It must have seemed like his life had sped up. After nearly 20 years of living what was likely a routine life in a small farming community in Normandy, in just two short years Guillaume Regnault had experienced anything but stability or routine. For example, Guillaume had survived a journey across the Atlantic Ocean. At that time, such a trip that could take as long as 3 months and often led to disease and even death for its passengers. In 1662, 33% of indentured servants died before reaching their destination. In 1663, the figure improved to 20%. According to the historian Peter Moogk, “a transatlantic passage without any deaths was reckoned a miracle.” Infestations of fleas were common. Some of the ships passengers were so wretched they were described as being “eaten alive by worms.”
Guillaume next survived a tour of duty with the Carignan Regiment which as we saw in Part II was a comedy of errors and tragedy of ignorance. All of this before he reached his 22nd birth day.
What came next for him seems a comparative improvement and perhaps a return to the familiar. At the time of the Census in 1667, Guillaume was identified as a “domestic” for Louis-Théandre Chartier de Lotbinière. The fact that he was counted in the census indicates that he had been discharged from his military service, as soldiers were not included in the census since they were not considered residents of the colony.
It is not known when Guillaume’s association with Lotbinière began or what the nature of it was. Was it a free arrangement or was Guillaume fulfilling his term as an engagé? Lotbinière was an important person in the colony and there is substantial documentation about him. Some writings regarding Guillaume casually mention that Lotbinière served as the lieutenant general of the civil and criminal Sénéchaussée of Quebec without any context for what this meant. The Sénéchaussée is the court that enforced the Custom of Paris, which became the only legitimate source of Civil Law in the French Colonies by the terms of the charter of the Compagnie de l’Occident in 1667. First codified in 1507, it represented a compilation and systemization of medieval customary law. Lotbinière has been called the “Father of the Canadian magistrature.” While this has been characterized as an exaggeration that he was a “player” in the early administration of Canada cannot be denied. I will dedicate a post to Lotbinière as he continues to be associated with Guillaume for quite some time.
What did Guillaume do for Lotbinière? Jan Gregoire Coombs suggests that Guillaume’s duties appear to have been as a farmer though he may have learned some administrative laws as well. According to Armand Bessière in his study of “La Domesticité Dans La Colonie Laurentienne,” the function of domestics was primarily related to agricultural tasks such as “clearing lands, cultivating crops, and tending livestock.” However other duties, such as “caring for the sick and housekeeping” might also be performed. He also notes that the composition of indentured workers changed over time, increasingly coming from those from the colony rather than imports from France and other regions. Bessière lists Guillaume in his index of domestics on page 524 based upon the Census of 1667.
Why would Guillaume have to work for Lotbinière if the Intendant Jean Talon and the King offered incentives for the soldiers to stay in Canada after discharge? What about Guillaume’s rewards for his military service? What did the King offer in order to entice the soldiers to remain as colonists? For ordinary soldiers, such as Guillaume, the choice was 100 livres or 50 livres plus a year’s rations. While this is probably more money than Guillaume had ever seen, we do not know when he received it if at all. Guillaume’s objective while working for Lotbinière was likely to save up some money to obtain some land and get married which is exactly what happened. Guillaume’s future seems to have taken a turn for the better by August 1668 when he was married to the Fille du Roi Marie De La Mare. I will reserve the details of this pairing for my post on Marie.
For now I will note that the marriage was documented in the colony notarial records of Gilles Rageot and captured in the widely available Drouin collection from which the image below comes.
There would have been a marriage contract that listed everything that each brought to the marriage in terms of possessions and perhaps additional information. Unfortunately, this document has never been published if it survives.
They quickly got down to the business of expanding the population of La Nouvelle France and on August 27, 1669, seemingly 9 months to the day from their wedding night, they welcomed their first child, my 7th Great Grandfather, Louis into the world. Guillaume and Marie would have ten children over the next 23 years of which nine survived until adulthood.
They initially remained in Québec, perhaps continuing to work for Lotbinière. At some point after the birth of their third child in June 1673 and before their fourth child in 1676, they moved to the village of Charlesbourg. Guillaume must have saved enough money to obtain control of some land on which to build a house. However, it could have been earlier. There is notarial record dated April 19, 1671 indicating a farming lease (“Bail à ferme”) between Guillaume and Romain Becquet who held a variety of positions within the legal community in Québec at this time. Guillaume appears in the notarial records once more on November 29, 1671 in the category of “Bail”. It is unclear if Jean Lemire was posting bail for Guillaume and Michel Verret or the other way around. It would be interesting to know if there are additional documents related to these events in the archives.
We do know the relative location of Guillaume’s parcel of land as it was recorded by the cartographer Gédéon de Catalogne in his map of 1709.
The French-Canadien land grants were authorized under the seigniorial system employed in France. It’s a detailed complex topic worthy of a dedicated post but suffice to say, it was not the same as owning a home or land today. His ownership was both granted and restricted by the system.
Perhaps related to his ultimate acquisition of land, Guillaume and an associate Michel Verret entered into a contract to clear 8 arpents (an arpent was slightly smaller than an acre) of land at 36 livres (French monetary denomination) per arpent. The objective of the contract was the generation of potash from wood ash. While potash had a multitude of uses it’s quite likely it was used in the making of gun powder. The Renaud Verret partnership did not end there. Catalogne’s map shows Verret’s plot of land in close proximity to Guillaume’s plot. Guillaume's daughter Louise would marry Michel’s son Joseph.
By 1681, Guillaume and Marie had produced 5 children and held 8 acres of land. By all accounts Guillaume was a respected member of his community. He served as a church warden and played some role in the acquisition of land to build the first church of Charlesbourg. Church wardens or marguillers were the leaders of the fabrique, which managed the church property. Guillaume did so in his capacity as a churchwarden and member of the fabrique. He served as the head of the fabrique from July 13, 1687 through June 27, 1688.
As a testament to Guillaume’s reputation, according to Peter Moogk, the fabriques were the “only, durable, popularly elected bodies in the St. Lawrence Valley” and these were dominated by “the most respected men of the parish” and all candidates were approved by the priests. The institution of the churchwardens endured for centuries and Marcel Trudel recounts his own early 20th Century memories of the respect in which these men were held. In his Memoirs of a Less Traveled Road: A Historian’s Life, Trudel asserts that “We looked up far more to the Churchwardens whom we saw every week than to the municipal councilors. The wardens sat enthroned upon their bench on Sundays in full view of the assembled parishioners whereas the mayor and the councilors were lost in the congregation.”
According to the biography of Guillaume in the Lemire Family, Guillaume worked as a financial attorney for the Jesuits in the administration of justice for their seigneurie of Notre Dame des Anges from 1704 until his death in 1709. However, the source for this information is not provided. It is not implausible given his previous work with Lotbinière.
On January 5, 1709 at the age of 63 years, Guillaume passed away. It had only been a mere two weeks earlier that he had buried his wife Marie of 40 years and just three weeks since he had buried his adult child Louise. In fact, he had outlived three of his children, his wife and several of his grandchildren.
For Guillaume, life was precarious and never a guarantee. While one descendant described Guillaume’s life as “an extraordinary rise,” perhaps what is most extraordinary is his enduring legacy in North America. While tracing the Regnault’s of Saint-Jouin who remained behind has proven elusive, we can trace an unbroken North American line, La Ligne, for over 370 years from which thousands can trace their origins. Now that is extraordinary.