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PAQUETTE, WILFRID – Volume XIV (1911-1920)

d. 25 May 1917 in Montreal


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POUCHOT (Pouchot de Maupas, Pouchat, Pourchaut, Boucheau), PIERRE, military engineer, officer in the French regular troops, author of Mémoires sur la dernière guerre de l’Amérique septentrionale . . . ; b. 8 April 1712 at Grenoble, France, son of an impecunious merchant; d. 8 May 1769 on Corsica.

At the age of 21 Pierre Pouchot joined the regular army as a volunteer engineer, and on 1 May 1734 was appointed second lieutenant in the Régiment de Béarn. He had an aptitude for military engineering and studied the standard works on fortification; in the late 1730s he gained practical experience in Corsica. He later served in Italy, Flanders, and Germany and was an assistant adjutant within ten years. In the War of the Austrian Succession his engineering service won distinction; he received the cross of the order of Saint-Louis and, in September 1749, a captain’s command.

With the resumption of war in North America in 1754 Pouchot’s regiment was chosen for service in Canada, and was sent to Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.), arriving in July 1755. The quality of the entrenchments he laid out there induced Governor Pierre de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil to send him on detached service to improve Niagara’s defences with the advice of the king’s engineer Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry.

At Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) Pouchot soon began reconstruction of the stone building surrounded by a “rotten stockade, with no defensive works” save four wooden bastions. His plan was to protect the fort with substantial earthworks on the landward side. Vaudreuil approved it and left Pouchot with 200 regulars and several colonials for labour on the earthworks in the winter of 175556.

On 22 July 1756 Pouchot, reunited with his regiment, joined the French forces converging on Fort Oswego (Chouaguen). Arriving on 12 August, he was ordered to assist Montcalm’s inexperienced engineer, Jean-Nicolas Desandrouins*, in laying out the siege works. The French trenches and batteries were advanced with speed and secrecy, and Oswego, in an indefensible situation, surrendered on 15 August. Vaudreuil singled out Pouchot as one of his best officers and asked that he be given a lieutenant colonel’s commission with pension.

After some construction in the Montreal area and minor additions to forts Carillon (Ticonderoga, N.Y.) and Frontenac, Pouchot took up in mid-October his appointment as commandant of Fort Niagara. This appointment had been made by Vaudreuil in August on Montcalm’s advice, with orders to complete the fortifications. Pouchot was the first officer in the French regular army to enjoy this post, which officers of the colonial regular troops looked upon as theirs by custom. It was commonly believed that only a Canadian could deal with the Indians, but Pouchot attracted large numbers of Iroquois to the French cause. Many had been impressed by the victory at Chouaguen, and were drawn to Fort Niagara by Pouchot’s liberality and trade on good terms. The Senecas, on whose lands Fort Niagara stood, also responded to Pouchot’s appeal for military aid as did some Cayugas and Onondagas. They flattered him with the name Sategariouaen or Sategayogen, meaning “the centre of good transactions.” He also equipped war parties of Delawares, Shawnees, and Mississaugas which brought back scalps, prisoners, and information from the English colonies to be passed on to Vaudreuil. Pouchot’s influence, however, depended on French victories and trading goods. Thus in June 1757 the Mississaugas, hearing a rumour of French defeat, prepared to seize the French post at Toronto and had to be dispersed by a force from Niagara. In the winter of 1756–57 the garrison under Pouchot had completed the main earthworks and various buildings; Niagara was now regarded as a major French stronghold.

Although Pouchot’s Mémoires suggest he was at the siege of Fort William Henry (Fort George; now Lake George, N.Y.) in August 1757, other records indicate that he remained at Niagara. In that month he was told he had received a 200-livre pension but not a lieutenant-colonel’s commission, perhaps because of his social origins.

