PERRAULT, JACQUES-NICOLAS (from at least 1785 he signed Perrault l’aîné), merchant, militia officer, office holder, seigneur, and politician; b. 6 Aug. 1750 at Quebec, son of Jacques Perrault*, known as Perrault l’aîné, and Charlotte Boucher de Boucherville; d. 7 Aug. 1812 in Rivière-Ouelle, Lower Canada.
Jacques-Nicolas Perrault, who was the son of a well-educated and prosperous merchant and grandson of the co-seigneur Pierre Boucher* de Boucherville, probably received some education before going into business with his father. After the latter’s death in 1775 Perrault did not obtain a large legacy because the paternal fortune was dispersed among numerous heirs, and he continued his business activity. On 23 Nov. 1779, at the Hôpital Général in Quebec, he married Marie-Anne Amiot, daughter of a wealthy merchant, the late Jean-Baptiste Amiot*. In May of the following year the couple received 3,000 livres from the sale of half a property on the Place du Marché (Place Notre-Dame) in Lower Town that came from Amiot’s estate. On 20 April 1782 Perrault’s wife was buried in the Quebec cathedral with Bishop Briand* in attendance.
During the next ten years Perrault seems to have devoted himself to business. He shared the mercantile community’s views in regard to the administration of the colony, and from 1784 he held the office of secretary of the Canadian committee of Quebec, one of two committees created at that time by the town’s merchants. Like their Montreal counterparts, which were set up soon after, these bodies pursued such objectives as the repeal of the Quebec Act, the obtaining of a house of assembly, and the introduction of English commercial laws. They were dissolved in December 1791, after the Constitutional Act had been promulgated. In social matters Perrault was more conservative: in 1790 he sided with Bishop Hubert* of Quebec, who fought the proposals for a non-sectarian university and the abolition of certain religious holidays, two measures that were championed by the coadjutor, Bishop Charles-François Bailly* de Messein. In June of the same year his uncle Guillaume-Michel Perrault bequeathed to him the seigneury of La Bouteillerie, also called Rivière-Ouelle; the usufruct from it, however, was to go to his mother. In 1791 the new seigneur came out in favour of the retention of seigneurial tenure [see Thomas-Laurent Bédard*].
His mother’s death in 1792 enabled Perrault to enter into full possession of the seigneury and marked a turning-point in his career. At the time, Perrault was still carrying on his merchandising business and was residing on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot at Quebec; a widower, he had one under-age son, Jacques, the only surviving child of his marriage. He owned some real estate and various effects valued at 4,347 livres 12 sous. His accounts receivable amounted to 1,813 livres 4 sous, nearly three-fifths of which were owed by Lester and Morrogh and James Tod; his own debts totalled 21,601 livres 13 sous. He had held the rank of captain in the town’s militia since at least 1788, and a commission as justice of the peace in the District of Quebec for a year or more. In December 1792 the Quebec Gazette announced the sale by auction of the “late Madame Perrault’s big, handsome house in Lower Town”; on 10 Jan. 1793, in Rivière-Ouelle, Perrault married Thérèse-Esther Hausman, dit Ménager, the widow of Pierre Florence, a wealthy local merchant.
Perrault then went to live at Rivière-Ouelle, becoming the first seigneur in 90 years to take up permanent residence on the seigneury. After Jean-Baptiste-François Deschamps* de La Bouteillerie’s death in 1703 neither of the two heirs who had succeeded in turn to the property, Henri-Louis Deschamps* de Boishébert and his son Charles Deschamps* de Boishébert et de Raffetot, had lived there, nor had Perrault’s uncle, who had bought it in 1774. Perrault was interested in developing his seigneury: he bought a lot with a sawmill, a barley mill, and a blacksmith’s shop, and then built a wharf, repaired the mills, and put his sugar-bush into production. The income from the property was, however, modest; the ledgers show that the sale of wheat and products from the porpoise fishery were the sole source of the meagre living it furnished. Consequently it was really through his wife’s dowry that Perrault was able to fit out a seigneurial manor-house – none other than the former Florence residence, which he had restored – and to secure the full-time services of a manservant and a maid.
