PERROT, FRANÇOIS-MARIE, Seigneur de Sainte-Geneviève, governor of Montreal 1669–84 and of Acadia 1684–87; b. 1644 in Paris, son of Jean Perrot and of Madeleine de Combaud; d. 1691.
He was a captain in the Picardie regiment. On 4 July 1669 in the parish of Saint-Barthélemy, at La Rochelle, he married Magdelaïne Laguide, a niece of Jean Talon, and by her he had six children. Through Talon’s influence he obtained the appointment as governor of Montreal from the seigneurs of the island, the Messieurs de Saint-Sulpice, succeeding Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve.
Accompanied by his bride and her uncle, Talon, Perrot sailed from La Rochelle on 5 July 1669 but, the ship being wrecked on the coast of Portugal, they were forced to return to France. On 20 April 1670 on the nomination of M. de Bretonvilliers, superior of the Sulpicians in Paris, he received a royal commission as governor of Montreal. In mid-May 1670 he sailed again from La Rochelle, accompanied by Talon but not by his wife, and arrived at Quebec on 18 August. When he reached Montreal, Dollier* de Casson, superior of the Sulpician seminary, commented: “As he is a very handsome gentleman, of good birth, his arrival gave us all reason to hope much from him.” In this expectation, however, the Sulpicians were to be sadly disappointed as were Perrot’s creditors. When they had recourse to the courts to seize his property he obtained, in July 1671, lettres d’état from the king which protected him against confiscation during his period of service in Canada, since he was now unable to defend his interests in person in the law courts in France. This action was, however, normal procedure for officers serving abroad.
In 1671 Perrot accompanied Rémy de Courcelle, the governor-general of the colony, to Lake Ontario to order the Iroquois to cease their assaults on the Indian tribes allied to the French and to abandon their announced intention to attack the French settlements. Courcelle’s audacious expedition achieved its aim and war was averted. The following year Perrot obtained a seigneurial grant of the large island located at the junction of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers that today bears his name. He established a fur-trading post on the island, employed coureurs de bois, and forestalled the fur-traders of Montreal. Such ventures were forbidden by royal edicts governing the fur trade but when the inhabitants of Montreal protested against his actions, Perrot employed force to make them desist.
In 1673 Buade de Frontenac established a fur-trading post on Lake Ontario which posed a much graver threat to the Montreal traders than did Perrot’s illegal activities and which aroused much greater resentment. Both Perrot and the people of Montreal protested vigorously and for a time they were united in their opposition to Frontenac. To quell this resistance Frontenac had Perrot arrested, under rather dubious circumstances [see Bizard and Salignac], and then ordered the Conseil Souverain to bring charges against him and to commit him for trial. Perrot, however, was no coward; he refused to be intimidated and from his prison cell he made a very effective defence, refusing to recognize the right of the Conseil Souverain to try him since he held his commission from the king and was accountable only to him. Perrot succeeded in instilling in the councillors the fear that their attempt to bring him to trial would be regarded as ultra vires. To the great annoyance of Frontenac they eventually referred the matter to the king. Perrot was then sent to France by Frontenac to account to the king for his alleged refusal to obey the orders of the governor-general of the colony.
Louis XIV and the minister of marine, Colbert, condemned the actions of both Frontenac and Perrot, but to uphold the authority of the king vested in a governor-general, Perrot was punished by being sent to the comfortable seclusion of the Bastille for three weeks. Upon his release he was reinstated as governor of Montreal and Frontenac was ordered to treat him with more respect in future. Upon his return to New France Perrot made his peace with Frontenac and they entered into an uneasy alliance to further their illicit activities in the fur trade. From this point on, when complaints were made against Perrot by the seigneurs and the people of Montreal, Frontenac quashed them. Thus protected, Perrot rode roughshod over the people of Montreal; any who protested against his attempts to garner the bulk of the fur trade for himself were beaten by his guards or thrown into gaol without trial and held there during Perrot’s pleasure. In these acts of tyranny Perrot was aided by Frontenac’s man, Josias Boisseau, an agent of the Compagnie de la Ferme du Roi. In 1678 Perrot arbitrarily imprisoned Migeon de Branssat, a judge of the seigneurial court at Montreal, for having ordered the arrest of a coureur de bois in Perrot’s employ. When the Conseil Souverain decided to intervene, Frontenac forbade them to take any action. The council then referred the matter to the king who promptly issued a royal edict forbidding local governors to imprison or fine anyone without specific orders from the governor-general or the Conseil Souverain. This edict was accompanied by direct orders to Frontenac that on no account was he to order the arrest of anyone except for the crimes of sedition and treason, which, Colbert pointed out, “hardly ever occur,” but to leave the administration of justice entirely in the hands of the established courts. By this royal edict and the accompanying orders the people of New France were thereafter afforded protection against arbitrary arrest. Ensuing events made it plain that the king and the minister of marine were determined that the edict should be enforced. Oddly enough, in England in that same year, 1679, and under somewhat similar circumstances, Parliament passed an act to serve the same purpose, the Habeas Corpus Act.
