Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil
French, circa 1643 - circa 1725

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Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil - Prologue | The Great Peace | Governor-General Vaudreuil at War | Captivity | Epilogue | About this Narrative |


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Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil was governor of Montreal at the time of the Great Peace of 1701 and assisted Governor-General Callière with the proceedings. Later, as governor-general of New France, he negotiated with the English and Native nations for redemption of the Deerfield captives.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Philippe de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil, was a soldier of noble birth who became governor-general of New France (Canada). His background was typical of leaders of New France in the 17th and 18th centuries, when military service to the king was a primary career path for members of the nobility, and wars with Native nations and the English colonies were frequent. Although a contemporary noted that Vaudreuil was ignorant except in military matters, he was a popular governor, and historians consider his 22-year reign a successful one. He maintained an alliance with Native nations from the Great Lakes region and the Rotinonsionni (Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy) for a number of years, reestablished the fur trade in the west, and defended the colony against the English.

The Brave Musketeer

Vaudreuil was born around 1643 into an old noble family in the province of Languedoc, France. After a successful career as a member of King Louis XIV's Musketeers, he emigrated to New France in 1687 at the age of 44. He had distinguished himself in the Musketeers, an elite arm of the French military that specifically protected the king and his household. France was at war with Holland in the early 1760s, and Vaudreuil's courage was noted during several major battles in that war. Despite winning the king's favor for his bravery, Vaudreuil's career prospects were limited. The French law of primogeniture meant that the sizable Vaudreuil family fortune would go entirely to his eldest brother, and higher rank in the army had to be purchased at great expense. Vaudreuil's appointment as commander of the troupes de la marine in New France was a level of opportunity he would not have had if he had stayed in Europe.

New France

Vaudreuil's job was to lead several companies of troupes who were sent to New France to fight the Rotinonsionni, and they soon had their opportunity to do so. Within the year of his arrival in New France, Vaudreuil accompanied Governor-General Denonville on an expedition against the Senecas. Louis-Hector de Callière, who became Vaudreuil's rival for power and his predecessor as governor of New France, also participated. Vaudreuil gained experience in conducting campaigns in Native territory, although little actual fighting took place. The expedition sacked and burned four deserted Seneca villages and their fields and stores of corn, which served only to increase attacks on New France by the Iroquois, newly angered by this devastation.

One of these attacks was on Lachine, near Montreal, in 1689; 24 people were killed and 62 prisoners taken. At the time, Vaudreuil was acting governor of Montreal, filling in for Callière, who had traveled to France with a strategic proposal for the king. Historians (1) fault Vaudreuil for having relaxed his guard before this attack, allowing settlers to return to their homes rather than staying within the forts, and for failing to pursue the Rotinonsionni while they were still in the vicinity and burdened with captives. Vaudreuil seems to have made up for these early mistakes by proving himself a zealous and brave military commander in several expeditions against the Iroquois in the 1690s.

Vaudreuil married Louise-Elisabeth de Joybert in 1690. She was a second-generation canadienne, the sister of a captain in the troupes de la marine. This match helped establish Vaudreuil's roots and social connections in New France. His superiors both in New France and Versailles (France, seat of King Louis XIV) granted him recognition for his military prowess against the Rotinonsionni; in 1698 he was awarded the Croix de Saint-Louis, one of the highest French honors. In November of that year, Governor-General Frontenac died, and Vaudreuil showed his ambitions by applying for the post. Vying with him for the position was Louis-Hector de Callière, governor of Montreal. Both sent emissaries to Versailles, but Callière's arrived first and had quick access to François de Callière, Louis-Hector's brother and the king's private secretary. Vaudreuil was consoled with the governorship of Montreal. He served as governor of Montreal for four years, during which he gained administrative experience and hosted the Great Peace conference of 1701.

Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil - Prologue | The Great Peace | Governor-General Vaudreuil at War | Captivity | Epilogue | About this Narrative |

The Great Peace
August 4, 1701

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As governor of Montreal, Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil assisted Governor-General Callière with the conference, and hosted the 1300 delegates from 38 Native nations.
Illustration copyright Francis Back.

Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, governor of Montreal, stood by Governor-General Callière at the Great Peace signing ceremony. Vaudreuil, Callière, the Intendant Jean Bochart de Champigny, and a few others were key representatives of King Louis XIV in concluding the treaty. Vaudreuil was tired from the exertions of the previous two weeks, but felt strongly moved by the great assembly before him. Who would not be? In the vast arena built for the occasion were gathered more than a thousand representatives of 38 Native nations, all dressed in their fearsome finery, with their body paint and tattoos, their elaborate topknots and headdresses of antlers and feathers, and the French lace and gold braid they had added to their cloaks of fur and breechcloths of skin. A soldier, Vaudreuil had fought both against and alongside warriors from some of these nations, and he respected them for their bravery and independence. Yet here they had all come, some from great distances, to acknowledge Governor-General Callière and King Louis XIV as their Fathers and accept the terms of the peace treaty Callière had worked to create.

Vaudreuil estimated that there were 1,300 "savages" in Montreal for the conference, outnumbering the French population of the town by a few score. Those who had traveled from their distant homelands seemed different to the French from the Natives who lived in nearby villages with the missionary priests—they were wilder, less used to French ways. And they were eager to trade, which often made them excited and prone to disagreements and fights. Vaudreuil was a cautious man, and he had deep misgivings about allowing this army of Natives free rein in his town. But it must be done, because both the merchants of Montreal and the Natives wanted each other's goods. Vaudreuil forbade the sale of one French commodity: alcohol, which made the "savages" even more rowdy and violent. He made sure that plenty of French soldiers were stationed within the town palisade and that they were prepared to enforce the ban on spirits. After the conference's opening assemblies and gift-giving, the town gates were opened and the trading begun.

In the words of observer Bacqueville de la Potherie, "The town during that time resembled an inferno, because of the frightful appearance of all the Savages who strutted about prouder than ever. . . . [and because of] the shouting, the din, the quarrels and discord. . . . They purchased powder, balls, hats, clothing in the French style trimmed with fake gold lace . . . vermilion, kettles, iron and copper pots, and all sorts of hardware." (2)

Fortunately, both the French public and Native leaders appreciated the ban on alcohol, as all were familiar with its violent effects, and no one wanted to jeopardize the success of the peace treaty. The merchants were less cooperative on the issue of the prices they paid for the Natives' furs. The Natives expected them to offer good prices in the spirit of diplomatic gift-giving and reciprocity, but to the merchants the laws of supply, demand, and profit ruled. Callière had to compensate the Native delegates with additional gifts, and promised to ask the merchants to raise their prices for furs, though he knew it would be to no avail.

When the great Wendat (Huron) chief, Kondiaronk, died of the epidemic that took a deadly toll among the delegates, Vaudreuil showed his respect by walking in the chief's funeral procession. Vaudreuil walked in the rear of the long procession along with a number of officers and Madame de Champigny, the wife of the Intendant. They followed an escort of 60 French soldiers; 16 Wendat warriors walking four abreast; members of the clergy; the coffin, which was carried by six war chiefs; the family; and many more warriors. It was important for the French to follow Native protocol and offer proper condolences to the bereaved Wendats, but Vaudreuil also sincerely respected the great chief and was sorry that coming to Montreal had proven fatal to him.

Kondiaronk had been a great supporter of the treaty, and fortunately his death did not derail the final negotiations. The funeral was on August 3rd, and on August 4th, the great signing ceremony took place. Despite everyone's sorrow over the loss of the great chief, the gathering was marked by a sense of festivity and celebration. After all the speeches and the signing of the treaty, Vaudreuil took part in smoking the peace calumet that the Miami delegates had presented to Callière. The day ended with feasting and gathering around a ceremonial bonfire.

Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil - Prologue | The Great Peace | Governor-General Vaudreuil at War | Captivity | Epilogue | About this Narrative |

Governor-General Vaudreuil at War
1703 – 1704

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As governor-general, Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil was based in Quebec, the capital of New France. This engraved view of Quebec by Thomas Johnston (c. 1708-1767), done in 1759, is probably copied from a map published in 1718.
Courtesy of Historic Deerfield, Inc.

Within two years of concluding the Great Peace agreement, Louis-Hector de Callière, governor-general of New France, died on May 26, 1703. Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, who had been serving as governor of Montreal since losing the post of governor-general to Callière, again applied for that position. This time he made sure that he had influential people working for his candidacy. The Sulpician priests of Montreal were among his supporters, having approved of Vaudreuil's efforts to ban the sale of alcohol to Natives. Vaudreuil was apparently well liked by the French colonists and respected by the Natives for his courage during the wars with the Rotinonsionni (Iroquois). King Louis XIV appointed Vaudreuil governor-general of New France in 1703.

The War of the Spanish Succession, in which France and England were again on opposing sides, had begun the previous year. The war put Vaudreuil in a difficult position. He was eager to preserve the Great Peace, especially with the Rotinonsionni, whose attacks against New France had terrorized the colony. The Rotinonsionni, however, had long been allies of the English, and their homeland was near the English colony of New York. So although the government in France was pressuring Vaudreuil to attack the English colonies, he could not risk offending the Rotinonsionni by sending expeditions against New York. That made New England a tempting target, the more so because the eastern Wôbanaki (Abenaki) nations were having problems with English settlers pushing north into their homelands in present-day New Hampshire and Maine. Vaudreuil saw that joining the Wôbanakiak—who had also signed the Great Peace—in raids against targets in New England would increase animosity between the English and Wôbanakiak. Such raids would strengthen the alliance between New France and its eastern Native allies, force New England to spend money on defense of its frontier settlements, and provide a source of war booty and captives to the Wôbanakiak and other Natives who lived in villages among the French. In addition to settlements in Maine and New Hampshire, English villages in the Connecticut River valley were targeted because they were among the closest to Montreal.

Vaudreuil's strategy was effective in increasing hostilities between the English and the Wôbanakiak of Maine and New Hampshire—especially after a French-led army of Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) and Wôbanakiak from New France forced the eastern Wôbanakiak to join them in raiding English settlements in Maine. English reprisals against eastern Wôbanaki villages were swift and severe; many Wôbanakiak fled north to Cowass in present-day Vermont or to Odanak on the Saint Lawrence River. In the fall of 1703, a party of Wôbanakiak from Cowass went to Quebec for an audience with Governor Vaudreuil, and asked for his assistance in attacking the English.

Governor Vaudreuil was happy to oblige the Wôbanakiak—since their request played right into his strategy—and outfitted a force to be led by Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville, a Canadian-born lieutenant of the troupes de la marine. Similar in makeup to the expedition Vaudreuil sent against English settlements in Maine, the army included 48 French soldiers and militiamen and 200 to 250 Wôbanakiak, Wendats (Huron), Kanienkehaka, and other warriors, many of whom were from the villages on the Saint Lawrence River. The raid's target was the English outpost of Deerfield, the homeland of the Pocumtuck people whom the English had displaced.

The raid of February 29, 1704, was a strategic success for Vaudreuil. The town of Deerfield was devastated; 50 were killed and 112 taken captive. The alliance of the Great Peace of 1701 was strengthened as members of several allied nations fought together. Vaudreuil had managed to strike fear throughout New England with a very economical use of his military resources. He wrote to the minister of the marine in France, reporting with some exaggeration about “the success of a war party I sent over the ice into the region of the Boston government. . . . [in which] more than 15 leagues of countryside . . . [were] laid waste . . . [and] more than 300 persons . . . captured or killed.” (3)

Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil - Prologue | The Great Peace | Governor-General Vaudreuil at War | Captivity | Epilogue | About this Narrative |

1704 – 1714

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Ships like these pictured in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence brought envoys from Boston to negotiate with Vaudreuil in Quebec. When negotiations were successful, they sailed back to Boston with a freight of captives. From "Six Elegant Views of the most Remarkable Places in the Gulf and River St. Lawrence," London, 1760. Artist: Hervey Smyth (1734-1811); engraver: Pierre C. Canot (1710-1777).
Courtesy of National Archives of Canada.

Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, as governor-general of New France, had ordered the successful raid against Deerfield by a combined French and Native army. In its aftermath, he found himself caught up in lengthy negotiations both with the English government at Boston and the Native villages near Montreal and Quebec for release of the Deerfield captives.

During the War of the Spanish Succession, which lasted until 1713, Vaudreuil had multiple challenges to contend with. He strove to keep the Great Peace alliance together as the Rotinonsionni (Iroquois) and Native nations from the Great Lakes region continued to clash, and some Rotinonsionni deserted the alliance to fight with the English against New France. He had to defend New France against English invasions, which, though several times planned and even launched, failed for one reason or another. (In 1711, for example, eight ships of an invading English fleet were destroyed as a result of bad weather as they entered the Saint Lawrence River, and the rest turned back.) Vaudreuil also had to contend with political opposition in his own government, due to his opposition to Lamothe Cadillac's plans to establish a settlement at Detroit, among other disputes. In addition to all of this, Vaudreuil spent considerable time negotiating for release of the Deerfield captives, and meeting personally with the most important of those captives, the Reverend John Williams.

The Governor and the Minister

In his captivity narrative, John Williams writes that Governor Vaudreuil planned to use Williams as a bargaining chip for the release of French privateer Pierre Maisonnat, also known as Captain Baptiste or Battis, who was being held by the English: “I was taken in order to [win] his redemption.” (4) Whether or not that was the original intention, John Williams was indeed not released until after Maisonnat/Baptiste was returned with other French prisoners in October of 1706. In the meantime, the minister and the governor seem to have regarded each other with esteem and even warmth. Williams writes: “eight weeks after my captivity, the Governor, De Vaudreuil, redeemed me out of the hands of the Indians, gave me good clothing, took me to his table, gave me the use of a very good chamber; and was, in all respects relating to my outward man, courteous and charitable to admiration.” (5) Years later, after being berated by the English Governor Dudley for not preventing Williams's daughter Eunice from marrying a Kanienkehaka man, Vaudreuil protested that he felt more chagrin about the marriage than Dudley himself, "on account of her father, for whom I have the greatest esteem." (6)

Vaudreuil must have had decidedly mixed feelings about the Deerfield captives. They were emblems of the raid's success and useful pawns for gaining the release of French prisoners held by the English. But they were fellow Europeans, and the young people held by the Natives faced acculturation into what Vaudreuil regarded as "savage" societies. For some of Vaudreuil's Native allies, captives fulfilled a role in traditional mourning rituals by being adopted into the family to replace the dead—or ritually killed in revenge and release from grief. Vaudreuil was kind to individual captives like John Williams, but negotiated firmly with the English governor, Joseph Dudley. He paid ransoms to Native captors who were willing to part with their captives, but could not order those who were not so inclined to release them—which the English had a hard time believing. Governor Dudley wrote: "I cannot admit the pretext that the Indians have the right to retain these prisoners, because I would never permit a savage to tell me that any Christian prisoner is at his disposal." Vaudreuil replied: "I am surprised, sir, that you speak to me still in your letter about prisoners who are in the hands of the Indians. I have . . . told you that I would send only those who are in French hands, and that as for the others I would do the best I could to regain them, as we have always done." (7)

Vaudreuil intervened when John Williams, while staying with the governor in Montreal soon after his redemption, received a letter from the Jesuit priest at the Kahnawake mission saying that Williams could not see his daughter Eunice "and that the Macquas would as soon part with their hearts" as give her up. The governor was "very angry, and endeavored to comfort me, assuring me I should see her, and speak with her; and he would do his utmost endeavor for her ransom," (8) as Williams wrote in his narrative. Vaudreuil had Eunice brought to see her father. He also offered large sums of money and a Native girl in exchange for Eunice, but he was unsuccessful in persuading the Kanienkehaka to give her up, as was Williams himself and later petitioners. Vaudreuil was more successful in helping to locate and redeem Williams's other children, Esther, Stephen, Warham, and Samuel.

