Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville
French, 1668 - 1722

Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources. Some narratives necessarily contain invented, yet plausible, scenarios and personal attributes. Please see About This Narrative to learn more about how this person's narrative was created.

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Epilogue | About This Narrative |


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Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville (1668 - 1722) followed his father in becoming a military leader of combined French and Native troops.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, the Canadian-born lieutenant in the troupes de la marine who led the expedition against Deerfield, was from one of the leading military families in New France. His father, Joseph-François Hertel de la Fresnière, was nicknamed "the Hero" for his exploits, which included leading joint French and Native expeditions against the Iroquois Confederacy and against the English in New England and New York. Nine of the elder Hertel's sons served in the troupes de la marine, and their combined service to New France and the king earned their father a title of nobility from King Louis XIV.

Veterans of Native Warfare

Hertel de Rouville was born in Trois-Rivières, one of the French settlements along the Saint Lawrence River. Most of the other officers and militiamen who participated in the Deerfield raid were also from these settlements; it is likely that the officers hand-picked men from their communities who had the appropriate experience. They and their families had a long history of conflict with the Iroquois Confederacy from about 1650 until the Great Peace of 1701, when the Confederacy made peace with France and its Native allies.

Hertel de Rouville's father, Joseph-François Hertel de La Fresnière, fought off Iroquois attacks on Trois-Rivières as a 15-year-old garrison soldier. In 1661, when he was 19, he was captured by the Iroquois. In the memoirs he wrote in his 70s, he says he was "wounded and made prisoner . . . and was about two years a slave among them. He is maimed in one hand by the bad treatment" he received, and "ran the risk of being burned alive." (1) He survived to learn the language and customs of his captors, and escaped after two years. He became a fur trader and interpreter, and participated in expeditions against the Iroquois in the 1660s and 1680s, distinguishing himself to such an extent that he was appointed commander of New France's Native allies.

The experience of fighting against the Iroquois developed the canadiens' skills in partisan warfare as employed by Natives—to "march in snow shoes, carry and draw ammunition and stores so far, and storm a town in the very heart of the enemy's country," (2) as Governor Louis-Hector de Callière wrote. Many of the Canadian officers and militiamen also had experience as fur traders, which required similar skills: using snowshoes, surviving in the woods, and communicating with Natives.

The Hertels and the Wôbanakiak of Odanak

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"Plan du village des Abénakis levé en l'année 1704" (Plan of the Abenakis' village, drawn in 1704) by Levasseur de Néré. The plan shows the village at Odanak, surrounded by a palisade and including Native dwellings, a Jesuit mission, and the home of Hertel de Rouville's brother, Joseph Hertel de Saint François.
Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada.

Some of New France's Native allies, the Wôbanakiak of the village of Odanak, were very closely tied to the Hertel family. Some family members were the seigneurs, or landlords, of the land on which Odanak was founded. Odanak became a place of refuge for Natives fleeing Metacom's War and other struggles between Wôbanaki groups and the New England colonists. When the Nine Years' War between England and France began in 1689, Wôbanaki retaliation and French imperial policy combined to send the Hertels and Wôbanakiak to raid English settlements together. After the war, in 1701, Marguerite Hertel Crevier, Joseph-François's sister, and her son provided land for a new Jesuit mission and fort at Odanak.

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville and two of his brothers took part in the 1690 raid against Salmon Falls, New Hampshire, which was led by their father. In this successful raid, 25 French and 25 Native fighters surprised the village at dawn, surrounding and attacking three garrison houses simultaneously, killing 34 English and capturing 54. The elder Hertel and four of his sons later helped defend Quebec against English attack, and family members fought in many other battles in the Nine Years' War.

Noble Ambitions

Governor Frontenac rewarded the Hertel family for their contributions to the Nine Years' War with commissions in the troupes de la marine and by petitioning King Louis XIV to grant a noble title to Joseph-François Hertel. Nobility, which was hereditary once granted, did not include financial rewards, but was a mark of high status and distinction. The Hertels and many of their fellow seigneurs and nobles were not wealthy; they depended on the modest production of their seigneuries and even more modest military salaries for income. Although Joseph-François Hertel was not, in fact, awarded his title for many years, the family acted like nobles: they took second names after their estates (e.g., "de Rouville," "de La Fresnière"), used the title eçuyer or "esquire," and married members of noble families. (See the essay on French Colonialism for more about New France and its nobility.)

