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LA CORNE, LUC DE, known as Chaptes (Chap, Chapt) de La Corne or as La Corne Saint-Luc, officer in the colonial regular troops, merchant, interpreter, and member of the Legislative Council; b. at Contrecœur (Que.), probably in the autumn of 1711, son of Jean-Louis de La Corne* de Chaptes and Marie Pécaudy de Contrecœur; d. 1 Oct. 1784 in Montreal.
Luc de La Corne came from a large and illustrious family. He and his brother Louis*, known as the Chevalier de La Corne, were destined to participate in military and commercial endeavours which took them to the same battlefields south of Lake Champlain and the same fur-trading territories in the west. Consequently their names were often confused in the last decade of the French régime but, unlike the Chevalier, La Corne Saint-Luc did not fight in Acadia.
Like many others [see Joseph Marin de La Malgue], La Corne Saint-Luc was able to take advantage of his military career to carry on profitable commercial activity over a lengthy period. He benefited from the increased number of western posts and the expansion of the fur trade beyond Lake Superior at the time of the La Vérendryes’ explorations [see Pierre Gaultier* de Varennes et de La Vérendrye]. For the period from 1738 to the end of the French régime more than 80 of his hiring contracts have been found for the fur trade at Detroit, Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.), Sault Ste Marie (Mich.), Chagouamigon (near Ashland, Wis.), Kaministiquia (Thunder Bay, Ont.), and Nipigon (Ont.). In turn merchant-outfitter and fur-trader, La Corne Saint-Luc went into partnership at least twice to take charge of one of these posts. From 1742 to 1743 he exploited Kaministiquia with his brother François-Josué de La Corne* Dubreuil, its commandant. Then on 18 Feb. 1752 he signed articles of partnership for three years with Louis-Joseph Gaultier* de La Vérendrye to pursue the trade at Chagouamigon, south of Lake Superior. La Vérendrye took command of the post, while La Corne Saint-Luc acted as financial backer and outfitter. He assumed three-quarters of the expenses incurred and received three-quarters of the profits. In 1754–55 he was said to be in commercial partnership with Captain Robert Stobo*.
In all these transactions La Corne Saint-Luc seems to have shown himself a shrewd merchant. His three marriage contracts attest to his affluence, and at the conquest the Sieur de Courville [Louis-Léonard Aumasson de Courville] included him among the richest Canadians, with a fortune of 1,200,000 livres. When he died, his debtors owed him more than 152,000 livres, and the moneys owed him with the merchant Lavallée in Paris amounted to 241,314 livres. The inventory of his property reveals his love of ostentation: his wardrobe was rich and impressive. His substantial income enabled him to surround himself with many slaves who performed domestic duties. The majority of slaves in 18th-century New France were Indians, mainly Pawnees from the Mississippi valley; blacks made their appearance principally under the British régime. The nearly 4,000 slaves who are known to have existed during the French régime belonged to some 1,500 individuals, about 30 of whom held more than 10. Among these large owners La Corne Saint-Luc was second only to Governor Beauharnois*.
La Corne Saint-Luc distinguished himself through an eventful life in which courage and endurance were a constant necessity. Having taken up a military career, he attracted the attention of Beauharnois, who in 1742 recommended him for an ensigncy because of his bravery the previous year at Fort Clinton (Easton, N.Y.). It was on 10 Dec. 1742 in Montreal that La Corne Saint-Luc married for the first time, his wife being Marie-Anne Hervieux. In the ten years of marriage before her death in January 1753, they had four sons and three daughters; only the daughters survived.
