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concerning his early life and his experience as tiller
of virgin soil. That is a pity; for he had an interesting
and varied career from first to last. What he did and
what he saw others do during these troublous years would
make a readable chronicle of adventure, perseverance,
and ultimate achievement. As it is, we must merely glean
what we can from stray allusions to him in the general
narratives of early colonial life. These tell us not a
tithe of what we should like to know; but even such shreds
of information are precious, for Hebert was Canada's
first patron of husbandry. He connected his name with no
brilliant exploit either of war or of peace; he had his
share of adventure, but no more than a hundred others in
his day; the greater portion of his adult years were
passed with a spade in his hands. But he embodies a type,
and a worthy type it is.

Most of Canada's early settlers came from Normandy, but
Louis Hebert was a native of Paris, born in about 1575.
He had an apothecary's shop there, but apparently was
not making a very marked success of his business when in
1604. he fell in with Biencourt de Poutrincourt, and was
enlisted as a member of that voyageur's first expedition
to Acadia. It was in these days the custom of ships to
carry an apothecary or dispenser of health-giving herbs.
His functions ran the whole gamut of medical practice
from copious blood-letting to the dosing of sailors with
concoctions of mysterious make. Not improbably Hebert
set out with no intention to remain in America; but he
found Port Royal to his liking, and there the historian
Lescarbot soon found him not only 'sowing corn and planting
vines,' but apparently 'taking great pleasure in the
cultivation of the soil.' All this in a colony which
comprised five persons, namely, two Jesuit fathers and
their servant, Hebert, and one other.

With serious dangers all about, and lack of support at
home, Port Royal could make no headway, and in 1613 Hebert
made his way back to France. The apothecary's shop was
re-opened, and the daily customers were no doubt regaled
with stories of life among the wild aborigines of the
west. But not for long. There was a trait of restlessness
that would not down, and in 1616 the little shop again
put up its shutters. Hebert had joined Champlain in the
Brouage navigator's first voyage to the St Lawrence. This
time the apothecary burned his bridges behind him, for
he took his family along, and with them all his worldly
effects. The family consisted of his wife, two daughters,
and a young son. The trading company which was backing
Champlain's enterprise promised that Hebert and his family
should be paid a cash bonus and should receive, in addition
to a tract of land, provisions and stores sufficient for
their first two years in the colony. For his part, Hebert
agreed to serve without pay as general medical officer
of the settlement, to give his other services to the
company when needed, and to keep his hands out of the
fur trade. Nothing was said about his serving as legal
officer of the colony as well; but that task became part
o his varied experience. Not long after his arrival at
Quebec, Hebert's name appears, with the title of procureur
du Roi, at the foot of a petition sent home by the
colonists to the king.

All this looked fair enough on its face, but as matters
turned out, Hebert made a poor bargain. The company gave
him only half the promised bonus, granted him no title
to any land, and for three years insisted upon having
all his time for its own service. A man of ordinary
tenacity would have made his way back to France at the
earliest opportunity. But Hebert was loyal to Champlain,
whom he in no way blamed for his bad treatment. At
Champlain's suggestion he simply took a piece of land
above the settlement at Quebec, and without waiting for
any formal title-deed began devoting all his spare hours
to the task of getting it cleared and cultivated. His
small tract comprised only about a dozen arpents on the
heights above the village; and as he had no one to help
him the work of clearing it moved slowly. Trees had to
be felled and cut up, the stumps burned and removed,
stones gathered into piles, and every foot of soil upturned
with a spade. There were no ploughs in the colony at this
time. To have brought ploughs from France or to have made
them in the colony would have availed nothing, for there
were no horses at Quebec. It was not until after the
sturdy pioneer had finished his lifework that ploughs
and horses came to lessen the labour of breaking new
land.