Ten Years of Negotiations

Vaudreuil continued negotiations for release of English captives for the duration of the war, by correspondence with English governor Joseph Dudley, and in person with emissaries who traveled to New France. Captives were redeemed from the Natives or released by French families with whom they were living and perhaps working as servants, and sent to New England by ship or overland. The first envoys, Deerfield residents John Sheldon and John Wells, returned with only five captives. Vaudreuil allowed the second emissaries, ship captain Samuel Vetch and Governor Dudley's son William, to meet with John Williams and his son Stephen, but that expedition brought only 11 English captives home. After two more releases of small numbers of captives, John Sheldon again went to New France and won Governor Vaudreuil's release of 44 captives in 1706. John Williams was not among them, despite Vaudreuil's apparent fondness for the minister. Only after Governor Dudley released Maisonnat/Baptiste and all the remaining French prisoners did Governor-General Vaudreuil respond by returning 54 English captives, including John Williams and his sons Samuel and Warham. The release did not include Eunice and six other girls and young women at Kahnawake, all of whom remained part of that community; nor the three children (Abigail Nims, Josiah Rising, and Hannah Hurst) who remained at La Montagne.

After the war's end in 1712, Vaudreuil received a delegation that included John Williams, John Stoddard and others who had come to secure the "return of the English prisoners there." Vaudreuil told them that the remaining captives were free to do what they wanted, with his blessing—but that "by force, he could not oblige the Indians to deliver their prisoners." (9) However, Vaudreuil did manage to get the reluctant Wendats at Lorette to release the Nims family, in large part because Lorette was so close to Quebec and the waiting English ship. The Nims family hid their desire to return to New England until they were safe on board. The next day a large party of Wendats, thinking the Nimses had been kidnapped, went to the ship and demanded their return—in vain.

John Williams saw Eunice, now married to Arosen, for the first time since 1704, but he could not persuade her to look at him, let alone leave her new life and husband behind. Apparently ambivalent about the captives till the end, Vaudreuil also told Williams and Stoddard that he would not release those who had become naturalized French subjects, but later relented and allowed them to leave if they wished. Twenty-six captives sailed to Boston with Williams and company on September 21, 1714.

Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil - Prologue | The Great Peace | Governor-General Vaudreuil at War | Captivity | Epilogue | About this Narrative |

1714 – 1725

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Portrait of Governor-General Phillip de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, a 1905 copy of a contemporary portrait. Click [here] for more information.
Courtesy Musee de Chateau Ramezay, Montreal.

Phillip de Rigaud de Vaudreuil remained governor-general of New France for 22 years, until his death at age 72 in 1725. After the War of the Spanish Succession, he rebuilt the fur trade, which had been decimated by an earlier oversupply and corresponding French policy that limited trapping, by expanding French outposts in the Great Lakes region. He continued to wrestle with conflicting interests among the Native nations in the west, the Rotinonsionni (Iroquois), the eastern Wôbanakiak (Abenakis), and the English, who were themselves expanding westward. Vaudreuil was in the midst of strategizing about a confrontation with the English over the new fort they had built at Oswego (on Lake Ontario) when he died on October 10, 1725. He was buried in the church of the Recollets, like his predecessors Frontenac and Callière, and his heart was brought back to France and buried in the cemetery of his family's seigneurie.

Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil - Prologue | The Great Peace | Governor-General Vaudreuil at War | Captivity | Epilogue | About this Narrative |

About this Narrative

This narrative is factual, with the exception of descriptions of Vaudreuil's feelings during the days of the Great Peace conference. It 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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