French Navy in America

The French fleet of 1757 as depicted by Captain Pierre Bouchard de la Broquerie. The ships are (from left to right) La Marquise de Vaudreuil, La Hurault, La Louise and Le Victor.

In 1685, La Barre, Frontenac’s successor, had a barque built at Cataraqui, which was named Le General Little is known of her, other than she plied Lake Ontario for several years and made three trips to Niagara in 1688. There is some doubt as to whether Le General was a new vessel or one of La Salle’s four earlier ships that had been rebuilt. Later, a fleet of flat-bottomed transports were added. Although these were hardly sailing ships, they did carry four-cornered lugsails. In 1687, the French launched a major attack against the Iroquois using the ships already mentioned and 198 such transports.

The French abandoned Fort Frontenac in 1688, and burned two of their ships at that time to prevent others from using them. No record has been found of what happened to the third, though in 1694, when the French re-occupied the fort, they raised one vessel from the harbour bottom, rebuilt her and put her into service.

The next shipbuilding, of which any record exists, was in 1726 when two schooners were built at Fort Frontenac by Intendant Begin. In 1743 and 1745, Chevalier de Chalet added two more, the St. Charles and the St. Frangois. Both were about 50 tons burthen. In 1734, Louis Denis, Sieur de la Ronde was sent by the governor of New France, to explore and report on the copper deposits at Chequamegon in 1727. He built a barque at Point aux Pins on Lake Superior for the copper mines at Chaguamagon, now part of Wisconsin. She was the second sailing vessel on the Upper Lakes and the first vessel to be described as sloop-rigged. It is not known what happened to her. The next mention of sail on Lake Superior concerns the English trader, Alexander Henry, in 1770. He could possibly have been using the same vessel, though this is unlikely.

About this time the “goelette” (an early version of the schooner) and the schooner started to come into use on the lakes but there are not sufficient records of early ships to indicate the exact date of their arrival.

Several vessels were built at Cataraqui (now known as Kingston, Ontario) in the period from 1743 to 1756:

Le Victor: 1749, 40-ton, schooner rig but later changed to sloop, 4 guns.

La Louise (or Lionne): 1750, 50-ton schooner, 6 guns.

La Hurault: 1755, 90-ton schooner, 14 guns.

La Marquise de Vaudreuil: 1756, 120-ton schooner, 20 guns.

Three lateen-rigged gunboats, names unknown, and two schooners, one large and one small, were built at Niagara but were not launched before they were captured by the British in July 1759. Records indicate that four vessels were built by the French at Navy Island, but it has not been possible to discover their names nor what happened to them.

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One thought on “French Navy in America

  1. I live in Wisconsin and was interested to read about the boat building in northern Wisconsin, and specifically, too, the different types of ships you discuss. Would you say a schooner as you described is similar in size to a rigged clipper? Where does a sloop compare in relation to a rigged clipper, specifically relating to vessels at the turn of the 19th century?

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