OLABARATZ (Laubaras), JEAN D’, naval officer; b. 20 Oct. 1727 in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France, son of Joannis-Galand d’Olabaratz* and Catherine Despiaube; m. c. 1779 Marguerite-Angélique Collas; they had no children; d. 1 Feb. 1808 at his birthplace.
Little is known about Jean d’Olabaratz’s childhood, but everything suggests that he was oriented towards a naval career from his youth. In these years his father had his own ship, and there is no doubt that he took his son with him on more than one voyage. The elder d’Olabaratz seems indeed to have had a major influence on his son, because throughout the latter’s apprenticeship they were often to be found on the same bridge.
When he was 18 Jean d’Olabaratz joined the French navy. He served as a supernumerary officer in the port of Bayonne, and then as port ensign there. From 1746 to 1749 he sailed under his father in the frigate Bristol and the king’s corvette Catherine; promoted lieutenant at the time of a voyage to Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), in the Intrépide, he subsequently returned to France. In 1750 the minister of Marine, Rouillé, appointed his father port captain at Louisbourg; Jean occupied the post of port ensign, for which he obtained his brevet in 1752.
In 1755 d’Olabaratz received permission from the governor of Île Royale to embark on the Héros, a warship returning to France after a short mission at sea. Once more on French shores, he became port ensign at Brest. In 1756, despite his desire to serve in France, he was given command of the frigate Aigle, which he skilfully sailed to Louisbourg that October.
The following year, again in the Aigle, which was accompanied by the Outarde, d’Olabaratz left Rochefort, France, for Quebec. The ships captured two British merchant vessels during the crossing, and then lost sight of each other off Newfoundland. D’Olabaratz sailed into the Gulf of St Lawrence through the Strait of Belle Isle, but as a result of wrong information he ran aground near Gros Mécatina. When he was informed of this shipwreck, Intendant François Bigot* dispatched the Légère to the scene; it arrived at the same time as the Bien-Aimé, two months after the accident. Unfortunately the following night the two ships crashed into each other in a sudden gale and were a total loss.
D’Olabaratz then requisitioned the Roi du Nord, a snow belonging to some French fishermen who had come to hunt seals. He loaded onto it what had been salvaged from the previous shipwrecks and set sail for Quebec. As a crowning misfortune his new ship proved unseaworthy – its hull was completely rotten and split open off Île Saint-Barnabé. The shipwrecked crew managed to reach shore. Thus it was only after months of delay that d’Olabaratz arrived at Quebec.
Early in 1758 the government of the colony gave d’Olabaratz the delicate task of ensuring the naval defence of Lake Champlain. Along with the shipbuilder Pierre Levasseur, son of René-Nicolas Levasseur*, he supervised the building of three xebecs. After they were launched, the Muskelonge, Brochette, and Esturgeon were put under the command of d’Olabaratz, who was himself under François-Charles de Bourlamaque*’s orders. His mission consisted of patrolling the waters of Lake Champlain and delaying as long as possible the advance of the British troops. On several occasions he was on the verge of engaging with enemy ships, but each time he adroitly evaded them. On 12 Oct. 1759 he was hemmed in near presentday Plattsburgh, N.Y., and after holding a council with his officers on board the Muskelonge, he scuttled his flotilla and returned to Montreal under cover of darkness. The incident, which has been attributed erroneously to d’Olabaratz’s father, displeased the colonial authorities. After François de Lévis* had denied him command of a schooner, d’Olabaratz took passage for France. Again he had the misfortune to be shipwrecked, a little below Quebec, but he soon found another vessel on which to continue his voyage. Once at sea, it was pursued by a British ship, which speedily captured it. D’Olabaratz was taken to England, where he was detained for some time.
In the years following his tour of duty in Canada d’Olabaratz held various posts on the king’s ships. In particular he served on board the flute Salomon, the frigate Hareror, and the lighter Porteuse. He was named lieutenant in 1775 and captain in March 1779. He then commanded the flute Ménagère, subsequently ending his career on board the Fier. In 1786 he retired with the rank of brigadier of the naval forces.
Of all the misadventures that Jean d’Olabaratz experienced in New France, the loss of the Lake Champlain flotilla remains the strangest. He never explained the motives for his action, and no court martial was held to force him to justify himself. The ships were the only ones that the government of the colony had ever built to defend its posts on the Rivière Richelieu, and at the moment when they were the most indispensable, they sank without even firing their guns.
AN, Marine, B4, 91; C1, 171: f.1034; C6, 239: ff.1–43; C7, 239 (dossier d’Olabaratz). Coll. des manuscrits de Lévis (Casgrain), 5. Harrison Bird, Navies in the mountains: the battles on the waters of Lake Champlain and Lake George, 1609–1814 (New York, 1962), 100.