BOISSEAU, JOSIAS, agent general of the gentlemen with interests in the tax-farm; b. c. 1641; d. at a date unknown.
Boisseau probably arrived in the colony in 1678, accompanied by his wife, Marie Colombier. It was he and Charles Aubert* de La Chesnaye, one of the tax-farmers, who, in the spring of 1679, sent Louis Jolliet to explore Hudson Bay. The agent general’s relations with Aubert de La Chesnaye and Jolliet were excellent at that moment. But a disagreement which turned them against each other during the winter of 1679–80 rapidly grew more bitter.
During this period the country was rent by party quarrels: Frontenac [see Buade] and Duchesneau were in open opposition. All the powers, great and small, claimed the backing of either the governor or the intendant; neutrality was a difficult position to maintain, for the most innocent words and gestures were distorted and misconstrued. To repeat Louis XIV’s own expression in a letter to Duchesneau, the conduct of individuals invariably received approval or disapproval, to the extent that they were friends or enemies of the adversary.
Boisseau was protected by Frontenac, with whom, according to Duchesneau, he was in league for the smuggling of furs. The vindictive governor took up the agent general’s quarrel. La Chesnaye, his brother-in-law Lalande, and his niece’s husband Jolliet obtained the support of the intendant. What started the conflict is in fact not known, but it was extremely violent. On, 10 April 1680, Boisseau put on record a protest against Duchesneau, whose ordinances had, he asserted, always been prejudicial to the company of the tax-farmers, and denounced the “abuses, wrong doings, extortions and malpractices” perpetrated by La Chesnaye and his supporters: the “assassination” (?) of one of his servants, defamatory libels posted on the doors of churches, threats, lawsuits, and so on.
Relentlessly, during the whole of the year 1680, Boisseau pursued his enemies, particularly Aubert de La Chesnaye, whom he attacked through Lalande and Jolliet. In March, he accused the latter two of illegal trafficking with the English in Hudson Bay, calling for a fine of 2,000 livres against them, the confiscation of their boat, and the seizure of their goods. Duchesneau endeavoured to parry the blow; finally he had to take action, but he reduced the penalty demanded by the agent general. Incredible as it may seem, the crime had been invented in every detail, as Delanglez has proved. To gratify his desire for vengeance, Boisseau therefore did not shrink from calumny. Twenty times, from 22 March to 15 October, alone or surrounded by witnesses, he appeared before one or other of the notaries of Quebec to sign declarations aimed at the destruction of his adversaries: La Chesnaye, Lalande, Jolliet, and probably Duchesneau, not overlooking Philippe Gaultier de Comporté, Jacques Le Ber*, and Charles Le Moyne.
In 1681, the agent general exploded with rage. On 9 January, swearing and cursing “several times,” he tore up, stamped on, and threw into the fire two ordinances of Duchesneau handed to him by a court officer, declaring that he would do the same thing to the intendant if he got his hands on him. In March, accompanied by one of the governor’s guards, he passed Duchesneau’s son, aged 16 or 17, and Vaultier his servant, in the street. Insults flared up on both sides. Frontenac, informed of this, demanded redress; the intendant sent his son and Vaultier to him. Far from offering his excuses, the young Duchesneau provoked Boisseau. Frontenac, in a fury, rushed at the youth, struck him a number of times with his cane, and tore his clothes. Duchesneau finally escaped, and managed to get to the law courts; his father, lest the governor should carry off the young man by force, barricaded the building and armed his servants. If the intendant is to be believed, the young seigneur none the less spent a month in the prisons of the fort, together with Vaultier. Finally, in August, “behaving in an unheard of way, swearing horribly against God and like a lion,” Boisseau manhandled “extraordinarily” René Favre, whom he punched and kicked, seizing him by the throat and threatening to strangle him.
Meanwhile, the agent general had not been afraid to attack the Conseil Souverain and the legal officers of the colony. Judge Migeon de Branssat, for example, was singled out for abuse by Boisseau for having dared to arrest certain coureurs de bois who were confederates of François-Marie Perrot, the governor of Montreal and an accomplice of the agent general. Libellous writings, violence, and calumny were Boisseau’s favourite weapons. The council would have willingly brought an action against him; but the majority of the councillors, who were proceeding against the agent general on their own account, would have had to disclaim competence, in order to avoid being both judges and litigants. What the councillors finally did, “in view of the protection given by the Governor to the said Boisseau,” was to refer the matter, on 10 Nov. 1681, to the king’s justice.
At that date, Boisseau was on the point of sailing for France. His unrestrained behaviour in 1680 had been the subject of numerous reports to the authorities in the homeland; Duchesneau, for one, had written many of them. The king ordered the company to dismiss Boisseau, but reproached the intendant for his partiality towards Aubert de La Chesnaye and the animosity that he had displayed in this matter. The announcement of Boisseau’s recall must have reached Quebec shortly before 15 July (1681), the date on which he was styled “former” agent general.
Boisseau departed, but he announced his early return; moreover, he left at Quebec his wife and his two children, who had been born in Canada; they did not return to France until the autumn of 1682. In Paris, Boisseau felt more reluctant to go back to the colony when he learned that his protector Frontenac and Duchesneau would perhaps not be continued in their offices: it was even said, according to Dudouyt, “that he [did] all he [could] in order not to return.” And in fact Duchesneau and Frontenac were recalled. Boisseau endeavoured from then on to attach himself to the new governor, M. Le Febvre de La Barre, in the capacity of secretary; but, stated Dudouyt, the matter was not to be arranged, for La Barre “knew the Sieur Boisseau.” The former agent general’s Canadian adventure was at an end.
This headstrong man, apt at times to act foolishly, had the misfortune to reside in New France during years when the disagreements over authority, and the aggravated state of passions, allowed him to give free rein to his tendency to excess. Closely protected on the one hand by a Frontenac too like himself and just as grasping as he, Boisseau was assured of an almost complete impunity, which, following his master’s example, he made use of blithely; on the other hand, the partiality and unrelenting hostility of the opposing party, and of Duchesneau in particular, helped to exasperate him, at the same time as they gave him an apparent justification for his violent actions. In other times and in a more benign climate, Josias Boisseau might perhaps have been a completely different man, whose energy, dynamism, and determination would have caused the uncouth and impetuous element of his character to be overlooked.
AJQ, Greffe de Romain Becquet, 10 avril 1680, etc. ; Greffe de Pierre Duquet, 1663–84, passim; Greffe de Gilles Rageot, 1666–1702, passim; Greffe de François Genaple, 1682–1702, passim. ANDQ, Registre des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures de la paroisse Notre-Dame de Québec, 20 avril et 14 août 1680, 23 juin 1681. APQ, Ordres du roi, VIII, passim. ASQ, Lettres, N, 52, 57, 61, 62; Polygraphie, III, 51. Recensement de 1681.
Correspondance de Frontenac (1672–1682), APQ, Rapport, 1926–27, 120–6, 132. “Lettre de l’intendant Duchesneau au Marquis de Seignelay, fils de Colbert (13 nov. 1681),” BRH, XX–VI (1920), 275–86. Jug. et délib., II; passim. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), IX, 141, 157, 159f. Ord. comm. (P.-G. Roy), I; 287–90. Delanglez, Jolliet, 274, 285–97. Eccles, Frontenac, 146, 149, 151. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, I, 63.