Thursday, September 4, 2014

“Nor Spare Any Expense to Secure Canada…”: Marquis de la Galissoniere’s Advice for Opposing England

By Rosanne E. Lortz

A cliff notes version of history will tell you that England, later called Britain, began its rise to empire during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 demonstrated that the English were not afraid to tangle with the toughest of them, and the colonies founded in the New World throughout the next few decades began to spread English influence far and wide.

England was not the only one to establish colonies in North America, however. France set up its own colonies in Canada and New Orleans. As England's longstanding enemies from the old continent, the French extended this rivalry to the new one. As luck would have it (or perhaps climate temperature), the French colonies in the New World did not thrive to the same level as the English colonies did. But although the French colonies did not send streams of gold to their home country, they did help out in at least one significant way--by being a thorn in England’s side.

Roland-Michel Barrin de la Galissoniere

The Marquis de la Galissoniere was the French governor of New France from 1747 to 1749. He was a well-liked, well-educated man who encouraged scientific pursuits in astronomy and cartography. In December of 1750, following his departure from the French Colonies in North America, he wrote a memoir explaining the significance of France’s New World holdings.

The letter focuses mostly on the colony of Canada, with only a few mentions of the large territory of Louisiana. The Marquis' assessment of Canada's amenities was not always complimentary. He called Canada “a barren frontier” that “has always been a burthen to France.” But despite this, he did not recommend that the colony should be abandoned. “By its position…it constitutes…the strongest barrier that can be opposed to the ambition of the English.

How did the Marquis know that Canada was a barrier against English opposition? “We may dispense with giving any other proofs of this," he wrote, "than the constant efforts they have made, for more than a century, against that Colony.”

La Galissoniere pointed out that Canada alone “is in a position to wage war against them [the English] in all their possessions on the Continent of America.” As a strategic base for attacking the English, Canada must be preserved.

Even though the English possessed greater numbers in America, the Marquis noted that the French soldiers from Canada were able to do quite well against the English militarily. The first reason for that was “the great number of alliances that French keep up with the Indian Nations.” The second reason was because of the large number of French Canadians who, “are accustomed to live in the woods like the Indians, and become thereby not only qualified to lead them to fight the English, but to wage war even against these same Indians when necessity obliges.

La Galissoniere encouraged the French to maintain this military superiority in the colonies since it was impossible for them to achieve naval superiority over the English. By the mid-eighteenth century, the English Navy had already become a formidable power and a danger to France. “If anything can, in fact, destroy the superiority of France in Europe, it is the Naval force of the English.”

La Galissoniere was well aware of the difficulty of defeating the English at sea. Though by no means a famous admiral, he did win one naval battle against the English a few years after his stint as governor in the New World. Étienne Taillemite calls the battle a “very modest success” which “created a stir in France out of all proportion to its real importance.” No doubt the stir surrounding the victory was due to the infrequency of such occurrences.

No other resource remains then,” said La Galissoniere, acknowledging the impossibility of French naval supremacy, “but to attack them [the English] in their possessions; that cannot be effected by forces sent from Europe except with little hope of success, and at vast expense, whilst by fortifying ourselves in America and husbanding means in the Colonies themselves, the advantages we possess can be preserved, and even increased at a very trifling expense, in comparison with the cost of expeditions fitted out in Europe.”

Financing a war in Europe was expensive, but financing a war in the colonies was cheap! La Galissoniere goes on to explain how French attacks on the English colonies would also protect Spain’s colonies in Mexico. (In the year 1750, Spain was an ally whose gold France was hoping to profit from.) Following this, he concludes his memoir with this pithy paragraph:
All that precedes sufficiently demonstrates that it is of the utmost importance and of absolute necessity not to omit any means, nor spare any expense to secure Canada, inasmuch as that is the only way to wrest America from the ambition of the English, and as the progress of their empire in that quarter of the globe is what is most capable of contributing to their superiority in Europe.
This memoir written by the Marquis de la Galissoniere is a small but clear window into the politics of the mid-eighteenth century. It shows how the interactions between various European colonies played into the power struggle on the European continent, and how the French were willing to maintain a colony that was “a burthen” if that colony would in any way thwart “the ambition of the English.”


Rosanne E. Lortz is the author of two books: I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince, a historical adventure/romance set during the Hundred Years' War, and Road from the West: Book I of the Chronicles of Tancred, the beginning of a trilogy which takes place during the First Crusade.



"Marquis de la Galissoniere Memoir on the French Colonies in North America December 1750." American History: From Revolution to Reconstruction and Beyond. (Accessed September 4, 2014).

Taillemite, Etienne. "Barrin De La Galissonière, Roland-Michel, Marquis De La Galissonière." Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (Accessed September 4, 2014).

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