A second disappointment followed: in October 1757 Captain Jean-Baptiste Mutigny de Vassan of the colonial regular troops took over the command of Fort Niagara. Pouchot blamed his removal on the jealousy of the colonial officers who had influenced Vaudreuil. Bougainville* was explicit: “why, by the rebound of backlane intrigues among junior officers, did they replace M. de Pouchot, whom the Indians adored, with a man whose Spanish haughtiness had no affinity with their temperament?” Pouchot rejoined his regiment at Montreal. The following summer his company was ordered to aid in the defence of Fort Carillon against James Abercromby* [see Montcalm]. The Béarn defended the right flank of the French breastworks, and Pouchot later claimed he had averted a costly error. In a moment of bravado a French officer goaded the advancing Highlanders with a red handkerchief. The attackers mistook it for a sign of French surrender and ran forward, arms held high. The French troops, confused, mounted the parapet. Pouchot wrote that he alone kept the French firing.

The French victory at Carillon coincided with a rise in Pouchot’s fortunes. In April 1758 he had received two more 200-livre pensions, in place, apparently, of a promotion. He acted as a geographer for Governor Vaudreuil and his maps were sent to the ministry of Marine. After the battle of Carillon he and Lévis* advised Montcalm on the defence of Canada. With the loss of Fort Frontenac in the summer and the growing disaffection of the Iroquois, French control of the Great Lakes was endangered, and someone with influence among the Iroquois was needed at Niagara. If that post were attacked Pouchot would be best qualified to defend it. But Vaudreuil, though he promised Pouchot the post, delayed in releasing him. He was finally dispatched about 22 March 1759.

Pouchot was to take provisional command of Pointe-au-Baril (Maitland, Ont.) and La Présentation (Oswegatchie; now Ogdensburg, N.Y.) until two armed corvettes being constructed there were finished. These ships would then convey him with 450 men to Niagara. This contingent and the men at all the upper posts were expected to give Pouchot an army of 3,000. If he felt secure at Fort Niagara and Oswego remained deserted, he was to send most of his force southward to François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery for an attack on Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh, Pa.). Montcalm pronounced this an impossible scheme and complained to Bourlamaque, “never did France have more confidence in Maréchal de Saxe than the Marquis de Vaudreuil has in Pouchot, who has become a Canadian saying amen. . . . If he gains credit among that group, he loses it with us.”

Pouchot arrived at Pointe-au-Baril on 4 April and entrenched the post. He embarked for Niagara on 25 April, and set to work restoring the fort and conciliating the Iroquois. Early in June Montcalm noted that “it is greatly to be feared that M. Pouchot, caressed in the study of the Marquis de Vaudreuil, has not gained caution by it.” Indeed Pouchot’s conduct that spring betrays a blind confidence. Early in June he sent over 2,500 men to Lignery with precious arms and supplies.

This reckless dispersal of forces was encouraged by Vaudreuil and by faulty intelligence. The English had been expected to attack in early spring when Fort Niagara was undermanned; they did not. The Ohio campaign was thought necessary to preserve the loyalty of the western tribes. Pouchot accepted the assurance of some Iroquois chiefs that they would remain neutral and forewarn him of any English attack, and ignored reports that supporters of the English were assuming leadership of the Iroquois nations and preparing for an attack on Niagara. Only in late June after mistreatment of French agents among the Iroquois and news of an army descending the Oswego River did he think of his own protection. Well might he reflect in later years that the Indians “knew very well the advantage of being on the strongest side.”

The corvette Iroquoise, watching off Oswego for the British army, missed it and Pouchot was taken by surprise on 6 July when some of his men were ambushed outside Fort Niagara. The British were already disembarking at Petit Marais a few miles to the east. He recalled the forces in the Ohio valley and withdrew his outposts. The guns of the fort and the corvette harassed the British, who methodically burrowed toward the Flag or Lake bastion, which faced inland and lacked a parapet. Pouchot had not yet finished his grand design for the Niagara fortifications. British bombardment of the fort began on 13 July and on the 17th a battery across the river opened up on the lightly protected flank. Pouchot had neglected Vaudreuil’s advice to safeguard the opposite shore.

The garrison of about 500 was sustained by anticipation of Le Marchand de Lignery’s relief force. That force was engaged within view of the fort on 24 July but was defeated. Pouchot “could scarcely keep the soldiers and militia at their posts . . .” He surrendered to Sir William Johnson* on 25 July 1759 and was granted the honours of war. The loss of Fort Niagara, believed by many to be impregnable, meant that the French had lost control of the vital portage linking Lake Ontario with the posts of the upper lakes and the Mississippi valley. The canoe routes to the north were useless for the transport of heavy supplies.

