CRESSÉ, PIERRE-MICHEL, seigneur and militia officer; b. 19 Sept. 1758 at Quebec, son of Louis-Pierre Poulin* de Courval Cressé and Charlotte-Louise Lambert Dumont; m. 2 Jan. 1792 Marie-Victoire Fafard Laframboise in Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada, under a contract providing for husband and wife to administer their properties separately; they had 13 children; d. there 3 Aug. 1819 and was buried the next day under the seigneurial pew in the church at Nicolet, Lower Canada.
Pierre-Michel Cressé was the first of the Poulin de Courval family to bear the name of Cressé alone. In 1764, on his father’s death, he inherited two-thirds of the seigneury of Courval, which he was to reassign to his older sister Louise-Charlotte on 3 March 1796. The seigneury had originally been granted to his father and was located south of Baie-du-Febvre (Baieville) next to the seigneury of Nicolet. After his father died his mother moved to Nicolet, whose absentee seigneur was his grandfather, Claude Poulin de Courval Cressé; there she raised her family and built the seigneurial manor-house. In May 1785, upon his grandfather’s death, Cressé inherited two-thirds of this property. He became the first seigneur of Nicolet to reside there since the death of his ancestor Michel Cressé in 1686.
Upon taking possession of his domain Cressé brought back into force the seigneur’s honorary rights, which had fallen into abeyance. Thus he claimed precedence in church and demanded to have the seigneurial pew in the place of honour, the first on the right in the nave; he also insisted on following immediately after the parish priest in processions and on being the first to receive the host at the Eucharist, the candles at Candlemas, and the ashes and the palms during Lent. In addition, with his first deeds of land in 1785 he re-established the custom of planting the May tree, obliging each new censitaire to “help plant a tree in front of the main door of the seigneur’s house every year on the first day of May, on pain of a fine of 3 livres 20 sols each time he is absent.”
Cressé also firmly insisted upon his pecuniary rights, and this engendered a lengthy dispute with the parish priest of Nicolet, Louis-Marie Brassard*. On 21 Sept. 1770 Brassard had purchased in his own right a lot of 4 arpents in width by 40 in depth which had originally been granted freehold and on which stood a house. Cressé would only acknowledge a depth of 30 arpents to this lot; in addition he refused to exempt it from the cens et rentes, contrary to the attitude most seigneurs adopted towards their parish priests. On 17 Feb. 1787 he sued Brassard to force him to take title within a week and to pay the arrears of the cens et rentes. At the hearing on 23 Nov. 1788 in the Court of Common Pleas for the District of Montreal the judges, John Fraser, René-Ovide Hertel* de Rouville, and Edward Southouse, handed the matter over to arbitrators: Joseph Boucher de Niverville for the seigneur and Charles-Antoine Godefroy* de Tonnancour for the parish priest; they were authorized by the court to add a third “in case of a split judgement.”
The two arbitrators could not reach agreement, and Antoine Lefebvre de Bellefeuille, the overseer of highways for Trois-Rivières, was chosen to join them. On 22 June 1789 Boucher and Lefebvre came out in favour of the seigneur: “Monsieur Brassard will pay him rent for the aforementioned land grant at the regular rate.” On 4 October Godefroy made it known that he was opposed to official approval of the minutes, which he had refused to sign because of “the glaring error into which the two arbitrators fell” in mistaking the land under dispute for another lot that Brassard owned west of the Rivière Nicolet. Finally, in 1790, the court annulled the arbitration and ordered Cressé to give a new title-deed to the priest. The seigneur refused to give in and persisted in maintaining that the lot was only 30 arpents in depth.
At his death on 27 Dec. 1800 Brassard bequeathed the 40-arpent lot to the parish council of Nicolet as a site for a free primary school. This transfer in mortmain was not recognized in law, and Pierre Brassard, the parish priest’s brother, became the legal heir. Faithful to the deceased priest’s intentions, he gave the house and land to Pierre Denaut, bishop of Quebec, on 21 Nov. 1803. The school, however, had opened two years earlier and in 1803, at the request of his coadjutor, Joseph-Octave Plessis*, Bishop Denaut had instituted Latin classes. On 18 March 1806 Plessis, who was by then bishop of Quebec and was still interested in the school, bought the land for 5,000 livres from Marguerite-Amable Denaut, the bishop’s niece, who had inherited it. Plessis was on good terms with Cressé and was accorded a new title-deed to the land on 3 Aug. 1812. He bound himself to pay the seigneur “the sum of 11 livres 10 sols, the livre [being] at 20 sols” for the cens et rentes. The contract stipulated that the land measured 40 arpents in depth. Thus ended a dispute that had lasted more than 25 years.
Meanwhile, in 1802, because the boundaries of the new township of Aston had to be laid out, Cressé had had his land surveyed by Jeremiah McCarthy*. By misinterpreting the land grant made to his forefathers, he managed, through this survey, to annex part of Aston; within the township he had two concessions of 120 lots each surveyed and he granted more than 30 lots to censitaires who paid him cens et rentes. He was left in peace to enjoy the fruits of this encroachment.
During the War of 1812 Cressé served as lieutenant in the 4th battalion of Select Embodied Militia. Early in 1817 his health was seriously impaired and he left Nicolet to go to live at Trois-Rivières. He then put his seigneury up for sale; included were the manorial farm, another farm measuring 7 arpents by 40, and the seigneurial buildings, comprising the manor-house, outbuildings, and banal mills. He perhaps thought it wise to take this action because of the inaccurate boundaries established through the survey in 1802; because of their age, none of his 13 children was in a position at that time to take over the seigneury. Charles-François-Xavier Baby* purchased it on 9 Jan. 1819, “with all seigneurial rights attached to it, both pecuniary and honorary,” for £12,000 payable in an invested annuity of £660 redeemable on payment of the capital. But Baby could not meet his obligations. On 6 March 1821 Cressé’s heirs had the seigneury sold by the sheriff, and Captain Kenelm Conor Chandler bought it for the modest sum of £6,500. He later had problems because of Cressé’s survey.
Throughout his life Pierre-Michel Cressé had been determined to keep the seigneurial traditions alive; his attachment to a seigneur’s honorary and pecuniary rights became his constant preoccupation.
ANQ-M, CN1-383, 3 mars 1796. ANQ-MBF, CN1-4, 17 janv. 1797 CN1-5, 25 juin 1780; 13 août 1782; 20, 21 oct. 1785; 2, 18 janv., 7, 9 févr. 1786; 1er janv. 1792; CN1-6, 30 janv. 1800, 2 févr. 1806, 3 août 1812; CN1-29, 21 sept. 1770; CN1-32, 16 juill. 1801; 9 janv., 24 août 1819; CN1-76, 21 mai 1716. AP, Immaculée-Conception (Trois-Rivières), Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 2 janv. 1792; Notre-Dame de Québec, Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 20 sept. 1758; Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Nicolet), Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 4 août 1819. Arch. de l’évêché de Nicolet (Nicolet), Cartable Nicolet, I: 7. Arch. du séminaire de Nicolet (Nicolet), AO, Polygraphie, I: 20–40. P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions, 5: 86. J.-E. Bellemare, Histoire de Nicolet, 1669–1924 (Arthabaska, Qué., 1924). J.-A.-I. Douville, Histoire du collège séminaire de Nicolet, 1803–1903, avec les listes complètes des directeurs, professeurs et élèves de l’institution (2v., Montréal, 1903), 1: 1–10.