A long association with the Indians acquainted La Corne Saint-Luc with “four or five Indian languages,” which he “spoke fluently.” He was to be present as interpreter at two important conferences between Governor Vaudreuil [Rigaud] and the Senecas in October 1755, and at one with a broader delegation of Indians in December 1756. As he had discovered how to win the Indians’ confidence, his services had for a number of years been put to use in an extremely sensitive double task: recruiting warriors from the allied Indian tribes and leading them into battle. During the War of the Austrian Succession he commanded a detachment of 150 Canadians and Indians sent to assist Jacques Legardeur* de Saint-Pierre at Fort Saint-Frédéric (near Crown Point, N.Y.), which at that time was considered essential for the defence of Canada. For four months, from January to April 1746, this force harassed the enemy around Lac Saint-Sacrement (Lake George). It was not, however, until the end of June 1747 that another detachment of some 200 men, led by La Corne Saint-Luc and others, was successful in capturing part of the garrison of Fort Clinton.
La Corne Saint-Luc, who became a lieutenant in 1748, made various appearances at Montreal or Quebec to report on his expeditions, see to business matters, or escort Indian delegations sent from the pays d’en haut; he also busied himself leading a convoy to Michilimackinac, where the enterprising Legardeur de Saint-Pierre had just succeeded Louis de La Corne as commandant.
Luc de La Corne continued to distinguish himself in his military career. Two years in a row, in 1753 and 1754, Governor Duquesne recommended him for the command of a company, emphasizing that he was “a brave man and skilled in recruiting.” His captain’s commission was granted on 15 March 1755. That year he served under Baron de Dieskau*’s orders as one of the “officers attached to the Indians” in an important expedition which Governor Vaudreuil intended to ward off the threat of an Anglo-American advance by way of Lake Champlain – a threat that was manifested in the building of Fort Lydius (also called Fort Edward, now Fort Edward, N.Y.) and Fort George (also called Fort William Henry, now Lake George). It was against Fort George that in August 1757 Montcalm* won one of the most brilliant French victories, and La Corne Saint-Luc, commanding the Indians on the left flank, shared it. Unfortunately the exploit was tarnished after the surrender; on 10 August the Indian allies killed some members of the British garrison, which the French were allowing to go to Fort Lydius. The court of France was even held accountable for the Indians’ behaviour. La Corne Saint-Luc, who along with other officers had been responsible for escorting Lieutenant-Colonel George Monro and his garrison, was not able to prevent the unprovoked assault.
La Corne Saint-Luc returned to Montreal and there, on 3 Sept. 1757, he took as his second wife Marie-Joseph Guillimin, the widow of Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, who had been killed two years earlier and under whose orders La Corne Saint-Luc had fought on several occasions. The marriage, which was childless, lasted 11 years.
In 1758 La Corne Saint-Luc distinguished himself in a type of military action that fitted in perfectly with the strategy of guerrilla warfare advocated by Vaudreuil. At the end of July he was able to take advantage of Montcalm’s victory at Carillon (Ticonderoga, N.Y.) to launch an attack with a detachment of 400 Canadians and Indians on an enemy convoy en route to Fort Lydius. Acting quickly for fear of a surprise counter-attack by the enemy, they took 64 prisoners and 80 scalps, killed many oxen, and destroyed the supplies. This trophy-taking in the Indian manner made many of La Corne Saint-Luc’s contemporaries, including the Americans, indignant. But in Governor Vaudreuil’s eyes the exploit merited the cross of Saint-Louis. Hence on 6 Nov. 1758, he made a note of commendation in the margin of his roster: “This captain has rendered very fine service at all times. He has fought in all the campaigns in this war and has always distinguished himself, particularly in this last campaign at Carillon, having been at the head of a detachment that laid an ambush on the road to Fort Lydius in which he completely vanquished an enemy convoy.” On 1 Jan. 1759 he was made a knight of Saint-Louis.
Shortly before the capture of Quebec in September 1759, La Corne Saint-Luc helped prepare plans for defensive action on Lake Champlain, and Vaudreuil approved the suggestions that he and Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Vérendrye made. As commander of the Indians he was in the advance guard under François-Charles de Bourlamaque* at the battle of Sainte-Foy in April 1760, and he was wounded there.
