BOURASSA (Bouracas, Bourasseau), dit La Ronde, RENÉ, fur-trader; baptized 21 Dec. 1688 at Prairie-de-la-Madeleine (Laprairie, Que.), son of François Bourassa, dit La Ronde, and Marie Le Ber; m. there 23 Oct. 1710 Agnès Gagné, and they had three children; m. there secondly, on 28 Sept. 1721, Marie-Catherine Leriger de La Plante, and they had five children; buried 7 Sept. 1778 at Montreal.
In the early decades of the 18th century the merchants in the English colonies were paying on the average twice the French price for beaver pelts. Tempted by these profits, René Bourassa, dit La Ronde, ventured into the extensive illicit trade between Montreal and Albany, New York. He was caught, however, and in July 1722 fined 500 livres.
By 1726 he had entered the western trade, which his father had followed over 30 years earlier. In partnership with Nicolas Sarrazin and François Lefebvre* Duplessis Faber, Bourassa dispatched canoes to the pays d’en haut in 1726. The following year he traded to Baie-des-Puants (Green Bay, Wis.), where Duplessis was commandant. Although his main focus was the western trade, in March 1729 Bourassa carried letters to New England, a trip which was often cover for illegal trade. By 1735 he was connected with business associates of Pierre Gaultier* de Varennes et de La Vérendrye. In that year Bourassa hired engagés to go to La Vérendrye’s posts at Fort Saint-Charles (on Lake of the Woods) and Fort Maurepas (a few miles above the mouth of the Red River). He himself was at Saint-Joseph (Niles, Mich.) in July but wintered with the explorer at Saint-Charles. Early in June 1736 Bourassa and four others set out for Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.). Suddenly they were captured by some 100 Prairie Sioux warriors, who claimed the French were arming their enemies. The war party was preparing to burn Bourassa at the stake when his Sioux slave girl dramatically pleaded for his life and he was released. He and his men subsequently escaped empty-handed to Michilimackinac, but the Sioux ambushed Jean-Baptiste Gaultier* de La Vérendrye’s party, which was following some miles behind, and killed its 21 members.
Bourassa returned to the west in the late fall. Ignoring the elder La Vérendrye’s directive to join him at Fort Saint-Charles, Bourassa and Laurent-Eustache Gamelin, dit Châteauvieux, constructed a post at Vermilion (near the mouth of the Vermilion River, Minn.) and wintered there with a number of Ojibwas. In the spring of 1737 Bourassa went east to Michilimackinac.
After 1737 his trade appears to have centred around that post. He sold 45 pots of wine to Pierre-Joseph Céloron* de Blainville for the French and Indians going south to fight the Chickasaws in 1739 and in subsequent years he sold goods used in negotiations with various tribes. Despite unsettled conditions throughout the west, Bourassa moved his family to Michilimackinac during the 1740s. He became a prominent member of the small trading community, owning one of its 40 houses, another lot in the fort, and a meadow outside. A number of slaves helped manage his properties. By the late 1740s Bourassa was apparently semi-retired, and his business was handled primarily by his sons René and Ignace. He had an active social life, attending numerous baptisms and weddings. Marriage ties linked him to other prominent families in the fort. In 1744 his son René had married the daughter of Jean-Baptiste Chevalier* and in 1754 his daughter Charlotte-Ambroisine married Charles-Michel Mouet de Langlade.
When Ojibwas organized by Minweweh* captured Michilimackinac from the British garrison in 1763 Bourassa must have been apprehensive. The Indians disliked him and they killed all his horses and cows before the British returned in September 1764. Perhaps this disaster prompted his return to Montreal, for even though he apparently got along well with the new commandant, William Howard (who called him a man of “good character”), he soon left Michilimackinac. His son Ignace, however, continued trading there until 1775. René Bourassa’s remaining years were spent in Montreal, where he died in 1778.
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