and Micmac. His observations persuaded him that the agricultural, game, and timber resources of the island could be much better developed. The valley of the Rivière de Miré (Mira River) must have more labour for its agriculture; the peninsula between the Bras du Nord-Est (East Bay) on the south and the Petit Lac de La Brador (Great Bras d’Or) and Petite Brador (St Andrew’s Channel) on the north must have oxen to pull ploughs and to provide fertilizer if it was to produce certain types of grain; new farms near Port-Dauphin (Englishtown) must be equipped with ploughs and supplied with cattle. The Micmac hunted fur-bearing game but a possible market in pelts was unexploited; the forests abounded in a wide variety of usable timber but there were not enough sawmills. Roads and trails must be improved for both economic and military reasons. The defences of Port-Toulouse (St Peters) and Port-Dauphin must be strengthened, and the harbours of the Grand Lac de La Brador (Bras d’Or Lake) and the Petit Lac de La Brador, an excellent avenue for internal trade, could provide fine shelters for ships fleeing British raiders. Poilly’s observations give an indication of the French government’s attitude toward the economic development of Île Royale. Although the raison d’être of the colony was the fishery, the government would have liked to see greater diversification of the economy. The condition was that it should cost the crown nothing.
Poilly also kept his own diary of the events of 1758, from New Year’s Day to the surrender of Louisbourg to Jeffery Amherst* and Edward Boscawen in July. After the siege, he added to it his assessment of the defence. Running to 127 folios, and accompanied by a map, the document deals primarily with the siege, during which Poilly was kept busy directing repairs, building defensive works, and reconnoitring the siege works of the attackers. It also mentions the main activities of the winter months. The Louisbourg garrison and citizens enjoyed themselves at several balls and wedding receptions while preliminary skirmishes were taking place at sea. When the Prudent, commanded by Jean-Antoine Charry Desgouttes, entered the harbour on 24 April, two-thirds of her crew were found to be ill; the 50 recruits she had brought from France were, in Poilly’s opinion, the dregs of humanity. Prayers in expectation of an imminent British attempt to land included a procession on 1 June in which the Blessed Sacrament was carried through the town. When the siege came, Poilly felt, the defenders were quite unprepared, both in plans and in materials. This unreadiness was inexcusable, since for two years an attack had been fully expected. The governor, Drucour [Boschenry], was a fine, loyal officer quite unsuited to commanding a colony under siege; Franquet was a sick man; Jean Mascle de Saint-Julhien was selfish and jealous, and made little use of his wide experience; Claude-Élisabeth Denys de Bonnaventure, the king’s lieutenant, was “corpulent . . . [and] scarcely able to walk, a man with great zeal for the service, but rash, obtuse and brawling.” As for Desgouttes, he could have covered himself in immortal glory by sacrificing his squadron in order to destroy the invasion fleet in Gabarus Bay; instead, he chose to preserve his ships at all cost. Poilly had little good, in fact, to say of any naval officer.
Taken prisoner at the capitulation, Poilly was later released and returned to duty in France, where he became engineer at Thionville in 1759. In 1760, he received the cross of Saint-Louis. He died on active service.
Grillot de Poilly’s 1757 diary is found in CTG, Bibliothèque, mss in fol., 210f; that for 1758 is in mss in 4°, 66, ff.3–129. AN, Col., C11B, 35, ff.282–83; 36, ff.262, 268–70; 38, ff.169–70. CTG, Archives, arts.3, 15; Bibliothèque, mss in fol., 208. SHA, Xe, 4, 5; Ya, 183. Léon Jacob, “Un journal inédit du siège de Louisbourg (Île du Cap-Breton) en 1758,” in Mélanges d’histoire offerts à M. Charles Bémont . . . (Paris, 1913), 619–52. McLennan, Louisbourg, 259–60, 284–85, 287, 301.