BESNARD, dit Carignant, JEAN-LOUIS (he signed L. Carignant), merchant-trader; b. 22 Nov. 1734 in Montreal, son of Jean-Baptiste Besnard, dit Carignant, and Marie-Joseph Gervaise; m. 13 Aug. 1764 Charlotte Brebion in Montreal; m. there secondly on 20 Jan. 1770 Félicité, daughter of Montreal merchant Pascal Pillet; d. 3 Dec. 1791 at Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island, Mich.).
Jean-Louis Besnard, dit Carignant, followed in the footsteps of his father, a Montreal merchant and outfitter. Around 1770 he was engaged in the fur trade, outfitting voyageurs for amounts sometimes exceeding 20,000 livres; in addition he ran a flour mill at Lachine, near Montreal. Although he rapidly acquired many debtors, Carignant was not afraid to go into debt himself to his suppliers. Like every merchant in the colony, he had to speculate on credit and choose his debtors carefully. However, he had less luck in this game than others [see Jean Orillat], and on 30 Sept. 1776 he had to declare a bankruptcy that would have repercussions on the political life of the province.
On 9 Oct. 1776 Carignant submitted a balance-sheet to his creditors which showed 222,306 livres in debts and 140,640 livres in assets, 65,000 livres of the latter in accounts outstanding; his creditors were London merchants Brook Watson* and Robert Rashleigh, the firms of Pierre Foretier* and Jean Orillat and of John Porteous in Montreal, and also Montreal merchants Jean-Marie Ducharme*, Jacob Jordan, Toussaint Lecavelier, Louis-Joseph and Charles-Jean-Baptiste Chaboillez*, Charles Larche, and Ignace Pillet (Carignant’s brother-in-law). Carignant had contracted his largest debt – the sum of 88,000 livres – with the firm of Watson and Rashleigh. The balance-sheet also revealed the losses he had incurred in trading in furs and wheat, but these could not by themselves account for the bankruptcy, which Carignant attributed to “unfortunate events . . . bad promises and swindles of which he has been the victim.”
Yet a few hours before declaring bankruptcy, Carignant had completed a series of deals with Montreal merchant Richard Dobie* through which Dobie had bought furs worth 130,000 livres from him and he, after deducting his debts to Dobie and Dobie’s partner Adam Lymburner*, had made 63,000 livres not shown in the books. Carignant’s creditors, to whom he had assigned his property, accused Dobie of fraud and took legal proceedings against him because, according to them, he had entered into secret agreements with Carignant to pay for the furs. When the Court of Common Pleas in Montreal decided in favour of the creditors, Dobie appealed to the Legislative Council, and as a result of Chief Justice Peter Livius’ summation it reversed the judgement on 30 April 1778. The next day Governor Sir Guy Carleton* dismissed Livius from his post without explanation. During the subsequent inquiry, Livius insinuated to the British authorities that Carleton had been influenced by Brook Watson, who was Carignant’s principal creditor and who, according to Livius, “was in great habits with Sir Guy Carleton & was very much trusted by him in his private concerns, & in some matters of a public nature, particularly in Indian Affairs.” Livius was reinstated but never returned to Canada. As for Carignant, his combined assets could in no way cover his debts at the time of his bankruptcy; his creditors allowed him to remain in business, hoping to be repaid gradually, but whether this hope was fulfilled is not known.
Carignant’s business papers and the documents produced at the time of his bankruptcy provide some useful indications of his commercial practices and style of life. Of the 128 debts recorded in his accounts receivable ledger in 1776, only eight exceeded 1,000 livres but they amounted to nearly 50,000 livres, three-quarters of the total. His assets also included 12,500 livres in furs, ginseng, and merchandise, a house on the construction of which he had spent 26,000 livres (and which his creditors sold for 36,000 livres in 1777), furnishings valued at 12,000 livres, a library of some 40 titles appraised at 1,200 livres, and two black slaves, a man worth 1,600 and a woman worth 1,200 livres. Judging from the inventory of the house, Carignant lived comfortably, and he owned several expensive articles – a mahogany table, a faience fountain, some silverware, and some crystal.
Carignant’s subsequent career seems to have been rather varied. He was trading in wheat again in 1777 and apparently received a contract for supplying flour to the army, perhaps in concert with his old creditor, Jacob Jordan. In 1780 he went into partnership with his brother-in-law, Antoine Pillet, to run a bakery. In the winter of 1781–82 he was in trouble with the authorities. Rebel sympathizers who had been taken prisoner accused Carignant of having established relations with the Americans; he was arrested and taken to Quebec. In his defence he submitted a certificate of loyalty signed by such residents of Montreal as Luc de La Corne, Pierre Guy*, Jacob Jordan, Christian Daniel Claus, James McGill*, and Edward William Gray*. He was released for lack of evidence at the beginning of 1782. But his bakery business fell off, and he had difficulty again with his creditors. In May 1785 he received a commission as notary at Michilimackinac, and he was living there in 1786 and 1787. In 1788 he was appointed superintendent of inland navigation at Michilimackinac. He drowned in Lake Michigan on 3 Dec. 1791.
Hilda Neatby*, after reviewing the Dobie case, decided that Carignant was simply dishonest. But if so, it is hard to see why he would of his own free will have made over all his belongings to his creditors in 1776, or why they would have agreed to let him continue in business once the supposed fraud had been discovered. Besides, why would he have been granted the official posts at Michilimackinac if his honesty or loyalty had been in doubt? As for his inability to succeed in business, Carignant like many others was probably a victim of the development in the fur trade which concentrated control increasingly in the hands of a small group of merchants and led to the creation of the North West Company in 1783.
ANQ-M, État civil, Catholiques, Notre-Dame de Montréal, 22 nov. 1737, 13 août 1764, 18 sept. 1769, 20 janv. 1770; Greffe de Pierre Panet, 25 mai 1767, 22 déc. 1774, 9 oct. 1776, 29 avril, 12 mai, 1er juill. 1777; Greffe de Simon Sanguinet, 2, 10, 23 oct. 1769, 22 mars, 23 juill. 1770, 14, 25 juill. 1774, 17 févr. 1775; Greffe de François Simonnet, 11 mai 1750, 8 déc. 1770. AUM, P 58, Doc. divers, C2, 27 juill. 1787. BL, Add. mss 21721, ff.182–83v, 192; 21734, ff.310–11, 320; 21791, ff.142, 146 (copies at PAC). PAC, MG 23, GIII, 25, ser. A (Louis Carignant); MG 24, L3, pp.27531–35, 30494; RG 4, A1, 38, p.12548; B8, 28, p.22; B28, 115. PRO, CO 42/2, pp.261–64; 42/42, pp.129–34 (PAC transcripts). Ste Ann’s Parish (Mackinac Island, Mich.), Registre des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures de Sainte-Anne de-Michillimakinak, 16 juill. 1786, 20 août 1787 (mfm. at PAC, MG 8, G17). Quebec Gazette, 17 Nov. 1766, 7 Sept. 1769, 16 Jan. 1777, 2 Dec. 1779. Almanach de Québec, 1791, 39. Massicotte, “Répertoire des engagements pour l’Ouest,” ANQ Rapport, 1929–30, 327, 345, 347, 369, 406, 426–27; 1930–31, 353–54, 357, 372–74, 376, 400–2, 420. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Burt, Old prov. of Que. (1968), I, 248–50. Neatby, Administration of justice under Quebec Act, 74–77.