Sunday, January 14, 2018

Philippe de Rocheblave, a Military Opportunist in the Illinois Country.

Philippe de Rocheblave
Philippe-François de Rastel de Rocheblave (1727-1802) (commonly known as Philippe de Rocheblave) was a military officer and fur trader in present-day southwestern Illinois in the eighteenth century. His story reveals much about the history of the Illinois Country in the years surrounding the Revolutionary War.

Born in Savournon, Hautes-Alpes, France, Rocheblave came to North America during the Seven Years' War, also known as the French and Indian War. In 1760, he was a lieutenant with the Royal French Marines at Fort de Chartres (which is about 4 miles west of the Village of Prairie du Rocher), in the Illinois Country. He also established a fur trading business at Kaskaskia, another French settlement on the Mississippi.

After the British took control of Kaskaskia in 1763, he switched allegiances and took command of Fort Sainte-Geneviève in the Illinois Country for New Spain. In 1774, he switched allegiances once again and took command of Kaskaskia for the British.

In 1778, during the American Revolutionary War, Colonel George Rogers Clark, commander of the Illinois Regiment, Virginia State Forces, captured Kaskaskia for the Americans and took Philippe de Rocheblave prisoner. Rocheblave was sent to Virginia, where he eluded parole and fled to the British forces in New York City.
Philippe de Rocheblave, the commandant of Fort Gage, was captured while asleep with his wife by Colonel George Rogers Clark and the Illinois Regiment, Virginia State Forces, in 1778, who seized the lightly guarded British outpost of Kaskaskia in the Illinois Country.
After the American Revolutionary War ended, Philippe de Rocheblave brought his family to Montreal; they later settled at Varennes in 1789. He became involved in the fur trade in the Detroit region. In 1796, Rocheblave was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada for Surrey and was re-elected in 1796 and 1800, serving until he died on April 3, 1802, in Quebec City, Lower Canada.

Rocheblave's story presents a quandary. Was he an opportunist who owed his allegiance to whoever was winning at the time? Was he, alternately astute in his allegiances, reacting to the often shifting nature of politics on the frontier? Whichever you lean towards, his story is an interesting chapter in the history of Illinois.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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