Lieutenant Hertel de Rouville Assumes Leadership

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville followed in his father's footsteps, becoming an outstanding military leader with a knowledge of Native languages and lifeways. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1696, ahead of one of his older brothers. In addition to the attack on Salmon Falls and other expeditions, he had participated in an attack on the Senecas in 1687. He married in 1698, but as a lieutenant on active duty, spent little time at home; his first wife, Jeanne Dubois, died in 1700.

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"Canadians on snowshoes going to war over the snow." Engraving, circa 1700, from Baqueville de la Potherie, Histoire de l'Amerique. The canadiens led by De Rouville were similarly dressed and equipped.
Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada.

In August of 1703, de Rouville took part in an expedition to Maine that helped draw the Wôbanakiak and Pennacooks there into the latest war between France and England (War of the Spanish Succession), laying the groundwork for the attack on Deerfield. A few months earlier, the English had killed a Penobscot relative of a French nobleman who had married a woman of that nation. The Penobscots appealed to the alliance of Native communities along the Saint Lawrence River for help, and the French governor was happy to join in the response—an attack on the English in Maine. Hertel de Rouville was among 20 or 30 troupes accompanying 200 Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) and Wôbanakiak warriors to Maine. When they arrived, the Penobscots told them that they had already settled the matter with the English, in a council held at Casco, Maine in June. But the Kanienkehaka said it was too late: they had come, and if the Penobscot didn't fight with them against the English, they would attack the Penobscot themselves. Together, they raided English settlements in Maine, and English reprisals brought the Wobanakiak fully into the war.

These developments were part of the French strategy of keeping the English and Natives as "irreconcilable enemies," in the words of New France's Governor Vaudreuil. New France, whose population and military resources were much smaller than those of New England, needed its Native allies. The fur trade between Natives and the French had diminished during the 1690s due to oversupply. The French feared that Natives would form trade—and therefore military—alliances with the English unless animosities between the two were kept fresh. The expedition against Deerfield was the next step in this unfolding strategy. The Pennacooks, responding to English attacks on Pennacook settlements in Maine and New Hampshire, asked Governor Vaudreuil in the fall of 1703 to join them in an attack of retribution against the English. He readily agreed, and leadership of the raid was given to Lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville as his first independent command.

The Expedition

The Deerfield raiders assembled at Fort Chambly, which was surrounded by the estate of Jean-Baptiste Hertel's father, Joseph-François Hertel. At 35, the younger Hertel was assuming leadership of 250 French and Native fighters. This force was larger and more diverse than any that had previously attacked English targets—five times larger than the one his father had led against Salmon Falls, New Hampshire.

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Plan of Fort Chambly, drawn in 1704 by Levasseur de Néré. In addition to the fort, the plan shows the houses, barns, mill, and lands of Joseph-François Hertel, father of Hertel de Rouville.
C.A.O.M. Aix-en-Provence (France) Amerique septentrionale 496 (p.f. 5c). All rights reserved. Photograph courtesy of the National Archives of Canada.

Hertel de Rouville's fellow officers were nobles or would-be nobles, like his family, and a mix of experienced fighters and young men. In fact, the group included three or four of his younger brothers: "most likely 29-year-old René Hertel de Chambly, 27-year-old Lambert Hertel, 17-year-old Pierre Hertel de Moncours, and possibly 19-year-old Michel." (3) Ensign René Boucher de la Perrière, two of his nephews, and brother-in-law Ensign Francois-Marie Margane de Batilly participated; the Bouchers were another prominent Canadian-born noble family, as was the family of another participant, Charles Legardeur de Croisille.

Among the 50-odd Frenchmen in the expedition were also some enlisted men in the troupes de la marine, and militiamen from the officers' home villages who were probably experienced at fur trading and/or raids against Iroquois or English targets. The 200 Natives were from at least three nations and five villages, and, like the French, were a mix of experienced fighters and young men seeking to prove their skills.

