Louis Coulon de Villiers


Coulon de Villiers, Louis, officer in the colonial regular troops; born 10 August 1710 at Verchères, Québec, son of Nicolas-Antoine Coulon de Villiers and Angélique Jarret de Verchères; married 29 December 1753 to Marie-Amable Prud'homme at Montreal; died 2 November 1757 at Québec.

          Louis Coulon de Villiers began his career as a cadet in the colonial regulars, serving under his father's command at Fort St. Joseph (probably Niles, Michigan).  In an attack on the Fox tribe some miles from the post at Baie-des-Puants (Green Bay, Wisconsin) in 1733 his father and one of his brothers were killed, and he himself was severely wounded.  As recompense for his family's loss he was commissioned second ensign the following year.  He continued to be stationed in the west where he won the respect of the Indian tribes and his superiors.  He served in Louisiana on Le Moyne de Bienville's 1739 campaign against the Chickasaws; upon his return he was posted to Fort Saint-Frédéric (Crown Point) on Lake Champlain.  In 1748 he was promoted lieutenant and two years later, because of his high reputation among the tribes of the region, he was appointed to command at Fort des Miamis (probably at or near Fort Wayne, Indiana).  Anglo-American fur-traders had invaded the country and established close ties with the Miamis.  His orders from Governor General Taffanel de La Jonquière required him to wean that tribe away from the English interest and restore French authority.  He enjoyed little success but upon his return to Montreal in 1753 he was promoted captain.

          When in 1754 tension mounted in the Ohio valley, with France determined to dispute the territorial claims of Virginia, Governor General Duquesne rushed reinforcements to the forts recently built between Lake Erie and the fork of the Ohio River.  Louis Coulon was given command of 600 Canadians and over 100 mission Indians.  When he arrived at Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) on 26 June he learned that although England and France were not at war a party of some 30 Canadians led by his brother, Jumonville [Coulon], had been ambushed by a detachment of Virginia militia under George Washington and some Indians led by Tanaghrisson.  Jumonville and nine other Canadians had been killed; only one of the rest hadescaped being taken prisoner.  Claude-Pierre Pécaudy de Contrecœur, commandant of the fort, had mustered 500 of his garrison to avenge this act and drive the Americans off the territory claimed by France.  Louis Coulon's request that he be given command of the detachment was granted.

          Two days later the party, accompanied by a number of allied Indians many of whom later defected, left Fort Duquesne.  En route they came upon the site of the ambush of Jumonville's small party.  Washington had left the scalped corpses unburied, a prey to wolves and crows.  On 3 July the Canadians made contact with the enemy who had taken refuge in a crude log redoubt, aptly named Fort Necessity (near Farmington, Pennsylvania).  The morale and discipline of the American militia were low, their fear of the Canadians high.  For nine hours, between intermittent rain squalls, the Canadian forces poured a withering fire on the enemy, inflicting a hundred casualties – about a quarter of the Americans' strength.  By nightfall Louis Coulon's casualties were only three killed and 17 wounded, but his men were exhausted, powder and ball were running low, and there was reason to fear that American reinforcements were approaching.  He therefore decided to parley.  Washington quickly agreed.  Coulon drew up articles of capitulation, declaring that the French had no desire to disturb the peace between the two kingdoms but wished only to "avenge the murder of one of our officers, bearer of a summons, and of his escort, and also to prevent any establishment being made on the lands of my King."  The Americans were permitted to return to their country in safety with the honours of war, the condition being that they gave their word to abandon their establishments west of the Allegheny Mountains for the ensuing 12 months.  They also agreed to return to Fort Duquesne within two and a half months the prisoners they had taken in their attack on Jumonville's party.  To ensure their compliance with these terms they handed over two hostages, Robert Stobo and their interpreter, Jacob Van Braam.

          The next day the Americans fled back to their settlements so precipitately that Washington left his journal behind with the abandoned baggage.  The French government made good use of its contents, and of the articles of capitulation, to label the English admitted murderers and aggressors.  Washington denied that he had knowingly admitted guilt of murder.  He and his fellow officers claimed that their interpreter, in translating the terms, had substituted either "death" or "loss of" for the incriminating word assassin.  The Americans, however, subsequently made plain that they had no intention of honouring the document to which Washington had appended his signature.  The French prisoners were not released, Stobo violated his parole and acted as a spy, and before the stipulated year was up Washington accompanied Major-General Edward Braddock's army in a full-scale assault on Fort Duquesne.

