It was before noon on Friday, 8 January 1706, when Guillaume Regnault appeared before the very Reverend Father Vincent Bigot, Rector of the College and Superior of the missions of the Jesuits in New France, to request written title to the land that he had been working and living on for more than twenty years. The Jesuits, as seigneurs of the seigneurie Notre-Dame des Anges, had granted the land to Guillaume by verbal concession but now, in Guillaume’s advancing years, he wanted the assurance of a written document that would entitle his heirs to benefit from his many years of labor. Bigot was accompanied by the very Reverend Father Pierre Rassein and two witnesses, François Roland and Estienne Loisy. The notary François Genaple, whose penmanship was mercifully impeccable on this day, recorded the proceedings.
From this document we can learn where Guillaume lived and toiled as well as the terms under which he held title to the land. Perhaps, most importantly, Guillaume’s request to the Jesuits reveals an awareness of legacy and illustrates that Guillaume was not a struggling farmer scratching out an existence on a single plot of land but the head of a family that he strove to position for success.
To understand the context of Guillaume’s activities of 8 January 1706, we need to know something about his life in the prior 20 years. It should be noted that after having been married in 1668, little is known of Guillaume’s activities in the 1670s other than what can be gleaned from the baptismal records of his children. While there are other records, they are sparse. The Notarial indexes that are available online reveal one instance of Bail à ferme (see notes) involving Guillaume for 19 March 1671 and another instance of bail (lease) for 29 November 1671 though we do not know the specifics. Additionally, from Marcel Trudel’s accounts we know that Guillaume contracted to clear 8 arpents (a little less than 8 acres) of land in 1673 at 36 livres (pounds) per arpent. Further research is needed to uncover other records of his activities during this period.
At some point in the 1680s, the Jesuits granted Guillaume by verbal concession the right to land which in the document is described as being along “la route Saint Antoine.” Since the land was conceded verbally, we do not know the terms under which he received the concession. That is to say, we do not know to what extent the dimensions of the verbal grant were defined. His only proof of title was the receipts he was provided for paying the annual “rentes seigneuriales.”
In addition to his request to receive written title from the Jesuit Fathers, Guillaume also sought to lock in the same terms as the other habitants residing along “la route Saint Antoine.” The Jesuit Fathers agreed to his request perhaps in part due to his service to the Order and the Seigneurie as their “procureur fiscal.” The concession consisted of one hundred square arpents or roughly 85 acres. The dimensions were of five arpents of frontage along the road (Saint Antoine) and 20 arpents in depth.
The terms stipulated that Guillaume was to pay an annual land rent of 100 sous (sols) and “five good live capons” along with 2 sous marqués [coin used in the colonies] of tax (Cens) that was payable every year on the Feast of St. Martin (November 11th). In addition to these financial obligations, Guillaume had
“to make and maintain paths established for the public convenience; to carry their food grain to the nearest mill of the Seigneuries (domain?), without the ability to grind elsewhere except by only in paying the miller the customary milling fee, to continue to work on the clearing and cultivation of the land of the said concession and discover and remove the woods that could adversely affect the grain and fruits of the neighboring lands; and to supply the Revds fathers shortly with a shipment of the present in due form, or pay them what they have paid for it: in this way the present concession has been made upon these conditions,….”
There was also a clause allowing the concession to be withdrawn in the event of a sale which is essentially the equivalent of offering the Jesuits the first right of refusal. The Jesuits also reserved the right of the native Hurons, whom the Jesuits had diligently (and with some mild success) sought to convert to Christianity and to settle them as farmers, “to gather from the said concession wood for scaffolding and firewood that they will need; And that if there was to be found a proper place for the building of a mill, they will have the right to take a half-arpent paying what would have been the cost for clearing the said half-arpent.”
On the surface it would be tempting to conclude that this document allows us to pinpoint where Guillaume lived. The statement that Guillaume lived and worked this plot of land for over twenty years gives an impression of pastoral stability with Guillaume solely focused on this one plot of land. However, an examination of other documents and scholarship suggests this might not have been the case.
