BELLET, FRANÇOIS (baptized Antoine-François), ship’s captain, militiaman, businessman, office holder, and politician; b. 2 Nov. 1750 at Quebec, son of François Bellet. and Marie-Anne Réaume, widow of Jean-Baptiste Gadiou; d. there 19 Feb. 1827.
Trained as a navigator, François Bellet became engaged at an early age in the St Lawrence River coasting trade of his father, a native of the diocese of La Rochelle, France. They operated out of Lower Town Quebec, where by 1775 young Bellet had begun to acquire property. During the American invasion of the province in 1775–76 [see Benedict Arnold*; Richard Montgomery*] they served together in the Canadian militia at Quebec. At the same time Bellet’s father gained a reputation for his daring exploits running gunpowder for the British on the St Lawrence. For the next two decades at least, father and son were active as navigators, probably in some loose association which enabled them to meet the heavy seasonal demands of such mercantile clients as George Allsopp* and William Grant* of Quebec. The younger Bellet was the owner and master of at least one vessel, the schooner Magdelaine, built at Bécancour in 1774. In the early 1800s he established a small mercantile business in Lower Town. He sold the Magdelaine in 1804 to Hypolithe Duvilleray, another navigator, and became more involved in the purchase, sale, and rental of farm and town properties in the Quebec area, particularly in Charlesbourg, where his father lived, and in the Montreal region, where he was often represented by the notary Louis Guy*. In 1804 he was granted lots in Somerset Township, Buckingham County.
Bellet’s permanence of residence, and possibly the influence of his father, who lived until 1812, was a factor in his decision to seek public office. In 1804 in Lower Town and five years later in York County, north of Montreal, he ran without success for election to the Lower Canadian House of Assembly. In June 1805 he secured appointment as an assistant examiner of pilots for the port of Quebec, a position he would hold for 12 years. In the spring of 1810 he was elected to the assembly to represent York with Pierre Saint-Julien. A long-time friend of Joseph Papineau*, Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, and other lights in the Canadian party, Bellet spent much time electioneering in Quebec County, where Joseph-François Perrault*, and possibly Ralph Gray*, both candidates, bitterly resented “the activity of the Bellets, the Lageux, the Langlois, the Le Blonds, and the Germains, (known firebrands).” By March, when Governor Sir James Henry Craig* seized the party’s newspaper, Le Canadien, Bellet had joined Bédard, Jacques Leblond, François Blanchet, Joseph Levasseur-Borgia*, Thomas Lee, and François Huot as co-proprietors of that journal’s printing establishment, the Imprimerie Canadienne. Though Le Canadien would not resume publication for several years, Bellet retained his share in the press’s other printing operations as one business interest among others.
Bellet’s participation in politics on the side of the Canadian party did not prevent him from obtaining other appointments. In 1811, he became, with John Mure and John Hale*, a commissioner to obtain plans for new parliament buildings; in 1815 a commissioner along with Andrew Stuart* and the notary Félix Têtu for the repair of Quebec’s jail and court-house; and in 1817 a warden of Trinity House of Quebec [see François Boucher*]. He also held non-governmental offices, serving as a warden of Notre-Dame cathedral and as an inspector for the Quebec Fire Society. In 1814 he subscribed to the Quebec Free School, a non-sectarian institution founded by Thaddeus Osgood*. Five years later he was a manager of the Quebec Dispensary, a benevolent medical centre [see Anthony von Iffland*], and in 1821 he was a subscriber to the Quebec Emigrants’ Society. In the general election of 1814 Bellet had been returned to the assembly for Buckingham along with James Stuart*, who was succeeded by Louis Bourdages (1815–16) and Joseph Badeaux (1816–20). For the next six years Bellet continued to support, in the house and in public addresses, the nationalistic positions of the Canadian party, increasingly led by Louis-Joseph Papineau*, on such issues as the control of civil expenditure and patronage.
Meanwhile, in 1811 Bellet had taken his clerk, Jean-Olivier Brunet, into partnership, forming François Bellet et Cie. Their agreement expired five years later, but they carried on for two more years as Bellet et Brunet. During this period Bellet’s domestic life had not been without incident. His first wife, Cécile Flamme, whom he had married at Quebec on 12 July 1773, died in 1815, and his marriage in Beaumont on 15 Sept. 1817 at the age of 67 to his maid, Marie-Honoré Fournier, provoked a charivari, the mood of which – light and comical or bizarre and derisive – is not certain. On a dark night in October the Bellets were drawn to their door by four men with faces blackened. They carried lanterns suspended from long poles and an illuminated paper coffin, and the din they made upon a fife, a drum, and pots attracted a small gang of street urchins. According to one account, a member of the group, perched on the shoulders of two companions, delivered a mock funeral oration on Mme Bellet, and to calm the men Bellet gave them 100 piastres to let them drink to the newlyweds’ health. According to a second account, efforts by soldiers to pacify the rowdy band failed, and the men promised to return “all winter” unless Bellet gave them 25 guineas for the poor, which he was “obliged” to hand over. Marie-Honoré died in August 1820.
That year, within months of his re-election in Buckingham, Bellet retired from both politics and Trinity House for reasons that are not clear, though his wife’s death may have been a factor. He nevertheless remained active in business, and he continued to maintain mercantile connections in England and Scotland. His activities ranged from investment in the Quebec Bank and the Quebec Fire Assurance Company, through the renting out or sale of properties, to the provision of supplies for shipwrecked seamen on Anticosti Island. In 1820, possibly to facilitate his trade, he had bought a schooner from Antoine Mayrant, a mariner in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (La Pérade). Bellet’s third marriage, in the chapel of the Hôpital Général at Quebec on 4 March 1822 to Mary Robinson, a widow, probably developed from his mercantile contacts; her former husband, Gavin Major Hamilton, had been a merchant at Quebec, and her brother Webb, to whom Bellet would rent property, still was. About 1823 Bellet moved to the faubourg Saint-Jean and appears to have withdrawn from business, though numerous sums were still owing to him, including more than £500 by Brunet, who may have purchased his stock.
By 1827 Bellet’s health had given out. In early February Louis-Joseph Papineau found him “dangerously ill,” and on the 19th he died in the Hôpital Général. Among the respectful witnesses at his burial in the hospital chapel two days later were Andrew Stuart and Papineau with his brother-in-law Jean Dessaulles.
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