LEVASSEUR DE NERÉ, JACQUES, military engineer, knight of the order of Saint-Louis, captain and sub-lieutenant; b. 1662 or 1664 in Paris; d. in or after 1723.
Nothing is known of Levasseur’s family background except that he had a brother who was a clerk in the ministry of Marine. In 1680, Levasseur entered the royal academy at Rennes. Four years later, he joined the corps of royal engineers and was appointed to the king’s works at Bayonne. After serving at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port he was promoted deputy engineer and spent a year at La Rochelle followed by a year at Nancy. Between 1691 and 1693 he served in several sieges under Vauban. On 1 March 1693 he was appointed to replace Robert de Villeneuve* as royal engineer of New France. Prior to this date, he had married Marie-Françoise Chavenault, and the poverty occasioned by his large family was a factor leading to his appointment to New France. While in Canada his wife bore him ten more children (his first child born in New France was baptized 23 Oct. 1694 with Buade* de Frontenac as godfather). This additional responsibility goaded Levasseur to make constant demands for additional appointments and gratuities throughout his career. In April 1694, before leaving France, he had received commissions as sub-lieutenant in the navy and captain of a company of colonial regular troops.
Levasseur de Neré’s importance lies in his activities as royal engineer of New France. Upon his arrival in 1694, he found that much of the earlier defence construction at Quebec was defective; it was decided, therefore, to surround the town with an earth wall, to construct a strong redoubt on Cape Diamond, and to erect batteries in Lower Town. Beginning the following spring, work proceeded under the engineer’s supervision. By the end of 1696 Bochart de Champigny, the intendant, could report that Levasseur was a “man of merit, a good officer, and an experienced and capable king’s engineer.” In 1697, however, poor health forced him to return to France and remain there until September 1700. During his absence new works were recommended, but little actual construction was carried out on the fortifications. On his return he was once more busily engaged in plans for the defence of Canada. In 1701, these plans received royal approval and 20,000 livres were set aside each year for expenses. The following year news of the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession was received; Levasseur continued to work on the colony’s fortifications.
In 1704 Levasseur was made a knight of the order of Saint-Louis. The following year he applied for permission to return to France, but was refused on the grounds that his work could not be interrupted then, when an invasion from the south was feared. By 1706, however, his recurring poor health meant that permission could no longer be withheld, and he returned to France, but a year later he was again in the colony. His last stay in New France as royal engineer was full of conflict. He was accused of being Rigaud de Vaudreuil’s creature and of ungentlemanly conduct during Carnival. His attacks on Dubois* Berthelot de Beaucours, his assistant, and the counter-attacks by Jacques Raudot, the intendant, were more serious. The engineer was described as “[a] muddle-headed, bad-tempered man, unfit for command because of his vanity” and as suffering from delusions of grandeur. His critics claimed that he had designed fortifications that would require 6,000 troops to man and take nine years to complete.
At the end of 1709 he went back to France although the fortifications at Quebec were still unfinished. It was expected that Levasseur would return to New France in 1712, but he requested and was granted permission to retire. He continued, however, to take an interest in New France, and criticized the plans of the new engineer, Chaussegros* de Léry. Levasseur returned to New France in 1717 on family matters, but his former patron, Vaudreuil, asked that he be transferred elsewhere because of his fault-finding. His permission to remain in the colony was extended to 1720, and the next year he was in France. With the rank of half-pay captain he drew his pension until 1723 – the last time that his name appears in the colonial estimates. He probably died in 1723 or shortly thereafter.
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