Jean-Baptiste-Louis le Prévost DuQuesnel
( ? -1744)
Jean-Baptiste-Louis le Prévost DuQuesnel (Du Quesnel), naval officer, fourth commander of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island); born probably in the mid-1680s; married in Martinique in the 1730s Marguerite Girault Du Poyet, by whom he had two daughters and a son; died 9 October 1744 in Louisbourg, Île Royale.
Jean-Baptiste-Louis Le Prévost Duquesnel was a career naval officer who served on the French flagship in the battle of Málaga off southern Spain in 1704. He was severely wounded in the fighting and lost his left leg. From 1708 he was a fire-ship captain (a rank equal to that of a lieutenant-commander) and had charge of a series of small vessels. In 1731 he was promoted naval captain. Six years later, after serving as second on the Achille in northern European waters, he received his first full command as captain of the Jason, which was sent to carry supplies to Quebec and to guard fishing vessels on the Grand Banks. On 1 September 1740 he was appointed commandant of Île Royale. He enjoyed all the rights of governor but, perhaps because he was not in line for such high office, he was not given the title.
Duquesnel was delighted with his promotion and hastily secured an advance of 5,000 livres to prepare himself for life in Louisbourg. But his enthusiasm soon waned; within a year he had applied for a transfer to the first vacant governorship. An inspection of the town after he landed on 3 November 1740 revealed an understaffed and under-equipped garrison, further weakened by indiscipline and drunkenness. With regard to the officers, Duquesnel faced much the same problem as his predecessor, Isaac-Louis de Forant. Over the years they had established an independence which the new governor considered inconsistent with the welfare of the colony. Although he realized that their salaries were inadequate, he felt that personal interests should not work to the detriment of the garrison, and he therefore sought to limit their exploitation of their troops. His chief endeavour was his attempt to suppress the officers' canteens through which soldiers frequently became considerably indebted to their superiors; however, he allowed officers to supply their soldiers with wine on non-working days. Problems of a different kind arose with the commander of the Swiss troops in Louisbourg, François-Joseph Cailly, whose vigorous defence of the rights and privileges of his men led to charges of insubordination. Duquesnel accused him of fostering an atmosphere of revolt and eventually Cailly was forced to retire. Later, persuaded by the pleas of Cailly's wife, Duquesnel was instrumental in having the Swiss commander reinstated.
Although Duquesnel found the fortifications generally to be in a good state on his arrival, he was not entirely satisfied with them. The alterations he effected to the Princess demi-bastion and the Royal battery, however, were not only expensive and unnecessary, but left unfinished; his proposals to neutralize the high ground outside the walls of the fortress were, on the other hand, never approved because of cost. Duquesnel also faced serious problems in supplying the garrison; there were constant shortages of food, especially during the winter of 1742. But the financial commissary, François Bigot, was an able administrator and Duquesnel worked well with him. Such cooperation between Louisbourg officials was rare.
Duquesnel's instructions had charged him specifically with ensuring the colony's safety in anticipation of war with England, but he was also urged not to neglect the offensive. He consulted the plans made by his predecessors for attacks on Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, and Placentia, Newfoundland, and, when war was declared on 18 March 1744, he immediately launched an offensive, although he had complained annually of a lack of troops and artillery. The first objective was the small English fort on Canso Island (Grassy Island, Nova Scotia) which, after a negligible Resistance, was surrendered by its commander Patrick Heron to François Du Pont Duvivier on 24 May 1744. Emboldened by this victory Duquesnel moved against the more substantial garrison at Annapolis Royal. Ignoring his earlier reservations about sending out just such an expedition without aid from France, he dispatched in mid-July a company of 50 men, also under Duvivier. He hoped that ships expected from France would be able to support the attack, but when the Ardent docked a month later, her captain, , was reluctant to venture into unknown waters late in the season. About the same time Duquesnel received instructions from France stating that it was too late in the year for an attack and requesting that plans be submitted before any initiative was taken. Encouraged by his earlier success, however, Duquesnel ignored these instructions and attempted to arm two private ships for the expedition. He died before they could be made ready. Even though they were eventually sent, the expedition failed. Virtually all opinion of Duquesnel is influenced by the anonymous author of the Lettre d'un habitant who accused him of having a violent temper, of harbouring all forms of excess, of alienating officers from their soldiers, and of being largely responsible for the capture of Louisbourg in 1745 by provoking the English. His bad temper can be explained by his physical condition. When his body was exhumed from the chapel of the Louisbourg barracks in 1964, an autopsy revealed that in addition to his leg wounds Duquesnel suffered from severe dental problems, arthritis, and extensive arteriosclerosis. His confrontation with the officers probably contributed to any difficulties they had with their troops, but his opposition to them was well founded. In attacking the English he was simply, if not prudently, following his original orders. The author of the Lettre also claimed that Duquesnel had been ruined financially and sent to Louisbourg to re-establish his fortune. Although the inventory of Duquesnel's effects revealed many debts, it also brought to light a number of commercial interests, including shares in at least two ships. He was, in fact, able to leave his family over 13,000 livres. It may well be, however, that his commercial interests were acquired during his visits to Quebec in the mid-1730s.
Duquesnel showed little imagination in his administration but he used a firm hand; he would almost certainly have prevented the mutiny
which occurred two months after his death and his determination might have served the colony better during the siege of the following year than the indecisiveness of the acting governor, Louis Du Pont Duchambon.
Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Jean-Baptiste-Louis le Prévost DuQuesnel
(the original article)
The Great Fortress: A Chronicle of Louisbourg 1720-1760
by William Wood, Toronto, 1915
Volume Eight of Chronicles of Canada in thirty-two volumes
Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton
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