DES RIVIÈRES, RODOLPHE (baptized Michel-Rodolphe Trottier Des Rivières Beaubien; he went by the name Rodolphe Des Rivières Beaubien or Rodolphe Des Rivières and signed R. Des Rivières or R. DesRivières), Patriote and merchant; b. 5 May 1812 and baptized four days later in Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka), Lower Canada, son of Pierre-Charles-Robert Trottier Des Rivières Beaubien and Henriette Pillet; d. probably unmarried 17 March 1847 and was buried three days later in Montreal.
The Trottier Des Rivières Beaubien family had experienced a decline as a result of the keen competition from British merchants that forced them to abandon the fur trade in the late 1780s. When Rodolphe was born in 1812, his father was running a retail business at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes that he had probably inherited from his own father, Eustache-Ignace*. It is not known whether Rodolphe did any classical studies or whether his father took him into his establishment to teach him the rudiments of business. He certainly received some training, since he was working as a bookkeeper with the Banque du Peuple [see Louis-Michel Viger*] at Montreal in 1837.
Energetic and aggressive by nature, Rodolphe became interested in politics at an early age. In 1837 he joined a group of young Montreal Patriotes who were active in Louis-Joseph Papineau*’s party and frequented Édouard-Raymond Fabre*’s bookshop. That summer he distinguished himself in an exploit recounted in the memoirs of his brother, Adélard-Isidore. One evening Rodolphe and several friends attended a theatrical performance in Montreal at which the audience was largely British. When the orchestra played “God save the Queen,” the young men remained seated and kept their hats on. “Hats off! Hats off!” the cry went up on all sides, but the Patriotes paid no attention. Some of the military officers and civil functionaries present took offence and wanted to throw them out of the theatre. The handful of Canadians had no choice but to leave. Des Rivières, one of the last to go, was punched on the nape of the neck. Turning around, he recognized Dr Jones, a British army surgeon. A couple of days later he sought out his assailant on Rue Notre-Dame and demanded an apology, which Jones refused to give him. Thereupon he fearlessly tackled Jones, a 6-foot 3-inch colossus weighing 230 pounds, and gave him a real thrashing.
Des Rivières participated on 5 Sept. 1837 in the meeting held at the Nelson Hotel to found the Fils de la Liberté [see André Ouimet*]. His great popularity and reputation for courage were factors in his appointment two weeks later as leader of section no.6 of the association’s military wing, under command of General Thomas Storrow Brown*. On 4 October he was one of the 44 people signing the “Adresse des Fils de la liberté de Montréal, aux jeunes gens des colonies de l’Amérique du Nord.” He had the complete confidence of Brown, who invited him to assist him in putting 600–1,200 of the members through manoeuvres at Côte à Baron on 22 October. According to historian Gérard Filteau, Des Rivières attended the Assemblée des Six Comtés at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu the following day. On 6 November he participated in the stormy meeting of the Fils de la Liberté held in Montreal, and in the ensuing street fights that day he took on some members of the Doric Club.
To escape the warrant for his arrest that Governor Lord Gosford [Acheson] was on the point of issuing, Des Rivières left Montreal on the night of 15 November and went to Varennes. He met Brown there, and the two moved on to Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu. Reaching the village on 18 November, Des Rivières was then one of the group of Patriotes who seized the manor-house of Pierre-Dominique Debartzch. Afterwards, along with the local Patriote leaders Siméon Marchesseault* and Jean-Philippe Boucher-Belleville*, he began setting up a fortified camp. The next day Brown proceeded to organize a military company and Des Rivières was made colonel. According to John Edward Raymo (Raymond), a cabinetmaker from Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, whose statement was taken down on 21 November, Des Rivières, acting as seigneurial agent, had issued receipts for the grain to be requisitioned from ten local habitants. Merchant Simon Talon Lespérance, a justice of the peace at La Présentation who was kept in detention by the Patriotes from 22 to 24 November, declared that “a detachment of brigands, with Rodolphe Dérivieres, [a] leader of the Fils de la Liberté, at the head . . . seized . . . five thousand minots of grain . . . my horses, [and] ten fat pigs that were slaughtered, cut up, and carried off to the camp at St Charles.”
On 23 November Des Rivières and his brother Adélard-Isidore reached Saint-Denis on the Richelieu just as the battle there began. He helped Wolfred Nelson*’s supporters harass the retreating British soldiers. Two days later he was back again at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu and just prior to the engagement there was given command of a Patriote brigade and ordered to take up a position on a wooded hill near the camp so as to mount an attack on the enemy’s flank at the right moment. When Lieutenant-Colonel George Augustus Wetherall* and his troops had advanced to within musket range, Des Rivières and his men opened a sustained fire. They held their position until Wetherall sent a company of grenadiers against them. Outnumbered, they scattered and hid in the woods.
After this defeat Des Rivières took refuge at Saint-Denis. On 29 November a price was set on his head, a reward of £100 being offered to anyone who turned him in. Two days later he fled towards the United States with Nelson and a few other Patriotes. On 7 December, however, he was arrested at Bedford along with Boucher-Belleville, Marchesseault, Timothée Kimber*, and one or two others. Des Rivières was incarcerated at Fort Lennox, on Île aux Noix, and then on 12 December was taken to the Montreal jail in a group that included Marchesseault and Robert-Shore-Milnes Bouchette*. On 26 June 1838, in return for a promised amnesty for all the political prisoners, he and seven other Patriotes agreed to sign an admission of guilt. Because of this imprudent act he was condemned to exile two days later by the terms of the proclamation issued by Lord Durham [Lambton]. On 4 July he left Quebec aboard the frigate Vestal and on 28 July he landed at Hamilton, Bermuda.
Released on 26 Oct. 1838 because Lord Durham’s decree had been repudiated, Des Rivières set sail for the United States. Upon reaching American soil on 9 November, he did not seek to return immediately to Lower Canada, as did most other exiles. After the failure of the second rebellion he chose to settle in New York, where he turned to the business world. He made contact with a wealthy New York merchant named Dempsey, who took him into his firm as a partner, doubtless because of his business sense and integrity. It may have been as agent for this establishment that Des Rivières made a trip in 1842 lasting more than eight months which, according to Ægidius Fauteux*, took him to England, Italy, and France. Back in the United States, in 1843 and 1844 he intended, according to Louis-Joseph-Amédée Papineau, to marry Dempsey’s sister or daughter, but no trace of a marriage has been discovered. Shortly after the Société des Amis was founded in Montreal in November 1844 [see Guillaume Lévesque*], Des Rivières joined it as a corresponding member in New York.
Rodolphe Des Rivières did not return to Lower Canada until after November 1844. He set himself up as a merchant in Montreal under the name of Des Rivières et Dempsey. He died on 17 March 1847 of a liver ailment, aged only 34, “just when he was beginning to attain new heights and prosperity in business,” according to La Minerve. On 6 Dec. 1848 a large number of his friends gathered at the Catholic cemetery in Montreal to raise a magnificent marble tombstone on his grave bearing, along with other inscriptions, the words “A political exile to Bermuda in June 1838.” The memory of an intrepid and generous Patriote had been honoured.
A portrait in crayons of Rodolphe Des Rivières, done while he was in the Montreal prison in 1837–38 by Jean-Joseph Girouard*, is at the PAC.
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