Claude-Pierre Pécaudy de Contrecœur

(1705-1775)




Pécaudy de Contrecœur, Claude-Pierre, officer in the colonial regular troops, seigneur, and member of the Legislative Council; born 28 December 1705 at Contrecœur (Quebec), son of Francois-Antoine Pécaudy de Contrecœur, a seigneur and officer in the colonial regulars, and Jeanne de Saint-Ours; died 13 December 1775 in Montreal (Quebec).

          Claude-Pierre Pécaudy de Contrecœur's career is a good illustration of the vicissitudes in the life of a military officer who devoted himself almost entirely to the king's service.  A cadet at 16, Contrecœur at 20 was given the expectancy of an ensign's commission.  In 1729 he was second ensign, then in 1734 a full ensign.  In 1742, as a lieutenant, he commanded a detachment at Fort Saint-Frédéric (near Crown Point, New York).

          On 2 March 1746 Governor Beauharnois promised to obtain recognition for his services.  In 1748 he was promoted captain.  At intervals he turned his attention as best he could to his family and his seigneury of Saint-Denis.  In 1749 Contrecœur served as second in command in the expedition led by Pierre-Joseph Céloron de Blainville down the Ohio valley; his older son, Claude-Francois, accompanied him. Immediately after, Contrecœur was named commandant at Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, New York), which was strategically situated for maintaining liaison between the settlements on the St. Lawrence River and the vast and still sparsely occupied regions of the west and the Ohio valley, on the route to Louisiana.  In the autumn of 1752 and the following winter Governor Duquesne wrote several letters to Contrecœur to inform him, under the seal of secrecy, that in the spring an expedition of 2,000 men would be setting out "to establish our hold on the valley of the Belle-Rivière [Ohio River], which we are on the verge of losing." During the summer and autumn of 1753 the expedition, commanded by Paul Marin de La Malgue, opened the route as far as the Ohio watershed and built Fort de la Rivière au Bœuf (Waterford, Pennsylvania).  Marin died at the end of October and was replaced by Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, who immediately asked to be relieved of his duties.  On 25 December Duquesne gave command of the force to Contrecœur and on 27 January 1754 ordered him to occupy the Ohio valley.  A letter written by Contrecœur's nephew, Michel-Jean-Hugues Péan, reveals that, despite the privileges conceded by Duquesne and "all the other promises," the new commander, whose wife was with him at Niagara, was not enthusiastic about an order which would force him to live separate from his family.

          On 16 April 1754 Contrecœur and a large force seized a fort the British were building where Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, now stands.  He called upon ensign Edward Ward and his 41 men to withdraw.  After discussion, Ward agreed to leave on the 18th at noon, a decision which allowed Contrecœur to dine with him on the evening of the 17th in order to obtain more information about British manœuvres and also to negotiate the purchase of various carpenter's tools.  He went on with the construction of the fort, which took Governor Duquesne's name, and held command of it until 1756.  On the evening of 3 July 1754 at Fort Necessity (near Farmington, Pennsylvania) Louis Coulon de Villiers forced George Washington to capitulate after a sharp battle that day.  According to Duquesne's testimony, these events, which finally secured the French position in the Ohio region, were to be attributed to the "wise and prudent conduct of the Sieur de Contrecœur."

          But despite several requests Contrecœur did not receive the reinforcements or the supplies and equipment necessary to ensure consolidation of recent gains.  In the summer of 1755 Vaudreuil [Rigaud], who had succeeded Duquesne, complained to the minister of Marine, Machault, that Fort Duquesne was actually threatened by the British, who had 3,000 men six or eight leagues away, whereas Contrecœur could count on only 1,600 "including militiamen and Indians." Nevertheless, on 9 July 1755 the French troops, who were commanded initially by Daniel-Hyacinthe-Marie Liénard de Beaujeu, won the important battle of the Monongahela, at a place three leagues from Fort Duquesne.  In a letter on 20 July Contrecœur indicated to the minister that an "unfortunate accident caused by the fatigues of the last campaign will perhaps make me unable to continue my services."  He asked the minister on 28 November 1755 for the cross of the order of Saint Louis, which he received in March 1756, and for promotions for his two sons, one an ensign, the other a cadet.  His military career was essentially finished, but he did not officially obtain his retirement and pension with half pay until 1 January 1759.

          After the conquest Contrecœur chose to remain in Canada and was finally able to attend to his affairs and his seigneury, which in 1765 counted 371 persons, 6,640 acres under cultivation, and 973 animals.  Writing to Lord Hillsborough on 15 March 1769, Governor Guy Carleton called him the third most influential Canadian.  On 3 January 1775 Contrecœur was appointed to the Legislative Council, and he was sworn in on 17 August.  His career there was short, since he died in Montreal on 13 December, having attended only one meeting.

          On 10 January 1729, at Boucherville, Claude-Pierre Pécaudy de Contrecœur had married Marie-Madeleine, daughter of René Boucher de La Perrière, and they had nine children.  On 9 September 1768 in Quebec, he had taken as his second wife Marguerite-Barbe Hingue de Puygibault, the widow of Étienne Rocbert de La Morandière.

—  Fernand Grenier, Directeur général
Teléuniversité, Université du Québec, Québec





Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Claude-Pierre Pécaudy de Contrecœur (the original article)

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