BOUCHETTE, JEAN-BAPTISTE, businessman, mariner, and militia and naval officer; b. 5 July 1736 at Quebec, son of Marc Bouchette (Bouchet) and Marie-Thérèse Grenet; d. there 28 April 1804.
The youngest of five children of a seaman from Saint-Malo, France, Jean-Baptiste Bouchette was bred to the sea even though his father had died shortly after he was born. About 1760 he went into the fishing business in the Gulf of St Lawrence, and by 1765 he was an established merchant residing on Rue Champlain, Quebec. That year he became an equal partner with the firm of Johnston and Purss [see James Johnston*; John Purss] for the development of a fur-trade and fishing post, probably in the Gulf region, during the following nine years. Bouchette was to deliver food and trade merchandise to the station, attend to the society’s interests there, and bring back the fish and furs.
At Quebec on 27 Sept. 1773 Bouchette, whom Pierre de Sales Laterrière called “not a handsome lad,” married Marie-Angélique Duhamel; Laterrière described her as “beautiful, buxom and well-built,” and claimed to have been “tied [to her] by a love more than Platonic for quite some time” before her marriage to Bouchette. The marriage was said to have been arranged by Marie-Angélique’s father, Julien, another seaman from Saint-Malo.
By 1775 Bouchette owned and commanded his own schooner and had earned the name la tourte, the wild pigeon, “for the celerity of his voyages.” On 11 November the schooner, armed and fitted for government service during the American invasion of Quebec, was one of the escort vessels for the convoy evacuating troops from Montreal with Guy Carleton. Contrary winds forced the convoy to anchor near Sorel, and by the 16th it appeared to be trapped by American batteries. Carleton and his aide-de-camp, Charles-Louis Tarieu de Lanaudière, escaped in a small boat skilfully piloted by Bouchette and after some adventures arrived safely at Quebec on the 19th. For this service Bouchette won a commission in an artillery company of militia during the siege of Quebec, and on 28 April 1776 Carleton appointed him lieutenant and commander of the armed sloop Hope, in which he provided a number of essential services to the British squadron under Captain Charles Douglas*. On 11 Sept. 1777 Carleton commissioned Bouchette a master and commander, as well as captain of the armed vessel Seneca on Lake Ontario, and he served on the Great Lakes until his discharge in 1784.
Bouchette returned to Quebec, and in October 1785 was among those who signed an address of departure to Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton*, praising his administration. Two years later his old patron Carleton, now Governor Lord Dorchester, granted him a commission as captain of militia at Quebec. By 1788 Bouchette, once again a civil mariner, was living on Rue Saint-Pierre and apparently enjoying a social position of some respectability. However, his social status concealed a grave financial situation; he was indebted to the firm of Fraser and Young, of which the politician John Young was a partner, for £1,359. Young was prepared to accept £906 to be paid without interest over two years, with Bouchette’s schooner the Angélique, built the previous year, serving as guarantee. In June 1789 Bouchette borrowed £278 from Thomas Dunn to discharge some of the debt, but in April 1790 the Angélique had to be sold to pay part of the remainder.
The previous summer Bouchette had given power of attorney to his wife to try to wind up his affairs at Quebec and had returned to naval service on Lake Ontario. In 1791, when the Provincial Marine was again expanding, Dorchester made Bouchette a master and commander, a commission confirmed for Upper Canada by Lieutenant Governor Simcoe on 16 August. After the death of Commodore David Beaton in December 1794, Bouchette became the senior officer and succeeded to Beaton’s post on the lake. Although there were complaints that Bouchette took gratuities for the carriage of passengers and cargo on naval vessels, the distinguished French traveller La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt* reported him by all accounts entirely incorruptible.
Bouchette’s years in command would leave him disappointed and embittered. He must have been upset that his eldest son, Joseph*, was unable to follow in his footsteps because of a severe retrenchment in the Provincial Marine after 1794, when Jay’s Treaty reduced tensions with the United States. In 1795 Bouchette complained to La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt of disharmony among various departments of the military and naval establishment at Kingston, Upper Canada; none the less, because Bouchette had his family and lands at Kingston, he was among the strongest critics of a project to make York (Toronto) the centre of Provincial Marine activities, even though between 1791 and 1797 he received important grants of land at York for himself and his children.
By 1799 Bouchette’s grievances had led him to act the tyrant with his officers and to cooperate less and less with the military authorities. In 1801 he ceased altogether to communicate with his superiors, so that the fort major in Upper Canada, Lieutenant Donald Campbell, had to take over his administrative responsibilities. Crippled with rheumatism, ill and unable to sail with his vessel in November of that year, Bouchette was nevertheless refused permission by Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter to go to Quebec for the winter and seemed to withdraw into himself still further. A plan was formulated by a protégé of the Duke of Kent [Edward Augustus], and accepted by Bouchette himself, to retire him on full pay. It was all very sad, and Bouchette must have wished Dorchester, who had retired to England in 1796, had never left Canada. The negotiations dragged on until 1803 when the infirm and weary, but no doubt defiant, old man went too far. Faced with an accusation of disobedience by the commanding officer of the port of Kingston, Captain Holt Mackenzie, reportedly “Capt Bouchette snapped his fingers quite close to Capt Mackenzie’s Face, & throwing his hat violently on the Floor said he did not care one damn for either him or the General [Lieutenant Governor Hunter].” At the subsequent inquiry three charges against him were substantiated, and in September Captain John Steel took over the Provincial Marine. Bouchette returned to Quebec where he died on 28 April 1804 and was buried in the Cimetière des Picotés. One week before his death he had been granted 400 acres of land in Nelson Township and 99 acres in Somerset, both in Lower Canada; however, his estate was so hopelessly indebted to the merchants John Forsyth* and John Young that his family was obliged to renounce it.
Perhaps the tedium of a remote garrison town, combined with cultural isolation, lay behind Bouchette’s tragic decline in Upper Canada; certainly la tourte had suffered, with Dorchester’s departure, from the changing of the old order. Nevertheless Bouchette, who had stemmed from long-established seafaring families, managed, in spite of everything, to perpetuate some of their maritime tradition in Upper Canada. And, by virtue of the marriages and careers of most of his nine children, he founded several prominent families of both Upper and Lower Canada: Joseph had entered into the employ of an uncle by marriage, the surveyor Samuel Johannes Holland, and became surveyor general of Lower Canada; Luce, Bouchette’s youngest daughter, married in 1811 the Quebec seaman and hero of the War of 1812, Charles-Frédéric Rolette; four other daughters married merchants in the Detroit River region; and prominent descendants of this widespread family were still being noticed for their contributions to life and letters in English and French Canada more than 130 years after the death of their progenitor.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 5 juill. 1736, 27 sept. 1773, 30 avril 1804; CN1-92, 30 oct. 1788, 15 sept. 1789; CN1-148, 20 sept. 1765; CN1-178, 31 août 1804; CN1-224, 29 juin, 7 sept. 1789; CN1-253, 31 janv. 1820; CN1-256, 26 Sept. 1788, 28 Sept. 1789, 29 April 1790. BL, Add.