GAUTIER, dit Bellair, JOSEPH-NICOLAS, farmer, merchant, navigator; b. 1689 at Rochefort, France, son of Nicolas-Gabriel Gautier, a native of Aix-en-Provence; m. 4 March 1715 at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Marie, daughter of Louis Allain (d. 1737), a merchant of consequence, and Marguerite Bourg; d. 1752 at Port-La-Joie (Fort Amherst, P.E.I.).
Joseph-Nicolas Gautier, dit Bellair, apparently settled in Acadia in 1710 but there is no evidence for an exact date. His prominence as a merchant in the Acadian community resulted in large part from his marriage and subsequent inheritance of his father-in-law’s estates. As late as 1720 the Nova Scotia Council rejected him as one of six deputies for the Annapolis region, “not proving that he was a freeholder of this province; only a transient person.” During the 1730s, however, he appears to have joined the ranks of the “ancientest and most considerable in Lands & possessions”; his nomination as one of the deputies of his region was accepted by the Annapolis authorities at least as early as 1732.
There is no doubt that Gautier was an exceptionally wealthy Acadian. He amassed a considerable fortune in land, both at Bellair, his estate on the south bank of the Annapolis River, and at Annapolis Royal. He operated a sawmill and a gristmill, and his vessels were engaged in trade with France, the West Indies, New England, and Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). In Acadian terms at least, he was, according to A. H. Clark, “a veritable tycoon.” By the mid-1740s he claimed assets valued at 85,000 livres.
With the spread of the War of the Austrian Succession to North America in 1744, France determined to recover Acadia from the British. Four expeditions were sent to Nova Scotia between 1744 and 1747. On each of these occasions Nicolas Gautier and his two eldest sons, Joseph and Pierre, were among the handful of Acadians who actively supported the French effort. The fact that Gautier had spent his youth in France undoubtedly influenced his determination to eschew the strict neutrality of virtually the entire Acadian community in the 1740s. He supplied intelligence on British defences and troop movements; transported foodstuffs, materials, munitions, and troops; and piloted French vessels along the coastal waters of the province on behalf of François Du Pont* Duvivier in 1744, Paul Marin de La Malgue in 1745, La Jonquière [Taffanel] in 1746, and Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay* in the winter of 1746–47.
Gautier’s partisanship was at great personal cost; in 1744 the British seized his 40-ton vessel and its cargo, valued together at 6,000 livres, and in the following year destroyed his habitation at Bellair, which had served as Duvivier’s headquarters during the siege of Annapolis Royal. Although from 1744 there was a price on his head, Gautier managed to keep one step ahead of the British. His wife and one of his children were less fortunate; they were incarcerated at Annapolis Royal for ten months, “their feet in irons,” before making good their escape in February 1746 by forcing the bars of their prison and scaling the walls of the fort.
In 1746 when Ramezay withdrew his detachment north of the Missaguash River, Gautier abandoned his remaining assets in the Annapolis region and sought refuge with his family at Beaubassin (near Amherst, N.S.). He was apparently given some compensation by the French government for the loss of his estates; in April 1748 Maurepas, the minister of Marine, referred to a “new additional grant of 500 livres to enable him to establish himself [on French territory].” Certainly he was not entirely destitute: in September 1749 he contracted to supply 16 head of live cattle to the Acadian refugees recently arrived at Port-Toulouse (St Peters, N.S.).
In 1749 Gautier and other Acadian collaborators determined to settle on Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island). François Bigot*, the financial commissary at Louisbourg, reported that to encourage them he had “treated them very well and had them supplied with all they wanted, whether for their ships and buildings or for their subsistence and they will be assisted in whatever they can undertake.” This assistance was not altogether altruistic on the part of the authorities. Earlier, Maurepas had suggested that Gautier’s influence and stature among the Acadians might help to attract even greater Acadian immigration to Île Royale and Île Saint-Jean.
On Île Saint-Jean the Gautiers settled by the Rivière du Nord-Est (Hillsborough River), on the site of present-day Scotchfort, close to the administrative capital of the island at Port-La-Joie. In August 1751 they were visited by the engineer, Louis Franquet, who was impressed by their efforts and believed they would soon find “the means of recouping themselves for the possessions they had left behind [in Acadia].” The following year, however, far removed now from the prosperity he had known a decade before, Gautier could lay claim to but 18 head of cattle, four sheep, 80 fowl, and seven arpents by 40 of land. His death occurred on the evening of 10 April 1752 and he was buried the following day at Bellair, as he had nostalgically christened his new habitation. At least two of his sons continued in the service of the French cause beyond 1760. Joseph-Nicolas married the daughter of Joseph Leblanc, dit Le Maigre, another hapless Acadian supporter of France in the 1740s; both he and his brother, Pierre, eventually settled at Miquelon.
AN, Col., B, 89, f.229; C11B, 28, ff.12v–13, 124, 359–66; E, 169, f.3 (Du Pont Duvivier journal, 1744); 200 (dossiers Nicolas Gautier, Pierre Gautier); Section Outre-Mer, G1, 411/2, p.27; 413/A, pp.60, 65; 466/1, pp.169–206, 215–31 (recensements de l’Acadie, 1671–1752) (PAC transcripts); G2, 212, dossier 560; G3, 2046 (26 juillet 1737). [Louis Franquet], “Le voyage de Franquet aux îles Royale et Saint-Jean,” APQ Rapport, 1923–24, 117. N.S. Archives, I, 24–25; II, 59–85; III, 7, 156, 261; IV, 65, 68–69, 94, 98. PAC Report, 1905, II, pt.i, 87–88. Arsenault, Hist. et généal. des Acadiens, I, 335. Brebner, New England’s outpost. Clark, Acadia. [F.-E.] Rameau de Saint-Père, Une colonie féodale en Amérique: l’Acadie (1604–1881) (2v., Paris, Montréal, 1889), II, 79–81.