COUILLARD DE LESPINAY, LOUIS, fisherman, hunter and seigneur; b. 1629, third child and eldest son of Guillaume Couillard and Guillemette Hébert, baptized 18 May 1629 at Quebec just two months before its capture by the Kirkes; d. 1678.
He received some education from the Jesuits but early showed a liking for movement and adventure. At 17, with four gay companions of about his own age – all rascals (“tous fripons”) comments the Journal des Jésuites – he made a voyage to Old France. Never daunted by danger, he had many narrow escapes and repeatedly turned up safe and sound after rumours of his capture or death. At the age of 21 he formed an association with seven other young men, for hunting seals, an occupation which entailed months of extreme hardships on the shores of the gulf.
On 29 April 1653, he married Geneviève Després. The following year he bought half the seigneury of the Rivière-du-Sud about 30 miles below Quebec on the south shore of the St. Lawrence. A year later, with the acquisition of the other half, he became the third seigneur of a domain originally granted to Governor Huault de Montmagny (1646).
He did not settle down on it, however, but continued his voyages. Going to and fro between Quebec and Tadoussac or the gulf, his boat transported a variety of passengers: frequently a Jesuit father, sometimes a government official, and once a fugitive from justice who was hanged the day after Lespinay landed him at Quebec.
In October 1656, he broke the Canadian record for cod-fishing by catching 1,000 in one day at Malbaie. In 1659 he caught 220 seals on a flat rocky island opposite Tadoussac. Later this rock (Île Rouge) was ceded to him exclusively. In 1664 Lespinay’s discovery of a mine earned him a grant of 1,000 livres from the Conseil Souverain.
The Intendant Talon was well pleased with his enterprising spirit. His activities produced results which were tangible proof of the colony’s potential wealth. Seal-hunting, for instance, furnished oil in such abundance that it could be exported to the Antilles. In 1665, in three weeks’ hunting, Lespinay cleared a profit of 800 livres. Guillaume Couillard was granted letters of nobility in 1654 and his son Louis*, on the recommendation of Talon, received them in 1668. These letters, although not yet registered by 1669 when Louis XIV abolished such unregistered titles, were none the less valuable to Couillard and his descendants for no one questioned the title. On 30 June 1692 the Conseil Souverain even ordered that the patent be inscribed in the council’s registers. Couillard still took pride in what he earned by work, however, as is evident in the motto he chose: Prix des travaux n’a rien de vil.
At the age of 45 he transferred his energies from the water to the land. He had his seigneury surveyed by his brother-in-law Jean Guyon Du Buisson (1619–94) and grants made to prospective settlers, most of them connections of the Hébert family. He himself, says his descendant, Couillard Després, supervised the clearing of the land and shared the toil with his tenants.
A manor house of stone, 40 ft. by 24 ft., surrounded with a palisade for protection against the Iroquois, was erected on a slight promontory overlooking the junction of the Rivière du Sud with the St. Lawrence. Nearby was a waterfall which could turn a mill-wheel. Lespinay engaged a skilful builder to construct a flour mill and equip it with everything necessary for the production of good flour. It cost 900 livres.
The expenses of clearing and building exhausted his capital. As well as selling hereditary land at Quebec he borrowed money from the Jesuit fathers and from Charles Bazire.
To his seigneury he gave the name La Couillardière but the old name, Rivière-du-Sud, later prevailed. The parish was called Saint-Thomas de Montmagny.
He died in the summer of 1678 at the age of 49. His creditors seized his seigneury (his debts by this time had passed through several hands) and his wife and six children were left with nothing. His wife, however, was legally entitled to claim her dowry; she did so and with it bought back the land. It remained in the possession of the family, says Couillard Després, for another century and a half.
JR (Thwaites) frequently note Lespinay’s activities. Couillard Després gives complete information about the seigneury in his Histoire des seigneurs de la Rivière-du-Sud et leurs alliés canadiens et acadiens (Saint-Hyacinthe, 1912); lists the genealogy in “Dictionnaire généalogique et historique de la famille Couillard et de ses diverses branches, 1613–1918,” BRH, XXIV (1918), 91–94; cites letters patent in “Anoblissement des Couillard,” ibid., XX (1914), 221–24; and inventories Couillard’s possessions at the time of his death in “En marge de l’histoire de la Rivière-du-Sud,” ibid., XXI (1915), 116–22. See also Jug. et délib., III, 641.