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On the Eve of Conquest: The Chevalier de Raymond's Critique of New France in 1754

On the Eve of Conquest: The Chevalier de Raymond's Critique of New France in 1754

by Joseph Peyser

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On the Eve of the Conquest, more than an annotated translation, includes a discussion on the historical background of the start of the French and Indian War, as well as a concise biography of Raymond and Michel Le Courtois de Surlaville, the army colonel at the French court to whom the report was sent.


On the Eve of the Conquest, more than an annotated translation, includes a discussion on the historical background of the start of the French and Indian War, as well as a concise biography of Raymond and Michel Le Courtois de Surlaville, the army colonel at the French court to whom the report was sent.

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Michigan State University Press
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On the Eve of the Conquest

The Chevalier de Raymond's Critique of New France in 1754

By Joseph L. Peyser

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 1997 Mackinac State Historic Parks
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87013-944-4




In 1754 the French and English in North America stood at the brink of a major conflict, the French and Indian War, that would forever alter the cultural and political landscape of the continent. Charles de Raymond, a captain in the Troupes de la Marine, the French colonial regular troops, had served in New France for 32 years. Frustrated in his efforts to win promotion or a choice frontier post where he could engage in the profitable fur trade, Raymond wrote a critical account of the state of affairs in New France just as France and England were about to escalate their recent armed clashes in North America to full-scale warfare. In this account, which he called his denombrement de tous les postes du Canada (Enumeration of all the Canadian posts), Raymond chronicled bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption, discussed diplomatic relations between the French and the Indians, analyzed military and trade strategies, and put forth his own solutions to the problems he identified. In short, he provides his readers with a comprehensive, although strongly biased, overview of New France as it entered its final years as a colony of France. A complete translation of Raymond's Enumeration of all the Canadian posts begins on page 49.

Raymond arrived in Canada as a second ensign in 1722 and was promoted to full ensign in 1731. In 1738 he was promoted to lieutenant and to the command of Fort Niagara, a command he held until 1746. In that year he was promoted to captain and fought against the English in New York and Massachusetts during King George's War (1744-48, the North American phase of the War of the Austrian Succession, 1740-48). In 1748 Commandant General Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière reassigned Raymond to the Niagara command, but in 1749, before the arrival in Quebec of the new governor general, Jacques-Pierre de Taffanel de La Jonquière, La Galissonière appointed this seasoned officer to command the Miami post (now Fort Wayne, Indiana). Although this post was located among the turbulent Miamis, Raymond nonetheless rejoiced over finally being granted a post with trading rights. La Jonquière, however, dissatisfied with Raymond's failure to win back the defecting Miamis, recalled him from the post in 1750, after only one year. After a short assignment in Louisbourg in 1752-53, the disgruntled Raymond briefly returned to France in 1754, where he was admitted as a chevalier (knight) by Louis XV to the Royal and Military Order of Saint-Louis.

As the spring of 1754 approached, the new chevalier saw his prospects in New France brightening. On 18 April the minister of Marine (colonial affairs) wrote the new governor general, Ange de Menneville Duquesne, the following letter in support of Raymond:

To M. le Marquis Duquesne

Versailles 18 April 1754

Sieur de Raymond, a captain in the Canadian troops who came to France in charge of the dispatches from Ile Royale [Cape Breton Island] gave me a description of his services. He has in fact performed some that deserve attention, and at all times salutary reports have come back about his zeal and diligence. It is up to you to propose the rewards that he deserves, according to the opportunities that occur for his promotion. But while waiting you should be able to find an opportunity to assign him to some special command that can be of some advantage to him. I am asking you to do it as long as that can be reconciled with the arrangements you have to make for the good of the service. The experience that he has acquired in these kinds of missions has put him in a position to be successfully employed in them. And I shall be most pleased furthermore for you to be able to do something for him, in respect to several esteemed individuals under whose protection he is and who have recommended him to me very highly.

I am entirely, Sir, your obedient etc.

Upon Raymond's return to Quebec in the fall of 1754, Duquesne brusquely turned him down for a promotion or another lucrative assignment despite the minister's high recommendation. The reasons Duquesne gave for rejecting advancement for Raymond are contained in the governor's stinging appraisal of Raymond's ideas, motives, and performance that he sent to the minister:

Quebec, 7 October 1754

My Lord,

Your recommendation for Sieur de Raymond, a captain in this colony, would be an order for me if there were an opportunity for promotion or some vacant post that could be appropriate for him, and it is distressing for me not to be in a position to provide him with this last advantage because it would not be fair to displace prematurely an officer who is performing well.

