Pierre-Joseph Celoron de Blainville (29 December 1693, Montreal—14 April 1759, Montreal) — also known as Celeron de Bienville (or Celeron, or Celoron, etc.) — was a French Canadian Officer of Marine. In 1739 and '40 he led a detachment to Louisiana to fight the Chickasaw in the abortive Chickasaw Campaign of 1739. In 1749 he led the 'Lead Plate Expedition' to advance France's territorial claim on the Ohio Valley.
Pierre Joseph Celoron de Blainville was born at Montreal on 29 December 1693. He was the son of Jean-Baptiste Celoron de Blainville and Helene Picote de Belestre.
Celoron entered military service in 1713. At this time the French collaborated with the Indians in pressuring the New England colonies, but his first firm record is an appointment as lieutenant commandant to the post at Michilimackinac in 1734 (Burton, 328). He seems to have been appointed to a second term in 1737, but before the expiration of that term he was called to Louisiana.
The British allied Chickasaw nation, in present-day northern Mississippi, blocked communication between Upper and Lower Louisiana. Bienville, Governor of Louisiana, assembled a second grand campaign against them in 1739. In response to a call to the Canadian government for assistance, Celoron was dispatched to Fort de l'Assumption near present-day Memphis, Tennessee, with a 'considerable number of Northern Indians' and a company of cadets. The assembled forces remained in place through the winter without striking the fortified villages of the Chickasaw, 120 miles to the east. But finally in March, 1740, Celoron with his corps of cadets, one hundred regulars, and four or five hundred Indians set forth. After some skirmishing the Chickasaw were found quite willing to make peace (Atkinson, 70).
After his return to Michilimackinac, Celoron was appointed to command of Detroit, at which time he was referred to as a Chevalier of the Military Order of Saint Louis and a Captain in the Department of Marine. In 1744, he was appointed to command at Fort Niagara, and in 1746, Fort St. Frederic on Lake Champlain (Burton, 327).
From 1743 to 1748, Britain and France fought King George's War. During this war, England blockaded New France, breaking down the French fur trade. The British became the major trading partners with Native Americans in the Ohio valley.
France claimed the Ohio Valley (and indeed the entire Mississippi basin) on the basis of the explorations made by La Salle in 1669 and 1682. Great Britain claimed the Ohio Valley on the basis of purchases from Native Americans in 1744. In fact, both the colonies of Virginia and Pennsylvania had claims on the Ohio valley, although in the 1740s and 1750s, Virginia was more active in pressing her claim.
In 1748, Comte de la Galissoniere, the governor of Canada, ordered Celoron to strengthen the French claim on the Ohio Valley. Celoron carried out this mission in the summer of 1749 by means of an expedition through the contested territory. He set out from Montreal on June 15, 1749, in a flotilla consisting of large boats and canoes. The expedition included 216 French and Canadians and 55 Native Americans. On the shore of Lake Erie, at the mouth of Chautauqua Creek in present-day Westfield, New York, the expedition cut a road over the French Portage Road, and carried their boats and equipment overland to Chautauqua Lake, then followed the Chadakoin River and Conewango Creek to the Allegheny River, reaching it on July 29, 1749.
As it progressed, the expedition sought to strengthen France's claim to the territory by marking it at the mouths of several principal tributaries. At each point, a tin or copper plate bearing the French royal arms was nailed to a tree. Below, an inscribed leaden plate was buried, declaring the claims of France. This was a traditional European mode of marking territory, but it might have contributed to Native American anxieties about the intentions of the French, and thus ultimately had a counterproductive effect.
Reaching the Monongahela River, the party boated past the current site of Pittsburgh, and down the Ohio River. At Logstown, in present-day western Pennsylvania, Celoron discovered English traders. Incensed, he evicted the traders and wrote a scolding note to the governor of Pennsylvania. He then hectored the Native Americans about French dominance of the region. This overbearing behavior offended the Iroquois in his party, some of whom returned to their homeland in present-day New York, tearing down copper plates as they went.
A plate was buried at the mouth of the Muskingum River on August 16, 1749 and the mouth of the Kanawha River on August 18, 1749. In Lower Shawneetown at the Scioto River's mouth, he again encountered English traders. Celoron demanded that the English leave, but most refused.
Five months after the expedition began, it returned to Montreal, arriving November 10, 1749. Celoron's journal is archived at Archives of the Department de la Marine, Paris, France (Galbreath, 12).
In total, Celoron buried at least six lead plates. One was stolen by curious Indians almost immediately, possibly before it was even buried, and placed in British hands. Two more were found in the early 19th Century. Measuring about eleven inches long and seven and one-half inches wide, each lead plate was marked with an inscription as follows (Galbreath, 110-111):
The French continued to press their claim to the Ohio Valley, and colonial friction with the British finally contributed to outbreak of the Seven Years' War.
Upon his return, Celoron was reappointed to the important post at Detroit, and in 1753, was promoted to Major and appointed to Montreal. He died at Montreal on April 14, 1759 (Burton, 332).
Celoron had three children by his first wife, Marie Madeline Blondeau, married December 30. 1724. His second wife was Catherine Eury de la Parelle, married in Montreal on October 13, 1743, and with whom he enjoyed nine children (Burton, 327).