CHAUSSEGROS DE LÉRY, CHARLES-JOSEPH, public servant, coseigneur of Rigaud-Vaudreuil, mayor, and county warden; b. 2 Sept. 1800 at Quebec, eldest son of Charles-Étienne Chaussegros* de Léry and Josephte Fraser; d. 4 Feb. 1864 at Saint-François-de-la-Beauce (Beauceville, Que).
Charles-Joseph was descended from the younger branch of the Chaussegros de Léry family, famous in Canadian military history. He studied at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1814 to 1818; thereafter for several years no record of him has been found. Like his father, he enjoyed the favour of the government, and he began his career in the public service on 12 April 1838 when Sir John Colborne appointed him deputy clerk of the Special Council of which his father at the same time became a member. When parliament reopened after the union of the Canadas, Chaussegros de Léry’s appointment as deputy clerk of the Legislative Council was approved, on 23 July 1841. But as the clerk, James FitzGibbon, was absent most of the time in England, the deputy clerk assumed entire responsibility for the post before he officially became the titular holder on 2 June 1847. Chaussegros de Léry decided, however, on 31 March 1850, to give up public service and devote himself exclusively to his Rigaud-Vaudreuil seigneury at Saint-François-de-la-Beauce. He subsequently was urged on more than one occasion to return to public life, as the representative of the county. Although he refused this honour, he reluctantly resigned himself to becoming mayor of Saint-François, then on 11 March 1860 warden of the county, a position he still held at the time of his death.
On the death of their father in 1842, Charles-Joseph and his brother Alexandre-René* had inherited conjointly the seigneuries of Rigaude-Vaudreuil and Sainte-Barbe-de-la-Famine, with their mother as usufructuary. However, Charles-Joseph, on the pretext that he was the elder, administered his father’s estate until his own death as if he were sole owner. Before 1850 the Chaussegros de Léry family, who lived at Quebec, spent only the summer months on its lands in Beauce. When he left the public service, Chaussegros de Léry went to reside permanently at Saint-François-de-la-Beauce, and became a veritable father for his censitaires; he took an interest in their material and social welfare, and when necessary settled their differences. Eventually nobody called him anything but “M. Charles.”
He began to amass his small fortune (with which he was not ungenerous) mainly from the time when the Beauce region appeared to be the Eldorado of Canada. The discovery of gold in the form of nuggets went back to 1834; it had been a purely chance discovery which at first had had few repercussions. But as it had occurred on his seigneury, Chaussegros de Léry wished to make the most of his chances. In return for a promise to hand over 10 per cent of the gross revenue to the public treasury, he obtained for his family, by letters patent dated 18 Sept. 1846, the exclusive and perpetual licence to mine precious metals on his lands and those of his censitaires on the Rigaud-Vaudreuil seigneury. After having the lands in question explored by John P. Cunningham, he undertook a mining operation himself, but found, as he put it, not an “atom of gold.” Nor did his employees. In 1851 the Chaussegros de Léry family leased its mining rights to the Chaudière Mining Company, which was managed by Dr James Douglas* of Quebec. It made some success of the operation, and paid a royalty to the lessors.
As years passed, free right to search for gold was allowed to the farmers of the region, in return for a quarter of the gold found. But their primitive techniques and lack of loyalty reduced revenues, and they even began to speculate with the claims. Chaussegros de Léry’s licence had already been challenged before the legislative authorities by his censitaires, who claimed to own the subsoil beneath their farms. Hence, before the expiry of the lease to James Douglas in 1863, Chaussegros de Léry prepared another for 15 years, made out to Messrs Parker, Hagens and Co. But he never learned the results of this action, for he died on 4 Feb. 1864 of a heart ailment. His brother Alexandre-René continued to mine the gold deposits.
Chaussegros de Léry, a man respected and mourned by all, was given a magnificent funeral at Saint-François-de-la-Beauce, and was buried in the church, a seigneur’s privilege. On 30 Aug. 1851 he had married Mary O’Hara, an Irish woman from Quebec, who was an excellent helpmate; they had no children.
ANQ-Q, AP-G-40. PAC, MG 30, D62, 18, p.892. Bas-Canada, Conseil spécial, Journaux, 1838–39. Can., prov. du, Doc. de la session, 1863, VII, no.53; Assemblée législative, Journaux, 1865, I, app.7; Conseil législatif, Journaux, 1841. Le Journal de Québec, 22 févr. 1864. P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec, III, 108–10. W. J. Anderson, The valley of the Chaudiere, its scenery and gold fields (Quebec, 1872). William Chapman, Mines d’or de la Beauce; accompagné d’une carte topographique (Lévis, Qué., 1881), 9–11. J. P. Cunningham, Remarks on the mineralogical character of the seigneury of Rigaud, Vaudreuil, district of Quebec; dedicated to the proprietors, Charles and Alexander DeLery, esquires (Montreal, 1847). Benjamin Demers, Notes sur la paroisse de St-François de la Beauce (Québec, 1891), 14–26. P.-G. Roy, La famille Chaussegros de Léry (Lévis, Qué., 1934). James Douglas, “The gold fields of Canada,” Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Trans., new ser., II (1864), 51–66. P.-G. Roy, “Les mines d’or de la Beauce,” BRH, II (1896), 186.