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d. 25 Feb. 1919 in Jette-Saint-Pierre, Belgium


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RAZILLY (Rasilly), ISAAC DE, naval captain, colonizer, and governor in Acadia; b. 1587 at the Château d’Oiseaumelle in the Touraine country of France, the son of François de Razilly and Catherine de Valliers, and the brother of Claude, a ship’s captain and commodore, of Gabriel, a member of the order of Saint John of Jerusalem, who was killed at Montpellier in 1622, and of François, who directed the Maragnan expedition; d. 1635 at La Hève.

At the age of 18, Isaac was appointed a knight of the order of Saint John of Jerusalem. He became a member of the French navy and over the years saw much distinguished service. In 1621 he was appointed commander of Isle-Bouchard in Touraine. That same year he commanded a squadron of 13 vessels during the siege of the Huguenot-held port of Saint-Martin, his force capturing some 30 enemy craft during the action. In the attack on the Huguenots at La Rochelle in 1625 he was seriously wounded and lost an eye when one of the vessels in his fleet blew up. His other service with the navy took him to many parts of the world and further demonstrated his unusual ability.

Cardinal Richelieu came to seek his counsel on maritime matters and in 1626 he asked Razilly to prepare a brief setting forth his ideas on the country’s trade and commerce. The report that resulted stated frankly that the nation’s trade was at a low ebb owing to the government’s mistaken notion that trade was not vital to the country’s welfare. Refuting this idea, Razilly went on to observe that mastery of the sea would also bring France great power on land. In the section dealing with New France, he proposed that a large trading company with capital of 300,000 livres be organized, that steps be taken to block any English encroachment north of the 36th parallel, and that three to four thousand colonists be placed on the land both as a means to developing resources and to further ensure a hold on the country.

This report from a man of renown and high reputation was received favourably by Richelieu who set about putting the various proposals into force. Possibly the most important outcome was the founding the next year of the Compagnie de La Nouvelle-France, or the Compagnie des Cent-Associés as it is often called. Participants included Richelieu himself, Champlain, and Razilly, who was appointed naval commander for the company. The company’s first act was to prepare four ships and load them with settlers, cattle, food, and other supplies for Champlain at Quebec and Charles de Saint-Étienne de La Tour at Cap de Sable. They set out in the spring of 1628 but were intercepted by an English squadron and few of the supplies got through. The next year it was decided to send three warships commanded by Razilly, including that of Capt. Charles Daniel, to guard the supply ships on the Atlantic crossing but, with peace between France and England about to be signed, Richelieu ordered Razilly to sail instead against Moorish pirates attacking French shipping in the Mediterranean.

Early in 1632 Cardinal Richelieu invited Razilly to accept the post of lieutenant-general of New France, but he declined, requesting instead to serve as a ship’s captain under Champlain “because he is more competent in colonial affairs.” On 27 March Razilly and Richelieu signed an agreement by which Razilly was to take possession of Port-Royal (now Annapolis Royal, N.S.) for the company and France under the terms of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and to make Acadia a French colony. Necessary authority to undertake this action was given Razilly in a royal commission dated 10 May. While the company also wished Razilly to begin settling the country, the losses it had suffered in the recent war with England had left it short of funds. The solution arrived at was to accord a part of its trading privilege to private companies on condition that such groups participate financially. So it was that Razilly and some of his friends formed a private trading association that came to be known as the Razilly-Condonnier company. While the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France provided an equipped vessel and the sum of 10,000 livres for the 1632 expedition to Acadia, it was Razilly’s private trading group which advanced the greater part of the money required. On 19 May, the company named Razilly lieutenant-general for the king in New France and granted him a tract of land at Sainte-Croix measuring 12 leagues by 20 leagues.

Three vessels were fitted out and, in addition to sailors and soldiers, workmen and craftsmen as well as some 12 to 15 families of colonists were recruited. In all “300 hommes d’élite,” including six Capuchins and a number of noblemen made up the expedition. They sailed from the port of Auray in Britanny on 23 July 1632, were joined by a ship from La Rochelle, and reached Acadia on 8 September. Razilly, a seaman by training, chose the port of La Hève (now La Have) on Nova Scotia’s south shore to be his headquarters and the capital of Acadia, a decision probably made because of its good harbour and its navigational advantages. On the site of the present village of Riverport, Razilly built a habitation consisting of his own residence, a store, and Fort Sainte-Marie-de-Grâce. A chapel for the Capuchins and other buildings for the families and the unmarried workmen were erected nearby. It was here at La Hève, too, that the Capuchins opened the first boarding-school in New France, one that was for the use of the colonists and especially the Indians.

Once the work of founding the settlement was well under way, Razilly turned his attention to the retaking of Port-Royal. Towards mid-December this post was peacefully surrendered to him by the garrison commander, Capt. Andrew Forrester. While a few of the Port-Royal settlers probably joined Razilly’s colonists, most accepted his offer of passage home to England where they arrived in February 1632/33.

Working towards the goal of establishing the colony on a solid base, Razilly set some of the men to farming. Land for this purpose was cleared at Petite-Rivière (Green Bay) and in the course of time some 40 people were settled there. At the same time, other projects of significance were developed. Since the La Hève area was a good one for fishing, Razilly in partnership with one of his lieutenants, Nicolas Denys, developed an inshore fishing business based at Port-Rossignol. He also encouraged Denys in his successful efforts to cut timber near La Hève for export to Europe. However, he realized it was the successful development of the trade in furs that would best assure necessary funds for the continued progress of the venture, and it was the colonizing of Acadia that he considered his chief purpose. In fact, as Denys says, “he had no other desire than to people this land, and every year he had brought here as many people as he possibly could for this purpose”. In his letters to Richelieu, Razilly spoke in the most glowing terms of the land of Acadia and of the number of people then living and suffering in France who could dwell in comfort in this “blessed land.” “The soil,” he writes, “is rich both on the surface and below; the sea abounds in fish that we are exporting to southern France.” In 1634 he wrote Marc Lescarbot lamenting his lack of means to accelerate the colonizing enterprise and observing that if he had the money himself he would willingly use it to foster this project.