I did not meet M. de Raymond, who still remained at Ile Royale at the time of my arrival in Canada. This officer showed me the statement of his service that he padded and greatly embellished. I found his report very excessive and his pretensions as mad as they are strange, since he wants to establish high, middle, and low levels of justice among the northern Indians. I am willing to believe that if he had been less disinterested, he would have earned beyond ten thousand écus which the Miami post brought him, but what reassures me on his account because of the interest that you are taking in him, My Lord, is the fact that he is living in easy circumstances and that he is very carefully saving his money while waiting for the opportunity to be placed suitably to increase his fortune, with which he appears to me to be very preoccupied.

I am with deep respect, My Lord, your most humble and obedient servant.


The contents of Duquesne's letter raise some questions. It is possible but unlikely that Raymond profited to the extent of 30,000 livres during the one year he spent at the Miami post. The defection of the Miami chief La Demoiselle and his followers, the competition and disruption coming from George Croghan and other English traders at Pickawillany and elsewhere, and the turmoil in the upper country (the Great Lakes Basin) could only have had a detrimental effect on the post's trade. Duquesne had arrived in New France in 1752, several years after Raymond had left the Miamis, and he may well have been reporting hearsay about Raymond's supposed profit.

On the other hand, Montreal notarial records show that in June 1751 Raymond provided on credit 9,435 livres in trade goods and money to Pierre Leduc (Le Duc) dit Souligny, a merchant-voyageur, to supply Souligny's upper country trading trip. In June 1752 Raymond provided on credit an additional 7,394 livres of trade goods to Souligny for another such trip. Since Raymond had not been permitted to trade at Niagara, the king's post that he commanded for so long, it may well be that the nearly 17,000 livres that he invested in Souligny's ventures came from his one year at the Miami post, thereby lending some credibility to Duquesne's comment.

As for Raymond's reported suggestion of establishing three levels for administering justice to the Indians, I have to date found no mention of this concept elsewhere in Raymond's correspondence. Considering his long experience as an upper country commander among the Indians, it remains to be seen just how "strange" his ideas may have been. As for his "padding" the statement of his service, it was common practice for officers to embellish their service in seeking promotion; Raymond was not unusual in this regard. Duquesne clearly had other reasons for the manner in which he turned Raymond down.

Soon after his cold reception by Duquesne, the frustrated Raymond sent his bold Enumeration of all the Canadian posts to a highly placed and influential friend in France, Colonel Michel Le Courtois de Surlaville. The man to whom the 48-year-old captain sent his expose was about eight years younger than Raymond and had been a colonel since 1751. Surlaville, a rising star in the French army, had been wounded twice in Europe during the War of the Austrian Succession, and his valor at Fontenoy in 1745 had won him the Cross of Saint-Louis. In 1751 the newly named governor of Ile Royale, Count Jean-Louis de Raymond (Charles de Raymond's cousin), had requested that Surlaville accompany him in the capacity of troop major of Louisbourg. Charles de Raymond was one of two Canadian officers sent there with their companies by Governor General La Jonquière to serve under Surlaville and Jean-Louis de Raymond. At the end of one year, in 1753, Charles returned to France on the same ship as his cousin and his new friend, Surlaville. After Charles's return to Quebec in late 1754, he and Surlaville continued to correspond with each other, and this correspondence included the Enumeration of all the Canadian posts.


Raymond's Enumeration of all the Canadian posts, sent to Surlaville in 1754, a crucial moment in North American colonial history, provides a remarkably candid and detailed report on and recommendations for New France on the eve of the Seven Years' War. From the report it is evident that Raymond hoped Surlaville would present it to the new minister of Marine, Jean-Baptiste Machault d'Arnouville, in hopes of advancing Raymond's career.

Raymond's treatise, for despite the fact that he called it an enumeration it is much more than that, deals extensively with the French posts in the pays d'en haut (upper country). His sweeping analysis, however, extends from the post at Michilimackinac on the strait between Lakes Michigan and Huron to as far east as the commerce, ports, and defenses of Acadia on the Atlantic coast. Raymond's stated purpose in writing to his friend, whom he addressed in his first sentence as "My dear Surlaville," was "to satisfy" him by providing him with a frank, detailed "enumeration" or, more accurately, assessment of the current system of administration of the French posts. He included the posts throughout the Great Lakes Basin, what is now upper New York State, the Ohio River Valley, and the disputed colony of Acadia.