Nevertheless, Hebert was able by unremitting industry to
get the entire twelve arpents into cultivable shape within
four or five years. With his labours he mingled
intelligence. Part of the land was sown with maize, part
sown with peas, beans, and other vegetables, a part set
off as an orchard, and part reserved as pasture. The land
was fertile and produced abundantly. A few head of cattle
were easily provided for in all seasons by the wild hay
which grew in plenty on the flats by the river. Here was
an indication of what the colony could hope to do if all
its settlers were men of Hebert's persistence and stability.
But the other prominent men of the little settlement,
although they may have turned their hands to gardening
in a desultory way, let him remain, for the time being,
the only real colonist in the land. On his farm, moreover,
a house had been built during these same years with the
aid of two artisans, but chiefly by the labour of the
owner himself. It was a stone house, about twenty feet
by forty in size, a one-story affair, unpretentious and
unadorned, but regarded as one of the most comfortable
abodes in the colony. The attractions of this home, and
especially the hospitality of Madame Hebert and her
daughters, are more than once alluded to in the meagre
annals of the settlement. It was the first dwelling to
be erected on the plateau above the village; it passed
to Hebert's daughter, and was long known in local history
as the house of the widow Couillard. Its exact situation
was near the gate of the garden which now encircles the
seminary, and the remains of its foundation walls were
found there in 1866 by some workmen in the course of
their excavations.

That strivings so worthy should have in the end won due
recognition from official circles is not surprising. The
only wonder is that this recognition was so long delayed.
An explanation can be found, however, in the fact that
the trading company which controlled the destinies of
the colony during its precarious infancy was not a bit
interested in the agricultural progress of New France.
It had but two aims - in the first place to get profits
from the fur trade, and in the second place to make sure
that no interlopers got any share in this lucrative
business. Its officers placed little value upon such work
as Hebert was doing. But in 1623 the authorities were
moved to accord him the honour of rank as a seigneur,
and the first title-deed conveying a grant of land en
seigneurie was issued to him on February 4 of that year.
The deed bore the signature of the Duc de Montmorenci,
titular viceroy of New France. Three years later a further
deed, confirming Hebert's rights and title, and conveying
to him an additional tract of land on the St Charles
river, was issued to him by the succeeding viceroy, Henri
de Levy, Duc de Ventadour.

The preamble of this document recounts the services of
the new seigneur. 'Having left his relatives and friends
to help establish a colony of Christian people in lands
which are deprived of the knowledge of God, not being
enlightened by His holy light,' the document proceeds,
'he has by his painful labours and industry cleared lands,
fenced them, and erected buildings for himself, his family
and his cattle.' In order, accordingly, 'to encourage
those who may hereafter desire to inhabit and develop
the said country of Canada,' the land held by Hebert,
together with an additional square league on the shore
of the St Charles, is given to him 'to have and to hold
in fief noble for ever,' subject to such charges and
conditions as might be later imposed by official decree.

By this indenture feudalism cast its first anchor in the
New World. Some historians have attributed to the influence
of Richelieu this policy of creating a seigneurial class
in the transmarine dominions of France. The cardinal-
minister, it is said, had an idea that the landless
aristocrats of France might be persuaded to emigrate to
the colonies by promises of lavish seigneurial estates
wrested from the wilderness. It will be noted, however,
that Hebert received his title-deed before Richelieu
assumed the reins of power, so that, whatever influence
the latter may have had on the extension of the seigneurial
system in the colonies, he could not have prompted its
first appearance there.

Hebert died in 1627. Little as we know about his life,
the clerical chroniclers tell us a good deal about his
death, which proves that he must have had all the externals
of piety. He was extolled as the Abraham of a new Israel.
His immediate descendants were numerous, and it was
predicted that his seed would replenish the earth.
Assuredly, this portion of the earth needed replenishing,
for at the time of Hebert's death Quebec was still a
struggling hamlet of sixty-five souls, two-thirds of whom
were women and children unable to till the fields. Hebert
certainly did his share. His daughters married in the
colony and had large families. By these marriages a close
alliance was formed with the Couillards and other prominent
families of the colony's earliest days. From these and
later alliances some of the best-known families in the
history of French Canada have come down, - the Jolliets,
De Lerys, De Ramesays, Fourniers and Taschereaus, - and
the entire category of Hebert's descendants must run well
into the thousands. All but unknown by a busy world
outside, the memory of this Paris apothecary has none
the less been cherished for nearly three hundred years
in many a Canadian home. Had all the seigneurs of the
old regime served their king with half his zeal the colony
would not have been left in later days so naked to its
enemies.