That same year Razilly proposed that Richelieu ask the king for money to hire five vessels for use in Acadia. Two would be employed in the fur trade and the remaining three in cod-fishing. They would take these cargoes to France and return with European goods. Profits would mean that the number of vessels could be increased year by year. This project, he felt, would benefit the country by accelerating its settlement, by stimulating trade, by easing financial demands on the state, and by providing greater security against pirates.

To increase his fur-trade outlets, Razilly built a fortified port at Canseau (Canso) called Fort Saint-François. Here he placed Nicolas Le Creux Du Breuil, in charge. This place had the distinction of being the centre of the first attempt at revolt in Acadia when in 1635 Jean Thomas incited his crew and a band of Micmacs in the area to attack and capture Fort Saint-François. In a display of his usual energetic leadership, Razilly put down the rebellion, had Thomas made a prisoner, and prosecuted.

During all this time, Razilly had a good working relationship with Charles de La Tour who shared with him, under terms of the commissions issued by the Compagnie de La Nouvelle-France, control of the land and the coasts of Acadia. The company regularly sent out ships to Razilly with colonists and provisions. By early 1635 he felt strong enough to attempt to retake Fort Pentagouet on the Penobscot which by treaty had reverted to France but had never actually been abandoned by the New Englanders. So it was that Razilly assigned a force of men to one of his lieutenants, Charles de Menou d’Aulnay, and ordered him to capture the fort at Penobscot and to inform the English they were to vacate all lands North of Pemaquid. This post was taken in August and its occupants ejected.

Razilly now had the satisfaction of knowing that all French interests in Acadia had been restored. Peace reigned and the many development projects he had set in motion were flourishing. His sudden death at La Hève in December 1635 proved a disastrous blow which had a lasting effect on the country.

During these years in Acadia, Isaac de Razilly had had the whole-hearted support of his brother, Claude de Launay-Rasilly (who signed his name thus), a member not only of the Razilly Condonnier company and the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France, but also of two private companies active in the St. Lawrence region. When, in 1634, the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France was unable to repay the Razillys the money they had loaned, the company conceded them in the name of Claude de Rasilly the forts at La Hève and Port Royal as well as half the profits to be derived from the fur trade over the next ten years. Following the death of his brother, who was a bachelor, Claude de Rasilly became responsible for the Acadian colony. Since business affairs obliged him to remain in France, he authorized Menou d’Aulnay to act for him in Acadia. However, he remained actively interested in the affairs of the colony and in all probability it is he who was largely responsible for continuing his brother’s successful experiment of establishing farmers in Acadia. While totals are extremely difficult to estimate, it seems reasonable to suggest that some 120 permanent inhabitants were brought to Acadia by the Razilly brothers. At the beginning of 1642, Claude de Rasilly sold his interests in the Razilly-Condonnier company to d’Aulnay and, with this act, participation of the Razillys in affairs here ceased.

While Isaac de Razilly lived little more than three years in Acadia, his contribution to its development had lasting importance. He was one of the first Europeans to be more interested in settling the country than exploiting its other resources. It was under his direction that a good number of the original Acadian people, whose descendants today comprise some 300,000 of the population of the Atlantic provinces, were established on the land. Realizing that commerce was also essential to the success of this experiment, he successfully promoted the fur trade, timber cutting, and inshore fishing projects. What is more, he ruled the territory under his direction with vigour, intelligence, and foresight. As Champlain records, he was “prudent, wise, laborious, and impelled by a holy desire to increase the glory of God, and carry his courage to the country of New France, there to unfurl the standard of Jesus Christ and cause the lilies [of France] to flourish.”

George MacBeath

BN, ms Fr. 13423, ff.349v–350, letter from Razilly to Lescarbot of 16 Aug. 1634. Champlain, Works (Biggar). Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la Nouv.-France, I, II. Denys, Description and natural history (Ganong). JR (Thwaites). René Baudry, “Charles d’Aulnay et la Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France,” RHAF, XI (1957-58), 218–41. Roger Comeau, “Origine des Acadiens,” SGCF Mémoires, VI (1955), 243–56. Couillard Després, Saint-Étienne de La Tour. Léon Deschamps, Un colonisateur au temps de Richelieu: Isaac de Razilly (Paris, 1887) (taken in part from the Revue de Géographie (1877)). La Roncière, Histoire de la marine française, IV. Michel-Gustave de Rasilly, Généalogie de la famille de Rasilly (Laval, 1903). J.-E. Roy, “Le commandeur de Rasilly,” BRH, XIX (1913), 345–49.

Two documents which may indicate that Claude de Launay-Rasilly was in Acadia are in AN (Archives d’Outre-Mer), Dépôt des fortifications des colonies, 134, f.28 (Mémoire de Lhermitte, 1716), and in ACM, B.203, 206 (29 avril 1662).

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Cite This Article

George MacBeath, “RAZILLY (Rasilly), ISAAC DE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/razilly_isaac_de_1E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/razilly_isaac_de_1E.html
Author of Article:   George MacBeath
Title of Article:   RAZILLY (Rasilly), ISAAC DE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1966
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   February 25, 2024