Priest, missionary, Sulpician. Abbé François Picquet was ordained 14 years when the commandant general of New France Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière charged him in October 1748 to find the best village location for Indians open to conversion.
Picquet had paid his dues. Within months of his April 1734 ordination at the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Paris, he arrived in Montreal to serve in the parish while learning Indian languages and customs. From 1739 he lived at the Sulpician mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, (Oka, Quebec).
There, his calling to garner the tribes south of the Great Lakes to the French cause coalesced.
In 1745, when Picquet traveled to Quebec with a party of Iroquois, the senior administrators, Intendant Gilles Hocquart and Governor Charles de Beauharnois, recognized his zeal and bond with his Indian flock.
Their confidence and that of his Sulpician superiors, in accordance with Iroquois elders, secured his 1748 authorization to found the new mission for Roman Catholic Iroquois.
At a narrowing of the St. Lawrence River below the Thousand Islands and above the rapids, Picquet selected the mouth of the Oswegatchie River. There Nov. 21, 1748, the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he said a mass consecrating the site for his mission.
With 25 Europeans and four Abenaki he returned to raise the walls of La Présentation June 1, 1749. Later that month Pierre-Joseph Céloron de Blainville found Picquet, as his mission took shape, comfortably ensconced under an Indian shelter of leafy branches. As tensions with the English increased, Céloron’s expedition was traveling to the Ohio territory to bury engraved lead plates claiming the land for France.
By summer’s end a flimsy stockade with a redoub/habitation and separate living quarters for 300 Iroquois, Hurons and other Indians neared completion. In October a band of renegade Mohicans burned all but the redoubt/habitation.
The outcome could have been different if the five two-pounder guns sent to Picquet had arrived. A more robust fort of stone and wood with corner bastions was soon erected.
Late in 1751, following a prosletising journey around Lake Ontario, Picquet settled more than 390 families at Présentation. Monseigneur de Pontbriand, the Bishop of Quebec, traveled to the mission in 1752 to baptize 132 converts.
Today in a church in Oka the original banner, which fluttered beside the French flag on many battlefields during the French and Indian War, commemorates the first baptisms.
Picquet took Iroquois to Montreal in August 1752 for them to swear allegiance to the new governor, Duquense. The following summer with three Iroquois companions he sailed for France to seek financial support from Louis XV. The court pageantry impressed the Iroquois; the king’s bounty of 3,000 livres, books and a statue was less than inspiring to Picquet.
The fortified mission, the river shores and the islands defined his parish. In the first years of the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1757, he preached against the Anglo-Americans and led his warriors into battle at Fort Bull and Oswego in 1756.
In 1757 he secretly negotiated a new alliance with the Oneidas, all the while the war became increasingly heated. Given the temper of the times, Governor Vaudreuil sent a military commander to Fort Présentation, the fiery Chevalier Claude-Nicolas de Lorimier de La Rivière. The egotistical Picquet removed himself to Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes March 1758.
In May “Abbé Picquet appeared this morning from the depths of his retreat; he is like a seigneur of the royal court, who, dissatisfied, has spent two months on his estates,” Montcalm reported. The general sided with Picquet against the governor and de Lorimier was recalled.
Picquet, credited with leading his warriors in Montcalm’s victory at Carillon (Ticonderoga), received the affable Antoine-Gabriel-François Benoist as the new commandant. But as the military situation deteriorated, Captain Pierre Pouchot, enjoined by Vaudreuil “to show Abbé Picquet all the respect due his character and his prestige among the tribes,” took provisional command of La Présentation March 1759.
The end of the French regime was in the air by July 1759. La Présentation was indefensible; Picquet moved his mission to Île Picquet, but his starving communicants drifted away. Those who remained made a separate peace with their Iroquois brethren and the English. Summer 1760 many went down river with Picquet to Montreal.
Picquet had a price on his head offered by the English. Before the September 1760 capitualtion of Montreal, Picquet with French and Indian compatriots slipped away to emerge in Louisiana July 1761. Two years later he returned to France.
An anticipated Crown pension for his services was denied. In lieu of royal gratitude, the general assembly of the French clergy twice stepped up with l,200 livres, in 1765 and 1770.
Picquet returned to Bourg-en-Bresse in 1772, his birthplace in eastern France. Somewhat less exciting than his role in New France, he served as parish priest in Verjon and as chaplain to the nuns of the Visitation in Bourg-en-Bresse. In 1779 he retired from religious duties.
François Picquet died July 15, 1781, age 72.
Michael Whittaker resides in Bishop’s Mills, Ontario, and is a former member of the Fort La Presentation Association Board of Directors. He currently serves on the association’s marketing committee. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the association.