According to Mary Ann La Fleur, in her study of the seigneurie of Notre-Dame des Anges in which Charlesbourg and neighboring settlements were contained, the early inhabitants of the area were very active land speculators, regularly acquiring and selling plots of land in order to not just better their own position but to ensure the legacy of their large families by acquiring land for their sons. According to La Fleur, the “development of Charlebourg was a speculative venture for most habitants, who acquired land in 1665. Of the concessions granted in that year almost 22% were sold before the year was out; an additional 30% of these concessions were sold during the second year of ownership. Within four years of land distribution 78.6% of the land had been transferred to new owners.” While Guillaume does not come into the picture until the 1680s based upon the concession document, La Fleur includes the Renaud family in her archival study which extends from the 1660s through the end of the French Regime in 1759. Perhaps the land concession was not the only land to which Guillaume had title.
In my previous coverage of Guillaume Regnault, I mentioned his leadership and participation in the parish of Charlesbourg. In some cases, he is considered one of the pioneers of the parish. Yet Guillaume does not ever seem to have lived in Charlesbourg proper even though he had strong ties to the church parish. For example, in my last post I covered a court case from 1686 that placed the residence of Guillaume and his wife Marie de La Mare in the village of Saint Bernard. The Census of 1681 also places Guillaume in Saint Bernard. It is certainly plausible that the land described in the Census is the same as that described in the land concession where Guillaume had been working the land for more than 20 years (“depuis plus de vingt ans”) as an “habitant de la route Saint Antoine en leur seigneurye de Nôtre-Dame des Anges.”
The reference to “la route Saint Antoine” would suggest that Guillaume lived along a road. Reading a bit further we discover that his residence was established “en la dite côte.” According to La Fleur, a côte “was a geographical unit containing similar physical features, which provided natural divisions of the land,” for example, a line of independent farms along a river or road. La Fleur further adds that “Between the Dénombrement (census) of 1678 and the Census of 1681 three new côtes developed in Notre-Dame des Anges: St. Claude, St. Bernard and St. Joseph.”
Unfortunately, further description of the location of Guillaume’s concession is somewhat incomprehensible without a contemporaneous map. The land is said to be bounded
“on the side of the South on a line running Northeast by East and Southwest by West that separates the homes of Louis and Bernard Renaut; the said concession containing twenty arpents in depth on the same width of said front; Bounded on the side by the line that marks the separation of the seigneury of Saint Romain from that of Sillery in front called St. Gabriel; and on the southwest by a line drawn northwest by North parallel to the previous and separating it from the land of the Huron…”.
Fortunately, there are surviving maps that can help us to understand the area better. The 1688 map by Villeneuve is contemporaneous to roughly the time Guillaume had begun working the land in the 1680s. The map shows that the location of St. Bernard in relation to Charlesbourg. The map also shows a number of brown lines which appear to be roads connecting the côtes to Charlesbourg which “in the seventeenth century became a market center for the surrounding communities.” While the map identifies Saint Romain, there is no mention of Sillery or St. Gabriel as described in the concession document making it difficult to pinpoint with any certitude where in Saint Bernard’s Guillaume’s land was.
The Catalogne map is dated from 1709 just a few years after the concession document and in the year of Guillaume’s death. It provides a snapshot of Guillaume’s family holdings and supports the evidence for multiple holdings by Guillaume. Catalogne’s map also provides more details on the landholders than Villeneuve’s but less topographic features. It shows at least 1 plot for Guillaume, 1 for Louis, 1 for Joseph and one labeled “Renaud.” The existence of multiple Renaud accords well with La Fleur’s proposition that Guillaume’s generation expended a lot of energy in land speculation. It is possible that Guillaume either acquired the plots for his sons or carved those plots from land to which he already held title.More Words Here
These maps in addition to other documents suggest a much more dynamic land acquisition history for Guillaume and his family. For example, the record of his children’s baptisms as documented in the Drouin Collection link Guillaume to multiple locations. Though the sites for baptisms can be deceptive because the location of the baptism is not necessarily the location of residence, the documents sometimes specify the place of residence. The records for Guillaume’s first three children (1669-1673) who were baptized at Notre-Dame de Quebec do not specify a residence so it is assumed that he was living somewhere in the town of Quebec, perhaps still in the employ as a domestic for Louis Théandre Chartier de Lotbiniere.
