LESPINAY, JEAN-MICHEL DE, officer in Canada, then governor of Louisiana; he came originally from the region of Fougères in the province of Brittany; d. 3 Jan. 1721 at Fort-Royal (Martinique).
He became a midshipman at Rochefort on 25 July 1683, went to Canada as an ensign in the troops in 1687, was promoted lieutenant on half-pay in 1690, and lieutenant on the active list in 1691. The same year, at his request, he was appointed by Buade* de Frontenac port captain of Quebec. He had volunteered “to be responsible for preventing the said port from being befouled by the great amount of filth thrown into it by various individuals.” This function did not carry any emoluments with it, and on 24 Oct. 1694 Frontenac renewed a request for a commission from the king, stating that the post of port captain was “something which will be useful for the public and no liability to the king.” But Lespinay was considering leaving Canada, where he had served for eight years, and asked for permission to go to France to look after his family affairs. Frontenac did try to retain him by dangling the prospect of promotion before him, but without success. On 20 April 1695 he received a year’s leave, and he did not return. Indeed, on 1 May 1698 he obtained permission to remain in France to serve at Rochefort as a sub-lieutenant, a rank which he had obtained on 5 May 1695. We know nothing of his activities during the years that followed, except that he was promoted to lieutenant-commander on 1 Nov. 1705.
After Louis XIV’s death he enjoyed the protection of the Comte de Toulouse, president of the council of Marine, and of the financier Crozat, who had founded in 1714 a company holding the trading monopoly of Louisiana. Lespinay was appointed governor of the colony on 12 March 1716. He left France on 21 December on board the Ludlow, which he commanded, and reached his post in February 1717. To attach Lespinay to his interests Crozat granted him fairly extensive financial advantages, in particular two per cent interest on all products exported by the colony.
Before leaving France, the new governor had sought the cross of the order of Saint-Louis, out of a concern, as he claimed, for increasing his prestige in the eyes of the Indians, the latter “knowing that it is a mark of distinction among military men in France.” His request was granted on 21 Oct. 1716. Powers appreciably more extensive than those of his predecessor, Cadillac [Laumet] had been conferred upon him; this change gave rise to a dissatisfaction in the colony that was the more keen because, having barely set foot ashore, he did not hesitate to exceed his instructions and to assume complete control over finance and justice. Complaints were soon voiced about his arrogance and his harshness towards the various groups in the population. He pursued an ill-advised policy towards the natives which, according to Marcel Giraud, “revealed an elementary ignorance of the mentality of the original inhabitants.” Behaviour of this kind would tend to prove that during his stay in Canada he had had few contacts with the Indians. In Louisiana he was arrogant and avaricious in his treatment of them; stingy with the annual gifts, he reserved the distribution of them for himself, thus wiping out Le Moyne* de Bienville’s felicitous influence. Moreover, he remained too short a time in the country to be able to visit all the posts.
Lespinay restricted the activities of the newly created Conseil Supérieur, forced it to sit at his personal domicile, and in actual fact stripped it of its judicial and administrative functions. He did, however, interest himself in the prospecting being carried out in the interior, but lack of funds slowed down exploration. All that was done was to send help to Fort Rosalie in the Natchez country and to create a new post among the Alibamus.
The financial commissary, Hubert, even expressed doubts about the honesty of the governor, whom he accused of leading a scandalous life. All these criticisms, Crozat’s resignation, and the passing of Louisiana into the control of John Law’s Compagnie d’Occident, brought about Lespinay’s recall at the end of 1717. Nevertheless he did not fall into disgrace, since on 1 Nov. 1717 he was nominated governor of Grenada. He did have some difficulties, however. On 20 Sept. 1718 Jean-Baptiste Duché, a director of the Compagnie d’Occident, sent a report to the Comte de Toulouse concerning Lespinay’s conduct in Louisiana: “If it is true, as we are informed, that after 11 months in authority he is bringing back with him 15,000 piastres, I hope that Your Highness will consider it right to make an example of him.” His possessions were sequestered at Rochefort, and he remained in France during the whole of 1719. Was he a victim of slander, or did he have the benefit of powerful protection? We do not know. In any case no sanction was pronounced against him.
On 18 May 1720 he left the Île d’Aix on the Atalante to go and take up his new command on Grenada, where he landed on 28 June but did not hold office long there, since he died six months later.
Lespinay seems to have been an active but overbearing official, vain, and more concerned with his own interests than with those of the service.
AN, Col., B, 16, ff.26, 192v; 17, f.236v; 20, f.64; 38, f.329; 39, f.451; C8A, 27, f.75; 28, f.1; C11A, 13, ff.42v, 66; C13A, 4, 5; D2C, 49, ff.31v, 36, 41v; E, 278; F3, 241, f.141; Marine, B1, 9, ff.444, 458, 461, 554, 645; 19, ff.493, 495; C1, 150, ff.298, 353, 451; 161; C7, 181. Giraud, Histoire de la Louisiane française, II. O’Neill, Church and state in Louisiana, 106–14.