Jean d'Olabaratz

(1727-1808)




Olabaratz (Laubaras, Olobaratz), Jean d', naval officer; born 20 October 1727 in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France, son of Joannis-Galand d'Olabaratz and Catherine Despiaube; married c.1779 Marguerite-Angélique Collas; they had no children; died 1 February 1808 at his birthplace.

          Little is known about Jean d'Olabaratz's childhood, but everything suggests that he was oriented towards a naval career from his youth.  In these years his father had his own ship, and there is no doubt that he took his son with him on more than one voyage.  The elder d'Olabaratz seems indeed to have had a major influence on his son, because throughout the latter's apprenticeship they were often to be found on the same bridge.

          When he was 18 Jean d'Olabaratz joined the French navy.  He served as a supernumerary officer in the port of Bayonne, and then as port ensign there.  From 1746 to 1749 he sailed under his father in the frigate Bristol and the king's corvette Catherine; promoted lieutenant at the time of a voyage to Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), in the Intrépide, he subsequently returned to France.  In 1750 the minister of Marine, Rouillé, appointed his father port captain at Louisbourg; Jean occupied the post of port ensign, for which he obtained his brevet in 1752.

          In 1755 d'Olabaratz received permission from the governor of Île Royale to embark on the Héros, a warship returning to France after a short mission at sea.  Once more on French shores, he became port ensign at Brest.  In 1756, despite his desire to serve in France, he was given command of the frigate Aigle, which he skilfully sailed to Louisbourg that October.

          The following year, again in the Aigle, which was accompanied by the Outarde, d'Olabaratz left Rochefort, France, for Quebec.  The ships captured two British merchant vessels during the crossing, and then lost sight of each other off Newfoundland.  D'Olabaratz sailed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence through the Strait of Belle Isle, but as a result of wrong information he ran aground near Gros Mécatina.  When he was informed of this shipwreck, Intendant François Bigot dispatched the Légère to the scene; it arrived at the same time as the Bien-Aimé, two months after the accident.  Unfortunately the following night the two ships crashed into each other in a sudden gale and were a total loss.

          D'Olabaratz then requisitioned the Roi du Nord, a snow belonging to some French fishermen who had come to hunt seals.  He loaded onto it what had been salvaged from the previous shipwrecks and set sail for Quebec.  As a crowning misfortune his new ship proved unseaworthy – its hull was completely rotten and split open off Île Saint-Barnabé.  The shipwrecked crew managed to reach shore.  Thus it was only after months of delay that d'Olabaratz arrived at Quebec.


      In 1758, Bougainville's request for merchant captains to command the tiny French inland fleet brought him back, lured by the hope of wartime profits.  The government at Quebec gave Jean d'Olabaratz the task of ensuring the naval defence of Lake Champlain.  Along with the shipbuilder Pierre Levasseur, son of René-Nicolas Levasseur, he supervised the building of three xebecs.  After they were launched, the Muskelonge, Brochette, and Esturgeon were put under the command of d'Olabaratz, who was himself under François-Charles de Bourlamaque's orders.  In 1759, his mission consisted of patrolling the waters of Lake Champlain and delaying as long as possible the advance of the British troops coming northward from Crown Point.  On several occasions he was on the verge of engaging with enemy ships, but each time he adroitly evaded them.  On 11 October 1759, Amherst's army started northward on Lake Champlain, intending to attack the French under François-Charles de Bourlamaque at Île aux Noix, in an imposing flotilla with the radeau, Ligonier, leading.  Captain Joshua Loring with the brig, Duke of Cumberland, and the sloop, Boscawen, went in search of the French ships.  At daybreak on 12 October d'Olabaratz and his three poorly constructed xebecs attacked a troop-laden bateau near the Îles aux Quatre Vents and captured 21 Highlanders of the 42nd Foot.  Sailing north, he was spotted later in the day by a British brigantine and sloop.  Loring chased him toward the advancing British army, and on 12 October 1759 d'Olabaratz sought refuge in a narrow channel on the western side of the lake, between Crab Island and Cliff Haven, New York, about 2 miles south of present-day Plattsburgh, New York.  After holding a council with his officers on board the Muskelonge, he scuttled his flotilla and worked his way back to Isle-aux-Noix travelling on foot under cover of darkness.  The colonial authorities were displeased by the loss of the Lake Champlain flotilla.  After François de Lévis had denied him command of a schooner, d'Olabaratz took passage for France.  Again he had the misfortune to be shipwrecked, a little below Quebec, but he soon found another vessel on which to continue his voyage.  Once at sea, it was pursued by a British ship, which speedily captured it.  D'Olabaratz was taken to England, where he was detained for some time.