Pouchot had received the officer bearing the first summons for surrender with brave words, a bottle of claret, and a glass of liquor. Before his departure for New York on 26 July he gave a supper for the British officers. His conduct was a contrast to the pillage by the victors and their Indian allies. The French officers were otherwise treated with kindness and generosity in captivity. There was an exchange of prisoners in November, and Pouchot and his men struggled back to Montreal.

Early in March 1760 Pouchot was named commandant of Fort Lévis (east of Prescott, Ont.) to relieve Desandrouins who was needed for the siege of British-held Quebec. Pouchot reached the fort by the end of the month and set to work with characteristic zeal. The 250-man garrison rebuilt the fort, which covered two thirds of Île Royale (Galop Island, near Ogdensburg, N.Y.). He negotiated with the Mississaugas and Iroquois but as the British army assembled at Oswego even the loyal mission Indians of La Présentation lost heart. Some Canadian militiamen deserted. With the crews of the two corvettes under his command, Pouchot had in June a fighting force of 316 with a few more reinforcements before August.

He must have had no illusions about his mission. It was to delay the British army’s descent of the St Lawrence River for as long as possible. Jeffery Amherst*’s force encamped at Pointe-au-Baril on 16 August, and on the 17th the corvette Outaouaise was captured. On the 18th the enemy barges filed past Fort Lévis; those British officers who knew Pouchot braved his fire and “bade him good morning in passing.” On the 21st a cannonade from islands and ships began, preceding an attempt by British landing parties. The French gunners holed two assault vessels and forced the third to strike its colours. The British were badly stung, and Pouchot only surrendered on 25 August, when his guns could no longer fire and the fort was a wreck. Amherst and his staff treated Pouchot with respect. In the end his heroic stand cost them 13 days.

Pouchot was again conveyed to New York, and after the fall of Montreal was repatriated to France. He landed on 8 March 1761, six years after he had embarked for Canada. According to the eulogy appended to his published memoirs, he was denounced as having shared in the corruption that contributed to Canada’s downfall. Vaudreuil’s favour could not protect him and lettres de cachet were issued. He hastened to defend himself but was told evasively that he was wanted as a witness against the embezzlers and would be rewarded later for his services.

Pouchot retired to Grenoble smarting from these calumnies. In his fifties, his ambitions frustrated, he apparently saw the war in Corsica as a chance to prove himself once more. He was employed as a military engineer there, and was killed on 8 May 1769 when reconnoitring a post.

Pouchot began writing his memoirs three months before he went to Corsica. “This short space of time,” wrote his eulogist, “did not permit him to arrange them with care, nor to use his materials properly.” Though the text refers to Pouchot in the third person, the work is substantially his own and seems to be based on fragmentary journals and memory. One such journal, chronicling the events at Niagara in the summer of 1757, is contained in the Lévis manuscripts.

Pouchot’s memoirs are especially valuable for the sieges of forts Niagara and Lévis. They reflect the dismay of the French regular troops at being consigned piecemeal to the colonies and their disdain for the Canadians. Pouchot was amused by the colonial veneration for military ranks and honours and noted the relative emancipation of the women. Like many Europeans he was fascinated by the American Indians. The maps and memorials annexed to his history reveal his interest in geography. The Mémoires are, nonetheless, the product of a man anxious to vindicate himself. Pouchot exaggerated his role in events; much that he did before 1758 under orders is attributed to his own initiative. Contrary to the records of the time, he said that he took leave of Montcalm in 1759 knowing that Niagara must fall. Yet he attempted to divest himself of responsibility for surrendering.

The rumour of malfeasance was the most painful to Pouchot. He not only declared his innocence in the Mémoires; he portrayed himself as the active enemy of corruption and described the sins of Francois Bigot*, Joseph-MicheCadet*, Francois Le Mercier* and Michel-Jean-Hugues Péan*. A letter he wrote in 1757 indicates he tacitly accepted the activities of Bigot’s Grande Société.

Pierre Pouchot was a professional soldier whose abilities were superior to those of most officers in the colony. He executed his duties with intelligence, zeal, and imagination. He had a genial manner and a natural courtesy. The neatest summation of his character was written in French by Walter Rutherford, a British officer who had visited him during the siege of Fort Niagara: “bon soldat et homme d’esprit.”