A seigneur, even though in humble circumstances, Perrault enjoyed great prestige in his milieu. He acquired a reputation as a cultivated man. He was fond of good literature and owned a well-stocked library of about 300 volumes: legal treatises, history books, literary works of all kinds, even those of Voltaire, which at that time were on the Index of Forbidden Books. From at least 1796, he served in the militia, first as lieutenant-colonel, then after 1801 as colonel. He remained a justice of the peace for the District of Quebec. Perrault also acquired the goodwill of his fellow citizens by involving himself in parish activities such as furnishing the convent in 1809. From 1804 to 1808 he represented Cornwallis riding in the Lower Canadian House of Assembly. He supported the Canadian party on 11 out of 15 occasions, voting for the bill on financing the prison through import duties and one on the ineligibility of judges to sit in the assembly [see Sir James Henry Craig; Pierre-Amable De Bonne]. Despite this support Perrault was not anti-British; for example, in 1807, reviewing the militia battalion of Kamouraska in his capacity as colonel, he pointed out in a spirited speech the need for solid defence in case of attack, emphasizing the Canadians’ loyalty and their duties to king and country. In January 1812, in light of the policy of Governor Prevost to attract the support of moderate Canadians for the colonial administration, he was appointed to the Legislative Council.
Perrault was able to enjoy this privilege for but a short time, however. On 7 August, after only a few days of illness, he was found dead in his bath-tub. Three days later, with Bishop Bernard-Claude Panet* officiating, he was buried in the crypt of the parish church of Rivière-Ouelle, “with the honours due his rank.” The Quebec Gazette reported that “the large throng of people of distinction and habitants, both from this parish and the neighbouring parishes, who attended his funeral, is proof of the esteem which he enjoyed and the regrets that go with his passing.” At his death his debts totalled £994, while the amount owing him was £1,206. As his son had drowned in 1797 in the rapids on the Rivière Chaudière near Quebec, the seigneury went to Perrault’s brothers: Pierre, a certified lunatic, Michel, a schoolteacher, and Jean-Olivier*, a member of the Executive Council. But all three dissociated themselves from it, and in 1813 they began to sell it to Pierre Casgrain*. Perrault’s wife received a life annuity of 225 livres in compensation.
After pursuing a commercial career for about 20 years, Jacques-Nicolas Perrault lived somewhat in the manner of those aristocratic seigneurs who preferred honours to business. After him, the seigneurs of Rivière-Ouelle belonged rather to the bourgeois kind.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 6 août 1750, 20 avril 1782; CE3-1, 10 janv. 1793, 10 août 1812; CN1-25, 6, 21 nov. 1779; 18 mar 1780; CN1-26, 14 oct. 1801; CN1-230, 19 nov. 1792, 5 août 1793, 3 oct. 1794, 14 mars 1795, 4 mars 1797, 2 févr. 1805, 2 déc. 1809. Soc. hist. de la Côte-du-Sud (La Pocatière, Qué.), Boîte 33, doc.34, P.-B. Casgrain, “Le manoir d’Airvault, précis historique” (typescript). “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 35. [Adam Lymburner], “Lettre d’Adam Lymburner à Jacques Perrault, de Québec,” BRH, 39 (1933): 215; “Lettre d’Adam Lymburner à J. Perrault l’aîné,” BRH, 38 (1932): 572–73. Quebec Gazette, 16, 30 June 1785; 20 April 1786; 18 Dec. 1788; 23 April 1789; 25 March, 13 May 1790; 24 March, 28 April, 5 May, 18 Aug., 29 Dec. 1791; 13 Dec. 1792; 11 April, 16 May 1793; 29 June 1797; 10 Sept. 1807; 25 Jan. 1810; 29 Aug. 1811; 4 June, 13 Aug. 1812. Desjardins, Guide parl., 57, 126. “Papiers d’État – Bas-Canada,” PAC Rapport, 1893: 52, 84. Quebec almanac, 1788–1810. Répertoire des mariages de l’Hôpital Général de Québec (paroisse Notre-Dame-des-Anges) (1693–1961), Benoît Pontbriand, compil. (Québec, 1962), 7, 29. P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions, 2: 251. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 6: 319. Turcotte, Le Conseil législatif, 18, 73. P.-B. Casgrain, Mémorial des families Casgrain, Baby et Perrault du Canada (Québec, 1898), 192–93. P.-H. Hudon, Rivière-Ouelle de la Bouteillerie; 3 siècles de vie (Ottawa, 1972), 137–39, 273–74. P.-G. Roy, La ville de Québec sous le Régime français (2v., Québec, 1930), 2: 300. Henri Têtu, Histoire des families Têtu, Bonenfant, Dionne et Perrault (Québec, 1898), 596–99. Tousignant, “La genèse et l’avènement de la constitution de 1791,” 304. Hare, “L’Assemblée législative du Bas-Canada,” RHAF, 27: 379–80.