DEVAU, dit Retor, CLAUDE (also spelled Devaux, de Veaux, de Vox), salt smuggler and blacksmith; b. c. 1704 in France, son of Benoît Devau and Marie Potier; d. 14 April 1784 at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (La Pérade, Que.).
Claude Devau, dit Retor, was banished from France for his involvement in the contraband salt trade and arrived in Canada in the 1730s with one of the numerous groups of salt smugglers deported to the colony between 1730 and 1742 [see Pierre Révol*]. The colonial authorities, who deplored the scattering of population and the marked decrease in immigration to Canada since the end of the 17th century, looked favourably upon the arrival of these men who swelled the ranks of the colonists, and they urged the king to send more of them to Canada. They feared the influence of the salt smugglers on the population much less than that of convicts or ne’er-do-well young men of good family; however, the quality of these recruits apparently deteriorated, since after 1735 correspondents from the colony praised them less.
On their arrival most of the salt smugglers were put to work on settlers’ farms or enrolled in the troops. What became of Devau is not fully known, but he apparently set himself up as a blacksmith at Saint-Charles-de-Lachenaie. In January 1742 he underwent a premarital examination before Jacques-Joseph Lacombe, by means of which the parish priest was assured that he knew his prayers. To take a wife in Canada he also had to prove he had “come as a single man from France to Canada,” and to do this he obtained a certificate from the commissary of Marine in Quebec, Jean-Victor Varin de La Marre. On 1 Feb. 1742, at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Devau married Marie-Madeleine Gendron, the daughter of a settler of that parish. The marriage settlement of six livres suggests that his means were slender. After his marriage he settled at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade. There he first practised his blacksmith’s trade and then began to farm. On 24 July 1747 the local seigneur, Pierre-Thomas Tarieu de La Pérade, granted him a piece of land with a frontage of four arpents and a depth of 20. On this land Claude Devau and his wife raised their large family. Nine children survived him when he died at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade on 14 April 1784 “at about 80 years of age,” according to the burial certificate. He was interred the next day in the parish cemetery.
One of a special class of immigrant, Claude Devau, dit Retor, is a good illustration of the salt smuggler turned settler who proved well suited to help colonize New France.
ANQ-MBF, État civil, Catholiques, Sainte-Anne-de la-Pérade (La Pérade), 1er févr. 1742, 15 avril 1784; Greffe d’A.-B. Pollet, 11, 12, 13 mai 1743, 20 oct. 1746, 24 févr., 24 juill. 1747, 22 mai 1748; Greffe de Joseph Rouillard, 31 janv. 1742. Tanguay, Dictionnaire. Hamelin, Économie et société en N.-F., 87–88. Gérard Malchelosse, “Faux sauniers, prisonniers et fils de famille en Nouvelle-France au XVIIIe siècle,” Cahiers des Dix, 9 (1944), 161–97.