FLEURY DE LA GORGENDIÈRE, JOSEPH DE, merchant, seigneur, agent-general in Canada for the Compagnie des Indes; b. 9 April 1676 at Quebec, son of Jacques-Alexis de Fleury* Deschambault and Marguerite de Chavigny de Berchereau; m. 11 May 1702, Claire, daughter of Louis Jolliet*; seven of their children lived to adulthood; d. 1 May 1755 at Quebec.
Although nothing is known of La Gorgendière’s youth, in 1701 he was appointed by the Compagnie de la Colonie for a five-year term as fur-trader at Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.), indicating early, and perhaps substantial, experience in the trade. Evidently his business was successful, for when the company abandoned the post he was appointed, on 23 Jan. 1706, as chief trader on the government’s account, with an annual wage of 900 livres; in September of that year he was made subdelegate of the intendant at the fort. But, apparently wishing to make a greater fortune than his wages and place of residence allowed, he returned the following year to Quebec to become a merchant.
La Gorgendière at first dealt in seal oil, probably because his wife had inherited part of the seal fishery at Mingan. Despite altercations with Jacques de Lafontaine de Belcour and others, he continued to exploit this fishery during his entire active career. Soon, however, he acquired ships and developed trade connections with France and the West Indies, importing cloth and other necessities, and exporting furs, fish, and oil. These developments were undoubtedly aided by his family, for his elder brother Charles, later a director of the ill-fated Compagnie de l’Île St-Jean [see Robert-David Gotteville* de Belile], was already established as a banker and merchant at La Rochelle, Canada’s chief port in France; another brother, Simon-Thomas de Fleury de La Janière, lived in Martinique. But extensive and varied as were La Gorgendière’s mercantile activities – he may even have engaged in the Guinea slave trade – they depended on Canada’s fur-based economy.
The government commonly auctioned the rights to the fur trade in certain areas, and because such concessions were often obtained by merchants, they would in turn be sub-let to one or more voyageurs who did the actual trading. In October 1724 La Gorgendière acquired a five-year concession to the post of Témiscamingue; however, only five months previously the governor, Philippe de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil, had granted part of this area to one Paul Guillet in return for a percentage of Guillet’s trade. Conflict was inevitable. In the spring of 1725 Vaudreuil issued an ordinance preventing La Gorgendière and his associates from sending off their voyageurs. La Gorgendière in retaliation seized Guillet’s furs. Only then did Vaudreuil permit their voyageurs to leave Montreal, but just for the limited area Guillet had traded in.
Thus hindered in his trade, La Gorgendière not only refused to pay his first year’s rental, but demanded restitution of his losses. After Vaudreuil’s death in October the intendant, Michel Bégon, had Charles Le Moyne* de Longueuil, interim governor, rescind Vaudreuil’s prohibitions and demand that La Gorgendière pay. When he refused, a new auction was held at which he agreed to pay 2,000 livres for the first year; because the fur market was glutted, he was granted the four remaining years of his concession at the reduced annual rent of 4,150 livres. His troubles were not, however, finished. In 1727 the Témiscamingue concession was annulled by royal decree, and subsequently granted through fur-trading licences (congés). Although La Gorgendière obtained two of these and illicitly arranged for a third, he again complained to the government of his losses and repeatedly asked for indemnification. Not until 1731 was the matter closed, when he was discharged of 2,000 livres rent; but he still owed the government some 1,400 livres for trade goods.
On 25 May 1731, La Gorgendière was appointed agent-general in Canada for the Compagnie des Indes. The company’s financial situation was precarious: a depressed market, which left too many poor quality furs rotting in Paris warehouses, and illicit trading with the English and Dutch had combined to undermine its economic strength. Earlier in the year the company had had to surrender all its trading privileges, save those with Canada. La Gorgendière, chosen, said the company’s directors, for his “integrity, ability, competence, and experience,” was given succinct instructions: cut costs, improve fur quality, stop illicit and illegal trading, and increase the company’s trade. The directors’ confidence was not misplaced: by 1734 the company moved to newly constructed quarters in Montreal and in 1745, having outgrown these, was relocated in the Château de Ramezay. La Gorgendière may have remained as agent-general as late as 1753; about this time his son Joseph de Fleury Deschambault, previously chief trader at Montreal, assumed the position.
Despite his position in the Compagnie des Indes, La Gorgendière continued to pursue his own ventures, including those in the fur trade. In common with many merchants, he also sold merchandise, munitions, and food to the government; indeed, in the 1730s, he was a principal cloth supplier. Again in common with many merchants, he acquired land.
On his father’s death in 1715, La Gorgendière inherited a part of the seigneury at Deschambault. By 1720 he had purchased the remainder from his relatives, and he apparently then embarked on a series of efforts to attract settlers, beginning in 1721 when he asked for the creation of a parish in the seigneury and the appointment of a permanent parish priest. Not, however, until 1736 did he obtain another seigneury, when he was given a concession three leagues long by two deep on both sides of the Rivière Chaudière in the Nouvelle-Beauce region, contiguous with grants made simultaneously to his sons-in-law Thomas-Jacques Taschereau and François-Pierre de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil. Their grants were conditional on their building, by 1739, a cart-road from the St Lawrence up the valley to the end of La Gorgendière’s seigneury. Again, as with Deschambault, he seems to have energetically undertaken the seigneury’s development; but in 1747 he exchanged it for Vaudreuil’s concession, which was nearer the St Lawrence.
Advancing age and the War of the Austrian Succession brought a decline in La Gorgendière’s activities and fortunes; towards the end of his life he claimed he would have been a millionaire but for his losses during the war. His standing in the community is evident, however, in his holding of the position of colonel of militia for about 20 years. La Gorgendière died 1 May 1755 at Quebec, and was buried there in the cathedral.
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