DECOIGNE (De Couagne, Couagne, Coigne, Du Coigne), PIERRE-THÉOPHILE, notary and Patriote; b. 13 March 1808 in Saint-Philippe-de-Laprairie, Lower Canada, son of Louis Decoigne and Marguerite Bezeau; m. 1832 Mary McCabe, and they had two children; d. 18 Jan. 1839 in Montreal.
Pierre-Théophile Decoigne came from a family with noble antecedents. According to historian Claude de Bonnault, the first member of the Coigne family to settle in New France was Charles de Couagne*, an illegitimate son from the parish of Clion in Berry, who was maître d’hôtel to Governor Frontenac [Buade*]. He went into the fur trade and became one of the richest merchants in the colony. His son Jean-Baptiste de Couagne* had a career as an officer and military engineer at Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), but the other sons followed their father’s example, with varying success. It is certain that by about 1780 the Decoigne family had lost some of its importance in Quebec society, as it continued to do in subsequent years.
Son of a notary who had been captain of a company of the Chasseurs de L’Acadie in the War of 1812, Pierre-Théophile also became a notary. After studying at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal he apparently articled with his brother-in-law, Jean-Baptiste Lukin. He was authorized to practise on 7 Oct. 1837 and settled in Napierville. His brother Louis-Mars, who had been admitted to the profession in 1827, had taken over their father’s practice at Sainte-Marguerite-de-Blairfindie (L’Acadie) upon his death in 1832.
Pierre-Théophile, Louis-Mars, and their younger brother Olivier had early joined the Patriote movement and were closely involved in the revolutionary events of 1837–38. Louis-Mars seems to have been the most active of the three in 1837. After the Assemblée des Six Comtés at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, when the decision was taken to dismiss the militia officers and justices of the peace who had been appointed by the government, Louis-Mars decorated his house with flags bearing the Patriote emblem and participated in the charivaris against those who had received government commissions, in particular Dudley Flowers, Nelson Mott, and Timoléon Quesnel. As leader of the Patriotes in Sainte-Marguerite-de-Blairfindie, he modelled himself upon Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté, a doctor at Napierville, and Lucien Gagnon, a farmer from Pointe-à-la-Mule (Saint-Valentin). On 28 Nov. 1837 Quesnel announced that he had taken steps to arrest Louis-Mars Decoigne and François Ranger as they were attempting to reach the United States. Released on £1,000 bail, Louis-Mars helped with plans for the second insurrection.
Pierre-Théophile played an important role in the preparations for this uprising. In September 1838 he was sworn in at Champlain, N.Y., as a member of the Association des Frères-Chasseurs. He said later that his intention at the time was to infiltrate this secret society and inform the government of its activities. Yet he was to be one of the most feared leaders of Saint-Cyprien parish, at Napierville. He even suggested confiscating the property of François-Xavier Malhiot*, the seigneur of Contrecœur. As part of a plan for gathering Patriotes from 17 parishes to seize William Henry (Sorel) on the evening of 3 November, Decoigne was given the task of assembling the habitants of Verchères, Saint-Ours, and Contrecoeur the day before. To any who might be tempted to remain neutral he said: “Those who refuse to march will have their properties burned and will be treated like their cruellest enemies.”
During the second insurrection, on 3 Nov. 1838, Decoigne was one of the leaders of a force of 400–500 Patriotes. He exercised his command “very energetically and harshly, striking those who were in no hurry to obey,” Jean-Baptiste Fredette testified. Since the Patriote plan was doomed because of faulty organization, Colonel Édouard-Élisée Malhiot* delegated Decoigne to find Eugène-Napoléon Duchesnois and Louis-Adolphe Robitaille, the doctor and notary at Varennes, in order to warn them that the attack had been put off. He recommended Decoigne to them: “The bearer of this letter is the most dependable man, you can talk with him.”
On 4 Nov. 1838 Decoigne, like most of the Patriotes from the surrounding parishes, was in camp at Napierville, where he acted as captain. He was also one of the group that confronted volunteers from the English party at Odelltown on 9 November. In fact, he captained a company there that “fired several times,” according to one witness. After this day, disastrous for the Patriote cause, Decoigne returned to Napierville. On 11 November his brothers Louis-Mars and Olivier succeeded in crossing the border. Pierre-Théophile was not so lucky. He in turn tried to make it to the United States but was arrested. Under examination Decoigne referred to his having the “reputation of being a supporter of the English party,” and he added: “Upon reaching the battlefield, I took up a position out of harm’s way and stayed there until the end without giving any order whatsoever.” He was, however, sentenced to death by a court martial on 2 Jan. 1839 and was hanged on 18 January. In 1852 his widow received partial compensation for the property losses that she and her husband had suffered during the rebellion.
ANQ-M, CE1-54, 13 mars 1808. ANQ-Q, E17/6, nos.76a, 77; E17/7, nos.92–93, 103–9, 128, 146; E17/10, no.402; E17/19, nos.1236–37; E17/25, nos.1732–32b, 1736, 1753; E17/32, nos.2510–11; E17/33, nos.2654a, 2655–56, 2658; E17/34, nos.2675, 2700–3, 2705, 2708, 2755; E17/35, no.2787; E17/37, no.2985; E17/39, no.3114; E17/51, nos.4111–20. PAC, RG 4, B8: 5205–7. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1852–53, app.VV. “Papiers Duvernay,” Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, 3rd ser., 7: 83–86, 92–94. Report of state trials, 1: 150–215. Fauteux, Patriotes, 200–2. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 3: 269–70. J. D. Borthwick, History of the Montreal prison from A.D. 1784 to A.D. 1886 . . . (Montreal, 1886), 90. David, Patriotes, 222. Louise Dechêne, Habitants et marchands de Montréal au XVIIe siècle (Paris et Montréal, 1974), 205. Maurault, Le collège de Montréal (Dansereau; 1967). S.-A. Moreau, Histoire de L’Acadie, province de Québec (Montréal, 1908), 116–17. Claude de Bonnault, “Les Coigne du Berry en Canada,” BRH, 46 (1940): 276–84. J.-J. Lefebvre, “Les De Couagne (Decoigne),” SGCF Mémoires, 25 (1974): 214–27.