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d. 16 June 1848 at Quebec


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PICQUET, FRANÇOIS, priest, Sulpician, and missionary; b. 4 Dec. 1708 at Bourg-en-Bresse, France, son of André Picquet and Marie-Philippe Berthet; d. 15 July 1781 at Verjon (dept of Ain), France.

After studying at the Jesuit college in Bourgen-Bresse, François Picquet then entered the Séminaire de Lyon in 1728. He took further training at the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Paris, where he was ordained priest on 10 April 1734. That summer he arrived in Montreal (Que.) and served in the parish ministry there until 1739, at the same time learning Indian languages and customs. From 1739 to 1749 he lived at the Sulpician mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka, Que.), which had been founded in 1721. Picquet can be credited with writing a few hymns and catechetical texts in the Iroquois language, but, despite an enthusiastic tradition to the contrary, he was not responsible for the Calvary at Oka, built by his colleague Hamon Guen* in the period 1740–42, or for other mission buildings, which had been erected well before his arrival.

His main vocation – to win over to France all Indians living to the south of the Great Lakes – seems to have taken shape about this time. In 1745 Picquet went with some Iroquois to Quebec, where Intendant Gilles Hocquart is supposed to have conferred upon him the title of “apostle to the Iroquois”; he also met Governor Charles de Beauharnois*, who congratulated him on his work with the Iroquois. On 5 Oct. 1748 Roland-Michel Barrin* de La Galissonière, the commandant general of New France, informed Maurepas that Picquet would soon leave for Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.) to find the best place to locate a village for Indians seeking Christian conversion. He chose a site downstream from Mille-iles (Thousand Islands, Ont.) at a strategic point on a narrows in the St Lawrence.

On 1 June 1749, with 25 Frenchmen and four Indians, he founded the post of La Présentation (Oswegatchie, now Ogdensburg, N.Y.). By autumn Picquet had built a stockaded fort, with a redoubt and living quarters sheltering some 300 Iroquois, Hurons, and other Indians. But the Le Loutre of the pays d’en haut was aiming above all to wean the Six Nations from their alliance with the English. Thus in August 1752 he went to Montreal with “his” Iroquois, so that they could take an oath of allegiance to the new governor, Duquesne. The following summer, he sailed for France on the Algonkin accompanied by three Iroquois, to ask Louis XV for the additional funds that he thought necessary for his mission. Although the help given was minimal – 3,000 livres, some books, and a statue – the spectacle had its effect on the Iroquois. And so Picquet’s 18th-century hagiographer, Joseph-Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, was able to write: “War had no sooner been declared in 1754 than the new children of God, of the king, and of M. Picquet thought only of proving their fidelity and valour.”

Back in New France in 1754, and having vainly solicited a comfortable position as dean of the canonical chapter, the fiery Sulpician hurled himself into the final conflict between France and Britain in North America. From 1755 on he was everywhere, as military chaplain, as adviser, or even as an “army”, since, according to Lalande, Governor Duquesne thought that “Abbé Picquet was worth more than ten regiments.” While Abbé Pierre-Paul-François de Lagarde worked at the mission Picquet took part in 1756 in the expeditions against Fort Bull (east of Lake Oneida, N.Y.) and Oswego (Chouaguen). Montcalm* observed that “according to Abbé Picquet, the Indians say that the English have put a price on his head.” Lalande continues: “Generals, commanding officers, troops showed their esteem and gratitude in an extraordinary manner by giving him military honours . . . honours received both in the field, and at Quebec, Montreal, and Trois-Rivières, in all the forts he visited.”

In March 1757 Picquet was rewarded with a pension from the king. Two months later he undertook secret negotiations with the Oneidas which resulted in a more durable alliance. But as the fighting intensified Governor Vaudreuil [Rigaud] decided to place a military commandant, Claude-Nicolas de Lorimier* de La Rivière, at Fort de La Présentation. Insulted by this division of authority, the autocratic abbé withdrew in March 1758 to his former mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes and did not emerge until 18 May. “Abbé Picquet appeared this morning from the depths of his retreat; he is like a seigneur of the royal court, who, dissatisfied, has spent two months on his estates,” noted Montcalm; the latter, a good Frenchman, sided with Picquet against the governor.

“In high standing” with the Indians, Abbé Picquet led them on 8 July 1758 during the famous battle of Carillon (Ticonderoga, N.Y.); according to a song composed after the victory, he is supposed to have exhorted the army before the combat: “‘My children,’ he said, ‘be of good spirit!/ The good Lord, his Mother, all things favour you.’”

The grateful Vaudreuil appointed the affable Antoine-Gabriel-François Benoist as commandant to replace the bad-tempered Lorimier. And when he put Pierre Pouchot* in provisional command of La Présentation in March 1759, Vaudreuil gave him strict injunctions “to show Abbé Picquet all the respect due his character and his prestige among the tribes.” Yet the French resistance was crumbling. Vaudreuil, Lévis, Montcalm, and others might be unceasing in their praise of Picquet, who “has fought like a warrior,” but he sensed after the failure of Louis de La Corne*’s expedition to Oswego in July 1759 that the end was imminent. Aware that the fortifications at La Présentation were inadequate, he decided to move his mission to a nearby island, Île Picquet. But the Indians there, “who are starving,” began to flee. In the winter of 1760 Picquet went to Montreal for help. Wasted effort! All he could do was return to the island, in March 1760, rally the most desperate Indians, and in the summer take them to Montreal, now shorn of its own empire.