Raymond's report does not simply consist of lists; it goes far beyond a mere enumeration of posts. It is actually a critique of the then-current organization and administration of the posts, supported by specific figures on costs and by his own detailed observations on abuses of the system. He makes recommendations for the reform of the system, then riddled with favoritism and corrupt officers and civil authorities; offers strategic observations regarding the English colonies and their implications for the French posts; proposes a river-and-lake transportation system; reports on the underpayment of officers and its disastrous consequences; and moves beyond military and administrative concerns to discuss social issues as well, commenting on colonial French men and women and their mores. Raymond provides observations on Indian customs and suggestions for improving relations between the French and their Native American allies, and makes recommendations on the inconsistent practices of both church and government regarding the brandy trade. He criticizes certain missionaries and missions and makes specific suggestions for reducing large-scale smuggling and fraud.

Raymond's reforms for the officer corps and the military include assigning only worthy senior officers (captains) to command the posts; discontinuing the practice of appointing junior officers as commandants through favoritism; discontinuing the award of certain posts' trade to the commandants, replacing that practice with standardized levels of supplementary pay for all post commanders and subordinate officers; and increasing the strength of certain garrisons and decreasing that of others.

Raymond's recommendations for trade and finance involve putting all the posts on the congé (trade license) system, with the price of congés (purchased by merchants) restored from 600 to 1,000 livres; having the king pay all officers and employees at the posts from the proceeds of the sale of congés, rather than having the commandant-proprietors pay them; establishing certain new posts and closing others; opening the brandy trade to all, both officers and merchants; shifting to the merchants the costs of transporting goods and supplies to all the posts; and instituting measures to eliminate fraudulent practices at the posts. His suggestions for the colony's trade include merging the Acadian fur trade with that of Canada, and leasing out Acadian seal-hunting rights rather than awarding them free to private parties. Raymond estimates the king's annual savings from his proposed reforms to be over 183,000 livres.

Raymond's central theme is that instituting his reforms will produce vast savings for the king, but throughout the report a hidden agenda becomes increasingly clear. This does not become obvious until more than 50 pages into the report, when he sets forth various proposals for his own elevation in rank and for assignment to command one of the most lucrative posts. Nevertheless his case for reform was sufficiently persuasive for Surlaville to submit over his own name a modified version of the report to the minister. Raymond's treatise, as indicated above, provides a profusion of details on many aspects of French commercial and military life on the frontier in addition to French and Indian interchanges. It could only have been written by an officer with his experience and service in many parts of the French frontier.

Raymond's report is unique in its time frame for the comprehensiveness of its coverage, its authoritativeness, and the writer's forthrightness and boldness in presenting his observations and criticisms of the system. In my judgment, the only other French post commander to produce lengthy written reports of comparable characteristics was the prolific Antoine Laumet dit de Lamothe Cadillac over a half century earlier. While Cadillac's written expression is more eloquent and polished than Raymond's, both men's styles are rich in metaphors and color. Just as Cadillac's early letters provide an overview of the upper country and the colony near the start of the eighteenth century, Raymond's highly detailed expose is a source of new information on conditions in the posts and society of New France on the eve of its conquest.

Raymond's knowledge of New France beyond the limits of the lower (main) colony along the Saint Lawrence River is extensive in scope. He conceptualizes the far-flung parts of the French North American empire in 1754 as a potentially unified whole, both strategically and commercially. His recommendations are supported by specifics—for each post and globally—such as salaries; weights and quantities of supplies; prices; monthly rations for civilians and soldiers; types of equipment used in water and land transportation; supplies needed for repairs; numbers of men needed for garrisons or for transportation; numbers of trade licenses; numbers of chimney sweeps for the posts and their wages; numbers of wagoners, blacksmiths, cowherds, bakers, millers, and interpreters needed at individual posts and their wages; types and amounts of food and drink and their cost for each post's officers, commanders' and storekeepers' wives, chaplains, surgeons, and the sick; and gifts needed for Indians.

The ensuing report, based on Raymond's dénombrement, was officially presented to the minister by Surlaville after substantial editing. Surlaville's official Memoire en forme d'observations concernant le denombrement des postes de Canada is shorter than Raymond's original by one-third. The changes include, among others, deletion of Raymond's identifications of those officers—mostly well-known upper country commandants—and civilians intent upon enriching themselves rather than serving the king, and removal of his recommendations regarding the brandy trade. The report was reorganized into a drier, less sensational, and more sequential presentation. Raymond's frequently quaint spelling and grammar were largely corrected, and many of his sentences were rephrased. The version laid by Surlaville before the minister, while substantially the same as Raymond's, conveyed a somewhat different view of the colony to the minister, but in it Surlaville retained all of Raymond's key recommendations (other than the one on the brandy trade).


Excerpted from On the Eve of the Conquest by Joseph L. Peyser. Copyright © 1997 Mackinac State Historic Parks. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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