PETIT, LOUIS, priest of the Missions Étrangères of the seminary of Quebec, vicar general for Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal, N.S.), Pentagouet, the Saint John River, and the coasts of Acadia from 1676 to 1690 and from 1691 to 1693; b. 1629 at Belzane, in the diocese of Rouen, son of Adrien Petit and Catherine Dufloc; d. 3 June 1709 at Quebec and buried in the cathedral.
Petit chose a military career when quite young. He was a captain in the Carignan-Salières regiment and arrived at Quebec on 19 June 1665. He worked on the construction of Fort Richelieu (near Sorel). While studying at the seminary he was secretary to Bishop Laval, who ordained him a priest at Quebec on 21 Dec. 1670. From 1670 to 1676 he was chaplain at Fort Richelieu, at the same time serving as priest at Saint-Ours and Contrecoeur. In 1676 he was appointed vicar general of Acadia, becoming the first priest to represent the bishop of Quebec there in this capacity. He took up residence at Port-Royal, which was the administrative capital and a general depot for pelts.
Petit was a remarkable promoter of teaching among the Acadians of this region. He maintained a teacher who, while instructing the boys of the parish, was at the same time a valuable companion for him. This man, whose name was Pierre Chenet Dubreuil and who held the office of king’s attorney and judge at Port-Royal in 1690, was, according to Petit, “the only person with whom I may converse freely about God, not having had any spiritual help in the neighbourhood for the nine years that I have been without a companion and having been without counsel in the midst of a thousand difficulties.” In 1685 Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix] sent him, at his request, a nun of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, who took over the direction of a boarding school for girls, and in 1686 he sent him Abbé Geoffroy, who acted as pedagogical adviser and was responsible for building schools.
On 19 May 1690 William Phips*, who had sailed from Boston, arrived before Port-Royal and called upon the governor of Acadia, Louis-Alexandre Des Friches de Meneval, to surrender. The latter, lacking officers, asked Abbé Petit to negotiate the capitulation. Petit obtained honourable conditions from Phips, but they were quickly violated. The church was burned and the houses pillaged. The governor, Abbé Petit, and his assistant, Abbé Trouvé, were seized and carried off to captivity in Boston. In the autumn of the same year the two missionaries were put on one of the ships which Phips was taking to Quebec. The English admiral had to give up his desire for conquest, and before he left there was an exchange of prisoners, including Abbés Petit and Trouvé. Abbé Petit returned to Port-Royal to rebuild the church and presbytery there.
In 1693 he retired to the seminary of Quebec, to which he had belonged as a member of the community since 1687. From 1703 to 1705 he was parish priest of Notre-Dame-de-l’Annonciation at Ancienne-Lorette, but refused a canonry. He almost perished in the fire which destroyed the seminary of Quebec in 1705 and had to jump from the fourth floor. Along with Bishop Laval, he was sheltered at the Jesuit college.
Certain people, including François-Marie Perrot*, maintained that Abbé Petit was an Anglophile and that he agreed to the surrender of Port-Royal without difficulty. That these accusations were exaggerated seems to be confirmed by the detailed account of the capture given by Abbés Petit and Trouvé, and also by Dubreuil and the governor. In addition, the fact that Abbé Petit was able to resume his pastoral charge after he was freed contradicts these affirmations. As for the capture of Port-Royal, the account explains the action of the French by the conditions which prevailed at the time: “Without a fort or any kind of fortification, and considering that there were only about 70 wretched soldiers, badly armed and more badly disposed, and that, through fear or for some other motive, only three of the settlers had rallied round the governor, and that in addition [the governor’s illness had reduced him to inaction], and seeing that the enemy was numerous and able to land more than 800 men in half an hour, [the governor] thought that it was fitting to enter into some sort of arrangement with them.”
AN, Col., C11D, 2, ff.169, 174. Placide Gaudet, Notes généalogiques (preserved in PAC and Archives de l’université de Moncton). Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la N.-F., II, 6–8, 12–13. “Journal of expedition against Port Royal, 1690,” 54. Provost, Le Séminaire de Québec: documents et biographies, 419. Saint-Vallier, Estat présent de l’Église (1857), 102.
Allaire, Dictionnaire, I, 429. Caron, “Prêtres séculiers et religieux,” 225. Bernard, Le drame acadien, 184–86. Casgrain, Les Sulpiciens en Acadie, 66–67. Gosselin, L’Église du Canada, I, 85, 178. Omer Le Gresley, L’enseignement du français en Acadie (Mamers, 1926), 46–47. Robert Rumilly, Histoire des Acadiens (2v., Montréal, ), I, 117, 128.
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