Unwilling, apparently, to submit to the new master, and perhaps because a price had been set on his head, Picquet secretly left Montreal just before its capitulation with 25 Frenchmen and a few Indians. In July 1761 he arrived in New Orleans, where he stayed until April 1763. He then made his last voyage back to France. His difficulties were by no means over. He was denied a pension – this man who, Lalande claims with his usual studied care, “could say that while he was in Canada there were no glorious actions for France in which he did not have a large part.” The general assembly of the clergy of France, however, came to his aid and paid him l,200 livres on two occasions, in 1765 and 1770.

In 1772 Picquet decided to return to his native Bresse, first exercising the parish ministry at Verjon until 1775. Finally the quick-tempered priest became chaplain to the nuns of the Visitation at Bourg-en-Bresse and held this office until 1779. In March 1777 he went to Rome, where Pius VI accorded him a private audience; “his” Visitation nuns presented him in one of their circulars as “known in the four corners of the world . . . loved by the people, respected by the Indians, esteemed by the great and particularly by Louis XV, who like the Pope had given him every sort of authority and power.” That was enough to persuade him to retire and he bought a house and property near Cluny in 1779. In 1781 business brought him to Verjon, where he died of a haemorrhage and dropsy on 15 July.

Robert Lahaise

[The main difficulty in writing about Abbé Picquet is in separating truth from hyperbole. The first account of his life, by his friend and compatriot, astronomer Joseph-Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, was published in Paris in 1783. Lalande provides no sources but tells us that Picquet did everything: he rallied all the Iroquois (and almost did the same with the “Negroes and Negresses in New England”), he made England tremble, he foresaw and directed the wars. Amherst, advancing to Montreal, even “first informed himself as to where M. Picquet could have taken refuge.”

A century after this sensational beginning, André Chagny, Catholic and royalist as only a 19th-century Frenchman could be, continued the epic. Accepting Lalande’s text unconditionally, he filled in the gaps left by his predecessor’s scant 60 pages with 600 pages of his own invention. We are consequently in his debt for, among other things, a defence of the Abbé’s humility, as well as a final elegy worthy of his basic assumptions: “Thanks to all who defended New France at that time, and first and foremost to Abbé Picquet, we can boldly affirm that there survives on the other side of the Atlantic something of the great soul of France.” Later Joseph Tassé*, Pierre Rousseau, and Auguste-Honoré Gosselin* composed minor variations on this theme. It is, however, undeniable that much contemporary praise of Picquet, bestowed by colonial authorities, is to be found, for example in the Coll. des manuscrits de Lévis. There is therefore evidence to visualize him as a Le Loutre of the west with accomplishments of no mean order.  r.l.]

Coll. des manuscrits de Lévis (Casgrain), I, 198; II, 187; V, 254–55, 307; VII, 119, 206, 481; VIII, 97, 103; X, 189, 204. J.-J. Lefrançois de Lalande, “Mémoire sur la vie de M. Picquet, missionnaire au Canada, par M. de la Lande, de l’Académie des Sciences,” Lettres édifiantes et curieuses, écrites des missions étrangères par quelques missionnaires de la Compagnie de Jésus, Y.-M.-M. de Querbeuf, édit. (nouv. éd., 26v., Paris, 1780–83), XXVI, 1–63. “Les malignités du sieur de Courville,” BRH, L (1944), 69–70. [A.-J.-H. de Maurès de Malartic, comte de Malartic], Journal des campagnes au Canada de 1755 à 1760 . . . , Gabriel de Maurès de Malartic et Paul Gaffarel, édit. (Dijon, France, 1890). Louise Dechêne, “Inventaire des documents relatifs à l’histoire du Canada conservés dans les archives de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice à Paris,” ANQ Rapport, 1969, 147–288. André Chagny, Un défenseur de laNouvelle-France,” François Picquet, “le Canadien” (1708–7781) (Montréal et Paris, 1913). Frégault, La guerre de la Conquête. Pierre Rousseau, Saint-Sulpice et les missions catholiques (Montréal, 1930). M. Trudel, LÉglise canadienne. J.-G. Forbes, “La mission d’Oka et ses missionnaires,” BRH, VI (1900), 147. A.[-H.] Gosselin, “Le fondateur de la Présentation (Ogdensburg): l’abbé Picquet (17341760),” RSC Trans., 1st ser., XII (1894), sect.i, 3–28. Olivier Maurault, “Quand Saint-Sulpice allait en guerre . . . ,” Cahiers des Dix, 5 (1940), 11–30. J. R. Potter, “Le calvaire d’Oka,” Vie des arts (Montréal), XIX (1974–75), no.76, 88–89. P.-G. Roy, “Pierre Margane des Forêts de Lavaltrie,” BRH, XXIII (1917), 71–77. Joseph Tassé, “L’abbé Picquet,” Revue canadienne (Montréal), VII (1870), 5–23, 102–18. Têtu, “Le chapitre de la cathédrale,” BRH, XV, 97–111.

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Cite This Article

Robert Lahaise, “PICQUET, FRANÇOIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/picquet_francois_4E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/picquet_francois_4E.html
Author of Article:   Robert Lahaise
Title of Article:   PICQUET, FRANÇOIS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   June 16, 2024