But not all the seigneurs of Old Canada were of Hebert's
type. Too many of them, whether owing to inherited Norman
traits, to their previous environment in France, or to
the opportunities which they found in the colony, developed
an incurable love of the forest life. On the slightest
pretext they were off on a military or trading expedition,
leaving their lands, tenants, and often their own families
to shift as best they might. Fields grew wild while the
seigneurs, and often their habitants with them, spent
the entire spring, summer, and autumn in any enterprise
that promised to be more exciting than sowing and reaping
grain. Among the military seigneurs of the upper St
Lawrence and Richelieu regions not a few were of this
type. They were good soldiers and quickly adapted themselves
to the circumstances of combat in the New World, meeting
the Iroquois with his own arts and often combining a good
deal of the red man's craftiness with a white man's
superior intelligence. Insatiable in their thirst for
adventure, they were willing to assume all manner of
risks or privations. Spring might find them at Lake
Champlain, autumn at the head-waters of the Mississippi,
a trusty birch-bark having carried them the thousand
miles between. Their work did not figure very heavily in
the colony's annual balance-sheet of progress with its
statistics of acreage newly cleared, homes built and
harvests stowed safely away. But according to their own
ideals of service they valiantly served the king, and
they furnish the historian of the old regime with an
interesting and unusual group of men. Neither New England
nor the New Netherlands possessed this type within their
borders, and this is one reason why the pages of their
history lack the contrast of light and shade which marks
from start to finish the annals of New France.

When the Carignans stepped ashore at Quebec in 1665 one
of their officers was Olivier Morel de la Durantaye, a
captain in the regiment of Campelle, but attached to the
Carignan-Salieres for its Canadian expedition. In the
first expedition against the Mohawks he commanded the
advance guard, and he was one of the small band who spent
the terrible winter of 1666-67 at Fort Ste Anne near the
head of Lake Champlain, subsisting on salt pork and a
scant supply of mouldy flour. Several casks of reputedly
good brandy, as Dollier de Casson records, had been sent
to the fort, but to the chagrin of the diminutive garrison
they turned out to contain salt water, the sailors having
drunk the contents and refilled the casks on their way
out from France. Warlike operations continued to engross
Durantaye's attentions for a year or two longer, but when
this work was finished he returned with some of his
brother officers to France, while others remained in the
colony, having taken up lands in accordance with Talon's
plans. In 1670, however, he was back at Quebec again,
and having married a daughter of the colony, applied at
once for the grant of a seigneury. This was given to him
in the form of a large tract, two leagues square, on the
south shore of the lower St Lawrence, between the seigneury
of Beaumont des Islets and the Bellechasse channel. To
this fief of La Durantaye adjoining lands were subsequently
added by new grants, and in 1674 the seigneur also obtained
the fief of Kamouraska. His entire estate comprised about
seventy thousand arpents, making him one of the largest
landowners in the colony.

Durantaye began his work in a leisurely way, and the
census of 1681 gives us the outcome of his ten years of
effort. He himself had not taken up his abode on the land
nor, so far as can be ascertained, had he spent any time
or money in clearing its acreage. With his wife and four
children he resided at Quebec, but from time to time he
made visits to his holding and brought new settlers with
him. Twelve families had built their homes within the
spacious borders of his seigneury. Their whitewashed
cottages were strung along a short stretch of the river
bank side by side, separated by a few arpents. Men, women,
and children, the population of La Durantaye numbered
only fifty-eight; sixty-four arpents had been cleared;
and twenty-eight horned cattle were reported among the
possessions of the habitants. Rather significantly this
colonial Domesday of 1681 mentions that the sixteen
able-bodied men of the seigneury possessed 'seven muskets'
among them. From its situation, however, the settlement
was not badly exposed to Indian assault.

In the way of cleared lands and population the fief of
La Durantaye had made very modest progress. Its nearest
neighbour, Bellechasse, contained two hundred and
twenty-seven persons, living upon three hundred and twenty
arpents of cultivable land. With an arsenal of sixty-two
muskets it was better equipped for self-defence. The
census everywhere took more careful count of muskets than
of ploughs; and this is not surprising, for it was the
design of the authorities to build up a 'powerful military
colony' which would stand on its own feet without support
from home. They did not seem to realize that in the long
run even military prowess must rest with that land which
most assiduously devotes itself to the arts of peace.