[This indented paragraph (above) has been rewritten here for clarity.  There is some confusion in various accounts of this incident on Lake Champlain, which has been attributed erroneously to Joannis-Galand d'Olabaratz, father of Jean d'Olabaratz.  For comparison, you can read the original article with this paragraph unchanged.]


          In the years following his tour of duty in Canada d'Olabaratz held various posts on the king's ships.  In particular he served on board the flute Salomon, the frigate Hareror, and the lighter Porteuse.  He was named lieutenant in 1775 and captain in March 1779.  He then commanded the flute Ménagère, subsequently ending his career on board the Fier.  In 1786 he retired with the rank of brigadier of the naval forces.

          Of all the misadventures that Jean d'Olabaratz experienced in New France, the loss of the Lake Champlain flotilla remains the strangest.  He never explained the motives for his action, and no court martial was held to force him to justify himself.  The ships were the only ones that the government of the colony had ever built to defend its posts on the Rivière Richelieu, and at the moment when they were the most indispensable, they sank without even firing their guns.

— Marc Théorêt, Notaire, Laval, Québec






This history article includes the names of an unusual variety of special types of vessel or boat used in the 1700s in North America:

bateau — A narrow, flat-bottom, double-ended (pointed at both ends), shallow-draft, all-purpose cargo boat.  First appearing in the historical record as early as King William's War in the 1690s, by the mid-1700s bateaux were the most common and most important cargo carrier found on the inland waters of colonial North America.  In the 1700s, thousands of bateaux were constructed by the British and French for military and commercial use on North American rivers and lakes.  The term bateau comes from the French word for boat.  It is spelled in a great variety of ways including bateau, batteau, batoe, and battoe. The plural is bateaux, batteaux, batoes, or battoes. No doubt there are other spellings.  Bateaux ranged from five metres long and one metre wide with a cargo capacity of half a ton (about 500kg), up to boats seven or eight metres long and two or three metres abeam with a capacity of as much as six tons (about 6000kg).  Regardless of the spelling or the size, there were several distinguishing characteristics of a bateau: First, bateaux could be built quickly and cheaply from materials that were available locally.  A bateau could be built by a carpenter – a skilled shipwright was not needed.  That is, bateaux could be built almost anywhere at any time, in large numbers and at low cost, by any group of men with the ordinary skills of farmers.  Second, the bateau was designed to travel on shallow water (depths of as little as twenty centimetres), including rough water (rapids).  This was done by constructing the boat with a flat bottom and pointed ends.  The boat was steered with an oar rather than a rudder to allow it to be maneuvered even when it had no speed in relation to the water.
        — See The Mabee Farm Bateau Second Albany County Militia reenactment group
        — See Bateaux and Battoe Men... New York State Military Musuem
        — See British Military Bateau 1776 New York State Military Musuem
        — See Drawing of a Bateau [1814] Ontario Government Archives

brig — See brig in Wikipedia

brigantine — See brigantine in Wikipedia

corvette — See corvette in Wikipedia

flute — See fluyt in Wikipedia

frigate — See frigate in Wikipedia

lighter — See lighter in Wikipedia

radeau — A flat-bottomed boat able carry a substantial load in shallow water, often used to transport freight or agricultural products from farm to market.  Radeaus were popular for local transportation in the vicinity of New Orleans, across Lake Pontchartrain or local bayous, even along the Mississippi River for relatively short distances.  A radeau did not have a sail or a mast, and rarely had oarloaks.  A radeau was propelled by paddling, or in shallow water by push-poles, or by a rope attached to a draft animal such as a mule walking along the shore.
        — See The Lost Ship of Lake George All Points North, SUNY Plattsburgh
        — See The 'Land Tortoise' Radeau New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Launched 20 Oct 1758 on Lake George, sunk 22 Oct 1758

schooner — See schooner in Wikipedia

sloopsloop or sloop-of-war in Wikipedia

snow — See snow in Wikipedia

xebec or zebec — See xebec in Wikipedia





Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Jean d'Olabaratz (the original article)
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