A Blupete Biography Page

Thomas Pichon (1700-1781),
"The Spy of Beausejour."

Thomas Pichon was brought up in France. It seems he might have had medical training which led him to be involved in the setup and administration of hospitals for the benefit of the French soldiers who were fighting in the German states during The War of the Austrian Succession (1744-48). So, too, his biographers1 write that he had some legal training, for, as a young man, he worked in a legal office for a period of time. He also, at some point as a young adult, had gone into the service of a noble family acting, possibly, as a tutor or as a secretary. At any rate, Thomas Pichon was to become "a man of education and intelligence," a man of "considerable classical attainments."2

At some point, likely during his service in Germany in the 1740s, Pichon was to meet Jean-Louis de Raymond, Comte de Raymond. Pichon was to do secretarial work for the count; and, when Raymond was appointed as the governor of Louisbourg, he, naturally, induced Pichon to come to the "new world" with him, to, principally, continue on as Raymond's secretary. The two of them arrived at Louisbourg, likely with much pomp and ceremony, on June 3rd, 1751.3 The accounts of how Pichon was to move from Louisbourg to Fort Beausejour, differ.4 During the two years between 1751 and 1753 the Count and his secretary got along well enough. They both traveled around Ile Royal and Ile St. Jean and a number of reports in Pichon's hand were filed back to the authorities in France. One version (DCB) has it that Pichon, however, became tired of Comte de Raymond's "imperious" ways and involved himself with others at Louisbourg, who, working together, convinced the authorities back in France that Raymond should be recalled; and, indeed, in October of 1753, Raymond was relieved of his post and he returned to France. His secretary did not return with him. A month later, Pichon landed himself at Beausejour to a bit of a plum position as its commissar. The one version would have it that this came about because Raymond was to give a glowing report about his old secretary. However, Webster in his biography, thinks otherwise. As Webster recounts: leading up to 1753, Governor Raymond was becoming convinced that he had a spy somewhere close to him, as, it always seemed that his adversary at Boston, Governor Shirley, was always well informed about the situation at Louisbourg. It was in 1753, according to Webster, that matters, as between Raymond and Pichon, came to a head. It is said that Raymond found a paper in his waste-basket, which led him to believe that his long time secretary could not be trusted. While Raymond, it seems, had no direct evidence, he nonetheless determined to write to his superiors suggesting that Pichon be transferred to Fort Beausejour, presumably, a less sensitive post. Two orders were to come back from France at, seemingly, the same time: Pichon was to go to Fort Beausejour as the chief clerk responsible for stores (an unlikely position for one who could not be trusted); and, the other -- Comte de Raymond was to give up his post at Louisbourg (I am sure to his relief) and return to France.

Thomas Pichon was to arrive at his new post at Fort Beausejour during November of 1753. It was here, at Beausejour, that Thomas Pichon was clearly to commence his career as a spy. There was, as Webster writes, "an eating house at Pont-ô-Buot." This "eating house" was a place that was away from both the opposing forts: Fort Lawrence and Fort Beausejour. These forts were opposite one another across the Missaguash River at the Isthmus of Chignecto. The Missaguash was, as far as the French were concerned, the dividing line between that (to the south of it) which was English territory and that (to the north of it) which was French territory. It was at this "eating house" at Pont-ô-Buot that Pichon and Captain George Scott, the commander of Fort Lawrence, were to met again. (There is evidence that they knew one another at Louisbourg. I surmise that at some point in the previous two years, Scott had been at Louisbourg on some sort of diplomatic mission.) In any event, shortly after Pichon's arrival at Beausejour, Smith and Pichon hatched a plan. One might wonder: were not such meetings observed by Pichon's superiors, viz., a French officer meeting with the English commandant of the opposing fort? However, it is to be kept in mind, that, in those years, the officer corps were very cordial to one another, no matter that they may be in opposite camps. It was an age, it must be remembered, of courtly elegance and politeness of manners. If in close proximity, which certainly they were at the isthmus, both the French and English officers would regularly invite one another to sup together; and, it was not at all unusual that English and French officers would exchange courtesies and gifts.

Pichon was probably one of the few literate men at Fort Beausejour, indeed, it would appear that Pichon was employed by the French, commander de Vergor to assist in the writing of reports. So, too, Le Loutre would see Pichon when Le Loutre determined to write the authorities whether situated at Quebec or France. In consequence of his position, Pichon was able to supply the commander at Fort Lawrence5 with all kinds of intelligence which was immediately sent down to Halifax. It apparently was quite simple for Pichon to get information to his new masters as the Acadians freely passed back and forth to trade their goods for English merchandise which was readily available at Fort Lawrence. Certain of these Acadians were in the employ of Pichon. The French officials throughout this period -- and this is surprising if one were to believe that Governor Raymond, earlier on, had suspicions -- seemed never to tumble to what Pichon was up to.