Ten years later the fief of Durantaye made a somewhat
better showing. The census of 1692 gave it a marked
increase in population, in lands made arable, and in
herds of domestic cattle. A house had been built for the
seigneur, whose family occupied it at times, but showed
a preference for the more attractive life at Quebec.
Durantaye was not one of the most prosperous seigneuries,
neither was it among those making the slowest progress.
As Catalogne phrased the situation in 1712, its lands
were 'yielding moderate harvests of grain and vegetables.'
Fruit-trees had been brought to maturity in various parts
of the seigneury and were bearing well. Much of the land
was well wooded with oak and pine, a good deal of which
had been already, in 1712, cut down and marketed at
Quebec.

Morel de la Durantaye could not resign himself to the
prosaic life of a cultivator. He did not become a coureur
de bois like many of his friends and associates, but like
them he had a taste for the wild woods, and he pursued
a career not far removed from theirs. In 1684 he was in
command of the fortified trading-post at Michilimackinac,
and he had a share in Denonville's expedition against
the Onondagas three years later. On that occasion he
mustered a band of traders who, with a contingent of
friendly Indians, followed him down to the lakes to join
the punitive force. In 1690 he was at Montreal, lending
his aid in the defence of that part of the colony against
raiding bands of Iroquois which were once again proving
a menace. At Boucherville, in 1694, one historian tells
us with characteristic hyperbole, Durantaye killed ten
Iroquois with his own hand. Mohawks were not, as a rule,
so easy to catch or kill. Two years later he commanded
a detachment of troops and militiamen in operations
against his old-time foes, and in 1698 he was given a
royal pension of six hundred livres per year in recognition
of his services. Having been so largely engaged in these
military affrays, little time had been available for the
development of his seigneury. His income from the annual
dues of its habitants was accordingly small, and the
royal gratuity was no doubt a welcome addition. The royal
bounty never went begging in New France. No one was too
proud to dip his hand into the king's purse when the
chance presented itself.

In June 1703 Durantaye received the signal honour of an
appointment to the Superior Council at Quebec, and this
post gave him additional remuneration. For the remaining
twenty-four years of his life the soldier-seigneur lived
partly at Quebec and partly at the manor-house of his
seigneurial estate. At the time of his death, in 1727,
these landed holdings had greatly increased in population,
in cleared acreage, and in value, although it cannot be
said that this progress had been in any direct way due
to the seigneur's active interest or efforts. He had a
family of six sons and three daughters, quite enough to
provide for with his limited income, but not a large
family as households went in those days. Durantaye was
not among the most effective of the seigneurs; but little
is to be gained by placing the various leaders among the
landed men of New France in sharp contrast, comparing
their respective contributions one with another. The
colony had work for all to do, each in his own way.

Among those who came to Montreal in 1641, when the
foundations of the city were being laid, was the son of
a Dieppe innkeeper, Charles Le Moyne by name. Born in
1624, he was only seventeen when he set out to seek his
fortune in the New World. The lure of the fur trade
promptly overcame him, as it did so many others, and the
first few years of his life in Canada were spent among
the Hurons in the regions round Georgian Bay. On becoming
of age, however, he obtained a grant of lands on the
south shore of the St Lawrence, opposite Montreal, and
at once began the work of clearing it. This area, of
fifty lineal arpents in frontage by one hundred in depth,
was granted to Le Moyne by M. de Lauzon [Footnote: Jean
de Lauzon, at this time president of the Company of One
Hundred Associates, which, as we have seen, had the feudal
suzerainty of Canada. Lauzon was afterwards governor of
New France, 1651-56.] as a seigneury on September 24,
1647.

