GUEROUT, PIERRE (baptized Pierre-Guillaume, but he rarely signed that way), businessman, jp, politician, office holder, and militia officer; b. 31 Aug. 1751 in the parish of Mille Ville, diocese of Rouen, France, son of Jacques Guerout and Judith Lévesque; d. 18 June 1830 at Saint-Denis, on the Richelieu, Lower Canada, and was buried 23 June 1830 at William Henry (Sorel).
Pierre Guerout was born into a Huguenot merchant family. He emigrated to Quebec about 1767 and apprenticed under his uncle François Lévesque* in the latter’s business there. Presumably any formal education he may have received was completed in France, and any further training would have been under his uncle’s supervision; clearly he was literate, but he may never have become bilingual. He volunteered for military service in 1775 in the same company as Pierre Marcoux* and the merchant Louis Marchand, and he saw action along with Jacques-Nicolas Perrault*, with whom he became close friends, when the Americans attacked Quebec on 30 December [see Benedict Arnold*; Richard Montgomery*]. After the demobilization of his regiment Guerout started his own business at Quebec. On 10 May 1779 he married 17-year-old Marie-Anne-Magdeleine Mayer, daughter of Quebec merchant Jean Mayer, and even though she was Roman Catholic, the ceremony was performed by David-François de Montmollin*, a Church of England clergyman.
By September 1783 Guerout had sold his property at Quebec and moved to Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, where his appointment in April 1785 as a justice of the peace indicates that he quickly attained local prominence. The death in January 1787 of Lévesque, who, Guerout wrote to Perrault, “acted as my father for 20 years and proved his goodness to me on all occasions,” was apparently the latest in a series of misfortunes which included the loss of an infant son, and the beginnings of which may have induced Guerout to leave Quebec. He requested Perrault to look into obtaining for him Lévesque’s position as legislative councillor, but nothing came of the effort.
After Guerout moved across the Rivière Richelieu to Saint-Denis in 1787, misfortune continued to pursue him; two infant daughters died that year, and the death of his wife followed in early 1790. However, he rapidly became a prominent merchant, and one of the largest dealers in general goods in the Saint-Denis region, aided no doubt by contacts with the Quebec mercantile community; in 1790, for example, he was executor of the estate of a merchant of Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu along with Quebec businessmen Louis Marchand and Mathew Lymburner. Later, Guerout was given a power of attorney by Lymburner to collect a debt due to him by two residents of Saint-Marc. In 1790 he was a member of the Agriculture Society in the district of Montreal.
It was probably Guerout’s local prominence that got him returned to the House of Assembly for Richelieu County in 1792 during the first elections held in Lower Canada. He attended only the first session; health or business considerations may account for his absence during the three succeeding sessions. He participated on committees and voted intermittently, in 1792 supporting the candidate of the Canadian members for the speakership, Jean-Antoine Panet*. On 13 May 1793 he married 24-year-old Josephte Maria Woolsey, a Roman Catholic, in the Presbyterian Scotch Church at Quebec. Her brother John William* was a merchant, and she was related to the merchant Louis Dunière* and to Pierre-Louis Panet*, both of whom were members of the assembly. Guerout may not have run for election again in 1796 and 1800; in 1804 he was defeated. By that time he was clearly supporting the Canadian party, and Louis Marchand wrote to one of its successful candidates, Jacques Cartier* of Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, that the defeat would deprive the group of a potentially useful member. Marchand nevertheless felt that it had spared Guerout the financial sacrifice that elected businessmen inevitably made through the neglect of their personal affairs, for which there was no compensation by salary.
In fact, Guerout’s financial situation seems to have been solid. In the years 1809 to 1812 at least, he was a supplier of wheat to the Batiscan Iron Work Company His land sales and purchases, loans, investments, and speculations increased over the 20 years from about 1805. He could not have participated in many of these ventures without substantial surplus capital; in 1805, for example, he promoted local construction by financing the operations of a master carpenter from Saint-Ours, Pierre Cormier. In 1817 he was a shareholder in the Bank of Montreal. Two years later he and three other men planned to construct a toll-bridge over the rapids of the Richelieu near Chambly. In 1821 he bequeathed at least £500 to each of his seven surviving children, and the following year he advanced £1,500 to a daughter and her husband.
Guerout’s business success was paralleled by, or perhaps tied up with, an ever-improving social status. In 1802 he had been appointed lieutenant-colonel of the Chambly battalion of militia, and in 1812 he was given command of the 2nd Battalion of Kent militia, but it is unlikely that he saw action during the war with the United States. In 1812 as well he received a commission to administer the oath of allegiance, although he did not hold it for long. Five years later he was made a commissioner for the improvement of internal communications; since he and the two other commissioners had responsibility for the state of the roads and of navigation on the Richelieu between William Henry and Chambly, Guerout had a strong voice in determining local economic development. Finally, in 1821 he was named a commissioner for the summary trial of small causes in Saint-Denis. Meanwhile family ties with the colonial élite were solidified by the marriages of two daughters, Julie in 1815 to Henry LeMesurier*, formerly deputy assistant commissary general, and Sophie in 1818 to Antoine-Narcisse Juchereau Duchesnay, son of Antoine-Louis, seigneur and executive councillor. Although all Guerout’s children had been baptized Roman Catholics, both marriages were performed by Anglican clergymen; one other daughter and two sons became Anglicans, one of the sons, Narcisse, eventually being ordained a clergyman. One daughter remained Roman Catholic. Religion, therefore, does not seem to have presented a problem to Guerout and his family; Pierre held to his Protestantism, Josephte Maria to her Catholicism, and the children ultimately decided for themselves.
By the mid 1820s Guerout’s health was in decline, and he does not seem to have conducted business after 1826. In the fall of 1827 an apoplectic attack destroyed his mental faculties and the following January his son Louis, who succeeded to the administration of his business, had him interdicted. At the time of his death Guerout was a substantial property holder with lands in Saint-Denis, Saint-Ours, Saint-Hyacinthe, La Présentation, Saint-Jude, and Saint-Césaire. It took 25 years of litigation to sort out the ownership of his properties and other legacies.
In his own lifetime Pierre Guerout had managed to capitalize on good business and political connections at Quebec to make himself a prominent, wealthy member of the Richelieu valley élite; he then extended his strong social and business links in the area back to the mercantile and political circles at Quebec and Montreal. In many ways he is representative of regionally important merchants and politicians, a relatively neglected yet significant historical group.
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