After the final defeat La Corne Saint-Luc considered going to France. On 15 Oct. 1761 he sailed on the Auguste with quite a number of the Canadian nobility including Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Vérendrye. He was accompanied by his brother Louis, two of his children, and two of his nephews, all of whom he was unfortunately to lose a month later when the ship was wrecked near Cape North, on Cape Breton Island. Only seven of the 121 passengers and crew escaped death. One of the lucky survivors, La Corne Saint-Luc published an account of this voyage. In it he relates how, after many adventures, despite the autumn chill and the lack of supplies and transportation, he succeeded in finding help for his unfortunate companions; he then travelled 550 leagues, going right across Cape Breton Island to Canso Strait, following the northwest coast of Nova Scotia to Baie Verte (N.B.), taking the Saint John River to the portage at Témiscouata, and then journeying from Kamouraska to Quebec. He arrived on 23 Feb. 1762 after a hundred days of impossible travel.
Fate having taken a hand, La Corne Saint-Luc made a new life for himself in Canada. Believing that the British occupation would be temporary, he endeavoured to use his influence with the Indians to foster their discontent with the conquerors. He even went so far as to spread the rumour that a French fleet would come to recover the territory. In a letter of 19 Dec. 1763, during Pontiac*’s uprising, Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden of New York accused him of having been engaged for two years in inciting the western Indians to conspiracy and insurrection.
Nevertheless La Corne Saint-Luc’s family had no difficulty integrating itself into the society that emerged under the British régime. It made links through marriage with the best matches in the colony. His eldest daughter, Marie-Anne, married John Campbell, probably in 1763. His eighth child, Marie-Marguerite (whose mother, also Marie-Marguerite, a daughter of the seigneur Pierre Boucher* de Boucherville, had become La Corne’s third wife in 1774), was to marry Major John Lennox. Among La Corne Saint-Luc’s compatriots alliances were to be made with Jacques Viger*, Marie-Marguerite’s second husband; Charles-Louis Tarieu* de Lanaudière, who would accompany La Corne Saint-Luc in 1777 at the time of John Burgoyne’s campaign; and Georges-Hippolyte Le Comte Dupré, for whom he apparently had little liking since in December 1769 he opposed the marriage with his daughter Marie-Louise-Charlotte. The ceremony nevertheless took place early the following year.
During the American invasion La Corne Saint-Luc played a rather questionable role. In the autumn of 1775, fearing the capture of Montreal was imminent, he took the initiative, with the approval of certain other leading citizens of Montreal, in making an offer through his Iroquois friends at Sault-Saint-Louis (Caughnawaga, Que.) to surrender to Richard Montgomery. Mistrustful of such scheming, the American general hesitated but agreed to negotiate under certain conditions. However at this juncture, Colonel Ethan Allen’s detachment having been intercepted at Longue-Pointe (Montreal), La Corne Saint-Luc thought better of his plan. To avoid suspicion he handed Montgomery’s reply to Governor Guy Carleton*, who chose to put an end to the incident by having the letter officially burned. Considering La Corne Saint-Luc to be “a great villain and as cunning as the devil,” the American general forbad him to come to Montreal after its capitulation in November 1775 and relegated him to Boucherville. Soon after, La Corne Saint-Luc was taken to La Prairie on the orders of Montgomery’s replacement, Brigadier-General David Wooster, who suspected him of intrigue. Wooster, after he had become the leading commander in the occupying army, sent him off to Philadelphia the following February, and he was kept for some time at Kingston (also called Esopus), N.Y.
This ordeal did not dampen the martial ardour of La Corne Saint-Luc, who by this time was 66. Immediately after his release he had conversations with the loyalist ex-governor of New York, William Tryon, and suggested that what was necessary was “to unleash the Indians against the wretched rebels” as a means of ending the revolutionary war and revenging his imprisonment. Convinced that at his call his friends would dig up the hatchet, he agreed to take part in the campaign under Major-General Burgoyne, who entrusted command of the Indians to him. This large military operation, which was to mark a turning point in the revolutionary war, came to a lamentable end on the battlefield at Saratoga (Schuylerville), N.Y., in October 1777 as a result of serious errors of strategy. Burgoyne had to surrender his army, which La Corne Saint-Luc considered “one of the finest . . . [the] country had yet seen.”
