CHAPTER 5: The Compagnies Franches de la Marine of Canada
Pierre Le Moyne D'iberville
Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville et d’Ardillières (1661-1706)
(Click image to enlarge)
Of all the sons of New France, none is more celebrated than Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, who served in the military (on land but especially at sea), and was an explorer, a colonizer and even a merchant at times. He was born into the influential Le Moyne family and baptized in Montreal on July 20, 1661. Little is known about his youth, except that he apparently received his military and naval training in the Gardes de la Marine, probably in the late 1670s and early 1680s.
He undertook his first campaign in Canada with the Chevalier de Troyes to Hudson Bay in 1686. Young D'Iberville certainly did not lack valour. At Moose Factory, he stormed the fort with his sword in one hand and a pistol in the other. When surrounded, he managed to kill a few Englishmen before being rescued. At Fort Albany, he succeeded in seizing a ship with only 13 men. He returned to Montreal in 1687, and then went to France, before reappearing once again and capturing three ships in Hudson Bay in 1689. Back in Montreal, he took part in the expedition that destroyed Schenectady in February 1690, then set out again for Hudson Bay during the summer to take the little post of New Severn.
During the 1690s, his exploits only increased in number. In addition to cruising off the
coast of New England, he recaptured York Factory in 1694 and took Pemaquid and St. John's, Newfoundland two years later. However, his greatest victory came in 1697. Aboard the Pelican, a 44-gun frigate, D'Iberville led a small squadron of ships toward Hudson Bay. Having lost contact with the other ships in the fog, he arrived at the mouth of the Hayes River on September 4. The next day, the lookout spied three large vessels on the horizon. Action stations! They were three English warships: the 56-gun Hampshire, escorted by the frigates Dering, with 36 guns, and Hudson's Bay, with 32 guns. There was only one hope for D'Iberville: to attack.
The Pelican took on the Hampshire first, firing a few broadsides. The great English ship began to heel and then went straight to the bottom. The Hudson's Bay was then engaged and suffered the same fate, while the Dering turned and fled. However, the Pelican had been damaged and sank in turn. Finally, the rest of the French squadron arrived. York Factory was taken and renamed Fort Bourbon. The French press caught wind of all these exploits, and D'Iberville was awarded the Cross of Saint Louis in 1699, thus becoming the first Canadian-born military man to receive this honour.
When peace returned, D'Iberville went to Biloxi Bay and built Fort Maurepas (today Ocean Springs, Mississippi) in March 1699. This was the first permanent settlement in Louisiana. He returned to this colony during the following years, reinforced the new settlements, and founded Fort Saint Louis de la Mobile (today Mobile, Alabama). Numerous Canadians participated in all these expeditions.
In 1702, France and England found themselves at war once again, but D'Iberville, weakened by fever, was convalescing in La Rochelle until early 1706. Then he sailed for the West Indies, leading a fleet of 12 ships. After stopping over in the French islands, he headed for the British island of Nevis, which he captured without difficulty and looted in April 1706.
D'Iberville then headed for Havana to dispose of his booty; however, once in the Cuban capital, his fever returned and he died on July 6, 1706, two weeks short of his forty-fifth birthday. He was buried on July 9 in San Cristobal church. Some claim that his tomb was transferred to the San Ignacio of Havana cathedral in 1741, after the demolition of San Cristobal, but there is no evidence of this, and the final resting place of the first great hero in Canadian military history remains a matter of conjecture.