ROBINAU DE BÉCANCOUR, RENÉ (called Outsitsony by the Hurons), Baron de Portneuf, ensign in Turenne’s regiment, Chevalier of the Ordre de Saint-Michel, member of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, chief road officer of New France; b. c. 1625 in Paris, son of Pierre Robinau de Bécancour and Renée Marteau; d. 1699 at Quebec.
His father, Pierre Robinau, secretary in the king’s privy chamber, provincial receiver in the generality of Paris, then receiver general of finances at Tours, paymaster of the light cavalry of France, and member of the Cent-Associés, was presented to the king as a candidate for the post of governor of New France, with Guillaume Guillemot and Jean de Lauson (the elder). It was the latter who was chosen, in 1651.
René Robinau, after serving in two campaigns as an ensign in Turenne’s regiment, arrived at Quebec in 1645. He was in Governor Huault de Montmagny’s employ when, in January 1646, he took part with Nicolas Marsolet in the rebellion of the “petty habitans” against those “who had the public duties and offices” in the Communauté des Habitants. He was next an officer in the Quebec flying column. It was in this capacity that, on 26 Feb. 1652, he accompanied the grand seneschal Jean de Lauson (the younger) and 15 Frenchmen on an expedition to Trois-Rivières. Before that town, on 2 July, he took part in a fight against the Iroquois and gave refuge to a Huron captive.
He seems to have gone to France in the autumn of 1656. His stay was a profitable one: the king made him a Chevalier of the Ordre de Saint-Michel, and the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France granted him the little Bécancour fief “on the road to the great Cap Rouge.” The company also bestowed upon him, in 1657, the office of chief road officer for Canada. He became the first to occupy this post, which according to P.-G. Roy “was then something of a sinecure.” Indeed, the Canadian peasants preferred the waterway to land routes, and loathed the corvées necessary for establishing roads. It was only in the 18th century that the position of chief road officer acquired importance and began to lay real responsibilities upon its holder.
René Robinau seems to have concerned himself above all with trade. In October 1659 he made a journey to France, and during this stay he replaced his father, who was of advanced age, in the Compagnie des Cent-Associés. In this capacity he signed a commercial treaty with Toussaint Guenet and several Rouen merchants on 5 Feb. 1660, granting their company the monopoly of the trade in beaver pelts and of imports into the colony. He apparently returned to Canada in 1661, and he left it again in 1663. On 23 Feb. 1663 he was one of the signatories to the letter by which the Cent-Associés gave up Canada to the king.
After that, until 1667, the records are silent about René Robinau. Since the 1666 nominal roll of New France makes no mention of him or his family, P.-G. Roy suggests that the Robinaus could have been in France at that time. René Robinau turned up again in 1667, when on 29 March the new Compagnie des Indes occidentales granted him “once again . . . the said function of chief road officer.”
On 10 Oct. 1678 he was called upon to give his opinion about the sale of spirits to indigenous people. He stated “that this traffic is necessary . . . and that it is of extreme necessity, for the establishment of trade and of religion, to . . . supply [them with] drink.” He was no doubt interested in trading with them, since in 1679 Intendant Duchesneau accused him of protecting the coureurs de bois. On the other hand, Sulte tells us that Robinau “often lived at Trois-Rivières for his trade in pelts.”
He does not seem, moreover, to have been in the intendant’s good graces. The latter again denounced him to the minister on 13 Nov. 1680: “There is another officer of whom I complain, and that is the sieur de Bécancour, chief road officer, who since I have been here has always neglected to discharge his duties, whatever warnings I gave him. Finally, on my last journey to Montreal, because of the protests of the people, I was obliged to issue my ordinance, stating that he must make his visits without receiving any payments until he had brought me his reports on them, but very far from complying with this, he came and insulted me, with one of his children named Villebon” (Joseph Robinau de Villebon).
Duchesneau’s hostility did not, however, have much influence on the king, who in March 1681 raised the Portneuf seigneury to the status of a barony. René Robinau had obtained this fief from his father-in-law, Jacques Leneuf de La Poterie, on 7 July 1671. Governor Buade de Frontenac, on 23 March 1677, also granted him the Îles Bouchard, “situated near to and adjoining the great island that bears the same name”; these islands had first been granted, on 29 Oct. 1672, to his brother François Robinau de Fortelle, who never came to Canada.
