Born on 25 October 1754 at Ørslevkloster manor, Niels was a son of Pierre and Margaret Susanne la Cour. He probably learned farming from his father, but he was also an excellent hunter and received a prize for having shot both a wolf cub and its mother, some of the last wolves in Denmark. He was living at home when his father died in 1775, but one of his father’s friends, Captain von Støcken, had previously promised him a post as a petty officer with the crown prince’s infantry regiment. Niels started in this position, but later became a chief petty officer and orderly for General Johansen, who was then commandant of Copenhagen. The general would not let him go, promoting instead several younger officers who received their officers’ commissions. Niels then complained to the crown prince (who later became King Frederik VI*) and had a heated conversation with him, and as a result resigned from the army. In 1784 he became “warder” of Det Kongelige Vajsenhus, an orphanage and school for orphans that had been founded by Frederik IV in 1727 and was located at the address of Nytorv 138 in Copenhagen. Niels remained in this job until 1789, when the orphanage had 53 boys and 53 girls aged 7–16. He then established himself as an innkeeper at the address Skindergade 10 in Copenhagen, where many students held club meetings, but according to the directory of the time he seems also to have lived at Vigandsgade 314. When his house burned down in 1795, he moved to Gamle-Skivehus, where he was probably a guest of the owner, who was one of his father’s former students, Titular Councillor of State Aksel Rosenkrantz de Lasson* til Astrup, a son of Matias de Lasson til Bjørnholm. Niels subsequently became an administrative officer with the town clerk, Councilor Gjerulff, in Viborg. According to the 1801 census, Niels was an administrative officer for the mayor of Viborg and lived at the address St. Ibsgade 24 with his wife Georgine and their four children: Peder David (no. 10 below), Otto August (no. 12), Niels Georg (no. 13) and Susanne (no. 14). The family also had a cook named Anne Jensdatter at the time.
Later in 1801, Niels became a lieutenant in the home guard (and was sometime afterwards promoted to captain). On 7 May 1802 he became postmaster of the town of Holstebro. Having been made captain and company commander of the “annexed batallion” of the Funen infantry regiment in 1807, he was stationed at Randers, Ebeltoft and Holstebro. He became postmaster of Randers on 7 June 1810 and was appointed a councillor in the civil service in June 1810. He was known for his rudeness and was called “The Old Blusterer”, but a prefect named Rosenørn called him “a brave man and true friend”: he was “a tall man with stiff boots and a whip who moved with ease and had a droll way of speaking.”
Niels once put himself in grave danger by rescuing a young man (who later became a pastor in Jutland) about to drown in Copenhagen’s Peblingesøen lake, and for that reason he was, many years later, praised by famous Danish poet Steen Steensen Blicher*, who is said to have recited his poem about Niels at a folk festival (the 1839 Himmelbjerg Festival*): “Another saving of someone in distress – once in death a Danish feat of a man who, as far as race is concerned, was indeed only a half-breed, as his father was French and his mother Danish. But in his Danishness he was purebred: he was warm-hearted like a Frenchman and strong like a Dane. I am actually a bit proud to have been honoured with this man’s friendship for a number of years – although his years were far ahead of mine, and I was only a lad when he performed this manly feat, I will now tell you about Niels la Cour:
It was such a fine winter day
As any which shines in the North.
In smiling the glorious sun took pleasure
From a light blue sky to the earth.
Each lake was covered with its ice blanket
In dazzling streaks they gleamed
The smooth and shiny and smiling glaze
The meadows invited skating;
There were many people out and about, as there
usually were With sleighs and toboggans on the street;
And just as merrily was the gliding-along
On the lake outside the city.
They crowded and thronged, looked out and looked in,
Now forward, now back again,
Some slow, some as fast as the wind,
Chasing here and there, like dogs hunting hares.
But finally, in the merry game
That was played by the swarm out there
The deceitful ice was unfortunately weak
And split open with a roar.
“This caused consternation, of course, but no one made a move to rescue him.
From the city a corporal came,
Asked, ‘What is going on here?’
‘Someone is drowning,’ came the reply.
‘And all your hearts are as hard as ice!’
So he jumped forward, and lay down flat,
And pushed himself out onto the ice on his stomach:
‘Someone come hold my legs!
Or we will both go to our graves.’
Then a navy sailor leapt out there
And threw himself behind the corporal
But the corporal grabbed hold of the hair
Of the man splashing in the icy water;
Pulled him up and threw him far behind him,
The water around him spraying and splashing;
When the corporal stood up again –
He likely needed some warmth –
But he ran over to where the man lay half dead
And took him up in his arms.
‘Where do you live?’ And the poor man whispered
‘weakly His house number and street
‘Good, good! Be not afraid! I’ve got you now!’
So he slogged him into town.
Where the rescued man got warm and dry,
And little by little recovered his strength,
It was not strange that for many years afterwards
The two were friends.
One became a pastor and the other a captain
But they got along just as well.
Blicher concluded his opening words by saying, among other things, “So much happier I will talk and sing – not fabricate – for ’tis now the pure truth coming out of my mouth, as I now behold so many of his purebred kin. But not only to you, stalwart Lacours, do I direct my speech, but to every heart that beats stronger when we speak of noble deeds.”
Niels married Georgia Nicoline la Cour (née Mærch) on 23 April 1790 in Ørum, a village near the town of Skive. Georgia was born on 14 January 1760 in Ørum, and her parents were Otto Himmelstrup Mørch, a rural dean*, and Kristine Augusta Hvass. She died on 1 June 1804 in Holstebro.
Niels’s second marriage was on 29 July 1810 in Randers to Karen Elisabeth la Cour (née Lund), a woman born on 11 July 1772 in Randers to Morten Brøehner Lund and Anne Marie Håsum. Niels died suddenly on 10 May 1827 in Randers, where also Karen died on 25 August 1836. (Seven children: nos. 10–16 below.)