Perrot, however, paid no heed to the edict. Relying on the protection afforded by Frontenac, he continued his harassment of any residents of Montreal who complained of his illegal fur-trading activities. When the Ottawas came to Montreal to trade their furs he stationed his guards to prevent all but his own and Frontenac’s men from trading with them. On one occasion he was reported to have traded the clothes off his back to an Indian who then paraded around the town in the governor’s garb, and Perrot boasted that he had made a profit of 30 pistoles on the exchange. It was estimated that in 1680 alone he had made some 40,000 livres illegal profit in the fur trade and two years later it was reliably reported that he had realized 100,000 livres on the sale of beaver pelts at Niort in Poitou.
When the Conseil Souverain, in 1680 and 1681, tried to bring Perrot to account for his illegal activities Frontenac put every obstacle in its path, but in 1682 Frontenac was dismissed from his post. Despite the intercession of his brother, Perrot de Fercourt, and his influential friends at the court, the complaints against Perrot from the citizens of Montreal, the seigneurs of the island, the intendant, and the Conseil Souverain were too numerous and well authenticated to be ignored. In May 1682 the king informed Le Febvre de La Barre, newly appointed governor-general of the colony, that he had decided to dismiss Perrot from his post and La Barre was instructed to recommend an officer in the colony to succeed him. La Barre, however, defended Perrot, made light of his illegal fur-trading, and declared that the complaints against him were occasioned by the jealousy of the Montreal merchants. Since La Barre himself was quickly to become very active in the fur trade, despite strict orders forbidding him to have any part in it, directly or indirectly, La Barre was really excusing his own as well as Perrot’s conduct. The minister, however, was not impressed by La Barre’s advocacy and in 1683 Perrot was interdicted, stripped of his powers as governor, and informed that unless he mended his ways and made his peace with the seigneurs of the island he would be recalled to France. The following year Louis-Hector de Callière* was appointed governor of Montreal and Perrot was given the post of governor of Acadia.
Not a great deal is known of Perrot’s career from this point on. Acadia was sparsely populated and sadly neglected by the French government, hence there were few officials in the colony and little correspondence with the ministry of marine. Moreover, of the correspondence that there must have been, little has survived to provide information. It is known, however, that Perrot went from Montreal to France and did not take up his post at Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal, N.S.) until September 1685. Despite the stern warnings of the minister it appears that he behaved in Acadia exactly as he had done at Montreal. He lost no time in seeking to monopolize the fur trade of the colony, traded brandy over the counter in his own house, shipped contraband to Boston and, in complete disregard for the king’s orders, allowed New England seamen to fish in Acadian coastal waters upon purchasing a permit, for which he charged £5 per ketch. Once again the minister received complaints about Perrot’s conduct from individuals and from Bergier, a Huguenot merchant of La Rochelle and director of the Compagnie de la Pêche sédentaire de l’Acadie. In consequence, Perrot was dismissed from his post in April 1687. He did not, however, return to France but remained in Acadia and continued his malpractices, despite warnings from the minister to desist or learn what it meant to incur the king’s serious displeasure.
Then, in 1690, English freebooters succeeded where Louis XIV and his ministers had failed. In mid-May 1690 Sir William Phips, commanding a Boston expedition, arrived off Port-Royal and obliged the governor, Louis-Alexandre Des Friches* de Meneval, to surrender the fort, taking him and the garrison into captivity. A month later Joseph Robinau de Villebon, an officer in the Port-Royal garrison, returned from France on the Union, belonging to the Acadia fishing company, and took over command in the province. Accompanied by Perrot, he removed to the Saint John River. A few days later two pirate ships from the English colonies entered the river, captured the French vessels, and Perrot with them. Believing that he had hidden large sums of money, they tortured him to make him divulge its whereabouts, with what success is not known. Subsequently he was rescued by a French privateer and landed at a French port. He then took up residence in Paris and sought, unsuccessfully, to obtain his reappointment as governor of Acadia. He died on 20 Oct. 1691, allegedly as a result of his sufferings at the hands of the English freebooters.
The main documentary sources for Perrot’s career are: AN, Col., B, 8, f.18; C11A, 3, 4, 5; C11D, passim, F3, 2, 3, 4. BN, MS Fr. 6653, f.280. Much material concerning Perrot’s conflict with Frontenac is contained in Jug. et délib., I. Perrot’s career as governor of Montreal is discussed in Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la Nouv.-France, I, II, passim; Eccles, Frontenac; Canada under Louis XIV, 1663–1701 (Canadian Centenary ser., III, Toronto, 1964). On Perrot’s career in Acadia see: B. T. McCully, “The New England–Acadia fishery dispute and the Nicholson mission of August, 1687,” Essex Institute, Hist. Coll., XCVI (1960), 277–90. PAC Report, 1912, App. E, F. Webster, Acadia.
Revisions based on:
Arch. en ligne, Charente-Maritime (La Rochelle, France), “Reg. paroissiaux, pastoraux et d’état civil,” La Rochelle, Saint-Barthélémy, 4 juill. 1669: archinoe.net/v2/ad17/registre.html (consulted 28 Aug. 2017).