Despite the fact that his holding was directly in the
path of Indian attacks, Le Moyne made steady progress in
clearing it; he built himself a house, and in 1654, at
the age of twenty-eight, married Mademoiselle Catherine
Primot, formerly of Rouen. The governor of Montreal, M.
de Maisonneuve, showed his good will by a wedding gift
of ninety additional arpents. But Le Moyne's ambition to
provide for a rapidly growing family led him to petition
the intendant for an enlargement of his holdings, and in
1672 the intendant Talon gave him the land which lay
between the seigneuries of Varennes and La Prairie de la
Magdelaine. This with his other tract was united to form
the seigneury of Longueuil. Already the king had recognized
Le Moyne's progressive spirit by giving him rank in the
noblesse, the letters-patent having been issued in 1668.
On this seigneury the first of the Le Moynes de Longueuil
lived and worked until his death in 1685.

Charles Le Moyne had a family of eleven sons, of whom
ten grew to manhood and became figures of prominence in
the later history of New France. From Hudson Bay to the
Gulf of Mexico their exploits covered every field of
activity on land and sea. [Footnote: These sons were:
(1) Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil, born 1656, who succeeded
his father as seigneur and became the first Baron de
Longueuil, later served as lieutenant-governor of Montreal,
and was killed in action at Saratoga on June 8, 1729;
(2) Jacques Le Moyne de Ste Helene, born 1659, who fell
at the siege of Quebec in 1690; (3) Pierre Le Moyne
d'Iberville, born in 1661, voyageur to Hudson Bay and
the Spanish Main, died at Havana in 1706; (4) Paul Le
Moyne de Maricourt, born 1663, captain in the marine,
died in 1704 from hardships during an expedition against
the Iroquois; (5) Francois Le Moyne de Bienville, born
1666, intrepid young border-warrior, killed by the Iroquois
in 1691; (6) Joseph Le Moyne de Serigny, born 1668, served
as a youth in the expeditions of his brother to Hudson
Bay, died in 1687; (7) Louis Le Moyne de Chateauguay,
born 1676, his young life ended in action at Fort Bourbon
(Nelson or York Factory) on Hudson Bay in 1694; (8)
Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, born 1680, founder
of New Orleans, governor of Louisiana, died in Paris,
1767; (9) Gabriel Le Moyne d'Assigny, born 1681, died of
yellow fever at San Domingo in 1701; (10) Antoine Le
Moyne de Chateauguay, born 1683, governor of French
Guiana.] What scions of a stout race they were! The strain
of the old Norse rover was in them all. Each one a soldier,
they built forts, founded cities, governed colonies, and
gave their king full measure of valiant service.

The eldest, who bore his father's name and possessed many
of his traits, inherited the seigneury. Soon he made it
one of the most valuable properties in the whole colony.
The old manor-house gave way to a pretentious chateau
flanked by four imposing towers of solid masonry. Its
dimensions were, as such things went in the colony,
stupendously large, the structure being about two hundred
feet in length by one hundred and seventy in breadth.
The great towers or bastions were loopholed in such way
as to permit a flanking fire in the event of an armed
assault; and the whole building, when viewed from the
river, presented an impressive facade. The grim Frontenac,
who was not over-given to eulogy, praised it in one of
his dispatches and said that it reminded him of the
embattled chateaux of old Normandy. Speaking from the
point of view of the other seigneurs, the cost of this
manorial abode of the Longueuils must have represented
a fortune. The structure was so well built that it remained
fit for occupancy during nearly a full century, or until
1782, when it was badly damaged by fire. A century later
still, in 1882, the walls remained; but a few years
afterwards they were removed to make room for the new
parish church of Longueuil.

Le Moyne did more than build an imposing house. He had
the stones gathered from the lands and used in building
houses for his people. The seigneur's mill was one of
the best. A fine church raised its cross-crowned spire
near by. A brewery, built of stone, was in full operation.
The land was fertile and produced abundant harvests. When
Catalogne visited Longueuil in 1712 he noted that the
habitants were living in comfortable circumstances, by
reason of the large expenditures which the seigneur had
made to improve the land and the means of communication.
Whatever Charles Le Moyne could gather together was not
spent in riotous living, as was the case with so many of
his contemporaries, but was invested in productive
improvements. That is the way in which he became the
owner of a model seigneury.

A seigneur so progressive and successful could not escape
the attention of the king. In 1698 the governor and the
intendant joined in bringing Le Moyne's services to the


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Online LibraryWilliam Bennett MunroThe Seigneurs of Old Canada : A Chronicle of New World Feudalism → online text (page 4 of 8)