COUAGNE, RENÉ DE, merchant, colonel of militia, judge; baptized 30 Aug. 1690 in Montreal, son of Charles de Couagne* and Marie Gaudé; d. 23 Dec. 1767 in his birthplace.
René de Couagne was the son of a prominent Montreal merchant, and on 14 Oct. 1716 he married Louise Pothier, the daughter of another merchant, in the presence of several other businessmen. Through his marriage contract the husband received three pieces of land in Rue Saint-Paul, made over to him by his wife’s brothers and valued at 1,500 livres. On 16 Oct. 1721 Couagne was commissioned as a surveyor, but he does not seem to have practised this profession, which perhaps required more thorough training than he had had. The only survey document discovered bearing his signature reveals that he was incapable of determining exactly the boundaries of a piece of land, even “after having measured the aforementioned piece of land three or four times.”
René de Couagne’s business activity is difficult to assess. It was he who was responsible in 1730 for collecting, in return for a five per cent commission, the tax to help the building of fortifications for Montreal. Intendant Hocquart* was satisfied with his work and asked the minister, Maurepas, to increase Couagne’s gratuity because, he wrote, “He was loath to take on this task, which he considered might well bring public dislike and which, however, I urged upon him as a matter of honour.” This request does not seem to have been favourably received by the minister. In 1731 Couagne was the assistant in Montreal of the chief road commissioner, Jean-Eustache Lanoullier de Boisclerc. He was also involved in the fur trade, but as a supplier rather than a voyageur. In August 1724 permission was granted to him as well as to a certain Réaume to send a canoe with four men to the post of Baie-des-Puants (Green Bay, Wis.). He did not enter into any contracts for the west in his own name except in 1747, 1748, 1752, and 1756, but we may suppose that he also outfitted some expeditions with his cousin, Dominique Gaudé, who did so regularly.
In 1749 René de Couagne was host to the famous Swedish naturalist Pehr Kalm* during the latter’s stay in Montreal. The traveller learned a great deal about the Canadians’ way of doing business and their customs and had nothing but praise for the welcome he received from Couagne’s family, who, he said, treated him as if he were one of them. As a matter of fact, this was not difficult, for Intendant Bigot* had decided to pay all of Kalm’s expenses during his stay in New France, and Couagne made the necessary advances, which amounted to 1,404 livres 12 sols 6 deniers and which were promptly repaid. In addition, René de Couagne made deliveries of supplies to the government in 1750 and 1751, but for rather small amounts.
The Seven Years’ War and the conquest brought the same difficulties to René de Couagne as to the other businessmen in the colony. Commodities that had been ordered from suppliers in La Rochelle, France, in 1757 remained in the warehouses of that city the following year and even later; in 1766 the merchant Denis Goguet, in La Rochelle, still had not disposed of some of these goods. Like the other Montreal merchants, Couagne signed various petitions in 1763 and 1764 requesting the favour of the British authorities when French paper currency was being liquidated, although in the registration of 1763 his name does not appear as a holder of any such assets.
In the final days of the French administration René de Couagne had served as colonel of militia in Montreal. On 6 Nov. 1760, two months after the surrender of the town, the new governor, Thomas Gage*, wishing to “maintain law and order” in his region, renewed Couagne’s commission. Since the office of colonel of militia was directly linked with the administration of justice in Gage’s government, Couagne consequently served from 1760 to 1763 as lower court judge in the militia court at Montreal.
René de Couagne died in December 1767 in Montreal at 77 years of age. His career should not be confused with that of Charles-René, his nephew, or those of René and Jean-Baptiste*, his two surviving sons.
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