Upon his return to London after the disaster, Burgoyne did his best to justify his stinging defeat before British opinion. A member of parliament, he accused La Corne Saint-Luc in the House of Commons itself of having been responsible for the Indians’ desertion before the final outcome of the campaign and denounced him as “by nature, education, and practice, artful, ambitious, and a courtier.” It was, however, the same Burgoyne who had earlier called him “a Canadian gentleman of honour and parts, and one of the best partizans the French had last war.” In replying to him, Lord Germain, who as secretary of state for the American Colonies was responsible for the military operations, took the occasion to express his displeasure by repeating La Corne’s own judgement of Burgoyne: “a very brave man, but as heavy as a German.”
La Corne Saint-Luc had too great a sense of honour not to take up the gauntlet. He replied publicly to Burgoyne in a letter of 23 Oct. 1778 addressed to the London newspapers. In the courteous but proud tone of an officer who had many times proved his courage and military competence he made an apt retort to the defeated general. Having first expressed his astonishment at the way in which Burgoyne had acted, he then set out the facts once more to show that his former commander bore full responsibility for the flight of the Indians, who had been not only indignant but disgusted at his “indifference” and callousness towards their dead and wounded after the battle at Bennington (Vt.) two months before the disaster at Saratoga.
Burgoyne deserved this lesson in civility, since La Corne Saint-Luc merited treatment as a gentleman. Not only had he been rewarded with the cross of Saint-Louis at the end of the French régime, but following the Quebec Act he had become a member of the Legislative Council, created in May 1775. It had not taken long for Carleton to appreciate the importance of this prominent citizen and to recommend his appointment as a councillor on the highly selective list he had presented in March 1769 to the secretary of state for the American Colonies, Lord Hillsborough. He had fixed his choice on those whom he considered to be “men of First Property and Consequence.” In his eyes La Corne Saint-Luc belonged to the seigneurial élite, which should enjoy the patronage of the British crown.
But for the conquered subjects such favours had definite limits. Although Carleton’s successor, General Haldimand, agreed that La Corne Saint-Luc should serve as his aide-de-camp, he was not prepared to support his request for promotion in the militia to the rank that his commission as “colonel of the Indians” conferred upon him. Since the Franco-American alliance of 1778 the new governor had had an almost obsessive distrust of the ex-subjects of the king of France, and he advised against such a promotion for this former officer of the French colonial regulars.
Six months before his death La Corne Saint-Luc had occasion to assert his political creed when he took the initiative in the Legislative Council of proposing an address to Governor Haldimand calling upon him to make known to the king his councillors’ “sincere desire” to see the Quebec Act “continued in all its force,” in order “to be able to transmit it to posterity as a precious charter.” This motion, presented on 21 April 1784 at the end of the legislative session, was favourably received by the French party, which included a majority of councillors, and by the governor himself; Haldimand adopted the language used by La Corne Saint-Luc and reiterated to the authorities in London his personal conviction that maintaining the 1774 legislation constituted “the most likely means to attach the People to the Mother Country, and make them happy in the Enjoyment of their Religion, Laws, and Liberties.”
On 1 Oct. 1784 La Corne Saint-Luc passed away at his residence on Rue Saint-Paul in Montreal. He was buried on 4 October in the chapel of Sainte-Anne in the church of Notre-Dame. His third wife survived him by 35 years.
[Luc de La Corne], Journal du voyage de M. Saint-Luc de La Corne, écuyer, dans le navire l’Auguste, en l’an 1761 (Montréal, 1778; 2e éd., Québec, 1863); “A letter from the Chev. St Luc de la Corne, colonel of the Indians, to Gen. Burgoyne,” Scots Magazine (Edinburgh), XL (1778), 715–16.
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