          Although Governor Duquesne had serious misgivings concerning the clause in the terms of capitulation that barred the Americans from the Ohio valley for only one year, he was pleased with the outcome of the affair.  French honour had been vindicated, and the American threat to the French position in the west removed.  In his report to the minister of Marine he praised not only Coulon de Villiers's valour, but also his restraint in sparing the lives of the Americans despite the bitter resentment he must have felt at the killing of his brother.

          The following year, 1755, when full scale hostilities began, Louis Coulon gained renown in the guerilla warfare on the Pennsylvania frontier.  He subsequently distinguished himself at the capture of forts Oswego and William Henry (also called Fort George; now Lake George, New York).  In 1755 Governor General Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreui had repeated the request of his predecessor in office that Louis Coulon de Villiers be awarded the cross of Saint-Louis, declaring that he had merited it long since for his valiant record, and adding that "The family of the Sieur de Villiers has always distinguished itself in the service.  There is not one of them who has not died in action against the enemy."  Ironically, that coveted award was received by Coulon de Villiers a few days before he was stricken by smallpox.  On 2 November 1757 Vaudreuil wrote to inform the minister that Louis Coulon had died.  "It is sad, My Lord," he wrote, "that such an excellent officer should succumb to that malady after having exposed himself to the greatest dangers."

Note: —  William John Eccles
Professor of history, University of Toronto, Ontario

[The eminent American historians Francis Parkman and L.H. Gipson strive to justify Washington's actions, to exonerate him from the charge of having murdered Jumonville and of admitting the crime.  In discussing the aftermath of the affair both of them misconstrue some of the evidence and ignore certain pertinent facts.  Both state that upon learning of Jumonville's death Governor General Duquesne dispatched Louis Coulon from Montreal with reinforcements.  Duquesne did not receive word of the event until some time between 20 and 24 June, and Coulon de Villiers arrived at Fort Duquesne on 26 June.  Quoting in translation (and giving the wrong provenance for the quotation), Parkman writes that the senior officers at Fort Duquesne agreed, "should the English have withdrawn to their side of the mountains, they should be followed to their settlements to destroy them and treat them as enemies, till that nation should give ample satisfaction and completely change its conduct."  This translation might be taken to mean that Coulon de Villiers was ordered to destroy the English settlements, but the original French ["Si les Anglois s'éstoient retirés de dessus nos terres qu'on iroit jusques dans leurs habitations pour les detruire et les traiter comme Ennemis jusqu'a ample satisfaction et changement de conduite de cette Nation"] allows of no such interpretation.  It was Washington's force, not the English settlements, that was to be attacked.  Using the same document, Gipson writes that Villiers was ordered that, should he discover the enemy had retired beyond the mountains, "he should nevertheless continue his march into the region of their settlements and proceed to destroy the habitations.  . . .  In other words, reprisals were to be made even to the extent of ravishing the English frontier settlements."  In fact, war had not been declared and the French were being careful to give the English no grounds to declare it.  Contrecœur's order of 28 June 1754 to Coulon specifically stated: "Despite their unheard of action, the Sieur de Villiers is enjoined to avoid all cruelty so far as is within his power."  w.j.e.]

...Contrecoeur, Villiers, Le Mercier, and Longueuil, after deliberating together, drew up a paper to the effect that "it was fitting (convenable) to march against the English with the greatest possible number of French and savages, in order to avenge ourselves and chastise them for having violated the most sacred laws of civilized nations;" that, thought their conduct justified the French in disregarding the existing treaty of peace, yet, after thoroughly punishing them, and compelling them to withdraw from the domain of the King, they should be told that, in pursuance of his royal orders, the French looked on them as friends.  But it was further agreed that should the English have withdrawn to their own side of the mountains, "they should be followed to their settlements to destroy them and treat them as enemies, till that nation should give ample satisfaction and completely change its conduct."[154]... (boldface emphasis added)
[Footnote 154: Journal de Campagne de M. de Villiers depuis son Arrivee au Fort Duquesne jusqu'a son Retour au dit Fort.  These and other passages are omitted in the Journal as printed in Precis des Faits.  Before me is a copy from the original in the Archives de la Marine.]

Source: Montcalm and Wolfe 1884, by Francis Parkman

Footnote 154 (above):
"Journal de Campagne de M. de Villiers depuis son Arrivee
au Fort Duquesne jusqu'a son Retour au dit Fort"

Journal de Campagne de M. de Villiers
depuis son Arrivee au Fort Duquesne
jusqu'a son Retour au dit Fort

Report of Louis Coulon de Villiers to
Governor General Duquesne de Menneville
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Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Louis Coulon de Villiers (the original article)

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