After the English took Fort Beausejour in 1755, Pichon was made a prisoner (ostensibly). Now, -- the French troops, as one of the articles of capitulation, were sent to Louisbourg; but, Pichon was selected out and placed under guard at Fort Lawrence. (It seems that the British thought that maybe Pichon could continue to spy, especially amongst the collection of prisoners that had by then been collected up at Halifax.6) Webster wrote:

"[Pichon was to remain at Fort Lawrence] for several days and according to his Journal, urged Monckton to exercise clemency toward the unfortunate settlers. He was then sent [July 4th] to Fort Edward, Piziquid for a time. There, ... he was visited by many Acadians, who sought his advice as to the course they should pursue. He pointed out that, being a prisoner, he could not do much for them, but asked them to consider well the fate which would be theirs if they had to suffer deportation, and to remember that the rule of the British was infinitely more kindly than that of the French. At length he was sent to Halifax, where he found many other French prisoners, who considered him as an unfortunate like themselves."7
Webster was of the view that Pichon was likely shipped out of Halifax that autumn and was in London before the year was out. Pichon then took up residence in London under his assumed name, Thomas Tyrell.8 Lord Halifax made an application (by letter dated July 6th, 1756) on behalf of "Mr. Tyrell" for a special pension describing him as "the French deserter from Cape Breton." A pension of £200 per annum was paid to him until his death in 1781.9 Pichon, incidently, lived the last eleven years of his life, 1770-81, on one of the Channel Islands. The Island of Jersey was as close as he could get to his native land, France, a land to where he likely desired to return; but could not or would not, either because he would be taken into custody, or, more likely, because he would lose his English pension.

The last word on Pichon, I give to his biographer, John Clarence Webster:

"While inconsistencies and distortions of truth make it difficult, at times, to establish factual accuracy as regards Pichon's life, no effort is required to arrive at a just estimate of his character. ... [he was, as his correspondence clearly shows] a traitor to his country, a spy and informer in the interests of its enemies, and , afterwards, a pensioner on their bounty, in London, he exhibited a continued disregard for truth and honour."10

[1] For example, see Akins' short biographical sketch set out by in Selections From The Public Documents (Halifax: Charles Annands, 1869), p. 229; and see, of course, DCB.

[2] Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), p. 252; and Akins, op. cit., p. 229.

[3] The Life of Thomas Pichon, "The Spy of Beausejour" by Webster (Halifax: PANS, Spec. pub., 1937), p. 101.

[4] The DCB and Webster's biography, both having already been cited.

[5] In the autumn of 1754, a Captain Hussey succeeded Scott, and Pichon "continued to forward similar information until just before the siege of 1755." (Webster, op. cit.p. 8.)

[6] On June 15th, 1755, just a day before the French were to surrender Beausejour, Boscawen, or at least part of his fleet, fell in with certain of de la Motte's French men of war. After a chase the British captured the Alcide (64 gun) and the Lys (64 gun). They had a large number of French military men aboard which were destined for the garrisons of Louisbourg and Quebec. Boscawen brought his prizes into Halifax, and, thus, there were to be quite a number of French prisoners at Halifax, there, to spend the summer awaiting British orders as to their disposition. Incidently, the news that Boscawen had captured the French ships, together with a sizable number of French army men, arrived at Chignecto around June 25th. It was on that date, Pichon was to write in his diary: "Letters received from Halifax state that Admiral Boscawen had brought into the harbour 2 French vessels of the line, 8 companies of troops, the military chest, and several engineers and officers." (Webster, op. cit., p. 106.)

[7] Webster, op. cit., pp. 11-2, 106.

[8] Most authors seem to accept the assertion, one of Pichon's, that his mother was an English woman by the name of Tyrell. (See, for example, Parkman, op. cit., p. 252 and Calnek, History of the County of Annapolis, p. 531.) Webster, op. cit., however, thinks this to be but one of Pichon's fabrications (p. 1). Though possibly later in life he was able to do so, Pichon could not deal with others in the English language; one, therefore, is bound to wonder about this story that Pichon had an English mother.

[9] Namier writes of Tyrell that he was "the French officer who was employed in matters of secrecy by Colonel Lawrence" and that he received a pension of 200£. (See, The Structure of Politics (1928), p. 228 & fn at p. 448.)

[10] Op. cit., in the preface at p. ix.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)