Hertel de Rouville no doubt felt the enormity of the challenge he was taking on. His mission was to capture and destroy the English settlement of Deerfield, and his success would be measured in numbers of enemy dead and property destroyed. He knew that Native fighters, while undoubtedly brave, would rather not attack fortified locations. They preferred smaller raids, and their goals were to take captives and avoid unnecessary casualties among their own forces. De Rouville also knew that it would be impossible to carry enough provisions for the trip back with captives, so hunger would be a problem. He would need all of his experience and skill to pull off this attack, but the rewards could be great: promotions, honors, and above all the granting of noble status to his family.

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Attack on Deerfield
February 29, 1704

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Lieutenant Hertel de Rouville led the attack on Deerfield in his first independent command.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, leader of the expedition against Deerfield, assembled his French troupes and militiamen together before they made their final approach to Deerfield, two hours before dawn. He probably exhorted them to fight bravely and to stand by one another, urging "all who had any quarrels with each other to be reconciled sincerely, and embrace," (4) and led them in prayer. Perhaps he embraced his own brothers before giving the signal to move out; three or four of his younger brothers were among the raiders.

Leading his first raid at 35, Hertel de Rouville may have planned to use a strategy that had succeeded very well when he fought under his father's leadership in an attack on Salmon Falls, New Hampshire, nearly 15 years earlier. In that attack, French and Native fighters surprised the village at dawn, surrounding and attacking three garrison houses simultaneously, killing or capturing 88 residents while losing few of their own. If this was De Rouville's plan, it went awry as the allied raiders entered through the north gate and fanned out through the village. A shot was fired—whether by the English watchman, one of his men, or an awakened villager he did not know, but it had the effect of sending the Native fighters scrambling for the first large houses they could reach. De Rouville knew that their first priority—especially that of the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk)—was to take captives. Strategy was lost in the heat of battle as warriors of different nations competed for the spoils.

Hertel de Rouville was trying to rally some men to block the village's south gate against escape when Ensign Boucher called to him from a rough-looking shelter near the north gate. With surprise, De Rouville recognized the man they were tying up. It was Jacques de Noyon, a renegade fur trader who had been born within a year of De Rouville in his own village of Trois-Rivières, and had grown up in Boucherville, his father a tenant farmer on the Bouchers' seigneury. De Noyon was well known to De Rouville and his fellow officers for his adventures among the Natives far to the west. A defiant coureur de bois, he had last been heard of in New York, where he had treasonously offered to supply furs to the English. De Noyon and his two French companions were a coup for the expedition. Hertel de Rouville ordered his men to keep the three, as well as De Noyon's English wife and in-laws, as their own prisoners; the Native warriors were welcome to any others they could capture.

De Rouville surveyed the action. He could see that mixed groups of Kanienkehaka, Wendat (Huron), and Wôbanaki fighters were attacking houses on the east and west sides of the village common, and that the residents were fighting back, firing from their windows. De Rouville saw a man take a bullet and fall halfway out of a window. Captives were being herded to the meetinghouse to be held under guard until the army was ready to leave. Flames and smoke were beginning to rise from houses and barns at the south end of the village.

Nearby, a large house was being assaulted. Ensign Margane de Batilly led a charge toward the house in a hail of small shot—and fell, badly wounded. De Rouville rallied another group of men to follow him, and rushed the house again. They succeeded only in dragging De Batilly beyond the range of the fire from the house. A group of Wendats charged the house with torches, but they too were driven back and their chief badly wounded. After repeated attacks and attempts to set the house afire, De Rouville called out to the resisting villagers and promised that they would not be harmed if they gave up their guns. He was answered with a volley of gunfire as Benoni Stebbins swore he would not be taken captive again; Stebbins knew that Native captivity for a man of fighting age could mean a horrible death by torture.

Angered, De Rouville led another assault, and this time it was he who fell with the shock of a hot bullet tearing into his arm. Cursing, he ordered his men to seek cover in the nearby meetinghouse and another large house (Ensign John Sheldon's) and shoot from those sheltered positions, keeping the occupants of the Stebbins house under constant fire.

De Rouville tied a rag around his arm and returned to the fight. He saw with satisfaction that many captives had been taken; a long line of them were being led out of the village by the Kanienkehaka. More than half the houses within the palisade were burning. Cattle, hogs, and sheep fleeing burning barns had been killed. The battle had been going on for nearly three hours, and De Rouville judged that his army had been successful in devastating the village.