Peter N. Moogk

[American authors customarily refer to François Pouchot, following the precedent of the noted historian F. H. Severance, author of An old frontier of France: the Niagara region and adjacent lakes under French control (2v., New York, 1917). French sources speak only of a Pierre Pouchot and an entry dated 28 March 1758 in the ANDM identifies him as Pierre Pouchot de Maupas. He signed simply Pouchot.  p.n.m.].

Pierre Pouchot, Mémoires sur la dernière guerre de l’Amérique septentrionale entre la France et l’Angleterre, suivis d’observations, dont plusieurs sont relatives au théatre actuel de la guerre, et de nouveaux détails sur les mœurs et les usages des sauvages, avec des cartes topographiques (3v., Yverdon, 1781); translated from the French by F. B. Hough under the title Memoir upon the late war in North America, between the French and the English, 1756–60 . . . (2v., Roxbury, Mass., 1866).

AN, Col., B, 105, f.31; C11A, 101, pp.7–8, 67–68, 165–66, 442; 102, pp.134, 147, 151; 103, pp.203–4, 466; 105, pp.38, 171–78, 319–20; F3, 15, pp.54–55, 97; 15/2, pp.519–28; 16/1, pp.207–9, 215–16 (PAC transcripts). PAC, MG 24, L3, 3. SHA, A1, 3404, nos.46, 111; 3457, nos.57, 81; Yb, 121, f.120 (dossier Pouchot). Bougainville, “Journal” (Gosselin), APQ Rapport, 1923–24, 221, 253, 261, 266, 278–79, 313, 326, 327. “Le chevalier de la Pause,” APQ Rapport, 1931–32, 21, 24, 32, 35, 60, 87–90, 92, 94. Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la N.-F., IV, 25, 53, 90, 105, 151, 155, 198, 227, 244, 300, 303, 307. Guerre du Canada: relations et journaux (Casgrain), 72–73, 87–116, 182. Inv. des papiers de Léry (P.-G. Roy), II, 192. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), II, 511; III, 110; X, 124; XIII, 114, 170. Journal du chevalier de Lévis (Casgrain), 63, 171–74, 177, 182, 188–91, 241. Journal du marquis de Montcalm (Casgrain), 87, 95, 110, 122, 129, 150–51, 168–69, 193, 195, 197, 213, 244–45, 312, 350. Lettres de divers particuliers (Casgrain), 119–22, 202. Lettres de la cour de Versailles (Casgrain), 73, 117. Lettres de M. de Bourlamaque (Casgrain), 138, 152, 200, 237, 293, 302–3, 306–8, 310. Lettres du chevalier de Lévis (Casgrain), 363. Lettres du marquis de Montcalm (Casgrain), 84, 118, 153, 156–57, 190. Lettres du marquis de Vaudreuil (Casgrain). Lettres et pièces militaires (Casgrain), 52, 147, 149–50, 153–56. “Les malignités du sieur de Courville,” BRH, L (1944), 99. “Mémoire du Canada,” APQ Rapport, 1924–25, 148, 157, 159. “Les ‘mémoires’ du chevalier de La Pause,” APQ Rapport, 1932–33, 353, 373–77. Mémoires sur le Canada, depuis 1749 jusqu’à 1760. “La mission de M. de Bougainville en France en 1758–1759,” APQ Rapport, 1923–24, 53. “Pour avoir pris part au siège de Chouaguen,” BRH, L (1944), 159.

H.-R. Casgrain, Guerre du Canada, 1756–1760: Montcalm et Lévis (2v., Québec, 1891; Tours, France, 1899). Frégault, La guerre de la conquête. L.-P. Desrosiers, “Officiers de Montcalm,” RHAF, III (1949–50), 371–72. Nova Francia, IV (1929), 190. P.-G. Roy, “Les commandants du fort Niagara,” BRH, LIV (1948), 199–201.

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Peter N. Moogk, “POUCHOT, PIERRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pouchot_pierre_3E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pouchot_pierre_3E.html
Author of Article:   Peter N. Moogk
Title of Article:   POUCHOT, PIERRE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   May 25, 2024