His 4th child, Marie-Louise, was baptized at the chapel of Charlesbourg in 1676 and Guillaume is described in the record as an “habitant de St. Bernard”. This places him in St. Bernard as early as 30 years prior to the 1706 record rather than simply “more than twenty years.” His next three children (1679-1685) also show Guillaume as residing in Saint Bernard. It is not until 1687 that we find a reference to Guillaume as a resident of Saint-Antoine as described in the concession document. The baptismal record of his son Joseph (1687-1689) indicates that Guillaume was the head church warden for the parish of Charlesbourg but a habitant of St. Antoine.
Joseph fils de Guillaume Renaut
Marguillier en charge de cette parroisse et de Marie de la mare
Sa femme habitant du puit St Antoine de cette paroisse né
The baptism of his subsequent child (Marie-Therese) in 1689 also describes Guillaume as a habitant of Saint Antoine. Unfortunately, the issue is further muddied by the birth of his last child (Joseph) in 1692 which once again refers to Guillaume as a habitant de St. Bernard.
As inconsistent as the baptismal references are, it’s not clear if the reference to Saint-Antoine is the same as the Cote de St Antoine referred to in the concession document of 1706 or if this is an entirely different place also called Saint-Antoine. For example, La Fleur notes that Isaac Bédard, the father of Louis Renaud’s father-in-law Jacques Bedard, at one point moved to the “new village of St. Antoine” in Notre-Dame des Anges. To further confuse the issue, elsewhere La Fleur refers to a Saint-Antoine that is located in the seigneurie of St. Gabriel rather than Notre-Dame des Anges. According to La Fleur’s research, “Marie Magdeleine (Bedard) and Louis Renaud, her husband, lived on land in St. Antoine in the seigneurie of St. Gabriel. The land had been given to them by the Renaud family in their wedding contract. Marie’s brother, Jean, lived on the farmstead next door.”
In addition to the family gift to Louis and his wife, La Fleur’s study also highlights another parcel of land bequeathed by Guillaume Renaud for the well-being of his family. Jacques Bedard purchased the land in 1709 from the Hôpital Général which had been gifted the land “in return for caring for Marie Ann La Teille, who was infirm and living at the Hopital. Marie Ann was heir to the land through the right to succession, traced through her mother to the property of her grandfather, the late Guillaume Renaud.” Jacques also “purchased several lands from the Renaud family, in particular from his brother-in-law Louis, following the division of his father’s estate.” Clearly Guillaume had acquired sufficient land to be able to afford to give away multiple plots of land and then later have an inventory of plots that could be sold after his death.
While it is possible that the references to St. Antoine and St. Bernard could simply be two different ways to specify the same place, there is enough evidence to suggest Guillaume was not merely sitting on his land quietly farming, he was likely an active participant in the quest for land acquisition that La Fleur’s study highlights as well as being preoccupied with making family connections through marriage.
Lafleur’s archival research of the population of Notre-Dame des Anges identifies a group of families she classifies as “persisters”, families that maintained a presence in the seigneurie of Notre-Dame des Anges continuously from the 1660s through the end of the French Regime in 1759. Among these families are the Renaud and the Bedard. La Fleur characterizes the Bedard family as the most successful of all the persisting families. La Fleur identifies a phenomenon she calls sibling marriages where multiple siblings of one family marry siblings of another family. Guillaume’s children married into the Bedard family three times.