Suddenly, one of the men on the second floor of the meetinghouse gave a shout, and Hertel de Rouville heard the sound of gunfire coming from the south. He knew it was probably English reinforcements. He called for Ensign Boucher, but finding him injured, told his brother René and a small group of militiamen, Wôbanakiak, and Wendats to cover the retreat as long as they could, then join him at the river. De Rouville had a plan against pursuit that he needed to set up, having chosen the south bank of the Deerfield River as a place from which to ambush pursuers.

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

The March
February 29 - March 1, 1704

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Wounded during the attack on Deerfield, Lieutenant Hertel de Rouville considered the success of the raid.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville and his rear guard of 30 French troupes and militiamen, Wendats (Huron), and Wôbanakiak were the last to gain the rendezvous point north of the Deerfield River, where they had camped the previous night. Anticipating pursuit by the English reinforcements who had ridden to Deerfield from neighboring towns, De Rouville had rallied his small group of men and had them lie in ambush along the south bank of the river. The English indeed chased the remaining raiders and their captives across the snowy meadow. De Rouville and his men could hear them coming, shouting and shooting. And then they could hear them floundering through the snow, hear the creak of their leather and their labored breathing. De Rouville gave the command, and his men stood up and fired a volley directly at the oncoming English. Several fell and the rest turned and ran, with De Rouville and his men in measured pursuit. They drove the English back to the town palisade, then retreated back across the meadows and river to the campsite.

The Natives had been preparing their captives for the march, giving them moccasins and organizing them. Hertel de Rouville allowed his men a brief rest and a drink, and had someone tend to his wound. It wasn't bad, just some small shot in the flesh. He was more concerned about Ensign François-Marie Margane de Batilly, who was unconscious and probably dying from his stomach wound.

As the ragged column began to move—Native warriors, Canadian officers and adventurers, and weeping English captives; everyone dirty or bloody, carrying burdens of gear, the wounded, or children—De Rouville considered the success of the raid. This was his first independent command, though he had fought in many similar battles. Indeed they had devastated the English town, burning more than half the houses and carrying off much loot. They had over a hundred captives, and he reckoned that another 50 or so English had been killed. By these measures, the attack was a success.

But the number of allies dead and wounded was unusually high. If everything had gone the way it had at Salmon Falls or Schenectady, only one or two of De Rouville's army would have died, and only a few would have been wounded. In fact, 22 Frenchmen had been wounded, including most of his officers—himself, one of his brothers, Ensign Boucher, Charles Legardeur de Croisille, and Ensign Margane de Batilly, who would surely die. Two more Frenchmen and eight or nine Natives had died, and more seemed likely to die of their wounds on the trail. De Rouville was angry that he had not exerted better control over the raiders as they entered the village.

Things were still more chaotic than he wanted. There were many captives to get back to New France, a long walk through the ice and snow. Some of the Natives had several captives and others had none, and this could cause trouble among them. They were not able to put much distance between themselves and Deerfield before they had to make camp on the first day, and De Rouville was concerned that the English could easily overtake them.

That night, two disturbing things happened. One of the captives, a young man, escaped. And a group of Natives got drunk on rum they had looted in the raid and killed another captive, an African man. In the morning, De Rouville exerted his authority. He ordered John Williams, the English minister who seemed to be a leader among the captives, to tell his friends that the Natives would burn them all if any more escaped. De Rouville then appointed a front and rear guard, and spoke to his men of the need to move quickly. He reminded them that after the raid on Schenectady, the English had pursued the raiding party almost all the way back to Montreal, capturing stragglers to the last. If everyone focused on moving forward and keeping the prisoners moving as quickly as possible, that in itself would impose discipline on the diverse and independent-minded group of allies.

Although he left most of the individual captives in the Natives' hands, Hertel de Rouville was determined to get the army and the captives as a group back to New France. That would be the final proof of the raid's success, and his honor and that of the Hertel family name depended on it.

