A Blupete Biography Page


François Bigot
(1703-1778).

In the study of Louisbourg, in these times, it is best one understands that there was much corruption in North American French society (leave out the Acadians). Where money flows, then as now, one likely will find corruption to one degree or another. In New France, corruption had advanced to a considerable degree and it stemmed usually from the top, from the very men who were charged with government finances, such as the man which is the subject of this sketch, François Bigot. Great sums of money were spent on Louisbourg; not only in its construction, but also in the continuing maintenance and repair of the stonework, susceptible as it is to the intermittent frosts and thaws of an Acadian winter. Fortress Louisbourg, during its existence (1713-1760), was a distant and uninspected place. There is no question that its governors and their chief assistants were fraudulent; they thought that it was something they could be, as a matter of gubernatorial right. Of corruption, Parkman writes:

"Every military movement, and above all the establishment of every new post, was an opportunity to the official thieves with whom the colony swarmed. Some bands of favored knaves grew rich; while a much greater number, excluded from sharing the illicit profits, clamored against the undertaking, and wrote charges of corruption to Versailles."1
François Bigot was born at Bordeaux, France. His grandfather became rich because of his commercial activities2; his father had a successful legal career and was to hold several important government positions. Bigot was to receive, as would be expected by an aristocratic son, a good education which included legal studies. At the age of twenty he joined "the commissary of the marine" as a "chief scrivener." By 1732, at the age of 29, Bigot was comfortably ensconced at Rochfort, a marine port which saw many fleets decked out and made ready for their voyages to the new world.

As a young man in France we see the makings of Bigot's future problems: he had an inordinate love for the gaming tables. The pressure he was experiencing from both his superiors and his creditors led him to accept a post as the financial commissary of the burgeoning Acadian stronghold, Louisbourg. This appointment became effective on the 1st of May 1739. He arrived at Louisbourg on the 9th of September having come out on the same ship as the newly appointed governor, Issac-Louis de Forant3.

By 1744, we see Bigot is actively involved as a principal, in the paying business of outfitting and supplying privateers. Preying on the ships of New England was an occupation that involved any number of Frenchmen located at Louisbourg, from the highest in the administration to the lowest of deck hands. In this business, Bigot, as it happened, was a keen supporter of the Dupont brothers.4

In 1745, Pepperrell led his New Englanders against Louisbourg and laid a successful siege. And, in the result, Bigot, together with all of those who made up the military and civilian administration, were transported to France.

The French were determined to re-take Louisbourg. And, so it was, that, in 1746, there was mounted a powerful expedition; which, it was intended, in addition to evicting the English at Louisbourg, was to cruise down the coast and burn Boston to the ground.5 Bigot was appointed to be the commissary general and it is reported that he managed the huge task of outfitting the fleet with considerable diligence. Bigot sailed with d'Anville and was to witness the misfortunes of storms, and sickness, and the eventual ruin of the entire effort on the shores of what we now know as Bedford Basin (Halifax). Though many of the French leaders of this military debacle were to die, Bigot was one of the few to make it back to France; and though his personal belongings were lost at sea and his pride wounded, his good reputation as an organizer came through intact.

While in France, Bigot, given his role both in the loss of Louisbourg and the loss of the d'Anville fleet, had a lot of explaining to do. A number of officials were put on trial and the matters were fully delved into with the usual efficiency of the French bureaucracy. Thus Bigot was fully occupied up to 1748 making out report after report. Bigot came through it all, and kept the faith which the administrators had originally placed in him. In 1748, he was offered the important position of intendant at Quebec. Reluctant as he was, and expressing concern for his health, Bigot agreed to do his duty to his king and on the 26th of August, 1748, he arrived at Quebec.6 He was to hold this important position at Quebec until its capture by Wolfe in 1759.

Bigot's time at Quebec is the more involved and the more significant story in regards the history of Canada; his involvement with Acadia pretty much came to an end in 1746.

Overall there has been much criticism leveled at Bigot and most all of it deserved. The principal charge against Bigot has been, and as has been found, "his greedy attention to personal profit." It remains to be said, that, in spite of the his nefarious activities, Bigot performed his principal job effectively, as may be seen from the manner in which he conducted himself both during the siege of Louisbourg in 1745 and at Quebec in 1758. During the hard times both at Quebec and Louisbourg, the French troops and the French inhabitants were fed and kept in relative comfort despite the military sieges. It must be remembered, as the DCB points out, in these days of the old French regime, both at home and abroad, that the local authorities, though more often than not vigorous and successful in their duties, were almost invariably, "corrupt, arrogant, and inefficient."

"'Tyranny is the word that springs to mind when reading the list of Bigot's ordinances directing people's movements and behaviour in detail, prescribing severe punishments for offenders, and relying in criminal cases on the stocks, the gibbet, the execution block, and the tortures of the boot. ... He tried to prevent people from firing guns in towns, fighting in church doorways, dumping rubbish in streets and harbours, and letting their livestock wander about untethered in the streets."7
Bigot was to be tried in France for his role in the loss of the French possessions in America. He fled France before the judgment of the court was delivered on December 10th, 1763. He took up residence in Switzerland and eventually lived out the balance of his life in comfort with his family at Neuchâtel where he "successfully fitted himself into local circles." Bigot died on January 12th, 1778 and was buried in the little Catholic church of Saint-martin-L'Evêque in Cressier, a village nearby Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), p. 92. As an illustration: Louisbourg's most well known governor (he founded the community and had 25 years association with it), St. Ovide, was implicated and ultimately faced charges at the Court of Versailles. The finding of his guilt is inconclusive, but it was not expected that the royal court would punish a French field commander, unlike the English, who would and did execute an admiral for not winning a battle. The French royal court usually just saw to a paid retirement for the questioned officer, which, in St Ovide case, is what they did.

[2] Bigot's grandfather gave "bottomry loans" which financed "several voyages to Quebec and Newfoundland" during the 1600s.

[3] Forant, though an enthusiastic administrator, was dead within the year.

[4] Their vessels: Succès, Cantabre, Saint-Charles, and Brador; all being likely fast moving schooners.

[5] The story of d'Anville's disastrous mission in Acadia is dealt with at another place, in my history, Book 1, Part 5.

[6] The role of intendant was all encompassing: "administrating funds, supplies, equipment, timber, shipbuilding, housing, hospitals, the populace in general, and everything, indeed, except fighting." The last of these activities was the exclusive domain of the governor.

[7] DCB. Bigot might have made money for himself while attending to his duties in New France; but, it is clear that that is not what kept him: during these times, he "again and again applied for a posting in France."

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Peter Landry
(2013)