In the autumn of 1693 René Robinau seems to have gone to France again, for the purpose of receiving an inheritance; he came back in 1694. He was buried on 12 Dec. 1699 in the church of the Recollets, according to the wish he had expressed in his will.
On 21 Oct. 1652, at Trois-Rivières, he signed before the notary Ameau* a marriage contract with Marie-Anne, the daughter of Jacques Leneuf de La Poterie and Marguerite Legardeur; the couple had 12 children, among them Pierre*, Baron de Portneuf, who on 24 May 1689 obtained letters confirming his appointment by reversion to the office of chief road officer, and Joseph Robinau de Villebon, governor of Acadia.
AJM, Greffe de Bénigne Basset, 7 juillet 1671. AJQ, Greffe de François Genaple, 23 oct. 1693, 4 avril 1699. AJTR, Greffe de Séverin Ameau, 21 oct. 1652. ASQ, Documents Faribault, 57, 112, 122, 125; Polygraphie, III, 141; IV, 8; Séminaire, XXXI, 7. Recensement de 1681.
Coll. de manuscrits relatifs à la Nouv.-France, I, 82, 245. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), I, 405, 409f. Dollier de Casson, Histoire du Montréal, 265. JR (Thwaites). Jug. et délib., I, II, III. Lettres de noblesse (P.-G. Roy), I, 95–102. Papier terrier de la Cie des I.O. (P.-G. Roy). Pièces et documents relatifs à la tenure seigneuriale, demandés par une adresse de l’assemblée législative, 1851 (2v., Québec, 1852), I, 92f. [René Robinau de Bécancour], “Aveu et dénombrement de Messire René Robineau, seigneur de Bécancour, grand voyer de la Nouvelle-France, pour le fief et seigneurie de Portneuf (3 sept. 1677),” APQ Rapport, 1925–26, 340–42. P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions, I, II, III, V; Inv. ins. cons. souv.; Inventaire des procès-verbaux des grands voyers conservés aux archives de la province de Québec (6v., Beauceville, 1923–32), I, II.
E.-J. Auclair, Les De Jordy de Cabanac, histoire d’une ancienne famille noble du Canada (Montréal, 1930), 148f., 187–93. Claude de Bonnault, “Le Canada militaire, état provisoire des officiers de milice, de 1641 à 1760,” APQ Rapport, 1949–51, 293f. BRH, I (1895), 89; II (1896), 140; V (1899), 126; XIV (1908), 160; XV (1909), 179; XXI (1915), 48, 168; XXVI (1920), 37f., 68f.; XXVII (1921), 304; XXVIII (1922), 376. Ivanhoë Caron, “Historique de la voirie dans la province de Québec,” BRH, XXXIX (1933), 198–215. Thomas Chapais [Ignotus], “Notes et souvenirs,” La Presse (Montréal), 12 nov. 1898, 9; 28 déc. 1901, 4. Archange Godbout, “Les Robinau de Bécancourt,” SGCF Mémoires, IV (1951), 158–62. Lanctot, Histoire du Canada, I, 242, 295f., 319. Henri Lorin, Le comte de Frontenac: étude sur le Canada français à la fin du XVIIe siècle (Paris, 1895), 182. P.-G. Roy, “Le premier baron de Portneuf,” Cahiers des Dix, XIV (1949), 223–41; “Le premier baron de Portneuf,” dans Les petites choses de notre histoire (3e sér., Lévis, 1922), 121–37; “Les grands voyers de la Nouvelle-France et leurs successeurs,” Cahiers des Dix, VIII (1943), 181–96. Benjamin Sulte, “La guerre des Iroquois,” RSCT, 2d ser., III (1897), sect.i, 86; Mélanges historiques (Malchelosse), XVIII, 22f. Les Ursulines de Québec, II, 335–39.
Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Québec, CE301-S1, 12 déc. 1699.