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

Parting Ways
March 1 - 8, 1704

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Lieutenant Hertel de Rouville thanked his Wôbanaki and Kanienkehaka comrades as they set off on separate routes back to New France.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

After a grueling 14-mile hike on the eighth day of the journey, Lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville felt some relief when the White River came into view. Here, at the junction of the White and Connecticut Rivers, they were more than half-way to Chambly, his father's estate and the fort from which they had departed. It was very unlikely that any English pursuers would make it this far; they had succeeded in eluding them.

De Rouville conferred with the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), Wôbanaki, and Wendat (Huron) leaders. They were anxious to go their own ways because the food supply had run very low. They and their captives were at risk of starvation. It was only by splitting into small bands that they could hunt successfully. De Rouville acknowledged that the captives belonged to his Native allies, who were the best equipped of all to survive the rest of the journey. The Kanienkehaka and Wôbanakiak from Odanak would head west along the White River to the Winooski and Lake Champlain, while the French with their own prisoners would follow the Pennacooks further up the Connecticut River. De Rouville's band included a number of wounded who had difficulty traveling, and he knew that traveling along the Connecticut would be easier than heading west through the mountains with the Natives. They would turn west later, when they reached the Wells River, and follow it to the Winooski and Lake Champlain.

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

1704 - 1722

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville was recommended for promotion for his success at leading the raid on Deerfield. Governor Vaudreuil wrote to the minister of the marine: "I had the honor to . . . inform you of the success of the party I sent this winter on the ice as far as the Boston government at the request of the Abenaki Indians whom the English attacked . . . and took the liberty to speak to you of Sieur de Rouville who commanded on that occasion: he desires, my Lord, that you would have the goodness to think of him promotion . . . being still actually with the Abenakis. . . . Sieur de Rouville's party, my Lord, has accomplished everything expected of it, for independent of the capture of a fort, it showed the Abenakis that they could truly rely on our promises." (5) The governor also reiterated his support for letters of nobility for De Rouville's father, Joseph-François Hertel de La Fresnière, citing the wound Hertel de Rouville received in the raid as a "mark of valor."

The Hertels did not receive the honors they hoped for as a direct result of the Deerfield raid, but Hertel de Rouville continued to serve king and colony throughout his life. He married for the second time in February of 1708, to Marie-Anne Baudouin, the daughter of a Quebec doctor. Later that year, Lieutenant de Rouville and Captain Deschaillons shared command of an unsuccessful expedition against Haverhill, Massachusetts, in which De Rouville's brother René Hertel was killed. In 1709, De Rouville and another veteran of the 1704 Deerfield raid, René Boucher, led another Native-initiated raid on Deerfield. Instead of an all-out attack on the Deerfield stockade, de Rouville's men captured two Deerfield residents and laid an ambush for others who rode out to find the attackers. In 1711, Governor Vaudreuil sent De Rouville and a friend to Boston, supposedly on a diplomatic mission but actually to gather intelligence.

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Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, probably painted circa 1712 when he was promoted to captain. The medal was likely added later, when he was made knight of the Order of Saint Louis in 1721. Oil painting by an unknown artist. Click here to link to the portrait's artifact page for more information.
Courtesy of the McCord Museum of Canadian History, Montreal.

As a result of his service in these and other actions, Hertel de Rouville was promoted to captain in the troupes de la marine in 1712. His father, Joseph-François Hertel, was finally ennobled in 1716; the family was one of only 11 Canadian families, and the last, to achieve noble status. Hertel de Rouville was sent to Cape Breton Island in 1713, where he served for many years. The king recognized his service with the Cross of Saint-Louis in 1721. He died six months later, at the age of 54—a month after the death of his 80-year-old father, Joseph-François Hertel.

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville - Prologue | Attack on Deerfield | The March | Parting Ways | Epilogue | About This Narrative |

About This Narrative

Most of this narrative is factual, based on the research of Evan Haefeli and Kevin Sweeney as presented in their book Captors and Captives: The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003). The exception is some details of the raid and retreat, which, though based on facts, are imagined. For example, it is known that De Rouville was injured during the raid, but where and how he was injured is not known. Similarly, we know that the south gate of the palisade was not blocked against escape, but there is no evidence that De Rouville, as described herein, was ordering it to be done when he was distracted by the capture of Jacques de Noyon. This narrative was written by Freda Brackley.

See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People in The Many Stories of 1704.

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