Louis Renaud married Marie Madeleine Bedard on 22 November 1694. The attendees were Marie’s father Jacques, her brother François as well as Pierre leFebvre who is curiously described as “amis de la fille.” Louis was represented by his father Guillaume and his brother Bernard “et plusieurs autres.” On 27 November 1702, Jeanne Elisabeth Renaud married Jacques Bedard. In attendance were Jacques Bedard (the father of the groom), and François, Thomas, and Charles Bedard, the groom’s brothers. Guillaume Renaud and his sons Bernard and Pierre were in attendance for the bride Jeanne Elisabeth. Finally, on 18 November 1715, Joseph Renaud married Jeanne Bedard. At this point, both parents of the married couple had passed away.
Since the Bedard family was successful and well-respected, the fact that there were three intermarriages between the families would indicate that the Renaud family was also considered respectable. The Bedards were well-known carpenters going back to their time in France. Jacques’ father Isaac lived in La Rochelle and worked as a timber-framer. Bedard’s presence in La Rochelle and his son Jacques’ baptism at the Temple-Calviniste in La Rochelle indicate that the family was Huguenot. Since Protestants were not allowed to immigrate to La Nouvelle France, the Bedard’s had to abjure their faith in order to travel to Canada.
When Isaac arrived in Canada his skills were put to good use and even won contracts with Jean Talon, the Intendant. Thus Isaac was the “first in Canada of a wide family connection of Bédards which has produced workers in this field during every subsequent generation over a period of more than 300 years – to a larger total, probably, than any other Canadian family and including some craftsmen of the first rank” such as his son Jacques who was considered a Master timber-framer. Jacques was responsible for among other projects building the steeple of the church of Charlesbourg and the timber framing for two wings of the Hôpital-Général de Québec.
It seems clear that when Guillaume appeared before the Jesuits in the winter of 1706, it was not an isolated or unique event in his life but perhaps the culminating or final act of his many and apparently successful efforts to build, preserve and transfer his wealth to the next generation. Despite the suggestion that his heirs were present with him on this day, the document is signed by Pierre Regnault on page 6 raising some questions as to why his is the sole signature. Perhaps Pierre was going to be the sole recipient of this plot of land.
Unfortunately, the success of Guillaume could not be maintained beyond the end of the French Regime in 1759. Guillaume’s great grandson Charles Renaud would be part of a migration of families from Quebec to Upper Canada (later to become Ontario). La Fleur’s study suggests that a possible reason for this migration by the Renaud and others who had been successful was that the task of securing land for their children had become “increasingly difficult as land became more expensive and harder to attain. Fathers now acquired smaller lots in the back lots, or back rangs, of the seigneurie. They also gave out shared lots, and sometimes asked sons to repay the cost of land acquired.” The families could not hold onto the land and continue to provide for their families sufficiently. As La Fleur discovered by “nearly 81% of those first families who inhabited the land are not recorded in the Répétoire of 1757.”
But we are getting ahead of the story. The move from Quebec is still some 50 years in the future in January 1706. It is not unreasonable to suggest that when Guillaume appeared before the Jesuits it was with a sense of accomplishment. He had arrived in La Nouvelle France some 40 years prior with little to nothing. Decades later he had built a solid reputation for the Renaud family and he had positioned his sons and daughters for success through land acquisition and intermarriage. His sons would try to build off of his legacy to provide for their families. None of this had to happen and it easily may not have. We exist today due to the decisions and labors of generations of fathers and mothers. The path has not always been as clear as hindsight and it has become murky if not forgotten. More than 25 years ago, my father and I stood at the gravesite of his father Théophile. My father knew so little of his own father’s culture and history that he was unaware of the appropriate spelling of his father’s name. For a variety of reasons, he had become unmoored from the legacy. Thus, the headstone read “Tuffield Reno” rather than “Théophile Renaud”. In what at the time was a rare moment of commentary about his father with whom he was not close, my Dad said with some emotion, “I didn’t understand what he was trying to do until I was 55.” And that is often the case with fathers and sons. The reasons and rationales for choices do not always become clear until one is faced with the same or similar choices. But for Guillaume and his children immersed in a land and kin-based society those ties were more obviously present and necessary.