GUILLIMIN, CHARLES (also Guillimen, although this form was not used in New France), wealthy merchant, fitter-out of ships, commission agent, shipbuilder, militia commander, councillor in the Conseil Supérieur; b. 1676; d. at Quebec, 27 Feb. 1739.
The Guillimin family, which formed part of the younger branch of one of the most venerable noble houses of Brittany, dwelt in the seaport and fishing centre of Concarneau (Finistère). Guillaume Guillimin, Charles’ father, was a lawyer in the parlement of Brittany. The details of Charles’ early life are not known, but he apparently came to New France in the late 1600s with at least enough capital to enter ambitiously into a number of colonial enterprises. Through investments in the St Lawrence fisheries, in shipbuilding and in trade with metropolitan merchants, he soon became “one of the richest merchants of Quebec.” He also appears to have acquired a measure of military distinction during this early phase of his colonial career. He claimed, for example, that in the heat of Sir William Phips*’s naval assault on Quebec in 1690, he had successfully mounted two batteries on the heights of the Cul de Sac in order to harass the disabled English vessels taking refuge below. In 1704, furthermore, he commanded the Quebec militia on an expedition organized by the Marquis de Vaudreuil [Rigaud] against the New England settlements.
But Guillimin was first and foremost a merchant; through the first quarter of the 18th century he devoted the bulk of his energy to augmenting both his wealth and his commercial influence. In 1710, for instance, he entrenched himself more solidly within the Canadian business community by marrying Françoise Lemaître-Lamorille, the widowed daughter of a Montreal merchant. He also developed fishing establish ments in the Baie des Chaleurs and on the Îles de la Madeleine; constructed seven or eight seagoing vessels at Quebec; erected several large houses and at least one store in Quebec and Montreal; and acted as commission agent for Madame Pascaud, widow of Antoine, of La Rochelle – one of the French merchants who carried on a heavy trade with New France. As Governor Charles de Beauharnois* de La Boische and Intendant Gilles Hocquart* later testified: “It is true that this individual has carried out substantial business undertakings in this country. . . .” They pointed out too that Guillimin had always been a good citizen, devoted to the public interest. He had proven as much in 1712, when he loaned 40,000 livres to the king’s treasurer at Quebec during a financial crisis. Indeed, his services were acknowledged on 20 Sept. 1721 by his installation as a councillor in the Conseil Supérieur of New France.
Yet, as was so often the case in New France, circumstances eventually conspired to wipe out Guillimin’s fortune. To begin with, the decision by French authorities to devalue Canadian card money forced him to shoulder a severe loss when his 40,000 livres loan was, at last, repaid. He incurred still more devastating losses when several of his trading vessels were sunk during the 1720s. Before long, his creditors began to hound him with lawsuits. He attempted to recoup at least a portion of his disappearing affluence by means of a suit against Madame Pascaud over alleged injustices in her dealings with him as her commission agent, but his action was finally thwarted by the minister, Maurepas. So low had Guillimin’s fortunes sunk by the early 1730s, he was obliged to petition the minister for a pension. But despite the strong support of the governor and intendant, Guillimin was refused; Maurepas also declined, in 1736, to absolve him of a 1,300 livres debt to the king’s store. Although he continued his efforts to re-establish his maritime commerce, he was evidently a poor man when he died in 1739 – leaving to his children, particularly Charles and Guillaume*, the task of mending the family’s fortunes. Guillimin’s career had followed a pattern that was not untypical of many of New France’s merchants: apparent prosperity and increasing social prestige dissipated almost at an instant by administrative decisions taken in France and by the normal vicissitudes of the Canadian economy.
AN, Col., B, 44, 57–61, 64; C11A, 36, 66, 71–72; E, 215; Section Outre-Mer, G3, 2038 (Greffe de J.-C. Desmaret, 20 oct. 1732). Documents relating to Canadian currency during the French period (Shortt), II, 744. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, I, 726f. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, IV, 420. Cahall, Sovereign Council of New France. Cameron Nish, “La bourgeoisie et les mariages, 1729–1748,” RHAF, XIX (1965–66), 595. P.-G. Roy, “La famille Guillimin,” BRH, XXIII (1917), 97–116.