CORPRON, JEAN, merchant trader, assistant purveyor general of provisions in Quebec; b. c. 1729 at Pizanie (dept. of Charente-Maritime), France, son of Charles Corpron and Marie Gabriel; d. sometime after 1765, probably in France.
We do not know under what circumstances Jean Corpron arrived in Canada. He first worked as a clerk for different Quebec merchants, but his “rascally tricks” did not permit his remaining long in their service. A clever man with a real gift for trade, Corpron then set up on his own account. In September 1755, although by his own admission he had a lucrative business and “was on the point of forming with the Sieur [Pierre Claverie] a company which was to have been heavily capitalized,” he agreed to enter the service of Joseph-Michel Cadet*, who at that time managed the king’s slaughterhouse, who was carrying on “flour milling and a fairly large business in goods, wine, spirits, and other food supplies,” and who “fitted out ships and imported them from France.” Indeed, “everything suggested that he [Cadet] could not fail to carry on profitable operations.” Corpron, an experienced businessman, was not content with a salary; he demanded and obtained from the king’s butcher “the fifth part of the profits in all his trading.” As Cadet’s partner, Jean Corpron rapidly became his confidential agent; in 1756, when Cadet was put by Intendant François Bigot* in charge of supplying provisions in New France, Corpron received the responsibility of the “establishment” in Quebec [see François Maurin]. Thus, within three years, while according to his own account taking “the precautions which prudence suggested to him to share only in legitimate profits,” he was able to accumulate the tidy sum of 1,200,000 livres.
Having returned to France after the capitulation of Montreal, Jean Corpron was arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille in December 1761. He was accused of malversation and was tried at the Châtelet before a commission presided over by the lieutenant general of police, Antoine de Sartine. Finally, after 15 months of imprisonment, examinations, and cross-examinations, on 10 Dec. 1763 M. de Sartine and his 27 counsellors at the Châtelet found him guilty of the charges against him. By 19 to nine they sentenced him to be severely reprimanded in the chamber of the council, to pay six livres in alms, to make restitution to the king of the sum of 600,000 livres, and “to remain in the prison of the Bastille . . . until payment of the said sum.” As the commissioners refused to allow restitution to be made in bills of exchange from Canada, Corpron had to stay in prison. It was not until 21 Dec. 1764 that his lawyer obtained permission from the king to pay in Canadian bills of exchange. Therefore on 18 Jan. 1765 the lawyer delivered to the treasurer general of the colonies, Baudart de Vaudésir, 80 bills of exchange from Canada, to a value of 600,000 livres. But in addition to restitution the commissioners demanded payment “in specie” of the interest owing on the 600,000 livres from 10 Dec. 1763 to 10 Jan. 1765. Jean Corpron opposed this new demand on the part of the commissioners, alleging that the sentence of the Châtelet did not mention any payment of interest. Moreover, since he had made restitution in conformity with the sentence of 10 Dec. 1763, he demanded and on 21 May 1765 obtained his release from the Bastille. Despite his opposition to the commissioners’ decision, at the end of November 1765 he had to pay to the treasurer general of the colonies the interest due; he was able, however, by permission of the minister, the Duc de Choiseul, to pay in Canadian bills of exchange. After this date he disappears from sight.
Because of his commercial activities Jean Corpron was able to form connections by marriage with the important merchant traders of the period. On 1 July 1754 he married Marie Roy, the widow of Joseph Lépine, dit Lalime, a Quebec trader, and the daughter of Joseph Roy, a well-to-do merchant in Beaumont. In 1755, when he was about to enter into partnership with Claverie, he preferred to enter the service of Cadet, who already appeared to him to be “an important personage.” It was this knowledge of business and this flair for finding out men who could bring him money that enabled him to become a “millionaire” in the space of three years.
AJQ, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Québec, 1er juill. 1754. AN, Col., B, 122, ff.266, 375–76; E, 92 (dossier Corpron-Maurin-Penissault), 1–7. ANQ, Greffe de J.-C. Panet, 21 juin 1754. “Mémoire du Canada,” APQ Rapport, 1924–25, 128, 197. Mémoires sur le Canada, depuis 1749 à 1760, 86. J.-E. Roy, Rapport sur les archives de France, 865ff. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Frégault, François Bigot, II, 173, 176, 197–98, 216–17. P.-G. Roy, Bigot et sa bande, 91ff., 355–56.